The Galapagos islands are based 1,000km west of Ecuador, right in the middle of the Pacific ocean. In total there are 19 Galapagos islands which were formed from volcanic upheavals and movement from the Nazca plate. Due to their isolated position at the intersection between two major ocean currents, the Galapagos islands are home to many unique species, including Darwin’s 13 species of finches that contributed to his Theory of Evolution. A magical place, the Galapagos Islands offer a unique experience. So, if you are are fascinated by nature and wildlife and enjoy glistening white sandy beaches, then book a trip to the Galapagos Islands. You won’t be disappointed.
**Please be careful with your garbage, try not to leave the AC on when leaving your room and turn off your lights and do not buy plastic water bottles. Try to bring your own water bottle (See Go Travel and Talk's blog on: The Plastic Problem) and use a Life Straw! Be aware that most of the garbage is burned on the islands in the open air, so try to produce as little waste as possible.
The Galapagos Islands are not far from the Ecuadorian main land, so if you have the time, I would suggest taking a boat from the port city of Guayaquil.
If you are tight on time and want to get there a little faster, you can fly from Quito or Guayaquil. There are direct flights from Quito to Isla Santa Cruz (Galapagos’ airport island). Some airlines might require a stop-over in Guayaquil. A direct flight will get you there in about 1.5 hours. The price depends heavily on how far in advance you can book your tickets. The range spans from $92-175 (€80-250) and sometimes even more. I flew Avianca and it seems to be a reliable option.
To reach Quito's airport from the Quito's city centre you have various options:
- The quickest but also most expensive way, is by licensed taxi ($20-25 / €17-22) or UBER.
- You can also get a direct/private bus from the airport to the centre of Quito ($8-12 / €7-10), just look out for the green buses to your far right as you exit the airport.
- Other buses operate from Riococa bus terminal for around $2-3 (€2-3). For the latter, expect a 2 hour journey whilst the private buses and taxis can make the journey in around 45 minutes.
When arriving at Santa Cruz airport, your journey is far from over. You will need to fill-out a bible of paperwork and then you take a free bus to the pier where you get on a boat for $1 (€0.90; there is just one operator). After that, take a bus closer to the city centre of Santa Cruz, and finally take a taxi to the city centre and your hotel. Try to bargain and/or share your ride with other passengers to split the bill. You shouldn’t pay more than $12 (€10) each.
Cruise and ferry options from Santa Cruz are plentiful, and you can expect to get rides all day long at all costs depending on where you want to go. For instance, a one-way ticket to Isabella, Galapagos’ biggest island, will cost you around $32 (€27; duration: 3 hours).
- To get timetables and boating information, just head towards the pier, where you can also buy your tickets directly. Alternatively, you can check out one of the many tour agencies around. They will be more than happy to help you. Keep in mind to bargain wherever you go.
Good to know: Be prepared to be spending a lot on the islands! After a while, you will feel like a walking wallet but I PROMISE you, it is worth every penny! The spending starts from the moment you land, with an airport fee of $120 (€103) and continues with yet another landing fee when you arrive into Santa Cruz.
Santa Cruz is the main island on the Galapagos, known for its white sandy beaches such as El Garrapatero. The town of Puerto Ayora is the islands tourism hub. Here you will find the Charles Darwin Research Station which has a breeding program for endangered giant tortoises that live wild in El Chato Reserve (see below).
The city centre is quite touristy with lots of shops, souvenir stalls, tours agencies, restaurants and bars. You can easily spend a day there. In the morning, go to the famous fish market, where you will be welcomed by a fisherman’s own sea lion friend! Strangely enough, the old animal doesn’t even bother to eat the fresh fish lying at its feet.
After enjoying the Santa Cruz's main island, take a taxi boat and walk to Playa de Allemagna, a gorgeous and remote beach. Before you take the boat back, have a cocktail at the only beach bar and enjoy a local dance show.
If you are interested in learning more about the Galapagos Islands, stop at the Darwin research station in Puerto Ayora and get a tour through the foundation. You will encounter giant tortoises and iguanas and learn a lot about the Galapagos’ history and discovery.
My absolute recommendation is to watch the sunset on the beach La Ratonera just behind the fountain in Puerto Ayora, close to the Darwin Research station. This beach is also child friendly, and there is a lovely natural swimming pool there where the little ones can dive right in.
Island Isabela is a magical island with gorgeous tranquil beaches – pure paradise. The island’s village of Puerto Villamil is really small but so charming! It is a lovely place to explore and similar to the other islands, there are plenty of day trips you can choose from to explore and discover the magnificent wild life. You can venture out on foot to Lagunas Salinas, a small lake where you can spot picture perfect flamingos at sunset. Playa del Amor is a must see as well. Here, the best thing to do is to relax and enjoy doing nothing.
If you have the time and money, go for a cruise around the islands, it is definitely worth it! Last minute deals can work out much cheaper, just walk up to one of the many tour agencies at short notice and use your bargaining skills. Keep in mind that the minimum price for a 6 day stay will be $700-850 (€600-700) inclusive of 3 meals per day.
Los Tuneles is a geological formation on Island Isabela, built naturally by volcanic lava. Some of them are really long and you can even walk inside them, but if you just want to see them without paying a ridiculous price, just ask a taxi driver to bring you to the lava tunnels off the beaten track.
You can also make Los Tuneles as part of a day trip and snorkel with the turtles, sharks and sea lions off the Island of Isabella. You will encounter wild animals everywhere but don’t worry they are just chilling, leave them alone and they will do the same... it is one of the best things in Galápagos.
In Puerto Ayrona, you can find some hotels but not too many budget deals. Possble the best budget option in town is Hostel los Amigos which stands out with its excellent location close to all the bars and restaurants. It’s clean and relatively inexpensive. Cost: $8 (€7) for a private double room.
On Isabela island, stay at Hostel Cerro Azul, get a double room with air-conditioning and breakfast included. It is located in a really cool spot next to the beach and all the restaurants. If you are lucky to get a room on the first floor, you can even enjoy a balcony. Cost: $44 (€38) per night per person, for a double room ensuite .
Isla Santa Cruz:
On Isla Santa Cruz’s Puerto Ayrona, you have many bars and restaurants next to the seaside which are mostly touristic, expensive and not that great (don’t go to the sushi place at the seaside!)
- The Rock, offers a good selection of international dishes and a menu del dia for lunch with a starter, a soup, followed by a good grilled fish with rice and a small juice for $8 (€7). Check them out on Tripadvisor.
- At night, a small street in town will be closed down for traffic and opened for restaurants and open-air dining options. You can get fresh fish and lobster. Try the one in coconut sauce, it is incredibly tasty and relatively inexpensive! Ask some local people as they will be more than happy to guide you through this famous street.
- For lunch options always ask for the menu del dia or almuerzo – usually it is the best and cheapest option.
- The Oasis is a really good local food restaurant. Jenny, the owner, is simply lovely and you can easily see that she loves her job. Check in advance for her opening hours as she frequently changes them. On weekends you can be sure to find her locality open. Check them out on Tripadvisor.
Follow your instincts - if you see a lot of people in a restaurant it is always a good sign. Again - be prepared to pay more than on mainland Ecuador for food.