How To Visit The Galapagos Islands [2024 Step-By-Step Guide!]

Cazzy Magennis
Written By:
Cazzy Magennis
Last Updated:
March 21, 2024
Here is an in-depth rundown of how to visit the Galapagos Islands. Navigate the complex rules & learn the best way to visit depending on your budget.
how to visit The Galapagos Islands

Before we even began our traveling adventure, the Galapagos Islands have always been high on our bucket list.

In fact, I would say they are high on EVERYONE'S bucket lists!

They are easily one of the best places to travel anywhere in the world. One of the few places you are guaranteed to love.


Because they truly are one of a kind.

As you will discover in this guide (and more so if you visit) the animals here have been left untouched by evolution in the same way that almost every other place on earth has been.

They have no fear of humans, because evolution hasn't bred the need to be fearful of us.

Instead, the islandshave become akin to a sanctuary, almost bereft of predators, where scientists & visitor in general, can experience wildlife in a truly unique and awe-inspiring way.

Our visit to the Galapagos Islands truly was life-changing.

We loved EVERY ... SINGLE ... SECOND of our time here. And below I want to take you step-by-step through the different ways to visit the Galapagos.

Including ways to save money and ways to splurge if money simply isn't an object.

Let's get straight into it ...

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Which Islands can you visit in the Galapagos?

map of Galapagos island you can visit
You know they are special when even the islands are shaped like animals!

To start off it’s important to note that you can’t visit every island in the Galapagos. Not only would it take you months, but it’s also impossible.

The majority of the islands just aren’t accessible to the public and instead, they’re used to simply preserve the unique habitat. 

However, there are 13 major islands that you can explore, and then a variety of other minor islands that you can see too.

To give you a better understanding of the Galapagos, let’s break down these islands…

The most popular islands in the Galapagos

San Cristóbal 

San Cristóbal 

San Cristóbal is the Easternmost island in the Galapagos and is home to a population of around 6,000 people. It’s the fifth largest island in the National Park and is where you’ll find Puerto Baquerizo Moreno.

This town is the capital of the Galapagos province and is home to some of the region’s most popular highlights. Firstly, it’s a favorite spot for wildlife-watching but this island has plenty more to offer.

In fact, San Cristóbal Island is made up of three or four fused extinct volcanoes so its geology is rather impressive. It was also the first island to welcome Charles Darwin in 1835, as this is where he first went ashore!

Santa Cruz

santa cruz
A must-see on Santa Cruz!

Santa Cruz is the second-largest island in the Galapagos and it’s found right in the center of the archipelago. It’s the main tourism hub and is where you’ll find the majority of infrastructure as around 12,000 people live here. 

This island is home to plenty of popular tourist attractions including the Fausto Llerena Tortoise Center. Let’s be honest, the tortoises are one of the main reasons you’re wanting to visit! 

Santa Cruz Island has a long history of human settlement and unfortunately, this has led to the island’s landscape being permanently altered. However, it’s still an extremely beautiful place to visit, and no trip is complete without coming here!


Out of the inhabited islands within the Galapagos, Floreana is by far the smallest. It only has a population of around 100 people, yet has an extremely intriguing history.

This island is home to the National Park's first ‘post office’ which was built in 1793 by whalers. The post office was also home to the first Galapagos resident, and you can still visit it to this day.

Although a popular place to visit with cruises, transportation to and from the island is very limited. The local ferry service doesn’t operate regular journeys here, so you’ll struggle to visit if you’re basing yourself on land.


Isabela Island is undeniably one of the most popular islands in the Galapagos, as it’s home to plenty of incredible wildlife. This includes giant tortoises, marine iguanas, and a variety of birdlife.

Isabela is the largest island in the Galapagos and is made up of six shield volcanoes. Five of these volcanoes are still active, so eruptions are still occurring which is pretty crazy to think about.

Home to a population of around 1800 people, this island is one of the few that’s still inhabited. It’s also got an interesting history regarding colonization and industry, so if you can, you’ll definitely want to visit.

Santa Fe 

Catch the Hawk at Santa Fe!

Sante Fe is one of the oldest Galapagos islands as it’s thought to be around 4 million years old! Boasting incredible landscapes, vegetation, and wildlife - it’s a popular spot.

However, it’s important to note that you can only visit Santa Fe on a cruise or a day trip (primarily from Santa Cruz). There are no public ferries to the island, so you’re rather limited when it comes to getting there.

Although there’s no infrastructure here, you’ll get to see plenty of wildlife which is enough of a reason to visit on its own! The geology of the island is rather impressive too.


Baltra is often referred to as ‘South Seymour’ and is located toward the center of the archipelago. 

The human history of this island dates back to the 1930s when Franklin Roosevelt visited aboard a navy ship, and subsequently decided to create a Navy base here. 

After the war, the airstrip was handed over to the government, and today it’s both an Ecuadorian military base and an airport. 

Baltra Island is known for its scenic beaches and wildlife, but other than that there’s not too much to do here. For this reason, many people choose to visit briefly, especially as you can’t stay on the island.


