The best tips to travel to the Galapagos Islands, Ecuador

Great! You’ve finally decided to plan a trip to Galapagos Islands! Now that you’ve booked your flight, you probably have several questions and doubts. It’s ok, I did too. In this post you’ll find several tips to travel to Galapagos Islands which will certainly help you answer some doubts and questions such as: how much does it cost to travel to Galapagos, how to travel from one island to the other, which activities to do, etc. 

The Galapagos Islands is an archipelago off the coast of Ecuador. These group of islands form one of the most unique and diverse ecosystems in the world. We’ve all grown knowing the Galapagos Islands as the place where Darwin began his theory of evolution. The archipelago consists of 19 islands and 107 islets. Only 4 of the 19 islands are inhabited: Santa Cruz, San Cristobal, Isabela and Floreana. 

Thanks to incredible conservation projects, the Galapagos Islands have become one of the most magical places in the world where you’ll be able to enjoy marine wildlife unlike you’ve ever done before. Get ready to have the kind of fun that’ll take you back to your childhood days! 

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Tips you should know before traveling to the Galapagos Islands

In this Galapagos travel guide, you’ll be able to find several tips to travel to Galapagos. 

1. All you’ll need to travel to the Galapagos Islands

travel galapagos island
San Cristobal, Galapagos

In this section I’ll point out some of the requirements to visit the Galapagos Islands.

When I visited Galapagos in May 2021, I was required to take a PCR and test negative for COVID-19 96 hours prior to arriving to Galapagos. If you are planning to take your COVID-19 test in any country other than Ecuador, you can present a negative test result from any laboratory; however, if you are planning to take your test in Ecuador, only test results from authorized laboratories are valid.

As you may already know, COVID-19 restrictions are extremely volatile; therefore, I recommend looking up updated information about restrictions prior to your trip. 

You’ll also need:

– Passport.
– Pay the entrance fee.
– Pay for the visitor pass.
– Have travel insurance (I use and recommend HeyMondo). 
– Have flights and hotel reservations.

When I visited the Galapagos Islands, I wasn’t asked to have an outbound flight from the islands (even though we were asked about the day we were leaving in order to get our TCT card), hotel reservations or travel insurance. Anyway, if booking ahead of time is an issue for you, many hotels offer free cancellation. 

You will have to pay for your TCT card (tarjeta de control de tránsito) at the airport, before your flight. This card costs $20 and it’s a requirement to enter Galapagos. Hold on to this card during your visit and make sure that you do not lose it because you’ll need it to exit Galapagos. When you obtain this card, you’ll be asked to state your exit date but your are able to extend your stay at a later date.

You will have to pay the entrance fee once you arrive at any of Galapagos airports. The entrance fee varies from country to country and also by age.

– Foreigners: $100
– Foreigners under the age of 12: $50
– Foreigners from “Comunidad Andina de Naciones or Mercosur: $50 
– Foreigners under the age of 12 from “Comunidad Andina de Naciones or Mercosur: $25
– Nationals or foreign residents: $6
– Nationals or foreign Residents under the age of 12: $3
– Nationals or foreign under the age of 2: free

2. Best time to travel to Galapagos

best time to travel to galapagos
Best time to travel to Galapagos Islands

Galapagos is a destination that you can visit any time of the year. This is because atmospheric conditions are not extreme at any time of the year. The best time to visit Galapagos will all depend on what you want to do and see. 

There are 2 distinguishable seasons in Galapagos: from December until May and from June until November. Regardless of when you visit, you’ll surely enjoy your visit to Galapagos and see many species of wildlife and marine life.

The weather in Galapagos is ver warm and sunny from December to May with some precipitation from time to time, specifically in the highest parts of the islands. If you’re planning a trip to the interior of the islands, I recommend wearing a raincoat as it can rain at any time of of the day. The ocean water during this part of the year is warmer and calmer. That has a direct correlation to what you’ll be able to see.

I visited Galapagos from April to May and I was able to see diverse marine life. I cannot even imagine how it is during the other season.

Yo viajé a las Galápagos entre abril y mayo y vimos muchos animales, así que no me quiero imaginar lo increíble que tiene que ser durante la otra época.

From June to November you can experience slightly cooler, dryer and cloudier days. During this time of the year, cold currents from Antarctica pass through Galapagos which ultimately increase the diversity of marine life one can see. This time of the year is the best time to go whale-watching. If you are looking to go diving or snorkeling, this is probably the best time of the year to perform these activities.

