The Galapagos Islands are a destination that appears on most people’s bucket lists. From the clear turquoise water and white sand beaches to the incredible variety of unique animals and wildlife, the Galapagos Islands are a magical place to visit. We knew we wanted to visit the Galapagos Islands during our month in Ecuador, but as budget backpackers, weren’t sure we could afford it. Everyone seemed to visit the Galapagos Islands on a cruise, costing them thousands of dollars – PLUS airfare!
After some digging, we realized it was actually possible to visit the Galapagos Islands without a cruise. It sounded like it might be the best way to visit the Galapagos on a budget – and it was! Our week of backpacking the Galapagos Islands without a cruise was surprisingly budget-friendly – under $1k for 9 days and two people. Plus, without a cruise dictating where we went and when, we were able to see all that the Galapagos Islands have to offer at our own speed, without being surrounded by a crowd.
We were able to have a fantastic week and see all of the Galapagos Islands wildlife on our bucket list: blue-footed boobies, frigate birds, black marine iguanas, tropical island penguins, eagle rays, manta rays, sea turtles, land turtles, and more – all without a cruise! If you’re looking to visit the Galapagos Islands on a budget, we thoroughly recommend exploring the Galapagos by land. It was the most magical week of our entire 4 months of backpacking in South America, and we can’t wait to go back!
Here’s what you’ll find in our complete guide to the Galapagos Islands by land:
We did say it was complete, right?
For even more information about the how to visit the Galapagos Islands without a cruise, take a look at these guides:
- Galapagos Islands Packing List
- Santa Cruz Galapagos Island Guide: What to Do, Where to Eat, & Where to Stay
You can read about our week in the Galapagos in detail in these 2 posts:
We’ve also created a detailed 15-page downloadable guide to visiting the Galapagos Islands without a cruise. Sign up below to get the guide send straight to your inbox!
Ready? Let’s get started!
This post was last updated January, 2023.
The Complete Guide to the Galapagos Islands by Land
Visiting the Galapagos Islands without a cruise is the best way to see the Galapagos Islands, hands down. But finding the information to pull together an itinerary for backpacking the Galapagos Islands by land is not easy.
Luckily, through lots of trial and even more error, we’ve figured it out for you! Any land-based Galapagos Islands trip will center around these 3 islands: Santa Cruz, Isla Isabela, and San Cristobal. They are the 3 inhabited islands, and it is from each of them that you will be able to embark on tours and day trips to see everything that the Galapagos has to offer.
We spent half the week doing day trips with Galapagos Islands guides (as is required for all locations on the uninhabited islands) and the other half blissfully exploring the 3 inhabited islands on our own, snorkeling and hiking to areas that don’t require a guide or a tour.
We booked all of our Galapagos guided tours in person once we arrived on the Galapagos Islands, and while that’s the most budget-friendly option, it also runs the risk of missing out on specific tours that have already filled up. Also, it requires spending a day running around once you arrive booking all your tours – and if you have limited time, that’s not ideal. (And kinda stressful.) So, if your budget can accommodate it, I’d recommend booking at least a few tours online in advance to make sure you’re able to do them.
One option I wish we’d known during our trip is that you can find some great multi-day land based tours with set itineraries, which takes a huge amount of planning off your shoulders! Here are a few fantastic options:
- 7-day Galapagos on a Budget Experience: This itinerary closely mirrors our trip! You’ll visit Santa Cruz and Isabela Island and be taking what I’d consider to be the best tours on each. And at just around $1,500 per person, it’s not much more than what we paid and a fantastic value for a week long Galapagos trip.
- 5 Day Galapagos Tour: If you’re short on time or money, this 5-day option for just under $1,000 is great. You’ll stay on Santa Cruz but still get a chance to visit Isabela Island on a day trip and experience Las Tintoreras, the best Isabela tour.
- 8-Day Galapagos Island Tour: If San Cristobal and snorkelling at Kicker Rock are on your bucket list, this 8-day tour is your best bet! You’ll visit all 3 inhabited islands and do the best tours in each.
How to Get to the Galapagos Islands
The only way to get to the Galapagos Islands is to fly from Ecuador. There are two cities with airports that frequently fly into the Galapagos: Quito and Guayaquil. All flights are with either Avianca, LATAM, or a new national airline called Equair, all of which are reputable and reliable South American airlines. We booked our flight from Quito to Baltra with Avianca using credit card points, which saved us a huge amount of money.
There are two airports on the Galapagos to fly into:
- Baltra: Baltra is the airport closest to Puerto Ayora on Santa Cruz Island. It’s super easy to get from Baltra to Puerto Ayora, and everyone will be headed in the same direction. There’s a shuttle service to the ferry from Baltra to Santa Cruz Island which costs $5. From the Santa Cruz ferry dock, you can either take a bus (the cheap, slower way) or a pickup truck taxi (the expensive, faster way) to Puerto Ayora.
- San Cristobal: San Cristobal airport is right on San Cristobal island, so this is the best place to fly into if your first stop is San Cristobal.
Travel Tips for Flying to the Galapagos Islands
Visiting the Galapagos Islands is well worth the extra steps that you’ll need to take to get there. Due to the islands’ protected status, there are some hoops to jump through. Here’s what you need to know:
- Make sure to complete the Transit Control Card before your trip. The TCC helps monitor travel activity to the Galapagos, and costs $20/person and a little bit of online paperwork. Once your trip is booked but before your flight, visit the official registration page. Choose English as your language, enter your Passport information, and continue through the following pages entering in all of your booking and itinerary details. Once you’ve submitted your registration, at the airport in Quito or Guayaquil you’ll need to go to the Governing Council of Galapagos counter and pick up the physical Transit Control Card. You will have to present your ID (your passport) and pay $20 cash per person. Hold onto that card and keep it safe as you will be asked for it when checking into your outbound flight.
- The check-in process at the airport takes a while for any flight headed to the Galapagos Islands. You’ll be given some paperwork to do to let you into the island. Then, you’ll go through an extra security checkpoint for certain items that aren’t allowed into the Galapagos, like most raw produce. There are lines for each of these stops, and depending on the amount of cruise-goers leaving that day, it might take a while (for us, it was around an hour). Allow yourself more time than usual.
- When you arrive at the Galapagos Islands airport, you’ll be subject to even more paperwork, and you’ll have to pay the $100 entrance fee. We know, $100 is steep! But the entrance fee goes towards conservation, breeding of endangered species, research, habitat protection, and other really wonderful services that keep the Galapagos Island the magical wildlife haven that it is, kinda. In reality, it actually goes to ALL the National Parks of Ecuador which have no entry fee themselves and only a small portion to the Galapagos, which is why they now charge for Las Grietas and the Tortoise Breeding Centre.