Bartolomé Island is the most visited and interestingly enough most photographed island in the Galapagos. The latter is partly due to its breathtaking viewpoint, which offers jaw-dropping views of the surrounding islands.

This island is also known for its fantastic dive sites, where you’ve got a great chance of spotting penguins, sea turtles, sharks, rays, and a variety of tropical fish.

Aside from being home to Pinnacle Rock (one of the most iconic landmarks here), there are plenty of things to do at Bartolomé. This includes bird-watching, hiking, snorkeling, and diving!

Many Galapagos islands cruises visit Bartolomé, or you can take a day trip from Santa Cruz.

Española Island

frigate birds

Española is the southernmost island in the Galapagos and it’s also one of the oldest. It’s estimated to be around 4 million years old and although it may not look like it now, the island was created from a single caldera.

Española is one of the most-visited islands in the Galapagos and it’s not hard to see why! Boasting a wide variety of wildlife including several endemic species, and spectacular landscapes, this isn’t a place you want to miss.

Some of the most popular spots to visit include Punta Suarez and Gardner Bay, both of which offer you a great chance of seeing wildlife.


Santiago Island Galapagaos

Santiago was one of the first islands to be visited by Charles Darwin back in 1835. Not only does it have an interesting history, but there are plenty of awesome places to visit on this island. 

For this reason, Santiago is a popular spot for visitors to the Galapagos. Here, you can visit James Bay, Sullivan Bay, Chinese Hat, and Puerto Egas. 

Not only that but there are seven fantastic dive sites here where you’ll get to see incredible underwater geological formations and wildlife of course! This area is home to sea lions, sea turtles, sharks, rays, and fur seals among others.

Fernandina Island

Interestingly enough, Fernandina Island first appeared on a map in 1684, long before Charles Darwin visited this world heritage site. Another fact about Fernandina is that it’s the most volcanically active island in the Galapagos.

Being one of the youngest islands here, it’s known for its volcanic eruptions with the last one taking place in 2020. 

Fernandina has a lot to offer as it’s one of the most pristine islands in the Galapagos and offers plenty of wildlife-watching opportunities. The only visitor site here is Punta Espinosa which allows you to walk around the peninsula and past the edge of a lava flow.

Other islands you can visit in the Galapagos

Other islands you can visit in the galapagos

Aside from the most popular islands, there are also a variety of other islands that you can visit (or snorkel around as some don’t allow you to go on land).

Many of the Galapagos cruises will include one or two of these in their itinerary, but otherwise, you’ll have to make the effort to visit some of them. Trust me, you’ll want to! 

Here are some of the other islands you can visit in the Galapagos:

  • Darwin Island - this island is known for its exceptional marine life and is one of the most remote islands in the Galapagos. 
  • Wolf Island - like Darwin Island, Wolf Island is extremely remote and isn’t frequently visited by tourists. However, there’s an awesome dive site here called El Derrumbe.
  • Rábida Island - this island is relatively small, yet is home to some impressive geological formations including volcanic craters and a red sand beach.
  • Pinta Island - the northernmost of the larger islands, Pinta is home to a wealth of wildlife. Project Pinta is also currently working to reintroduce the giant tortoise here.
  • Pinzón - although located in the center of the archipelago, Pinzón is one of the least-visited islands in the Galapagos. It’s generally only visited for snorkeling opportunities. 
  • North Seymour Island - North Seymour is a great spot for wildlife-watching as it’s home to nearly 2,500 land iguanas and a variety of birdlife including frigate birds and blue-footed boobies.
  • Marchena Island - as this island is home to the endemic Marchena Lava Lizard, it’s a shame there are no visitor sites on the island. You can snorkel nearly though! 
  • Genovesa Island - nicknamed the ‘Bird Island’, Genovesa is home to an abundance of birdlife including frigate birds, red-footed and Nazca boobies, finches, and tropicbirds.
  • Daphne Island - this island requires a special permit as it’s a very fragile site. You can find a variety of birdlife here, and there are also two dive sites. 
  • South Plaza Island - one of the smallest islands in the archipelago, yet has a lot to offer. It’s home to the largest land iguana population in the Galapagos that’s available to visit.

Very minor islets in the Galapagos 

There are plenty of tiny islands and islets that are used for scuba-diving, whereas others you simply just cruise past. 

Some of these won’t be named (however, one is actually called nameless island) but others like Roca Redonda are recorded.

As there are over 100 minor islets and rock formations in the Galapagos, you’re likely to either see many of them from afar or get into the water near them to snorkel or dive.

Step 1: How to get to the Galapagos Islands

Travel to the Galapagos Islands is relatively straightforward as there’s only one way you can get there! 

By Air 

You have to fly to the Galapagos Islands from mainland Ecuador, although you’ve only got two options; from Guayaquil or Quito. 

This is where the two main international airports are located in the country are they’re the only ones that offer flights to the Galapagos Islands. When booking your flights, you’ll want to consider staying in either Guayaquil or Quito for a night to allow for any delays/changes, etc. 

