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Galapagos Travel Guide

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The Galapagos Islands are a true bucket list destination for so many travelers. This unique archipelago off the coast of Ecuador has been called a “living museum and showcase of evolution” for its gorgeous landscapes, diverse marine life, and rich ecosystem.

The islands were made famous by biologist Charles Darwin, who formed his theory of evolution after visiting in 1835. Since then, scientists and travelers alike have flocked to this archipelago to discover its unique plant and animal life.

Get ready for the adventure of a lifetime, as you definitely won’t forget your trip to the Galapagos Islands!

The Galapagos archipelago is made up of 21 islands, several of which are uninhabited.

The islands are home to three airports — Seymour Airport on Baltra Island; San Cristobal Airport on San Cristobal Island, which serves flights to and from mainland Ecuador; and Emetebe on Isabela Island, a small airport for inter-island flights.

You’ll need to fly into one of the two major airports from mainland Ecuador to enter the islands, and you’ll find that you can meet up with many cruises and tours nearby.

Most travelers stay on San Cristobal Island, Floreana Island, Isabela Island, and Santa Cruz Island, all of which offer several accommodation options at different price points.

Alternatively, you can book a tour or Galapagos Islands cruise which takes some of the guesswork out of planning your trip. This is one of the most popular ways to see the Galapagos as you can visit multiple islands in one trip and see incredible sights you might not have access to otherwise.

Galapagos National Park limits cruise ships touring the islands to a maximum of 100 passengers, so you’re sure to have a much more intimate experience than you would on one of those megaships in the Caribbean.

The style of these ships also ranges from super-luxe liners to smaller expedition yachts, and you’ll find that there is a cruise to accommodate every type of budget. Just be sure to do your research and know exactly what the experience will be like on board before you book.

Regardless, when comparing a Galapagos cruise vs overland travel you’ll likely find that the price of a cruise is often comparable to island hopping on your own, and a much more comfortable and convenient way to see the islands.

Keep reading to dive into resources that will help you with planning a trip to the Galapagos Islands in Ecuador in South America.

Note: This ultimate guide to Galapagos travel contains affiliate links to trusted partners!

Galapagos Map

Use this Galapagos travel map to begin planning your trip to this incredible archipelago!

Galapagos map

Click here for an interactive Google Map version of the above graphic.

Galapagos Islands Cruise

Thinking about taking a Galapagos cruise? These guides can help!

Galapagos Travel Guides

Plan the ultimate trip to the Galapagos Islands with the help of these itineraries and excursions!

Galapagos Travel Videos

Explore Galapagos travel through video!

Best Galapagos Tours

Explore local culture with a Galapagos tour guide through these unique excursions:

  • Tour Lobos Island from San Cristobal
  • 7-Day Galapagos Island Hopping Budget
  • 6-day Multi Sport Tour in Galapagos including Isabela
  • Full Day Seymour North Island & Las Bachas from Puerto Ayora
  • Day tour to Pinzón Island and La Fé/Palmitas Bay with Snorkeling & Fishing from Puerto Ayora
  • Full Day Bartolome Island & Sullivan Bay from Puerto Ayora
  • Full-Day Yacht Tour to Floreana with Snorkeling and Fishing from Puerto Ayora
  • The Giant Tortoise Experience | Lava Tubes + Los Gemelos from Puerto Ayora
  • Bartolome Island Full-Day Tour: Snorkeling & Hiking Trip from Santa Cruz

Galapagos Hotels

Click here to browse the best Galapagos travel hotels!

Prefer self-contained stays?

Click here to check out unique local rentals!

You can also use this map to search for local stays:

Galapagos Travel Insurance

It doesn’t matter if you’re traveling solo or with a group on a Galapagos tour. When visiting the Galapagos Islands — or any other country in the world — make sure to get travel insurance to protect your health and safety.

In my opinion, the best travel medical insurance for travelers is SafetyWing as they’ve got a large network and offer both short-term and long-term coverage — including coverage if you’re traveling for months as well as limited coverage in your home country).

Additionally, SafetyWing is budget-friendly and offers $250,000 worth of coverage with just one low overall deductible of $250.

With coverage, you’ll have peace of mind as you embark on your Galapagos travel itinerary.

Click my referral link here to price out travel insurance for your trip in just a few clicks.

Galapagos Travel Guide FAQ

Below, find answers to frequently asked questions about traveling in the Galapagos.

Q: What are the best places to visit in the Galapagos?

One of the top places to visit in the Galapagos is Santa Cruz Island, home to many of the archipelago’s top attractions.

Here you’ll find Tortuga Bay, arguably one of the most beautiful beaches in the world and one of the top places to spot the Galapagos’ most iconic animals.

Tortuga Bay gets its name from the many marine turtles who come to the beach every January and February to lay their eggs. The beach is also home to plenty of other critters like iguanas, sea lions, Sally Lightfoot crabs, and more. It’s definitely one of the best beaches out there for nature lovers.

You can spot some more native wildlife at Rancho Primicias, a private farm best known for its giant tortoise reserve. You seriously won’t believe the size of these guys until you see them!

And for the science nerds out there, the Charles Darwin Research Station is definitely worth a visit for its collection of natural history specimens, animal conservation efforts, and research exhibits.

There is also plenty to see on San Cristobal Island, just a few miles east of Santa Cruz.

A favorite of many visitors to the island is Isla Lobos, a scenic beach that’s a favorite hang out of the island’s sea lion population. You’ll see plenty of sea lions sunning themselves along the shore here, though you’ll want to enjoy them from a distance as they can get a bit territorial.

The beach is also great for swimming and snorkeling for those looking to take a dip in the Pacific.

Looking for a more remote adventure? Hop a dinghy out to Kicker Rock, or Leon Dormido, to check out some of the spectacular marine life that gather around this isolated rock formation.

Once you’re back on the island, enjoy a stroll through Puerto Baquerizo Moreno, San Cristobal’s main town and the capital of the Galapagos Islands. Here you’ll find plenty of colorful architecture, the islands’ Natural History Museum and several shops and restaurants.

The archipelago’s largest island, Isabela Island, has lots to explore both by land and sea.

Hikers will want to visit Chico Volcano and the Sierra Negra Volcano for thrilling treks and incredible views. Both volcanos offer unique perspectives and a peek into the archipelago’s formation millions of years ago.

For an interesting view on how nature and modern life come together, head to Albemerle Point, the site of an abandoned US radar base from World War II that is now a nesting point for flightless cormorants. Surprisingly, Albemerle Point is one of the most remote points in the Galapagos with no boat landings allowed, but book a boat tour and you’ll get some great views of these unique birds.

Isabela Island also has tons of great spots for divers, though most require a fair amount of experience due to their strong currents. Snorkelers Cowley Islet and Tagus Cove offor some amazing underwater views of the local marine life.

Q: How much does a Galapagos trip cost?

Despite the ubiquitous high-priced tours that most people think of when they start planning a trip to the Galapagos, independent travel around the islands is surprisingly budget-friendly.

Travel to the Galapagos will likely be your biggest expense, as you’ll need to fly into Ecuador and then hop on another flight to the islands themselves. Once you arrive at the islands, though, you’ll find that things like food and budget accommodations are not prohibitively expensive.

The average traveler spends about $111 per day in the Galapagos Islands on food, accommodations, transportation, activities, and other travel expenses. Also note that the fee to enter the Galapagos National Park is $100 per adult.

Q: What is the best way to travel around the Galapagos?

The best way to get around the Galapagos Islands is by boat. Whether you’re cruising the islands or just hopping on a boat transfer between islands, this is the best way to reach different parts of the archipelago.

There are also several inter-island ferries throughout the islands that will set you back about $25 to $35 per person.

You’ll need to fly from mainland Ecuador to reach the islands, but inter-island flights really only run between the main islands like San Cristobal and Isabela. Flying is certainly a quicker way to get around, but it’s definitely one of the more expensive modes of inter-island transportation and one of the least convenient.

Once you’re on the islands, consider renting a bike to explore the downtown areas. Public transportation can be hard to come by on most islands, so biking is an inexpensive and easy way to get around.

Q: Is it safe to travel to the Galapagos Islands?

