While you were happily reading about my WWII book recommendations last week, I was secretly (internet-wise) off on a quick trip to the Galápagos Islands! I had mentioned how I hoped to take this trip here. And I actually did it. I’m pretty proud of myself. It’s rare that I decide to jet off some place (quite literally) for a three-day weekend, but I’m so glad I did.
I freely admit that this site is not a travel blog, nor will I ever presume it to be. However, I found that I could probably share some of what I learned from planning my own trip to the Galápagos to help others do the same.
And, of course, I couldn’t wait to show you pictures!
So I figure I’ll share photos, the places I visited, and how much things cost. Of course, please bear in mind that prices are subject to change, so if you decide to go in the future, I can’t/won’t guarantee the prices won’t have changed.
But hopefully it will help give you an idea of how much you want to save up for a trip (because I recommend putting this destination on your bucket list if it’s not there already!
Jump to the summary of places/costs if you’re in a hurry
Feel free to just scroll through to enjoy the photos if you don’t want all my tourist tips 🙂
From Baltra Island to Puerto Ayora
There are two airports you can use when flying to/from the Galápagos. One is on Baltra Island and the other is on San Cristóbal. I flew into Baltra and stayed in the town of Puerto Ayora on Santa Cruz Island.
It’s not the most convenient, since there are three separate legs of the trip just from the airport to the town. However, it is a nice way to make your first acquaintance with the Galápagos.
I’ll admit: as we were landing on Baltra, my first thought, upon looking out the window was, “These are what the famed islands look like? What a let-down!” Never fear. The blandness and brownness of Isla Baltra is not indicative of all you’ll see. Tourists aren’t mistaken that these islands are breathtaking.
After going through the airport and paying the $100 fee charged to foreigners (seriously why didn’t I ever get a cédula while I lived here??), I paid $10 for a round trip ticket on the bus that would take me from the airport to the channel.
It feels like a lot of money for a 10 minute-ish bus ride, but unless you’re with a tour group that has their own bus, it’s basically your only option. And, reminder: tourism is the main business on the islands. And they’ve had it rough during this pandemic. So just pay up. 🙂
Once I saw the canal, things started to look brighter. I mean, look at the color of that water! I promise: no filter used on any of these photos. I still can’t believe I myself was actually there.
From there, we got on a ferry boat thing…they put the suitcases on top of the boat (!). It’s a good thing those waters are calm. I tried not to imagine someone’s suitcase falling/rolling off…and was secretly glad I’d only brought a backpack that was securely with me. (Okay, okay, the do have [very low] railings on there, so it’s not like luggage would actually roll off.) The ride cost $1, which you pay after they’ve pulled away from the dock. Bring small bills, my friends, to whatever part of Ecuador you visit.
After landing on the other side of the canal, you have the option of choosing a taxi ($25) or a bus ($5). I chose the bus. If I’d been in a small group of people, perhaps I’d have split the cost of a cab to get there a little faster, but I had told myself before the trip and during it that getting to places was not the only “real” part of my trip. I wanted to truly practice enjoying the actual going and coming – since so much of my short time would be traveling to the destinations. Being in a hurry was something I was trying not to be. (It takes practice!)
Once I arrived in Puerto Ayora, I was famished. It was about 1pm and all I’d had to eat all day was a granola bar on the plane and a terrible empanada at a little “bar” outside the Baltra airport (not sure if the empanadas are always bad, but mine was). I was pretty much at a foggy I-can’t-think-straight type of hunger at that point. So I walked down the main street where the bus dropped me off and found a place serving almuerzos.
(Those of you not familiar with the term: an almuerzo in Ecuador is a complete lunch which begins with soup and then has a segundo or seco, which is a plate that usually has rice, chicken or some kind of beef, and some sort of small vegetable salad of some kind. It’s served with fresh juice.)
I found a place and it served a fish soup of some kind, which I felt was a fitting meal on an island. 🙂
I then checked into my hostel, which was only about $25/night. You would be welcome to stay in a more posh place, but I like saving money. And I knew I was barely going to be at my hostel anyway.
I recommend this place! I booked through AirBnB. It is about a 10-15 minute walk away from the docks and the main road of restaurants, which, if you’re not used to a ton of walking, could tire you out. That was the case for me – I’ve been stuck in my apartment for far too long in this pandemic! But I still didn’t mind it much.
The person who checked me in was so helpful to me! She gave me a map to help me familiarize myself with where I was in relation to the sights. She even called a taxi driver that she knows personally and arranged a price for me to visit Los Gemellos and El Chato Tortoise Reserve that afternoon.
He quoted a fairly low price, and I was treated to a delightful conversation (in Spanish) about his life story, how he ended up coming to the islands, and a bunch of different jobs he’s done while living there.
She gave me a great room with a view, and, as the description says, it’s a “Mediterranean style” – I loved that a lot of it was open so I could see the views – especially the sunrises/sunsets 🙂
Plus, very importantly, it was quite clean, the shower had hot water that didn’t take finagling to figure out, they offered potable water to refill my water bottle, and there was an air conditioner that blew cold air right over the bed so I could actually fall asleep at night.
After checking in and changing into more island-appropriate clothing (aka not a long-sleeve shirt), I immediately left with the taxi driver to see one of my top three priorities.
(As I planned my trip, I knew I couldn’t see everything I’d want to. So I decided there were three things I for sure wanted to do/see, and if I got to do/see others, it was a bonus. It helped me not have a bad case of FOMO due to my very short trip.)