It’s also important to note that only two airlines currently serve the Galapagos Islands; Avianca Airlines, and Latam Airlines.

Once you’ve decided where to fly from, you’ll need to then decide which airport to fly to before booking.

There are two airports in the Galapagos:

  • Seymour Airport (GPS) - Serves the island of Baltra and connects with Santa Cruz via water taxi.
  • San Cristóbal Airport (SCY) - Located on the island of San Cristóbal (if you hadn’t already guessed).

The one you choose will usually depend on your cruise itinerary (if you’re traveling this way), or multi-day tour departure point. If you’ve decided to do a ‘DIY’ trip then you’ve got a bit more flexibility. 

If you’ve picked an option that includes flights (which aren’t very common) then this will be organized for you! 

Flights from mainland Ecuador tend to cost around $300 for a return although you can sometimes find a bargain, where they’ll be cheaper. Honestly, it all depends on the time of year you’re visiting.

The easiest way to search is through Skyscanner (who we use to book all our flights).

Bonus Tip / Warning: Unless you are from Ecuador, then you need to make sure you don’t book the lowest tier flight option (without any checked luggage) with Avianca. We did this and then when boarding the flight, we were forced to pay $300 in fees. Supposedly there had been a warning box when booking telling us that this lowest possible rate is only for Ecuadorian residents.


2023 prices!

Before we take a look at how to explore the Galapagos Islands, I’m first going to break down the fees and permits that are involved, as well as the process. 

First of all, you’ll need the obvious documents like a valid passport, visa (if required), and evidence of a return flight.

Now, the key thing to remember is that you’ll first go through a biosecurity process before flying to the Galapagos. This will take place at either Guayaquil or Quito.

As the National Park is home to a fragile ecosystem, this is required to stop any foreign species of plant or animal from making it onto the islands. Your luggage will be scanned on both sides.

After making it to the Galapagos you’ll need to pay $20 per person for a Transit Control Card, as well as $100 per person for a National Park fee. 

These are typically paid at the airport but some cruises and tours can pay them in advance for you if you’d rather not carry the cash.

Step 2: How to explore the Galapagos Islands

Now it’s time to go through the options for exploring the actual Galapagos Islands. I’ve included a way for every budget, so there’s something for everyone. 

Each option will include an ‘average cost’ so you’ve got an idea of what you’ll be paying. Just keep in mind that this price doesn’t include flights, permits, entrance fees, etc. 

So before we go any further, take into account that you’ll already be paying around $420 before you’ve even got to the exploring part. That’s without your international flights to Ecuador as well, because that will vary depending on where you’re traveling from! 

“Budget” option: Take day trips to other islands

the galapagos owl

I say “budget” because there’s really no cheap way to visit the Galapagos, instead it’s simply the cheapest.

For this option, you’ll base yourself on an island or two and use the inter-island shuttles to get around. Many of the islands will require a guide with you at all times, so you can then take day tours to experience the different areas.

The islands you can stay on are Santa Cruz, San Cristóbal, Isabela, and Floreana (we’ll take a look at these in more detail later on). 

From there, you can take day trips to other islands and see the Galapagos that way. For the best experience, you’ll still want to move around between islands and stay in different locations.

However, that can be quite difficult for those who are only spending a week here, so for that reason, the itinerary below is going to be based on Santa Cruz Island. 

To give you an idea of a ‘DIY’ route, here’s an example of a 7-day Galapagos itinerary! Just keep in mind that the base you choose will affect the day trips you can do (some islands are only accessible from certain destinations).

7-day Galapagos itinerary 

7 day galapagos itinerary

Day 1: Arrive in Santa Cruz 

Morning/early afternoon - Check into your accommodation and spend some time getting to know the town of Puerto Ayora. 

Afternoon - Visit the Charles Darwin Research Station, Tortuga Bay, Station Beach, and La Ratonera Beach (all within walking distance of town). 

Day 2: Day tour to Isabela Island

Day 3: Spend the day on Santa Cruz Island

Morning - Head to Reserve El Chato, the Lava Tubes, and Los Gemelos. You can visit all of these sites on a 3-hour tour for an easier experience, and you’ll get to see the landscapes of the Santa Cruz Highlands. 

Afternoon - Head to one of the island’s snorkeling spots; Las Grietas, Playa de Los Alemanes, or El Garrapatero. You can always head back to Tortuga Bay or take a tour to Punta Carrión. 

Day 4: Bartolome Island full-day trip

Day 5: North Seymour day trip OR Day tour to Pinzón Island and La Fé/Palmitas Bay

Day 6: Day Tour to Floreana Island with snorkeling

Day 7: Spend your last day on Santa Cruz

Morning - Choose one of the island’s combination tours e.g. Cerro Mesa Ecological Reserve and Garrapatero Beach OR Black Turtle Cove & Las Bachas.

