Galapagos Islands Ecuador

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Galapagos Islands Ecuador

We purchased our flight to the Galapagos on a whim. We actually were not planning on going at all. You see, we’d read that the only people who travel to the Galapagos islands are middle aged, upper class foreigners on holiday. And this assumption is not entirely false. The young backpacker crowd is few and far between here, and there is good reason.

It’s expensive! Like, really expensive. 

First, the flights to the Galapagos are not cheap. We paid more for these domestic flights than we did for our ticket from Minneapolis to Colombia.

Yikes!

Then, as if the expensive flight isn’t enough, you have to shell out a $110 conservation fee before stepping foot outside the airport.

This is our story and highlights from our travels to the Galapagos Islands, but if your planning a trip of your own, check out our guide of How to Travel to the Galapagos Islands on a Budget

After getting off the ferry from the airport, we had to step over a sleeping little sea lion. Welcome to the Galapagos!

After getting off the ferry from the airport, we had to step over a sleeping little sea lion. Welcome to the Galapagos!

Self Touring the Galapagos Islands

During our travels, though, we met several people who raved about the Galapagos and assured us we could stay on a budget while visiting one of the most unique ecosystems on the planet.

Many people choose to tour the islands on a cruise, but this mode of travel can be incredibly expensive. Most budget travelers, like us, base themselves on land in hotels and take day trips to sea to experience the wildlife.

During our week in the Galapagos, we visited the three main islands – Santa Cruz, Isabela and San Cristobal.

After staying at a dirty hotel our first night on the island of Santa Cruz – complete  with a cranky owner, a humidifier in place of air conditioning, and one very large cockroach – we took an early morning ferry to the seldom visited island of Isabela.

Isabela Island

The sleepy village of Puerto Villamil consists of just a couple sandy streets lining a beautiful white sand beach.

This would have been paradise if not for yet another icky hotel. The room did have air conditioning and an ocean view, but I woke up with a cockroach running over my face.

Needless to say, we left the next morning and it’s a good thing we did – we found the most incredible hostel just next door.

Caleta Iguana Hostel
Not a bad view...
Having a staring contest with an iguana... he decided to spit at me, so I guess that means I lost...?

Having a staring contest with an iguana… he decided to spit at me, so I guess that means I lost…?

Seriously, they wereeverywhere .
Hammocks never get old

With a beach bar, hammocks, comfortable beds, the best breakfast we’ve had in ages, and a young Canadian manager who was incredibly helpful, we felt right at home. (We even listed this hostel as one of our favorites in all of South America. Read more here!)

Just as we were beginning to fall in love with the island of Isabela, we realized we had a problem…

Nobody had thought it necessary to tell us that there were no ATMs on the entire island. Our cash supply was dwindling, and we didn’t have enough money to stay more nights. Luckily, the hostel manager let us send her money via PayPal for our room and a tour she organized for us. If she hadn’t been so kind, we would have been out of luck.

Money was still tight though, so the rest of our time on Isabela we ate Ramen noodle cups, crackers and boxed wine. Lesson learned.

After three blissful days on Isabela, we took the two hour ferry ride back to Santa Cruz and found a much better hotel (this time without cockroaches, thank you very much).

Isabela Highlights

1. Breakfast… yes, breakfast was a highlight

Our hostel had incredible made-to-order breakfast that changed daily and was served seaside. Absolute perfection. 

On the menu this morning: French toast, fruit cup, yogurt and honey, fresh papaya juice, and coffee. Delish.

On the menu this morning: French toast, fruit cup, yogurt and honey, fresh papaya juice, and coffee. Delish.

2. Los Tuneles

These underwater tunnels formed by lava have created an oasis in which a multitude of species coexist.

A Galapagos penguin!
Just an average day, swimming with sea turtles.

Just an average day, swimming with sea turtles.

We spent the majority of the day snorkeling and getting up close and personal with the famous sea life. 

We swam with more sea turtles than we could count and also saw penguins, a pregnant male (yes, male) seahorse, starfish, lots of small manta rays and a giant one (at least 6 feet across!!!), and lots of sharks. (Plus, tons of tropical fishies, of course!)

Just before returning to the islands, we stopped at a small, uninhabited island to get a closer look at the blue footed boobies.

Ben trying to touch a boobie... sorry, had to.

