A quick guide to exploring the Galapagos Islands
Are you planning on visiting the Galapagos Islands, but you don’t know where to start? We’ll help you choose the right way of traveling the enchanted islands for you!
1. Cruising the Galapagos
Discovering the Galapagos by cruise has some benefits. First of all, it allows you to visit unique places that are not possible to visit from the main islands. Although a cruise itinerary will always include some activities on places that are also accessible for day visitors, overall it is still the best way to get to the most pristine locations. The Galapagos National Park set up a daily visitor limit for each of these spots, which guarantees the best chances for you to observe endemic wildlife.
“In general, you could say that the best guides can be found aboard the Galapagos cruises. But those same guides generally also guide tours that are part of island hopping program as well.”
Every guide operating on the Galapagos has to be certified and licensed by the government to work inside the national park. However, their knowledge, experience, service level and foreign language proficiency may vary a lot. In general, you could say that the best guides can be found aboard the Galapagos cruises. Plus, when you are on a cruise, you will have a guide with you at all times to answer you questions and learn more about the incredible environment that you are in.
Another great thing about going on a cruise is that everything will be already arranged for you. You won’t lose any valuable time planning and organizing your accommodation, tours, transportation and meals, which makes that you will see the most highlights as possible in your desired time frame. Most Galapagos cruises have two (or three) main activities planned every day, of which most of the time at least 1 snorkel activity. Did you know that the underwater wildlife is as diverse, if not even more diverse, than the fauna on the islands itself?
Last minute cruises
You don’t necessarily have to pay an arm and a leg to board a Galapagos cruise. About a month before departure, most Galapagos vessels start offering great discounts on their cruises that are not sold out yet. Especially if you are flexible in your travel time, a last minute cruise could be an attractive option for you! To give you an idea, our last minute offers start around $1000 dollar per person for a 4 days/3 nights cruise. On our website you can find our current last minute Galapagos offers.
The last 2 weeks before departure, the last-minute discount prices hardly get any better. The real bargain-hunters that are hoping to get a better deal once arrived on the Galapagos, might get lucky. But to be honest, if you are determined to go on a cruise we advise to book your cruise beforehand.If not, there might not be any cruise options left within the dates of your flights, or they start or end on an island that doesn’t fit your flight schedule. You might even end up spending more time on the Galapagos inside the walls of local travel agencies than actually enjoying your stay on this unique place on earth.
2. Going on an island hopping tour
If you haven’t quite gotten your sea legs, an island hopping program might be the choice for you. In this case all activities, accommodation, transportation and meals will still be arranged for you. The main difference is that you will be staying in hotels instead of aboard a vessel. A certified guide will accompany you during all of your activities, but the group composition can vary from day to day, as everyone is following a personalized itinerary.
Another great benefit of an island hopping tour is the fact that it can start any day that you would like and you can make it as long as you want. Our most popular program is the 5 Day Galapagos Island Hopping Program, which covers the highlights of Santa Cruz and San Cristobal islands.
3. Traveling at your own leisure
It’s good to know that as of 2020 you need an additional permit to enter the Galapagos, which has to be shown upon arrival at the airport. The only way to obtain this permit is through certified tour operators and hotels. This makes it impossible for visitors to just hop on a plane without having organized at least a part of their trip beforehand.
Although there is nothing wrong with wanting to travel at your own leisure, please note that there is a possibility that you will end up spending more money all together than when you opt for a island hopping package beforehand.
We won’t deny it. Visiting the enchanted islands isn’t exactly cheap. A round trip ticket will nearly cost you $500 per person. In addition you pay a $100 entrance fee for the Galapagos National Park and a $20 for your Migration Control Card, which you must keep with you until the day you leave the Galapagos. Accommodation can be found from $50 per room per night in a very basic tourist hotel up to a $250 for a comfort hotel. Main courses in restaurants range between $15-$20. Take into account that almost every single product available has been imported from the mainland, which automatically increases its price.
But most important to mention is the price of excursions. Day tours range from $120-$250 p.p., so you can imagine it could sum up pretty easily in only a couple of days. Also should you really consider if spending your precious time on the islands putting your plan all together is really worth it. The good news is that there are also some visitor sites that you can visit without any required organization in advance, but this list is getting smaller with time as more sites are being protected by the local authorities.
To get to the Galapagos Islands, you will have to fly from either Quito (about 2,5 hours) or Guayaquil (about 1,5 hour). Round trip tickets cost around $450-$500 per person. Most flights from Quito have a layover in Guayaquil, but there are some direct flights too. On the Galapagos itself you can fly into Baltra airpot (GPS) which is connected to the Santa Cruz island and to San Cristobal airport (SCY). In total there are 3 airlines flying to the Galapagos: LATAM, Tame and Avianca. In all cases you need to buy a Migration Control Card ($20 p.p.) at the airport on the mainland before checking in for your flight and pay an additional entrance fee for the Galapagos National Park ($100 p.p.) in cash once arrived at the airport on the Galapagos. It’s not uncommon that flights are being suspended or cancelled, so it is recommendable to fly back to the mainland at least 1 day before your international flight back home to avoid any problems.
Transportation between the three inhabited islands Isabela, Santa Cruz and San Cristobal takes places by speedboat (about 2,5 hours / $30 p.p. one way) or by interisland flights with Emetebe (about 20 minutes / $200 p.p. one way). However, the interisland flight itineraries aren’t very reliable, often resulting in changes in flight times at the last moment or sometimes even postponing the flight to the next day.
Written by: Margot