Afternoon - Hike around Dragon Hill and admire the views! If you’re not leaving tonight, then spend the evening relaxing in town and hitting some of the local bars to celebrate your trip! 

Now, I understand this itinerary is a bit action-packed but let's be honest - you’re probably only going to visit the Galapagos once in your lifetime! 

The tours included in that itinerary are just an example of what’s on offer to you. Within the towns of Puerto Ayora (Santa Cruz), Puerto Baquerizo Moreno (San Cristóbal), and Puerto Villamil (Isabela), you’ll find several tour operators.

Shop around to find the best deals but just make sure you’re booking through a responsible operator. The last thing you want to do is use a company that doesn’t care about the environment. 

How much will it cost?

Average cost of a ‘DIY’ trip to the Galapagos: From $800 per person (if sharing accommodation)

Cost of accommodation: From $30 per night for a double room ($210 for 7 days) 

Cost of tours: These range from $90 to $380 depending on whether you’re doing a half-day or full-day tour. (allow a minimum of $550 per person, although preferably more) 

Cost of food: Cheap meals can be as little as $4 per person (budget around $100 for 7 days)

Cost of transport: Taxi rides start from a couple of dollars, but can be expensive for longer journeys (budget around $50 to $100 per person for 7 days) 

And that’s a rough idea of what a ‘budget’ trip might cost you! 

There’s a breakdown of the costs when it comes to spending 7 days in the Galapagos but this will be different for every individual. 

Typically, you’ll find a variety of affordable accommodation options no matter where you stay and you can find some great deals on food too. Just be sure to steer away from the fancy seafood restaurants! 

The amount you spend on tours will differ depending on how many islands you want to visit. The cost above accounts for two tours to different islands, although you may want to do more! 

When it comes to transport, the main way to get around is by using taxis. If you decide to take a tour of Santa Cruz itself then all the transport will be covered, but otherwise, you’ll need to set some money aside to get around the island.

Although a Galapagos Islands vacation isn’t cheap, there are ways for you to cut costs. Doing a ‘DIY’ trip may be less easy and convenient, but it does often work out much cheaper! 

Mid-range option: Go on a multi-day tour

Your next option is to do a multi-day tour of the Galapagos. This will often cost more but allows you to see more sights within a short amount of time.

With the majority of multi-day tours, you’ll spend a lot of time on land which is where they differ from a cruise. Don’t worry, we’ll mention cruising next! 

Multi-day tours are often more convenient than doing a ‘DIY’ trip of the Galapagos as you’ll typically have accommodation, transport, meals, and some activities included. 

To give you an idea of what’s on offer, I’m going to list some of the options available to you!

Galapagos multi-day tours under 7 days

Galapagos multi-day tours 7+ days

How much will it cost?

Average cost of multi-day tours: From $500 to $2,500 (2-4 day tours are at the lower end of the price scale)

The cost of a multi-day tour will differ depending on the tour’s duration, which company you go with, and what’s included. 

There are 2-3 day tours available or you can opt for an 8-day tour that will naturally allow you to see a lot more. Of course, the longer the tour the more expensive it will be.

I’d also recommend checking what’s included with the tours as you’ll want to make sure that accommodation, meals, and transport are covered. Many also cover activities and excursions! 

You can either book your tours on reputable websites like Get Your Guide or Viator or see if there are any last-minute deals when you get to the Galapagos.

Just make sure you research the company before you book as you don’t want to be caught out. Visiting this incredible place is the trip of a lifetime and you don’t want anything to ruin that! 

Luxury (*ahem… best*) option: Cruise

luxury cruise galapagos islands

In my opinion, this is the best way to visit the Galapagos Islands! It is how we were most fortunate to visit, and I can honestly say it ranks as one of the top few greatest weeks of my entire life.

It offers a completely hassle-free approach as your cabin, meals, excursions, and transport between islands are all completely covered. 

And because you are literally moored up alongside different islands each night, you are constantly exploring. When you wake up in the morning, dolphins and turtles will be swimming alongside your boat; while birds are swirling and viding into the ocean around you.

It means that there is always something to see, swim with and photograph, so you don't waste a single minute of your time on the islands.

You’ll also have a naturalist guide with you onboard and on the excursions. This is required whichever way you decide to visit, but if you go on a cruise you won’t need to organize this yourself.

Not only that, but taking a luxury cruise around the Galapagos allows you to see a lot of this magical destination within a short amount of time. Definitely a perk! 

Another huge bonus to cruising around the Galapagos Islands is that you’ll be spending a lot of time out on the water. This way, you’ve got a much higher chance of spotting marine life!

We explored this beautiful destination with Golden Galapagos and we honestly couldn’t recommend them enough! (Check out our review of Golden Galapagos here).

There are four luxury catamarans to choose from; Endemic, Elite, Ocean Spray, and Petrel. The itineraries differ depending on which vessel you choose, so it’s important to do your research first.

Either way, you’ll benefit from a gorgeous ocean-view cabin, high-end facilities, guided excursions, and plenty of equipment including kayaks, paddle boards, and zodiacs. 

