There's no escaping it: a visit to the islands isn't the cheapest (or simplest) trip you can take. But it needn't break the bank, or be excessively complicated. Here's how to narrow down the options and choose the best Galapagos trip for your group.

Step aside, humans. The protagonists of the Galapagos Islands’ history are the rare and endemic species that populate this far-flung chain of volcanic islands in the Pacific.

As Charles Darwin discovered on his famous voyage on the HMS Beagle in 1835, the natural history of these dynamic islands reveals the fits and starts of evolution itself.

Humans only arrived on the scene fairly recently, all too often as the villain of the plot. 16th century Spanish explorers were appalled by the stark volcanic landscape, calling the islands a hell on earth. Pirates and whalers used the islands opportunistically, capturing and killing wildlife en masse. Most recently, habitats have been threatened by invasive species introduced by humans, as well as the strains of a growing resident population and tourism trade.

As part of the carefully-managed tourism model, guests are accompanied by local, certified naturalists guides. These guides bring the natural and human history of the islands to life. Visitors learn about their own complex role in the Galapagos narrative.

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When to go to the Galapagos Islands

The best times of year for wildlife and conditions

While the Galapagos Islands’ climate can be roughly divided into two seasons, its tropical location means this is a destination worth visiting year-round. Choose the dry season (June-November) for cooler weather and an abundance of nesting birds, or visit in the wet season (December-May) to see mating turtles, tortoises and sea lions and for better diving and snorkelling.

Be aware of the El Niño current, which affects the Galapagos Islands every five to seven years. This current of warm water can cause excessive rainfall and heavy flooding on the Islands, and often has a negative effect on the region’s marine life. There is no way to predict when the current will strike next, although scientists are able to give an indication of how likely it is in a given year. While it is safe to visit the Islands during El Niño, be prepared for heavy rainfall.

Month-by-month

The new year brings hot and humid weather to the Islands, with drizzle a persistent factor. January is when green sea turtles begin to lay their eggs and land birds begin to nest. Look out for male marine iguanas changing colour to attract mates. The start of the year is generally considered one of the best times to visit the Galapagos.

Warmer, wetter weather settles across the Islands between February and April, with many of the Islands’ wild inhabitants (such as sea lions and tortoises) beginning their breeding and nesting seasons. March is a great month to visit for snorkelling due to the clarity of the water. By May, spring flowers are in bloom and the rainfall is beginning to recede. Look out for blue-footed boobies beginning their unusual courtship dance.

June signals the beginning of the colder, drier months known locally as the garúa. The weather creates a proliferation of plankton in the seas around the Islands, making it a great time to watch penguins and albatross feeding. This is also the time to visit for whale-watching, with humpback whales and whale sharks spotted around the Galapagos.

August is the coldest month to visit, but brings the benefit of seeing baby sea lions on the western and central islands. This is the time to visit to watch Galapagos penguins courting and mating on Bartolomé Island.

By November, the weather is beginning to warm up again, with whales once again visible near the northern Islands. December is one of the best months to visit the Galapagos, with plenty of sunshine and warm water to swim and snorkel in. Visit to see giant tortoises hatching and albatross migrating. Book early — the Christmas period coincides with the South American holiday period, so cruises and boats are booked well in advance.

How a typical Galapagos trip works

Arrival and departure

The Galapagos Islands are only reachable by flight from mainland Ecuador.

Flights from Quito usually stop in Guayaquil to pick up additional passengers. The flight time between Quito and the port city is about 30 minutes. The stop in Guayaquil is about 30 minutes (do not deplane).

Flights from Guayaquil fly directly to Baltra (main Galapagos airport) or San Cristobal (secondary Galapagos airport). The flight time is about 1.5 hours. Most tour operators will insist on a full day in either Quito or Guayaquil before your flight to the islands, in case of delays on international flights -- the cruise ships won’t wait for anyone!

Quito or Guayaquil?

When choosing which airport in Ecuador to arrive at, keep in mind the following:

Quito is a gem of a colonial capital city, worth spending at least a day and a night in. It has a thriving art, music, and restaurant scene, as well as a bevy of historic sights to discover. However, its new international airport is far from the city centre (45 mins to one hour drive), adding airport transit time to the itinerary.

Guayaquil is a more industrial-looking port city, without the charms of Quito. Advantages are more direct flights to the Galapagos and easier access to the airport.

When shopping for international flights, compare fares to both cities. A good combination is to arrive in Quito and depart from Guayaquil, or vise versa

How to choose your Galapagos tour type

There are three broad categories of Galapagos trip. Which you choose depends on your preferred travel activities and flexibility:

Cruises are organised in itineraries of eight days, five days and four days. Longer cruises have the benefit of reaching farther, less-visited sites. Shorter cruises are easier to combine with a land-based experience of the Galapagos and other travels in Ecuador and South America.

Hotel-based/land-based trips on Santa Cruz Island are often organised as packages as well. Package length is more flexible, but usually start at four days/three nights. The hotel will organise daily excursions such as speedboat trips to neighbouring islands and guided trips.

Island hopping allows you to stay at lodges on various islands linked by short flights or speedboats. Only four islands are inhabited: Santa Cruz, Isabela, Floreana, and San Cristobal. Lodges on the less-populated islands of Isabela and Floreana tend to be more simple, with fewer amenities. Isabela is less populated than Santa Cruz and San Cristobal, giving you the chance to relax and discover the island’s visitor sites without the crowds.

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The Charles Darwin Research Station on Santa Cruz island.

Galapagos cruise vs land tour

The Galapagos Islands present an important choice when planning a trip; do you take a land-based tour or cruise? Both styles of travel have their advantages, choosing the best trip for you depends on your personal tastes and travel style.

Galapagos by cruise

Galapagos by land

Fixed schedule. Cruises take the guesswork out of the equation with set itineraries. Small motorboats (called ‘pangas’) shuttle small groups of passengers at set intervals, with an expert guide in the boat to point out the creatures of the region while making sure that the trips goes smoothly.

Flexibility and freedom. When staying on land at the hotels that dot the landscape of Santa Cruz, San Cristobal and Isabela, guests dictate the schedule. Day trips are arranged to the nearby islands by boat in the morning, leaving the afternoon and evening free for doing your own thing.

Cover more ground. Boats travel at night, and drop anchor off of the shores of a new destination each day. This gives passengers a broader view of the islands.

Zoom in. Land-based trips put you side by side with the local communities by exploring towns and tagging along with fishermen on the morning’s journey.

Fine facilities. Luxury cruises have opulent amenities and attentive top-notch staff, but space is limited.

More room. Land accommodations give guests the room to stretch their legs at the end of the day.

Caution: wet landings. Inflatable motorized boats take travelers from the ship to the shore. Visitor sites have dry and wet landings; wet requiring wading through knee high water to disembark.

Caution: small speedboats. When island hopping, shuttle-style speedboats ferry passenger between islands. The journey is often choppy and it’s wise to come prepared with Dramamine.

A final consideration when choosing between land and sea options is the footprint you leave after the trip is done. Cruises add to the pollution of the Galapagos’ waters (although many are eco-certified and mitigate their impact). Hotels on land encroach upon the natural habitats of the creatures that surround them. Pay attention to each option’s certifications, awards, and ecological credentials.

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Life on board a Galapagos cruise


For travellers choosing a cruise-based trip, the type of boat and facilities on offer plays a big part in their decision-making. However, many simply think about where the boat will be docking and what they’ll do on-shore. Here’s what life is like on board a Galapagos cruise.

Your Galapagos cruise

Life onboard cruise ships revolve around early starts. Mornings consist of wake up calls, breakfast buffets and gearing up for trips to the uninhabited islands. On some ships there are pre-breakfast excursions or fitness classes to get you ready for a day of exploring.

Travel from ships to shore is done via pangas (small, motorised rubber boats) that are swift and used for both wet and dry landings.

The majority of the day on a cruise is spent exploring different islands. Normally there are activities including hikes and snorkelling in the morning, followed by lunch on the ship, and trips to other parts of the island where you are anchored in the afternoon.

After spending most days out exploring, evenings are reserved for relaxing. There is usually a briefing in the evening with your guide to go over the next day’s destination. Depending on the boat these can detail activities for the next day, be presentations about the islands, activities geared towards children, dancing, or time to talk about the day’s events.

Accommodation and lodging

Accommodation standards vary depending on the level of boat you stay on. The deluxe cruises go all out with luxury rooms, balconies and amenities you would expect in a five star hotel. Others maximise space with more rooms and more passengers. On most ships, there is an inherent trust and things like locks on doors don’t exist. Theft isn’t a concern in the islands, but consider bringing bags with locks for valuables if you’re worried.

One thing to consider when choosing a cruise is where the rooms are located. Rooms lower in the water are calmer when it comes to the open sea and can reduce the risk of seasickness. The other side of the coin is they are also closer to the engine room.

