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Are you planning to visit the Galapagos Islands? And are you searching for useful information and tips on how to organize your vacation?
LOOK NO FURTHER because you have landed the most complete and comprehensive practical guide to the Galapagos that you could have possibly found. How so?
I have been to de Galapagos Islands for 3 weeks and researched all the possible way to get there, hotels, restaurants, tours, cruises, compared prices and take note of everything that happened during my stay and I have put all the information I gathered in this huge post, which will become a downloadable guide, as soon as I learn how to technically do it. 🙂
You don’t have time to read 17.000 words? worry not, I have split it into clickable chapters so that you can choose what you want to read about and go straight there without having to scroll all the way down. I know how precious time is and I made sure you could find everything you are looking for about the Galapagos Islands in a click.
I suggest you should read this guide to how to organize your trip to Galapagos if you want to know :
- whether it is better to get on a Galapagos cruise or to craft DIY itinerary (luxury or budget)
- how to get to the Galapagos Islands and what are the requirements and procedures (yes there are specific procedures to enter the Galapagos, it is not a common destination and there are some rules to follow)
- which of the Galapagos islands are more worth a visit and how long it’s necessary to stay to make the most of it
- what are the best tours and from which islands depart
- what are the free things that you can do on your own
- where to stay and to eat
- what kind of wildlife you will see and where
- what’s the weather like in the Galapagos and what should I wear
- other practical tips
Are you ready? Scroll through the index and click on the title related to the information you want to read or just scroll down and read it all.
TABLE OF CONTENT
how we planned our trip to the Galapagos Islands
Traveling to the Galapagos islands might seem like a utopia, an exclusive trip only reserved for the few elected.
Well, after extensive research I realized that although it still is an expensive destination, it’s not so outrageous as you might think.
This is why I decided to go for it even though I am on a long-term journey and therefore I am traveling on a budget.
I really wanted to see this UNESCO Natural Reserve and, together with a friend, we managed to spend 3 weeks in the Galapagos covering a lot of amazing sites and understanding about the local conservation mission and history.
This post is the result of my trip and I am happy to share with you everything I learned and everything you need to know to craft and enjoy your trip to the Galapagos.
Whether you are ready to splurge on a luxury cruise or you want to know the Galapagos on a budget, here you will find very useful information to make the best of your trip.
With this trip, I have ticked off one of the most interesting places I have listed on the bucket list of my journey through South America and now that I am writing this I am in Quito taking a pause from my long journey and sharing my life on the road with you hoping to inspire you to pack that backpack or suitcase.
Although I am normally traveling alone, my friend Barbara decided to tag along for a couple of months and that’s where she convinced me to do some research and see what’s the best way to go to the Galapagos.
We started to read blogs and tour company sites while we were still in Guatemala, where she joined me.
We realized how expensive the cruise was and thought that if we flew to the main islands and took tours from there we would have saved a lot of money while still seeing a lot. That’s what we thought at the beginning but once on the islands we have realized it’s not so true and I will tell you why later on this post.
Although we are both luxury freaks we also are on a long break from work and we need to be cautious with our spending, so we opted for the “cheap” way.
The initial idea was to fly to Puerto Ayora in St Cruz, the main island, book the first 2 nights and find accommodation, possibly an apartment where we would have cooked our meals and save on food, the least important part of the trip. We would have then decided when to move to the next islands according to the things we wanted to see there.
However, after reading more thoroughly online reviews and info, we realized that the Government of Galapagos had implemented some new entry laws in order to have more control over the visitors, including the obligation to have all your accommodation booked in advance before entering the country. This official website will give you more detailed information.
I had also read from fellow bloggers that visited the islands only a few months before us that they didn’t have to face all those restrictions. After further reading, we found that these laws hadn’t been effectively implemented but they can be any time. It was all so confusing that we decided to meticulously follow the rules, just in case. We didn’t want to take all the risks and pay a flight and then having to give it all up, although it really didn’t make much sense. But anyway…
Since we realized we had to plan everything ahead of time we spent a lot of time in reading guides and blogs in order to understand what were the unmissable things to do and from which island, check out online bookable accommodations at affordable costs, and then we planned and booked our flights.
