After our amazing time in Peru (read all about it here), we headed to the Galapagos to continue our vacation!
Going to the Galapagos has been #travelgoals for a very long time, but we had always thought one had to drop thousands on a cruise in order to visit. Thankfully through meeting fellow travelers like ourselves, we discovered there is a way to do The Galapagos independently and cheaply. It’s a common misconception a trip like this has to be expensive, it doesn’t! Read on and we’ll tell you how we did it! 😉
Here is a breakout of our approximate per-person costs for 5 days in the Galapagos:
• Tourist Card: $20 (picked this up at Quito Airport)
• Airfare: Approx $400 (from Peru)
• National Park Fee: $100 on landing at airport in Galapagos
• Two Guided Snorkeling/Walking Tours: $125-$150 per tour (can be booked on the spot!)
• Isabela Entry Fee: $10 (pay on arrival at Isabela)
• Renting Snorkeling Gear for 1 day: $12
• Canoe Rental at Tortuga Bay for 1 hour: $20
• Hotel/Hostel: $50 per night x 4 nights (25 pp)
• Food: $20-$30 per day
• Transportation: approx. $20 (includes water taxis and land taxis)
Day 1: Santa Cruz
We flew from Lima Airport to Quito and then from Quito to Isla Baltra Airport in the Galapagos. Direct flights to the Galapagos from places outside of Ecuador are not possible so the 2 cities flights go from are Quito and Guayaquil. (We flew through Guayaquil on the way home). Before you board your flight to the Galapagos, you will need to pick up your tourist card at the layover airport, as you must have this to get on your Galapagos flight and onto the island.
After clearing the airport, we hopped on a ferry which took us from Isla Baltra to Santa Cruz for $1 USD (USD is the official currency of Ecuador). There we got on a bus to the city of Puerto Ayoro for $2 USD. Once we got to our hotel we dropped our bags off and couldn’t wait to go explore the town! Puerto Ayoro is very walkable. We walked to the pier where we got our first glimpse at the Galapagos wildlife such as Sea Lions, Pelicans, Baby Galapagos Sharks, some Fish and a ton of Crab. Tired from traveling we grabbed some dinner and headed back to the hotel.
Day 2: Isabela
The next morning we woke up super excited, as we were about to go on our guided tour to Isabela Island! Isabela is a seahorse-shaped island which is home to many of the Galapagos wildlife, but one thing exclusive to Isabela is the Galapagos Penguin which we were very excited to see. The Galapagos Penguin is the only penguin that has been found above the equator. The equator runs through the top of Isabela Island (we did not venture above the equator though). At the pier, we met the group we’d be traveling with and then boarded the speedboat that took us to the pier on Isabela. The boat ride was about 2 hours in duration and pretty bumpy so if you get seasick, make sure you bring some dramamine! When we arrived on Isabela, we got off the boat and hopped in a van that took us to the Tortoise Breeding Center. There we got to see and learn about the Galapagos Giant Tortoises. It was amazing how large these beautiful creatures were! They also live for an astonishing amount of time.
We then grabbed lunch (which was at a local restaurant and really good for tour food!) before heading to out next activity, Las Tintoreras. On the boat ride to Las Tintoreras, we spotted some Rays in the water, and finally got to see the infamous Blue Footed Booby on some volcanic rocks! Our tour guide informed us that the Galapagos Penguin usually hang out on the rocks but it is rare to see them (unfortunately for us they were not there. Oh well, maybe next time!). The thing to keep in mind when visiting the Galapagos is that you are never guaranteed to see any particular animal, so don’t be disappointed if you don’t see what you came for. Once on land we walked around Las Tintoreras which has a very interesting looking landscape, almost like we were on another planet. There we got to see tons of Marine Iguanas soaking up the sun (watch out they spit!). We also got to look down into a crevice where a group of white tip sharks were hanging out.
From there it was on to our final activity, snorkeling. One of Sam’s ‘Bucket List Items’ is to swim with Sea Turtles and he was hoping to check that item on his list here in the Galapagos. Luckily there were a few of them swimming around! In addition to the Sea Turtles there were also more Marine Iguanas as well as some some colorful fish swimming around. It was amazing to watch the Marine Iguanas swim – they use their tails to propel themselves and boy are they fast! (We were in the water for most of this time so, apologies for the lack of photos, but this is the snorkel spot where we saw the Sea Turtles).
After our snorkeling session, it was time to head back to the port to board the boat back to Santa Cruz. On our way to the port, we passed by the same rocks that the Blue Footed Boobies were perched on. As we passed by, to our surprise we saw not one, but THREE! Galapagos Penguins – what an amazing experience! We were truly very luckily to see them at the very end of our trip.