Food and drink

Breakfast and lunch are normally buffets with an ample choice of international and Ecuadorian food to choose from. Breakfast includes fruit and juice, while lunch gives you chicken or meat dishes and Ecuadorian-style seafood along with salads and vegetarian options.

Dinner is normally a more formal affair with a choice of main course and pre- and post-dinner drinks with other guests. Some of the boats include your bar tab in the price, but typically you can expect to pay for alcohol, tips and any other extras.

Dealing with bad weather

When the weather gets rough the crew decides the agenda for the day. Typically storms only last a short time. If you are out exploring and rain sets in, your guides might decide to head back to the ship until the weather subsides. If it clouds over and is only a light storm, you might be given the option of going out to the islands with appropriate gear.

At times the sea can be choppy, and many passengers take sea sickness pills as a precaution. Normally after a few days people have adjusted. If seasickness is a major concern for you, catamarans are the steadiest crafts that operate in the islands.

Galapagos wildlife by island

The Galapagos Islands have a unique ecosystem, meaning wildlife has thrived here for centuries. Don’t expect the animals to be shy -- their indifference to your presence is what makes this such a great place to visit.

Galapagos sea lion

Found all over the Islands, there are around 50,000 Galapagos sea lions living in the archipelago. Whether diving to depths of 500 metres, swimming among snorkellers and bathers, or simply lounging on sandy beaches, the sea lion is a favourite among visitors.Where to see the

Where to see the Galapagos sea lion: Everywhere

Killer whale

Orcas, otherwise known as killer whales, are actually members of the dolphin family. As permanent inhabitants of the Galapagos’ waters, they are frequently seen, particularly in the Canal Bolivar between Isabela and Fernandina.

Look out for the orca’s famous black and white colouration as they spy hop through the waters hunting marine mammals and fish.

Where to see killer whales: Canal Bolivar, between Isabela and Fernandina

Bottlenose dolphin

Although not endemic to the Galapagos, bottlenose dolphins are regular visitors to the Islands. Playful and inquisitive, the dolphins feed in pods of 20 to 30, often swimming alongside cruise ships and yachts.

Look for the dolphin’s short beak and sickle-shaped dorsal fin. However, it will probably be the dolphin’s playfulness that catches your attention.

Where to see the bottlenose dolphin: Everywhere

Galapagos flamingo

The Galapagos flamingo is one of the largest of the world’s five species of flamingo. Feeding on crustaceans and water plants, their distinctive black and pink beaks filter silt and mud from their food.

Found all over the Galapagos, flamingos are generally shy and wary of humans, so viewing them is best done from a distance.

Where to see flamingos: Floreana, Santiago and Santa Cruz

Blue-footed booby

The blue-footed booby is the most popular of the four booby species on the islands, with its distinctive blue feet making it easy to spot. The booby’s blue feet also play a big part in courtship, with female boobies choosing males with the brightest blue. The birds perform an elaborate dance during courtship, beginning with the male giving the female a stick. Boobies often mate for life.

Where to see the blue-footed booby: Española, Genovesa

Galapagos penguin

The Galapagos penguin is the only species of penguin that lives in the tropics and is also the smallest. Endemic to the region, the Galapagos penguin mates for life and swim at speeds of up to 35km per hour when hunting.

In 1982, 77% of the Islands’ penguin population was wiped out after a particularly strong El Niño event. Numbers have been recovering ever since, with the population now around 2,000.

Where to see the Galapagos penguin: Isabela, Fernandina, Bartolomé

Giant tortoise

Perhaps the Islands’ most famous resident is the Galapagos giant tortoise. In fact, the archipelago is even named after the giant tortoise, with Galapagos meaning saddle in Spanish.

The giant tortoise can live for up to several hundred years and its population is estimated at around 20,000 by the Galapagos Conservation Trust.

Where to see giant tortoises: Santa Cruz, Isabela

Land iguana

One of three land lizard species inhabiting the Galapagos, the land iguana is a placid vegetarian despite its fearsome image.

Look out for males engaging in headbutting competitions over territory, or for the relationship with finches who pick ticks off their backs.

Where to see land iguanas: Santa Cruz, Isabela, Fernandina

Marine iguana

Unique among lizards, the marine iguana is the world’s only seagoing lizard. Found only in the Galapagos, the lizards vary in size and colour between islands.

Famously unattractive -- Darwin once called them ‘hideous-looking’ and the ‘most disgusting, clumsy lizards’ -- marine iguanas are actually surprising agile when in water, feeding on algae and seaweed.