Here were my top three things I made sure to do:
- See and take pictures with the giant Galápagos tortoises
- Go on a day trip that includes wildlife and snorkeling
- Get to Tortuga Bay
Los Gemellos (free, other than the taxi ride)
Formed from volcanic activity (but not actually from eruptions), these craters are in close proximity to each other. There’s not a ton to see in them, other than to marvel at their depth and breadth.
But the fun part was walking on the path by myself and having a lot of “Darwin’s Finches” make their appearance to me.
Tip: whether you go by yourself or in a group, take the time to be quiet and still for a moment on the path in the trees so some of these little guys might treat you to seeing them.
El Chato Tortoise Reserve
($5 entrance plus tip for your guide)
THIS was one of the things I was most determined and excited to see while I was here. Ever since my grandmotherly landladies in my first apartment here showed me a picture of them as teens sitting on their pet Galápagos tortoise (before it became illegal to have them as pets), I really wanted to see them for myself.
They’re huge! Just like the pictures show. I totally mistook some of them for boulders at a passing glance. And also, the instructions tell you to stay about 3m away…it’s a good idea. The poor lady here just wanted to eat/walk in peace and she definitely got nervous when I didn’t give her a good, wide berth. In my defense…she was directly in the humans’ path and the grasses around it were fairly tall.
- they have complimentary coffee and tea,
- plus the opportunity to buy small carvings of the tortoises and other island/sea creatures, at prices below what you’d find at market. I think you might be able to barter a bit, because the man totally took $2 off the price – without me even asking. Lol – can’t decide if it was pity or the fact that my taxi driver was a friend of his? Who knows.
- they provide you with free boots – so bring socks to this place.
Day Trip to Bartolome Island
I looked up a few blogs for recommendations on day trips.
I found Viator’s North Seymour Island trip, which involves a lot of wildlife and signed up for that one, but no one else signed up for the same day, so they moved me over to the Bartolome Island day trip.
It was definitely still worth it – and the day had perfect weather. I mean, I got even better pictures than the one they show on their website! 😆
You take a yacht ride about 2.5 hours. You pass a volcano/island which has lots of bird nests on it – birds like pelicans and blue-footed boobies.
Then once you get to Bartolome Island, you get off and hike up to the top. It’s not a huge elevation difference…it’s just a lot of stairs.
And then you get a view like this:
After we spent some time enjoying the view and snapping photos, we snorkeled along the rocks that edged Santiago island (directly across from Bartolome)
I seriously can’t tell you how perfect the weather was. And the sky! When we finished snorkeling (sorry, I didn’t take a Go Pro with me), I sat/floated in the shallows near a perfectly white sandy beach and just stared up at the clouds and marveled at the amazing view.
Lago de Las Ninfas
When I got back, I had a few minutes til sunset, so I went in search of Lago de Las Ninfas (Lake of the Nymphs). I heard it was good to go at dusk, so I was just on time for that. Just like the beaches, though, it closes before dinner time, so I only spent a few minutes there enjoying the calm, beautiful water.
It didn’t seem super special to me, so if you don’t include it on your trip, you’re not missing out too much. You can’t really walk around the lake, based on what I saw, so you just kinda sit there and take photos.
In the evenings, the most I found to do was all down near the docks and restaurants on Charles Darwin Avenue. The first night I walked as far as I felt comfortable down the avenue, but since it was getting dark, all the activities and beaches were closing anyway.
I actually really liked the well-lit dock where I could look into the water and watch the pelicans and little sharks find their dinner, due to the green lights on the sides of the dock.
It felt like getting to watch things at an aquarium, except it was in the wild.
The second night, I saw a 6 or 7-foot shark swim by. I didn’t have my phone out, so I only captured a glimpse of it in this photo – but it was still so cool (and slightly scary to imagine that they come that close to shore).
The last place I got to go was Tortuga Bay – around sunrise Sunday morning.
The beaches on Santa Cruz close at 5pm, so that the activities of the sea turtles and Galapagos tortoises are protected. However, they open at 6am (sunrise), so I was able to squeeze in a quick beach visit before I left for the airport.
It’s about a 2.5km hike on a brick path out to the beach, with some ups and downs. They make you work for your ocean view! There was a handful of early morning joggers who used the path as their workout.
The walk is worth it.
I brought some bread to eat, but it was too buggy to sit for long. So I just walked as far as I could before I had to turn back and hike it back to my hostel.
If you walk far enough, you can get to a calmer beach on the other side of Tortuga Bay, but I didn’t have the time for that. I just made sure to soak in the sights and sounds of the ocean and the waves, wade in the water, and take some pictures.
And on the walk back, I went a bit slower and enjoyed all the wildlife and nature I’d missed before – so many finches and lizards! Along with lots of volcanic rock, of which I took pictures because #scienceteacher and #rockcycle.
Then it was back to the airport for me!
If you want the short and sweet of travel tips, here they are:
- Travel to/from the airport is going to cost you between $11-$31 dollars one way.
- Taxis to get around on the island are between $30-$50 round trip if you’re going to do tourist things
- Taxis in town at Puerto Ayora are about $1.50 minimum
- Buy ice cream. It’s everywhere, and it’s worth it.
- You can buy expensive dinners on Charles Darwin ($15 and up), but there are cheaper restaurants with Ecua food all along Baltra Avenue or on the side streets off of Darwin (I ate dinner for $8 one night and $3 the next night).
- A day trip, while expensive, is totally worth it. Viator treated me well.
- My hostal was beautiful, clean, and cheap.
- Prioritize what you want to do/see. It will help with FOMO.
- The docks are really peaceful at night and make a great place to chill after a long day of tourist-ing.
Here are a couple of websites I referenced when planning my trip. You’ll get lots more good info there: