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  • Writer's pictureBrad Pejcic

Island hopping the Galápagos is easier, cheaper and even more awesome than you think.

Updated: Mar 17

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The Galápagos Islands are without a doubt one of the most incredible places I have ever been. They are famous for a reason and in terms of wild life, completely live up to its reputation. Understandably you aren't allowed to approach the animals but that won't stop the sea lions coming to play, the sea turtles rocking towards you in the swell, the finches trying to steal your lunch or physically needing to step over marine iguanas in some places just to get down a boardwalk. It might be because they are so well protected, but in this place the animals are not afraid of the people.


Giant tortoises on the Galapagos Islands.

Giant tortoises in the wild on Isla Floreana.


Despite how famous the Galápagos Islands are, when you are there it feels like you have stumbled across some magical secret few people know about!


Do you need to do a cruise or tour to visit the Galápagos Islands?

Absolutely not and I think this is the biggest misconception about the Galápagos Islands. There are three inhabited islands, Santa Cruz, San Cristóbal and Isabela. They all have hotels, hostels and BnBs you can stay at, they all have daily ferries and flights connecting them and they all have an abundance of wildlife. Some areas you will need a guide to go to, but a lot of it you don't.


There is also Floreana which is only inhabited by a very small number of people so accommodation and eating options are very limited. Ferries also leave daily to and from Santa Cruz.


Sea lions and clear blue water of Puerto Chino in the Galapagos Islands.

Views over Puerto Chino on Isla San Cristobal.


The best way to work out if a cruise is a must for you is to work out what you want to see and where it can be found. Some animals can only be found on certain islands and some of those islands are only accessible with a cruise. There are a lot of day tours available from the three main islands which you can simply book in person the day before. Between what you can see exploring the island on your own and what you can see on a day tour, will be more than enough for most people.


Is it expensive to visit the Galápagos Islands?

It can be expensive to visit the Galápagos Islands but it doesn't have to be. Cruises range hugely in price. Most are on the expensive side but there are also usually last minute offers when you land at one of the airports that can be very good value.


Nothing against cruises, if you have the money and that is what you want to do, do it. It will be awesome! But cruising isn't the focus of this post.


Sea lions laying on the sand in the Galapagos Islands.

Sea lions lazing around on Puerto Chino.


For those looking to travel to the Galápagos on the cheaper end of the spectrum, this is what you need to know.


Flights – If you plan to island hop, the most expensive part of your trip will probably be getting to Ecuador. I don't know where you are from so I'm not going to cover this. From Ecuador, flights from Guayaquil to Isla San Cristóbal outside of peak times are the cheapest flights at around $320 USD return. It's a little more to fly to Santa Cruz (Isla Baltra).


National Park Entry Fee – When you land you will also need to pay a $100 USD per adult/$50 USD per child over 12 years old national park fee which is a one off payment that will cover your time on all of the islands.


Accommodation – Starts at about $25 USD for a bed in a dorm and $50 USD per night for a private room or budget motel on websites like booking.com and airbnb.com. It's possible to get something for a little cheaper if you wait and look around when you arrive. Obviously that comes with its own risks but can be worth while. Either way, starting prices are more than reasonable.


Food – Depending on where you eat can cost you from $5 – $20 USD and there are supermarkets as well if you want to make your own meals. Personally I was taking advantage of the well priced, fresh seafood!


Activities – There are loads of beaches, walks and snorkelling spots you can see for free and most accommodation have snorkelling gear you can borrow or hire for next to nothing. I'll remind you that there is wildlife everywhere! Then there are tours you can pick and choose from that range in price from about $50–$200 USD depending what they are. The land based or ones you don't have to travel far to are generally the cheapest and diving tours are the most expensive.


How do you get to the Galápagos Islands?

There are no international flights to the Galápagos Islands. All flights leave from within Ecuador from either Quito or Guayaquil with Guayaquil being on the coast and a little bit cheaper. If you plan on travelling around Ecuador first, it would make sense to make your way to Guayaquil and fly from there.


Blue footed boobies standing on a rock in the Galapagos Islands.

Blue footed boobies.


If you are just trying to get to the islands as quick as possible from any other country, it will pay off to keep an eye on prices to both cities as one isn't always cheaper than the other to fly to. So even though the flight is cheaper from Guayaquil to the Galápagos it might be cheaper overall to fly from Quito if it is cheaper to get to that city for you. Also keep in mind there are two airports. One on Isla Baltra which is your entry to Isla Santa Cruz and one on Isla San Cristobal. You can get flights from Guayaquil to both and prices can differ a little.