Where to see marine iguanas: Everywhere

Green sea turtle

The Galapagos green sea turtle lives in the tropical and sub-tropical waters of the Pacific islands, reaching 1m in length and almost 150kg in weight. The females return to the Galapagos Islands to lay eggs, which incubate for up to 55 days before hatching.

Green sea turtles are often seen surfacing for air in calm water and are often encountered by snorkellers.

Where to see green sea turtles: Santa Cruz, Fernandina, Santiago

The Galapagos: Island By Island

The Galapagos archipelago comprises six major islands, 14 minor islands, and over 40 islets. Having emerged from volcanic activity over a huge span of time, each island is unique in its age and natural history. Each one has something a little different to offer visitors. Here are the most accessible islands to visit and a few of their highlights.

Santa Cruz

Puerta Ayora, the main town on Santa Cruz island, is the tourist center of the islands -- tour agencies, airline offices, restaurants, banks and shops line the streets. It’s a stop on most tour itineraries and the place to finalize travel plans, find gifts for friends and family, and sample local cuisine.

  • Hike to Tortuga Bay on a path that ends at beaches perfect for snorkelling.

  • The lava tubes in the highlands are some of the largest in the islands.

  • The wharf off of the main drag pits the local fish merchants against the sea lions that vie for the daily catch.

  • The Charles Darwin Foundation is the original rallying point for scientific and conservation efforts in the islands. Don’t miss the Giant Tortoise Reserve!

San Cristobal

San Cristobal is the provincial capital of the Galapagos. One of the oldest islands, it was Darwin’s first stop on his historic journey. It’s the home to government and educational institutions.

  • Puerto Baquerizo Moreno acts as the second tourist center for the islands. Offices of tour agencies, foundations and branches of banks are open during the week.

  • Sapho Bay and the waters around the adjacent Kicker Rock are popular places for snorkeling to see rays, Galapagos sharks and the occasional hammerhead.

Isabela

Originally named Albemarle Island by pirate Ambrose Cowley, Isabela is one of the youngest and largest of the Galapagos archipelago. It was formed by six volcanoes: Sierra Negra , Wolf, Alcedo, Cerro Azul, Darwin and Ecuador. All are active except Ecuador; Wolf erupted most recently in 2015.

  • Take a horseback ride to the top of the Sierra Negra Volcano.

  • Spot Humpback Whales off the western coast of the island from June to September.

  • See the Galapagos penguins near Tagus Cove. The cove was a favorite of pirates and whalers; names of ships dating back to 1836 are carved into the nearby cliff sides.

Floreana

After being marooned on Floreana in 1805, Irishman Patrick Watkins became the first known Galapagos resident. Post Office Bay is also here, an informal mail system started in the 1700s by whalers. Mail was left for ships returning home in a barrel by those headed out to sea. The tradition lives on today.

  • Leave postcards at Post Office Bay for others to pick up and deliver once home.

  • Cormorant Point has two contrasting beaches; a green sand beach caused by olivine crystals and Flour Beach, made from crushed white coral.

  • See pink flamingos at the nearby Flamingo Lagoon.

  • Watch for Green sea turtles nesting on the sands of Flour Beach.

  • Take a short hike and a small decent by ladder, leading to a lava tube that extends a few hundred yards underneath the surface.

  • Take a panga ride to Gardner Inlet for a view of the large caves and rock formations of the island.

Española Island

On this island, you’ll be greeted by colonies of sea lions and Española lava lizards lounging freely. It’s also known for its nesting sites of Blue-footed and Nazca boobies.

  • Hike the Punta Suarez trail to the edge of a cliff overlooking a natural lava blowhole.

  • Waved Albatross breeding colony. The world’s population of the species migrates here during April and December. Elaborate mating rituals lead to partnerships for life.

  • The white sand beach at Gardner Bay is one of the longest in the islands.

  • Sea turtles bury their eggs on the beach during mating season between January and March.

Bartolomé

One of the sites used in the movie “Master and Commander,” Bartolomé is famous for Pinnacle Rock, a volcanic outcrop formed after lava erupted from an underwater volcano. The iconic formation was used for target practice by US airmen during WWII, adding to its unique shape.

The colorful scenery of the beaches on either side of Pinnacle Rock is contrasted by the barren landscape of Bartolomé’s interior. It’s often compared to the moon or Mars due to the red lava rocks away from the shore.

  • Climb to the top of the island’s summit, ascending a wooden staircase through the stripped-down landscape. A panoramic view awaits.

