Ecuador is our first South American destination. South America has been in our bucket list for a very long time and we put together a short trip this time due to limited holidays. Debating between Peru and Galapagos, we decided to do the land based visit to the Galapagos. We were very specific to do land based travel instead of cruise option primarily of our core interests towards land based adventures. There is so much of flexibility to plan your own tours and you have the comfort of doing at your own pace versus cruise.
My personal recommendation of visiting Galapagos Islands without a cruise is the best way to see the Galapagos Islands. All land-based Galapagos Islands trip will be focused around these 3 main islands: Santa Cruz, Isabella, and San Cristobal. They are the 3 inhabited islands, and it is from each of these islands that you will be able to board on tours and day trips to see everything that the Galapagos has to offer.
We booked all of our Galapagos guided tours via local travel agents ahead of time.It was a 6 day, 5 night all inclusive package through GalapagosIslands.com that covered for all tours, food and lodging. However I felt that you could save a lot of money doing on your own if you wanted to do more of a budget-friendly option. It does involve a lot of planning ahead of time booking the right hotels and tours. There are several tour operators in almost every corner of the street if you choose to book after arriving to the island. The challenge is the credibility of the operators and tour availability especially if you are coming during peak season. Some of the tour options from major providers:-
- Galapagos Adventure Tours
- Galapagos Diving Tours
- 5-Day Galapagos Land and Underwater Adventure
- Galapagos Island Hopping Tour
Getting to Galapagos Islands
The only way to get to the Galapagos Islands is to fly from Ecuador. Guayaquil and Quito are the two major cities that frequently fly into the Galapagos. If you plan to do Amazon jungle tours, its best to fly directly to Quito and finish your tours followed by Galapagos or vice versa. There are three local airlines (Avianca, LATAM, TAME) that offer services to Galapagos.
There are two airports on the Galapagos to fly into:
- Baltra: Baltra is the airport closest to Puerto Ayora and Santa Cruz Island. You will need to take a bus from the airport followed by a ferry service to enter the Santa Cruz island. If you are doing on your own, bus tickets(~5$) can be purchased from the airport. From the Santa Cruz ferry dock, you can either take a bus or a taxi (mostly pick up trucks) to Puerto Ayora.
- San Cristobal: San Cristobal airport is right on the San Cristobal island,.
- When you fly from Guayaquil or Quito, you will need to pay 20$ Transit card fee per person before you fly to Galapagos
- Once you arrive at the Galapagos Islands airport, you’ll have to pay the $100 National Park entrance fee per person. This 100$ goes into the conservation and many other research programs that is taking place inside the island. One of my observation in this trip is that the whole local community protects the island environment and animal habitat with great care.
Currency & Payment
Currency in Ecuador is US Dollar and majority of the shops/restaurants accepts credit cards and cash. I highly recommend cash as the service charge for credit cards is between 14% to 17%. Small shops do not have credit card facilities, so cash is recommended.
Restaurants in Santa Cruz
Santa Cruz town offers many choices when it comes to food – small cafes to mid size restaurants. Vegetarian option is limited but there is always pizza and pasta in almost every restaurant. Some of our favorite ones that we tried during our stay:-
- Isla Grill Restaurant (Av. Charles Darwin, near Silberstein hotel)
- El Mulle De Darwin ( 3 blocks from Isla Grill)
- La Garrapata (Charles Darwin Avenue S/N & Tomas de Berlanga.)
Our trip Itinerary – 6 days, 5 nights
If you are interested to follow our trip itinerary, please find below day-by-day breakdown. For more information about each of the tour, you can click the link to know more on the details.
- Day 1: Arrive to Baltra Airport from Guayaquil (GYE), rest and do the Charles Darwin Research Station visit
- Day 2: Full day tour to the Bartolome Island
- Day 3: Full day tour to the South Plaza Island
- Day 4: Day trip to the Highlands within Santa Cruz
- Day 5: Tortuga Bay half day (we took rest in the morning and did later in the afternoon)
- Day 6: Depart from Baltra