sThe Galapagos Islands are at the edge of the world. I have watched a few videos and read a few articles about the Galapagos Islands, but they must be seen to be believed.
Like going on one of our safari’s after climbing Kilimanjaro you can tag on a Galapagos tour after climbing Cayambe, Cotopaxi or one of our trekking itineraries in Ecuador.
We have been talking for years about heading out to the Galapagos Islands and so glad we ventured out to these magical islands.
Where are the Galapagos Islands?
The Galapagos Islands are situated in the Pacific Ocean some 1,000 km from the South American continent, these 127 islands and the surrounding marine reserve have been called a unique ‘living museum and showcase of evolution’.
Located at the confluence of three ocean currents, the Galápagos are a ‘melting pot’ of marine species. Ongoing seismic and volcanic activity reflects the processes that formed the islands. These processes, together with the extreme isolation of the islands, led to the development of unusual animal life – such as the land iguana, the giant tortoise and the many types of bird life.
Galapagos National Park
One major thing to remember that that the Galapagos Islands are one big National Park with people living on 3% on the landmass. This means you can not just walk or venture wherever you want. You have to take planned tours and access is limited to specific numbers. This is great for the over all experience and the conservation of the Islands.
The Galápagos Islands is a volcanic archipelago in the Pacific Ocean. It’s considered one of the world’s foremost destinations for wildlife-viewing. A province of Ecuador, it lies about 1,000km off its coast. Its isolated terrain shelters a diversity of plant and animal species, many found nowhere else.
How Many Days Do You Need?
We opted for more time on this once in a lifetime experience. If you are planning on Island hopping I would recommend 7 days. If you only have time for one Island, I would go to Isabella and spend 3/4 nights. You could see San Cristobal and do some tours in 3 nights.
The Cost to visit Galapagos National Park
Right now it costs USD $100 per person to enter the Galapagos National Park. It costs $10 to enter Isabela Island and $20 to enter San Cristobal Island Peak and $1 to enter Santa Cruz Island.
Which is the Best Island to Visit?
We prefer Isabella Island. Isabella is the more remote with the less infrastructure, long beach to relax and get access to tours. Isabella island was formed by six volcanoes. All of these volcanoes are still active today making Isabela Island one of the most volcanically active places on the planet. We like to stay at La Casa de Marita hotel.
It’s also one of the most interesting in terms of flora and fauna. Due to its youth, Isabela Island does not have the same vegetation zones as the other islands, and still has vast lava fields and arid volcanic peaks. It’s home to the largest population of wild Galapagos tortoise in the islands including several distinct sub-species, along with an array of birdlife including the Galapagos penguin, flightless cormorants and pink flamingo.
Puerto Villamil is the main port for Isabela Island, with around 1,200 inhabitants. It’s one of the most beautiful settings in the Galapagos with long white sand beaches and lines of palm trees. From here you can visit a number of lagoons which are home to pink flamingos, common stilts and white-cheeked pintails. It is also the home of the Charles Darwin tortoise breeding Centre.
What is the Best Time of Year to Visit?
There are a couple of different weather patterns and wet and drier seasons. If you are a keen diver and into snorkeling the best time to visit the Galápagos Islands is from December to May. Though the Galápagos is beautiful year-round, these months offer temperatures ranging from the low 70s to mid-80s, making pleasant conditions for hiking and wildlife-spotting.
December to May experiences frequent (but short) showers, the sun shines brightly on most days. Between June and November, the Humboldt Current, a current that runs north-westward along South America’s west coast, ushers in cooler temperatures and nutrient-rich water that attracts rare fish and birds.
Albatrosses and penguins are just some of the species you’ll spot this time of year. Longer rain showers, however, occur during these months, and winds tend to be stronger, resulting in rougher seas. No matter when you visit, keep in mind that the government limits the number of travelers permitted on the islands at any given time, so you’ll need to book several months in advance to secure a spot.
Island Hopping or Cruise Ship?
Most locals will say Island hopping is the best way to experience the Islands. This does add more to the local economy than the Cruise ship option for sure. There are a few considerations.