  • See Galapagos penguins, sea turtles, parrotfish, and small sharks in the shallow waters between the landing point and Pinnacle Rock.

North Seymour

North Seymour is home to one of the island’s first conservation projects. In the 1930s, the crew of Captain Alan Hancock’s ship transferred 72 land iguanas from the nearby Baltra Island to North Seymour in the hopes that the reptiles would fare better without the feral goats competing for food. At last count in 2014, there were 2500 land iguanas on the island.

  • Visit a flamingo lagoon on the isolated Bachas Beach.

  • Great Frigate birds have the largest nesting colony to be found on the islands.

Galapagos Islands activities

Best islands for snorkelling

Snorkelling in the Galapagos Islands allows for thrilling underwater adventures where a whole new world opens up. The Galapagos Marine Reserve is home to sea lions, green sea turtles, billowing clouds of tropical fish, penguins and sharks.

Bartolomé Island

Bartolomé Island’s iconic Pinnacle Rock is the place to find penguins. These quick-moving swimmers are frequent companions in the bay especially when the Humboldt Current moves in from Antarctica and cools off the water, attracting them in from the western islands.

North Seymour Island and Mosquera Islet

North Seymour Island and the neighbouring Mosquera Islet are home to a large population of sea lions. Snorkelling here puts you up close and personal with these curious creatures and their young pups.

Floreana Island

Off the shores of Floreana Island is the Devil’s Crown — a partially submerged, extinct volcano where wildlife thrives. Sea turtles, sea lions and even sharks are commonly seen in and around the crater, while seabirds crowd the outlying cliffs.

Isabela Island

Isabela Island’s Los Túneles is a series of pools sheltered from the sea’s currents with interlacing volcanic bridges spanning the depths. The crystal waters are home to decades-old sea turtles, large sea horses, white-tipped reef sharks and thriving schools of tropical fish.

Safe snorkelling

The biggest dangers associated with snorkelling in the Galapagos Islands are strong currents and accidentally stepping somewhere you shouldn’t. White-tipped reef sharks rest during the day in shallow waters and can be startled. Currents at outlying sites throughout archipelago can be strong even for experienced swimmers.

Where to dive on the Galapagos

Scuba diving in the archipelago puts you face-to-face with hundreds of hammerhead sharks, exploring underwater cliffs and caves, or sharing the water with dolphins and whales. Each site attracts a different crowd, so choose carefully.

Dive shops in Puerto Ayora rent equipment, as do live aboard boats, but most cruises recommend that you bring your own gear to ensure safety and comfort.

Gordon Rocks

Off the coast of Santa Cruz Island, Gordon Rocks is a submerged volcano where the depths reveal hammerhead sharks, rays, and sea turtles. Currents can be strong and swells in the shallows mean that divers need to stay below 40 ft.

Kicker Rock

Kicker Rock near San Cristobal Island is one of the best-known sites in the islands to see hammerhead sharks. Hundreds gather in the depths here, while the lion-shaped shadow of Kicker Rock towers above you. Kicker Rock is two hours from San Cristobal and you must be accompanied by a guide.

Wolf and Darwin Islands

Only accessible on live aboard cruises, Wolf and Darwin Islands have multiple dive sites where whale sharks, humpback whales and dolphins are found between June and November. Currents can be strong, but the giants of the sea are only found around these two islands.

Best islands for nature hikes

Hiking is an everyday part of exploring the islands. Day trips and cruises combine time spent discovering uninhabited islands and snorkelling by sea.

Treks find you on the top of high vistas overlooking scenic bays, walking on trails next to colonies of blue-footed boobies and sea lions, and even hiking up active volcanoes.

Sierra Negra volcano — Isabela Island

Sierra Negra volcano is one of six that formed Isabela Island. It has the second largest caldera (volcanic crater formed when a volcano falls in on itself) in the world and last erupted in 2018. This is a popular hike that takes you through forests and high above the tree line where views stretch across the crater to the neighbouring islands.

Bartolomé Island

Landing at the beach at Bartolomé Island, the path leads up an ascending set of stairs that take you over the volcanic landscape and to a lookout that spans the bay below. Seen in countless movies and postcard perfect pictures, it’s one of the best views in the archipelago.

Cerro Tijeretas — San Cristobal Island

Cerro Tijeretas is reached by a short hike past the Interpretation Centre on San Cristobal. The vista offers an amazing view over the bay below and there are trails down to the water and around the area.

