a travel guide to THE GALAPAGOS
Located off the west coast of Ecuador, you will find the mysteriously enchanting Galapagos Islands laying in the Pacific Ocean. The 13 large islands that make up the Galapagos straddle the equator and provide amazing wildlife viewing experiences for those that venture to the area.
Arriving on the islands, you will walk in the same footsteps of Charles Darwin. The English naturalist first arrived on the Galapagos Islands in 1835. Darwin found a variety of species on the islands that were seen no place else on Earth and while staying on the Galapagos, you too will have a chance to see rare flora and fauna just as Darwin did so long ago. Many people who visit the islands do so to see the amazing wildlife as the Galapagos offers rare, strange and intriguing encounters with these creatures, who do not fear human's in anyway - making it very easy to get up close to these beautiful species.
Amazingly, the formation of the islands is still in progress as the active volcanos on the Galapagos are still forming land mass. The islands can only be visited as part of a designated tour and due to the fragile ecosystem that lives on the islands, visitors cannot just roam free for the most part. There are, however a few areas in which visitors can go without a guide.
How do you get to the Galapagos Islands?
Going to the Galapagos isn't your normal holiday. In fact, the main reason for going is the wildlife experience you get. So, visiting the Galapagos differs from other budget holiday destinations.
To get to the Galapagos Islands, you must first fly into Ecuador. The best option is to fly into the airport at Guayaquil, which is much closer to the islands than the airport alternative of Quito.
From Guayaquil, you can fly into Baltra Island, which was the only airport that serviced the Galapagos until the mid-1980s. Nowadays, there are two airports on the islands with the second being on San Cristobal.
Although those islands have the airports that connect to the mainland, the most attractive island for tourists is Santa Cruz, which connects to Baltra via a ferry. Be mindful that getting to the ferry terminal on Baltra is a journey in itself as you must navigate the arid desert island on bus. Hot, dry and cramped up against other visitors, you slowly make your way to the ferry terminal and on to Santa Cruz, but as always when travelling a little discomfort is always rewarded by what is waiting for you on your journey.
Now that you are at the Galapagos Islands, what do you do next? From the moment you get there you will find an amazing environment very different from the mainland. Of course, the islands' environment and wildlife is why you decided to go to the Galapagos. So, where do we go from here?
The answer is simple. If you are on Santa Cruz, things really begin and end here. Santa Cruz is where you will start your tour of the Galapagos and end it before catching the ferry back to the airport.
Santa Cruz is a great site and it is really all you need while visiting the Galapagos. Budget travellers love the sandy beaches, restaurants and accommodation that the island provides. Santa Cruz gives you the chance to book the excursion you want to take on the remainder of your trip to the other Galapagos Islands. Remember to always book if you can when you are there. Especially if you are travelling long term and have the flexibility to do so. There are different boats that take you around the islands, at different prices and more often than not the prices go right down the morning the boats are leaving. So, if you can be spontaneous and are a bit of a risk taker, this will save you a lot of American dollars on your trip.
You'll find many huts selling the various excursions, so be sure to shop around at the kiosks and don't take the first one that comes to you. Be ready to haggle with the men and women trying to sell you an excursion, and if you can be spontaneous and are a bit of a risk taker, leave it till the last minute, this will save you a lot of American dollars on your trip.
One last tip, while you are stationery on Santa Cruz be sure to visit the Darwin Research Station. The station is home to the Charles Darwin Foundation and promotes environmental education.
Daphne is just north of Santa Cruz and is home to a large finch population. Daphne is not only great for viewing the wildlife, but it is well-known for scuba diving and snorkelling.
Many of the excursions you can buy take budget travellers out to the area and then back to Santa Cruz. It is important to haggle for a good price – that cannot be stressed enough.
Must-do activities on the Galapagos Islands
El Chato Tortoise Reserve
Tortoises are a major part of the islands, and some can grow as large as humans. The El Chato Tortoise Reserve allows you the chance to see some of the coolest looking creatures you have ever seen. The reserve is also home to some unique bird species.
If you want to get down and dirty, head to the Lava Tunnels. Venture into the mysterious caves which have hardened lava rock on all sides. Once you get through them you will be covered from head to toe with muck, so get yourself to a shower quick!
Punta Tortuga is located on the island of Isabela. The island offers visitors plenty of great things to do. However, the coolest is seeing the penguins that make their home in the area. I mean, who doesnt love penguins! Even cooler, jump into the waters at Punta Tortuga and swim with them. It is an experience you will never get again, and one you will never forget.
Staying on the Galapagos Islands
If you have ever dreamt of staying overnight on the Galapagos Islands, you are in luck. All the inhabited islands have hotels, however, costs will vary, so keeping to your budget holiday may be difficult. But you are on the Galapagos Islands, so splurging one night is totally worth it. Santa Cruz has the most options for staying over and the pick of the litter is the Finch Bay Eco Hotel, which has its own private beach.
Due to most of the flights in Baltra or San Cristobal arriving in the morning or evening, you have the option to arriving in the morning and fly out at night. But it is good idea to stay a night on the island to soak it all in. It is an opportunity you may never get again.
Thanks to the hotels on the other inhabited islands, you have the opportunity move around, however, some of the islands are difficult to reach. Some areas are only reachable via the cruise ships that go in and out of Santa Cruz.
Don't miss out on!
There are a few activities you really mustn't miss out on when budget travelling on the Galapagos Islands.
If you are an able swimmer, snorkelling is one of the best ways to see the unique sea life that lives around the islands. There are plenty of opportunities to see fish and other underwater creatures thanks to the excursions that are sold on Santa Cruz.
Land lovers can rejoice as it isn't just about the sea when visiting the Galapagos Islands. The islands have incredible hiking trails and being that they have been formed by active volcanos, the rugged landscape is great for exploring.
No matter which island you are on, there will be kiosks around the peer renting out a variety of items. Rent a kayak or surfboard to take to the Pacific. It isn't every day you get to kayak around the Galapagos Islands or surf onto the islands' beaches.
Back to Ecuador
Once you finish your budget holiday to the Galapagos Islands, you will return to Ecuador and onwards on your travels. The Galapagos Islands offers an experience that you will get nowhere else on Earth, and it is a place where you will see the most incredible species, and actually get to see them. Not from behind a fench, wall or piece of glass, but actually standing next to you.
Once you return to Ecuador, you will have the chance to reflect on the trip. Although you may have to haggle to stay within your budget, you will be so happy you went. It's a one of a kind experience, one where the memories of what you will see, will live on in your heart forever.