We are back from an amazing trip in the Galàpagos Islands. We could not wait to be there and we can say that it has been one of the best part of our world trip. We have stayed on the islands for 14 days and it has been 14 days of incredible discoveries and admiration for the landscapes and the living wildlife.
The Galápagos islands have always been a dream for us. Imagine wild animals such sea lions, pelicans, giant tortoises, endemic marine iguanas, penguins, sharks and abundant sea life to be seen everywhere, surrounded by beautiful nature, volcanos or beaches. The Galápagos islands are a paradise, a Walt Disney movie where animals and humans live in harmony together. The archipelagos own 58 species of birds whom 28 are endemic including the famous blue-footed boobies. The underwater wildlife is also unique in term of diversity including the marine and terrestrial iguanas, more than 300 species of fish, sea lions, whales, endemic sharks, turtles and much more.
It is also a place with almost no exploitation, no extra consummation, no pollution but a beautiful balance with the nature. The magic union and the respect between the human activity and the nature forms an amazing place to live in, to admire and to visit.It is also the land of Charles Darwin known for his theory of species evolution. A trip for him to have only lasted 18 months and extended to be 24 years and his most successful theory.
The tourism is the main source of activity for the main islands. 4 islands are habited (San Cristobal, Santa Cruz, Floreana and Isabela) and the 15 other have no activity on them. It is a considerable source of revenue for the local people. They are counting on it as there is not much other resources on the island beside fishing and farming on a small scale. Tourism has a good impact on the local community but can have a bad impact, of course, on the fauna and flora. Tourism involves more awareness, rules and controls to avoid pollution or unconsciousness toward the nature and the animals. This a very sensitive balance that needs to be protected.
After having talked to local people, some new rules will be put in place to be able to protect even more their fragile habitat with certified tour guides and control of the touristic sites. Not a long time ago, foreigners or locals were still poaching turtles eggs, killing sea lions for their furs and oil or bringing back home iguanas as mascots. The Galápagos Islands are small gems in the ocean to be indeed protected with a lot of care and awareness.
2 weeks of discoveries and money
We spent 2 weeks on different islands which can be visited easily by boat or plane. There are 2 national airports which are Baltra island and San Cristobal Island where we started.
The Galápagos are accessible from Guayaquil or Quito on the main land. It is nevertheless quite expensive to get here and live there. The entrance fees to the national parks is $100 for foreigners or $50 for South Americans.- to be paid off directly at the airport. There is also a tourist card at 20$ to be purchased while checking in at the airport.
Once on the islands, everything is almost imported. From the tomatoes to rice, all the food as well as the groceries are imported by boat from Guayaquil coming every 1 or 2 months. The islands produce bananas and some vegetables. Unfortunately, the agriculture is slowly left behind as the tourism industry is much more lucrative. The situation can be really tricky as the lack of fresh water is considerable and the fact that everything needs to be imported make the prices not cheap at all. For example a kilo of tomatoes in the main land is sold at $0,50 cent whereas in the Galápagos it is sold at $1,50. The accommodation in general starts at 40.- dollars/night and the food is also pricier. A pizza costs 20.- $. Fish and rice is more affordable. Of course, the tours and daily excursions start at 60.- dollars and it is even difficult to find cheaper. The dives are also pricy and start at $125!
Needless to say if you plan a trip to the Galapagos, you better have some savings..! It is nevertheless possible to visit the islands on a budget.
Here are our itinery and good tips to not end up bankrupt at the end of the trip 🙂
First stop: San Cristobal island
Puerto Baquerizo Moreno, on San Cristobal island, is the capital of the archipelago. It is a small city that got well developed during the past decade. The inhabitants live out of the tourism, fishing and a little bit of agriculture.
When we first got to San Cristobal, we were totally amazed but all the fauna we could see around. For example, by Puerto Baquerizo main beach, we can see thousands of sea lions ! That was our first experience of wild animals on the island.
They are indeed wild but totally fine with the humans presence. We can approach them quite close but not too close, otherwise they would start “barking”, or just move away from us. The mothers are quite protective of their babies and would then try to get you walk away but beside that there is no aggressive. By keeping a reasonable distance, we can observe them and take picture of them. Some place on the island can turn out of a show where they would pose and paparazzi would come and take uncountable pictures. No need to say that tourists are totally in love with their cute faces and so are we. The sea lions can be really cute, specially when they are babies. It is also a curious animal that loves to play!
We went diving one day and we could actually go snorkeling afterward on an isolate place where would see a sea lions colony. In this place we could swim and play with them. The Galápagos people have really created this trust between the humans and the animals where there is almost no fear. It is apparently not like that everywhere and very unique to the islands.
We can say that we were transformed in small kids playing with them, not wanting to get out of the water. An experience like no other! We took some time, about 3 days, to visit the island of San Cristobal which has some nice places to visit. The places opened for visitors are not too far from each other and the rest of the Island (north part mainly) is accessible by boat only.
