24 Jan What to expect from the Galapagos Islands?
All you need to know about traveling to the Galapagos Islands
If you are planning your next vacation, we will give you the greatest reasons to go to the most magical place on Earth: the Galapagos Islands.
This Ecuadorian jewel is one of the most visited places, and we do not have doubts about why. It has everything that you want to enjoy on a trip: fantastic places, beautiful flora and fauna all around and every kind of fun or relaxing activities in a paradisiac environment.
What is so special about the Galapagos Islands?
Maybe you have heard that the Galapagos Islands were the main inspiration for Charles Darwin’s evolution theory. The reason for it is that a quarter of its species are endemic, meaning that they have had an evolution on their own. This is a fascinating fact, especially when considering that the place was discovered only a few centuries ago. Wild animals such as sea lions, iguanas, giant turtles and Darwin’s finches can be spotted on the streets, acting fearless towards human contact.
If you are a nature lover, Galapagos is a must-visit paradise. This conservation jewel is surrounded by untouched landscapes, unique wildlife and friendly people. It does not matter if you are looking for either adventure or relaxation. It is a fact that you will make your way to discover why people call Galapagos Islands the enchanted islands.
What to do at the Galapagos Islands?
Galapagos has over 120 islands, islets and rocks. Of course, not all of them are populated or even visited. If you are on the main islands, you can easily explore the surroundings by cruise. It all depends on what you want to do. Some islands are known for their ocean sports such as snorkel, scuba dive, kayak and surf. Other islands are more suitable for hiking and wildlife watching. If you are looking for relaxation, you can easily reach some deserted yet pretty well-known beaches.
The Galapagos Islands by cruise or by land?
If you want to have a complete Galapagos experience, you should visit a couple of islands. Probably the best way to do it is by cruise, during the night time. There are plenty of comfortable, complete and efficient services. Consider that these trips will be more expensive than ferries.
On the other hand, ferries will also take you to the principal islands. The main difference with cruises is that you will have to go back to your initial destination; that can take half a day. A great idea is picking different day tours for the islands that you want to visit. Let us help you with choosing the best options!
There is probably no more popular sport on the islands than snorkeling. It does not matter where you want to practice it (or your level). There is a high possibility for you to observe sea lions, sea turtles, penguins, manta rays, or even reef sharks on the way! But do not worry, you will always be safe and surrounded by professionals.
A great spot to snorkel at is Playa Mansa, a small mangrove-laden bay located in Puerto Ayora. On the way from Ayora to Puerto Villamil, ask for Concha de Perla, another popular place not far away from the harbor. One hour away from here, heading to the west, you will find Los Túneles. This place is an ideal route for beginners. It has fantastic inhabitants such as fluorescent fishes and colorful reefs.
There are also three incredible places to snorkel in Isabela. One of them is Tagus Cove, a deep-diving site filled with turtles where you will be snorkeling amidst lava rocks! Puente Vicente Roca is also famous because of its rocky, sandy bottoms and rock walls that will guide you to a limitless underwater depth. Finally, there is an easier route at Bahía Elizabeth, with its calm, crystal-clear waters.
If you want to dive deeper into the ocean, you should try scuba diving. There are over sixty dive sites in the Galápagos, most of them for experts. But do not let that stop you! You can also have your first experience in diverse areas. There are day tours and multi-day cruises destined for this activity.
There are diving sites near the main ports of towns. On the other hand, other ones are several hours (even up to a day or night) away from the islands. One popular place is the Bolivar Channel, located between the Isabela and Fernandina islands. It is known for its incredible fauna, which includes the majestic blue whale.
Sharks are the main characters of this activity. Kicker Rock is a popular scuba diving place because of the great diversity of sharks. Stingrays and exotic fishes are easily found in the surroundings. We recommend this place to those who are looking for an adventurous yet safe experience.
Kayaking is a recent activity in the Islands. Only five years ago, the first guides of this sport were certified. Since then, it has become popular because it allows for reaching new sites. For example, the way from Las Grietas to Punta Estrada is only reachable by kayak. The channel is an incredible place to practice it because of the brown noddies, frigate birds and blue-footed boobies that are always flying around.
It is always surfing season at the Galapagos Islands. If you want to surf the biggest waves, you should travel in winter (do not worry, it will be sunny and hot anyway). Because of the northern swells, this is the best time to go and meet surfers from all over the world.