The Punta Suarez trail -— Española Island

The Punta Suarez loop trail is a short one-mile trail that puts you in the middle of exotic landscapes and beaches. Sea lions, blue-footed boobies and waved albatrosses are found along the trail and towering cliffs frame the landscape and coast.

Best islands for sea kayaking

Kayaking in the Galapagos Marine Reserve puts you on the water exploring the beaches, coves and islets of the islands close up. Paddling along the coast introduces you to the region’s wildlife. Sea turtles swim alongside kayaks, sea lions follow in your wake and marine iguanas dive into the water to join the fun.

Tortuga Bay

Tortuga Bay on Santa Cruz Island is considered one of the best beaches in the world. While the first section has strong currents, the more sheltered part of the beach has opportunities to kayak against a backdrop of mangroves. This is a great route for those looking for fun away from the fray and wildlife that shies away from the beaten path.

El Garrapatero

Another fun spot on Santa Cruz is El Garrapatero beach, a short taxi ride from Puerto Ayora. After a short hike, the secluded beach opens up and kayaks are available to check out the surrounding waters. There is also a tide pool to snorkel or swim and a lagoon behind the sand where flamingos and finches are often seen.

Tagus Cove

Tagus Cove on Isabela Island was a hideout for whalers and pirates who used the archipelago as a refuge from the Spanish fleet. Kayak trips go up the coast from Puerto Villamil, stopping in the bay to explore and then hiking up to a lookout and Darwin’s Lake in the nearby highlands.

Best islands for surfing

While there are a collection of surfing spots in the Galapagos Islands, the place to go is San Cristobal. The beaches, their breaks, and the animals found here draw surfers from around the world.

Punta Carola beach

Punta Carola is the number one beach in the Galapagos for world-class surfing. During high tide, waves reach ten feet, but at low tide the surf eases up, making it a great place for beginners to hone their skills.

The beach has two breaks — the left reef break is good for beginners and the right break near the point is better for more experienced surfers.

Tongo Reef

Reached after a 15-minute walk south from town through a military zone, Tongo Reef is the surf spot for those who want an alternative to the ten-foot waves of other beaches but still want a challenge.

Waves here reach six feet at high tide -— providing thrills for all levels of surfers. Three take-off zones access the break. Bajito and Medio are the places for beginners and intermediate riders, while further out, Pico has bigger waves for expert surfers to push themselves to the limit.

El Cañón

A sought after surf spot for intermediate and advanced riders, El Cañón has a southern swell with six foot waves.

El Cañon is 20-minute walk from Helena's Garden, two blocks before Playa Man. The trail goes through a military base and a passport is required to enter. The biggest waves arrive between November and May.

La Loberia beach

La Loberia beach is within walking distance from town and is a good spot to surf, snorkel, swim and frolic with the friendly sea lion population.

It is a popular place for experienced surfers; the surf can get big at high tide. Waves move at a medium speed — but when the wind kicks up the water can get too rough to navigate.

Mountain biking on the Galapagos Islands

Mountain biking in the Galapagos gives you a break from organised tours and set plans on cruise ships. Trails and routes take you into the highlands of the inhabited islands and let you stretch your legs while enjoying the lush scenery of the archipelago.

Santa Cruz Highlands

The highlands of Santa Cruz are a popular day trip when visiting the island. Trips combine visiting coffee farms and tortoise reserves with riding by bike to beaches on the coast.

La Soledad to Puerto Baquerizo Moreno, San Cristobal

La Soledad is a small lookout in the highlands of San Cristobal with a stunning view of the coast and Kicker Rock. The route takes you past El Progesso, one of the original settlements in the islands. There is a small restaurant at La Ceiba treehouse on the edge of town and a few shops where you can buy water and supplies.

The Wall of Tears -— Isabela Island

The route to the Wall of Tears takes you along the coast and up into the hills of the island. The wall itself is a stark reminder of the Islands’ past — where prisoners from the mainland toiled to build the wall in a futile effort to appease their jailers. The road along the shoreline is now closed to all but bikers and hikers.

Responsible biking

The Galapagos Islands’ lack of traffic makes it a safe place for cyclists. The biggest danger comes from cyclists’ impact on local wildlife. Make sure you stay to roads and permitted paths — never venture off track.

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Best beaches on the Galapagos Islands

The beaches of the Galapagos are exotic retreats where exploring brings you to secluded bays where sea lions and marine iguanas rest, flamingos feed in lagoons, and cool waters beckon to those who want to swim, surf, and snorkel.