After a lot of brainstorming, we have realized that in order to see everything we would have to stay for 2 months, which was not realistic. We opted for 3 weeks, instead. From November 12th through December 2nd so distributed:
- 7 nights in St. Cruz
- 5 nights in Santa Isabela
- 5 nights in San Cristobal
- 1 night in St. Cruz where we had our return flight
Ideally, we were supposed to fly over St Cruz and leave from San Cristobal but the flight was way more expensive this way. So we fly in an out from St Cruz.
The below information is so based on our research and our experience once on the islands.
Useless to say we had a blast and we have seen so much wildlife and understand a lot about conservation practices in Galapagos.
I hope this guide will be useful to plan your own trip and make the right choice for your needs.
DOCUMENTS AND ENTRY REQUIEMENTS TO TRAVEL TO THE GALAPAGOS ISLANDS
As I was mentioning before, the Galapagos Islands is a unique destination for being one of the few remaining refuges of some of the rarest animal and plant species some of them endemic. Government and private associations are striving to keep the region protected and preserved, and they are surprisingly doing an amazing job in preventing the destruction and exploitation that mass tourism could do.
Kudo to Ecuador and the Galapagos for such a great job and we hope this crusade will never end.
Tourism in the Galapagos has been increasing since 1960 when the industry has started, which is a great way to support the local conservation project that keeps the environment safe and protected. On the other hand, it is a necessity to keep it controlled and to educate the visitors on conservations issues and best ecological practices.
REQUIRED PAPERWORK YOU NEED TO HAVE BEFORE FLYING TO GALAPAGOS
- Return flight
- Confirmation of the accommodation booked for the entire stay (printed copies need to be presented at the airport before check-in)
- Proof of travel insurance
- 20 USD to purchase the TCT card
- 100 USD to pay at your arrival
To our surprise, we were not asked any of it, except the payment. We have been explained afterward that these rules were new at the time of our flight and hadn’t been strictly implemented yet. But there would have been random checks, so it was good that we had everything reserved and ready. However, I would recommend you should check out their official sites to see what are the updated regulation. This one and this one.
Here are the complete departure/arrival steps to the Galapagos
We have arrived in Quito the night before and stayed at a lovely hotel close to the Airport “Hotel Las Mercedes” it’s really cozy and clean, with great wifi and a good value for money. The area is super quiet and the taxi to and for the airport is 7 USD each way. Ask the hotel to arrange it for you.
However, if you are going to spend a few days in Quito before flying to Galapagos, you should consider booking a hotel in the center, either the historical center or Floreana, the trendy neighborhood, as the airport is about 1hr drive to the heart of Quito, quite inconvenient if you wish to explore the city. You can check hotel options here.
The following morning, we had the flight to Baltra (St Cruz) at 10.40 and were suggested to be at the airport at least 2 hours before in order to complete all the necessary procedures. Consider that for a domestic flight you only need 1 hour. That was a great suggestion though so that we avoided a huge line that formed just after we finished and we could have enjoyed a 3.50 USD coffee’, at least it was delicious.
Here is what you have to do once you get to the airport in Quito.
1)Enter through the Domestic flight door
2)On your left, you will see the Transit Card counter. That’s where you need to go before anything else. Prepare your passport and 20 USD. They are supposed to ask all the printed confirmations. They did not, in our case, but that was the rule and we were ready. We also filled out an online form but apparently, it wasn’t even necessary either. They will give you a lovely card with all your information on it and the dates of arrival and departure from the Galapagos on a nice recycled paper with a huge tortoise printed in green. Right then you will realize you are actually going to the Galapagos! Your dream will come true.
3) Once you do that you will need to enter a door at the back of the counter, where you will have your bags scanned. All of them. Then you will be able to proceed to the check just like any other flight.
Here is what happens once you land at the Galapagos, in our case in Baltra.
You will pass through immigration where you will show:
- Transit Card ( the one with the green tortoise)
- Another form that you will have filled out on the flight
After the first immigration guy, you will pass to the adjacent desk where you will also pay the 100 USD entry fees which (they say) will go to the conservation projects, but I read that it’s unfortunately not so true… anyway, you have to pay that.
