Galapagos Islands: A complete guide to traveling on your own
As an Ecuadorian travel blogger, I wrote this guide to travel through the Galapagos Islands on a budget. With this low cost guide, I want to help you: organize each day on each island, save money by traveling on your own (without a package tour), budget your trip based on your own interests and based on the photos and info about each Galapagos island.
Every year, I travel through the Galapagos Islands and all the information you’ll find on my site is up-to-date. More importantly, it’s objective so that you can make informed decisions to make the most of your Galapagos experience.
- What are the requirements to travel to the Galapagos?
- How to get to the Galapagos?
- When to go to the Galapagos?
- What to take to the Galapagos?
- How to travel between the islands?
- How much does it cost to travel?
- SANTA CRUZ ISLAND
- ISABELA ISLAND
- SAN CRISTOBAL ISLAND
- Galápagos Time zone
- Galapagos Cruise
- Travel safe through the Galapagos
GALAPAGOS ISLANDS VIDEO – PLAYLIST
What are the requirements to travel to the Galapagos?
There are a few requirements to enter the Galapagos Islands. Regardless of whether you’re Ecuadorian or a foreigner, you must carry the below documents, pay migration fees and park entrance fees:
They reopen the doors to tourism, as long as all biosecurity procedures are respected, which Ecuador has in its airports with its entry protocol for tourists to Galapagos.
*You should also know what the process is to enter with online pre-registration of the TCT and what you have to do at the Guayaquil or Quito airport to avoid delays.
How to get to the Galapagos?
The Galapagos Islands are part of the Ecuadorian territory and to reach the Galapagos, you can only take national flights that depart daily from the airports in Guayaquil (airport code: GYE) or Quito (airport code: UIO).
» Galapagos airports
There are two airports in the Galapagos. One is on San Cristóbal Island (airport code SCY) and the other is on Baltra Island (airport code GPS), located near Santa Cruz Island.
» Galapagos Flights
For flights to the Galapagos, it’s better if your entry flight is to the island of Baltra and your departure airport is from San Cristobal Island. This is especially true if you have an itinerary of 7 or more days, total.
» Tickets to the Galapagos
Flights to the Galapagos can be purchased directly online on airline websites like Latam and Avianca, which offer national flights from Guayaquil or Quito and fly to the Galapagos airports.
Flight prices to the Galapagos, vary depending on nationality:
*Keep in mind that all airlines may confront delays and cancelations, which can complicate your trip/itinerary or cruise dates. Review your rights here: problems with your flight in Ecuador
How to get to the Galapagos Islands from Guayaquil by boat?
Those of you that seek to travel by boat to the Galapagos Islands from Guayaquil should know that the trip takes 3 days and departs from a commercial port, located in the neighborhood called Pradera 3, next to the Store Ocean dock. However, transporting people that don’t work for a given vessel is prohibited.
How to travel between the islands of Santa Cruz, Isabela and San Cristobal?
» Inter-island boats
Inter-island boats are also known as Ferries or speedboats.
Schedule for inter-island boats in the Galapagos:
Santa Cruz – Isabela: 07h00 and 14h00
Santa Cruz – San Cristobal: 07h00 and 14h00
Isabela – Santa Cruz: 06h00 and 15h00
San Cristobal – Santa Cruz: 07h00 and 15h00
Travel time on any of these routes is 2 hours
Price for inter-island boats in the Galapagos:
USD 30 one way
USD 1.50 cost for marine taxis
» Inter-island flights
Currently, there are 2 airlines that offer local, or inter-island, flights between Isabela, Santa Cruz and San Cristobal islands. These are: Fly Galápagos and Emetebe.
Flights can save you time on your trip through the Galapagos. If you want to travel from San Cristobal to Isabela or vice versa, I recommend you fly. Also, if there isn’t enough fuel, your flight will be cancelled and you’ll have to travel on inter-island boats. This is also why I recommend reading the fine print regarding cancellation policies for both local airlines.
How much does it cost to travel to the Galapagos?
