If you have ever taken a Biology class, you have likely heard of the famous Galapagos Islands where Charles Darwin conducted his research on life evolving due to a process called natural selection. These islands are quite remote and isolated having been out of contact with the rest of the world until recently.
The Galapagos Eden
The islands are a treasure trove of untouched natural beauty and unique wildlife thanks to their unspoiled remote location. The Galapagos are also listed as a World Heritage Site.
Visiting the Galapagos has gotten easier in recent years after the construction of two new airports on the islands. That said, still, not many people travel to this paradise (which in a sense is a good thing).
Read: Paradise Found at the Galapagos Islands (Trip report)
The Galapagos Islands
The Galapagos archipelago consists of 13 main islands and 6 smaller isles. You’ll most likely spend time and explore the following key islands and towns.
- Santa Cruz Island – the main island and Puerto Ayora town. Puerto Ayora makes the best base for those wishing to visit the Galapagos while staying on shore.
- Isabela Island – the largest island and Puerto Villamil town. A nice place for beach activity and snorkeling.
- Baltra Island – Seymour Airport (GPS)
- San Cristobal Island – San Cristobal Airport (SCY) and Puerto Baquerizo Moreno, the capital of Galapagos
- Espanola Island
- Fernandina Island
- Floreana Island
- Genovesa Island
- Santa Fe Island
- South Plaza Island
- Wolf & Darwin Island – one of the best dive destination in the world
Big Towns in Galapagos
- Puerto Ayora (the largest town on Santa Cruz Island)
- Puerto Baquerizo Moreno (capital of the Galapagos on San Cristobal Island)
- Puerto Villamil town (on Isabela Island)
Things To Do In Galapagos
The best way to explore the wildlife and natural beauty of the Galapagos is to take a cruise. Booking a cruise that originates in your country may be expensive. We recommend that you book a cruise from Ecuador, which will be least expensive and the closest port with most options.
Travel by Cruise
Cruises are your only option to see the majority of remote islands. All cruise ships are required to have a certified naturalist guide. Each cruise ships has a fixed itinerary for the year which is set by the Galapagos National Park, with the purpose being to control the number of tourists arriving at any time on each island. We recommend booking your travel dates in advance.
Cruises are available in 2, 4, 5, 8 and 15-days options. The following is a list of typical sights:
- Climb the hill on Bartolome for the classic Galapagos view
- Visit the Giant Tortoise breeding and rearing program at the Charles Darwin Research Center on Santa Cruz.
- See the red neck sacks of the Magnificent Frigatebird on North Seymour or El Junco, San Cristobal.
- Visit unique and color species like the Galapagos penguins on Isabela or Floreana.
- Go snorkeling with Sea-lions and Pacific Sea Turtles as often as possible.
Travel on Land
Land-based tours are getting popular. In 2017 while approximately 72,000 people enjoyed a cruise every year, almost 150,000 visitors came to the islands on land-based island-hopping trips.
As a land-based visitor, you basically trade off the opportunity to travel around to remote parts of the archipelago and the convenience of waking up at a new destination every day, for the cheaper cost of overall travel. Plus, you get to make your own itinerary.
Another key difference is while cruise tourism of the Galapagos Islands is strictly regulated (with a cap on the total number of visitors allowed), no such cap of regulations exist for land-based tourism.
Therefore, more and more agencies are offering island-hopping land-based trips. You can search for them online according to your taste and budget.
A third option could be opting for a self-guided trip. You can book your own accommodations and daily travel plans directly. While the majority of the islands will be off-limits without a guide, it is possible to travel via speedboat between the towns of San Cristobal, Santa Cruz, Isabela, and Floreana.
Speedboats cost $30 one-way, or $50 both ways with an open return date. Each of these islands offers the possibility of joining organized local day trips as well or you can travel on your own within the town limits.
On the other hand, the Galapagos Tours offer you 6 days on the first class yacht, the Xavier, costing you only $900. Scuba diving in the Galapagos is an affordable way to discover both the land and the sea.
Do Beach Camping
You can book a tour with Galapagos Unbound which includes beach camping and water sports.
Take Day Tours
From Santa Cruz, you can book day trips to the uninhabited islands of North Seymour, South Plazas, Santa Fe, and Bartolome. Advance reservations is a good idea and at-times required.