Santa Cruz offers incredible surfing beaches such as La Ratonera and Tortuga Bay. This last one is one of the top ten beaches of the world on Trip Advisor.
Hiking and Trekking
After some ocean days, you may want to walk around the Islands and enjoy the beautiful landscapes. A good starting point is Sullivan Bay, at Bartolomé Island. The main attraction of the place is its lava fields, which were formed by several eruptions. Do not worry, because the last one took place over a hundred years ago, in 1904.
Santa Fé is also a good idea if you want to hike. It is a small island that can be explored either by walking around it or reaching its cliffs. If you take the first option, it is possible to meet with lots of land iguanas, sea lions and paths filled with endemic cactus (opuntias). Over six-thousand iguanas inhabit the area. There is also a new rescued tortoise population.
If you are a bird fan, you should visit North Seymour. It is a two square kilometers island with easy side-to-side trails. Seymour is the home for blue-footed booby and frigate bird colonies. Sea lions and land iguanas are also playing around the palo santo trees that decorate the place.
Each of the Galapagos Islands described
We are sure that there are no disappointing places at the Galapagos Islands. Although every destination will take your breath away, the following are some examples of our favorite ones to start planning your trip today.
Isla Santa Cruz
Not far away from Puerto Ayora, you will reach one of its most visited places: Tortuga Bay. It is an easy 2.5km. walk that can usually take forty-five minutes. Lava lizards are its main natural attraction. Along the way, there are two beaches: Playa Brava and Playa Mansa. Swimming is not allowed in Playa Brava because of dangerous currents. On the other hand, Playa Mansa is suitable to do it while enjoying the view of the mangroves.
An ideal place to learn about the flora and fauna of the Galapagos Islands is the Charles Darwin Research Center. It is the principal point to discover the history and science researches of the Islands. You can also have a closer approach to the most iconic animals of the Galapagos Islands at the Giant Turtles Farms. The principal one is El Chato, located 20 minutes away from the airport.
The fish market in Puerto Ayora is the perfect place to have the Galapagos fresh gastronomy experience.
Isabela has the biggest and most active volcano of the Islands: Sierra Negra. Its last eruption took place only three years ago, in 2018. It is half an hour away from Villamil, and most of the time crowded. The reason is that it has one of the biggest craters in the world. Sierra Negra has a unique fauna and flora as well. La Bocanilla is the principal option to see the caldera of the volcano, only 1.5kms. from the paradero.
Along the slopes of Sierra Negra, you will spot the Trillizos Volcanoes. The highest point of these three volcanoes is 500mts., half the way of Sierra Negra. Reaching the top is not a difficult task, but it can be challenging to walk to its bottom which many describe as the center of the world.
Tintoreras and Túneles are popular water sports locations. Tintoreras is also the name of the little sharks that live in this area. They are visible when the water level is low. The surroundings of Tintoreras are islets filled with deserted beaches that can be reached by kayak. Túneles is also a kayaking destination, but the most popular activity is snorkeling. Similar to Las Grietas, the place is known for its timeless rock formations.
Isla de San Cristóbal
Isla Lobos is the perfect place to interact with sea lions. This little islet is only 10kms. away from Puerto Baquerizo Moreno, and is a scuba diving point. Different sea lion species may swim with you under the sea, but we recommend this place to experts.
One of the most visited places of San Cristobal (and the Galapagos Islands) is Kicker Rock. León Dormido (as it is called in Spanish) is formed by the remains of a volcanic cone that was eroded by the sea. It reaches five hundred feet above the ocean and can only be reached by boat and with the company of local guides. This unique formation is surrounded by a diverse fauna that makes it an adventurous spot for scuba diving and snorkeling.
A popular place for trekking is Punta Pitt, on the eastern side of San Cristobal. Because of its erosional process, there are unbelievable vivid colors all along the way. Punta Pitt has a unique view of the privileged landscapes of the Galapagos Islands.
Floreana was one of the first inhabited islands. Nowadays, it has a low population which is surrounded by an authentical paradise. Parte Alta is one of its most-visited sites. It is not a high hike (450mts.) but is still pretty challenging. Asilo de la Paz (Peace Haven) is the main attraction. It is a hill where the first colonists of the islands used to rest, especially in the nearby Pirates Cave.
