Galapagos for dummies
Here’s the scoop about what goes on in the Galapagos Islands, so that you can plan your own trip without any issues. In the following, you’ll learn all about: daily tours, cruises, flights, ferries, weather, accommodation, restaurants and the way to properly behave as a tourist on these islands.
Your main takeaway should be: day tours around the Islands aren’t as easy to book as you might think. Try to organize your trip and book your day tours as far in advance as possible to make the most of your trip.
1) Galapagos tours
Here are a few considerations as you plan your day tours on the Galapagos Islands:
Years ago, the Galapagos National Park granted exclusive license to several Island settlers so that they could start experienced-based tourism instead of artisanal fishing.
One group of families offers daily tours to: Santa Fe, Pinzón, Daphne Mayor, 360 Tour, Cabo Rosa Tunnels and outings around the Bay. These tours are easy to find on the Islands and are cheaper than others, the challenge is to find an operator that offers a good service.
Another group of families organize tours on Bartolome, North Seymour, South Plazas, Sombrero Chino and Santa Fe with landing. However, since there are only 8-12 yachts available, tours are limited and it can be difficult to secure a spot upon arrival to the Islands.
A few travel bloggers claim to have purchased cheap tour tickets upon arrival but this information is misleading. Cheap tickets are only sold when there are no-shows, which is never guaranteed. If all passengers show up for the tour, you’re left without many options, potentially wasting a day on the Islands. It’s especially difficult to get on tours to Bartolomé and Seymour Norte because departure days are limited and not flexible. The Galapagos National Park, not the boat operators, manage tour schedules and boat operators must simply comply with these schedules. For instance, on the same day there might be tours to Bartolome, Seymour Norte and Plazas Sur. Since you can only choose one on any given day, it’s important to plan ahead to secure your spot on the boat!
Getting on a tour to San Cristobal can also be difficult. Only one yacht departs to Española Island on Monday, another on Wednesday, two on Thursday, four on Saturday and one on Sunday.
To Punta Pitt you’ll find one yacht heading out on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday, and two on Sunday. To make matters worse, many of the boats won’t depart unless the yacht is full, while some require a minimum of 8 passengers.
The best tour is definitely the Kicker Rock combined with Playa brujo, but as in Santa Cruz, the yacht schedule depends entirely on the itinerary determined by the Galapagos National Park.
On Isla Isabela, the boats take a two day break, though they could head to Islote Tortuga. However, since Islote Tortuga isn’t a popular tour, boats don’t plan and promote this tour.
Schedules may vary on a weekly basis; some boats depart one week at 7am and and others depart at 11am.
On Isla Isabela, there’s another issue relating to the Túneles Cabo Rosa tour which tends to more informal and therefore is lacking in good guides.
Day tours can only take a limited number of passengers and failure to comply will result with a fine of $3,000, implemented by the Galapagos National Park.
Visitor limits are: 360 on San Cristóbal; Santa Fe, Daphne Mayor and Pinzón in Santa Cruz; and Túneles Cabo Rosa in Isabela can take a max of 10 passengers. Operators with access to Española Island, Punta Pitt and Kicker Rock can take 12 passengers. And tours to Bartolomé, Plazas Sur and Seymour Norte have a capacity of 16 people.
Children under the age of 2 years don’t pay entry to the majority of tours because the Galapagos National Park doesn’t count them as passengers. They should still carry an ID or passport that states their age. Children over 2 count as passengers and don’t generally receive discounts on the tours.
2) Galapagos cruise
Most Galapagos cruises depart on Tuesday, Friday and Sunday from the Santa Cruz. In Santa Cruz, Galapagos Cruises depart from the Itabaca canal that is close to Baltra Airport.
Cruises in Galapagos are big business and are usually not very accessible for people traveling on a budget. You might’ve read about cheap last minute cruises on TripAdvisor, but these are usually the poorest in service, though they follow the same routes as the more expensive cruises.
Diving cruises are the only ones allowed to go to the farthest Islands such as the Wolf or Darwin.
3) Galapagos flights
Ecuadorians can access promotional tickets year round, but foreigners unfortunately cannot. If you’re a foreigner, even if you buy a discounted flight online you’ll be charged the added amount, which can vary between $150 to 300 dollars.
There are no international flights entering or leaving the Galapagos Islands. The only way to fly into the Galapagos Islands is via the airports in Guayaquil and Quito. It is advisable to enter through the San Cristóbal airport and exit at Baltra airport.
4) About transfers between islands
If you want to travel from one inhabited island to another, you can do so on speedboats, also known as ferries or coasters. The marina has established two fixed schedules to travel from one island to another.
In Santa Cruz and San Cristóbal these speedboats leave at: 7am and 2pm while on Isabela Island they leave at: 6am and 3pm. You cannot travel from San Cristobal Island to Isabela directly; it isn’t allowed so you must take 2 ferries instead.
While there are flights between the islands, departure isn’t always guaranteed. There have been cancelled flights due to lack of gas and passengers have been turned away without a refund and sent to a ferry to continue their trip.
5) Guidelines for tourists on the Galapagos
Below are a few guidelines to follow as you explore the Galapagos Islands.
6) Galapagos weather
Sadly, Aquaman does not live in the Islands, so your long-awaited trip can be overshadowed by heavy rains during the months of January and February. However, during these months the seawater will be hot and the weather in general will be warm.
If you’re thinking of going in the months of September and October, which is low season (although there isn’t really a low season on the Galapagos Islands), the weather starts to feel cooler, especially if you’re coming from tropical weather. (If you’re from the colder hemispheres, it’ll still feel like a sauna.) During this season, the sea water will be cold and you will need to wear a wetsuit and a coat at night. The good thing is that in those months thanks to the Humboldt current, the sea has more nutrients and therefore more activity under the sea, which makes for better diving and snorkeling than in other months.
7) About lodging and restaurants on the Galapagos
You’ll find a wide variety of options for lodging and restaurants on the Galapagos. If you’re “chiro” (broke) like me, you’ll still want a safe, decently priced and comfortable hostel in a good location.
Everything depends on your budget. Higher quality services and a better location will, for obvious reasons, cost more.
Do not forget to ask your hostel about Wifi because it’s generally pretty terribly on the Islands, so forget about uploading videos in your instagram story, hehe.
In terms of budget, the same applies to hotels and restaurants. I recommend that you go to places where they respect bans on seafood. Lobster fishing is illegal from January to July, yet some restaurants still sell these.
Also, though the seafood on the Galapagos Islands is almost always fresh, the restaurants qualified by the ARCSA (National Agency for Regulation, Control and Health surveillance) guarantee fresh and high quality seafood, ensuring you won’t get suck. See list of restaurants.
The video that will make you fall in love with the Galapagos Islands