How much will it cost?

Average cost of a luxury Galapagos cruise: From $3,500 to $8,000

Now, I know the sound of that price tag is going to be terrifying for some. However, there’s a price to pay for the convenience of cruising around the Galapagos.

Luckily, there are plenty of ways to find last-minute cruises and this will lower the cost significantly. The two main ways are to check online websites or fly to Ecuador early and get in touch with the local cruise operators. 

For the first option, I’d recommend checking out websites like Liveaboard. This one specifically will find you some fantastic last-minute cruise offers, and you may be able to save up to 72%.

Just keep in mind that deals like this will be snapped up quickly, so you’ll want to keep a close eye on the website.

This travel tip may be more relative to digital nomads or those who have flexible travel jobs, but it’s a great way to cut costs. 

Other option: Volunteer

volunteering in The Galapagos

This is something that many people often don’t even think of but it’s a good one to note! You can actually volunteer in the Galapagos if you’d prefer to spend a long stint at these islands (well, who wouldn’t). 

There are a variety of opportunities available ranging from conservation efforts to teaching English, so there’s something for everyone here. It’s just a case of finding them! 

If you’re looking to volunteer in the Galapagos then check out Go Overseas and Working Abroad for inspiration. These websites will give you an idea of what’s on offer.

It’s also worth checking out the Galapagos Conservancy website as you’ll be given information on The Charles Darwin Foundation (CDF) and The Galápagos National Park Directorate (GNPD).

Both of these organizations offer volunteer positions but you’ll need to apply directly on their websites. Just keep in mind that some positions may require a specific skill set. 

How much will it cost?

Cost of volunteering in the Galapagos: Up to $6,000 (for a 12-week stay)

Trying to put a cost on volunteering is an impossible task because there are endless programs and initiatives out there that you could choose from.

Some of these may be free or extremely cheap, but others can be very expensive. However, you’re paying for the experience, and more often than not - the time that you’re there.

Volunteer projects in the Galapagos can range from a week or two, up to 12 weeks, or even longer. Naturally, the less time you spend there, the less you’ll have to pay.

If you decide to stay for 12 weeks then you could be looking to pay around $6,000 which works out to around $2,000 a month. This generally includes full board, meals, training, permits, etc. 

Although it’s a lot of money, some 7-week Galapagos tours can cost up to $2,500. When you compare that to the length of time you’ll be here and the experiences you’ll have, it doesn’t seem so bad all of a sudden. 

Whichever way you decide to visit the Galapagos, remember that you need to pay a Transit control fee and a National Park entrance fee.

Step 3: Where to stay on the Galapagos

If you’re not visiting the Galapagos by cruise then you’re going to need a base!

There are four inhabited islands that you can stay on; Santa Cruz, San Cristóbal, Isabela, and Floreana. To give you a quick idea, I’m going to break down each island and what each one has to offer. 

Santa Cruz - Best place to stay in the Galapagos for first-timers

Santa Cruz is the tourism hub of the Galapagos and is the second-largest island in the archipelago. This makes it a great place to base yourself if you’re doing a more DIY trip to this world heritage site.

For starters, there are accommodation options for every budget ranging from luxury to backpacker, so there’s something for everyone.

You’ll also have plenty of awesome restaurants to choose from, and there are a variety of shops too. Another great thing about Santa Cruz is simply the number of attractions on offer.

This island is home to some of the most popular attractions in the Galapagos including the Charles Darwin Research Station, Reserve El Chato, Tortuga Bay, and Black Turtle Cove.

Not only that but there are plenty of day trip opportunities from Santa Cruz including Bartolomé Island and North Seymour.

There are several towns on the island but you’ll want to stay in Puerto Ayora as it offers the most amenities. 

The best places to stay in Puerto Ayora, Santa Cruz

Luxury: Finch Bay Galapagos Hotel

Mid-range: Hotel Acacia

Budget: Galapagos Dove

San Cristóbal - Best place to stay in the Galapagos for budget-friendly accommodation

San Cristóbal is the Easternmost island in the Galapagos and is actually the fifth largest island in the park. It’s made up of three or four extinct volcanoes, so as you can imagine the landscapes here are pretty spectacular.

You’ll find the town of Puerto Baquerizo Moreno on this island which is the capital of the Galapagos province. This makes it a great base, as you’ll have access to ample amenities and accommodation.

For those looking for a more budget-friendly place to stay, then San Cristóbal is your place. You won’t find any 5* hotels on this island, but there are plenty of accommodation options including hostels.

Like many places in the Galapagos, San Cristóbal is a favorite spot for wildlife watching. You’ll also have plenty of great sights to see including Cerro Tijeretas, La Loberia Beach, Kicker Rock, and the Galapagos Interpretation Center.

The best places to stay in Puerto Baquerizo Moreno, San Cristóbal

Luxury: Galápagos Casa Playa Mann

Mid-range: Hotel Casa Blanca

Budget: Hostel Terito

Isabela - Best place to stay in the Galapagos for a relaxing getaway

Isabela is the largest island in the Galapagos and consists of six shield volcanoes. Only one of these is inactive, so the landscapes here are rather impressive. 

