When visiting South America, the Galapagos Islands are an absolute must!! Reminiscing about my entire South American trip, this is one of the places I look back on and cannot help but smile (and I promise it’s not my bias marine biology background speaking).
The Galapagos Islands sit approximately 1,000km off the coast of Ecuador in the Pacific Ocean. This group of volcanic islands are renowned for their natural diversity helping inspire Charles Darwin to conjure up his theory of evolution.
This place is packed to the brim with incredible animals, plants and scenery that you could only dream of seeing in your lifetime. Not a nature lover? Well the incredible hikes, crater lakes and white sand beaches are sure to have you grappling for your camera.
Although it is commonly believed that the Galapogos Islands are expensive, once you get there and pay your entrance fee it is actually roughly the same cost as mainland Ecuador. You do not need to go on a cruise or with a tour company to see all the island has to offer, and to be honest I would suggest against it. I have put together some Four Tips for travelling the Galapagos Islands without a tour company which will literally save you $1000’s.
A Quick Guide to the Galapagos Islands:
Known for: Incredible natural diversity, giant tortoise, inspiring Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution.
Climate: Tropical, however, the Humboldt Current transports cooler water to the islands, causing showers throughout the year.
Prior to arrival:
The Galapagos Island locals are laid-back, free spirited and friendly. It is one of the few places in South America (aside from Brazil) where you can freely wear shorts and singlets without feeling out of place.
Due to the number of tourists that pass through the Galapagos Islands each year, many of the locals can speak some English – but like with the rest of South America the locals are more forthcoming and helpful if you speak (or try to speak) their language. I have put together a list of phrases you should learn before travelling to South America to help you with this.
In terms of clothing – it’s pretty much tropical year round, however, you can expect sun showers from time to time. Whilst I was there I pretty much lived in bikinis and a dress and my partner boardies (for those of you that are not Australian these are swimming shorts) and a t-shirt. Check out my guide on backing your suitcase for South America for a more comprehensive list.
You will need to pay a $100 entry tax. Now I know this seems like a lot of money, but majority of these funds are used for the protection and enhancement of the National Park and marine reserve to ensure that future generations can continue to visit this pristine example of natural diversity.
You will also need to pay $10 for a transit control card which was put in place back in the nineties to assist immigration with numbers entering and leaving the country (Do not lose this, you must hand it back when departing!!! I cannot stress this enough, keep it locked up with your passport). Ok, so now that is over with let’s get on with the fun stuff!
Is very easy and does not require prior planning. First things first, getting from the airport to your hotel. You will need to take a taxi, you do not need to book ahead and can wave them down off the street. In Galapagos Island a taxi will cost you $1 to get to any destination around town ($2 to get to places on the outskirts e.g. Loberia, San Cristobal).
Make sure you always negotiate price before getting in the taxi, otherwise you may end up paying a ridiculous amount of money for a very short ride. If you are not happy with the price the taxi driver is suggesting, don’t be afraid to find another!!
You can also hire a taxi driver for the entire day. We did this in San Cristobal as we wanted to go to some places that were quite a way out of town and once dropped off finding a taxi could prove challenging. When doing this the taxi drivers will drop you at your destination and wait (usually sleep) in the car until you are ready to head to your next destination. This generally costs around $50 and you can take as many people as you like.
To get between the islands you will need to take a ferry (or speed boat as some call it). It generally take around 2.5 – 3 hours to get between the islands and cost roughly $25-30 one way. You will also need to pay a water taxi to get you from the ferry to the islands as the ferries do not come into shore. They will pass around there hat or an old plastic container which you can put 50 cents – $1 in if you are generous.
Contrary to popular believe the Galapagos Islands are not that much more expensive then mainland Ecuador. For a standard private room, with an ensuite, breakfast and close to the city centre you should expect to pay around $15-20 a night for two people. If you would like slightly fancier accommodation (e.g. pool) you can expect to pay roughly $70-120 a night, which is still incredible value.
I am certain you could get by in some hostels much cheaper than this, however, I appreciate some creature comforts i.e. ensuite, private room and central location.
Food and Drink:
The cost of food and drink are also similar to the mainland, you can get a standard South American style meal (soup of the day, a plate of rice, black beans, chicken and a juice) for roughly $3-5. I highly recommend trying some of the small mum and dad style restaurants, just because they are not listed on Trip Advisor does not mean they are not good – just look for the places that are clean and bustling with guests and sit down for a meal.
You can also choose to dine at a ‘Trip Advisor’ rated restaurant for roughly $10-15 per person. On my trip I did a mixture of dining out at night and snacking at a place I deemed ‘trustworthy’ during the day for a cheaper meal. If we were doing day trip I would pack a pre-made lunch, plenty of snacks and a large bottle of water so I didn’t have to head back into town to eat.
Which brings me to drinks. Like with the rest of South America you should never drink the water from taps. ALWAYS buy bottled water to drink and brush your teeth with!! At restaurants I would always ask for bottled water and specify without ice. Most shop owners already know this and are set up to accommodate guest, so don’t stress too much!!
The cuisine in the Galapagos Islands is just as diverse as its mainland counterpart. You will find an array of dishes influenced by traditional highlands (meat, rice, grains and vegetables) as well as the more coastal dishes from Ecuador (seafood, fruits etc).
My suggestion, step outside your comfort zone and give the traditional Ecuadorian dish called ceviche a go!! Ceviche is made up of seafood (generally fish) ‘cooked’ in lemon/ lime juice with onions. My partner absolutely loved it, me on the other hand….not a massive fan, but at least I can say I have tried a traditional dish whilst in the Galapagos Islands (big tick!).
What to do:
Ok, now onto the doing (Woohooo!! My favourite part). I have listed all the activities by Island (free/ paid) that I suggest you give a go:
Have you been to the Galapagos Islands or are you dreaming of going? Is there something you would like to know more about? Leave a comment below and I will endeavour to answer it 🙂