Playa Negra (black beach), in Puerto Velasco Ibarra, has a unique landscape from the rest of the Islands. The reason is the color of its sand, which contrasts the rest of the places around. It is a perfect place for pictures, not only because of the black sand but also by the beautiful sea lion species that enjoy swimming around them.
Similar to Isla Lobos in San Cristobal, La Lobería is a magnificent place to practice snorkeling. Lobería has a privileged fauna surrounded by sea lions.
Isla Seymour Norte
At first glance, Seymour will not look as impressive as the rest of the Islands, but do not let that fool you. This dry and small islet is a bird paradise. Frigate birds and blue-footed booby colonies are visible all around this area. For this reason, it is not hard to spot their unique nests and, probably, watch their mating dance.
One of the biggest sea lion colonies in the Islands is also a great attraction. It is another popular place to snorkel with them and enjoy the clear waters of Seymour. If you rather stay dry and enjoy the company of birds, you may want to hike around Seymour. It is one of the easiest paths, with only 2 square kilometers and a maximum thirty-meters above sea levels.
Bartolomé is an island located in the south of Isla Santiago. People consider Bartolomé as the most beautiful place in the archipelago! The reason is the surrealistic colors at the top of its pinnacle. The island was formed by volcanic erosions that emerged throughout the years with shades of red, blue, yellow and green rocks.
You can easily reach the top of Bartolomé. It is a forty-minute-long walk that we suggest to do in the morning. You can also do it in the afternoon, but the bright sun would not let you fully appreciate the fabulous landscape.
Bartolomé is also a perfect spot to meet with penguins and even snorkel with them. Try to go as early as possible to have the entire experience. Bartolomé is a day away from Santa Cruz, so keep it in mind while making your schedule.
The main attraction of Pinzon Island is snorkeling. The island is not far away from Santa Cruz, but you can only go with local tours and guides. It is prohibited to walk on the land, so enjoying its crystal waters is the only activity allowed in the area (and it is worth it!).
Stingrays, dolphins, iguanas, sea lions, turtles and even whitetip sharks are visible in Pinzón. It has a friendly environment not only for experts but also for beginners. If you are snorkeling for the first time, you’ll get a great impressions of sea life around the Galapagos Islands here.
Although Pinzón is a small island, it has some high elevations that will keep you wondering what is inside of it.
Isla Santa Fé
Also located in Santa Cruz, in the opposite direction of Pinzón, there is the mysterious Santa Fé Island. Scientists say that its volcano is probably the most ancient one of the Galapagos Islands, with almost four million years of existence! It does not have spring water in the surroundings, so land animals like goats survive after several years of adaptation, drinking ocean water only.
Santa Fé has never been inhabited; this is a good reason why its evolution is so fascinating. There is an endemic iguana called iguana terrestre de Santa Fe, that you may easily spot.
Santa Fé is an ideal place for snorkeling, especially in the Barrington Bay area.
How to visit the Galapagos Islands?
There are only two cities that have direct flights to the Galapagos Islands: Quito and Guayaquil. Everyone will need a transit control card ahead of the check-in. Both airports have special desks where you can acquire these cards. These will cost you 20 USD. Be aware that you need to acquire this card right before you go to the check-in desk and that there may be a 45 minutes cue.
For the transit control card, you may be asked to provide a return flight ticket, a reservation of your stay for the full period and a negative COVID-19 test (72 hours old max).
Upon arrival at the Galapagos Islands, you’ll have to pay a national park entrance fee of $100 before leaving the airport (use an ATM at the Quito or Guayaquil airport!). You’ll be given a registration card. Don’t throw this away! When you’ll leave the island, you need to give it back.
The Galapagos Islands have an annual quota of 220 thousand tourists. You don’t want to miss out of this magical archipelago while traveling through Ecuador. Travel planning through Ecuador’s mainland is way more flexible. So, when you start making specific plans for your trip, it would be wise focus on the Galapagos Islands first and then see how the rest of the trip can be planned around it.
Are you looking for more information about traveling to Ecuador or the Galapagos Islands?
At What To Do in Ecuador?, you’ll find an easy and inspirational summary of what to do in Ecuador.
In the Stories section, you’ll find more stories about travelers’ experiences. You’ll find articles comparing best places to visit and there are several articles giving you practical travel tips.
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