The Ultimate Guide to Visiting the Galapagos Islands 

The Galapagos is one of the most beautiful and unique places in the world and is also deemed as the best wildlife destination. The Galapagos Islands lie about 600 miles off the course of Ecuador and for millions of years have remained a closely guarded natural secret that helped preserve its beauty and ecosystem.

As it was isolated from the world for so many years, the islands are now home to unique animal species that aren’t found anywhere else in the world. Now many visit this land to bask in its beauty and explore its hidden gems. In this article, we will offer you with the ultimate guide to visiting the Galapagos Islands. So, stick with us till the end to find out that the Galapagos hold a special place in every traveler’s heart. 

Visiting the Galapagos Islands

The Ultimate Guide to Visiting the Galapagos Islands 

Little Something About the Galapagos Islands – The Ultimate Guide to Visiting the Galapagos Islands 

A Little Something About the Galapagos Islands

This closely guarded secret of nature was discovered in the 1800s when swashbuckling pirates and intrepid explorers arrived here. In 1835, the islands received their most esteemed guest, Charles Darwin, who spent 19 days there and studied the islands’ flora and fauna. In 1959, Darwin introduced the world to his theory of evolution and the Galapagos Islands by publishing his book, On the Origin of Species. Ever since the book hit the shelves, word of the Galapagos Islands and their tremendous beauty has grown steadily. 

Now, one of the Galapagos Islands, Santa Cruz Island calls itself home to the Charles Darwin Research Station. The reproach station. Servers as a means for long-term preservation programs that are aimed at protecting the unique flora and fauna of the islands for future generations. In the year 1959, the Galapagos Islands were deemed Ecuador’s first national park and as 1978 rolled around, the islands were declared a UNESCO World Heritage site. 

Nowadays more than 275,000 people venture into these beautiful islands to see the mesmerizing landscapes and the incredible animals that reside there.  Galapagos Islands might be the only place on earth where humans don’t take center stage and other species roam freely without any fear of the two-legged creatures. 

Reasons to Visit – The Ultimate Guide to Visiting the Galapagos Islands 

Reasons to Visit the Galapagos

The Galapagos Islands is an archipelago that harbors a collection of 13 major islands, seven smaller islands as well as about 125 islets and rocks. Due to the protection and conservation efforts, the Galapagos Islands are the most unspoiled places on earth. As the islands remained undetected for so long, they are free of human destruction which helped its fauna and flora as well as the surrounding marine life to thrive and evolve into unique species that aren’t found anywhere else in the world like the blue-footed boobies and charismatic giant tortoises. Apart from the islands’ main stars, the other thing that attracts visitors to their shores is the stunningly impeccable beaches that are void of trash and pollution. 

Galapagos Islands are also coveted by adventurers and thrill seekers around the globe as this is also the world’s top scuba diving destination. Brimming with immense natural beauty, the Galapagos Islands offer a unique retreat where nature reigns supreme and human supremacy takes a back seat.

Moreover, because of the lack of predators, the animals on the islands have no fear of humans. When visiting the place, you might find sea lions lounging by the streets and giant lizards swimming by your boat. The Galapagos Islands are also a great destination to take your kids as when in Galapagos they can get up and close with the wildlife and learn about their beautiful planet as well as the destruction caused to it due to pollution. 

What is the Best Time to Visit the Galapagos Islands – The Ultimate Guide to Visiting the Galapagos Islands 

What is the Best Time to Visit the Galapagos Islands

In all honesty, there is no bad time to visit the Galapagos Islands as they are beautiful year-round. No matter what season of the year you go, you will find unique and wonderful adventures waiting for you. From June to December the weather in the islands is cold and dry, however a light, misty rain is still possible, especially in December. Also, during this dry season, the skies can be cloudy and gray. January through May mark the warmer and wetter months on the islands, with the rain creating brilliantly clear blue skies that will put photographers in a daze. 

The hottest and the wettest months are March and April while August is the coolest month on the islands. Water temperature also varies throughout the air, with the colder currents dominating between the months of June and December, dipping the temperature of the water. You might need to wear a wet suit if you wish to go sneakily during these cooler months. From January to May the seas are calmer, and the ocean temperatures are warmer. Therefore, if you have your heart set on snorkeling and scuba diving it will be best to visit the islands during these months.