- If you can, fly into one airport and out of the other. We flew in and out of Baltra by Santa Cruz Island, so we based ourselves in Puerto Ayora. 9 days wasn’t enough time for us to stay on all 3 islands, and we missed out entirely on San Cristobal. If you can, schedule a flight into Baltra and out of San Cristobal or vise versa to give yourself more time and flexibility for a greater variety of tours.
Be a Responsible Traveler in the Galapagos
The Galapagos Islands are a fragile ecosystem, both supported and threatened by tourism. By obeying five incredibly simple rules, we can mitigate harm to the Galapagos:
- Do not litter. Do we have to show you pictures of turtles strangled by plastic 6-packs or birds choking on plastic bags? Because that’s what happens when you litter. If you so much as throw your cigarette butt on the ground, you might as well be murdering an innocent animal. Don’t do it!
- Do not venture to places where signs say not to. I don’t care about your sunset shots, there’s erosion and turtle nests.
- Do not feed the animals. It makes them dependent on humans because they realize they don’t have to hunt.
- Do not touch or go within two meters of an animal if you can help it. This sign is posted all over the Galapagos. I know sometimes it’s hard to follow. Sometimes a bird lands on you. Sometimes you have to step over sea lions. Sometimes animals approach you. It’s a rule of thumb in a lot of cases, but be mindful of your distance.
- NEVER use a flash on an animal! Ever! Not just in the Galapagos. Anywhere, ever. Flashing a bright, unexpected light at an animal’s face scares them, and makes them erratic. It could damage their eyes, which are often more refined and sensitive than a human eye. If there are too many flashes, the animals may think that they’re in danger, which could lead to a migration issue (they could abandon their primary food source, for example). Your photography is not that important. Know your place as a guest in the animal’s territory.
Please take a look at our in-depth guide to ethical and sustainable tourism full of more tips to mitigate our impact as travelers.
Santa Cruz Island, Galapagos
Santa Cruz is one of the hubs of the Galapagos Island, and home to Puerto Ayora, a bustling coastal town on Santa Cruz Island. You’ll find many of the best restaurants, hotels, and day tours in Puerto Ayora. Santa Cruz is home to Baltra, one of the Galapagos’ two airports, so you’ll likely be flying in or out from here.
Although Puerto Ayora is one of the Galapagos’ largest towns, Santa Cruz island is absolutely teeming with wildlife! Around every corner is another opportunity to see brightly colored crabs, snoozing sea lions, and cuddling marine iguanas.
To get to Santa Cruz Island, you’ll either fly into Baltra Airport or take a ferry from San Cristobal.
- If you’re flying into Baltra, there’s a little bit of an extra journey to get into Puerto Ayora. First you’ll board a quick, free water taxi to a dock. From the dock, you’ll either board a white pick-up truck taxi or take the inexpensive bus. It takes 45 minutes to get into town, but the bus will take longer as you’ll need to wait for it to fully fill up before it leaves, which might be a while as flights arrive. The bus will take you to the market at the center of town, about half a mile from the sea and most hostels.
- If you’re coming from San Cristobal, you’ll take one of the twice-daily ferries to Puerto Ayora. It’s best to purchase your tickets at least a day in advance as their seats are limited – you can book your ticket online on Bookaway. The ride is about 2 hours. Pop a Dramamine before you leave to head off seasickness!
See this post for even more information about Puerto Ayora.
Tips for Visiting Puerto Ayora
- The Puerto Ayora fish market is a must-see and perfectly captures the magic of the Galapagos Islands. Lupe the Sea Lion is a regular at the Puerto Ayora fish market. She positions herself behind the counter directly underneath the cutting board, where she knows she’ll get fed scraps and skin from the fresh fish fillets all day long! She’s like a pet dog that’s also an adorable sea lion. We want one!! You’ll also find a small crowd of hovering pelicans and herons, and sometimes napping sea lions as well. Make sure to stop by during the week when it’s open!
- Most places in Ecuador don’t accept credit cards, or charge extra to do so. The Galapagos Islands are no exception: cash is king. Luckily, there are ATMs galore on Puerto Ayora and loads of shops, restaurants and bars to spend your cash in!
- Bring sunscreen with you from the mainland. It’s insanely expensive here, and you’ll need it for the extra strong rays due to the proximity to the Equator. Make sure to bring reef safe sunscreen for when you’ll be in the water, to protect the coral reef and other marine wildlife that live in the Galapagos! This is our favorite reef safe sunscreen.
- There is a huge grocery store right by the main dock in town, where we picked up groceries for snacks and breakfast. You can also pop to the top floor for a cheap coffee and pastry with a sea view. But keep in mind that most hotels won’t have a kitchen.
Where to Stay in Puerto Ayora
There are plenty of affordable hotels in Puerto Ayora! Expect decently sized private rooms with private bathrooms, hot water, towels, drinkable water, and the works for around $50-70 a night, or a bit higher if you opt to include breakfast. You’ll want to stay within wa
There are plenty of affordable hotels in Puerto Ayora! Expect decently sized private rooms with private bathrooms, hot water, towels, drinkable water, and the works for around $50-70 a night, or a bit higher if you opt to include breakfast.
Most hotels in Santa Cruz are located within a 10-minute walk from the docks, kiosks, and grocery stores in Puerto Ayora. But a few pricier, more luxurious hotels are located on the Punta Estrada Waterfront near the quiet Alemanes Beach. It’s a short water taxi ride back to the main stretch in Puerto Ayora. (And very close to Las Grietas!)
Here are our picks close to the main stretch of Puerto Ayora:
- Mid-Range Hotel: Sueno Silvestres is located close to the Charles Darwin research center and a few blocks away from the beach & main street of Puerto Ayora in a nice quiet and private area. Our room was large, hot water was plentiful, there were free towels and drinkable water provided, and the owner Carlos was friendly and welcoming. Breakfast is available for an extra fee.
- Vacation Rental: This spacious modern loft has ocean views EVERYWHERE – from the living room, the private balcony. This sunny little apartment nestled in the treetops is just a 5-minute walk away from the main town stretch – AND it’s under $100/night!
- Budget-Friendly Hostel: Hostal Vista al Mar has dorm rooms (including all-female rooms) and a guest kitchen and a garden for $15-20/night. That’s an amazing value for the Galapagos!
Here are our picks for where to stay in Punta Estrada:
- Luxury Hotel: Finch Bay Hotel is hands down the nicest hotel in Santa Cruz. Think luxury everything. There’s even a private dock with a private yacht for guests. Amenities include free Wi-Fi, A/C, a gorgeous swimming pool and restaurant, and a pier with yachts to visit the islands. Breakfast with bacon, sausages, pancakes, fresh fruits and eggs is served daily.