One thing to keep in mind before visiting Galapagos is the amount of tourists you will find in the islands. Peak season is usually during the summer (July and August), Easter and Christmas. If you’re planning to visit Galapagos during this time then you’ll have to book hotels several months prior to your visit because availability is limited during this time.

3. How many days should you spend in Galapagos 

tips to travel to galapagos islands
Santa Cruz, Galapagos

If you’re uncertain about how may days to spend in Galapagos, let me tell you, the more the better. The Galapagos Islands is a very unique place with so many fun things to do. This is all up to time and budget but my recommendation is to spend as much time as possible in this amazing place. 

You should spend at least a week in Galapagos. Hopefully you’ll have more than a week to visit Galapagos. A 10-14 day visit in Galapagos will give you enough time to visit several islands and engage in activities.

My partner and I planned a trip to Galapagos from April 20th to May 1st. We quickly realized that it wasn’t enough time for us to enjoy this beautiful place, therefore, we extended our stay. We ultimately stayed in Galapagos for 26 days: from April 20th until May 15th. 

4. Flights to Galapagos Islands

tips to travel to galapagos
Tips to travel to Galapagos

The archipelago has 2 airports that offer flights to mainland Ecuador. The most well-known airport is the airport in Baltra Island which is a small island off the coast of Santa Cruz. The other airport is in San Cristobal, where the capital of Galapagos is located.

There are weekly flights from Quito and Guayaquil to and from Galapagos. The flight from Guayaquil to Galapagos is approximately 1 hour and 45 minutes and the flight from Quito to Galapagos is 3 hours with a layover in Guayaquil.

If you’re looking for the best flight rates then look no further than in Skyscanner. You’ll be able to find the best rates. Flights to Galapagos during peak season will be more expensive. The average flight price during peak season is $450. My partner and I got very lucky and only paid $213 for our flight to Galapagos from Quito.

5. Galapagos trip cost

galapagos trip cost
Galapagos trip cost

Galapagos isn’t a cheap place to visit; however, you’ll still be able to find many affordable options during your visit in Galapagos. Below, I’ll post the average price for hotels, food, transportation and other services to give you an idea of how much you can expect to spend on the essentials.

PCR: $45 (fixed price in Ecuador).
FLIGHT TO GALAPAGOS FROM MAILAND ECUADOR: $200$500.
TCT CARD: $20.
ENTRANCE FEE: $100.
AFFORDABLE HOTEL: $25 – $35*.
BREAKFAST MENU: $5.
LUNCH MENU: $5.
LUNCH AND DINNER AT A RESTAURANT: from $8.
FERRY BETWEEN ISLANDS: $30.
BIKE RENTAL$10$15 per day.
DAILY TOUR: around $150.
25-40 KM TAXI RIDE: $15$25.
ISABELA ENTRANCE FEE$10.

* We were able to find some affordable hotel options for about $25/night. Many hotels were at a discounted rate due to the pandemic therefore, prices may be slightly different when you visit. 

If you already know how long you are going to stay in Galapagos and which day trips you would like to take, you can now get an idea of the budget you’ll need to visit Galapagos using the budget chart above.

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6. Things to do in Galapagos Islands and best day trips

what to visit in galapagos
Things to do in Galapagos

As I mentioned before, this archipelago consists of 13 big islands, 6 medium-size islands and 107 islets and rocks. Only four islands are inhabited: Santa Cruz, Isabela, San Cristobal and Floreana. 

These 4 islands are accessible by ferry. Santa Cruz, San Cristobal and Isabela have a lot to offer and I recommend spending a couple of nights in each if you are going to stay in Galapagos Islands for while. Spending a nigh in Floreana isn’t necessary as this island is very small. You can go if you book a day tour.

Below, you’ll be able to find information on the things you can do on the 3 main inhabited islands. Daily tours are available from Santa Cruz to San Cristobal, Isabela and Floreana. However, I recommend staying a coupe of nights in San Cristobal and Isabela. 

When you take a day trip to other parts of Galapagos Islands, they usually are snorkeling/diving tours or they also include tour on land.

PLACES TO VISIT IN SANTA CRUZ

– Tortuga Bay
– Las Grietas
– Playa de los Alemanes (German Beach)
– Playa de la Estación (Station Beach)
– Darwin Station
– El Chato Tortoise Reserve
– El Garrapatero Beach
– Los Gemelos
– Las Ninfas Lagoon

DAY TOURS FROM SANTA CRUZ

Floreana Island tour
Pinzon Island snorkeling tour
Santa Fe snorkeling tour
North Seymour Island tour
San Bartolome Island tour (popular one)
Isabela Island tour
– San Cristóbal Island tour

– Snorkeling trips: I recommend Guiding Galápagos Expeditions.
– Diving trips: I recommend Academy Bay Diving.