Puerto Villamil beach

The beach in front of the sleepy town of Puerto Villamil on Isabela island overlooks the island’s bay. You can see penguins on outcrops and the water is inviting to those who want a dip after a big day of exploring. Small beachside bars and shaded hammocks make it a great spot to relax and unwind far away from the crowds.

Red beach — Rabida Island

The red sand of the beach on Rabida Island comes from the high iron content in the volcanic rock of the island. Sea lions greet those visiting from cruises on this strange landscape, framed by green cactus and palo santo trees.

Bachas beach, Santa Cruz Island

Bachas beach on Santa Cruz Island is often a stop on day trips to neighbouring uninhabited islands. Its protected bay is a great place to swim, and the nearby lagoons are home to flamingos feeding in the shallow water. The beach is named after two barges that were abandoned by the army after WWII.

Post Office Bay — Floreana Island

The beach at Post Office Bay is one of the few places that is just as interesting for its human history. Whalers who first visited the island set up a barrel for mail. Those returning from their time at sea would take mail home for those heading out on their long voyage. Today, visitors from cruise ships leave a postcard and take another home to deliver.

Stay safe

The wildlife of the Galapagos Islands beaches, though used to human presence, present the most danger in the islands. Male sea lions aggressively protect their harems and young, and sea life such as white-tipped reef sharks can be hard to spot in shallow reefs and can react when disturbed.

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Rules and regulations

As a Unesco World Heritage site that has suffered from unsustainable tourism in the past, it is vital that you choose responsible partners when visiting the Galapagos Islands, as well as leaving as small a footprint as possible. Here are some tips on how you can keep the Galapagos Islands thriving.

Tour companies and guides

Tour companies in the Galapagos Islands run the gamut from luxury operators on boats with first class amenities to budget options that use every bit of space for cabins and equipment.

The important things to look for is a commitment to the islands and their preservation, staff that understand the intricacies of international travel and a level of service that takes into account the needs of individuals.

All trips, whether by land or by sea, are required to have certified guides accompany guests. On some boats, these guides are accompanied by naturalists. On others, guides with certification are responsible for entire groups.

A rule of thumb to consider is that you get what you pay for. If you are looking for a deal, make sure you vet the company beforehand to avoid any surprises once on your adventure.

Commitment to conservation in the islands is often more talk than action. As such, ask companies what they are doing to ease their footprint on the archipelago. Finding out details about how they deal with waste, specific projects they support, and plans in place for sustainable travel will give you a better picture of who you are dealing with.

Galapagos National Park rules and fees

New rules from 2018 require that you must have reservations for a hotel, land-based trip, or cruise before going to the islands. To facilitate this, there is an online form to enter your travel details. Other new rules state that all visitors must have travel insurance and show proof before leaving.

The online form is found here by clicking on the Pre-Registro Individual from the left hand menu. It is in Spanish, and a break down in English is available here.

When planning a trip, be aware that the Galapagos National Park has tight regulations in place to help protect the islands. These include carefully screening bags before and after your flight and a regulation that each boat can only visit each visitor site once in a 15-day period. This can make things difficult for those who want to visit specific islands during their trip, so make you sure you check your itinerary.

Before your flight for the islands leaves the mainland, you need to buy a transit control card for $20. This card helps to track the visitors on the Islands. It is returned at the end of your trip. Once you arrive, you pay a $100 national park entrance fee in cash. The fee helps with conservation projects around the island.

Travellers in the Galapagos Islands are expected to stay six feet away from wildlife, even when approached. You also may not feed the animals and flash photography is prohibited.

Local economy and what to buy

Supporting the local communities is the Galapagos means buying locally. Souvenirs are on every corner and Main Street in places like San Cristobal and Santa Cruz islands. Buying products from local artisans including coffee and chocolate helps sustainable tourism in the archipelago.

There are plenty of products that are available for travellers to buy including Galapagos coffee, chocolate, art, and souvenirs. On Santa Cruz Island, jewellery shops sell products made by local artisan women using recycled materials. Artisans also come on board boats visiting the port. This helps to both boost the income of the local people, and tackle the problem of waste on the islands.

Banned products are those that use the natural resources of the islands, such as coral and sea shells. Remember that taking anything from the Islands is illegal -- even a small stone.

Beyond your Galapagos trip

For those who want to make an impact that helps protect the islands after a trip, organisations including the Charles Darwin Foundation, the Galapagos Island Trust, the Galapagos Conservancy and Children of Galapagos have direct donation links that support ongoing programmes.

010 Galapagos Multisport

Galapagos cruise FAQs

What’s the local currency?

