Between my husband and I we must have spent eighty hours or more researching our final trip destination, The Galapagos Islands. Still, there are many things I wish we had known before going there. Here they are in no particular order, for the benefit of future travelers:
Getting there and around
1. Santa Cruz’s Baltra airport is the most popular, but San Cristobal also has an international airport that is much more conveniently located. It is only one mile out of town, unlike Baltra, which requires a bus, ferry and taxi ride that cost you at least an hour or more. So if you have a choice for equal price, fly to San Cristobal.
2. The sea tends to be much calmer in the morning, so for the ferry to Isabela or San Cristobal, it is worthwhile getting up early and avoiding a bumpy ride. We took three ferries and on none of the passengers on any of the rides got sick.
3. All towns in the Galapagos are small enough to walk anywhere. In fact, cars are restricted to taxis and tourist buses. In Puerto Ayora we had a hotel a bit away from the main drag, but you can get around with $1 white, pickup truck taxis, which carry 5 passengers and lots of luggage.
4. The Galapagos Islands are a cash-only society. Credit card payments can cost up to 25% extra. There are ATMs on Santa Cruz and San Cristobal. You can take out $300 per transaction, up to $600 per day, per card. On Isabela there is no ATM. I was worried about walking around with lots of cash, but it turns out the islands are so safe that locals leave their doors unlocked.
5. We rented an apartment with a kitchen at Ariana’s hostal so we could cook and save money. It turned out that ingredients are expensive on Charles Binford street you find a row of restaurants with daily menus including soup, fish/chicken/met, rice, beans and juice for only $4. Another row of such restaurants can be found near the main soccer field and stadium. The other islands have similar deals, often a block or two away from the main street, parallel to the beach.
6. For $1.50 empanadas visit the mini-mart next to the Gardner Hostal on Santa Cruz, or for even better, $1 freshly made empanadas (carne, cheese or pollo) go to the municipal market on Isabela. The beach near the pier on Isabela had $1.25 empanadas too.
For fresh fruit and vegetables, your best bet on Santa Cruz is the weekly market that takes place near the central soccer complex on Saturday morning. On other days, there are some market stalls on the crossing of Av. Baltra and Espanola.
7. At the market on Isabela, same place as the empanadas, also try the Marocho drink. It is a popular, Ecuadorian, spiced corn pudding made with corn, milk, sugar and raisins that is worth a try for another $1.
8. Of all day trips and cruise excursions we took, the day trip from Isabela to Tunneles was our favorite. Read about our expedition here. The day trip to kick rock from San Cristobal was worthwhile too, and I also recommend Plaza and Santa Fe from Santa Cruz.
9. We took a cruise to see the land iguanas of Santa Fe and Plaza islands, but both of these islands can also be visited using day tours from Santa Cruz. We did not see land iguanas anywhere else during our trip so you may need to pay to see these creatures.
10. Nesting Albatros birds can only be seen on Espanola. You can only get to this island with a cruise ship. I am on the fence whether that is worth the money, but we had great walks on Espanola for sure. We also saw mating blue-footed boobies from up close.
11. If you want to see land turtles in the wild, take the bike ride to the “wall of tears” on Isabela island, but leave early morning. If you leave after seven, there may be too many other bikers scaring off the creatures. You can also take a taxi to the highlands of Santa Cruz.
12. You can also stay on Floreana. For some reason, I thought only Santa Cruz, Isabela and San Cristobal were inhabited. Read about Floreana’s colorful history. There are a couple hundred people there and some guest houses. I didn’t meet anybody who stayed on Floreana.
13. If you want to do a cruise, definitely book one last-minute. We booked ours online for 60% off at www.galapagoslastminutes.com. Write them to access even lower prices. You can also buy once you get there from about $200/day per person. Expect to pay in cash though.
14. The most day trips are available from Santa Cruz, so we made this our base. However, if you are looking for free wildlife encounters, you are better off going to San Cristobal or Isabela. I wrote a separate blog with 13 of our best, free experiences is a must read with more tips.
Also read our blog:
Our Thirteen Best Free Experiences in The Galapagos Islands