The Galapagos is considered a safe destination. Crime rates are pretty low, though you’ll want to exercise standard precautions when it comes to petty crime like pickpocketting.

Always be aware of your surroundings, don’t flaunt any obvious signs of wealth and keep any valuables in a safe place, particularly in major tourist areas. Basically, know important tips for how to protect yourself from pickpockets.

The islands’ environment poses more of a risk to travelers, though there are many ways to stay safe.

The sun is particularly strong in this part of the world so you’ll want to wear sunscreen whenever you go out (and don’t forget to reapply!).

Hats and appropriate clothing are also a must. Consider bringing special sun-protective clothing with UPF on your trip for extra protection.

Also, take care on diving and snorkeling excursions, as tides and currents can be very strong. Make sure you’re going out with a reputable tour group leader as well, and see if they’re equipped with surface markers or other equipment to help you find your way back to the group if you get swept away.

Q: What do I need to know before going to the Galapagos?

One thing to know before going to the Galapagos is that there are very few ATMs on the islands. You’ll want to consider getting a fair amount of cash out before you head to the islands so you’re not stuck in a tight situation.

And considering the remote nature of the islands, you’re going to want to bring cash vs relying solely on credit cards. Also, remember that the currency in the Galapagos Islands is the US Dollar – good news for American nationals traveling to the islands!

It’s also important to stay on the designated trails and stick to designated visitor locations throughout the islands. Many areas are off-limits to tourists in an effort to conserve the islands, and heading off the beaten path could be dangerous for both you and the environment. Tour guides can come in handy here; be sure to ask if you’re not sure where you can and can’t explore.

If you’re planning on booking a Galapagos cruise, know that the quality can vary greatly. For instance, on a budget cruise, you may find yourself sharing a cabin with a stranger, paying extra fees for certain things, and dealing with lower quality equipment.

Do your research and be sure you know what life will be like on board before you book, as even budget cruises in the Galapagos can get pricey. Always look up what’s included in the price, the amount of guests on board, cabin styles, and any other questions you may have before committing.

Q: How many days should you spend in the Galapagos?

Most experts recommend spending at least 7 days in the Galapagos in order to maximize your time on the islands.

Traveling to the islands can take quite a bit of time and, depending on where you’re traveling from, you may need some extra time to acclimate to the environment and time zone.

If you’re planning on doing some island hopping, you’ll also need to factor in time to travel between the islands. A week-long trip will give you enough time to visit a few islands and see many of the gorgeous sites in this archipelago.

Q: What is the best month to visit the Galapagos?

The warm season, running from December to May, is considered the best time to visit the Galapagos. Temperatures are usually in the 70s and 80s Fahrenheit during this time and you won’t run into a ton of extreme weather.

This is also the perfect time for outdoor activities and active travel adventures on the islands. This is also the most popular time to visit the islands, so you’ll probably want to book your travel far in advance to beat the rush.

Q: Do I need an Ecuador travel visa?

Visitors from the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, Australia, and the European Union do not need a visa to enter Ecuador. Visitors from several South American countries, including Bolivia, Colombia, Argentina, Chile, Peru, Paraguay, Uruguay, and Brazil simply need to show their national ID to enter the country.

It’s recommended to view your country’s Ecuador International Travel Information page for the most up-to-date information on entry and exit rules and Ecuador Travel Requirements. You can also contact the Consulate General of Ecuador.

Q: Where is the Galapagos?

The Galapagos is an archipelago in the Pacific Ocean off of mainland Ecuador in South America. The destination is located about 605 miles (1,000 kilometers) from South America.

Q: Are credit cards accepted in the Galapagos Islands?

While hotels and tourist establishments often accept credit cards — particularly Visa and Mastercard — you’ll mainly use cash while exploring the Galapagos Islands. Note that you’ll often likely spend less when paying cash as many businesses in the Galapagos tack on a 5%-10% credit card fee.

Q: Can you drink the tap water in the Galapagos Islands?

The tap water in the Galapagos Islands is not safe to drink.

Q: What is the local currency in the Galapagos Islands?

The local currency in the Galapagos Islands is the US Dollar (USD).

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