If you wish to see a particular species in the Galapagos, then it would be best to talk to your tour operator as they will help you pick a month and itinerary that will increase your chances of sighting the species you want to observe. Keep in mind that some species on the islands are seasonal and many exist only on specific islands. Therefore, make sure to do your research before embarking on a journey to the Galapagos Islands. 

Getting to the Galapagos Islands – The Ultimate Guide to Visiting the Galapagos Islands 

Getting to the Galapagos Islands

There are plenty of flights from the United States to Quito and Guayaquil that lie on mainland Ecuador. From there flights depart multiple times each day to the Galapagos Islands. Among the two cities, Quito is the most compelling one with its better hotel options and a stunning colonial center that was declared a UNESCO World Heritage site in the year 1978. Quito also harbors many shopping districts, restaurants as well as museums. 

The only problem is that Quito lies 9,000 feet above level which means that the altitude of the city can pose a problem to those arriving from lower elevations. On the other hand, altitude is not an issue when it comes to Guayaquil, Equator’s largest city, the only issue is that the hotel and restaurant selection harbored by the city is limited. 

In case you are booking your own flights to the Galapagos Islands from Ecuador, keep in mind that there are two airports on two different islands in the Galapagos archipelago. One of them, San Cristobal Airport is found on the island of the same name, while the other Seymour Airport can be found on the tiny island of Baltra. Therefore, be sure to book your flights to the island you will be based on or from where your boat departs and returns.

Getting Around the Galapagos Islands – The Ultimate Guide to Visiting the Galapagos Islands 

Getting Around the Galapagos Islands

Visiting the Galapagos Islands is neither cheap nor easy, therefore a lot of planning is required before you embark on your journey. You can explore the Galapagos Islands via the ways that are given below:

Galapagos Cruise – The Ultimate Guide to Visiting the Galapagos Islands 

The most popular way to explore the Galapagos islands is by opting for a luxury Galapagos cruise that will bring you to several islands in the archipelago within a short time. The cruise sails at night and arrives at a different island in the morning. The cruise package mostly comes with accommodation, meals, visits to the islands in the company of a certified naturalis as well as access to snorkeling gear and kayaks. If you opt for a budget-friendly 1 week Galapagos cruise it will cost, you about $2,500. While on the other hand, a luxury cruise will set you back by $3,500. 

Day Tours on the Galapagos Islands – The Ultimate Guide to Visiting the Galapagos Islands

Those on a tight budget can save money by going island hopping independently. You will find plenty of local operators offering Galapagos tours online as well as at certain locations on the islands. Depending on where you are visiting the Galapagos Islands day tour will set you back about $200 to $300. Below is a list of the best Galapagos Islands tours:

  • North Seymour day trip from Santa Cruz Island (Viator)
  • Floreana Day tour from Santa Cruz Island (Viator)
  • Kicker Rock Day tour from San Cristobal Island (Viator)
  • Snorkeling in lava tunnels on Isabela Island (Viator)
  • Bartolome day trip from Santa Cruz Island (Viator)

Inter-Island Shuttles – The Ultimate Guide to Visiting the Galapagos Islands 

Besides day tours you can also opt for inter-island shuttling service that is offered by many speedboat companies around the islands. However, if you opt for this means to see the islands you will have to plan very carefully as there are limited departures each day and the journeys are long. For example, if you take a shuttle service from Santa Cruz to Isabela it will take you almost about three hours to reach your destination. An inter-island shuttle tour will cost you about $25 to $35 per person each way. 

Where to Stay, Land or Sea – The Ultimate Guide to Visiting the Galapagos Islands 

Where to Stay in the Galapagos

This is one of the most difficult and important decisions you will have to make when visiting the Galapagos Islands. To land on a solid decision make sure to ask yourself questions like:Do I want to stay at a hotel, and explore islands and areas via boat rides? or do I want to opt for a stay in a live-aboard boat that provides accommodation, food, and transportation from one island to the other? When choosing between land or seas you need to consider the following main factors

  • Cost
  • Access
  • Time management

Visiting the Galapagos Islands can be a pricey endeavor. However, it is possible to craft a less expensive experience, but only if you choose to be land-based. Nowadays you will come across hotels and restaurants of varying price ranges on Santa Cruz Island, San Cristobal Island and a few on Isabela and Floreana Islands. Even though live-aboard boars also come with varying price tags, they still ass up to be more than land-based vacations, unless you opt for the most bare-bones boat. 

