10 Useful Things to Know before you Travel to the Awesome Galapagos Islands
Let’s start by stating the obvious. The Galapagos Islands are an awesome place to visit. There is so much diversity in the wildlife on offer, and so many interesting things to see and learn that it is almost impossible to pack it in on a couple of weeks.
Having some basic information beforehand will really help you find your feet quicker and maximise your awesome experience.
Having spent almost 3 weeks there recently here are our 10 useful hints and tips to give you the best possible start:
Cruises are cheaper on the Islands
There is absolutely no doubt about this. If you book your cruise in your home country you will probably pay at least 40% more than if you were able to book the same cruise directly on the Island
On all 3 of the habituated Islands (Santa Cruz, San Cristobal & Isabela) there are hundreds of travel agents offering last minute cruises. If you can handle not knowing exactly what your itinerary is when you land then we definitely recommend going down this route and saving yourself lots of money.
It is useful to have a good idea of the type of cruise you want as there are so many options; different cruises go to different Islands, have different durations, focus on specialist activities eg diving. Have a loose plan, a small amount of flexibility and you will get a (relative) bargain.
Hostels and Day Trips are also cheaper on the Islands
As above, if you have the appetite and are flexible in your travel needs then waiting until you get to the Islands before booking any day trips or even hostels can save you money.
2 good tips if you want the security of your first night accommodation sorted and the hostel does not have it’s own website – only book the first night and then speak to the hostel owner about subsequent nights. As an example we booked a hostel for one night for $40 per night through hostels.com and when got there booked the extra nights we needed directly for only $30 per night. Basically the hostels get charged by the third party websites for the booking and they pass it directly on to you.
Second tip is to try your hardest to find an email address for the hostel you’ve chosen and go to them direct rather than through third party. The same rule applies as above. Which is good because…
The Galapagos Islands are expensive!
I know this is another obvious point and we had anticipated it being expensive, but were still surprised at how much everyday things were. I bought a pack of Pringles from a supermarket without checking the price to find at the till they were $8. Yes, Galapagos is expensive.
Expect to pay between $10-15 per person for a pretty average meal on Santa Cruz and generally beers are about $6 each. A glass of wine will set you back $7-9 pretty much everywhere.
There are ways to limit your costs and we are going to do a separate post on this. Once we’ve done it we will include a link here.
Costs to Enter the Galapagos
The Galapagos Islands are a special place; they no doubt need preserving and that should be supported and applauded. To assist the local Islands to do this there is a charge to enter what is effectively a vast National Park.
At Quito airport you will be expected to pay $20 per person for what amounts to a cost to fly. You need to do this before you go and check in or drop your bags off because part of this process includes having your bags scanned to ensure you are not carrying any organic items which can pollute or harm the delicate ecosystem. You will not be able to check in until you have this particular tag on your bag. For information, the desk is on the far right hand side of the terminal as you walk through the doors.
Once you reach the Islands at immigration you are then required to pay $100 per person which is your National Park pass. Important; they only accept cash! So make sure you have sufficient funds before you fly…
The weather differs by Island
Interestingly in our time there whilst it was hot (during the day, can be a bit chillier on all the islands at night) Puerto Ayora the main town of the Galapagos had almost non-stop humid cloud conditions. The other two islands we stayed – San Cristobal and Isabela – had much more sunshine and warmer conditions.
So if you are planning on a bit of beach dwelling amongst the sea lions, iguanas, turtles and birds then consider heading to one of the other two Islands (particularly Isabela) with sun cream in hand.
Getting Cash on the Islands
The Galapagos currency, like all of Ecuador is US$. ATM’s are easily accessible on both Santa Cruz and San Cristobal. But be warned – if you are heading to Isabela there are no cash machines (ATMs) on the Island so you will need to carry the cash you need with you.
A lot of establishments across the 3 main Islands do take credit cards, but they generally carry a hefty 4% charge, so cash is often the most economical choice.
I know…you’re going to the Galapagos to escape the daily online grind. But still, going without contact from home is really difficult for most of us (and we are ashamed to say we like to be connected all of the time!)
But, you will be pleased to know there is wifi available pretty much everywhere but do be warned that it is unsurprisingly slow. It does work for the basic social media and emails, but if you have some downtime planned when you are on the Islands (which is occasionally nice to do in-between all of the awesome sightseeing and day trips) then make sure you’ve downloaded all of the content you need before you get here. It would probably take a very long and frustrating time, if not impossible, to download something the size of a TV episode for example.
Cruises are Great, but it isn’t the only way to do the Galapagos
Initially we had planned to embark on a cruise as it seemed to be the main way to do things. We then bumped into some travellers who planted the seed that the absolutely cheapest way of seeing the Islands is to be land based, plan day trips and take advantage of the huge amount of free options on offer.
We spent half of what we had planned this way. The downside to doing the Islands instead of the cruises is that you don’t see some of the remote islands which are furthest away, and these Islands do have some awesome stuff to see. The upside to the Islands approach is complete flexibility over your itinerary, you see an awful lot of awesome things still (I think the only animal we didn’t see up close and personal was the flightless Cormorant) and at half the cost! We actually spent 5 days longer on the Islands because of the savings versus the cruises and still only spent half of what we had originally budgeted.
We are not necessarily endorsing the Islands approach versus the cruises, but wanted to highlight that there are different ways of doing it.
In fact a lot of people we met did both. A week on the Islands and a short 4/5 night cruise, so I guess there are 3 different ways to consider.
Ps – the absolute best snorkelling experience we had was on San Cristobal at the La Loberia beach; the sealife density here was absolutely the best we saw anywhere including the specific day trips out to the famous diving sites…and as far as I am aware none of the cruises have a trip to this beach. Its only 30 min walk, or 5 min taxi from Puerto Baquerizo Moreno – the main town.
Getting Between the Islands
Is dead easy, but not especially pleasant. In-between the 3 main Islands there are multiple ferry services which are basically large speed boats with 15-30 people on board. Each journey takes 2 – 2.5 hours and you have to use Santa Cruz Puerto Ayora as your drop off and pick up point if you want to travel between San Cristobal and Isabela. The “ferries” have a set price of $30 per person per trip, and sometimes you have to pay $1 per person for a little water taxi which takes you to and from your “ferry”. The journeys are boring and bouncy – take some earphones, sea sickness tablets and zone out for the duration!
Having some Spanish language skills would be very helpful. Obviously the local language is Spanish, but generally speaking there are not many English speakers across the Islands. Usually however the cruises, day trips etc will have English speaking guides so you won’t miss out on some crucial information about the history, animals and landscape. We did find,however that a large amount of hostel owners do not speak much English.
It’s a Must Go
Finally, if you are considering whether to fit the Galapagos onto your trip please don’t hesitate for one moment. They are worth the investment in every way – you will never be able to see the beautiful animals we saw on their own terrain as up close and personal as you can in the Galapagos. There truly are heart stopping moments every signle day you are there. Fit it in!
You can read our blog and see all of our pictures from Santa Cruz here.
You can read our blog and see all of our pictures from San Cristobal here.
You can read our blog and see all of our pictures from Isabela here.
We hope that this article has given you some helpful pointers when planning your trip to the Galapagos.
If you have any further questions please drop us a note below and we promise to answer everyone. For those who have been to the Galapagos already please do let us know if we have missed anything crucial!