» Budget to visit the Galapagos
Here are the average expenses, so you can calculate how much money you need to travel through the Galapagos Islands. I also have a budget + itinerary for the following islands: Santa Cruz Island, Isabela Island e San Cristobal Island.
USD 20: TCT Migration Card. You must pay this at the Guayaquil or Quito airport before checking in with your airline.
USD 6: Ecuadorian entrance fee to Galapagos National Park. This payment is made as soon as you get off the plane at either Baltra or San Cristobal airport.
USD 50: Entrance fee to Galapagos National Park for members of Mercosur or the Andean community. This is paid as soon as you get off the plane as well.
USD 100: Entrance fee to Galapagos National Park for foreign tourists. Similarly, you pay this as soon as you get off the plane at the airport.
*Minors from 0 to 2 don’t pay and from 2 to 12 pay half the National Park entrance fee.
USD 5: Entry tax for Ecuadorians if traveling to Isabela
USD 10: Entry tax for foreigners if traveling to Isabela
USD 5: Bus from Baltra airport to dock. “Lobitos” buses can be found outside the airport. As soon as these are filled, they depart to the port where you can cross over to Santa Cruz.
USD 1: Barge. It will take you from the dock on Baltra to Santa Cruz. Try to board last so that you are the first to get off.
USD 5: Bus from the dock in Santa Cruz to Puerto Ayora. The bus ride takes about 45 minutes and, on the way back, you need to take it from the bus station (terminal terrestre), located near the town of Puerto Ayora. Buses depart at 07h00, 07h40, 08h00 and 08h40.
USD 25: Taxi from Itabaca dock in Santa CRuz to your hotel in Puerto Ayora. You can share this taxi with up to 4 people.
USD 2: Taxi from the airport in San Cristobal to your hotel in Puerto Baquerizo Moreno.
USD 25: Total cost of food per day in the Galapagos. Breakfast USD 5 – Lunch USD 5 – Dinner USD 15
*Oftentimes you won’t need to pay for lunch as this is included in the tours and is enough to go on until dinner.
USD 4: One bottle of Pilsner beer in the Galapagos. You can also try artesanal beer made in the Galapagos.
USD 30: Accommodation – always ask for the simplest set up, if you’re on a budget. Even a room with AC increases the price.
*You may need a room with AC during the months between December and May when the heat can get unbearable.
» Financial advice about your trip to the Galapagos
Currency and exchange rate
Take 20, 10, 5, 1 dollar bills. The majority of businesses and establishments won’t accept 100 and 50 dollar bills. Ecuador uses the dollars and all ATMs will provide dollars.
It’s better to take cash because many touristic establishments don’t accept credit card payments. On Santa Cruz Island and San Cristobal Island you’ll find ATMs belonging to the following banks: Banco del Pacífico, Bolivariano and Banco Pichincha. On Isabela Island there’s another ATM belonging to Banco del Pacífico, but it is often out of service.
If you still want to take your credit card, you should ask your hotel if they offer a safe/security box where you can store your credit cards and cash. Unfortunately, there have been cases of credit card fraud on the Galapagos, as well as petty theft of cards, that are still being investigated. This doesn’t mean it’s unsafe on the Islands, in fact the Galapagos Islands are Ecuador’s safest destinations.
What to do in Santa Cruz Island?
Santa Cruz Island in the Galapagos has the most touristic activity because the majority of tours and cruises depart from this island.
I recommend staying for 5 days in Santa Cruz so that you have enough time to visit a number of islands on day tours, like: Pinzón Island, Santa Fe Island, North Seymour, Floreana Island, South Plazas Island, Bartolome Island; and also visit other destinations on your own, such as: tour through the high region of the island, el garrapatero beach, tour of the bay, tortuga bay beach, Alemanes beach and las Grietas.
» Touristic destinations in Santa Cruz Island
Original photos by ChokoTrip ©
Tour through the high region of the island
The tour through the high region of Santa Cruz can be done in a taxi pickup truck. Most taxi drivers already know the stops and sights along this route. In summary, visit: Los Gemelos, lava tunnels and las Primicias ranch or al Chato, where you’ll find gigantic tortoises.
