Galapagos Islands Travel Guide and Tips
White sand beaches, hiking, snorkeling and wildlife: cute sea lions, giant tortoises, iguanas, Boobies and tropical birds; The Galapagos islands are a true paradise and we had such a fun and amazing experience.
But having been to such a touristy and expensive place, there are many things to take into account and a research is definitely necessary prior to the trip. Research on things such as flights, where to stay, whether to take a cruise or daily tours, what to see and do, where to go and where not to go, etc.
I have to say, although I found a few informative blog posts about the islands, in general there is lots of information I couldn’t find online and based on my own experience I’d like to provide the following tips and a few important things worth knowing and considering if you plan to visit the Galapagos:
Getting there and Prices
- Flights are cheaper from Guayaquil than from Quito. What’s expensive are the flight fees and taxes:
The price ticket cost us $246 per person. In addition we paid $100 surcharges and $73 taxes pp. So the total cost was $419 pp during peak season (Jun-Sep and Dec-Jan).
- There are 2 airports. One in Baltra and one in San Cristobal. From there travelers are transported by bus to a ferry dock which connects Baltra to the island of Santa Cruz. After the short ferry ride you need to take a taxi to Santa Cruz or join other travelers’ rides (who booked a cruise in advance and the taxi ride is included).
Santa Cruz has a central location, with many hotels and restaurants. It is one of the biggest islands and is where most travelers arrive to and from there start their trip/cruises.
*We stayed one night at Manso Boutique Guesthouse in Guayaquil and took the flight to the islands the next day. We left our backpacks at the hostel and just took a small bag to islands; this definitely made the trip much lighter and easier.
So tax wise, just to get to the island you have to pay $173 tax on the flight ticket and in addition there’s another extra $100 entrance fee to the island once you land.
At first we thought we just had to pay the $173 tax for the tickets but when we arrived in the islands we realized that they charge another extra $100 each just to get into the islands. Not knowing this little small fact made things a bit complicated as there’s no ATM at the airport, so we had to leave our passports there and receive them on the island once we paid the fee.
Conclusion: Bring cash in advance! There are 3 ATMs at the downtown area of Puerto Ayora, Santa Cruz.
Daily Cruises around the Islands
- Daily trips are much cheaper than going on a cruise. We booked a daily tour package 2 days after we arrived to the island and after checking a few tour companies.
- On a daily tour you take a ferry from your “base” island, where you stay the night, to other islands and come back usually the same day with the ferry.
It’s about a 2-hour ferry ride from one island to another. In most cases, the ferry ride was against the water flow, so the journey was pretty bumpy and we ended up feeling pretty sick after.
- Do good research and be prepared for the ferry rides and bring motions sickness pills even if you usually don’t or have never suffered from sea sickness (you can also buy them on the Islands).
- If you have time, stay in other islands you visit. I would 100% recommend to stay at least 1 night when you arrive to a new island and not come back the same day. So when you book a daily tour package you can book a ferry back whenever you want; it doesn’t necessarily have to be the same day. This way you’ll have time to relax from the ride and to really enjoy and explore the island. (It means you’ll have to book a hostel in advance or just find a hotel once you arrive on a new island).
Tour Companies and which islands to choose to visit
- Some tour companies are more expensive than others, but in general it’s like a mafia over there, they all offer the same tour packages and same prices. Some of them will try to offer you overpriced cruises or daily trips to the main islands, but then will give you a “special” discount. So I suggest doing a lot of research and going to a few companies. You can even bargain on the price and what the package includes (i.e transport or even diving suits that are super helpful when you go diving or snorkeling in deep cold water).
- What no one tells you is that most of the islands have pretty much the same views, same wildlife, and same attractions (diving, snorkeling etc.) So if you’ve come for a short trip there’s no need to go and book all the tours they offer. Just 2-3 is more than enough. If you do want to visit as many islands as possible, it’s better to come for at least 10-12 days.
- If you do want to visit as many islands as possible you don’t have to book a daily tour. Instead you can just take a ferry ride, which costs only $30-$50 (back and forth) from the port to the island you choose and explore the island yourself or rent a taxi there to give you a ride around the places you want to visit (just need to research what things you can see and do there before your arrival).
*We booked all the tours in advance for 8 days: San Cristobal, Santa Fe, and Isla Floreana, and Isla Isabela. Looking back we could do some of the tours independently under our own time and terms. Especially the tours to Floreana and Isabela, which were nothing too special we couldn’t do on our own.
- Check a few tour companies and prices and do research about the islands you want to visit.
- Be independent, no need to rely on the daily tours or at least combine a few daily tours you book and the rest do on your own. It’s not only much cheaper, but also you really get to explore more by yourself and really enjoy each island.
- The Seymour Island is home to a large population of blue boobies and swallow-tailed gulls. We didn’t go to this island due to time constraints and also since it was more expensive and it took a longer boat trip to get there, but I heard it is also amazing and a must-see for bird lovers.
- We also went to Santa Fe Island to dive and snorkel with sea lions, to Isla Floreana and Isla Isabela (*need to pay a small fee to get onto the Island). On Isabela we went to see El Muro de las Lágrimas, saw pink flamingos at the Flamingo lagoon and we also met a few cute penguins while we swam in the water.
Santa Cruz and San Cristobal
I would definitely recommend going to: Santa Cruz and San Cristobal. Both islands were our favorite. In Santa Cruz, where we stayed most of the trip, we rented bicycles and rode around town. We went to the amazing Tortuga Bay, visited Charles Darwin’s research station and took a daily trip with a taxi who took us to the highlands to see the Los Gemelos, the El Chato giant tortoise reserve and the Lava tunnels.
We had only one night in San Cristobal and wish we stayed longer. On our first day we went to Las Loberias beach and hung out with cute sea lions and green sea turtles. After that, we visited San Cristobal Interpretation Center and from there went down the trail to Punta Pitt (sea lion colony) and Playa Mann beach, which is close to the port.
We booked a taxi and he took us on a daytrip to see the tortoise at the Galapaguera de Cerro Colorado. We went up to Lagoon El Junco, and ended the trip at Puerto Chino beach – a truly amazing paradise, soft white sands blue pristine water, and we even saw a few blue Boobies.
If you’re planning to travel to the islands, I hope our experiences (good and bad) and tips will help you prepare better for your trip!
Leave a comment if you have more tips and advice for the Galapagos.