How do you travel between the Galápagos Islands?

There are two ways to get between the inhabited islands when not on a cruise.


Ferry

Isla Santa Cruz is the hub when it comes to ferries. They leave twice a day (morning and afternoon) to to Isla Isabela, Isla San Cristóbal and Isla Floreana and they are all roughly a 2 hour trip. The cost is $35 USD one way and you can just buy your ticket the day before. There is no direct ferry between Isla Isabela and Isla San Cristóbal so you need a ticket to Isla Santa Cruz and then another to Isla San Cristóbal.


These ferries are on the small side and the swell can be large at certain times of year. So check out the weather table further down if that makes you un-easy. Big swell doesn't always mean rough though. It was really large when we were there but it was still relatively smooth and nobody was sick. It helps when there is a pod of 30 dolphins chasing you!


Flights

If you have a bit more of a budget or just can't bare the idea of spending 2 hours on the open water in a small ferry, there are also flights between Santa Cruz, Isabela and San Cristóbal. They cost about $150 USD each way and have strict weight limits.


When is the best time of year to go to the Galápagos Islands?

There is no right answer to this question and the best time will really depend on personal choice. If you want to be there for a particular migrating or breeding season you will need to look into when that is.


Puerto Ayora on Santa Cruz, Galapagos Islands.

Puerto Ayora.


For most other people, weather is going to be the biggest concern. Luckily being in the tropics, the weather is pretty good all year round. That being said, the islands do get the tail end of the antarctic humbolt current and the waters do get on the chilly side in some months.

Temp High
Temp Low
Water Temp
Monthly rainy days
January

29°C (84°F)

19°C / 66°F

23ºC / ​74ºF

15 days

February

30°C / 87°F

19°C / 66°F

24ºC / ​76ºF

14 days

March

31°C / 88°F

19°C / 66°F

24ºC / ​​76ºF

9 days

April

30°C / 86°F

19°C / 66°F

​24ºC / ​​76ºF

10 days

May

29°C / 84°F

19°C / 66°F

23ºC / ​​​74ºF

7 days

June

28°C / 82°F

18°C / 64°F

​​23ºC / ​74ºF

11 days

July

26°C / 78°F

17°C / 62°F

22ºC / ​​72ºF

13 days

August

25°C / 77°F

16°C / 61°F

20ºC / ​​68ºF

12 days

September

25°C / 76°F

16°C / 60°F

20ºC / ​​​69ºF

12 days

October

25°C / 78°F

16°C / 60°F

21ºC / ​​​​71ºF

11 days

November

26°C / 79°F

16°C / 61°F

22ºC / ​72ºF

11 days

December

28°C / 82°F

17°C / 63°F

​​23ºC / ​74ºF

11 days

What is there to do on the Galápagos Islands?

As mentioned earlier there are plenty of things to do on the islands without spending much money. There are plenty of things to do if you do want to spend money too. I'm not going to list everything as I can't possibly keep up to date with that but I'll give a bit of an overview of each island below.


Flamingoes in a lagoon on Isabela Island in the Galapagos.

Flamingoes on Isla Isabela.


Isla Santa Cruz

Santa Cruz is one of the islands you are likely to fly into. Well kind of. The airport is actually located on Isla Baltra but don't worry, this is the most popular way to arrive in the islands and it's easy to navigate. Just get on the bus for Puerto Ayora which costs about $5 to the Itabaca Channel. Here you will get on a boat to cross the channel which will cost $1. On the other side get on another bus for another $5 which will take you all the way to Puerto Ayora which is likely where you are heading. It is more simple than it sounds and the great part is it is almost like a mini tour as you will cross the whole island and get to see the highlands and forests on the way.


Puerto Ayora has everything you will need. Accommodation, restaurants, bars, supermarkets and its all walkable.


Las Grietas. Stone gorge on the Galapagos Islands.

Las Grietas, Isla Santa Cruz.


Things to do

Charles Darwin Research Centre is a nice little thing to check out on your first day. Have a look around La Ratonera and Playa de la Estacion while you are over there if you haven't already you will probably see your first iguanas and sea lions along the way. If it's late in the day, pass by Muelle de Los Pescadores to see what the fisherman have brought in for the day.


Las Grietas is a small volcanic gorge that makes for a great swimming hole. You will need to catch a water taxi across the bay and follow the signs on foot.


Tortuga Bay is a surf beach but if you walk all the way to the end there is a cove with calm waters for swimming. You will see hordes of marine iguanas, blue footed boobies and darwin finches.


A pile of marine iguanas laying on each other in the Galapagos Islands.

Marine iguanas at Tortuga Bay.


Day trips

Things that are easier done booking a tour.


See the Santa Cruz giant tortoises up in the highlands. The tortoises found on each island are all different and unique to that island alone.


Isla Floreana is about a 1.5 hour boat ride from Puerto Ayora and is home to its own wild giant tortoises. Visit Playa Negra the black sand beach that is usually packed with sea lions. There are also stone face carvings up in the highlands.


Diving tours are easily found for every level of experience.


A fishermans daily haul in Puerto Ayora. I'll be seeing one of you later!


Isla San Cristobal 

San Cristobal also has an airport with direct flights from Guayaquil. Puerto Baquerizo Moreno is slightly quieter than Puerto Ayora but still has everything you need from a town. I will never forget the day I was sitting at a cafe having my morning coffee and saw a sea lion waddle down the footpath. Only in the Galápagos!


Sunset on San Cristobal in the Galapagos Islands.

Puerto Baquerizo Moreno.


Things to do

Mirador Cerro Tijeretas is a great little walk from town with some beautiful views. Time it with stopping at Playa Mann on the return trip to catch an incredible sunset over the ocean and sea lions playing in front of you.


Hire a car or get a taxi out to Puerto Chino which is a really pretty, remote beach usually covered in sea lions. Walk up the headlands where you are likely to find blue footed boobies and do some turtle and ray spotting in the water.


While you've got the car you can also check out the giant tortoise breeding centre and make a stop at Rancho Ecológico El Mirador for incredible views down to Kicker Rock.


Views of Kicker rock from a lookout on San Cristobal in the Galapagos Islands.

Rancho Ecológico El Mirador.


Day trips

Léon Dormido (Kicker Rock) is a highlight when visiting San Cristobal. On the way you are likely to have a stop at Isla Lobos where you will see frigates and snorkel with turtles and if you are lucky like we were, have a young sea lion wanting to play.


One of the channels through Kicker Rock off the coast of San Cristobal in the Galapagos Islands.

Looking down the bigger channel of Léon Dormido.


Snorkelling through the channels of Léon Dormido is a little daunting at first. Especially since the main reason you are here is to swim with hammerhead sharks... The channels are narrow and you aren't allowed to touch the rock. It's a lot to take in while you are looking for sharks and getting rocked around in the swell. But once you get use to it, it is a truly amazing experience that will leave you buzzing.


The hammer head sharks aren't a guarantee. We saw one before we got in the water and that was it. Then one galápagos shark towards the end. It swam with us for a few moments before swimming off into the dark blue. Worth it for that alone. But there is no shortage of other wildlife with fish and turtles in the water and countless boobies on the rock above.


Sun setting over the ocean at Playa Mann while sea lions play in the sand.

Sunset at Playa Mann.


Isla Isabela

This is the least busiest of the inhabited islands and my favourite. I loved the rustic laid back vibe of Puerto Villamil.


Galapagos penguins standing on a rock.

Galápagos penguins in Tintoreras.


Things to do

Concha de Perla became a daily ritual. It's hard to beat starting the day by going for a swim in the clear blue waters, spotting rays, turtles and all types of fish while young sea lions play around you.


Sea lion next to a board walk on the Galapagos Islands.

Hanging with the sea lions at Concha de Perla.


Spot penguins at the pier and chilled walks down Playa Puerto Villamil spotting marine iguanas and birdlife.


The pier at Playa Puerto Villamil.


Take the boardwalk to Centro de Crianza Tortugas Gigantes (giant tortoise breeding centre) and see some flamingoes along the way.


Day Trips

Hike Sierra Negra. This is an active shield volcano with a crater over 9km wide. It's amazing to view inside the crater but the top of the mountain also offers incredible views over the island with more volcanoes in the distance.


A small portion of the crater of Sierra Negra.


Tintoreras is an islet a short boat ride from the pier. The islet is a marine iguana breeding ground and you will never see more lizards anywhere in your life. But it is also were you will find some particular rock pools that reef sharks swim into every day following food. They end up getting trapped in the low tide and need to wait for the tide to rise again to get back out.


A young marine iguana heating up in the sun on Tintoreras.


So as you can see there is so much to do on the Galápagos Islands without doing a cruise and without spending a heap of money once you are there. It is seriously one of the most amazing places I have ever been and would go back in an instant.


This is already a huge post so I'm going to leave it at that but if anybody wants to know more feel free to leave a comment or shoot me an email.



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