Key notes from our Galapagos trip

This post is a summary of our Galapagos trip in November 2018.

First of all let me say that Galapagos is a truly unique place. Since Galapagos have very small population and were virtually uninhabited until 19th century due to their remote location, this led to a lot of unique wildlife species spared from extinction. I highly recommend “Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind” by Yuval Noah Harari here, who both mentioned Galapagos and explained mechanisms and evidence of wildlife extinction by humans.

During our trip we saw many species of Giant Turtles, Land Iguanas and Marine Iguanas, Sea Lions, couple of Penguins, Sharks, Blue-footed Boobies, Nazca Boobies, Frigate Birds, lots of Crabs and other wildlife.

For exploring Galapagos there are 2 main options,

Option 1 – Take a cruise (very expensive). We didn’t do a lot of research on cruises, but expect to pay at least 400 USD per day per person. Let me say here that Galapagos trips are always expensive, so coming here on a really tight budget may be not the best option.

Option 2 – Live on the islands – this is what we did and what I’m going to describe.

Getting there

First issue to mention, flying into Galapagos. Galapagos is a protected ecological area, so it doesn’t have international airports. All flights must originate from Ecuador mainland. There are 3 price ranges: 1 – for Galapagos residents, 2 – for Ecuador residents, 3- for foreigners. All 3 airlines flying there (Avianca, Latam, Tame) must respect those different rates by law. Unfortunately, Google flights sometimes incorrectly displays resident rates for searching as foreigners. That led to confusion and unexpected surprises. In our case, Google flights showed ~ 270 CAD roundtrip resident rate when in fact we paid around 525 CAD. Correct rates are shown on international sites of above mentioned airlines or intermediaries such as Expedia. We booked with Avianca and one thing to mention that Avianca’s Canadian website had a rate 50 CAD cheaper than what Expedia showed for the same flight. So in summary, best bet is to book directly with airlines via there international websites.

Other than that, note that when flying in, tourists need to obtain special Galapagos cards (sort of internal visas). This can be done directly in the airport and costs 20 USD per person. It is very important to obtain these cards, as they are required on arrival to Galapagos while airlines and security personnel in Quito don’t seem to verify those cards proactively – so I imagine it might be possible to miss this step. To get the cards, sometimes questions may be asked about accommodation in Galapagos (it wasn’t the case with us though). If you have a hotel or a hostel booked, that is totally fine. But in our case it was AirBNB and apparently at some point it will be required that the host (Galapagos resident) would provide a special invitation in these cases. To be correct, this norm already exists in the law, but the IT system doesn’t support it so it’s not enforced. For future arrivals, the status of this should be checked directly with AirBNB hosts – they are best sources of information on this.

Another note, baggage undergoes special inspection – as no food from mainland is allowed into Galapagos (especially perishable food). One thing to note however is that in Ecuador, apparently, there are no restrictions on water or liquids on the plane. We had full 0.5 liter water bottles and no question asked.

On arrival to Galapagos, expect to pay 100 USD extra per person for foreigners – which is an entry tax.

In our case we flew from Quito to Baltra airport and rented AirBNB in Puerto Ayora, which is main city on Santa Cruz island. To get from airport to Puerto Ayora, it’s first required to take a bus from airport to ferry. Bus fare is now 5 USD (used to be free until mid-2018, but not any more). Then there is a very short trip on a ferry which costs 1 USD. And then options are either bus (2.50 USD) or taxi (25 USD). Note, that taxi may be shared with other people, which makes rate per person cheaper.

Tours on the islands

From Puerto Ayora, many attractions of Santa Cruz are easily accessible with Tortuga Bay and Darwin Station being our favorites. Also Puerto Ayora is well developed with a lot of restaurants and better infrastructure. These are main reasons we picked it as a base, and think it’s the best choice.

From Puerto Ayora it is possible to take day tours to North Seymour island, Pinzon island (snorkeling only) and few others. Also there are public ferries to Isabela island, San Cristobal, Floreana. Note, that it is better to buy tours directly in Puerto Ayora. Buying tours outside Galapagos is always more expensive and less flexible. From islands deals are better. The only exception may be high season (December – January) – but we didn’t experience crowds, so can only say that in November there were spots almost every day to any tours.

Price ranges we had: North Seymour – 165-175 USD per person, Pinzon – 130-140 USD per person.

In general, for last minute tours, it may be possible to negotiate the prices within 10-20% range from what is originally advertised.

For Isabela island we bought tickets to public ferry (30 USD per person one way – sometimes possible to buy last minute for 25 USD; + expect to pay 10 USD entry tax on arrival to Isabela), and then took tours directly on Isabela, which is cheaper than pre-booking on Puerto Ayora.

Best tour we had while on Galapagos was Los Tuneles on Isabela, which is mainly a snorkeling tour, where we had a chance to see seahorses, penguins, many giant turtles and many sharks. We went with Rosedelco and I highly recommend them. Their booth is about the first when you walk from pier on Isabela to town.

Overall during 9 days we spent on Galapagos, we visited pretty much all attractions on Santa Cruz, visited North Seymour and Isabela (Los Tuneles and Tintoreras tours). We still have enough to see for our next time there, so looking forward to do it some other day!

Restaurants

We really liked Hernan near Puerto Ayora pier, and as more expensive option Angermeyer Waterfront Inn Рgrilled seafood platter for 65 USD was amazing there with more than enough food for 2 people.

More notes about Galapagos:

  1. Internet is very bad everywhere on the islands. Sometimes we had LTE mobile Internet, but latency was really bad (close to 1 s) and overall experience was still very slow. Usually Internet works better in the morning and worst in the evening. Mobile Internet was usually better than WiFi anywhere and sometime mobile Internet was ok for skype.
  2. When taking boat trips, expect to pay for water taxi to get to the boat and from the boat to the pier. Fares are from 0.5 to 1 USD depending on where you are. So those are some extra costs.
  3. Boat trips are very rough, especially public ferries. Those are only called ‘ferries’, in fact they use speedboats for transportation between islands with capacity for ~30 persons. Best seats are near the engine for speedboats. It is a good ideas to bring some candies / Tic Tac – that helps on such trips.
  4. Bring cash with you. Cash is king on Galapagos. There are few ATMs on islands but in our case all of them had pretty high transaction fees with per transaction limit 100-200 USD and daily withdrawal limit 600 USD. Also, sometimes ATMs have no cash left in the evenings. Credit cards are rarely accepted and when accepted often come with 20% surcharge.

I’ll add pictures to this post soon. Hope this information helps and feel free to ask me for any details in the comments.

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