– Jacinto Gordillo Breeding Center of Giant Tortoises
The breeding Center for giant tortoises is located about 25 kilometers from town. They are an endemic species and only found on these islands. The center collects the tortoises eggs to help them live and grow in a safe environment. Not too long ago, these tortoises have been chased for their eggs and oil. There were 20’000 living on the islands but nowadays only about 2,000 are left. The breeding center plays an active role in the reproduction and conservation of the specie.
We went to see them on a sunny afternoon and our impression have been “wow” to see them in real. They can live for over 150 years and weigh up to 250 kg! It is a massive animal, slow though, but very powerful specially when they fight. They have this huge carapace and legs that make them see like big Ninja. We couldn’t stop observing them.
How to get there: taxi drivers would try to charge people up to 60$ including a tour of the area. It was too expensive for us specially since the center is only 25km away. We then rented a bicycle to go there. It was not the best idea as the way was hilly and with the heat, it made us impossible to bike. We then stopped a car that took us for $12 dollars and we biked back down the hill. We would advise people to do so as it gets cheaper than a tour.
There is also a nice white sand beach called Puerto Chino, down the hill from the breeding center that is worth to visit. The beach is very quiet and has blue turquoise water. Like on a post card 🙂
– La Loberia:
La Loberia is a place where sea lions live as well as pelicans and iguanas. It is a great site to snorkel. There we could see turtles and colorful fish all around us. The scenery is beautiful. The place is located not to far from the airport. It is a 30mns walk down the street just after the airport.
– Beaches: Playa Mann and Punta Carola:
These are the two beaches closed to town. They are beautiful and it is a great place to go snorkeling. There, we saw many sea lions and marine iguanas swimming in the ocean. Unique !
– Las Tijeretas; view point and more:
This area provides nice places to visit. First, there is an excellent lookout point at the top of the mountain. A bit below from the viewpoint, there is a small spot that is great for snorkeling and see turtles, sea lions and various birds (blue boobies, pelicans etc).
On the way back, we went visiting the Interpretation Center of San Cristobal. The place gives a lot of useful information on the islands, the fauna, flora and its conservation.
Second Island: Santa Cruz
After the 3 first days spent on the island of San Cristobal, we were ready to move towards the second main island: Santa Cruz 😊
We didn’t know what to expect as our experience in San Cristobal has been wonderful with so much wildlife. We thought to try some dives as many spots here are worldwide known. Puerto Ayora is the main city and is a little bit bigger than Puerto Baquerizo. The good thing was the numerous cheap and good restaurants offering fresh fish, lobsters and local food on street called “kiosko”. It is well recommended !
Our room was a bit far from the center (20mns walk) but good for the price, 25.-/night for a double room. Once again, the island is quite expensive due to the importations and level of tourism. We found this good deal on Airbnb. After having settled our stuff in the room we figured out what to see and do in the area.
Near Puerto Ayora, there is no real beach but some areas where we can lie down and jump in the water. To find the real beach with white sand and blue water, we had to take a small hike of 45 minutes to reach Tortuga Bay. There, the beach is huge and literally like in the movies, wild, large and turquoise. At the end of the beach, we could snorkel and observe marine iguanas. Fantastic !
The day after we visited other activities around the Harbour which consists of:
– Darwin research center:
Darwin is almost everywhere as a statue in honor for the island to have had him for 24 years. He was supposed to stay in the Galápagos in the 1835 for some months but stayed there for 24 years where he stated his theory regarding the evolution of species in 1859. The islands were intact until the Spanish came in 1535. Darwin didn’t have to go anywhere else, the islands were a huge source of knowledge and discoveries which he based his theory on.
The center is an easy walk from the center of town, we also found giant tortoises and an iguana breeding center.
– Fish market at night or early morning:
I think it was the highlight of Puerto Ayora. The place consists only in a big table where fisherman bring their fish which is sold to locals or cook in the evening forming a small restaurant on the side. There, we got the best fish ever. We also got the best view on pelicans and sea lions waiting to get the rest of the fresh fish ! It was really hilarious to see them hopping up and down waiting to get some fish. The sea lions are really cute and the pelicans get excited quickly by the smell of the fresh fish. A whole show to attend for free early morning or as of 5:30pm.
– Diving !
We could not miss the beautiful dive spots all around the island. We got lucky to find a great diving agency that sold good and affordable dives. Most of the dives cost 160$. We visited many agencies until we found René, a nice local guy that owns an diving agency. He explained us the different sites and his prices are at 125.-$ for 2 dives. He also does the dives and coordinate them with his son and crew. We did three spots that are well known for seeing a lot of wildlife. We have not been disappointed for sure :
Seymour Norte : it is the island up north of Santa Cruz. There we saw for the first time hammerhead sharks, Galápagos sharks, many turtles, parrot fish, a family of eagle rays and many other colorful fish. The visibility was 60%. Not the best but good enough to see stuff.
Gordon Rock: it is THE place where people go to see hammerhead sharks. It is common to see a group or family of hammerhead sharks but that day we saw some there and there alone or by pairs. It was still very impressive to see them around us. We also saw manta rays, turtles, and the famous Mola Mola fish (oceanic sunfish). It was for sure incredible dives !!
