Get ready for a long post. As you can imagine arriving in Galapagos is one BIG dream coming true and our whole stay on these islands was truly beyond beautiful and amazing. I will divide this post into the 3 islands we visited and will close it with all the practical information you need to travel around the Galapagos. So if you are here to know what we were up to, just run through the text and enjoy the pictures 🙂
The most inhabitated island and most expensive island where you will arrive first. Santa Cruz has probably the least things to see and do but surprised us with some big highlights too. Puerto Ayora is the village where you will stay and from where you can do many activities.
- Playa Los Alemanes & Las Grietas: Latter is a little canyon not far from Puerto Ayora. You can get there by taking a water taxi for 70 cents to the nearest port. From there you walk a few minutes arriving at the Playa, continue another 20min to get to Las Grietas. There you will find crystal blue water, in which you can snorkel for some big fish and some bright blue ones too. The canyon is divided in 3 parts. The first is where everyone swims, dives, jumps in the water. The second part can get a bit painful because the water is shallow and stones slippery. If you make it through that part you will get to the last most far away part of the canyon where you can swim all by yourself along with the fish. The water is amazing there, refreshing and peaceful. Go early in the morning before all the tours get there, don’t forget your snorkel gear (renting there will be more expensive, if even available). And watch out not to lose something in the water. There’s a guy diving for lost things but he expects a payment. On your way back to the boats make a stop at the Playa de Alemanes to have picknick and a swim in the sea. Don’t worry about water taxis, there’s always one waiting for passengers.
- Tortuga Bay: On the west side of the town there is a road leading all the way to a beach called tortuga bay. Ask people they will indicate you the right path or if you are very attentive you’ll find signs already in the center of the town that show you the way. Be aware that the way to Tortuga Bay takes almost an hour and the beach closes at 5, so don’t go too late. The way itself is not very nice: typical dry cactus forrest as you will find on all islands and it seems endless. Tortuga Bay itself did not take much of our attention, it’s too windy to swim and I’m not sure if there’s at any point in the year turtles coming ashore at this beach. But walk on to the next beach which is at a little lagoon where you can swim and sunbathe wonderfully. On the left side of the beach you can find many blue footed boobies having a rest and on the right side of the beach wonderful sea creatures are waiting for you. We tried to snorkel in that area but the water was too salty so we couldn’t see anything. If you go closer to the mangroves on the right you will suddenly see or feel a veeeery big fish. And not just any kind of fish but sharks! Man, 10, 20 sharks are swimming around you, unbothered looking for food I guess. This was really one of the highlights, especially since we did not expect to find sharks!
- Darwin Center and other research centers: If you have time and are interested there’s a few research centers and turtle refuge places to visit. We didn’t go, so I can’t tell you more about it.
- Los Tuneles: These are old lava tunnels where you can walk through. They are lit by lamps and apparently cool to visit. We didn’t go.
Day Tours: We are backpacking on a budget so no day tour from Santa Cruz for us…
Where to stay: There’s plenty of hostels and hotels for all budgets. We stayed in Best Hostel which was nice for the little kitchen in our room but too far away from the center. Hotel Paraiso is close to the port, friendly and comfortable. The best hostel in Santa Cruz for me was Hostel Carliza 2, with the best working wifi on the islands, community kitchen, not too far away from the port and main street and really close to the best empanadas! Hostal Crossman is very cheap and very close to the port and main street.
Where to eat: I start with the ‘worst’, which is the tourist street along the water. Touristic restaurants that look nice but we didn’t try them. Better go to Calle Blinford. It lights up in the evenings with one restaurant next to the other. They have the freshest fish and lobster for good prices. Try a langosta for 15$ for two! And if you walk further up the main street you will arrive at the bus station or local market. Around the corner you’ll find the best empanadas ever! Try the shrimp empanadas for 2 $. For breakfast there are bakeries on the main street that sell a full breakfast with batido de leche for 4$.
The probably most diverse and least inhabited island of the three. Here you’ll find everything from volcanoes to Manta Reys.
- Rent a bike and ride to the wall of tears. It’s a nice ride along the coast and into the island up the hills. The wall of tears is the last remaining wall of one of the most brutally held prisons. It’s a reminder of all the sufferings that people had to endure there. On the way to the wall you’ll see plenty of animals like iguanas, tortoises and birds. They are basically waiting for you along the road 🙂 On the way back down there’s many more little places you can see like beaches and lagunas with more of the animals.