The entire tour takes about 2 hours and if you’re traveling with a few others, you can split the cost of the taxi, which is USD 50, total. Entry to el Chato or las Primicias ranches is USD 5 per person.
*I strongly suggest hiring a local naturalist guide for this tour and, since you’ve hired them for the entire day, they may also take you to other spots.
El Garrapatero Beach
This is one of the few beaches where camping is permitted in the Galapagos. To reach Garrapatero you need to take a taxi for USD 40 or rent a bicycle, which costs USD 20, per day. The beach is located about 25 km from Puerto Ayora. There’s a space for BBQs available to visitors, just make sure you leave everything as clean as you found it.
*There are a lot of annoying horseflies here and they’re worse after you’ve gone for a swim!
The tour around Santa Cruz bay is a short 3 hour boat trip. To summarize it, you visit spots around Puerto Ayora like: dog beach (playa de los perros), the love crevice (la grieta del amor), you can snorkel in the crevices (las Grietas), where the water isn’t as cold as in other areas of the island.
Tortuga Bay Beach
Tortuga Bay beach or Tortuga Bay is considered one of the best beaches across the Galapagos Islands, according to most travelers. To get to Tortuga Bay, you can hike along a trail for 45 minutes. First, find a white sand beach where people are surfing, then take a right and walk along the beach for 10 minutes. You’ll find a little trail in the mangroves and then see a beach, which is Tortuga Bay. It has calm, shallow and transparent waters – ideal for children. It closes at 5pm.
Los Alemanes Beach
Your visit to los Alemanes beach can (and should) be combined with a visit to las Grietas (below). First, take an aquatic taxi in Puerto Ayora (cost of $0.50) which will cross you to the dock at los Alemanes Beach. When you arrive, first head to las Grietas and try to make it back to los Alemanes beach when it’s low tide for the best snorkeling.
Visit las Grietas before or after your visit to los Alemanes Beach. These deep, water filled crevices were formed as a result of a volcanic fracture. The trail to las Grietas is rocky, like most trails in the Galapagos, and passes through residential areas, where the first colonizers to Santa Cruz settled. They run along the salt mines where salt was once extracted using traditional methods.
» Day tours from Santa Cruz Island
I can help you find availability on the following day tours in Santa Cruz Galapagos and reserve your spot in advance: Bartolome Island tour, Santa Fe Island Tour, North Seymour Island Tour, Pinzon Island Tour, South Plaza Island Tour, Floreana Island Tour y Chinese Hat Island Tour
This is considered to be one of the most beautiful islands in the Galapagos by most travelers. You’re required to visit the island on a day tour. There are incredible, other worldly landscapes. Read more about Bartolome Island and Book a tour in advance.
There are two different day tours to Santa Fe. One lands on the island and the other doesn’t, but offers a fishing experience. The tour that doesn’t make a landing in Santa Fe Island offers snorkeling in one of the island’s bays and then lands on Playa Escondida, which is in Santa Cruz Island. The tour with landing in Santa Fe provides the opportunity to observe some of the Galapagos Islands’ most famous land iguanas. Read more about Santa Fe Island and Book a tour in advance.
This tour includes a hike through North Seymour along a trail with many blue-footed boobies, frigates, land iguanas and sea lions. This is ideal for travelers who only have a few days on the Islands but want to prioritize wildlife sightings on one island. Read more about North Seymour Island and Book a tour in advance.
You’ll snorkel among sea lions, reef sharks known as Tintorera sharks, manta rays and, occasionally, Galapagos penguins. I think this is one of the best snorkeling spots in the Galapagos. Read more about Pinzon Island and Book a tour in advance.
You’ll hike and observe birdlife, sea lions and land iguanas. You can snorkel in the turquoise waters of Punta Carrión and, if you’re lucky, you’ll see sharks and tropical fish. Read more about South Plaza Island and Book a tour in advance.
This island has the most history in the Galapagos. It’s also one of only two islands with its own fresh water spring. It has a “galapaguera” where you can observe the giant tortoises up close. You’ll snorkel and, with a bit of luck, you’ll see penguins, manta rays and sea lions frolicking nearby. Read more about Floreana Island and Book a tour in advance.
