Galapagos Islands Guide
The Galapagos Islands is one of those places that can only be described as amazing.
Here’s why based on my experience:
First you need to get to the Galapagos. This is the expensive bit.
You can only get to Galapagos via Ecuador, and you can get there on the 3 airlines that service – Tame, Aerogal, or LAN airlines, with Tame typically being the cheapest.
Expect to spend approximately $500 round trip between the Galapagos and mainland Ecuador from either Guayaquill or Quito.
All the flights from Quito seem to stop in Guayaquill so to save some time in airports maybe get yourself there. It’s a pretty little town but I don’t really think there is much to do except use it as a stopover for the night before going to the Islands. If there is more to do than walk along the waterfront and up to the small hill overlooking the city, so let me know in the comments below!
The other additional cost of Galapagos is the national park fee + some other BS fee, which comes out to $100 + $10. I forget what they all each one, but it adds up to $110. I guess it is fair enough if the money is actually going to National park costs and not just the usual tourist money grab.
So for about $600 you can get on the islands, give or take a few, and depending what time you want to visit.
After you get on the islands, there’s an expensive way to do the Galapagos, and there’s a less expensive way to do Galapagos.
The expensive way to do Galapagos, is if you have at least 5 days on the islands and doing a cruise, which lets you see the most amount of islands in the shortest period of time.
It also costs an additional $800 – 1200 to find a reputable cruise operator that will hold to it’s schedule. This will let you see the major islands, along with some of the smaller highlights: Santa Cruz (you’ll fly into here, it’s the most inhabited one (pop. 15,000) and the most touristy one, don’t spend any time here unless you plan to scuba), Isabela (pop. 2,500, the big one with the 5 volcanoes, most beautiful one IMHO, I stayed here for 2 weeks), San Cristobal (pop. 12,000), Floreana, Bartolome, and maybe Espanola.
The cheaper way to do Galapagos is to fly into Santa Cruz, and just take one of the daily boats to Isabela ($25-$30 one way). Isabela pretty much has all the wildlife that the others have. The only thing I didn’t see there AS MUCH, but they’re still there, were sea lions. The huge sea lion population is on San Cristobal, and you can go to the beach, and lay down next to them, and if you’re lucky, you’ll go in the water and a younger one will play with you.
Because humans didn’t inhabit the Galapagos Islands until the 17th century, evolution has been a bit screwy like that. One swam up to me, jumped out of the water, clapped it’s fins and went off to my right. Then it did the same thing and dove to my left. Then underwater it swam around me for a complete turn, then took off and played on its own.
Even the giant tortoises and white tipped reef sharks do not seem that scared and you can snorkel with ease amongst them also. A real highlight of any trip.
Isabela also has the 5 volcanos on it, but only 1 is open to the public. For that matter, only the southern part of the island is open to people, but that’s plenty. You’ll see penguins, tortoises, white-tipped reef sharks, huge marine iguanas, manta rays, sea turtles, blue-footed boobies, frigate birds, pelicans, stocks, darwin’s finches, dogs, cats, chickens, you name it. There is only one paved road on Isabela to the Sierra Negro Volcano, otherwise it is all white sand. It’s the closest thing I’ve seen to what epitomises a beautiful, ideal, sleepy beach town. It also has the nicest, and longest beach of the 3 major islands.
I definitely recommend the Volcan Chico tour, the Los Tuneles (see other post on the same) and the Tintoreras tours. The Tintoreras is a small volcanic inlet not far from the main port – about 10 minutes in a small boat.
Each of these tours is about $25-60 (Los Tuneles is the expensive one, but very cool for lots of wildlife, and you will snorkel with a whole host of animal wildlife). There’s some free stuff you an do too, such as the Wall of Tears which you can walk and is free. It’s a couple of hours and you’ll see big iguanas and land tortoises on the path along the way.
There’s also snorkeling ($5 to rent) by the pier, I forget the name, and then there’s just free days on Isabela, which are amazing. I always recommend free, do-nothing days to people.
You can eat a cheap economic meal for about $3.50 if you’re willing to search a bit, so eating there is not expensive. Otherwise you can go to the “expensive” touristy places, but those are still only about 8-$15 for anything but lobster which for a remote island is not too bad at all.
As far as hotels/hostels go, you will pay anywhere between $10 and $20 for a private room.