- Boutique Hotel: Hotel Angermeyer Waterfront Inn is in a picturesque hotel made of lava stones and driftwood. Huge windows overlook the sea as you dine on your included breakfast or enjoy a cocktail by the fireplace. Sunbathe, chill, or snorkel on the private waterfront!
Where to Eat & Drink in Puerto Ayora
- The Kiosks/Los Kioskos are the best place to eat in Puerto Ayora. We honestly wouldn’t have found Los Kioskos if not for asking a few locals! The Kiosks comprise seafood alley, a street lined with small, locally-owned restaurants all cooking variations of the same incredibly fresh, locally caught seafood purchased from the fish market earlier in the day. You’ll hear sizzling from the charcoal parillas and smell smoky, grilled fish long before you stumble across this little alley. The kioscos are located at Baltra & Charles Binford. It’s easy to walk from anywhere in town or you can also always take a cheap pickup truck taxi. If you need to, ask any local for help finding los kioskos – they’ll all know.
- For a small and cheap dinner, walk up to the market (corner of Avenida Baltra and Islas Duncan) from 6pm onwards for empanadas. Two stalls serve savory and sweet (Nutella and banana – suuuuuper heavy but so yummy) empanadas for $1.5-2.5, with salads juice or the traditional colada morada, a thick drink from cornflour, pineapple juice and berries ($1).
- The best coffee in Puerto Ayora that we found was at 1835 Coffee Lab, a roastery serving locally grown Galapagos coffee.
- You’ll find plenty of places to get drinks for Happy Hour along Charles Darwin avenue, the main street in Puerto Ayora. Stroll through around sunset to take advantage of the best 2-for-1 drink offers!
- Your best ice cream after a long day at the beach is Galapagos Deli. One scoop is biiiiig and two are too much, but we have a tip for you: You can ask for two flavors in one scoop, so try creamy chocolate with a local fruit, such as Mora (the locally grown blackberry).
- Try a typical local breakfast at Tropic bird Cafe: facing the sea right next to the fish market, this $5 breakfast and lunch spot is actually very popular with the locals. Try an encebollado with chifle (fish soup with a side of fried plantain chips to crush up in the soup).
Activities and Day Tours from Puerto Ayora
Puerto Ayora is the main hub for the Galapagos Islands, and a good home base to do the Galapagos without a cruise. There are plenty of activities you can do on the island itself, plus loads of day trips and tours. We recommend booking your Puerto Ayora day tours as soon as you arrive on the island. To book a day trip or tour, just find any tour operator (their offices are all over town) or visit the kiosk near the docks. Be aware that you’ll need to pay for your day tour up front with cash.
We’ve included information and tips on the best day trips and tours from Puerto Ayora that we enjoyed. There are many, many more that we didn’t get a chance to experience! Here’s a great resource with more helpful information on the other activities in Santa Cruz Island.
Snorkel in Las Grietas
Las Grietas is a beautiful clear pool between two sheer volcanic cliff faces, and in our opinion, it’s the best snorkeling on Santa Cruz Island by far.
During midday when the sun is high, the pool is a bright, clear blue, and the sun’s rays sparkle all the way to the bottom of the deep pool, making for incredible photos and views.
You can jump off the dock into the water if you like, or climb up the cliffs to jump from the rocks if you dare!
To get to Las Grietas, take a water taxi from the docks and ask for Punta Estrada or just say you’re going to Las Grietas – they’ll know what you mean. It’s a short ride and the water taxi is under $1. From the dock, you’ll stroll along the boardwalk (the only path) for about 15 minutes past a small cove, then pink salt flats, until you arrive at the entrance.
Once you arrive, you’ll sign in and wait for your turn to enter with a group of travelers and a guide. (When we first visited in 2016, this was a self-guided snorkel spot, but that has since – wisely – changed.)
Your guide will take you to one of two entrances. From there you can access all 3 of the pools in Las Grietas through climbing or swimming – the third pool is through an amazing underwater cave!
- Travel Tip: Head to Las Grietas around noon to beat the cruise crowds and catch the most sparkly, sunny hours. When the cruises show up they make tons of noise and scare away all the fish. You’ll want to clear out by 5pm.
Swim and Kayak in Tortuga Bay
Tortuga Bay is named as one of the most beautiful beaches in Ecuador, but it’s because of its pristine white sand, not because it’s teeming with turtles. Also, the visibility in the water was awful for snorkeling. We kayaked around the bay looking for rays, sharks, and turtles, and only managed to see a few tiny fish.
It was, however, a great beach day! It was worth the hike out even if the snorkeling wasn’t. We recommend spending a day relaxing on the beach, swimming, and kayaking in Tortuga Bay.
Tortuga Bay is a lovely hour-long walk from Puerto Ayora, or you can take a water taxi ($10 each way) that goes around the perimeter of the island to and from Puerto Ayora. Catch one at the main docks in Puerto Ayora. Check timetables though or you may miss the last one and end up walking back!
The walk to Tortuga Bay takes about an hour and a half. From the main stretch of Puerto Ayora, you’ll begin by heading down Baltra Avenue (a red cobblestone street with a bike lane) to Charles Binford Street, which takes you out of town. At the end of the street is a staircase, which leads to a hilltop kiosk where you’ll need to sign in to enter the park. You can, of course, take a taxi or bike to the entrance if you’d rather skip this 10 minute walk – but you’ll be walking from here anyway!
From the kiosk is a smooth cobblestone path that you’ll walk down for about 45 minutes. It’s not the prettiest walk unless you enjoy seeing the same cactus and stubbly tree scenery for 45 minutes, but you’ll be rewarded for your efforts with an absolutely stunning view once you reach the beach. Unfortunately, this beach is too dangerous for swimming, so you’ll need to walk a further 15 minutes or so down the beach to reach the end, where you’ll find the quiet horseshoe-shaped bay and its secluded little beach.
Playa Mansa, the calm, lagoon-like part of the beach, is where you can finally find shade and – if you are lucky on a quiet day – spot little sharks in the shallow water. Set up to relax, swim, rent a kayak, or climb lava rocks to see nesting marine iguanas and watch turtles swim in the open ocean.
- Travel Tips: Pack in everything you will need for the day as there is nowhere to buy anything at the beach. We advise bringing tons of sunscreen and sun protection (the sun is much stronger here on the equator!), a lot of water (remember you have a long sunny hike to and from Tortuga Bay), a packed lunch and snacks, toilet paper (there isn’t a bathroom, but you can find a spot if you need one in the bushes), a towel, and of course your swimsuit! We don’t recommend snorkelling here,
Visit Tortoise Reserve
You’re not going to go to Galapagos without seeing its most famous inhabitant, right? While you may spot them on the side of the road or go to a breeding center, you can see them in all their glory (and gigantic size!) at a ranch in the Highlands of Santa Cruz Island.