It’s geological formation gives it a unique landscape, not to mention the contrast of colors between the black lava stones, white sand beach and blue ocean. You’ll see various marine iguanas and sea lions and will snorkel in Sullivan Bay, where you might see penguins, sharks and tropical fish. Read more about Chinese Hat Island and Book a tour in advance.
» Hotels in Santa Cruz Island
What to do on Isabela Galapagos?
Isabela Island in the Galapagos is one of the largest of all the islands and is known globally due to its crater, which is the second biggest in the world after Yellowstone’s.
I recommend staying on Isabela for 3 days so that you have time to visit a few islands on day tours, like: Cabo Rosa, Sierra Negra Volcano and Tintoreras; and visit other touristic destinations on your own, like: bicycle route to the wall of tears , concha perla, breeding center and flamingo pond and its beaches.
» Touristic destinations on Isabela Island
Original photos by ChokoTrip ©
Bicycle route to the wall of tears
The cycling route to the wall of tears is, by far, the most famous one across the Islands. You can rent a bicycle for USD 20 per day. Start in the morning and travel through: La playita (little beach), playa del amor (love beach), the look out Cerro Orchilla and finally, the wall of tears.
Breeding Center and flamingo pond
Make the most of your bicycle route and, on the way back, stop by the tortoise breeding center which is open until 5pm and is only meters from the flamingo pool.
A spot on Isabela where you can snorkel among many fish species and sea lions. The water is clear and make sure to take your own snorkel gear or rent it beforehand.
» Day tours from Isabela Island
The tour is great – first you’ll visit a rock called Union Rock where you’ll see blue-footed boobies. Then you’ll go to the tunnels for a tour where you’ll see more boobies and experience some top-notch snorkleing. If you’re lucky, you might even end up swimming among tintorera sharks! Read more about Cabo Rosa Tunnels and Book a tour in advance.
This is one of the few treks that you can do in the Galapagos Islands. It’s a trek that lasts 5 hours to reach the world’s second widest volcano, and part of the route passes by Chico Volcano – an otherworldly place. Read more about Sierra Negra Volcano and Book a tour in advance.
This tour lasts a couple of hours. It begins on an Islet where you’ll see marine iguanas, sea lions and Tintorera sharks. Afterwards, you go snorkeling.
» Hotels on Isabela Island
Here are 3 places where you can stay on Isabela Island, recommended by travelers that we’ve helped by reserving
What to do in San Cristobal Island?
San Cristobal Island in the Galapagos is the capital island of the Galapagos. An advantage of this island is that the majority of its beaches are close to the port and you’ll see many sea lions everywhere.
I recommend staying in San Cristobal for about 4 days so that you have enough time to visit a few islands and places on day tours, like: Española Island, Lobos Island, Punta Pitt, Kicker Rock / Leon dormido; and other touristic destinations you can get to on your own, like: Laguna del junco, Galapaguera, Puerto Chino Beach, Interpretation Center, Las Tijeretas, Punta Carola Beach and La Lobería.
» Touristic destinations in San Cristobal Island
Original photos by ChokoTrip ©
Interpretation center, las Tijeretas hill and Punta Carola Beach
The tour along this trail begins once you traverse the Interpretation Center (a place to learn about the history and formation of the Islands). Along this route, heading toward Tijeretas Hill (Cerro Tijeretas), you’ll visit Mann Beach and Punta Carola Beach.
La Loberia Beach
You should take a taxi that costs USD 3 and talk to your taxi driver so that they come and pick you up as well. If you do this, only pay after the ride is completed, which would cost you around USD 10. You can also return on foot, but it’s a 45 minute hike without any shade.
Tour around high region of San Cristobal
This is a half day tour during which you can explore the high region of the island on your own. You can visit: Ceibo house (la casa del Ceibo), El Juncolagoon, La Galapaguera and Puerto Chino beach
*I strongly recommend hiring a naturalist guide for this tour. Since they’re hired for the full day, they may also take you to additional spots.