Then you will move to another counter where do you pay 2 usd for transportation to the ferry dock (unless you are with a group in which case you will have your own transportation and your agent should give you directions about that)
They are super organized, I have to say. I was really impressed.
Before collecting your checked bags you will have your handbags scanned again I am not sure for what reason since they had already scanned them before boarding.
How to get to Puerto Ayora (Santa Cruz)
As I was mentioning before I didn’t expect such an efficient organization which goes like this.
You will fly to Baltra which is a small island separated from St Cruz by a canal. Puerto Ayora is the main town, located right on the opposite side of the Airport. as you can see in the map below.
If you are not coming with a group and you don’t have your own pre-booked transportation, you will hop on one of the buses parked right outside the airport (for which you already paid 2 USD at the immigration counter).
After a few minutes ride, you will get to a ferry dock where you will hope on a sort of taxi boat/ferry to get on the other side of the narrow canal.
We have been greeted by a funny sea lion who seemed as if he just came to say hi! It was too cute and I felt like a good omen for the amazing trip awaiting us. We didn’t know at that time that this funny creature would have been the main presence of our entire trip. I totally fell in love. You will know more about it in the next chapters.
Once you get on St Cruz, on the ferry terminal you will be approached by taxi drivers offering their services. But you also see regular busses parked there. You can choose your preferred transportation.
- The bus is 5 USD per person and you might need to wait a little while since they only depart when they are almost full.
- Taxis cost 25 USD per up to 5 people and it’s a private service unless you want to share it with somebody else to split the cost.
It’s a 1-hour beautiful drive cutting through the island when you can admire the extremely diverse landscape, dry and flat on the coast and lush and green in the middle. We have also passed by a private estate with thousands of giant tortoises, scattered around the land mingling with cows and horses. It was just hilarious.
It was sunny when we arrived and it became misty while we were driving through the highlands, but the rain made everything look even more beautiful, as the green leaves of the tropical flora become even more intense and luxuriant.
As soon as we arrived at our destination we found our little pre-booked apartment, dropped our bags and went out to explore. We had a local meal in a very local place (5 USD per person) and we started to browse around but most of all we checked out a few travel agents and compare prices of the tours.
We realized that they all have more or less the same trips and the prices of every trip vary according to the operator and kind of boat.
The other thing we realized is that the best sights are done only by cruise. Especially we had looked into Genovesa Island and Rabida island which were our nr 1 favorites but there is no way to go other than joining a cruise. BUMMER!
Also, I was told that I wouldn’t be seeing Penguins as they are only there in the summer! Luckily they were wrong. I saw more than one and I will tell you more about it later.
WHERE ARE THE GALAPAGOS ISLANDS LOCATED ?
The Galapagos Islands is an archipelago of about 300 volcanic islands (including rocks and islets) located in the Pacific Ocean right on the Equator Line. The Islands are part of Ecuador at a distance of 906 km (563 mi) west from continental Ecuador, which is also the closest land mass to them. (see source)
FLIGHTS TO GALAPAGOS ISLANDS HOW TO GET THERE
How to get to the Galapagos islands?
Unless you are traveling on a private boat, for which you need to ask for special permission, you can only get to the Galapagos islands by flight.
Airlines and costs
There are 3 airlines flying there:
The costs of the flight range from 350 to 500 USD, return, depending on how early you book and what time of the year, and other factors.
From where to where are the flights to Galapagos?
You can fly either from Quito or Guayaquil to either San Cristobal or Santa Cruz (Baltra). If you fly to San Cristobal it would normally be from Guayaquil. So if you are departing from Quito you will probably have to make a stop in Guayaquil.
It’s about a 3-hour flight.
What if you have booked a Galapagos cruise?
In this case, you will need to fly to Santa Cruz as the majority of the cruises leave from there. You should ask your cruise company or travel agent. Some of them would take care of everything, flights and transportation included. Or you can book directly on Liveaboard.com an online tour operator specialized in Cruises all over the world. When we were browsing online to see what our options were we bumped into this website and we loved it. More info in the Cruise section.
Other flights related information
- It’s an internal flight and you are allowed to bring liquids
- The baggage allowance depends on the airline but it’s usually 1 checked bag and 1 carry-on, plus a personal item. You should check directly with your airline.