Land Based vs Sea Based – The Ultimate Guide to Visiting the Galapagos Islands 

If you opt for a land-based vacation, prepare yourself to spend a lot of time getting from your accommodation onto a boat to visit the islands and then back to your hotel. On the other hand, if you choose a sea-based vacation, you won’t have to waste all the time going back and forth as live-aboard boats do most of their navigating while travelers sleep on board in cabins, and then wake up in the morning to a whole new destination with hours ahead of them to explore.

Moreover, land-based explorations are limited to only five islands that can be reached within one day. This means that travelers staying on land won’t be able to visit the more distant islands that the live-aboard boat travelers can. 

Live-Aboard Boats – The Ultimate Guide to Visiting the Galapagos Islands 

Live-aboard boats

Most live-aboard boats offer travelers two types of itineraries, they can either go for the five-day itinerary or the eight-day one. The boars have se departure dates as well as routes that are dictated by the Galapagos National Park officials in order to mitigate environmental stress and crowding. The live-aboard boat itineraries include wonderful land excursions, water activities as well as ample opportunities to see the Galapagos Islands’’ famous flora and fauna. 

Boats in the Galapagos islands have a capacity of about 100 passengers, but they carry fewer than that. Traveling in a smaller boat offers many benefits like faster transfer times between the main vessel and the rubber dinghies as well as a more intimate onboard experience.  Smaller boats also harbor more history and character. However, if you are traveling with a, you needn’t worry about having an intimate experience as bigger boats offer their own benefits like more onboard services, medical facilities as well and guest lectures. 

One of the best live-aboard boat services in the Galapagos Islands is the Ecoventura which harbors several vessels with the capacity to carry 20 passengers and also has onboard two naturalists who take guests offshore and explain every plant and animal in detail. Adventurers and thrill seekers who want to focus on underwater activities can opt for, the Galapagos Sky, Gallipots Master, or the Galapagos Aggressor III. All of these live-aboard boats are specially designed for scuba divers and take them to the little-visited northernmost islands where scuba divers can enjoy their time in water and meet marine life like Manta rays, sunfish, whale sharks, and hammerhead sharks. 

Best Hotels – The Ultimate Guide to Visiting the Galapagos Islands 

Best Hotels in the Galapagos

If you choose a land-based vacation you will have to settle one and book a hotel, preferably before coming to the Galapagos. There are three popular towns where land-based vacationers prefer to stay, Puerto Ayora, Puerto Banquerizo Moreno, and Puerto Villamil. Puerto Ayora lies on the Santa Cruz Island and is its main town. The town is lively and harbors a vast variety of mid-range to affordable accommodations.

Puerto Banquerizo Moreno on the other hand is a small town found on San Cristobal Island and harbors accommodation options that are more affordable as compared to Puerto Ayora. Puerto Villamil is a small island lying on the Isabela Island. It is known for offering the cheapest accommodations on the Galapagos Islands.

Puerto Ayora, Santa Cruz 

Luxury Accommodation – When visiting the Galapagos Islands, if you wish to stay in luxury, you can book a room at the Finch Bay Galapagos Hotel which is without a doubt one of the best hotels on Santa Cruz Island. This hotel resonated with style and charm and is unpretentious to the core. Guests here are treated to beachfront views and even a beautiful swimming pool. 

Midrange – If a midrange hotel is what you desire then consider staying at the Hotel La Isla. Hotel La Isla is a beautiful boutique hotel that harbors stylish designs and an intimate atmosphere. The hotel also lies at a prime location, within walking distance from the town center of Puerto Ayora and Tortuga Bay. Another midrange hotel that can be found in Puerto Ayora is El Descanso del Guia which offers panoramic views of the coast from its rooftop, harbors clean and spacious rooms, and also has a nice swimming pool. 

Budget – If visiting the Galapagos islands on a budget is more on your agenda then you can book a stay at the Hostal Gardner Galapagos which lies in the heart of the town and is only a few minutes away from the pier the rooms here are clean, spacious, and cheap. 

