So you want to go to the Galapagos. It’s the spot on everyone’s bucket list. Those are gorgeous brightly colored birds and giant tortoises that seem to be posing all over the glossy travel magazines. This is the closest you can get to a Jurassic Park experience without the risk of being eaten by a T-Rex!
Sea lion cubs, blue-legged Boobies with their turquoise toes, photographed-looking animals completely oblivious to you as they go about their lives across Martian terrains. Those are the images that come to mind when you think of the Galapagos. Fine sandy beaches and volcanoes live in the same setting. It’s incredible, it’s evocative, it’s powerful, and nothing can prepare you for the natural beauty of these islands. But planning it? Ah. Well, that’s another story.
Having visited the Galapagos Islands a few weeks ago, I decided I needed this guide, mainly because I couldn’t find any answers to the questions we had before going. I don’t know where to start with my plan. I have no clue what I need to know; what questions should I ask first; how is the distance; whether cruises or day trips between islands have been better. I don’t even really know how to get there! Do you need a cruise to the Galapagos Islands? When is the right time to visit? What is the difference between ALL options? And yes, there are plenty of options!
It’s easy to get overwhelmed when planning a trip to the Galapagos. There are several things to be considered when planning your adventure; The two most important factors are time and budget. These are the two biggest factors because they impact everything else.
This post will focus on Galapagos cruises, rather than day trips, because as mentioned in my previous post, I don’t believe you can actually see the Galapagos islands alone. correct way if not going on a boat.
Once you’ve figured out your estimated duration and total budget, this guide can be the holy grail of helping you decipher the Galapagos lingo and plan the trip that’s sure to be the trip of a lifetime.
Where should you go?
The Galapagos Islands are an archipelago of 13 main islands and 7 islets. Only four of these currently have accommodation (Santa Cruz, San Cristobal, Isabela and Floreana).
In large part, your time, budget and class preferences will determine which of the many islands you see. A good cruise line should include at least one of Isla Española, Isla Fernandina or Isla Genovesa. For a 3-4 night cruise, one of these islands would be fine, for a 4-9 night cruise you should aim to visit at least two of these.
These are the islands that you cannot visit on a day trip from the four islands using the hotels mentioned above. These islands are further away and usually an overnight cruise will take you to these islands.
The western islands, such as Fernandina, are the closest islands to the volcanic eruption that originally created the Galapagos Islands. As a result, these islands still have a lot of volcanic activity, so the soil is more fertile, the vegetation and animals are free to roam like the Giant Tortoise. The Southeast islands, such as Española, are some of the oldest and are easier to reach on shorter excursions and are full of endemic species found only on these islands. The Northeast islands, like Genovesa, are sometimes considered the most beautiful.
Each of these islands has different wildlife, so if there’s a particular animal you’d like to see, do your research first, as the distances are wide and different itineraries will show options. difference. For example, while you can see many Bluefoot Beetles in many of the Galapagos Islands, their Redfoot counterparts are much rarer and more likely to be seen on Isla Española or Genovesa.
When should you go?
We were advised that May and November are the best times to go as this is when the weather changes seasons so the days are warm and dry. We went in November and absolutely loved it; hardly any mosquitoes and the sea water is not too cold. Every day we were sunny and the weather was warm but the water was very cold and so we needed a snorkeling suit. The warmer season in the Galapagos is from November to June, and this time is meant to allow for the best views and calmer seas.
How do you achieve that?
Flights to the Galapagos typically fly to Baltra or San Cristobal airports and pass through Guayaquil (on mainland Ecuador), with airlines LATAM, TAME or Airlines Avianca. We were surprised to find that you couldn’t catch a cruise to the Galapagos directly from mainland Ecuador, due to the long distance (and unbelievable distance indeed!), so the only way was to fly in. Flights can be expensive so it’s worth booking them ahead of time. We booked our flights about two months earlier and found the prices reasonable.
It should be noted that some travel starts on one island and ends on another – this can sometimes require you to add half a day or so to allow travel to your departure airport . If you are limited on time, you should book flights between the islands or check with your travel provider before booking flights to make sure you have enough time.
Should you take a cruise or hop between islands?
Unless, like Brad Pitt, you charter an entire boat for your visit to the Galapagos, there are two main options. Us ordinary people have the choice of going on a cruise or staying in the larger Galapagos islands (e.g. Santa Cruz, the most populous of the archipelago) and taking day trips to explore. more than. At best, you can combine both options and spend a few days exploring the larger islands of Santa Cruz and San Cristobal on your own before embarking on an excursion.
We flew to Baltra airport, stayed in Santa Cruz for a night and then went on a cruise that included some of the more remote parts of San Cristobal as well as Isla Española. Scalesia Lodge on Isabela, is a luxury safari style hotel who organized some great excursions so we could also explore the island; That’s where we ended our trip. I find this balance works well for us but there are a lot to choose from, so do your research to see what works best for you. If you might be interested in ending up with a luxury hotel, definitely check out my post here.
A cruise allows you to go a LOT more. The boat does the work for you while you sleep, traveling for hours to take you to further islands where you can see even the rarest animals and the most unique landscapes. For most day trips, your travel time on a speedboat can take up to eight hours and it won’t be possible to take day trips to some of the most exciting islands, the remote ones. best.
Through preparing our itinerary with time on the islands of Santa Cruz and Isabela, before and after the trip, we were able to explore more easily accessible parts of the islands independently. This is a good compromise as our itinerary was only for 4 days, however, I would recommend spending the whole week on an excursion if possible.
What costs do you need to know more about?
As well as the obvious travel and insurance costs, there are some other costs that we don’t know about. Here is a subset below to give you an idea so you can make sure you have the cash! All prices are per person, in US Dollars, as this is the currency used in Ecuador and was correct when we traveled in November 2017.
- Departure tax from mainland Ecuador: $20
- Galapagos Entry Tax: $100
- Bus from Baltra Airport to Baltra Island Pier: Free for most airlines
- Water taxi from Baltra Island to Santa Cruz: $1
- Travel from Santa Cruz Pier to Puerto Ayora by taxi: $25
- Transfer from Santa Cruz Pier to Puerto Ayora by coach: $2
- Public Ferry from Santa Cruz to San Cristobal or Isabela: $30
If you choose a cruise, some of these costs may be included but these vary from cruise to cruise so it’s definitely worth checking when booking.
In part 2, I will go into all the fascinating details of how exactly to choose your boat, what each type of boat really means, the difference between the most luxurious and premium options. cheaper alternatives, as well as what you should be looking for, when to book your cruise, how to book it, and alternatives if the best Galapagos cruise doesn’t fit your current budget !
Go over to see part 2 now!
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