The one thing we could never find information about was island hopping in Galapagos. Unless you want to do a cruise or tour of Galapagos Islands there isn’t a website that I could find which would categorically list out what can and can’t be done if you choose to island hop Galapagos instead. As such, I have created a series of posts dedicated to explaining how we spent 10 days island hopping, what tours we did, which are on the menu and most importantly what to expect!
This first post covers getting there and a rough guide as to what to expect, I will then be publishing posts per each island that we visited, with outlines of what we did but also what else there is to do. I hope this provides anyone looking to island hop with enough information to make you feel like you’ll know what to expect.
Arriving in Galapagos
You can fly from either Quito or Guayaquil into Galapagos and there are several airlines that offer flights including, AeroGal and LAN. Your first entry point into the Galapagos Islands will probably be the small island of Baltra whose main purpose is to serve as an international airport base. The other entry point is the airport on San Cristobal Island.
Before leaving Guayaquil you will be asked to fill in a form and pay $10 tax. Your bags will also be scanned before check-in and then tagged. The reason for this being that no vegetables, fruits, seeds or animal products can be taken into the Galapagos. Your bags will be constantly searched at each entry and exit point when you travel between inhabited islands. You can however take products such as cereal, pasta, biscuits etc, and if you do bring a small supply you will save yourself a few dollars as shops are very expensive in the Galapagos, due to everything needing to be imported.
Upon arrival in Baltra you will be requested to pay the national park entrance fee of $100 per person. At this point you will also be asked for the form given to you at the time of departures. You will be given a receipt which you will need for your departure so ensure you keep it safe.
The airport of Baltra itself is very small and services are very limited. Be prepared for a rather long wait to reclaim your bags as each bag needs to not only be manually disembarked from the flight, but also needs to be checked over and sniffed by a police dog. Only after this process is over you can collect your bags, and you will need your bag receipt to do so.
Note that there is currently a new terminal being built.
Getting from Baltra to Santa Cruz Island
Free shuttles run from the airport to the ferry dock. Once at the dock which is located about 10 minutes away you will have to board a ferry for $0.60 each to literally cross the small channel that seperates Baltra from Santa Cruz.
Once across the channel you have the option of taking a taxi for $25 or a bus for $1.80. There is only one route to Puerto Ayora so unless you really want to splash out I would recommend taking the bus which is direct anyway and takes about 45mins.
Tell the driver where you want to be dropped off and they will tell you when to get off and where to go. If you have nowhere booked then head all the way to the centre as most places are located within a block or two from the port. There are enough lodging options in Puerto Ayora if you want to try and bargain for your stay in person. We had pre-booked but found a cheaper place whilst walking around despite it supposedly being high season.
Travelling in Galapagos
As mentioned before, airports are also located on both San Cristobal and Isabella mainly for internal flights between the 3 islands. The prices for these short flights can range from $100 upwards and are operated by www.emetebe.com.ec
Alternatively, you can travel between Santa Cruz, Isabella and San Cristobal by daily boats. You can either take the ferry for $25 per person or ask to go on a tour boat for $30 each. The only real difference is the time, the ferry for example will leave Isabella at 5.30am to return to Santa Cruz, whereas the tour boat will return at 2.30pm. You can book tickets either via your hotel or at any agency and can book as late as the evening before, however they are all dependant on space so try to plan ahead if possible.
The other way to see Galapagos outside of the cruises is to do day trips. The vast majority of these leave from Santa Cruz and prices vary greatly depending on where you are going, and to some extent with whom you book. Be prepared to bargain for every tour as saving even $5 on each tour can add up to a free night’s accommodation!
The islands you can visit from Santa Cruz include:
- Floreana (as a tour)
- San Cristobal (independent or as a tour)
- Santa Fe (with or without San Cristobal as a tour)
- North Seymour (as a tour)
- South Plazas (as a tour)
- Isabela (2 – 3 nights on the island as a tour or independently)
- Bartolome (as a tour)
Accommodation in Galapagos
Santa Cruz has the largest selection of accommodation in Galapagos from budget hostels to upmarket lodges and there should be something to suit most budgets. However, this is the Galapagos and as such you have to be realistic in both your budget and your expectations. You can find a good hotel room from $35 – $40 per night and as most people only stop for a couple of nights you can usually get a good deal if you stay more than 3 nights.
Isabella is a fraction of Santa Cruz and accommodation is more scarce, however as most people stay in Santa Cruz the prices in Isabella are lower and we paid $20 per night in a posada.
We didn’t visit San Cristobal but met a couple who had and it would seem that it is similar to Isabella in terms of size of inhabitants and prices.
Eating in Galapagos
Regardless, if you are vegetarian or not you will find something to eat in the Galapagos. Despite being small in size the inhabited islands have a fair selection of food, although not very cheap. Meal prices will set you back from around $8 per person if you eat in local eateries and around $20 – 25 for a pizza.
If you can bring food to the island and cook for yourself at least once a day like we did you could save yourself up to $60+ each per week. For example we spent $20 on pasta and tomato sauces in Guayaquil and with that catered for 8 meals for the 2 of us, saving us an around $150 during our stay. It’s worth considering…
Galapagos is a relatively small community and as such there is no real crime or sense of danger when walking around any of the islands. However, having said that, a certain level of vigilance should always be observed when travelling.
There is an obvious difference between the uninhabited and inhabited islands and that is mainly people and rubbish. Despite it being a National Park with controlled tourism and population levels, the inhabited islands did disappoint us a bit as there was rubbish on the roads in the towns, and I don’t just mean the odd can of coke but small mounts of rubbish here and there. It is a shame that despite priding themselves on recycling so much they don’t keep the islands as clean as they should. On the other hand the uninhabited islands were spotless and luckily the animals had their original living conditions with no human additions around them.
Depending on when you go you could find that the water temperature varies a great deal. If visiting during the winter months – July to September, you will need to rent a wet suit for snorkelling as the water is very cold. Wet suits can be hired from most tour operators or dive centres and prices range from $5-8 for the day.
Snorkelling gear can also be hired at a cost of $5-10 depending on which island you are on. Ensure that you always check your equipment beforehand as the masks can sometimes be old and leak. Also, if going on a day trip, take fins with you from your tour agency which are free as most boat trips we went on didn’t have any available.
If you plan to island hop and would like to see a few of the islands then you will need a minimum of a week, as there are plenty of free activities to do on each of the islands.
The following posts will cover the islands that we visited with what we did, what there is to do and tips for your time in Galapagos, enjoy!