marine iguana on Santa Cruz Galapagos

..........See itinerary here


We spent a total of 8 days in the Galapagos islands.
Here is a detailed description of our trip (and costs) while in the Galapagos.

1- Should I visit the Galapagos islands?

If you are crazy about unique wildlife or are passionate about sciences (biology, geology, etc.), the answer is an absolutely yes. If you can’t tell the difference between a marine or land iguana, don’t like snorkeling in cold water or don’t appreciate unique bird species flying over your head, it might be cheaper to simply visit a zoo or stay on mainland Ecuador (and visit the Amazon) as costs of getting there are high.

Blue footed booby on San Cristobal Island

2- What animals can I see?

Well, to my surprise, it depends on which island you decide to visit. Yes, you will see plenty of frigate birds and marine iguanas all over Galapagos, but penguins, flightless cormorants, land iguanas and even wild tortoises can only be seen in specific areas on specific islands.
You will for sure see sea lions, and blue footed boobies, but again depending on where you go, you might see only a few, or hundreds with babies (or nests) that you can almost touch!
Crabs and Darwin finches are everywhere!
Marine life is abundant and anyone going to the Galapagos should plan snorkeling (or diving). On Isabella Island, we saw dozens of marine turtles; we swam with marine iguanas, rays, sharks and sea lions. Visibility can be poor and water fairly cold (18 Celsius or 65F).

3- How much will it cost me?
Galapagos is expensive! Here is a breakdown as of December 2017:

Return flight from Quito (or Guayaquil) to San Cristobal or Santa Cruz is 410$US per person at its cheapest. There is no cheaper way to get to these islands. No boat (nor cruise) sails from mainland Ecuador to Galapagos.

Entry fee to the national park of the Galapagos is 100$US per person plus 20$ immigration fee per person. You can’t land foot on Galapagos before spending at least 530$US per person.

Now visiting the Galapagos...

We didn’t do a cruise, but all cruises leave from San Cristobal or mostly Santa Cruz. They all cost approximately 315$US per person per night. Most common cruises are 3 or 4 nights. Don’t forget that all people doing cruises already paid the 530$US mentioned above.

Accommodation and food:
Cheapest accommodation is around 40-45$US for a double room.
Plan at least 20$US per person per night.
Food is round 3x more than on mainland Ecuador. You can cook food in hostels or eat out, but expect at least 5-7$US per person per meal, minimum.

Moving around the islands:
Out of the 17 islands in the Galapagos, 3 are populated with Santa Cruz being the busiest. We visited San Cristobal, Santa Cruz and Isabella, the 3 populated islands. Getting from one island to the other is 30$US per person (one way) plus water taxi to get to and from your ferry (1$ per person per ride), plus a ferry terminal fee on Isabella (10$US per person).

You can buy tours on all of the three islands that will get you to inhabited islands or take you out for snorkeling. Tours vary between 40$US to 200$US per person for a 3 to 7 hour day trip, most of them averaging in the 100$US per person range.

Total: Including all costs (fees, accommodation, food, maybe a tour, etc.), I think that the most budgeted traveler can plan on spending a minimum of 60$US per day per person if no cruise are taken + 530$US explained above. You can probably lower costs if you only visit one island, but you would be missing on the variety of landscapes and biodiversity that the Galapagos has to offer, and I wouldn’t recommend that.

To save you the math, the grand total for ONE person on a tight budget for 7 nights - 8 days in the Galapagos is about 1000$US. Note that kids under 12 years old get a discount on flights and entrance fee park, but not on tours nor ferry between islands.

4- What is the best island to visit?
I am sure that different travelers would have different answers, but San Cristobal was our favorite island, followed by Isabella.

San Cristobal:
Incredible amounts of Sea Lion colonies (with babies) filling up entire white sandy beaches. Blue footed boobies, sea turtles, crabs, tortoises, pelicans, finches all within a 2 minute walk from our hostal. The tortoise center is 30km from the only town on the island. You walk on an enclosed 11 hectare land with wild tortoises everywhere. Almost no tourists make it here, so your encounters are unique (and very, very close).

Santa Cruz:
Most developed, overpriced, very touristy, but amazing marine life can be seen from the dock: sharks, rays, lots of marine iguanas and some sea lions. Most tours are sold from this island.
You need to walk at least 30 min. away from the city to see interesting wildlife, not like San Cristobal!
Amazing wild beaches with hundreds of marine iguanas and great lava tunnels.

The least populated island and the furthest of all from Ecuador. We saw penguins, flamingos, wild tortoises, marine iguanas, sea lions greeting you at the wharf and the free snorkeling in Concha Perla was fantastic with dozens of marine turtles, marine iguanas, rays, sharks and sea lions all swimming with you!

Not visited, but this inhabited island can only be seen with a 200$US tour from Santa Cruz. I met travellers who had excellent reviews about this tour. You get very close to land iguanas (which we didn’t see in the wild), and hundreds of nesting blues footed boobies and frégate birds that you can almost touch!

The Galapagos is a unique place in the world for its biodiversity. The only other places I have visited in my life with so much wildlife at your doorstep are safaris in Kenya & Tanzania, some National Parks in Costa Rica, and jungle trips into the Borneo forest.