Back on Santa Cruz, we took one of our tourmate’s advice and headed over to the local fish market to get some fresh fish. They were closing up and didn’t have much left but luckily for us they still had what we were looking for, lobster! We grabbed two 2 lb lobsters. We were told if you bring the lobsters to a local restaurant, they will grill them for you. The restaurant staff cooked it up deliciously and even added some sides and a drink for an additional fee. Our total cost was $20 for the lobster and $15 to the restaurant for the labor and the sides and drinks totaling $35 each, not bad for a 4-lb lobster dinner! In hindsight this really was too much lobster, and we really should have just gotten one… but we enjoyed ourselves (and, I mean, can you really ever go wrong with lobster?)
Day 3: San Cristobal
The next day we got picked up from our hotel and walked with our guide to the pier. Getting on a speed boat again, we made our way to San Cristobal Island, the third and last inhabited island in the Galapagos. While waiting on the pier for a smaller boat to take us to the starting point of the tour, we got to see some sea lions putting on an show in the waters below! Quite a spectacle.
From there, we made our way on boat to a beach. On our way there we saw some birds like Frigates, Nazca Boobies and even some Baby Blue Footed Boobies. When we got to the beach, we disembarked from the boat and took a walk around. While there we saw a salt pond, finches, and even a finchs’ nest with tiny finch eggs inside. After our walk we had free time so I laid on the beach soaking in the sun while Sam went out snorkeling. While snorkeling he got to swim with Sea Turtles some more, saw some beautiful fish, and even spent time playing with a Sea Lion. The rule in the Galapagos is to not touch the wildlife, someone should have told the playful Sea Lion that, lol.
From there we got back on our boat to make our way to Kicker Rock, also known as Leon Dormido (Sleeping Lion). From different angles the rock can look like a kicker or a sleeping lion, as it is so aptly named. Leon Dormido is a very popular place to snorkel with Hammerhead Sharks. Unfortunately this was not our lucky day, however we did see some Black-Tipped Galapagos Sharks as well as a vast amount of fish species and even more Sea Turtles, so no complaints here. We do not currently have a go pro but our tour guide was nice enough to take a couple videos for us! After Leon Dormido we made our way back to the pier and then hopped aboard the speed boat to go back to Santa Cruz.
Day 4: Tortuga Bay & Las Grietas
On our last full day in The Galapagos, since we did not have any tours booked, we decided to go to Tortuga Bay. Tortuga Bay is one the best places to see Sea Turtles on Santa Cruz (the word ‘Tortuga’ even means ‘Turtle’ in Spanish). We rented snorkel gear at the dive shop that we booked our two tours with (Eagle Ray Tours. Highly recommended!) and decided to take it to the bay with us. Tortuga Bay is unfortunately only accessible on foot and was an approximate 45-minute walk from our hotel, but it was an easy, enjoyable walk (there are also some steps to climb and a slight uphill at some points… make sure you assess your comfort level with a hike like this if you are choosing to go… and you should!). Tortuga Bay is beautiful so the walk, in our opinion, was highly worth it! Once we found our magic spot on the sand, we put down our things. There were ladies renting canoes & kayaks that you could take out for $20/hr, so we rented one. We really wanted to see a big Manta Ray because we had yet to see one. When we saw the Manta Ray we jumped in and followed it. While following it, we stumbled upon a large group of White Tip Sharks. The Sharks were seemingly only inches away, which sent adrenaline rushing through our bodies, as it’s pretty terrifying to be that close to a shark, especially when at some points the visibility was not so great. We definitely had a few ‘Jaws’ type moments! All in all, we had a great time at Tortuga Bay and enjoyed seeing the Manta Ray as well the many Turtles we were promised.
After Tortuga Bay and lunch, we headed to Las Grietas via water taxi to do some more snorkeling and some rock jumping. Once you get off at the port, it’s a bit of walk to get the the actual place, so keep walking and you will eventually find it. Las Grietas is basically a canyon where fish don’t really see any predators so they get extremely big. You need to climb over very sharp rocks at some points so it is recommended to wear water shoes. The water here was crystal clear but also extremely cold so we recommend also bringing a wetsuit.
After Las Grietas we headed back to town for dinner and to reflect on our wonderful time in the Galapagos. We will definitely be back!
Day 5: Crater // Home
On the last day, we got a taxi from our hotel to the port to go back to the airport. The driver we had was really great and took us to see some tortoises in the wild and a natural crater before getting back on the boat and heading back to the cold, winter in NY. 😦
If anyone out there has been to the Galapagos as well, we would love to hear about what you liked best!
Where We Stayed:
Hotel Espana – Puerto Ayora, Isla Santa Cruz. Tomas de Berlanga e I. Plazas, Frente a la Biblioteca Municipa
Book it here