Ben trying to touch a boobie… sorry, had to.

I squatted next to this guy for at least five minutes, waiting for him to stand and show me his pretty blue feet, but to no avail.

I squatted next to this guy for at least five minutes, waiting for him to stand and show me his pretty blue feet, but to no avail.

Instead of a snowman, we built a...cactusman ?

Though we applied sunscreen thoroughly and often, the Ecuadorian sun burnt our backs worse than we’ve ever experienced (it’s like we were on the equator or something!).

And yes Mom, long sleeve shirts were worn in all subsequent snorkeling endeavors.

Santa Cruz Highlights

1. Tortuga Bay

This remote beach is a 45-minute walk from town.

Through. The. Desert. Okay, that’s an exaggeration, but the sun was beating down on our shoulders relentlessly, and the water in our bottle might as well have been hot tea.

But we were rewarded big time. We reached a long stretch of beach, and after walking a few minutes, we saw one of the most incredible sights – dozens of baby sea turtles scurrying into the ocean.

Tortuga Bay Galapagos Islands
Tortuga Bay Galapagos Islands

After about ten minutes, all the tiny turtles disappeared into the sea and we kept walking until we finally reached Tortuga Bay – by far the most beautiful and secluded beach we have seen on our trip so far.

One tiny problem.

As we were approaching the bay, we saw lots of small sand sharks swimming very close to shore. They are harmless to humans, but not to baby turtles…

We hope our tiny little friends made it into the open water safely!

Back to the beach though. White sand, shady mangrove trees, and cool turquoise waters was just what we needed after our long walk.

The best part is there were no vendors trying to sell anything like all the beaches we’d been at in Colombia. Just peace and quiet.

Tortuga Bay Galapagos Islands

2. Las Grietas

This crevice in the earth forms a lake that is a gathering place for locals. Though narrow, this body of crystal clear water is 40 meters deep in some places, making it a perfect cliff jumping location for the daring.

Las Grietas Galapagos Islands

Ben and I did jump… off a baby rock… maybe 10-feet high. It was nothing compared to the rocks the local boys were throwing themselves off, at nearly 50-feet above the water.

We decided being injured while traveling sounded pretty miserable, so we spectated for the most part.

3. Binford Street

Binford Street Galapagos Islands

This road closes down each afternoon and tables are set up for the evening. Fresh fish and lobster are set out for customers to choose, and tourists and locals alike gather for the outstanding food at reasonable prices.

We ate here on two occasions and ordered the same exact thing. Why change your order when you find something you love?!

Both times, we ordered Cazuela de Camarones – a casserole of mashed plantains, vegetables and shrimp, all baked in a stone dish and served with rice. One portion was more than enoiugh for the two of us.

Doesn’t sound like much, but damn, it was good. I need to learn how to cook this dish.

4. Charles Darwin Turtle Center

I was actually not super impressed with the Darwin Center, but it was neat to get up close and personal with the giant Galapagos tortoises.

I was actually not super impressed with the Darwin Center, but it was neat to get up close and personal with the giant Galapagos tortoises.

5. Fish Market

Pelicans waiting to get some love. Each morning and afternoon, fishermen bring in the catch of the day. These pelicans wait (not so) patiently for the scraps to be tossed in their direction.

Pelicans waiting to get some love. Each morning and afternoon, fishermen bring in the catch of the day. These pelicans wait (not so) patiently for the scraps to be tossed in their direction.

San Cristobal Highlights

1. Swimming with Sea Lions

We took a day trip to the island of San Cristobal, famous for its colonies of sea lions. The highlight of the day was being able to swim with these playful creatures in their natural habitat.

Ben and I, along with one other guy from our group, were the only people in the whole tour that chose to get in the water with the sea lions. I’m so glad we did, because it was by far the best part of the day. It was unreal how they weren’t phased at all by humans. They swam right up next to us and danced around.

Baby sea lion. Isn't this just the cutest thing you've ever seen?!

Baby sea lion. Isn’t this just the cutest thing you’ve ever seen?!

The sand on San Cristobal was made of broken shells and sea urchins

The sand on San Cristobal was made of broken shells and sea urchins

Wink, wink
Sea Lion kiss
GOPR1210.JPG
Sea Lions Galapagos Islands Ecuador

More Galapagos Photos

Cactus Galapagos Islands
Watching the local kids push each other off the dock.
Tiniest andtastiestbananas!
Boat Galapagos Islands
Sunset Galapagos Islands
Sunset Galapagos Islands

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Galapagos Islands Ecuador
Galapagos Islands Ecuador

We want to hear from you!

