Latin America

4 Days in the Galápagos Islands

Today’s post is brought to you by STA Travel Student Ambassador, Emma Neely. Emma is a student at Michigan State University who has a passion for traveling and making friends around the world. She currently has traveled to 18 countries and counting! 

Galapagos wildlife 2

The flora and fauna of the Galapagos is iconic (Thanks Charles Darwin!), but to many people’s surprise there’s cities too! Getting to the Galapagos requires a flight via Latam Airlines or Avianca Airlines through either Guayaquil or Quito and landing on Baltra island (a converted military air strip from WWII) or San Cristobal. I landed in Baltra and stayed on Santa Cruz, so I will provide an itinerary based on that!

For a frame of reference, it will take approximately 15 hours from Miami to get to Galapagos, so for a weekend trip ideally you are already in Central or South America. There are only a few flights each day that fly to and from Galapagos, so you might be stuck with a long layover if you don’t book in advance and are not flying directly from mainland Ecuador. If you are flying from Quito it’s between a 2 and 3.5 hour flight depending on whether or not you have a layover in Guayaquil. Flights can be expensive if you wait until the within 2 weeks of booking.

Typically visitors to the Galapagos will stay on a boat for a week and visit many of the islands with frequent stops to the main island of Santa Cruz such as this 6-Day Galapagos Island Hopper. Other visitors will commonly stay on the island of Santa Cruz in Bed and breakfasts or some of the more luxurious lodges with frequent boat excursions. The logistics of traveling in the Galapagos can be a bit difficult. If you wish to travel on your own, you could end up saving a little money, but you will also spend a lot of time figuring things out. It’s worth it to plan with a company ahead.

Charles Darwin Research Station

Thursday

1. Welcome to Galapagos

Arrive morning or early afternoon to the airport on Baltra, an old US military air strip, and head on over to Puerto Ayora. There’s a free bus from airport to Itabaca Canal – the channel between the two islands. Here you’ll catch a ferry (approx. 80 cents for a 10 minute ferry to Puerto Ayora), and then you’ll take a taxi or a bus into the downtown. Check in to your hotel or bed and breakfast – there’s at least 7 or 8 of them in the downtown area a few of which are under 70$USD depending on the time of year.

2.  Explore the downtown area

You will be surprised at how big it is and how many people there are. Here you’ll find great shopping, outdoor restaurants, cafes and more. Near the downtown area is also the Charles Darwin research station where you’ll learn the geological and biological history of the islands and see lots of MASSIVE turtles (these things are gigantic!). Pro tip: If you need more of an animal fix on your first day, you will also make plenty of pelican and sea lion friends on the pier.

Sea lions in Galapagos

Friday

1. Travel to another island

San Cristobal or Isabela. Public transportation for speed boats and inter island transfer – Prices vary between $25-$35 per person each way (unfortunately no round trip discount). The island Santa Cruz has transportation to San Cristobal and Isabela islands twice daily.

2. Try Scuba Diving

Alternatively, you could go scuba diving. Scuba diving can be quite expensive in the Galapagos with most company requiring the purchase of 2 dives minimum at around 150$ per trip minimum.

3. Book an Wildlife Excursion

Galapagos is best seen via mountain biking tours or boat trips with a nature guide. You can try Bartolome Island and check out the famous Galapagos penguin – the northernmost species of Penguin, sea turtles, sea lions snoozing, and plenty of fish. Or, if iguanas and blue-footed booby birds are more your style, try North Seymour Island.

Marine Iguana GalapagosBlue footed booby Galapagos

Saturday

1. Santa Cruz Highlands: 

See the famous giant tortoises – Two of the more popular farms to visit and see the giant tortoises in their natural habitat are Manzanillo and Primicias. Also in the highlands, you can see the lava caves! At the lava caves you climb over large rocks, and hike through a tunnel to the other side (warning: be ready to get dirty, and crawl through small spaces).

2. Hike Los Gemelos:

Los Gemelos, meaning the twins in English, on Santa Cruz Island are two large craters that are hard to miss when driving from the city to the highlands. They were once underground magma chambers. When the magma chambers caved in they left two huge impressive looking craters. While the craters themselves are worth the trip, you can also see many different types of bird and plant-life on this excursion.

3. Tortuga Bay:

Think lots of sun, turquoise-blue waters, and scrunching your toes in that soft white sand. This beach is located on the island approximately a 30-45 minute walk in the sun from the west side of town. Before you get to sunbathing, don’t forget that water and sunscreen!

4. Las Grietas:

A stunning gorge with clear blue water (are you starting to see a trend here?) where tourists can swim and snorkel. Getting to Las Grietas by foot is also stunning in it of itself, passing through cactus fields and lava rock formations.

Tortoise in Galapagos

Sunday

Depart in the late morning/early afternoon and say goodbye to the unforgettable Galapagos islands. FYI, if you were too busy admiring the scenery and animals you forgot your souvenirs (as I totally was), the airport has A LOT of shopping opportunities before and after security.

Galapagos wildlife

Authored by Emma Neely – STA Travel Student Ambassador