After some crazy van problems, we headed for the Galapagos at the end of February 2022. We needed to relax and reset. But my first thought for the Galapagos was doing everything we could the cheapest we could in seven days. Danny on the other hand thought this was crazy (haha). After not much convincing I agreed, lets relax on a four day cruise! I had however already done a LOT of research so here I am to share all the best things to do in the Galapagos inhabited islands.
There are two ways to get to the Galapagos, through Quito or Guayaquil. Guayaquil is around $10 cheaper but we heard from many locals it is not very nice and it’s super hot. Quito is the way we went and we don’t regret it!
We found our flight on SkyScanner.com. There is a lot of questions about buying the tickets. On the airline website it states there are cheaper prices for Ecuadorians and foreigners have to buy the most expensive price. Why? I don’t know. We decided to buy the cheaper ones anyway and see what happens. *We were fully prepared to pay if the airline asked for more money* But they didn’t! I think this is an amazing roll of the dice, it saved us hundreds of dollars in the end.
Quito airport is nice enough and the flight was quick!
I would recommend flying into San Cristobal and out of Santa Cruz. To get to other inhabited islands you have to go through Santa Cruz island. To fly into Santa Cruz and out of San Cristobal really helps cutting down the 2 hour speed boat trips.
Danny found our cruise on Last Minute Galapagos, just two days before we arrived. They have cruises for farther out if you’re not as excited to leave everything up to chance. We would definitely recommend a cruise! I’m not a cruise person, I don’t think big boats letting out 15,000 people at once is a great idea but on a small boat with less than 30 people it’s amazing! Our boat ended up only having 8 people on it in the end, it was capacity for 20!
It was expensive, because we picked a luxury boat. We paid $1,800 each which included food, excursions, accommodations, guides for four days and it was amazing.
Cheaper, longer ones are available! Friends have said they’re amazing, we saw these boats in the same places as us so I don’t think they do any more or different things but they’re less expensive.
Here was our itinerary:
Baltra Airport to the Boat
First excursion to see Black Turtle Cove on a dingy. So many baby sea life!
Overnight sail to Isla Genovesa. In the morning a walk along this amazing crater to see blue footed boobies, frigatebirds, Nazca boobies and other sea birds. Over to snorkeling with sea lions, beautiful colorful fish and coral. Major underwater tip is to stay quiet as much as you can! Sea lions will play for longer. After lunch we had another walk along the beach watching baby and mama sea lions as well as so many birds!
Overnight sail to Santiago, starting with a walk along the hardened lava covered Island Santiago. Not much life above ground but underwater was teeming with beautiful fish, harmless reef sharks and we even saw hunting penguins! During lunch we cruised over to Rabida Island covered in red sand. We went for a walk with sea lions then for another amazing snorkel with marine iguanas, sea lions, rays, shark and schools of fish.
Overnight we sailed back over to Santa Cruz for a day trip over to the tortoise breeding center and the local fish market to watch sea lions trying to steal the catches.
Such an awesome trip, we loved every second!
Between Island Speed Boats
If you’re more keen on island hopping that’s awesome! Between islands are a 2 hour boat rides always to and from Santa Cruz. They are what all the locals and tourists use to get to the inhabited islands (unless your taking a crazy pricey plane ride).
If your are considering island hopping this is the biggest reason to buy plane tickets from mainland into San Cristobal and depart from Santa Cruz or the other way around (this is where we messed up).
Santa Cruz to San Cristobal go at 7am or 3pm
San Cristobal to Santa Cruz go at 7am or 3pm
Santa Cruz to Isla Isabel go at 7am or 2pm
Isla Isabel to Santa Cruz go at 6am or 3pm
The earlier boat trips have calmer seas but we were always fine, I actually fell asleep every boat ride for almost the entire thing.
Santa Cruz Island
You could only do a cruise and you would see a ton of the Galapagos BUT if you want a explore a little on your own it’s pretty cheap to get a taxi, food and accommodations.
Starting on Santa Cruz Island we stayed at the Hotel Flamingo. We decided not to book ahead and walk in to hear the price. We walked to 3 or 4 other hostels on this block but this one was by far the best. It cost $40 per night for the both of us. Super clean, nice and friendly staff. I think this is the best way to find places to stay, first check Booking or hostelworld.com, head there and book which way is cheaper.
The Charles Darwin Research Center is a pretty cool stop! They are helping grow the tortoise population on each island. Baby tortoises, super old tortoises, so cute! It costs $10 per person so if you only want to check out turtles once maybe just head to a finca.
Primicias is a for profit turtle ranch where the turtles roam freely. They decide to stay around the farm where food is available, water is easy to find and other turtles are hanging out. It costs $5 per person to head to this finca. There are others in the area but we chose this one for the lava tunnels it also holds. It was super fun to wander the tunnels.