Thought you were on a flat island? Think again! Inland, Santa Cruz Island rises up to 2,835 ft. The areas with the higher elevation are known as the Highlands, and they are cooler than the coastal plains – which make them the perfect habitat for Galapagos tortoises!
There are two main ranches to choose from. They each cost $5, which includes a guide to show you around, and have a restaurant and café should you want a snack or lunch overlooking the tortoises.
You can book a day trip to a tortoise reserve (which also includes lava tunnels) online, which is the easiest way to visit as your transportation will all be taken care of.
Or, you can visit on your own. To get there, you can take a $40 taxi round trip. Or, for a more budget-friendly and adventurous option, hop on a bus (about $1) from Puerto Ayora to Santa Rosa. Once in Santa Rosa, you might be able to find a taxi, but if not, then it’s about an hour and a half down the only path in the village until you see the sign for the ranches, Primicias and El Chato.
El Chato has three small lava tunnels, so you can start with a shorter one and work your way up to the longer, darker ones (in case you get claustrophobic!). Primicias has one, almost a mile-long tunnel with no way of exiting earlier or turning around.
- Travel Tip: Don’t wear your best clothes — you’ll be walking through high grass, crawling into an empty tortoise shell, and walking around muddy fields, so be prepared! And bring a sweater and/or raincoat; even when it’s sunny on the coast, it can get very wet up in the highlands – if it’s muddy, the ranches will provide rainboots. Be sure to bring socks, both for borrowed rainboot purposes and to avoid potential ant bites in the high grass.
Swings at Highland Views
Highland Views is a farm inland – in the higher elevation, cooler part of Santa Cruz island known as the Highlands – that’s open to tourists ($5). Here you can walk around the farm and take un stunning views that stretch all the way across the island to the sea, befriend and feed farm animals, and see a demonstration of how they make sugarcane juice. But the real draw are what Instagrammable dreams are made from: swings!
How crazy you want to go on the swing is up to you: there are no rules – and no safety belts. Stand up or simply sit; either way, the first moment you swing your feet forward and overlook the entire island and see all the way to Santa Fe is exhilarating.
Tip: You’ll get the best picture if your photographer stands on the side of the big posts holding the swing.
Oh, and don’t forget to chill in the hammock and pet the dogs before you leave!
- To get to Highland Views, you can take a taxi for $15. Or for the cheaper and more adventurous route, catch a bus from the corner of Baltra Avenue and Isla Duncan to El Cascajo for $1 – there is one in the morning and one after lunch. From Cascajo, walk back down the hill you came up with and you’ll find the path up to Highland Views.
Garrapatero Beach is a hidden gem in the Galapagos – a stunning quiet beach (except on weekends) where you can swim and kayak in the crystal clear water, relax on the soft white sand, or stroll along the beach laced with volcanic lava rock.
There’s not much to see in the water, so leave your snorkel gear at your hotel, but the landscape is gorgeous. Spend all day sitting in the shade, watching the pelicans on the water and jumping in the waves. And keep an eye out for flamingos!
Plan for an all-day excursion and pack a lunch to bring with you (we recommend a pulled pork sandwich from Island Deli). There is a bathroom and changing area available here, so you can shower before you head back.
- To get to Garrapatero Beach, you can take a taxi from Puerto Ayora (about $20 each way) – be sure to let them know you’ll need a return ride. To add a scenic vista, negotiate for your taxi to drive you back via the highlands. It costs a little more, the views are worth it as you return home. You’ll also get a chance to breathe in the cool, high-altitude, air for a while – a refreshing change after a long day at the beach!
- You can also rent bikes in town ($10-15, ask for a lock) and bike there, a little under 5 miles (prepare for hills). You will stop at least twice to enjoy the view and snap pics, or just because there’s a tortoise on the road.
Santa Fe Island Day Trip
We took the Santa Fe Island day tour from Puerto Ayora. The tour was over 8 hours long: we left at 8am and returned at 5pm.
First we spent over an hour relaxing on a beach. None of the group knew we were going to be parked at a beach for over an hour, so nobody had brought anything to do, blankets, sunglasses, etc – we were all prepared to just hop in the ocean and snorkel. There was a lot of grumbling and boredom. I spent an hour building a sand castle. There are worse ways to waste time, but I do wish we’d had some advance notice.
Next we went to a rocky cliff face to snorkel. The current was incredibly strong; this is not your average relaxing snorkeling and swimming was difficult! We did see some pretty fish – the water was much deeper than most of the other tours we went on.
After snorkeling, we went to another area, a bright blue lagoon, where we finally were able to swim with sea lions along the rocks where they lay relaxing. Then a provided lunch, then another optional hour for swimming, and then an odd 30 minutes of our boat trying to catch fish for the next day’s lunch; then finally we returned.
The best part of this tour was that it wasn’t rushed; we weren’t constantly having to keep up with a group or all trailing the same animals. Also, there are 3 separate locations, 2 of which have unique snorkeling opportunities, so it wasn’t repetitive or boring at all.
- Travel Tip: If you do this tour, do it earlier in your trip as you’re unlikely to see much that’s new and exciting if you’ve already been snorkeling a lot. We recommend bringing your own wetsuit and snorkel gear for this tour – the water is cold, and the cheap provided masks broke in the strong water! Head to our Galapagos Packing List for more suggestions. You can book the Santa Fe tour online in advance, or book at the docks once you arrive.
Isabela Island (Isla Isabela)
Isabela Island is the BEST Galapagos Island for wildlife. It’s also a local favorite: every local recommended that we spend most of our trip on Isabela Island!
Seahorse-shaped Isabela Island is one of the three inhabited Galapagos islands. Its main town, Puerto Villamil, has plenty of hotels and restaurants. Puerto Villamil is small, with unpaved sand roads. From end to end, you can walk the entire town in 10 minutes. In comparison to bustling Puerto Ayora, Puerto Villamil is tiny and sleepy – and far more tropical feeling.
Food and hotels cost far more here, and there are fewer options. Strangely, we didn’t find the same plentiful seafood options here as we did in Puerto Ayora. Restaurant food was mostly lackluster and expensive.
There aren’t many stores on the island, so we recommend buying food at the grocery in Puerto Ayora and bringing as much as you can in to save money, but avoid fruit as it will be taken from you before boarding your ferry. Although we only spent a few days staying on the island, we saw TONS of wildlife.
There are a lot of great tours and other spots that we didn’t get a chance to visit! You can find more information about activities on Isabela Island here, and read more about our time in Isla Isabela here.