However, Isabela is most famous for its wildlife as you’ll find a variety of wildlife here including giant tortoises, marine iguanas, penguins, and flamingos among others. 

Being one of the most popular islands in the Galapagos has its perks, and it’s a great place to base yourself. On this island, you’ll find the sleepy port town of Puerto Villamil which is where you’ll want to stay. 

Like Santa Cruz and San Cristóbal, you won’t run out of places to stay here. However, it’s the small-town and relaxing atmosphere that draws many people to Isabela Island. 

Some popular places to visit on this island include Elizabeth Bay, the Wall of Tears, Los Tuneles, and the giant tortoise breeding center. As you can see, there’s a lot on offer! 

The best places to stay in Puerto Villamil, Isabela

Luxury: Hotel Albemarle

Mid-range: Casita de la Playa

Budget: Posada del Caminante

Floreana - Best place to stay in the Galapagos for a more authentic experience

Unlike the other three islands already listed, Floreana is pretty difficult to reach as transportation is extremely limited. In fact, the local ferry service here tends to be very irregular so you’ll need to keep that in mind.

It’s also important to remember that accommodation options on Floreana Island are extremely limited. If this is where you want to stay, you’ll need to book way in advance! 

You also won’t find any luxury options on the island, so staying here will depend on your travel preferences.

As Floreana is the smallest island in the Galapagos it only has a population of around 100 people. This means you’re in for a much more authentic experience which is always a bonus!

The only settlement here is a small town called Puerto Velasco Ibarra, and this is generally where you’ll be staying.

Aside from being home to the National Park's first ‘post office’, you’ll also get to visit Cormorant Point, Devil’s Crown, and the Galapagos black beach.

The best places to stay in Floreana 

Mid-range: Private Room in a home

Budget: Black Beach House

Other popular accommodation options include Floreana Lava Lodge, and Guest House Casa de Lelia, although it doesn’t seem that they are taking bookings at the moment (as of writing, Feb 2023). 

There are also community tourism guest houses but you’d have to email them in advance to check whether they are taking bookings. 

The Best things to do in the Galapagos Islands

There are tons of awesome things to do in the Galapagos Islands and many of these orientate around wildlife, viewpoints, and spending time in the water! 

Here are some of the things you don’t want to miss whilst in the Galapagos Islands…

1. Visit the Charles Darwin Research Station

The Charles Darwin Research Station is located on the island of Santa Cruz, within the town of Puerto Ayora. As the name suggests, it’s a base where scientists can research the Galapagos Islands.

However, tourists are also welcome to visit and there’s one key reason why you’ll want to. Here, you’ll find a captive breeding program for giant tortoises.

Several of the remaining subspecies can be found at this research station and there’s even a baby tortoise house. I thought that might get your attention! 

Not only that, but the center has an enclosure for land iguanas too. As you can see, this place has a lot to offer.

2. See Giant Tortoises at Reserve El Chato 

Reserve El Chato is also located on Santa Cruz, which is why it’s such a popular island for tortoise viewing.

In fact, this reserve is one of the only places in the world where you can view giant tortoises in their natural habitat. If that’s not a reason to visit, then I don’t know what is! 

Although Reserve El Chato only opened to the public in 2012, it quickly became a highlight of any trip to the Galapagos. You need to be accompanied by a guide during your trip, and they will be happy to answer any questions that you may have.

3. Go snorkeling or scuba diving

During your time in the Galapagos, you have to spend some time snorkeling or scuba diving. As this area is home to some of the most biodiverse waters in South America (and the world), it would be a shame not to! 

Whilst exploring below the waves, you’ve got a chance of spotting Galapagos penguins, marine iguanas, sea lions, sea turtles, and sharks, among plenty of other marine life. 

Some of the best snorkeling/diving spots in the Galapagos include Kicker Rock, Tagus Cove, Pinnacle Rock, and North Seymour Island.

You’ll get to do plenty of snorkeling if you choose to go on a cruise, but you can always opt for a day trip if you’re not traveling this way.

4. Hike the Wall of Tears to see flamingos 

galapagos flamingos

The Wall of Tears is one of the most unique places in the Galapagos and is an interesting historical site. It was built between 1945-1959 by prisoners and is around 65 feet tall! 

Although the wall itself is an impressive sight to see, this hike is one of the only trails in the Galapagos that you can do without a guide. 

Not only that, but you’ve got a great chance of spotting flamingos here. Just make sure you pack a hat and cover-up because there’s not much shade along this hike.

To reach the Wall of Tears, you can walk from Puerto Villamil on Isabela Island.

5. Spend some time birdwatching

Not only is this area home to an abundance of marine life, but it’s also a great spot for birdwatching; whether it be land-based birds or sea birds that you’re interested in.

