The Galapagos Islands, located in the Pacific Ocean off the coast of Ecuador, are a true paradise for nature enthusiasts and adventure seekers. With their unique biodiversity and stunning landscapes, these islands offer an unforgettable experience. Whether you are interested in exploring volcanic formations, encountering diverse wildlife species, or simply soaking up the sun on pristine beaches, the Galapagos Islands in Ecuador have something for everyone. In our article, 5 Things to do in the Galapagos Islands will help you to make the most of your Galapagos Islands vacation.
A frequent question we are always asked is what are the best Galapagos Islands to visit with kids? After spending time in the Galapagos Islands we can say that every island has something different to offer whether you are a kid, a couple, a solo traveller, or travelling with family.
The top activities to do in the Galapagos Islands are diving and snorkelling.
Where is the Galapagos Islands
The Galapagos Islands belong to the South American country of Ecuador and are located in the Pacific Ocean about 1000 km off the coast. The archipelago consists of 18 main islands, 3 smaller islands and 107 rocks and islets.
From Guayaquil to the Galapagos Islands is 1187 km and from Quito it is 1388 km.
How to get to the Galapagos Islands?
Flying is the only way to get to the islands. Mainly only cargo boats travel from the mainland to the Galapagos Islands. Sometimes they offer a cabin but it is basic accommodation and the journey is 3 days.
The flight time from Quito is approximately 2 hours and from Guayaquil, it is approximately 2 hours as well.
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Is the Galapagos Islands expensive?
At first glance, it seemed expensive and when we delved deeper into the costs of travelling to the Galapagos Islands and what the options were we became totally confused and it appeared to become even more expensive.
We enquired of others who had travelled there, we asked questions as to how they travelled, what are the best places to visit in the Galapagos Islands, did they use Galapagos Islands tours and whether they would do anything differently next time, and what was their experiences, we even inquired on an Ecuador Expat Forum on Facebook, still, confusion reigned. We even checked Galapagos Islands Tripadvisor for hints.
We knew that our daily travel budget of AUD100 would not make it and we would have to cut back on other areas of travel if we really wanted to travel there.
We ended up spending a week with two nights on San Cristobal Island and then taking a water ferry for USD30 per person across to Santa Cruz Island.
The ferries between the islands are priced between USD 25 – 35 per person. We were recommended to take the morning ferries as the crossings can be quite rough in the afternoon. Our very early morning crossing was rough – not sure whether that was a one-off or whether we were given incorrect information. After doing the ferry crossing everyone we spoke to experienced a rough crossing.
Top 5 Things to Do in the Galapagos Islands
You can take a tour or do it yourself. You can choose one island or a few. The two best places to visit in the Galapagos are the islands of Santa Cruz and San Cristobal.
#1 Organised Multi-Day Tours of The Galapagos Islands
We use Get Your Guide for tours when we travel around the world. These are the reasons why:
- The lowest prices, guaranteed — no booking fees or hidden charges
- Pre-book tickets and skip the line at top attractions with their exclusive inventory of tickets
- Stay flexible with easy cancellation up to 24 hours before
- Mobile-friendly payment and tickets for booking on the go
- Friendly and knowledgeable customer services, available 24/7 in your language
There are many tour operators offering all different types of Galapagos Island activities. We opted not to do a cruise as we are not divers nor snorkellers. We have researched Get Your Guide and have come up with their top tours:
6-Day Galapagos Islands Tour Visiting 4 Islands
On this six-day program, you can hike, snorkel, kayak, swim and experience an incredible diversity of wildlife. The highlights of this program include San Cristobal, Santa Cruz, Española and a visit to an uninhabited island. Your 5 nights accommodation is in hotels on the various islands with 4 breakfasts and 4 lunches included. Book your tour here.
NB There is an entrance fee to be paid to the island for all travellers which is USD 100 per person.
5 Day Land Tour on Isabela
- Experience the highlights of the Galapagos Islands on this multi-day experience
- See native Galapagos wildlife, like penguins, iguanas, and blue-footed boobies
- Hike the Sierra Negra Volcano and see the world’s second-largest volcanic crater
- Take a dive to see sharks, rays, and tropical fish in their natural habitat
- Choose from budget or comfort accommodation options to fit your needs
#2 Enjoy a One Day Galapagos Island Tour by Yacht
Explore the sights and wildlife in the Galapagos Islands on this full-day yacht tour from Santa Cruz. Visit Tortuga Bay Beach, La Lobería, Canal del Amor, and Playa de los Perros to see sea lions, marine iguanas, reef sharks, and other marine animals.
- Book your tour here
3. Meet the locals of San Cristobal in the Galapagos Islands
What we did not expect to see were the local sea lions draped over the seats in the bus shelter. They spend all day sunning themselves on the rocks around the waterfront.
All along the waterfront, you come across the Blue Footed Boobies mingled with the sea lions.
Sharing the limelight with the blue-footed boobies are the brilliantly coloured red crabs that scattered over the rocks as we drew near.
- Travel tip: Chat to the locals at the many waterfront restaurants to find out more information on where to go and boat rides between islands
There are places to eat and drink all along the waterfront close to where the ferries and cruise boats come in.