How to Get to Isabela Island/Isla Isabela
You can only get to Isla Isabela from Santa Cruz Island – there is no ferry from San Cristobal! The journey is a little over two hours and can get very bumpy, so take sea sickness tablets like Dramamine before leaving (these will be essential throughout your Galapagos trip). Alternatively, there is a small 8-seater airplane but it will cost you about $200.
To buy a ferry ticket to Isabela Island, you can book online on Bookaway. Booking online means you’re guaranteed a seat on the days you want – ferries do fill up!
Alternatively, you can ask any tour agency in Puerto Ayora – they’re all selling the same tickets. For the most comfort and forward-facing seats, we recommend asking for a boat called the Sigiloza. It’s best to book your tickets to and from Isabela Island a day or two in advance to make sure you can get a seat!
If you don’t wish to stay overnight, you can book a day trip to Isabela Island from any tour agency in Puerto Ayora.
Where to Stay on Isabela Island
Although Puerto Villamil is tiny, there are plenty of comfortable places to stay on Isla Isabela. The quiet sandy seaside town will feel like island heaven. But don’t expect bargain prices – everything from electricity to coffee must be shipped to the island from the larger Puerto Ayora, making costs that much higher.
Here are our picks for where to on Isla Isabela for any budget.
- Hotel Albemarle: Set in a Mediterranean-style house located right on Cuna del Sol Beach, Hotel Albemarle features a lush garden with an outdoor pool. Decorated with tiled floors and wooden-beamed ceilings, the large rooms at the Albemarle Hotel are cozy and cute – and air-conditioned! Each room features private marble bathrooms and either sea or pool views. If you visit during Carnaval in late February, you’ll be steps away from the beachfront party!
- Drake Inn: If you like oceanfront views, Drake Inn is an amazing value. Located across the street from the beach, you’ll be treated to stunning sea views from the private rooftop terrace. Each room here will provide you with air conditioning, a private balcony, and an included breakfast. Drake Inn is a located 3-minute walk from the Puerto Villamil town center.
- La Casa de Marita: Situated directly on the beach, La Casa de Marita has all of the amenities you want at a super reasonable price. There’s free Wi-Fi, a buffet breakfast, A/C, private balconies, hammocks to swing in as you watch the sunset, an on-site restaurant, and a pool. You’ll pay extra if you want ocean-front views, but you’re only ever a few steps away from the beach.
- Hostal Cerro Azul: This budget-friendly hostel is only budget-friendly because it’s not directly on the beach, but it’s very close to both the beach and the main stretch of Puerto Villamil, making it a fantastic value! The amenities are just about all there: A/C, private rooms and bathrooms, hammocks, a common area, and free Wi-Fi (in common areas only).
Tips for Visiting Isabela Island
- Bring cash with you – there are no ATMs on Isabela Island! Most places won’t accept credit cards or will charge a high fee to do so (this is the case throughout Ecuador). Bring USD from home, or stock up at Puerto Ayora.
- Where to Eat on Isabela Island: There is one block in Puerto Villamil with several similar restaurants all lined up next to each other. Our favorite of the bunch was El Encanto de Pepa. It has generous dinner specials like grilled fish, octopus, or fried shrimp with rice, fries, and juice for $7. For a cheap dinner, check out a little hole in the wall called El Pipo on the main street just after the main square, on the right-hand side where you can get empanadas larger than your plate for $1-1.5 most nights. For a full meal, head to the market at lunch or dinner and grab something for $6-7. In the late afternoon, Royal Rock at the end of the pier makes warm, gooey Yucca bread for $1 which makes for a great sunset-watching snack to take away
- Where to get coffee on Isabela Island: For a good coffee, go to Pan y Vino. It’s also a good spot to splurge on a nice dinner with a charcuterie board and wine. You can also cheap $1 coffee at a little juice shop near the main stretch of restaurants. It’s the cheapest we found. You could also get sh*tty instant coffee from the grocery store in Puerto Ayora and bring it with you. If you are a serious coffee snob we recommend preparing in advance and packing Alpine Start instant coffee to avoid any coffee anxiety.
Activities & Tours from Isabela Island
Nobody visits Isabela Island for sleepy little Puerto Villamil (sorry, but it’s true). The reason you must visit Isabela Island is for the fantastic day trips, tours, hikes, and wildlife excursions! Below are our favorite of the bunch, along with tips and suggestions.
Las Tintoreras Tour
Las Tintoreras are just off the main dock of Isabela Island, so this is a shorter guided tour than most since there is little travel time. This is a fantastic tour for snorkeling, but it can be crowded and quick.
We had 16 people in our tour and only stayed in the water snorkeling for an hour. As soon as we spotted a turtle or an eagle ray, a crowd of people was suddenly jostling us for pictures and the animal would quickly flee.
After an hour in the water, we headed over to a nature walk in a lava rock field to see some iguanas and a small inlet where white-tip reef sharks were resting.
The Las Tintoreras tour is a fantastic tour for less experienced snorkellers, travelers who are not a fan of long bumpy boat rides, or anyone who has limited time as the full experience is under 3 hours. We’d also recommend it for travelers with kids. You can book it online on Viator or once you arrive at Pahoehoe Tour Agency, off of the main strip in Puerto Villamil.
- Travel Tips: The water is chilly, so we recommend wearing a short wetsuit. If you’d like to spend more time in the water, we recommend looking into a kayaking tour of Las Tintoreras, which includes 3 hours on the water and no nature walk, meaning there is much more snorkeling. It’s also a much smaller tour and leaves whenever you like. You can book the kayaking tour of Las Tintoreras at Pahoehoe Tour Agency, off of the main strip in Puerto Villamil.
The Lava Tunnels Tour/Los Tuneles
Los Tuneles/The Lava Tunnels tour from Isabela Island was our favorite guided tour by far. It’s about 5 hours long, including 45 minutes of travel each way.
Once you arrive, you’ll be snorkeling for a good hour and a half, which allows for a more relaxed speed and less frantic jostling for pictures. We saw countless beautiful fish, sleeping sharks in caves formed by molten lava, several giant sea turtles, and a few rays.
Then we got back into the boat to eat a provided lunch, and the ship captain carefully navigated us into the lava tunnels where we saw a penguin and a nest of baby blue-footed boobies with their parents! It was truly magical and everything we hoped for in a Galapagos tour.
- Travel Tips: You can book this tour online in advance on Viator. Book a morning tour for the best chances of wildlife sightings! If you prefer to book upon arrival, we recommend Pahoehoe – you can find their office in town along the main street in Puerto Villamil. We have been told prices can fluctuate.