Want to visit Galapagos islands? Where do you want to visit? What do you think of the Galapagos islands?

Comments (13) on “Galapagos Islands Ecuador

  1. vickyburf@gmail.com says:

    Hey, you have some great photos here! Especially getting to see the baby turtles and sea lions up close, that’s some luck right there! During March the waters are typically warmer with their best visibility, so definitely a good time to snorkel. In fact, on our website we have a calendar showing when is the best time to visit the islands, you might find it an interesting read! https://thinkgalapagos.com/galapagos-holidays/ Hopefully you will consider returning to the islands soon, thanks again for a great blog.

  2. sita91@gmail.com says:

    Hi, Your blog is inspiring!! Is there anywhere on your blog where you have a sample itinerary of what you did each day? I have 14 days, and would like to DIY rather join a cruise. Thank you 🙂

  3. carrokuster@gmail.com says:

    Hi,
    Thanks for lots of great info and nice pictures.
    We are planning a trip for this spring.
    Did you rent snorkel gear?
    What time in the year did you travel, was the water cold?
    What island had most things to do on your own?
    Thanks,
    Caroline

    • bwzweber@gmail.com says:

      Hey Caroline, sounds like you have a fun trip coming up. You can rent snorkel gear from many shops in town and they typically loan it out to you for the entire day. Or your hotel might be able to supply you with gear.

      We traveled to the Galapagos Islands in March of 2014 and the water was perfect! (We are wearing long sleeves in some pictures because we got sunburnt on our backs the day before. Always wear sunscreen (bring from home) and apply frequently.)

      We spent quite a bit of time on Santa Cruz Island. Things to do on your own on Santa Cruz are visit Tortuga Bay, Las Grietas, see the fish market, and explore the Darwin Center.

      Let me know if you have any other questions.

  4. hilary.tan.myen@gmail.com says:

    Thanks for sharing your experience! Really helping with my planning. When you did DIY activities like snorkelling, where did you leave your belongings? Especially those that aren’t waterproof. I was thinking of bringing along a backpack to more secluded areas so leaving my stuff in my accommodation may not be a feasible option.

    Thank you

    • bwzweber@gmail.com says:

      Hey Hilary, we typically left our belongings in our hotel. But we also carried a dry bag with us when we were doing activities. The bags are pretty cheap (like $10 to $15) and can keep your electronics dry when you’re near water. Also, if you go with a tour group, they will keep an eye on your stuff for you while you are in the the water.

  5. nicole-hoehn@gmx.net says:

    Your photos are amazing! I just love Ecuador. I made my trip with the tour operator Gulliver Expeditions from Quito, they were amazing. If you love nature, adventure, mountains, animals and of course the Galapagos Islands, I really recommend you to go to Ecuador. Greetings from Germany, Isabell

  6. amboye16@yahoo.dk says:

    Hi Katie
    Thanks a lot for your answer! We will for sure stay away 🙂
    We will leave for Ecuador on the 25. of June and stay for about 2 weeks in the Galapagos and 3 weeks in mainland Ecuador. If you (or others) want’s to follow us and see some of our pictures you are more than welcome to stop by our Facebook page: Two Danes On Tour and our Instagram: @twodanesontour
    We will for sure look out for your next blog post.

    Happy travels
    Anne Marie

    • ktdieder@gmail.com says:

      I’m so glad it’s helpful, Anne Marie 🙂 Can’t wait to see what you think of these amazing islands! (I have a feeling you guys will love them!)

      Just followed you on Facebook and Instagram!

      Cheers!

  7. amboye16@yahoo.dk says:

    Hi Two wandering Souls
    Thanks for an informative post about the Galapagos. We will travel there this summer and are looking very much forward to do so.
    Just one question: We would very much like to know the name of the not so nice hostel on Santa Cruz so we don’t end up there with a cranky owner… that would be a bad beginning to a great island hopping.

    If you don’t want to write the name of the hostel here on the blog you are very welcome to find us on Facebook and write us a private message: Two Danes On Tour

    Happy travels
    Anne Marie
    http://www.twodanesontour.com

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