- You will have permission to stay in the Galapagos for a maximum of 60 days. It’s 90 in Ecuador overall.
- There are supposed to be restrictions on plastics, but I haven’t seen anything applied and the islands are full of plastic items although they are prohibiting plastic bags in supermarket and grocery shops. Kind of contradiction but I reckon it’s difficult to implement in an entire community and they are really trying hard
- DO NOT introduce food, animals, or plants.
- remember what I have mentioned before: you will be required to pay a 20USD Entry Card and 100 USD conservation fee, which are never included in the price of the flight ticket.
- Even if it is a domestic flight you should get to the airport at least 2 hours before departure.
Safe flight! 🙂
GALAPAGOS NATIONAL PARK RULES
There are common sense rules that we should follow all the time, not only in the Galapagos National Park. I was happy to see that these rules are strictly implemented with a lot of controls, with the help of the local nature guides and people involved in conservation.
- Don’t touch the animals
- Don’t litter
- Stay at about 6 feet from the animals
- Don’t feed the animals
- Don’t use flash when photographing
To know about all the rules you can check out this official website on Galapagos conservation.
It would be great if we get the habit and will continue to follow these instructions on how to respect the environment and live in peace with nature.
Galapagos cruise or do-it-yourself island hopping?
If you are undecided between choosing a Galapagos Islands cruise or staying on the islands and taking day tours from there, I feel your pain.
My friend and I were in the same situation and as we started to look online at the cruise options and seeing the outrageous prices, we were about to give up on our dream to visit the Galapagos islands.
They looked extremely unaffordable, for me especially, as I am traveling full time, living on my savings. So, even the tourist category option (about 1200 USD for 5 days) would have been too much for me, besides the fact that I believe that to get the best out of a cruise you need to chose at least a middle-range category or up and will tell you why in a bit.
Also what I couldn’t make peace with, was the thought of spending 1400 to 2000 USD for just 5 days or 7. That would have meant 250 to 400 USD per day, and this if we had found a last minute discounted cruise. I really couldn’t accept it, even though in the end we had actually spent more because we stayed longer.
Then, we found information on traveling from one island to the other and it looked much cheaper while you could still cover a lot, so we opted for the budget option to stay on different islands and do day tours from there.
However, we stayed 3 weeks and spent almost the same amount of money but with an average spend of 100 USD per day. I loved the idea to be on the islands and familiarize with the local life as well, really getting the feeling of it after 20 days, it almost felt like home. That feeling that I love so much when I travel.
However, it is not my intention here to discredit cruises, by all means. On the contrary, I promised myself and my friend, that we would go back to the Galapagos and next time it will be on a cruise, to try a different experience, to live completely in the water and to visit remote islands that you can only visit if you are on a cruise.
Here below I summarize the pros and con of both worlds:
The pros of traveling on a cruise
- you see many isolated and enchanted spots and wildlife species that are only reachable by cruises
- you don’t have any contact with other human beings besides your cruise companions and the guide (chose small boats)
- you don’t have to worry about food, transportation, and hotel hopping, as everything is taken care of
The cons of traveling on a cruise
- it has a higher cost if you consider a daily average spend
- you don’t get to know most of the islands life so your experience is limited to the cruise program and the guide
- you will be in a group for the entire time and will be told what to do and where on a fixed schedule. (I think I could freak out by day two, but I still want to try)
The pros of a DIY trip
- you are free to make your own schedule at your own peace
- it’s cheaper
- you can eat in different places
- you can experience the local lifestyle
- if one day you decide you just bask in the sun doing nothing, you can do that.
The cons of a DIY trip
- there are many islands where day trip cannot go either because they don’t have permission or because they are too far. Unfortunately, some of those islands are where you can see endemic spices that you cannot see anywhere else. Such as the red-footed boobies that you can see only in Genovesa Island, a remote island only reachable by cruise, and, if you are lucky, in Punta Pitt a San Cristobal. We were not.
- you have to hustle and organize the entire trip, transfers, meal, tours, which can be tiring although I enjoyed it.
There is no better or worse way to visit the Galapagos. Both ways are amazing experiences, just different. It all depends on what you like and what kind of trip you want to have and chose accordingly. That’s all. I enjoyed my stay on the Galapagos Islands but I can’t wait to go back and enjoy a cruise experience. I will book through Liveaboard.com as it’s the specialized tour operator that I found with the best cruise options and with lots of great deals. I will talk about it in the next section.