Snorkeling in Concha Perlas
Concha Perlas is a lagoon near the docks of Puerto Vilamil where you can do self-guided snorkeling and swimming, no guide necessary. After the hustle and bustle and crowd of booked tours, we wanted to do some DIY snorkeling at our own pace. Concha Perlas did not disappoint, with excellent snorkeling: perfect visibility, plenty to explore, and lots of wildlife!
We swam with several sea turtles, a GIANT manta ray (horrifyingly large, like 6 feet and jet black. I’ll be honest, I thought I was going to die), a swimming iguana, and a sea lion all in under 2 hours – and with no crowds of people to navigate around! This was by far our best self-guided day trip in the Galapagos Islands.
Concha Perlas is little lagoon to the side of the main dock in Isla Isabela, which is about 10 minutes walking from Puerto Villamil (it’s right next to where the ferry drops you off).
Look for a little boardwalk with a sign heading off into the mangroves just before the main docks – just past the stand selling fresh coconuts! Walk a short way down this boardwalk stepping over napping sea lions (one barked at us, don’t get too close) and you’ll end up at a little dock with a ladder leading into the water. Hang your clothes on the hangers provided to avoid a sea lion getting into it (or another tourist pushing it into the water by accident).
When you need a break, hop out of the water and get a fresh coconut or some food and drink on the beach nearby.
- Travel Tips: The water is a little cold so you do need a wetsuit. We rented short wetsuits and snorkel gear from Pahoehoe for $22. Aim for low tide as you can often see all the way to the bottom and the group of 7 to 9 spotted eagle rays (the highlight of your snorkel!) is much easier to spot.
The Wall of Tears Hike
El Muro de Las Lagrimas is one of Isla Isabela’s most famous hikes and a self-guided tour. It’s located within The Wetlands, a complex of trails featuring beautiful Bay views and home to a variety Galapagos wildlife like tortoises, flamingos, and zarapitos.
The name comes from the wall at the end of the hike. Before the Galapagos Islands was a destination for travelers all over the world and a nature conservatory, it was on its way to becoming a secretive prison colony – as one Ecuadorian native told us, it was meant to be what Guantanamo Bay became.
The Wall of Tears was built in the 1950s by 300 prisoners, toiling away under the hot sun to cut and haul heavy, sharp black volcanic rock in order to build their own prison. Or so they say – some say that there was no point to building the wall other than to exhaust and torment the prisoners.
Pushed to their limit, the prisoners – many of whom had perished during the backbreaking work – revolted and attacked their jailers. All that is left of their struggle is the wall.
You can visit the Wall of Tears on your own, or you can book a tour like this one that includes a visit to the Wall as well as other trails in the Wetlands.
If you choose to do a self-guided tour, you’ll first need to rent a bike in Puerto Villamil to get to the start of the hike ($10-15, including a lock). You could walk there, but it takes roughly 2 hours each way – or just 1 hour each way on a bike. Unfortunately, taxis are not an option.
The hike begins with steep steps and continues for 30-40 minutes, where you’ll find a beautiful lookout with a hut and benches to take a breather (and re-apply your sunscreen).
On the way back, stop at Playa del Amor and La Playita – they are perfect for quiet beach access, a snack and a rest.
Flamingo Lagoon and Tortoises
One of the most unique animals you can see in the Galapagos Islands are also one of the most colorful: flamingos! And where else to see them but at Flamingo Lagoon, aka Laguna Salinas.
Take an hour or two to head to the lagoon at the edge of town. The boardwalk starts just after a big hotel called Iguana Crossing (and yes, sometimes iguanas do cross there) and leads you to a lagoon with iguanas hanging on the boardwalk and railings, sea birds in the shallow water, and in the larger section of the lagoon, a few American Flamingos.
Continue along the path to get to the tortoise breeding center where you can see not-yet-giant tortoises throughout all their stages and sizes. You do need to walk around this part with a guide who will give you information about the animals, but they are introducing a $10 fee so bring a little cash.
Sierra Negra Volcano
No matter how many volcanoes you have climbed on your Latin American adventure, this one will amaze you simply by the size of its crater. Literally, at the end of the walk, you get to the lookout and all you see is the huge crater. It’s so big you can only see it entirely when the weather is clear!
And, a big plus, the hike is much easier than your average volcano ascent, because you don’t actually ascend. Lazy hikers, rejoice! (Just us??)
It’s another tour only possible with a guide and organized group ($35-45). You can book a tour online or in town (we recommend Pahoehoe). Bring good shoes, plan for muddy weather and strong sun, but you don’t have to worry about anything else, lunch is provided.
A bus will pick you up at around 7am and take you almost to the top of the volcano, and all you do is walk the 5 miles along the top and around the crater (and back). 10 miles seems like a lot, but the walk is mostly flat and manageable.
On the way back you’ll stop to walk through a lava cave and be home by 3pm and ready for a nap and sunset on the beach, because it is an early start and a long walk!
San Cristobal Island
Sadly, we did not make it to San Cristobal Island. We tried, but it’s difficult to do a day trip from Santa Cruz Island to San Cristobal Island for a tour without an overnight stay. We later found this day trip from Santa Cruz, which doesn’t include Kicker Rock but does get you back without needing to stay overnight!
However, we have heard that there isn’t as much to do on San Cristobal. Most of the locals we spoke to said that Isla Isabela and Santa Cruz Island were the best to visit. We can’t say how true this is, but we were bummed that we didn’t get a chance to check out the loberia beach, to see breeding sea lions, and do the Kicker Rock tour.
How to Get to San Cristobal Island
- You can fly into San Cristobal island and take a ferry to Santa Cruz or to other uninhabited islands.
- You can take a ferry from Santa Cruz to San Cristobal. It’s about 2 hours long and leaves twice a day. You can book it online here, or at the docks once you arrive in Santa Cruz.
- You can book a day trip from Santa Cruz, like this one.
Where to Stay in San Cristobal
The main town in San Cristobal is called Puerto Baquerizo Moreno, and that’s where almost all of the available accommodations are located.
- Boutique Hotel – Casa Opuntia: This stunning, small boutique hotel located right off the main stretch of town features ocean views, two beautiful outdoor pools (and a kid’s pool!), and a gorgeous onsite restaurant. It feels luxurious, but the prices aren’t.
- Budget Hotel – Casa de Jeimy: Located only 10-15 minutes walking from the airport, Casa de Jeimy is conveniently situated only a few blocks away from the waterfront. You’ll get private rooms, A/C, WiFi, and the works all for a fantastic rate. Enjoy the rooftop common area overlooking the harbor or the shared kitchen and hammocks.
