5 days in the Galapagos

The Galapagos… I don’t have words. When I was a teenager listening to my biology teacher about Darwin, I would never have imagined I would travel there one day.

And, to be honest, I felt exactly the same when I started travelling and discovering the prices there… But priorities evolve in life, and in a typical YOLO moment I decided to book a 5-day trip in this true animal paradise during my trip in Ecuador. No regrets whatsoever!

I flew with LATAM airlines from Guayaquil for 418€ (May 2022) booking about 2 months before. When landing at the Santa Cruz airport, I had to take a bus (10mins-5$) to the ferry terminal (Itacaba channel). It was followed by a short ferry ride (about 1$ for a few minutes)… and another bus to Puerto Ayora (45mins-5$).

What to do in the Galapagos? (when you’re not a diver)

Turtle Bay: on my first afternoon, I decided to do one of the only free activities of the island. It’s free but demanding: a 30-min walk to the Playa Tortuga where I saw a baby shark and my first awesome marine iguanas, followed by another 10-15 min walk to Turtle Bay where I saw… nothing. It had rained just before and there was no way I could have seen any turtles. Those renting kayaks didn’t seem to be much luckier than me. Anyway, it was a nice first encounter with the local landscapes, and a very efficient use of my time as there are not excursions leaving in the afternoon anyway.

Day trip to Isabela: there are many trips organised to the closest big island. 1, 2 or 3 days. I decided to take the one-day one because of lack of time. All agencies propose this tour (about 110€)and follows the same programme (sometimes in a different order) – all with a local nature guide:

  • Waking up early to be at the port at 6.30-7am for a 2h bumpy boat ride
  • Boat tour and walk in the Tintoretas to discover the extraordinary landscapes and wildlife: crazy volcanic formations, blue-footed boobies, Galapagos sea lions living their best life, frigate birds, sharks, marine iguanas, red crabs
  • Swim in the Tintoretas to meet small sharks. Water is pretty cold! But what an amazing feeling to see these small white-tipped sharks in the transparent water. We also spotted an elegant manta ray!
  • Nice local lunch (chicken or fish) in the tiny town of Puerto Villamil
  • Galapagos Giant Tortoises Breeding Center: there are so many different species that developed on each island, it’s very difficult to preserve all of them. They are doing a good job here but it’s not always easy … not that many years ago, there was a huge theft of baby turtles. Some locals also still eat them because they think it will help them live longer!
  • A last stop in the wetlands to look for flamingos that are unfortunately becoming rarer and rare…
  • Back at 5PM in Puerto Ayora – the official hour when nearly everything stops in the Galapagos

A snorkeling trip to Isla Pinzon: if you don’t dive (like me) but you still enjoy a nice snorkeling excursion, you will find many advertised around different islands. Just pick one!

This tour (about 125€) was definitely one of the best moments of my life: after about 15mins exploring the water and seeing many colourful fish, I suddenly saw a big turtle underwater. I had tears in my eyes…

We then moved a bit further and were surrounded by small sharks (not dangerous for human beings – I called them vegetarian sharks!). Amazing!

But then… we entered the territory of a few sea lions. They are so playful! I saw one trying to catch the tale of a marine iguana, so funny! But they were also coming next to us. It’s a feeling I can’t describe. I simply did not want to leave.

Since we didn’t come back too late, I had time to walk to the Darwin centre in Puerto Ayora (and watched the sunset from Playa de la Estacion). Very informative. Hope some people reduce their use of plastics and start using bins after visiting the centre…

A boat trip to the iconic view of the Galapagos on Bartolomé island. This tour is the most expensive non-diving day tour (around 200€) from Puerto Ayora, but it was my last full day and I was already starting to have some FOMO.

  • The pick up is very early. Around 5.30am. We then went to the Itacaba Channel to take a boat for 3 (bumpy again) hours.
  • When arriving at the island, we saw some blue-footed boobies and small penguins. We disembarked to climb the volcanic island and get the best panoramic view of the Galapagos on the Playa Dorada and the Pinnacle Rock. The surroundings are crazy. There’s even an underwater lagoon. And while admiring the view, we had an eagle posing for us. Awesome!
  • The next part was the snorkeling. Some nice red starfish, tropical fish and more fun sea lions and vegetarian sharks. But also: some speedy penguins! Tears were back in my eyes. We finished on a nice beach with some lazy sea lions sleeping around.
  • Delicious fish back on the boat… and then I discovered we were going to catch the food for the next day guests. Definitely not my favourite part but some fellow travellers did enjoy the experience.
  • Back late at the hotel after a nice sleep on the boat. A very nice last day!

Other things to do on Santa Cruz: watch the daily show on the Fishermen Pier, buy souvenirs from the Mercado Artesanal or some clothes to brag from Darwin + Wolf, Playa El Garrapatero (quite far away), the Giant Tortoise Reserve, lava tunnels, Las Grietas (very famous but quite expensive-10$ and only with a guide and a limited amount of time).

Other islands: 

  • San Cristobal is apparently great to stay on too. During my next trip there (yeah I’m now addicted to playing with sea lions), I would land in San Cristobal, spend a few days there, take a boat to Isabela to stay and another one to Isabel to climb the volcano there.
  • For day trips: my eyes were also on a snorkeling trip in Santa Fé and a walking + snorkeling trip in Floreana

Where to eat in the Galapagos? 

  • The port area is quite touristy and expensive but I was still happy to eat original food at The Rock and enjoy the Happy hour at El Jardin
  • Some friends I met in Galapagos (after meeting them in mainland Ecuador) also recommended the Laguna Beach
  • If you want to cook your own food, there’s a rather large supermarket next to the port in Puerto Ayora: Proinsular Market

Where to sleep in the Galapagos?

Of course, everything is expensive in the Galapagos. My option was to go for a private room in a hostel at the Hostal Vista al Mar. They actually gave me a double room + 2 single beds so I had a looooot of space and felt very comfortable. I had some room for my clothes and the shower was rather warm. I had a nice hammock in front of my room. And there is free water in the shared kitchen. They also rented me some wetsuit (water is cold!)
Wifi is not strong, but just like everywhere else on the island.

There are many more options if your budget is bigger.

Useful tips in the Galapagos:

  • Five days is unfortunately too short to explore (and sleep in) several islands. The ideal time is 10 days, but of course, you need the budget for very expensive excursions, and to stay on several islands. Should I have known how long the boat trips were, I would have actually chosen to sleep one or two nights on Isabela. The island seemed much more ‘roots’ but distances are huge. So if your flight back is in the morning in Baltra, you need to be sleeping in Santa Cruz.
  • Excursions are not organised every day to every island. If you want to go to a specific island, talk with a tour organiser in advance. It will avoid you sitting for 2 hours the night before while he or she is calling every single boat to find if there’s space… True story.
  • There are many many agencies, shop around and negotiate. Especially towards the end of the day, when boats are not full. I wouldn’t book in advance from home; online prices always seemed higher than on the spot. And I read about some bad experiences (like no-show, but no refund)
  • Take motion sickness pills. The boat rides between islands are long and rough. Tip number 2: close your eyes to avoid being sick!
  • Follow the rhythm of the sun (6.30-18.30): all excursions start early. Just wake up early, enjoy the day and go to bed early. 
  • For the flight back, I booked a shared taxi (Taxi Express Galapagos) that picked me up straight from the hostel to the ferry terminal for 9$ (private taxi is 34$)

All recommendations are mine, no ads. Prices from May 2022.

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