At many national park locations and all uninhabited islands, the number of visitors is limited, and there are only a few official landing and visitor sites.
You must follow the instructions of your guide to protect the wildlife. You are not allowed off the marked paths. This is not a problem as the animals are so tame they will sit right on the path or cross it without caring about mere tourists.
You can do snorkeling, scuba diving, kayaking, panga rides (rides in local dinghies), and rides in a glass-bottom boat, depending on your cruise (if you are on a cruise tour).
Life under the water is more diverse than that onshore and snorkeling with sea lions is frequently the highlight of the trip for many visitors.
Kayaking allows you to navigate more of the water without a boat. Kayaks can be rented at Tortuga Bay in Santa Cruz and the port at San Cristobal to navigate the nearby beaches. Fish and sea turtles can often be seen while kayaking; however, conditions should be checked before renting.
Snorkeling and diving are very popular activities as the sea life is so rich and colorful. offers a way to be in the water with fish, sea turtles, sea lions, and other creatures and is a great option for those who don’t want to scuba dive.
Snorkeling equipment should be available from your tour operator (but check first) if you don’t have your own. The islands that are older (further to the west) often have cold temperatures. Wetsuits can be rented at the same locations as snorkeling equipment.
Diving in the Galapagos is incredible. Darwin and Wolf Islands have been ranked as the best dive destination in the world due to the healthiest marine environment and presence of big animals (hammerhead sharks, Galapagos sharks, Silky sharks and whale sharks, giant mantas, eagle rays, sting rays, huge schools of jack and tuna, sea turtles, sea lions, and more.)
That said, the Galapagos is not necessarily the right place for those who have never dived before. Rip currents, surge, cold water, and sometimes poor visibility and depths make diving a challenge.
Diving in the Galapagos
You have two options:
- Daily dives (with a local tour operator from Santa Cruz, Isabela, and San Cristobal Islands)
- Galapagos Live Aboards (only Live-Aboards Cruises go to Darwin and Wolf Island)
It is best to ask if an operator has a dive permit, otherwise, you may be turned back by Park Rangers and not permitted to dive.
Pro Tip: Park regulations may change unexpectedly (without prior notice). For this reason, travelers are advised to get the most up-to-date information possible when planning a dive trip to the Galapagos Islands.
The Galapagos provides some good waves and many locals make it a daily activity. Boards can be rented by the day at port towns. Sites are marked with a place to rest surfboards as to not damage the land. The following are beaches that allow surfing:
- Punta Carola, San Cristobal
- La Loberia, San Cristobal
- Tongo Reef, San Cristobal
- Tortuga Bay, Santa Cruz
- Playa Ratonera, Santa Cruz
Isabela has a more continuous sandy shoreline that provides open surfing, larger waves are at the end of the road that follows the beach on the opposite side of the port.
The Galapagos Surf Co.
The only surf travel company in the Galapagos. Waves are available not only in San Cristobal with north swell but also in Santa Cruz and Isabela islands as well.
Hiking is often included as part of organized cruises or tours of the highlands. Although you will often see fewer animals during these tours, you will often gain a greater understanding of the difference in terrain and vegetation as well as the formation of the islands.
Hiking is restricted in all National Park land; however, several sights, like the Wall of Tears on Isabela and Cerro Tijeras on San Cristobal can be hiked independently. The rules are that a guide must accompany all groups of more than eight people in the National Park.
Biking provides quicker access to far sites from the ports. Bike rentals are available on Isabela, San Cristobal, and Santa Cruz for around $15 per day.
Horseback riding can be organized to allow you to see the highlands in greater detail. Tours are roughly $50.
Sports Fishing is prohibited in Galapagos Island National Park. Illegal fishing is a threat to the park’s natural eco-system. Unfortunately, the number of fishermen has increased over the last few years, while the number of the fish stock has plunged. Please do not fish. Some ecosystems are unique and too fragile.
Volunteering in Galapagos
To minimize the impact of sightseeing on the unique ecosystem and mitigate issues with introduced species, several organizations provide conservation-based volunteering.
One of the greatest dangers to the islands is introduced species. The park service is trying to eliminate goats, rats, cats, dogs, and introduced plant species on many of the islands, but it is a difficult battle; after evolving for thousands of years without predators, the Galapagos wildlife is not adapted to handle these new species.
