I've had so many people ask me to help them plan their trip to the Galapagos...so, I thought I'd just post our trip here. My husband and I went in June of 2017!
I wanted a more mindful approach to traveling to the Galapagos. Rather than doing an outrageously expensive cruise, where tourists get more of a "feel" of the ship, and only leave the ship en masse to check out an island for a couple of hours, I wanted to experience life on the islands. I wanted to have the time to go at my own pace, and really take things in.
Flights and hotels:
My husband and I flew to Quito, and stayed in a hotel right by the airport. The city of Quito is about 45 min to an hour away from the airport, and we had a flight at around 8am to Baltra the next day...so it was super easy to stay so close.
I read everywhere that the Quito airport is crazy...but totally didn’t get that impression. We walked right outside to a line of taxis (there was an official guy there who sent us to the right cab) and it was $3 to get to our hotel (which was technically walking distance, but there were no sidewalks.)
Getting to the Islands:
So, we flew to Baltra the next day, which is an island right next to Santa Cruz. The only thing on Baltra is the airport, essentially. Our plane made a quick stop at the city of Guayaquil from Quito (but we stayed on the plane). It’s a 2-ish hour flight to the islands from Quito.
Baltra airport trickiness:
Customs: You arrive in the little airport, go through customs, and must pay $100 each...in cash (AND we had to pay an extra $20 each for something...not sure what).
Bus: After customs, you go outside and board a bus (you put any large bags in the side of the bus).
Ferry: The bus takes you to a ferry...you take any loaded bags and put them on the roof of the ferry. Make sure you have change for the ferry...maybe 30-50 cents each??! It's a quick ride (MAYBE 10 minutes) across the water.
Taxi: After you de-board the ferry, you will see a ton of white pickup trucks...those are cabs! All the cabs on the island must be white trucks, apparently. I wanted a little peace of mind before our trip, so I asked our hostal to book a cab for us, with stops along the way to the hotel. We were surprised that our driver actually met us AT the airport! He loaded and unloaded our bags in the bus and ferry...made it absolutely brainless for us. If I were to go again, I would have just waited, and asked one of the MANY drivers to stop along the way. It was nice for our first time to have a little help, though.
Fun things to do on the way to the hotel from the airport:
El Chato Giant Tortoise Reserve (this was the MOST incredible thing to see!!):
I’m really glad we visited those places on the way to our hotel so we didn’t have to make an extra excursion out of it. I think it cost $80-ish, but might have cost a bit more if we had to go back.
Santa Cruz Hotel: There are inhabited 4 islands in the Galapagos...the largest one is Santa Cruz. We stayed at a perfectly decent, and incredibly cheap hostel/hotel called Captain Max...here’s my Trip Advisor review (I was a bit more harsh than I usually am in reviews)....but I would still recommend it!
Things to do on Santa Cruz:
I LOVED the little town in Santa Cruz! This town is SO safe, that people leave their bikes propped up on the curb without locking them. Good vibes here!!
At night, one of the little streets gets blocked off, and the restaurants that line the street fill it with tables and chairs...and serve delicious local food. Tons of locals, travelers, and hardly any Americans! We ate amazing ceviche every night...and our hotel was one block away. A dream for street-food lovers.
Every evening after dinner we walked to the main pier...there are sea lions lounging on park benches, and the water is lit...we saw sharks, and fish...there is a playground nearby with tons of kids playing.
Fish market: LOVE this little video of a woman feeding a sea-lion scraps of fish like it was a dog...the sea lions and pelicans fight over scraps...super fun thing to see.
Darwin center: We walked to the Darwin center...you could also rent bikes...it’s MAYBE a mile down the road... super cool cactus a tortoise breeding center, and just generally a nice walk!
Hidden beach: on our way from the Darwin center, we took a sandy path to a beautiful local beach...lots of red crabs and surfers...nice for a quick stopover!
