This has to be one of the most magical places on Earth and definitely one of the most memorable. You will see unique animals who adapted to their surroundings, landscape shaped by fire and water and meet friendly locals who show off their home with pride.
This guide to the Galapagos Islands will give you more information about this tropical destination. The Galapagos Islands are 1200 km’s off the coast of Ecuador and are accessible by plane from Guayaquil or Quito. Tame Airlines, Avianca and LAN offer flights to airports at Baltra (GPS) and San Cristobal (SCY). There is a Transit Control Tax of $20 USD and must be paid before you enter security at the airport. Your baggage must be scanned and tagged before checking in. This stops any unwanted inhabitants entering the Galapagos Islands.
The flight takes a little over an hour with most airlines scheduling their flights for the morning. The Galapagos Islands Conservancy charges a $100 USD per person tax. You pay this at the airport on your arrival into Baltra or San Cristobal. The tax helps pay for the upkeep of the National Park so future generations can experience what the Galapagos Islands offer.
When the bags are unloaded off the plane, they are all put on a rack for a police dog to sniff. Once this has occurred you are free to pick up your bag.
There are four main Islands which are inhabited.
Santa Cruz – Baltra Airport and the town of Puerto Ayora are found here.
San Cristobal – The second place to fly into and is a smaller version of Puerto Ayora.
Isabella – There is a laid back feel about this town.
San Ferdinand – This is the least habituated island.
Ferries between the islands are USD$30 each way. They leave at 7.00 and 14.00. The crossing can take anywhere between 2 and 3 hours, depending on the sea conditions.
The most common airport to fly into is Baltra and is about 40 km’s from Puerto Ayora. To travel from the airport, you will need to jump on the free airport bus to the dock, and then hop on the canal barge. This will set you back $1 USD so be sure to have some change. After a 5 minute boat ride you will arrive at Santa Cruz Island. You are met by numerous taxi drivers who will offer you a ride to Puerto Ayora. The taxi will cost $18 USD and can carry four passengers plus luggage. The drive is about 30 minutes and will cross over the area known as the Highlands. For those who are looking out for their pennies, there are the public buses which will cost $2 per person, but may take a little longer as you wait until the bus is full before leaving. The airport on San Cristobal is located on the out skirts of town and you can grab a taxi for $3.
You have two options with accommodation, book before you arrive or turn up and sort it out when you are there. During the peak season (April – August), I would suggest booking in for at least one night. The advantage of booking your accommodation when you are there is the rooms will be discounted and you can view the room before saying yes. Accommodation will start from $10 USD per person for a dorm bed or $30 USD per room. One thing to note is to make sure the room has hot water. As with most South American countries, toilet paper is not allowed down the toilet. You will notice bins in the bathroom to place any foreign objects. The pipes cannot cope with paper and will be easily clogged. You will notice everything above has been quoted in US dollars; this is because it is the main currency used.
The food in the Galapagos would be what you expect from an Island region, the main focus on seafood. Breakfast is $5-$10 pp. Lunch is $5 and dinner is $10-$25 pp. There are some restaurants which will charge more for dishes. A small, fresh lobster will set you back around $15-20.
To cruise or not to cruise?
The Galapagos Islands are known for cruises. Not the large 1500 people cruise liners, but the smaller cruise boats ranging from 16-120 people. Each cruise ship has guides who ensure the integrity of the Marine Park is up kept. A maximum of 16 people per guide ensure the groups impact is kept small. There are a few different ‘classes’ of cruise boats to choose from.
The beauty of jumping on a cruise is you can travel to places you usually can’t travel to otherwise. You will also be surrounded by the wildlife and travel over night to your new destination. As soon as you wake up in the morning, you can gaze over the railings and spot turtles, birds, fish and maybe even a pod of dolphins. Below is a typical day on your cruise.
7.00am – Breakfast.
8.00am – First excursion, either a walk on an island or dinghy ride.
10.00am – Travel to a new location or snorkel.
12.00pm – Lunch.
2.00pm - Second Excursion, maybe another land activity, snorkelling or a bit of both.
4-5.00pm – Arrive back to the boat.
7.00pm – Dinner.
8.00pm – Briefing for the next day.
Animals to tick off your wildlife spotting list
Sea Lions, Seals, Land Iguanas, Marine Iguanas, Sea Turtles, Land Tortoises, Sharks, Sting Rays, Crabs, Penguins, Whale Sharks, Manta rays, Whales
Birds to look out for
Boobies – Blue Footed, Red Footed and Masked, Frigate Birds, Finches, Brown Pelican, Hawk, Tropical Bird.