Note: When traveling to the islands, please do not bring any plant or animal life with you, and be sure to always clean your footwear when traveling between islands to avoid accidentally transferring seeds.
Galapagos Volunteering Organization
- Hacienda Tranquila works on environmental, community and social issues. Volunteers stay on the grounds and cook for themselves. The hacienda is owned and managed by locals.
- Hacienda Esperanza works to conserve the environment and promote sustainable technologies. Volunteers are provided room and board as part of volunteering. The hacienda is owned and managed by locals.
- Jatun Sachu works to conserve the Galapagos and covers a larger area. Volunteers are provided room and board as part of volunteering.
- Fundacion Bolivar Education has a conservation farm project in San Cristobal, as well as a habitat restoration project.They also have Teaching programs on the islands.
Best Time To Go
The Galapagos Islands have a highly variable climate, as does Ecuador’s mainland. There are two seasons in the islands: the hot and rainy season from December to June, and the cooler season from June to November.
In the hot season, from December to May, the humidity is high, and the days are generally warm and sunny. It is also a busy time.
In the cooler season, from June to November, you can expect cool winds with occasional misty-drizzle. It’s less crowded during the colder season.
It is best to avoid traveling to the islands during Easter and Christmas because that is the busiest time of year. However, a visit during June guarantees you calm weather and quiet hotels.
August is also popular as the animals are more active. September through November is typically the lowest season as most boats leave the islands for dry docking space.
For divers peak season is from July to November, when whale sharks can be found near Wolf & Darwin Island region.
How To Get Here
The Quito and Guayaquil airports on the mainland of Ecuador are the only ones which offer flights to the Galapagos Islands. You will fly into either Baltar or San Cristobal, which are the only two islands with an airport.
You can travel between the islands by boats or yachts. Seeing the sites and wildlife of the Galapagos is best done by boat, just as Charles Darwin did it in 1835. Over 60 cruise ships visit the Galapagos waters, ranging in size from 8 to 100 passengers. There are 5 different ports which use private yachts to transport you between the islands.
Be sure to ask when you book:
- Tell your particular interests in Galapagos
- Any constraints you may have (communicate up front)
- Accommodation option (if so, where)
- Origination and end of the tour (ports, towns, etc.)
- Is food/snacks/water provided (if not, eating options)
- Total cost
- Which islands will be covered
- Total travel time/days (and detailed travel itinerary)
- What kind of boat (how many passengers)
- Any safety-related questions you may want to ask
Lastly, visit GalapagosCruiseLinks to search for last-minute prices and deals on a range of ships sailing within the next 90 days.
Boat Tour Operators
Aida Maria Travel
Owns 2 Galapagos cruise boats – Aida Maria and Eden – that offer from 4 to 15-day cruises in the Galapagos. They are Galapagos locals and have been offering Galapagos tours since the early 1960s. From $150 per day.
The Galapagos Tours
Galapagos cruises on Galaven II motor yacht (tourist class), Xavier motor yacht (first class), and Queen Beatriz Catamaran (luxury) with 5, 6, and 7-day itineraries in the Galapagos. From $175 per day.
Galasam owns 3 Galapagos cruises – Millennium and Estrella de Mar I and II – with 4 to 8-day itineraries in the Galapagos. From $150 per day. Email: [email protected]
Tierra de Fuego Agency
Owns one Galapagos cruise, Guantamamera, with 4 to 8-day itineraries in the Galapagos. From $149 per day. Email: [email protected]
Recognized by National Geographic Adventure as one of the “Best Adventure Travel Companies on Earth”, Adventure Life provides land-based hiking trips, eco-hotels and multisport tours that include sea-kayaking, biking, horseback riding, hiking volcanoes, and snorkeling. They also offer traditional Galapagos cruises.
Cultural & Natural Heritage (CNH) Tours
Run by TripAdvisor’s Galapagos Destination Expert Heather Blenkiron, this company’s specialty is a 13-day trip that includes flights from Quito, 8 days cruising the islands, 2 full days on land in Puerto Ayora, and one full day in Quito. CNH Tours uses the 14-passenger Samba. Email: [email protected]
Dive The Galapagos
Puerto Villamil, Isabela-Galapagos. Dive The Galapagos is the only company that focuses exclusively on diving in the Galapagos Islands. This company also operates land-based tours from its base in Puerto Villamil.