- Budget Hotel – Hotel Mar Azul: You’ll get awesome value at budget-friendly Hotel Mar Azul. The hotel is located super close to the pier and the main stretch of shops and restaurants. Your room will be equipped with A/C and a mini fridge and breakfast is included. You can rent snorkeling gear from the front desk. No frills, but the rate is great!
Tips for Visiting San Cristobal Island
- Tours and ferries are operated separately. This means that you can’t schedule a tour from Santa Cruz Island on San Cristobal and return the same night – the ferry schedule doesn’t allow for it. You have to do an overnight on San Cristobal if you want to return to Santa Cruz, unless you book a day trip, like this one, which includes a return trip.
- If you’re coming from Santa Cruz and not booking online in advance, you can book your ferries & tour while still in Santa Cruz, with any agency or tour operator in town. Or, just go to the docks and find the kiosk (there is only one). They’ll be able to help you there.
- If San Cristobal is on your must-see list, we recommend trying to book a flight that lets you fly into Baltra and out of San Cristobal, or vise versa. Or, allow yourself a couple of days.
- Book tours and ferries a day or two in advance! You can book it online here or at the docks once you arrive in Santa Cruz. For the most comfortable ride and forward-facing seats, ask to book the Gaviota ferry.
- There are 3 ATM’s in San Cristobal, so no need to re-fill your cash supplies in Puerto Ayora.
Where to Eat & Drink in San Cristobal
- Stop by the Mockingbird Cafe for cheap meals AND the best coffee in the Galapagos! The owner of local coffee plantation Hacienda El Cafetal owns this coffee shop, which is serving up the most prized local coffee beans grown on the islands. The coffee plantation dates back to 1832, but you’d probably know it best as the source of the very first Starbucks Reserve beans in 2010.
- Grab a $6 almuerzo, aka set lunch, at Rosita for a cheap and filling meal – an Ecuadorian tradition.
- There is a little café right on Playa Mann to the left side where they serve almuerzos for $5 so you can eat your lunch (or just grab coffee or ice cream) and dip your feet in the sand and surrounded by sealions and head straight back to the water.
- If you’re on a budget for dinner, too, head to Lucky’s, a local favorite with meals under $4.
- The best thing to eat in the Galapagos is whole grilled fish cooked on a sizzling outdoor grill, and that’s what you’ll find at Bambu.
- Get some delicious fresh seafood at the quirky-looking El Descanso Marinero, two blocks back from the main strip – the décor is over the top and mismatched but the service is sweet and personal. It’s considered by many to be the best restaurant in town!
- Here is an excellent list of local places to eat in San Cristobal that aren’t on TripAdvisor!
Activities & Day Tours from San Cristobal
Although we didn’t get a chance to experience them ourselves, we heard plenty of good things about the activities available on San Cristobal! Here are the best things to do on San Cristobal. You can also find an excellent guide on San Cristobal here.
The Kicker Rock Tour from San Cristobal
Kicker Rock, also called Leon Dormido for its resemblance to a sleeping sea lion, is a unique rock formation consisting of two vertical slices of cliff face set in perfect parallel to one another in the open sea. It is home to a plethora of fantastic underwater life.
In addition to the usual Galapagos menagerie of rays, fish, turtles, and more, you’ll also get the chance to swim with sea lions and, circling far down below, hammerhead sharks!! Ahhh!
Once you’re on San Cristobal, Kicker Rock is an easy and inexpensive day trip as it’s just offshore – but it’s not doable as a day trip from Santa Cruz. This is the one tour we didn’t get to do, and REALLY wanted to. We heard from a fellow backpacker that Kicker Rock was the best snorkeling in the Galapagos!
Kicker Rock is also an amazing place to dive, if you’re certified. And if you’d rather not be in the same water as hammerhead sharks – completely understandable – you can book a lovely, relaxing boat tour instead.
How to Get to Kicker Rock
- You can book this tour online in advance or in person once you arrive.
- We recommend booking a snorkel trip with Wreck Bay (David at the office speaks English) if you are traveling with divers. This way you can snorkel, they can dive, but you spend the day together and the crew on board is sweet and take great care of you throughout the day (or just book because their lunches are yummy and very filling).
- Plan to stay overnight on San Cristobal – you can’t do this as a day trip from Santa Cruz!
La Loberia Beach
La Loberia is named for its claim to fame: it’s a Sea Lion breeding ground! When the tide is low, you can snorkel with adorable baby sea lions and their sea turtle friends like you’re a character in a Disney movie (just don’t touch them. Or feed them)! You also have a good chance to see blue-footed boobies and frigate birds here – and you’re guaranteed to get spit on by some huffy marine iguanas.
To get to La Loberia, Take a $3 camioneta (a white taxi found everywhere on the islands) 5 minutes, or rent a bike for a 15-minute ride. Or, walk for 40 minutes out of town. You can visit La Loberia without a guide, but look for a yellow or red flag that indicates that it’s unsafe to swim.
Stay for the sunset – the colors over the sea are absolutely incredible!
Watch the Sunset at Lover’s Beach
Cozy up with your honey (or like, a sea lion or whatever) at Punta Carola, also known as Lovers Beach. To get to Lover’s Beach, take the path through the Interpretation Center or walk to the end of the dirt road and locate a rocky path leading to the beach.
You can watch the sunset from the beach or continue on the path up Cerro Tijeretas (aka Frigate Bird Hill) to catch some absolutely stunning views of the sun setting over Kicker Rock from up high – while chillin’ with some Frigate Birds, of course. It’s a Galapagos Islands dream!
Visit the Interpretation Center
We know this doesn’t sound as exciting as diving with hammerhead sharks, but make sure you walk through the Interpretation Centre (conveniently located across the road from a beach and on the way to Las Tijeretas), even if it’s the only educational bit you do on the islands.
You can walk through at your own pace and will take you anywhere between 30 and 90 minutes but you get an insight into the Galapagos Islands, yes ALL of it: How they were formed, where the volcanoes are, the differences between the famous Darwin finches (fun fact, he didn’t study them, he studied the different mockingbirds, they just named the finches after him), the colonization and human history of the islands and even a look at tourism since its beginnings and how sustainable tourism is now.
Lagoon El Junco and Puerto Chino Beach
El Junco Lagoon is the only fresh water lake found at the Galapagos Islands, and Puerto Chino is the best beach on San Cristobal. You can combine a visit to both, plus a tortoise center, easily in one inexpensive DIY day trip!
Here’s how: get a taxi anywhere in town for around $65-75 for a 5-hour trip – rates and times are negotiable if you speak a little Spanish. This itinerary is common, and your taxi driver should know what you mean if you ask to visit El Junco and Puerto Chino – even if your Spanish is awful.