If you opted for a DIY option I have crafted 3 sample itineraries that might help you organize your own. Click here to check them out
HOW TO CHOSE A GALAPAGOS CRUISE
Ok, so, you have decided that you are up for a cruise vacation more than a do it yourself thing. So what’s next? how do you decide and search? No matter what kind of budget you have. The following information that we have found during our research will help you find the perfect boat for you.
Disclaimer: I haven’t been on a cruise myself, so what I am sharing here is the information I found during my research (a long research).
A view from Bartolome’ island while returning from our hike. You can see far away one of the cruises.[/caption]
Here is what you should know about Galapagos cruises
- There are many different cruise categories and prices, just like for hotels, which I will summarise here below. For what I have understood
- Economy – This is the cheapest option, but for a reason. The economy cruise in the Galapagos are smaller and will small common spaces, usually not very comfortable and most of the time with shared bathrooms. Food is not going to be the best quality but you will have a professional nature guide as well even though of a lower level of experience. Also, the low-end cruise would be on a smaller boat which moves a lot when the ocean is choppier, normally from June through November. So you should take it into consideration if you are prone to seasickness. However, if you are not interested in the perks of the luxury experience and you are traveling on a budget this would be the best option for you. Budget cruises price range from $900 to $1,200 per person for 5 days; $1,500 to $1,800 per person for 8 days.
- Tourist – Tourist or superior class are the best options if you are not keen on splurging and all the luxuries are not your main priority. You still have a good level of comfort though, even if the cabins are smaller or sometimes have bunk beds, but with your own private bathroom. If you are traveling alone you might be required to share the cabin with another solo traveler. The food will still be good and you will get the full Galapagos cruises to experience anyway. Especially if your primary goal and interest are about the Galapagos wildlife and nature. You will be just fine. Also, you will still have your Level 2 certified Nature guide. Mid-range cruises price range: $2,000 to $3,000 per person for 5 days; $3,500 to $4,500 per person for 8 days
- First class – First Class cruises in Galapagos are on top class boats with very similar service as luxury cruises. However, the cabins are smaller and the guides are still high level (2 or 3 bilingual guides) Food is also delicious although not gourmet. First Class cruise price in the Galapagos can range between $3,500 to $5,000 per person for 5 days and $5,000 to $6,000 per person for 8 days.
Luxury – as you can imagine Luxury cruises in the Galapagos has it all, the best of everything: top experienced guide (Level 3 of Nature Guide Certification) spacious and design cabins with all the comfort and premier amenities, gourmet cuisine. Some luxury cruises in the Galapagos also include transfer to the airport and VIP lounges. Price range goes from $4,000 to $6,000 per person for 5 days and $6,000 to $8,000 per person for 8 days.
Prices are approximate and can change with season and availability. On Liveaboard, a site specialized on cruises that we loved, we found an amazing 50% last minute deals that I would have taken if we hadn’t booked already our stay.
- Whatever class of cruise you chose you will experience the same amazing landscape of the stunning volcanic islands and local wildlife, snorkeling adventures and more.
- If you look at last minute cruises either online or directly on the islands, you can find a lot of great deals even up to 50% discounts.
- Sometimes are early birds deals, so if you book with good anticipation you get great deals, like this one for example
- Many of the Galapagos wildlife species that can only be seen in specific islands only reachable by cruise
- The best diving spots at the Galapagos are Darwin island and Wolf island and they are only reachable by Diving Cruises. They are so remote that it’s impossible to reach them by daily excursions. Dive cruises are the most expensive. But they also have good deals, such as this one.
- THE MOST IMPORTANT TIP for me: consider that being a marine park and protected ( I would say SUPER protected) areas, few people at a time are allowed to disembark and visit, be it for snorkeling or walking/hiking). Therefore if you are on a big cruise with more than 16 passengers you will have to deal with a lot of waiting, which to me is unbearable. I would choose a small First Class or Tourist (or higher) cruise to get the best experience.