Puerto Banquerizo Moreno, San Cristobal Island 

Midrange – You will be able to find many midrange accommodations in the town of Puerto Banquerizo Moreno. Among them, the best one is Eco Hotel Katarma. The Eco Hotel Katarma is a colorful and eclectic eco-lodge that houses on its premises an indoor swimming pool. This hotel is infused with art and perfectly blends different architectural, painting, sculptural, and design influences to produce a space where peace and life reign. Another good midrange hotel is the LA Zayapa which is located on the dock and offers spacious rooms with views of the pier. 

Budget – If you are looking for a budget hotel in Puerto Banquerizo Moreno then look no further than Hotel Cactus & Cactus. The hotel is decked in a minimalistic design that is equal parts artistic, beautiful, and simple.

Puerto Villamil, Isabela Island

Luxury – When visiting the Galapagos Island, if you which to stay in Puerto Villamil in luxury then you should opt for Flip Flop House. This beautiful house has a capacity for four people and houses 2 bedrooms, 3 bathrooms, and a hot tub. The modern house was constructed in the year 2016 and exudes a comfortable ‘home away from home’ vibe. 

Midrange – For a midrange accommodation you can head to Drake Inn which you will find lying right on the beach. This accommodation is simple yet commutable and offers well-priced rooms. It also has a rooftop that offers stunning views of the ocean and is a great place to sit back and relax in the evenings. 

Budget – A great budget-friendly accommodation that you will find in Puerto Villamil is the Hotel La Jungla. The Hotel La Jungla offers good value for money, and harbors spacious rooms with wide windows that look out to the ocean. 

Where to Eat in Galapagos Islands – The Ultimate Guide to Visiting the Galapagos Islands

Where to eta in the Galapagos

In the Galapagos Island food, especially the sea food for a huge part of its culture. on the islands, you will find a vast variety of eateries from full spreads fit for a king to local eateries that offer cheap but fresh grub. 

Los Kioskos 

Location – Puerto Ayora, Santa Cruz 

Los Kioskos is not a restaurant but a street that is lined with small local stalls selling fish that have been freshly caught. Here you will be surrounded by the mouthwatering aroma of smokey grilled fish, as your ears savor the sound of sizzling from the charcoal parillas. The food here is not only delicious but also reasonably priced. 

Galapagos Deli 

Location – Puerto Ayora, Santa Cruz 

Galapagos Deli is famous among the locals and tourists alike for its brick oven pizza the price of which ranges from $6.50 to $9.75. you can also get sandwiches from the deli that cost about $4.70 to $8.75. Being a seaport deli of course it serves scrumptious fish and chips as well as delicious frozen gelato and piping hot espresso. 

Booby Trap

Location – Puerto Villamil, Isabela Island

In Puerto Villamil, Booby Trap is the best place to grab a slice of pizza, however, their fish tacos are the star of the show. They also serve lobster at a very reasonable price. The restaurant is owned by a beautiful couple, a gregarious retired American husband and his Ecuadorian wife, who work together to serve the customers scrumptious and mouthwatering dishes.  

Muyu Galapagos 

Location – Puerto Banquerizo Moreno, San Cristobal Island 

If money is not an issue and you are looking to splurge a little, then look no further than Muyu Galapagos. It is one of the best restaurants in the whole Galapagos archipelago, serving modern fusion dishes with an immense focus on seafood. 

Things to Do When Visiting Galapagos – The Ultimate Guide to Visiting the Galapagos Islands

things to do in Galapagos

Visit Tortuga Bay to Sea Lions and See Lizards

When visiting the Galapagos Islands make sure to take out some time to see lizards and sea lions at the Tortuga Bay. Tortuga Bay is immensely beautiful and houses marine iguanas as well as sea lions that you will find mostly lounging on the beach. Adventurers and thrill seekers will also appreciate this place as it is a great spot for snorkeling with white-tip reef sharks and the occasional tiger sharks.  

Snorkel in Las Grietas 

Las Grietas can be found on the Santa Cruz Island. It’s a beautiful freshwater pool that formed naturally in a crack between two volcanic cliff faces. When the sun is high during mid-day, the poll shines with a clear blue color. Even though there is not a lot of wildlife in this area, the swimming pool is a delight and is fun to swim in. Moreover, it is free to visit and you don’t need to book a tour or guide. 