The first stop is El Junco lagoon, where you climb up steep steps for about ten minutes and if you’re lucky and it’s clear you will be rewarded with glistening water, views over the highlands, and frigate birds soaring over the water. You may also get to the top and see nothing but clouds and hear the birds through the thick white mist in front of you.
The next stop is a tortoise center where you can spot giant tortoises. Your driver will wait for you at the entrance and you can walk the loop without a guide.
Don’t forget your bathing suit (as always in Galapagos) because the next stop is Puerto Chino beach, on the east coast of the island. It’s only the most pristine beach on the island. Honestly, this is where you want your Instagram holiday picture to be taken to make everyone jealous: clear blue water with small white waves lapping onto the white sand with sea lions dotted along the beach for good measure. You’ll have about an hour there (the only downside is the time limit here, but you could stay longer if you skip one of the previous or final stops). You can also reach the beach easily from Puerto Moreno on a path, it’s a 15-minute walk.
Finally, the taxi will drop you at La Loberia and pick you up at whatever time you ask him to and you can finish your day at the beach, no time limits here!
What to Pack for the Galapagos Islands
We may have made a ton of packing mistakes on this trip, but we learned from all of them. We’ve got a full-length guide to packing for the Galapagos Islands, but here’s a shortlist of a few must-have recommendations.
- Reef Safe Sunscreen: Here’s the thing – the Galapagos are ON the equator, and the sun is STRONG. Skimping on sunscreen could mean the worst sunburn of your life! But regular sunscreen is incredibly harmful for marine life, and you’ll be swimming right through their home: regular sunscreen bleaches coral and ensures humanity’s swift death from climate change. So please, for the love of society’s inevitable collapse, wear reef-safe sunscreen if you’re going into the ocean. Note that although reef-safe sunscreen is always mineral, not all mineral sunscreens are reef-safe! Sunscreen must use “non-nano zinc oxide” particles to be reef safe (more details here). This is my favorite reef-safe sunscreen, and I use this lightweight sunscreen from Sephora on my face.
- Swimming Layers: I’m gonna be honest with you: reef-safe sunscreen is not the easiest to apply. It’s thick and doesn’t soak in easily. But like, I love animals and the environment. So my solution is actually to cover up my skin as much as possible so I don’t HAVE to wear sunscreen. Win/win! When swimming, especially in cold water (like the Galapagos) I like to wear a UV Swim Shirt and a pair of swim leggings. For more information about my beloved swim leggings (they’re ethical! They have pockets!!) head to my swim leggings review.
- Snorkel Mask & Fins: I so wish we’d brought our own snorkel gear. Not only would we have saved SO MUCH MONEY on rentals during our entire week in the Galapagos Islands, but we would’ve looked so legit rolling up to the ferry like “oh, we don’t need rental gear, we have our own.” Every time I met someone with their own gear on a tour I was like oh, you must be an expert – here, you go first. They probably got better pictures just because we were intimidated. Snorkels equal power.
- Water Shoes: For every minute that you’re not wearing flippers, you’ll want to be wearing water shoes. Whether you’re trying to walk over one of the insanely spiky black volcanic rocks – they’re pretty, but they hurt so much – or just wading into some water (surprise! more volcanic rocks) your un-cut feet will thank me later. I swear by my trusty leather Tevas, and Jeremy likes classic close-toed water shoes.
- Steri-Pen Water Purifier: The tap water in Ecuador is not safe to drink, so we purified everything with our Steri-Pen. It’s such a life saver! And we’re saving plastic water bottles from the landfill. (Note: you can also use a Sawyer mini filter or water purification tablets to purify undrinkable tap water, both of which we brought just in case, but we found that we preferred the Steri-Pen for ease of use and taste.)
- Dry Bag: Don’t set foot on a boat without putting your stuff in a dry bag, just in case. Like I’m not saying the boat is going to tip over, but you never know when a wave/rogue sea lion is going to splash your sh*t, and I’m not big on risk. This one is excellent and comes with a phone protector too, so your phone is extra safe (and usable while you’re in the water)!
- Travel Towel: Towels are not provided on the day tours you’ll be taking on your land-based Galapagos Islands trip, so you’ll want to bring your own lightweight, quick-dry towel.
- Dramamine: For said long boat rides. Trust me, you will need it. Alternatively, local pharmacies have Anautin, a cheap sea sickness tablet that really works.
- Travel Clothesline: We had this hanging up in every hotel room we stayed at in the Galapagos. Every day we hung up our wet towels and bathing suit to dry. It keeps your stuff from getting moldy and avoids the dreaded wet bathing suit rash *shudder*.
- GoPro: You didn’t come all the way to the Galapagos Islands to NOT get underwater footage of baby sea lions swimming with giant sea turtles, or Blue Footed Boobies stuffing each other’s faces down their throats, or whatever. You gotta have a GoPro!
- Coffee: While you might think that great coffee comes from Ecuador it can be tricky to find great coffee on the actual islands. So if you are a serious coffee snob we recommend packing your own stash. Slip a pack of Alpine Start instant coffee into your luggage to avoid any coffee anxiety, though they are starting to ban coffee coming into Galapagos to support the local production, so it may be taken from you if checked at the airport.
For more packing tips, check out our massive guide to what to pack for the Galapagos Islands!
Download the Galapagos Islands by Land Guide
Enter your email below and we’ll send you everything you need to know about visiting the Galapagos Islands by land in a convenient 15-page PDF. Download it and take it with you to use offline on your phone, tablet, or laptop!
We hope this guide was informative and helpful in showing just how much there is to see on the Galapagos Islands without a cruise! Backpacking the Galapagos Islands is a fantastic and budget-friendly adventure, and by far our favorite stop during our 4 months in South America.
For even more information about the how to visit the Galapagos Islands without a cruise, check out these guides:
- Galapagos Islands Packing List
- Santa Cruz Galapagos Island Guide: What to Do, Where to Eat, & Where to Stay
You can read about our week in the Galapagos in detail in these 2 posts:
Planning a trip to Ecuador? There’s SO MUCH to see and do in this amazing country! Check out our other Ecuador resources:
- Backpacking Ecuador: Itinerary for 1 Incredible Month
- 30 Things No One Tells You About Backpacking in Ecuador
- 11 Mind-Blowing Things to Do in Baños, Ecuador (on a budget)
- Hiking the Quilotoa Loop in Ecuador: Reverse Route Travel Guide
Please leave us a comment below if you have any questions about planning your trip to the Galapagos Islands without a cruise!
Did you find this post informative? Please save it to reference later on Pinterest! Note: full sized image can be found by clicking the Pin It button.
Disclaimer: This post contains a sponsored link from Nature Galapagos as well as a few affiliate links to hotels, flights, and tours. Our trip to the Galapagos Island was NOT sponsored and we paid for everything 100% out of our own pockets.