» Day tours from San Cristobal Island
I can help you find availability on the following day tours in San Cristobal Galapagos and reserve your spot in advance: Espanola Island, Kicker Rock / Leon dormido, Pitt Point, Lobos Island and 360 Tour.
Española Island is where the majority of the world’s 12,000 albatross couples reproduce. Due to its arid climate and lack of fresh water, this is paradise for sea birds. Read more about Espanola Island and Book a tour in advance.
Punta Pitt or Pitt Point is located in the north corner of the Island. It’s a group of conical Está ubicada en el extremo norte de la Isla. It is a group of eroded volcanic cones sparsely populated by vegetation that is endemic to the Islands. This is an ideal place to observe where a variety of sea birds nest, such as the blue-footed boobies, masked boobies, red-footed boobies and frigates. Read more about Pitt Point and Book a tour in advance.
Kicker Rock + 1 optional beach:
Kicker Rock, known in Spanish as “Leon Dormido”, is an uninhabited islet located 30 minutes from Puerto Baquerizo Moreno. It’s a refuge for many sea birds like the blue-footed boobies, as well as sea lions. The tour combines with a landing at one of the following beaches: Manglecito, Tortuga, Cerro brujo (Witch Hill) or Puerto grande Roca. Read more about Kicker Rock and Book a tour in advance.
This tour involves a complete loop around San Cristobal Island. It begins with a landing on Rosa Blanca where you visit the Rosa Blanca lagoon, then you’ll fish on Punta Pitt/ After lunch there’s a landing in Sardina Bay here you can photograph Witch Hill (Cerro Brujo) and the tour ends with some snorkeling in the canal at Kicker Rock. Read more about 360 Tour and Book a tour in advance.
Every island has its bay tour and this island has a lot to offer. It’s an ideal place to experience, close up, the animals in their natural habitat after only 25 minutes of sea travel. At Isla Lobos you’ll have a dry landing and a 1km walk where you can observe blue-footed boobies nesting and two types of frigates (common and royal). Read more about Lobos Island and Book a tour in advance.
» Hotels in San Cristobal Island
Here are 3 places where you can stay in San Cristobal Island, recommended by travelers that we’ve helped with day tour reservations.
When to go to the Galapagos?
High season in the Galapagos: The months of June, July, August and from December 20th until January 5th are considered high season in the Galapagos.
Low season: September is the only month considered low season since the weather and ocean currents aren’t ideal. However, it’s one of the best months to spot wildlife.
Climatic seasons: There are two seasons in the Galapagos Islands, cold (known as “garúa” season due to the constant light drizzle) and warm.
Air temperature is around 22 C (71.6 F).
Increase in marine life.
Air temperature during the warm season is around 25 C (77 F).
Development of tropical marine ecosystems.
What to take to the Galapagos?
Consider the possibility of taking long hikes through wet and dry terrain, as well as other physical activities. This is what I would pack:
What can’t you take to the Galapagos?
GALAPAGOS WITH CHOKOTRIP
Below are a few links to different types of content related to the Galapagos, including a few guides. All of this content is updated and based on my annual trip to the Islands.
Galapagos Time zone
It’s important to know the time difference between your country of origin and the Galapagos Islands (GMT-6) so that you reprogram your watch and cellphone while traveling.
DON’T MISS OUT ON A GALAPAGOS CRUISE!
If you’re searching for a cruise on the Galapagos, I can help you by finding availability for the dates you’re planning to travel on the following ships: Angelito, Archipel I, Archipel II, Aqua, Camila, Fragata, Golondrina, Seaman Journey, Solaris and Treasure of Galapagos.
*We work directly with boat owners and tour operators in the Galapagos, thereby avoiding additional costs, unlike travel operators like Viator, Get Your Guide and Civitatis which rely on third-party local operators.
- Due to the Covid-19 pandemic, we realized that travel plans can change overnight and, if we experience an emergency outisde of our own country, we would expect travel assistance that actually works during a crisis. From now own, I strongly recommend having good travel and trip cancellation insurance.