- There are tons of cruises available with many different itineraries. You should check first what you can see in all the included stops before deciding your itinerary. For example, if your main goal is to see the funny Red-footed boobies you should consider including Genovesa Island in your itinerary, where you can find the largest colony, besides many other feathered friends besides hammerhead shark. You can see them on other islands but with less chance.
- Following point #7, it’s really important to know what you want to see where you can see and then look for a cruise that includes it, or most of it.
ISLANDS AND SPOTS THAT ARE REACHABLE ONLY BY CRUISE
While we were already on the islands and were touring around travel agents to see how to reach our favorite places, we realized that there were many spots that you can reach only by cruise. Each boat has its own itinerary on specific dates.
In fact, as I was mentioned before there are many different itineraries covered by different boats. This is why, before deciding which cruise you book, you need to know which spots you really want to visit and which ones you are ok to give up. It’s very difficult to find a cruise that covers everything you really want.
For example, we wanted to see Rabida Island and Genovesa Island and Canal Bolivar but there is no cruise that includes the three spots in one itinerary.
Here I will tell you what are the islands and spots that you can reach by cruise only so that you know what Galapagos cruise you should look for.
Located just 5 km off Santiago Island, this little rocky island is famous for its reddish beach where Sea lions have their home and pelicans nest. The lucky ones on a cruise that includes this island can enjoy a 750mt trail that leads to a viewpoint and a great snorkeling spot at the end of it.
This is a tiny island located close to Santiago Islands. Visitors can enjoy amazing snorkeling around a cave where a colony of sea lions hangs out all the time and there are great opportunities to see penguins. Of course, the omnipresent marine iguana won’t be missing out.
Located right opposite to the northwest coast of Isabela, Fernandina is one of a kind island, the only one where you could have the chance to see an eruption as the last one was in 2017.
It’s the youngest island and also the third largest.
It’s one of the few places of the Galapagos where no external species have been introduced.
Fernandina Island is home of endemic species such as flightless cormorants, lazy iguanas, Galapagos penguins, and, of course, sea lions. From the only visitor point, Punta Espinoza, right opposite to Isla Isabela, you can easily admire them all hanging out together in an unexpected impressive tolerance. Hawks can be spotted hovering over the breathtaking scenery.
The fourth largest island, Santiago Island has many different visitor sites, where many cruises and daily tours stop to admire its incredible lava formations and an abundance of wildlife that can be easily spotted.
Here we find Puerto Egas, on the west side, where black lava pools formed by the shoreline are home of a great variety of fauna, including marine iguana basking in the sun, hundreds of Sally Lightfoot Red crabs, herons, fur seals that will swim with you and an abundance of marine life including tropical fishes, moray eels, sharks and octopuses.
At Puerto, Egas you can also have a 2 km walk to the Sugarloaf volcano and your walk to the spectacular view will be delighted by the sights of lava lizards, Galapagos doves, and Darwin finches besides the majestic Galapagos hawk. Other bays are Sullivan bay on the east coast, a spectacular site, especially for a geologist, for the variety of lava formations that you can admire.
Espumilla beach is another beautiful spot south of Puerto Egas for snorkeling and where you can occasionally see flamingoes.
Buccaneer Cove in the northwestern side of the island is where many spices of seabirds come for nesting.
This is where we really wanted to go but, too far for a day tour. In fact, it makes sense. Here you can easily spot red-footed boobies that go there to nest, and, if you are lucky you might be able to spot the Galapagos Owl.
On this side of the archipelago, it’s easy to swim with hammer-sharks and fur seal or see whales passing by. Other birds sights can include, Nasca Boobies, Frigatebirds, red-billed tropic birds, swallow-tailed gulls. This is to me, an unmissable spot when I will go on a cruise.
The sources for this information include the Lonely Planet and my investigations while in the islands.
SANTA CRUZ ISLAND: WHAT TO DO, WHERE TO STAY, WHERE TO EAT AND MORE…
Santa Cruz is the main island, not the biggest, but where the majority of the business life happens. Here is where the WIFI is faster, there are more infrastructures, such as banks, supermarkets, hotels, and commercial services in general.
Puerto Ayora is the biggest town in Santa Cruz Island, where the port is and where the majority of the activities are.
