Planning a trip to the Galapagos Islands can be overwhelming. There is limited, and often conflicting, information available. To help make your travels to the Galapagos go smoothly, here are some of the top things I wish I had known before going to the Galapagos Islands.
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1. You do not need to take a cruise to see the Galapagos Islands.
I have good news for you. You do not need to take a high priced cruise to see the Galapagos Islands. My plan had been to fly to the Galapagos Islands and then try and find a last minute cruise. I had heard last minute Galapagos cruises are a fraction of the price of full-price cruises, and that as a solo traveler it’s easier to find one.
However, when I started talking to some travel agencies on Santa Cruz, they actually highly recommended against taking a cruise around the Galapagos Islands. Here were some of their key points:
- Most cruises go to one specific area within the Galapagos Islands, meaning you will only see animals from that one specific region.
- You can see much of the same animal life, and more, on land with day trips around the Galapagos.
- A 5 day Galapagos cruise is really maybe half a day around the island that you board from – often things you can do yourself – and then early disembarkation meaning the cost is for a 3.5 day cruise.
- You miss the local culture by being on a boat the whole time.
- The cost of the Galapagos cruises is very high for what you get.
When You Should Take a Cruise around the Galapagos Islands
Even though a Galapagos Islands cruise is certainly not for everyone. There are some circumstances that may make it the best fit for you. Here are three instances:
- You want to get to some of the further out islands or you have a specific animal or place you want to see.
- You have already been to the Galapagos Islands once and want to see more and go further away.
- You want to do a liveaboard and dive, dive, dive to see the underwater world of the Galapagos Islands!
The Truth about Last Minute Galapagos Islands Cruises
If you’re still interested in taking a cruise, then flying in and looking for a last minute cruise in the Galapagos is still the most cost effective option vs. booking it ahead. Here are some things to know about booking your last minute cruise.
- There are generally plenty of “last minute cruises” available. I found this to be the case when I was there in May. And, every agency advertises and sells them.
- You will however have limited options on what is available and where they are going. So, if you have specifics you’re looking for, either have great flexibility on time or book ahead.
- The prices for Galapagos cruises were still much higher than I had expected.
Traveling by Land around the Galapagos Islands
One perk of taking a cruise around the Galapagos Islands is you don’t have to do much planning. The boat and its crew will escort you everywhere. If you travel by land through the Galapagos Islands, there are a lot more logistics.
However, if you’re used to traveling at all, it’s nothing you can’t handle. Just make sure to book your ferry tickets a few days in advance of when you want to island hop the Galapagos. Most other items can be booked the day or two before.
2. The Galapagos Islands are more accessible and less expensive than expected.
The Galapagos Islands are a bucket list item. A once-in-a-lifetime trip. A place many only dream of. But, it is actually much more accessible and less expensive than you may think. Don’t get me wrong, it is not a “budget” destination, but it’s certainly not only for the rich and famous.
Upfront Costs to Get to the Galapagos Islands
There are a few high upfront costs, like the plane tickets from the mainland Ecuador to the Galapagos Islands. These generally run around $400 round trip. Another item to budget for the Galapagos is the $100 Galapagos National Park Entrance fee. Outside of those fees, you can easily live on $50/day or less for a budget Galapagos trip.
Accommodation Costs in the Galapagos Islands
There are plenty of hostels and small guesthouses in the Galapagos where you can get your own double room with a private bathroom for around $25. Of course, if you want luxury, you can always spend a lot more. Or to keep your costs down even further, stay at a hostel in the Galapagos Islands.
Food around the Galapagos Islands
Similarly, food is not cheap in the Galapagos, but there are less expensive options available. For example, you can go to the local street markets and eat like a king on $10 – 15. Think fresh tuna steak with 2 sides and a drink.
Alternatively, there are options, like empanadas, that are just $1-2, and if you get them from the right place they are delicious (and maybe a little addictive). Whatever your budget for the Galapagos – you’ll eat well!
Day Trip Costs in the Galapagos
There are a lot of things you can do on your own around the main islands, but there are also endless day trips you can take. Island tours, kayaking, scuba diving, hiking, snorkeling, the options are actually endless. However, the cost of each trip varies greatly.
Here are some examples of the costs of day trips in the Galapagos Islands:
- Cabo Rosa Tunnels (from Isabela Island): $120
- Sierra Negra Volcano Hike (from Isabela Island): $40
- Tintorones (from Isabela Island): $50
- Scuba Diving at Gordon Rocks (from Santa Cruz): $185
- Floreana Tour (from Santa Cruz): $140
Inter-Island Ferry Costs
If you are island hopping the Galapagos, there are also ferry costs to factor into your budget. These typically cost $30 one way.