Enchanted Expeditions is in its fourth decade of operating tours in Galapagos using their own yachts, Beluga (Superior First Class) and Cachalote I (First Class). They are Smart Voyager certified, offering 16 small guest cruises that concentrate on exploring nature. They sometimes have very good deals for their standard tours of the Galapagos and also do tours of mainland Ecuador.
Offers sea cruises with optional kayaking, snorkeling and hiking excursions.
Operates the 16-passenger Daphne yacht.
Operates the 100-passenger Galapagos Legend, one of the larger boats operating in the islands. Landing opportunities are limited due to the large number of passengers, but this ship offers a less-expensive way to visit some of the more popular sites within the Galapagos. Often offers discounted rates.
Established in 1985. Owner and direct operator of first-class catamaran boats Nemo II and Nemo III. Offers 4, 5 and 8-day all inclusive cruises/ tours to Galapagos Islands. Contact: Diego de Almagro, Quito, Ecuador. Email: [email protected]
M/V Galapagos Explorer II
Along with the Galapagos Legend, this is the other 100-person boat that operates in the islands. While most small landing sites are unavailable to this boat, it does provide a less-expensive alternative for seeing some popular destinations within the Galapagos. Often offers discounted rates.
Red Mangrove Galapagos Lodges
This company owns three lodges on Santa Cruz, Floreana and Isabela and offers a “Darwin’s Triangle” adventure program. Camping options on Santa Cruz and Isabela. They also offer an island-hopping scuba diving program, the “Dive Triangle”.
Awarded “Tours of a Lifetime” by National Geographic, this company allows two nights’ camping on the islands as part of the journey. Snorkeling, hiking, kayaking and swimming are all part of the trip.
SharkSky Ecoadventures Galapagos
Offers regular island hopping, but also multisport, adventure, camping, dive tours and tailor-made tours.
How to Pick Best Tour Boat
When looking for a boat tour, consider the following criteria:
- Number of passengers (smaller the better)
- Itinerary (tour length & number of stops – more the better)
- Cost (do a cost per day analysis – smaller the better)
- Type of boat (quality of boat matters from speed, comfort, maintenance, & safety perspective)
Note: Many tours do not include the $100 park entry fee or the cost of a flight from the mainland to the islands (about $500 from Quito), and a $20 INGALA Tourist Control Card. Less expensive boats may also charge for beverages, use of snorkel equipment, wetsuits and kayaks.
Where To Stay
Even if you take a cruise, it is likely that you will need a hotel at some point during your vacation. San Cristobal, Santa Cruz, and Isabella have inexpensive hostels as well as hotels. But if you really want to see lots of good wildlife, you will need to combine your stay on these islands with daily boat tours to other islands.
Hotels and hostels could be anywhere from $25–$500 per night.
The Galapagos Islands are part of Ecuador. Hence, most sockets on the islands are Type A and B. If you are not from a country which uses that size sockets, then you will need a travel adapter. Travelers from Asian, European and African countries need step-down transformers to match the voltage level on the islands, which is 120V.
Galapagos National Park Rules
- To visit the National Park you must always be accompanied by a certified guide.
- Galapagos is a unique and fragile environment. Professional photo and video shooting need prior authorization from the National Park.
- Stay within the limits of the walking trails, for your safety and that of the flora and fauna.
- To avoid affecting the wildlife’s natural behavior, avoid getting closer than two meters to the animals.
- Camping is allowed at specific sites. If you wish to camp, you must first obtain a permit from the Galapagos National Park.
- Do not introduce foreign organisms to the islands, as these can have a negative impact on the ecosystem.
- Do not buy souvenirs which are made from black coral, sea shells, sea lion teeth, tortoise shell, volcanic rock or endemic woods.
- Do not feed the wild animals. Feeding them can be detrimental to their health.
- Galapagos landscapes are beautiful and unique. Do not spoil them by writing or etching rocks or trees.
- Do not litter while on the islands. Always dispose of rubbish in a safe and appropriate way.
- Smoking or making campfires in the national park areas is forbidden and can cause devastating fires.
- Fishing is strictly forbidden, except on those boats specifically authorized by the Galapagos National Park.
- Jet skiing, submarines, water skiing, and aerial tourism are all forbidden.
December 29, 2017 11:49 pm