- Take your snorkel gear and head to Concha Perla. For 10$ you can rent snorkel gear plus wet suit and take your bike to the port. From there it’s a short walk to a little lagoon. It’s clear seawater and you can see plenty of fish, crabs and sea stars there. If you are lucky you will swim with a seal or see a manta rey. They say sometimes there are pinguins there as well.
- Sierra Negra: A morning tour to the biggest volcano crater you can’t miss! It’s quite a walk but you get rewarded with a stunning view over this giant crater. Another few kilometers further you’ll see more old lava rivers and way into the north of the island.
- Los Tuneles: Different lava tunnels as in Santa Cruz but same way of creation: When the lava was flowing down, the outer lava cooled down and got hard while inside hot lava was still flowing through, leaving it to look like tunnels. This tour is a snorkling tour which takes you to two different spots. At the first place you’ll see many turtles, fish and sharks! At the second place it’s more about taking pictures and spot blue footed boobies.
Where to stay: We stayed at El Caminante which is at the end of the village, close to minimarkets. It has a communal kitchen and free water, bananas and oranges, yay! The owner is very attentive and can organize tours for you. They also do a free laundry for you!
Where to eat: There’s no particularly great place to eat, some places offer Menu del Dia which was always good.
San Cristobal: A not so bad speedboat ride away is this island which has many beautiful corners all over the island.
- Visit La Loberia, a beach to the east of the island where seals like to hang out. It’s probably the nicest to bike there but walking is also an option (just make sure to bring a hat and sun cream, since there’s no shade). It was one of the highlights for me and a real dream come true to swim with seals. The water is a bit wild but snorkling is still possible. In the water seals stay a bit away but there’s always a young seal that feels like playing and showing off. Otherwise turtles are there too and of course many fish. On the sand the seals are sleeping and relaxing very unbothered. And imagine laying at the beach next to seal babies!
- Las Tijeretas and Interpretation Center: A cliff to the west of the town is called after the birds that like to nest there. Before getting to the cliff and view point, visit the interpretation center and read a bit about Galapagos natural and human history as well as it’s current situation. Later on you can have a dip in turquoise water and snorkel for a bit. On the way back to town you will find a cute little beach, probably with a few turtles 🙂
Day Tours: Plenty of day tours are possible from San Cristobal. I heard great things of the 360° tour, which shows you a bit of everything on the island. Otherwise visiting the Kicker Island seems to be fun, again with some snorkling involved. The Kicker Island is a funny looking rock in the sea close to San Cristobal.
Where to stay: We stayed in Casa de Jeimy, close to the central market. Jeimy is a very kind host who takes his time to explain each guest what to visit and how. The rooms were nice and clean, as well as the roof terrace with kitchen.
Where to eat: In San Cristobal I saw plenty of nice looking restaurants but we cooked in the hostel. For lunch we went to the central market upstairs. We were served a very good Menu Del Dia for 4$.
- Entry costs: Be aware that at the airport before checking in your bag you have to pay 20$ and x-ray your luggage. Once you arrive in Galapagos you have to pay another 100$ at the migration. Don’t forget to ask for a stamp! 🙂
- Getting to Santa Cruz from the Airport: It’s pretty easy, just follow the others 😉 But to be more helpful: Once you got your bag from the belt, buy your ticket for the shuttle bus (5$). The bus leaves you at at a little port, people will take your bags to the boat, don’t worry about them. The ferry is 1$. On the other side busses are waiting already. Pay another 5$ in the bus and after a 40min ride you are in Puerto Ayora. Get out at the final station (where. you can eat empanadas in the evening) to walk to your hostel.
- Travelling between the islands: The speedboats costs officially 30$ and tickets can be bought at any tour agency at basically any time. However, if you are in Puerto Ayora at the port and walk to the ATMs closeby there is a lady selling tickets for 25$. The boat trips take 2 hours and are not the smoothest. We sat usually upstairs with the captain and I had the impression it was better to handle. Don’t be afraid to ask if you can go up, usually 3 people are allowed there. The boats always go via Santa Cruz, there’s no direct boat between the other two inhabited islands.
- How to get to the airport: The bus in Santa Cruz does not leave where it dropped you off but at the bus terminal. To get there you need to take a taxi (1.50$), because it’s outside of the town. The busses start in the early morning every half an hour until 8.30 or 9 am. The rest of the trip is the same as on the way there.
- If you find cheap snorkel gear in Quito or Guayaquil that might make sense. On the islands it’s 28$, which was more than double than what we paid renting.