The US$ is the official currency of Ecuador, which means no standing in line at currency exchange if you’re travelling from the USA.

What documents do I need for the Galapagos?

Visitors from North America and most European countries don’t currently need a visa to enter Ecuador, but please double check before departure. Your passport must be valid for at least six months beyond the date of departure from Ecuador.

In addition to the originals, bring a copy of your passport, a list of identity card numbers and the international phone numbers of their issuing institutions. Store these separately from your original documents in case of an unforeseen problem with emergency contact numbers and medical information.

Valid health insurance is also required to travel to the Islands. Please check that you are covered for emergency air transport as there are only basic facilities on the Islands.

What gadgets should I bring?

Pack extra SD cards, cables, chargers and batteries for computers, electronics and phones. Even in Quito and Guayaquil, accessories for major brands are hard to find and extremely expensive due to high import taxes. Bringing a point-and-shoot camera is also a good idea for moments when taking out expensive photography gear is impractical.

Will my cell phone work in the Galapagos?

Cell phones on GSM networks generally work in the Galapagos. Check with your provider to find out the specifics of your plan and the charges for using it internationally. Extremely high rates are common, and it’s better to know beforehand to avoid the shock after returning home. It’s always wise to turn off data roaming before heading abroad.

At the airport in both Quito and Guayaquil you can buy traveller's sim cards for your stay in Ecuador. These use a pay as you go system, and don’t require an Ecuadorian ID to activate.

Is there internet on Galapagos cruise boats?

Internet in the Galapagos pales in comparison with the speeds of the United States and Europe. Most hotels have connections, but expect limited range, slow loading times and long waits. Internet on board cruise ships is generally unheard of, or will be via satellite connections at exorbitant pricing -- for emergencies only, if at all. WhatsApp with a 3G plan also works on most ships when out at sea. Much better to plan to do without and enjoy your surroundings!

How much should I tip?

In restaurants, a 10% service charge is added to the bill; for crew, drivers and staff, $5-10 a day is fair. For guides and trip leaders, $10-15 dollars a day is the norm. Note that apart from tourism destinations, tipping isn’t typical and what you leave is entirely up to you.

What are the luggage restrictions?

Most airlines restrict luggage to one checked bag up to a maximum of 40 pounds and one carry-on bag that weighs up to 15 pounds. This is generally recommended for all air travel within South America. Extra baggage can usually be accommodated for a fee.

Are land-based trips better for avoiding sea-sickness?

Not necessarily. Although land-based trips mean spending the night in hotels or lodges you’ll still visiting various islands by boat -- usually small speedboats, which can be extremely choppy and can cause problems for younger and older travellers.

Can I roam the islands solo?

Visitors on organised tours are required to be accompanied by a registered guide for their own safety and for the protection of the islands. You can rent bikes, kayaks, and snorkel equipment and spend days discovering the inhabited islands of Santa Cruz, San Cristobal, Floreana, and Isabela.

What are the advantages to different ship sizes?

“Large ships” are only relatively large. They carry 90-100 guests with 30-40 crew -- clearly not your average Caribbean cruise liner!

Large ships have more facilities, including larger deck spaces and more social areas, but are not necessarily more luxurious than the smaller ships. Higher cabins have better views, but they’re usually more expensive and will feel rockier in strong seas.

Smaller ships are able to anchor closer to the islands, but this is less important considering that all cruises use small motorboats to land on the islands. Remember that smaller boats will pitch further in choppy seas, so those susceptible to seasickness should bring Dramamine or equivalents. Catamarans tend to be the most stable vessels.

Packing list for the Galapagos Islands

Pack light, quick-drying clothes for the Galapagos. Heavier materials such as cotton take longer to dry in the humid weather. Remember that you’ll be travelling on boats (including pangas and rafts with dry and wet landings) and that you’ll need waterproof clothing. It’s also worth packing seasickness tablets to help you cope with the rocky journeys to the islands.

Basics to pack for a trip to the Galapagos Islands include:

  • Sturdy hiking boots
  • Rain jacket
  • Waterproof trousers
  • Waterproof bag for electronics
  • Sunscreen
  • Sunhat
  • Breathable hiking socks
  • Water bottle
  • Seasickness tablets
  • Fleece or windshell
How to visit the Galapagos Islands

Jon Jared

Jon is a travel writer and guidebook researcher based in Quito, Ecuador. He has authored the Moon guides to Ecuador and the Galapagos Islands and contributes to Delta Sky Magazine and the Happy Gringo Travel website.

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