Firstly, the quality of the hotels is aimed at 2- and 3-star options. The cruise ship may be more comfortable for certain people looking to experience the Islands.
Secondly, and generally speaking Island hopping is definitely the cheaper option. The all-inclusive nature of cruises makes their rates higher and less flexible. There are a variety of cruises offering different levels of quality. Island-hopping allows you to be more flexible with your budget, as you can choose which excursions and activities to engage in.
Finally, if you don’t want the bounce around on boats between islands. You can Island hop on small planes. This maybe the way to go to maximize your time spending on tours.
San Cristobal Island
This was our first port of call. It isn’t hard to understand why San Cristobal Island rises to the top of most Galapagos travelers bucket list. With the iconic kicker rock, where we swan with sharks, hammerhead sharks, giant turtles and a wide array of fish. Kicker rock is world renown for snorkeling and diving. San Cristobal has the largest fresh water lake in the Galapagos archipelago, diverse wildlife and sandy beaches it a must see on your Galapagos vacation.
From the main town you can rent a snorkel at MarTourGal agency and hike out past Playa Mann to centro de intepretaciones, sign in and hike to Bahia Tijeretas. This bay has an amazing array of turtles and fish and worth spending a hour or two in this area.
Santa Cruz Island
This is the busiest of all the Galapagos islands. Santa Cruz is the main tourism hub for all of Galápagos, given its proximity to the airport on Baltra Island to the north. It is the only island in Galápagos where tourists can readily experience the interior and higher elevations of a Galápagos island.
Santa Cruz is the second largest island in the Galapagos and is the hub for most of the tourist activity in the area. The main town is Puerto Ayora, home of the famous harbor Academy Bay. Academy Bay was named by the California Academy of Sciences Expedition in 1905 when they travelled to the area to study the flora and fauna of the Galapagos Islands. It is also the site of the Charles Darwin Research Station. The Research Centre houses a baby-tortoise enclosure where you can see hatchlings and young tortoises. You can also walk into the adult tortoise enclosure to meet the gentle Galapagos giants face to face.
About an hour’s walk west from Puerto Ayora is one of the most beautiful beaches in the Galapagos Islands, called Tortuga Bay. Here you’ll find very fine white-sand beach and a spit of land which provides sheltered area for swimming. There are sharks, marine iguanas and a variety of waterbirds – including pelicans and the occasional flamingo.
Other attractions of this island include taking a tour to north Seymour island to see the blue footed booties and iguana’s. You can also take a taxi to Rancho Primicias Tortoises Empire for a short tour along with walking in the hollowed out lava tubes.
We took the Tunnels Tour it was pretty special with seahorses, sharks, giant sea turtles and teeming with fish and underwater wildlife.
Isabela is huge, diverse, and packed with everything needed to keep visitors happy. Divers, snorkelers, and kayakers will be delighted with the incredible marine life, while land lovers have 5 species of giant tortoise to keep them busy. The biodiversity of wildlife is among the very best of the Galapagos islands.
Isabela is home to more wild tortoises than all the other islands put together, and each of its 6 volcanoes boasts a separate species. On her west coast, Isabela is hit by the nutrient-rich Cromwell Current, which rises up from the depths and creates a bountiful feeding ground for fish, whales dolphins and seabirds.
The island’s rich fauna is beyond compare. It is home to more wild tortoises than all the other islands combined, with a separate species on each volcano. On the west coast of Isabela the upwelling of the nutrient-rich Cromwell Current creates a feeding ground for fish, whales, dolphins, and birds.
Since the biodiversity of animals on the Galapagos Islands is among the best — divers, snorkelers, and kayakers will be wowed by the spectacular marine life. The volcanic scenery is unique and breathtaking. Isabela is also a great place to see Galapagos whales and dolphins.
Planning in advance is a great idea and our partner on the ground can help you map out a plan for your adventure. I highly recommend a range of tours on different islands so you make the most of your visit. Our favorite activity was snorkeling and water based tours.
There are store on different Islands renting scuba and snorkeling gear. Some tours include all this gear in their packages.