Las Grietas is a beautiful brackish swimming hole with amazing visibility for snorkeling. You can either walk or take a cheap water taxi. It gets pretty crowded so go early! Unfortunately it’s no longer free, it costs $5.
Tortuga Bay, specifically Playa Mansa is perfect for swimming, snorkeling, kayaking and standup paddle boarding. Underwater you can see white tip reef sharks, sea turtles, loads of fish and rays. Nice cheap day could be started at this free beach!
For the experienced scuba divers, 20+ dives, Gordon’s Rocks are the place to dive in populated Galapagos. The current is very strong, so being a calm diver is very important. The difficulty pays off with swimming with hammerhead sharks with incredible visibility. Tours are around $225.
Isla Isabela is the biggest island but the city on the island is pretty small. The roads end at the edge of the city, it’s easiest to get to other parts of the island by boat. On the plus side this beautiful island has places to stay right on the beach with SO many animals! Many people call Santa Isabela their favorite solely for the amount of beautiful creatures it hosts!
Los Tuneles are collapsed lava tubes you can snorkel to see sharks, sea turtles and seahorses! the tours run about $130 here.
Concha de Perla is a free beach you can snorkel to see sea lions, different rays and marine iguanas. Marine iguanas swimming during the hottest part of the day and are amazing to watch in the water.
Islote las Tintoreras has some amazing snorkeling to check out. For only $40 for the required guide you can kayak out hop off and try snorkeling with penguins, rays, sharks and turtles. Even from the boats so many birds curiously pop by.
San Cristobal Island
We had a great time staying in Hostel Gossen for $40 a night. We did check out other places but liked Gossen the best. The price on Booking or Hostel World is the same as walk-in. There’s a kitchen and a great social area we met some friends in. There’s also a roof that was unfinished at the time but perfect for hanging wet swimsuits!
Kicker Rock is the most popular destination on this island. You can snorkel or dive with hammerhead sharks. Our visibility was not amazing in February but we were still able to see a hammerhead. My highlight of this scuba dive was being enveloped by an enormous ball of fish. So many fish while inside everywhere was black, priceless dive. There is a current which I unexpectedly sucked up too much air during. The scuba tours run $190-$230.
Tijeretas is possibly the most amazing snorkeling spot we’ve been to our entire Galapagos trip, aaaand it’s free! We saw ten sea turtles munching down some lunch! Sea lions came to play, Danny even swam with a marine iguana! We walked here from our hostel, it wasn’t very far.
The lure of Floreana is Post Office Bay. I first heard of this unique place on Atlas Obscura podcast. The Galapagos is very far into the sea, with dangerous currents and unexpected weather patterns. When sailors would go through they would write to their families, stick the post, without a stamp, into the barrel and take a note that was going to the place they’d end up. The sailor would hand deliver it to another sailors family. This fantastic tradition has been going on for so long, I wanted to be a part of it.
Unfortunately getting to Floreana is somewhat difficult on your own. Multi-day cruises head there and also day trips but after much consideration I decided to give up on Post Office Bay for a bigger day on San Cristobal.
It looks as if to stay on Floreana is very hard, with only a few places. The restaurants don’t have the food for you, the hotels aren’t ready to take visitors, it’s truly a strange place.
On the brighter side I did find the original Post Office Bay barrel which is now housed in the museum on the way to Tijeretas Beach on San Cristobal. I felt this was enough for me!
Floreana also has Devils Crown snorkeling site that you may find hammerhead sharks!
What to Bring
Purchasing items in the Galapagos can get tricky, nothing is ever guaranteed. Often things are out of stock, hard to find or not there at all. We never want to over pack but this isn’t the place for forgetfulness!
The sun is super strong, definitely need sunscreen, sun shirt, hat, sunglasses and aloe lotion.
Bring your own water bottle, you can refill it at your hostel or boat from the purified water jugs.
When you’re visiting turtles or heading to some beaches remember bug spray. There are horse flies that bite really hurts. TIP: They full on attack when you’re wet so dry off quick!
Money, money, money! The ATM’s are unreliable! Try to bring enough for the first few days at least and get out cash when you can, it’s rough being hungry and there not being cash in the machines.
Granola bars, oatmeal packets, peanuts, ramen, etc are perfect for either before a day trip or if you’re still hungry on your cruise. Just no fruit!
I was lucky enough not to get sick on the boat rides but some of our fellow travelers were not. Seasickness pills are super helpful, I try not to take them at first because they make me very sleepy.
Can’t scuba without your diving card!
Bring a rain jacket, luckily we had great weather but I heard sometimes you get wet on the boats between islands.
Snorkel, goggles, fins and a wet suit! We brought our own snorkel gear which worked out very well on San Cristobal when we had our free day. On the cruise we used their full size wet suit. On San Cristobal we asked our scuba company if we could borrow a wet suit for the day and they agreed for free which was nice! The water is super cold, it would have been hard to enjoy without wet suits.