Galapagos Islands itinerary
Many people believe that going to the Galapagos is very expensive and can only be done through a tourist package. While it is true that many of the islands are remote and can only be accessed on organized cruises paying a fortune (not to mention that much of the archipelago is reserved exclusively for researchers), the reality is that there is a good handful of places accessible to all of us and you can perfectly do it on your own at a (relatively) good price... And live the experience for what it is: the most exciting archipelago on the planet. As if that were not enough. you will also do it at your own pace. You do not need to see all the islands to enjoy that paradise of landscapes, that natural laboratory of unique animals. Iguanas, turtles, sea lions, finches, boobies, frigates and other wildlife are everywhere!
Access to the Galapagos is by air, being only able to fly from the national Quito or Guayaquil (around 200 dollars round trip). There are two ports of entry: Santa Cruz (Baltra) and San Cristóbal. In addition to these two, you can visit other islands, such as Isabela, Floreana and Santa Fe (only day tour). The transport from one island to another is by small motor boats (there are also planes, but they are very expensive). In each island there are many things to do on your own, while for others you will be required to hire a guide (the excursions, although variable, are around 30/40 dollars per person; you can also haggle over the price). For a complete tour, and since you have already paid for the flight, I recommend no less than ten days in this volcanic paradise. Here we will see the best of each “open” island.
Note. You may find it easier to read this itinerary here.
The most populated island (around 15,000 inhabitants) offers much to do. In addition, its central location means that you can travel by boat from here to the rest of the islands that can be visited (Isabela, Floreana, San Cristóbal). Even if you are told that many places are only accessible through a tour, you can do all the following on your own:
Puerto Ayora. Stroll through the streets of the most popular city of the Islands, where all tourist activity (restaurants, shops, etc.) and entertainment are concentrated. Good place to meet locals and travelers and eating (if you want to treat yourself, lobsters are delicious).
Charles Darwin Research Station. A walkway from Puerto Ayora is this station with interpretation panels and a breeding center for giant tortoises (and other interesting native animals). Just outside there is a nice beach.
Tortuga Bay (Turtle Bay). A short walk from the city is this magnificent beach featuring fine-texture sand (and turquoise waters) of several kilometers inhabited by hundreds of marine iguanas, turtles, sea lions and different species of birds. After this beach there is a beautiful bay of calm waters (great for swimming) with mangrove vegetation type.
El Garrapatero Beach. This wonderful beach, away from any settlement, is the perfect setting to spend one or several days in peace in connection with nature. Just behind it there is a small lagoon inhabited by flamingos and other birds. You can camp for free (previously requesting permission).
El Chato Reserve, Rancho Primicias. Here the famous giant tortoises await (those that gave name to the archipelago). Impressive to see these calm beings, walking slowly, grazing or, simply, hidden in their shells. The place also has a lava tunnel.
Los Gemelos (The Twins). Two craters formed by a series of eruptions when the islands were still active. The setting is beautiful, in the Scalesia forest.
Villages: Bellavista, Santa Rosa. What a better way to penetrate the island culture than visiting authentic places, away from tourism. You can get to these towns by bus from Puerto Ayora.
Snorkeling/diving on the reefs off Santa Fe Island.
Snorkeling around North Seymour.
Excursions to beaches and mangroves around the island.
Day trip to Floreana.
This island, younger and more volcanic, is unique and wonderful (it even has the shape of a seahorse!). When arriving at the port of its only town, Puerto Villamil, one realizes the magic that this place exudes: Galapagos penguins and sea lions greet you from the crystalline waters and sand streets guide you through an interesting community. Although it is the largest island, you can only visit the third (or rather fifth) south. It does not matter, there is a lot to do. On your own:
Puerto Villamil. Enjoy the gentle rhythm of its people and gastronomy. And, of course, take a dip in the dock itself, where penguins and sea lions swim.
Turtle hatchery. On the outskirts of the town.
Muro de las Lágrimas (The Wall of Tears). Built by a penal colony in the 40s and 50s of the last century this structure was responsible for thousands of deaths of inmates. It is about 7 km away from Puerto Villamil, easily connected by a wonderful path through which you can walk or bike (bike rental agencies in town). On the way there are beaches full of life (sea lions and iguanas, mainly), lush mangroves, pools and lagoons (look for flamingos!).
Sierra Negra Volcano. In theory, it can only be done with a guide, but it is one of the most worthwhile excursions to pay. The tour starts at 8 in the morning ending in the afternoon. You will cross one of the largest craters in the world, inhospitable landscapes made of lava, nice forests, etc. From some spots you will have spectacular views and you will get to see a piece of Fernandina Island, the youngest and most volcanically active of the archipelago.
Lava Tunnels. A place of super clear waters one hour by boat from Puerto Villamil, ideal for snorkeling. It is expensive (around 90 bucks), but the spectacle of sea turtles, stingrays and colorful fish is worth it. It also includes a short walking tour to know how the area was geologically formed.
Tintoreras. A trip that combines a boat ride watching birds: large colony of blue-footed boobies, some penguins, etc; a short trekking through an islet bypassing iguanas (terrestrial and marine), which is a zone of resting and breeding of tintoreras sharks (also called white tip reef sharks); and a snorkel where you can see turtles, fish, lobsters…
The easternmost island and seat of the capital of the province has sensational places, many of which can be visited on foot, as they are two steps from the city. Others, however, require a guide. What you can do on your own:
Puerto Baquerizo Moreno. Stroll through the quiet capital, which has a lot of charm.
Interpretation Center. Learn about the history, geography and meaning of the Galapagos. It is on the outskirts of Puerto Baquerizo.
Playa Punta Carola. A beach with no people, but with hundreds of other beings… Here you will see sea lions so close you can almost touch them. But beware, they are not very nice if you try to approach them when they rest in the sand... However, surely some of them would not mind swimming around you if you take a dip.
Cerro de las Tijeretas. A trail of about 2 km that leaves the city and climbs up this small hill. The cliffs (and skies) are full of frigates (tijereta is a popular name for these birds in Spanish), and the views are awesome.
Laguna El Junco. Beautiful lagoon 700 masl that is 10 km from El Progreso, the last place accessible by road.
Playa de Puerto Chino. Isolated beach of turquoise waters where you can camp for free (previous permission required).
El León Dormido: Kicker Rock. One of the must-see excursions for the traveler. A boat takes you to this giant rock, split in two, which stands out like a mountain in the middle of the ocean. And the adventure has just begun! Snorkeling (or diving) through those waters full of life, passing the tunnel left by the two high rock walls will allow you to see (among others): lots of colorful fish, octopuses, sharks of various species (including hammerhead sharks!), stingrays, turtles, sea lions... On the way back, the tour makes a stop at the beautiful beach of Manglesito to reduce a little all the accumulated adrenaline.
Floreana, also known as Santa María, is one of the four inhabited islands... However, it only houses 100 souls, all concentrated in the cozy Puerto Velasco Ibarra hamlet. Most of its visitors arrive here with a one-day tour from Santa Cruz, but you can come in your own way to relax a few days and make friends with their 100 countrymen (a couple of boats a week depart from the pier of Puerto Ayora). Most of the island is wild and inaccessible, but you can do some things without paying a tour:
Interior of the island. There is a short road going (and ascending) to a beautiful interior area. At the end of it, there are some trails that lead you to see giant tortoises, caves and carved stones.
Playa Negra (Black Beach). In the village itself, this black sandy beach is ideal for snorkeling, as its waters are the habitat of sea turtles, sea lions and tropical fish. The rocks are home to marine iguanas.