One of the most popular birds here is the frigate bird with its spectacular red chest. Some of the best places to spot them include the islands of Genovesa, Floreana, North Seymour, and San Cristobal.

You’ve also got the waved albatross, blue-footed booby, Galapagos finches, mockingbirds, and the Galapagos penguin (which I’ll talk about in a minute). Don’t forget to look out for the Galapagos hawk and short-eared owl too! 

6. Admire the wildlife at Tortuga Bay

If you’re traveling to the Galapagos then you can’t miss out on Tortuga Bay. This place is located on Santa Cruz Island and is one of the most beautiful beaches you will ever see. 

It’s also known for its abundance of wildlife both above and beneath the waves. This includes marine iguanas, sea lions, the Sally Lightfoot crab, and white-tip reef sharks.

Due to the strong currents, you can’t swim here. However, from the main beach, there is a nearby cove where you can swim or rent a kayak.

To reach Tortuga Bay, you can simply walk from Puerto Ayora which takes between 30-45 minutes. Along the way, you’ll get to appreciate the views and look out for birdlife.

7. Look out for Galapagos Penguins 

The Galapagos penguin is the only type of penguin that’s found North of the equator which is pretty impressive. These birds are endemic to the Galapagos and they’re one of the smallest penguin species in the world.

Unfortunately, they’re endangered and there are only around 2,000 of them left. However, conservation actions are being taken to preserve this incredible species! 

The best places to spot Galapagos penguins include the islands of Isabela and Fernandina. You might also get to see them on the Bartolome, Floreana, and Santiago islands.

Just make seeing these incredible creatures a priority as you won’t find them anywhere else in the world.

8. Swim with sea lions 

swim with sea lions

During your time in the Galapagos Islands, make sure swimming with sea lions is included on your itinerary! Trust me, it’s one for the bucket list and not an activity you want to miss. 

The best place to go swimming with sea lions is La Loberia beach which is located on San Cristobal Island. Here, the pups are very cheeky and love to swim alongside snorkelers but make sure you keep your distance from the adults, who can be unpredictable at best. 

You might even get to spot marine iguanas whilst exploring underneath the waves!

To reach La Loberia, you can walk from Puerto Baquerizo Moreno which takes around 30 minutes.

9. Hike up to the viewpoint of Bartolome Island

The unique geology here makes for some pretty interesting formations, so pair that with the bright blue waters, and you won’t ever want to leave. One of the best places to appreciate these views has to be Bartolome Island.

The hike up to the panoramic viewpoint takes around 40 minutes and is relatively easy, as you’ll just be walking along wooden boardwalks. Just make sure you pack plenty of water and wear a hat! 

If it’s a clear day, you’ll be treated to jaw-dropping views of Pinnacle Rock and up to 10 other islands within the archipelago once you reach the viewpoint.

10. Spend some time at Cerro Tijeretas

Although the Galapagos Islands are known for their incredible biodiversity, the views are also something to be appreciated. Leading on from that, make sure you admire the vistas from Mirador Cerro Tijeretas.

However, that’s not all this area has to offer! Located on San Cristóbal Island, Cerro Tijeretas is one of the best places to go snorkeling on the island.

In fact, it’s one of the only places in the Galapagos where you can snorkel freely as you don’t need a guide. Here, you can spot sea turtles, sea lions, and plenty of tropical fish.

To reach this place, you can walk from Puerto Baquerizo Moreno which takes around 30 minutes. 

Helpful Information for visiting the Galapagos Islands

To help make sure your trip is smooth sailing, here are a few other things that you’ll want to know when planning a trip here… 

Important documents/entry requirements 

As I mentioned before, there are a couple of important documents and entry requirements that are needed to enter the Galapagos.

Here’s a quick checklist of everything you’ll need for your visit:

  • Valid passport - generally needs to be valid for at least 6 months.
  • Visa - only some countries need a visa for Ecuador, so check this in advance.
  • Evidence of a return flight
  • Have had a tourist luggage check - takes place at both Quito and Guayaquil airport.
  • Proof of travel insurance - you can check out our SafetyWing review here!
  • Galapagos Transit Control Card
  • National Park fee - paid upon arrival to the Galapagos Islands.

Rules of the Galapagos

To protect the wildlife and landscapes of the area, the Galapagos National Park Service has established rules that must be abided by.

Here’s a quick breakdown of these rules:

  • When visiting a protected area, you need to be accompanied by an authorized Galápagos National Park naturalist guide.
  • You need to stay on marked trails at all times.
  • Keep a distance of at least 6 feet (2 meters) from wildlife - that means no feeding or touching the animals!
  • Never transport live materials or sand between islands.
  • Avoid taking images with flash as this can agitate the wildlife.
  • Make sure you don’t leave any rubbish in the water or on land, always put it in the bin.
  • Aerial tourism, mini-submarines, and motorized water sports aren’t allowed in the park.
  • Smoking and lighting campfires aren’t allowed in protected areas.
  • You’re not allowed to purchase souvenirs that are made from banned substances e.g. volcanic rocks, coral, or even tortoise shells.
  • Fishing isn’t allowed unless you head out with an authorized recreational fishing boat.