PLACES TO VISIT IN ISABELA

– Snorkeling in Concha Perla
Visit Sierra Negra Volcano
– The Wall of Tears
– Playa del Amor (Love Beach)
Los Tuneles snorkeling tour (popular one)
Tintoreras tour
– El Estero
– Pozas Salinas in Puerto Villamil

PLACES TO VISIT IN SAN CRISTOBAL

– Snorkeling in Tijeretas
– Punta Carola Beach
– Mann Beach
– La Lobería
– Galapaguera de Cerro Colorado
– Puerto Chino Beach
– El Junco Lagoon
León Dormido (popular spot for snorkeling and diving).
– Tour 360 (you go around the island and it includes Leon Dormido). I recommend booking your trip with Galápagos Eco Fishing.

EXCURSIONES A OTRAS ISLAS DESDE SAN CRISTÓBAL

Española Island tour

7. How to travel between islands

things you need to know before traveling to galapagos
Los Tuneles trip (Isabela)

There are currently two ways to travel from one island to another: ferry and small plane.

The cheapest and most conventional way to travel between islands is by ferry. A one way ferry ride from one island to another costs $30. The ferry never docks therefore, you’ll have to pay an additional $1 for a taxi-boat ride from the pier to the ferry. Santa Cruz is the hub for all ferry routes in Galapagos. Isabela and San Cristobal are not connected directly by ferry. You always have to go through Santa Cruz.

A one way ferry ride is between 2 and 2 and a half hours. You should be at the pier 30 minutes before departure. You should also purchase your ferry ticket 2 days in advance to reserve your seats. During our trip, we used to book the ferry ticket only with one day in advance and we didn’t have any issues. However there weren’t that many tourists due to the pandemic.

BEWARE: Sometimes the sea is very rough, If you tend to suffer from seasickness, take medication and sit in the back of the boat, near the engines. The waves pounding on the boat is far less noticeable in the back. You will be more comfortable and you will get less dizzy. 

FERRY ROUTES IN GALAPAGOS

There are round trips to and from the islands twice a day: in the morning and in the afternoon. Floreana does not offer daily routes therefore, I recommend searching for information a couple of days prior to your planned date of departure. 

– Santa Cruz to Isabela: 7:30h y 15h
– Isabela to Santa Cruz: 6h y 15h

– Santa Cruz to San Cristóbal: 7h y 15h
– San Cristóbal to Santa Cruz: 7h y 15h

As I mentioned before, you can also travel between the islands by a small plane. It is possible to fly between Santa Cruz, San Cristobal e Isabela. You can check the flights and the prices on Emetebe website. The if you book in advance is around $150. San Cristobal and Isabela have weekly flights to and from the island which is a great option if you want to avoid a stop in Santa Cruz.

The rest of the islands are only accesible by day tours or cruises.

8. Where to stay in Galapagos

donde alojarse en galapagos
Our hotel in Galapagos

Search for hoteles in Galapagos.

You may not have enough time to visit all 3 islands and may have to choose one or two amongst the three to stay in Galapagos. Santa Cruz is the most developed island and the one that offers the most tours; however, San Cristobal and Isabela are a bit more special in my opinion.

I’ll provide you with a brief summary of what to expect at each island. Check the info below. I also recommend checking my post about where to stay in Galapagos.

STAYING IN ISABELA

Isabela is the least developed island of the 3 main islands. You won’t find as many restaurants in Isabela. It’s very peaceful which is perfect to disconnect from the rest of the world. Isabela is definitely the more rugged island of all three. Find hotels in Isabela.

My hotel in Isabela: Cielo Azul. It’s a very welcoming and peaceful hotel a bit further inland from Puerto Villamil. The rooms are roomy and clean. Staff is exceptional. I highly recommend this place.

Best hotels in Isabela: Casita de la PlayaThe Isabela Beach House.

STAYING IN SAN CRISTOBAL

San Cristobal is not as developed as Santa Cruz nor is it as peaceful as Isabela, it’s right in the middle. One of the things that I liked the most about this island is the number of sea lions that live on it. Find hotels in San Cristobal.

My hotel in San Cristóbal: Hostal Albatros. This hotel is located right in front of the pier. It offers a shared balcony and common area. 

Best hotels in San CristóbalGalápagos Casa Playa Mann.

STAYING IN SANTA CRUZ

Santa Cruz is the most developed Island. Most flights arrive in Isla Baltra which is very close to Santa Cruz. There are many restaurants and endless amounts of tours in Santa Cruz. Find hotels in Santa Cruz.