Daphne: this dive was unique as we went under, there was a huge school of fish, about 1000 or so fish swimming in circles forming some sort of twister. It was amazing to go inside the circle and thousands of fish swimming around us. We saw some Galápagos sharks, hammer head and many more sea life.
Turtle island: (from Isabela island): This was surely the most impressive dives. We saw huge but really huge manta rays that it was almost scary. They are so imposing and impressive we stood there without a word. Galápagos sharks and hammerhead sharks also passed by with turtles. The best part was the swim with the baby sea lions. Super cute!
We really had a nice time on Santa Cruz Island. We could have spent more time visiting the surrounding Islands (Floreana or Santa Fe) but We decided to go visit the bigger islands 2 hours away called Isabela which is known to have georgeous beaches, active volcanos and great diving spots as well.
Last stop: Isabela Island
Just the name sounds beautiful. We got there early morning with the fast boat Splendor. (Well recommended).
Isabela is for us the most beautiful island in term of color and wild landscapes. Just by the small Harbour, the water is turquoise, the nearby beach has white sand and we can spot sea lions, rays, turtles and penguins by only being there !!
We found this nice place to stay in the middle of the village called Terro Real which has cute cabañas. We right away felt at ease and could enjoy one of the hammocks to plan the next days visit.
Isabela is well known for the volcanos that we can hike. The most famous one is the Volcano Chico. We didn’t do it due to the rainy season. The volcano was foggy and slippery. It is a nice crater to visit during the good season though. The hike offers a great view on the crater, the island and its nature.
We went snorkeling in Concha Perla which is a great spot (free) just next to the Harbour. We have to say that other sites on the island including snorkeling spots have to be visited with a official tour guide. This place is nice to see sea turtles, fish and sea lions. We met one underwater. They love to play 🙂 He did some turns around us and left to follow his mates.
– Los Tuneles
We booked a tour to visit tunnels under and on water. The area had a lot of mangroves which is the habitat of a lot of marine wildlife. With our friendly guide Edu, we went to explore the area. The current in some places was quite strong but it was worth the effort as we could see under a cave sharks and a manta ray resting. Once back on the boat, the captain drove us to an area where we could see penguins!🙂 This family of penguins are specially cute as they are very small. They are endemic to the Galápagos Islands. They stay by the Cromwell Current during the day since it is cooler and return to the land at night. They can be found on Isabela island or Fernandina Island as well as small other islands in the Galápagos archipelago. We were lucky enough to swim with one of them and they actually love to play!
On the same spot, a family of blue-footed boobies were taking the sun. They have an interesting face with funny eyes and blue feet. We really enjoyed watching them.
Otherwise Isabela island had beautiful beach that can be visited anytime. The main beach by the village is great or the playa del Amor is also beautiful. On the way to playa del Amor, we made a detour to the lake of flamengos and the center of crianza for the giant tortoises. It is possible to rent a bike to make all the way there which is about 2,5km. It is a nice ride to do early morning or late afternoon as the sun can be very hot.
We stayed on Isabela island for about 3 days and we enjoyed each minute of this small paradise. People are friendly and live their life quite simply but happily. There is no ATM on the island and everything is also imported. It is slightly more expensive than the other islands and restaurants are ok. We had fish and rice and rice and fish for almost the entire time..! But at least the fish is fresh and good 😉
2 weeks have been in overall enough, just right. We really enjoyed every single second on the described islands that we highly recommend to visit with patience and time. The best way for us to visit the islands has been to take our time to see the animals and enjoy fully the beautiful nature of the Galápagos islands. It was hard to leave this paradise on earth but it has been for sure an amazing experience, one of the best during the entire trip.
See you soon dear Galápagos !
When to visit the islands:
From December to April, the weather is warm and rainy at times. The temperature can go up to 35 degrees. It is a good time to see certain birds, and mating seasons for the iguanas and giant tortoises. From April to November, the weather is fresher and can go down to 15 degrees. It is a good time though to see the whale sharks.
Where to stay in San Cristobal: we found the cutest and best hostal called Casa de Laura. It is clean, well centered, 40.-$/night, double room with AC
Where to stay in Santa Cruz: Casa de Jimmy, Puerto Ayora, airbnb, 20 mns walk from center, 25.-$/night, double room with Fan or hotel in the center that start at 40$ the night for a double room.
Where to stay on Isabela Island: Hotel Terro Real in Puerto Vilamil, cute cabañas, central, 30.-$/night, double room with AC. There is no ATM on Isabela island ! Some places (hotel, travel agencies) take Credit cards but charge extra 22% for every charge.
How to travel island to island: by fast boat, each way cost 30.-$, 2 boats a day, 2-3 hours each way. Or by plane, San Cristobal, Santa Cruz and Isabela have an airport, 20-30mns flight.
Airport fees: 20.-$
Galápagos national park fee: 100.-$
More info on the official website of the Galápagos Islands.