Las Grietas- Take a water taxi to get across the bay (have small change with you...it's less than $1 each), and then walk maybe 2 miles to get to this really cool lagoon nestled between mountains. Pro tip: GO EARLY! Try to get there between 9 and 10 am...it gets crazy crowded. Downside: tons of wasps at the entrance at the changing area near the water. Beautiful scenery along the way!
- Take an excursion! We went to Bartolomé Island with a tour company called Yacht Santa Fe 2. They pick you up at your hotel, and do different islands on different days. Great company! AND, I could book and pay in advance. I’ve heard all of the islands are great..and the Santa Fe site has great descriptions.
*The day trips are expensive to book in advance, around $200 per adult..you could book a trip for a huge discount if you wait until you arrive. I was glad to have pre-arranged the trips, for peace of mind...but next time, I would find a tour company on the island! There are PLENTY to choose from.
My VERY favorite part of our trip. Miles of pristine beaches where you will be one of few people there. Cute but RUSTIC little town, super friendly people...truly paradise.
Getting to Isabela island: This was my LEAST favorite part of the trip...It absolutely sucked. We bought our tickets the day before we left from one of MANY tour shops on the island. We paid about $30 each to take a 2 hour water taxi...the taxis leave 2x a day (taking the SUPER early boat is better...the water is calmer). We were on a boat with around 25 people. My husband didn’t mind the trip...but I hated it! I am not a fan of speed boats...they scare the hell out of me. So...
From the dock to the hotel: you could easily walk...but I thought it was super confusing when we were there...so we hopped in the truck of a guy who said he was a cab driver, and for a few dollars, he took us to our hotel!
Isabella hotel: we stayed in an AWESOME hotel, Hostal Jeniffer that I booked via Air BnB. It was an easy walk to the town (which is usually one of my hotel must-haves). No breakfast, but there are plenty of places within walking distance!
Things to do on Isabella island:
Rent bikes! Start early morning (because of the heat) and ride to the Wall of Tears...and stop at different beach spots along the way. It’s definitely a challenge riding the bikes through sandy parts. We saw tortoises along the way! We never actually made it all the way...we were so so hot (we went in the afternoon, mistakenly)...but even a short ride was fun.
Saw this little dude walking by us on our bike ride:
Concha de Perla- a super easy walk from town. Take your snorkels, and walk down the beautiful wooden path to a little swimming dock. Lots of people there...and there can be turtles, penguins and giant lizards to swim with.
Turtle sanctuary. There is a really beautiful, easy walk to the sanctuary where you can see flamingos, and lots of other wildlife. This sanctuary isn’t as impressive as the one on Santa Cruz, but the walk to get to it is worth it!
Take day trips:
We used Pahoehoe tours. They had fantastic guides! Wait to book until you get there...you will save a TON of money!!
- Las Tintoreras- book a super easy guided kayak/snorkel trip...these are little islands VERY close to Isabella. It was a great trip, and we saw turtles, and our first shark (the sharks here are very docile...not harmful to people...AND your look like a badass getting close to them..haha!)
- Los Túneles- probably the most incredible place I have ever been. It’s a long trip...but the snorkeling was incredible...the scenery was beyond description! We swam with penguins here...saw a gazillion turtles, rays, sharks, fish...and blue footed boobies. If you do nothing else, do this tour!
There were great little restaurants in this sleepy town. A little pink hotel/restaurant/bar on the beach at one end of the road, Caleta Iguana...My husband and I hung out there every night...it was a great place to sit, and reflect on our day. We ate at the Coco Surf restaurant every night that we were there too...something we RARELY do when we travel, but we loved the food, and our waiter was super nice.
Going home: We took a little plane back to the Baltra airport. We TOTALLY splurged...I think it was $250 each?! On Emtebe (I think that’s the name) ...I think it’s the only airline there! We had a cab pick us up from our hotel...the view from the plane was absolutely incredible!
Here's one last photo from our plane back to Baltra:
I would love to go back some day!! What an incredible adventure! Have you been? What was your experience like?! Let me know in the comments!