My hotels in Santa Cruz: Royal Palm Galapagos (high budget). It is located in the center of Santa Cruz Island, surrounded by nature. The biggest lava tunnel  on the island is located here. Costa del Sol (low budget). It is located in Puerto Ayora. Its offers well-lit rooms with A/C.

Best hotels in Santa CruzLa K-leta Boutique Guesthouse, Finch Bay Galapagos Hotel.

9. Where to eat in Galapagos

galapagos islands vacation
Where to eat in Galapagos

You’ll be able to find local food, fast food, and nice restaurants in all three islands. Below, you can find some of my favorite food establishments in Galapagos. 

Santa Cruz: Almar Seafood & Grill, Restaurante IslaGrill, Tropic Bird Cafe.
Isabela: Royal Rock, El Pollo Sabrosón, El Kiosco.
San Cristóbal: Giuseppe’s, Midori, El Rincón de Sebas, Cri’s Burgers.

Daily menus are available in local restaurants. You’ll be able to find breakfast and lunch for about $5 each. Breakfast consists of eggs, bread, cheese, coffee and juice. For lunch you’ll mostly find rice with meat or fish, soup, salad, lentils, etc.

During your stay in Galapagos Island I recommend try the next dishes: Marinera Soup, bolon de verde, ceviche, yuca bread, local fish and shellfish.

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10. More things you need to know before traveling to the Galapagos Islands

galapagos islands vacations
Tortuga Bay, Santa Cruz

Last but not least, here are some extra tips for your trip to Galapagos:

CRUISES:

One of the most well-known ways to travel in Galapagos is to get on a cruise. There are 4-8 day cruises. Some companies even offer more than 8 days. It’s obviously not the most affordable way to travel in Galapagos but it’s without a doubt a once in a lifetime experience. Visiting tour offices in person may get you a better price.

There are some of the cruises options: South Galapagos Islands 4 Day Cruise, South Galapagos Islands 5 Day Cruise, North Galapagos Islands 8 Day Cruise.

SAFETY:

The Galapagos Islands is a very safe place. There is hardly any crime. You can walk and visit every corner of the islands without having to worry about safety. That being said, always keep an eye on your belongings as you would anywhere else. 

TRAVEL INSURANCE:

There is public healthcare available for everyone in Ecuador; however, having travel insurance is a requirement to enter Galapagos. Having travel insurance will give you access to the best medical centers. I’ve used HeyMondo for the past few years and I highly recommend it. You can get a 5% discount booking your travel insurance through this link.

NAUSEA:

If you are prone to getting dizzy, I recommend taking pills for nausea. During the winter, the sea can get very rough and the boat ride from island to island can get very bumpy. You should also consider sitting on the back of the boat as the pounding is much less noticeable. 

WHAT TO TAKE TO GALAPAGOS:

Apart from taking the basics, do not forget to take some sunscreen, bug spray, a hat, snorkeling equipment, a raincoat (specially if you plan on visiting the interior or the islands), an underwater camera (I recommend a GoPro hero 9), etc

WITHDRAWING MONEY:

Santa Cruz, Isabela and San Cristobal all have ATMs where you can withdraw USD. I’ve used N26 for a few years now to avoid withdraw fees. 

RESPECT:

One of the reasons why the Galapagos Islands are so special and beautiful is because it’s been preserved so wonderfully. It’s not permitted to touch any animal, feed animals and take photos of them with flash. It’s very important to follow these procedures when visiting the islands. 

BOOK IN ADVANCE:

If you are planning to visit Galapagos during peak season, you should book hotels a few months in advance. Affordable hotels get booked first which is why you should book hotels a few months prior to your trip. 

INTERNET IN GALAPAGOS:

Internet and cell service connection aren’t very good. I purchased a service plan with Movistar before my trip and it only worked in Puerto Ayora (Santa Cruz). I didn’t have any service anywhere else. Many have said to me that Claro offers better service in Galapagos. 

ANIMALS:

You are probably wondering which animals you can expect to see in Galapagos. You will have the chance to see: galapagos tortoise, marine turtles, marine iguanas, iguanas, sea lions, penguins, blue-footed booby, white-tip reef shark, black-tip shark, galapagos shark, hammerhead shark, dolphins, manta ray, eagle ray, sea horse, crabs, etc.

I appreciate you taking the time to read this article. I hope this blog post has been informative and has helped you plan your trip to Galapagos. Any question or concerns, feel free to leave a comment down below or to send me an email. Until next time, treveller!

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