4. Visit Cerro Colorado Galapagos Breeding Centre on the Island of San Cristobal -the top attraction in the Galapagos Islands
Visit Cerro Colorado – a Centre that was built for the breeding of giant tortoises. The informative Visitors Centre explains its programs for the preservation and reproduction of endemic giant tortoises. You will be able to view the varying stages of tortoises in their growth development.
5. Dine With The Locals on the Island of Santa Cruz
You can’t beat dining with the locals in the Galapagos Islands, especially the native ones. What more could you ask for on Santa Cruz Island in the Galapagos Islands in Ecuador?
6 nights a week from Monday through to Saturday the fish market comes alive in the evening. The plastic tables and chairs are set out and by 7 pm there are queues waiting for a table.
This is a true dining experience especially when you dine with sea lions and pelicans. It is a family affair. The men are responsible for bringing the catches in and the women in the family cook the meals in the evening. Other family members work the tables and others make the salad, rice and plantains.
You know it is fresh when you see the fisherman bring in their catch during the day at different times.
It can become very busy. The locals are discerning and know what is the better quality and will wait until the right fish arrives.
For more travel information on Ecuador read our Ecuador Vacation Travel Guide
Where to Stay on the Galapagos Islands
On the island of San Cristobal, we stayed at the Posada Turistico Territo now called Hostal Terito. It was basic comfortable accommodation within our budget. The owners collected us from the airport. There are 5 rooms available, a swimming pool and WiFi. It was an easy walk into town.
Address: Jose Vallejo S/N y Gonzalo Morales, Puerto Baquerizo Moreno. Puerto Baquerizo Moreno is the capital of the province of Galapagos and is located on San Cristobal Island.
Santa Cruz Island
On the island of Santa Cruz we stayed at Lava House at Calle Roberto Schiess y 18 de Febrero (in front of Agua Gallardo), Puerto Ayora.
Lava House was a comfortable stay, well located for walking into town and a good breakfast was served. It is a 4-room hotel with a pool and WiFi.
If you are looking for an eco-luxury all-inclusive resort head to Pikaia Lodge in Santa Cruz. Probably the most luxurious accommodation in Santa Cruz the Pikaia Lodge is for that special memorable stay on the island.
For more hotels on the Galapagos Islands
Flights To the Galapagos Islands
You can fly into San Cristobal from Quito or Guayaquil only via Tame, Avianca and LAN.
A $10 traffic control card must be purchased which allows travellers to stay up to 90 days.
A payment of $100 USD for entry to the Galapagos National Park is required to be paid by all tourists, there is a reduction for children and residents of Ecuador.
In Quito or Guayaquil, your luggage and hand luggage will be inspected. Species of animals and plants are not allowed in and you will be asked to complete a Legally Binding Declaration Form for Goods of Animal and Vegetation Origin.
Find the cheapest flights with Skyscanner our go-to when researching and booking flights throughout the world.
To Travel Too Tip for the Galapagos Islands:
If you are booking the airfares to the Galapagos Islands beware there are fares for Ecuadorians and fares for International Travellers on some of the airline websites. If it looks too good to be true, you have a local airfare and will be asked to pay more for the ticket than you would have normally when checking in.
Can you do Galapagos on a budget?
In summary, if you are a keen scuba diver or snorkeler taking a cruise may be the way to go, but if you are not planning an itinerary similar to ours where you choose the activities that interest you the most could be the way to go. The lay of the land currently is that cruises are allowed to go to certain spots on the islands for activities whereas day cruises are not allowed and vice versa. The Ecuadorian Government has just passed a bill allowing large cruise ships to operate smaller vessels themselves for cruise activities around the islands which in fact means that the local operators will suffer as a consequence.
Of course, this depends on the type of accommodation as well that you want to stay in which could range from the cheaper option of hostels to the luxury hotels on the islands.
What we wanted to see on the islands were the Blue Footed Boobies, the Sea Lions, the Tortoises and the marine and land iguanas. We saw all of these at little cost.
We were chatting to some travellers after arriving in Santa Cruz from San Cristobal and asked them for their recommendations. The first and most obvious question and one which should always be asked – What do you want to see? Your time on the Galapagos Islands will depend on your answer to this question.
We also chatted with a traveller from our hostel in Santa Cruz who had travelled in from the UK. It was a once-in-a-lifetime trip for her so it was important that she got the most from her stay. She eventually booked a cruise in Quito whilst she was there. The same cruise would have cost her USD3,000 in the UK, in Quito she paid USD2,400 and she felt that she may have been able to reduce the price by booking once she arrived in the Galapagos Islands at around $2,000 but it would all depend on availability. The agent in Quito was very knowledgeable about the Galagapos Islands and she was very happy with his recommendations.
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In conclusion, the Galapagos Islands offer a once-in-a-lifetime experience for nature enthusiasts and adventure seekers alike. From exploring diverse marine life while snorkelling in crystal-clear waters to witnessing unique wildlife up close and personal, there is no shortage of incredible things to do on these enchanting islands. Whether it’s hiking through volcanic landscapes, visiting pristine beaches, or immersing oneself in the rich history and culture of the region, the Galapagos Islands truly have something for everyone.
We recommend taking out travel insurance as soon as you book your flights and pay deposits on any cruises, tours or hotels.
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