I’d be here all day if I were to list them all but at least now you have a good idea. 

For more information on the rules of the Galapagos, check out this handy guide! It will tell you everything you need to know! 

Exploring with a guide

To lead on from the first bullet point of the last section, I’m going to discuss the guide situation a bit further. To be honest, it can get quite complicated so let’s go through it together.

First of all, you can only enter Galapagos National Park if you’re accompanied by a naturalist guide. Not only are these guides there to enhance your experience, but they’re also there to protect the land.

In fact, each guide has to file a report to the authorities after each tour that includes any observations and complaints, as well as other things. 

There are three levels of naturalist guides on these islands; Level I, II, and III. In truth, it’s quite difficult to differentiate between the levels, but you can be sure that level III guides have been around for a long while!

If you opt for a luxury cruise then you’ll naturally be accompanied by a naturalist guide making this a really easy way to explore. However, if that’s not the case then you’ll need to do a bit of research to find the best option.

Now, there are some areas that are located outside of the National Park protected area. In these areas, you won’t need a guide to accompany you, but you may choose to anyway for the experience. 

Wildlife in the Galapagos

No doubt this is the main reason that you’re traveling to the Galapagos! These islands are incredibly biodiverse and offer an abundance of animals, marine life, and birdlife. 

Not only that but many species are actually endemic to the Galapagos, which means they can be found nowhere else on Earth. 

This includes the Galapagos tortoise, marine iguana, Galapagos fur seals, and the Galapagos green sea turtle. You’ll also find a variety of birds here that are endemic including frigate birds, the blue-footed booby, Darwin’s finches, and the Galapagos penguin.

Of course, you’ll find plenty of other animals in this area too that aren’t endemic to this area.

Marine life is especially abundant, and if you’re lucky you may get to spot hammerhead sharks, whale sharks, killer whales, bottlenose dolphins, and manta rays.

There’s a lot to see here and you often won’t even need to try, especially when it comes to land-based wildlife. 

Being a responsible traveler

be a responsible traveller to the galapagos

Wherever we travel, we always look to be responsible and lessen our impact on the environment. 

However, it’s especially important in areas such as the Galapagos which are very susceptible to degradation, illegal fishing, and invasive species.

Now, you may think - well what can I do about those issues? Well, in truth there’s a lot we can do and I’m going to list some things to be aware of:

  • Only use eco-conscious tour operators, not just the cheapest!
  • Eat from restaurants that state they explicitly source their seafood from local fishermen.
  • Report any issues to your guide, as they can file a report up to 15 days afterward.
  • Don’t take anything from the land as a souvenir e.g. shells, native wood, volcanic rock, etc.

These are just a few of the things you can do to help, but here’s some more information about responsible tourism in the Galapagos

Galapagos Islands FAQ

When is the best time to visit the Galapagos Islands?

Generally, the best time to visit the Galapagos Islands is between December and May. This is the dry season, and the ocean conditions are perfect for snorkeling! 

Although you may encounter brief tropical showers, this time of year tends to be when the wildlife is really active. 

How many days do you need in the Galapagos Islands?

In all honesty, you could spend weeks here and still not have had enough of this place. However, not everyone has that kind of time.

For the best experience, you’ll want to allow at least a week if you can. If you’re cruising the Galapagos then this can be condensed to around 5 days but we definitely recommend spending longer here!

What should I pack for the Galapagos Islands?

No matter what time of year you visit, you’re in for sweltering weather. For this reason, you’ll want to pack plenty of lightweight and breathable clothing. 

I’d also recommend packing a pair of sturdy travel shoes, water shoes (if you have a pair), and a rain jacket, because you’re likely to experience a downpour or two at some point.

What is the best way to see the Galapagos Islands?

In my opinion, the best way to see these islands is by hopping on a luxury cruise. This way, all your board, meals, transport, and excursions are covered.

Not only that, but many cruise companies offer you access to a variety of equipment including wetsuits, kayaks, stand-up paddleboards, and snorkeling gear.

How are you planning to visit the Galapagos Islands?

As you can see, there are a couple of ways to visit the Galapagos Islands of Ecuador!

There’s no denying that this National Park isn’t cheap to visit, but there are ways to cut your costs. This includes basing yourself on an island and taking day trips with a guide! 

However, I honestly believe that hopping onboard a luxury cruise is the best way to take it all in. This way, you can simply relax while being transported to different islands in the Galapagos.

The best way to decide which option is most suitable for you is by considering a couple of factors like your budget, and time restraints.

Whichever way you decide to visit, I can guarantee that you’re going to have an incredible time. The landscapes and wildlife here will leave you speechless, and you’ll be left with memories to last a lifetime.

Now over to you …

Do you have any other questions you think I missed?

Or perhaps have some other recommendations you think we could add?

Just drop a comment below and let me know!

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Some images courtesy of Deposit Photos.
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