3. You don’t need to do much planning for the Galapagos Islands.
I admit, before going to the Galapagos Islands, I had only booked my plane tickets and someplace to stay the night I arrived. That was it. And yet, it turned out perfectly. There is no need to book your plans fully before you arrive. In fact, I would warn against it, unless you are tight on time or you won’t be able to sleep at night without it all planned out.
Permits and Passes for Visiting the Galapagos Islands
There are no “special permits” to get to the Galapagos Islands. All you need are the flights from Quito or Guayaquil. Just make sure you buy tourists flights to the Galapagos Islands and not the local flights that are WAY cheaper. Then, at the airport, you’ll pay your Galapagos National Park Fee ($100 for adults; $50 for children under 12) and purchase a Migration card ($20). Then off you go!
Additional Planning Needed
My initial plan had been to find a last minute Galapagos cruise upon arrival so I didn’t want to box myself in too tightly. I opted for a 10 day trip with hopes that something would fit in. As my plans evolved, I was relieved I had not made more regimented plans. I was able to find and extend hotels as needed, book my inter-island boats the days I needed them, and plan my day trips all on the islands.
4. Upon arrival in the Galapagos Islands, find a good tour operator to help you make plans.
I am an independent traveler. I like to figure things out myself, when I can. However, in circumstances like island-hopping between remote islands, you may need more assistance.
Fortunately, there are a lot of tour operators around the Galapagos Islands, and you can walk down the street and pop in to get details anytime. I found a great time to do this was in the evenings right before or after dinner.
Since finding a good, trustworthy tour operator in the Galapagos Islands can make or break your trip, here are a few recommendations.
How to Find Reputable Tour Operators
Try googling tour companies, either before you go, or on the limited Wi-Fi on the Galapagos Islands to find the best rated tour agencies. If you aren’t able to do this, ask around. Ask other tourists. Ask your accommodations. You want to find one that offers good prices, has a wide selection of Galapagos tours available, and will be able to provide recommendations and details as needed.
Shop Around for the Right Tour Operator for You
Sit and talk to a few tour operators before making any commitments. They seem to regularly lay out the number of days you have and what they recommend you do for each day. You will get a solid grasp on what you want to do and also what the costs should be for each of the trips.
Also, if you book multiple tours or trips with one operator, you may be able to negotiate the final price.
Recommended Tour Operator on Santa Cruz Island
I worked with Yazmany at Guiding Galapagos Expeditions in Puerto Ayora on Santa Cruz Island, and he was AWESOME. He was in touch every step of the way on Whatsapp, and his English was great. This was an added bonus for me, as my Spanish is iffy at best. (Located on Enrique Fuentes.)
Scuba Diving Operator on Santa Cruz Island
I dove with Eagleray Tours, a PADI Dive Center in Puerto Ayora on Santa Cruz Island. I recommend them as well, if you’re looking to scuba dive in the Galapagos Islands.
Same thing as Guiding Galapagos Expeditions: The tour was great. The guide communicated well. The equipment was up to date. And they shared pictures and video afterwards. (Located on Islas Plaza.)
Note: I was not compensated in any way for recommending them, I simply really enjoyed what they offered!
5. The animals on the Galapagos Islands are more incredible than expected.
Having gone to Africa for safari just 5 months before the Galapagos Islands, I was expecting it to be similar, where the animals are far away and might take time to seek them out in their surroundings. As it turns out, part of what makes the Galapagos Islands amazing, is that not only are the animals unique and plentiful, but they also have no fear of people. This makes it really easy to see, admire, and photograph the animals of the Galapagos.
Also note that there are strict guidelines on the Galapagos Islands to stay 2 meters away from all of the animals. Please, please adhere to this. This is what makes the place so magical as the animals just walk around like they own the place.
Unfortunately, some people do not abide by the rules, and they will eventually ruin it for everybody. (I’m looking at you dude who was poking at the iguanas with your flip flops…)
6. The Galapagos Islands are very laid back.
I suppose this was my own misconception. Everyone I had met that had gone to the Galapagos Islands had done tours or cruises, and I suppose in my mind it was very regimented and go go go. In reality, my days were very laid back.
Whether it was seeing the areas around town on my own or taking a day trip to neighboring islands where there were hours bouncing over the waves on a boat, it was an extremely relaxing vacation in the Galapagos. And, a trip to the Galapagos Islands is definitely a bucket list item!
Now that you have the details you need before going to the Galapagos Islands, it’s time to start planning your Galapagos trip! Find out how to budget for the Galapagos and start getting excited!
Or, you might be interested in learning more about other exotic options like taking a 4 day boat trip to Komodo Island in Indonesia to visit the rare Komodo Dragons or going on a safari in South Africa. There is no shortage to amazing places to explore!
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