Tour the Charles Darwin Research Center 

Also found on Santa Cruz Island is the Charles Darwin Research Center which is a breeding center as well as a rehabilitation facility for the animals residing on the islands. Stop by the Ruta de Las Tortugas for a guided tour that costs about $10. They provide tours in both English and Spanish.

From there you will embark on a short walk with your guide as they tell you about the endemic animal and plant life on the islands. During the tour, you will also get to see the tortoise breeding area. At the end of the tour, you will be led into a room where you will meet the last of its kind, the famous Lonesome George tortoise who passed away in 2012 and now stands immortalized at the research center. 

Visit Reserva El Chato to See Giant Tortoises

When visiting the Galapagos Island, the one thing that should be on your itinerary is visiting the Reserva El Chato to see the Giant Tortoises. Lying just a short drive away from Puerto Ayora, Reserva El Chato houses the rare and ancient Galapagos Giant Tortoises. You can visit the place to see them roaming in their natural habitat without fences. walls, or cages to obscure the view. To see these tortoises, you will have to pay an entry fee of only $3. 

Visit La Loberia to Swim with Sea Lions

When visiting the Galapagos Islands, if you suddenly have an urge to see sea lions make your way to San Cristobal Island, as it is the best solace to see them. At San Cristobal Island you will find La Loberia. There you will have the opportunity to snorkel with sea lions and also see lava lizards, marine iguanas, frigate birds, and much more. 

Visit Kicker Rock to Snorkel or Scuba Dive 

If you are a fan of water adventures and thrills, then when visiting the Galapagos islands one place that you must make your way to is the Kicker Rock. Kicker Rock also known as Leon Dormmido is a volcanic cone that rises from the sea and lies 3 miles north of San Cristobal Island. It is home to frigate birds, blue-footed boobies, and several astonishing below-water inhabitants. Due to the natural erosion of the cone, a channel is created between the rocks, making it an ideal place to spot rays and sharks. 

Hike Around Punta Pitt

When visiting the Galapagos Islands consider a hike around Punta Pitt as it is one of the best places on the Galapagos to see a vast variety of wildlife. Both red-footed and blue-footed boobies as well as various species of frigates live here. Another species that you can find here is the iguana. 

Visit the Wall of Tears to see Flamingos 

The Wall of Tears also known as El Muro de Las Lagrimas is deemed as one of the most famous hikes on the Galapagos Islands. Moreover, it is also the only place where you can see the Galapagos Flamingos. Lying on Isabela Island, the Wall of Tears was built by 300 prisoners in the 1950s who toiled away under the hot sun in order to cut and haul heavy black volcanic rock and build the very walls that would impression them. 

Cost of Visiting the Galapagos Island – The Ultimate Guide to Visiting the Galapagos Islands

Visiting Galapagos Island is an expensive endeavor mostly Bessie of the tourist tariff and the flight to get there. The first expense that you will face while visiting the Galapagos Island is the cost of your flight and entry tariff which will come out to be around $500. Day tours of the islands range from $200 to $300, while a weeklong cruise can cost around $2,500.

Accommodations on the islands are more expensive than mainland Ecuador but if you dig a little deeper you can find decent guardhouses that charge $40 per night for a double room and luxury hotels that cost $200 per room per night. Food especially at the local eateries is very affordable. If you opt for a local meal, you will only have to pay around $8 to $to dollars while a meal at a hotel restaurant will set you back by $20 to $30. The islands are also home to supermarkets from where you can purchase ingredients and make the food yourself.  

Essentials to Pack When Visiting the Galapagos Islands – The Ultimate Guide to Visiting the Galapagos Islands

When visiting the Galapagos Islands make sure to pack the following essentials.

  • SPF 70 Sunscreen
  • Sun hat that covers the neck
  • Mosquito repellent with DEET
  • UPF50+ rash guard swim shirt
  • Snorkel mask and fins
  • Quick-dry t-shirts for the hot weather
  • Dry bag for snorkeling/kayaking
  • Quick-dry towels
  • Covered sandals
  • SteriPen to sterilize water
  • Dramamine for motion sickness

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