Flights from Quito and Guayaquil get to Santa Cruz, via Baltra Island, where the airport is situated (read this section to know how to get from the airport to Puerto Ayora).
There are plenty of things you can do in Puerto Ayora as the majority of the one day tours leave from there, but there are also a variety of things that you can do and enjoy on your own.
WHAT TO DO IN SANTA CRUZ: FREE DIY ACTIVITIES
Walk to Tortuga Bay beach: surf or hang out with the marine iguanas
It was our first activity in the Galapagos Islands while we were deciding what paid tours were worth doing we had an amazing walk to this stunning beach. From Av. Baltra, the main road, walking towards the ocean, take the Binford Charles, on your right (you will see a sign to Tortuga Bay) keep walking and climb up some stairs until you reach a little office where you will see signs about Tortuga Bay and how to respect the environment (read them, it’s important).
There you will need to write your name down as they keep track of the visits.
Here a beautiful man-made path among local vegetation and friendly birds will take you to the beach after 2.5km (about 1,5 mile). It’s a mild pleasant walk, not a hike, so no worries.
If you don’t feel like walking, there are boats leaving from the main pier on the Malecon, at 2 pm every day, returning at 5. The cost is 10USD each way per person.
Tortuga bay beach is both a surfers’ paradise and a place for nature lovers.
In the first bay, you cannot swim unless you are with a surfboard and know how to use it.
However, you will be fascinated by the hundreds of iguanas walking freely along the shore and the red and blue crabs playing hide and seek on the volcanic rocks scattered along the bay. You might be able to see a great blue heron, with her beautiful fancy grey feather around its neck.
If you continue to walk on your right you will get to another beautiful bay where you can lay down at the shades of the mangroves and other plants and take a swim in the calm waters. In the water watch your feet as stingrays tend to hang out right by the shore.
You can also spot baby sharks and blue-footed boobies patrolling the skies or just posing on the rocks along the bay.
At the end of that beach, you can rent a kayak for 10 USD per hour and snorkeling gear for 5 USD and explore the bay.
This is a beautiful place to spend one day but if you don’t have a lot of time and you are on a rush to visit as much as you can you can just go for one morning and use the afternoon for another trip.
Unfortunately, the beach closes at 5 and you are taken away from amazing sunset views! Bummer! But if you stay until the very end you might see the sky starting to dress up with pinkish and yellow colors preparing for the end of the day.
Opening hours: 6 am to 5 pm
Snorkel at Las Grietas and then relax in Playa Alemanes
This is a place for snorkeling lovers. As you can see in the picture below, it’s like a canyon filled with crystal clear water where you can snorkel. To be honest there is not much to see but I enjoyed it anyway as the water was so blue and freezing cold. I was also lucky to be completely alone surrounded by silence while swimming along massive rock formations and seeing some parrotfishes and other small species minding their own business. Sometimes it felt a little scary to be there on my own embraced by these huge rock walls, but I even enjoyed the thrill and the peace. It’s not common to be alone though. I believe because it was not a sunny day so the cold was kind of discouraging. Also, mind that if you don’t jump in the water and stay outside you’ll be food for mosquitos. Just so you know.
When you finish your snorkeling you might walk back and get to Playa Alemanes in front of the stunning hotel Finches bay. Here you can also snorkel in the bay or hang out on the beach.
I suggest you should bring water with you and some snacks if you plan to stay there all day.
How to get there – you can take a taxi boat at the marina, in Puerto Ayora, and for 0,80 USD they take you at a pier right on the other side of the bay. It’s just a 2 minutes ride. You will follow a path and get to the beach (German Beach or Playa los Alemanes) and will keep walking following a path to Las Grietas. It’s about 10 minutes nice walk. At the time we went there were works in progress at the pier so we had to circle around the bay and we paid 2 USD instead. You will arrive right in between las grieta and Playa Alemanes but you will see both signs.
What to bring – Snorkeling gear if you snorkel, swimsuit, flip flops, beach towel, food, and water. You don’t need gym shoes to walk to Las Grietas as the terrain is flat. Some prefer to enter with rubber shoes but I liked to go barefoot and I was just fine.
Explore the highlands and visit the Giant Tortoise walking around freely
If you are tired of the beach life you can explore the highlands, the central region of Santa Cruz whose main town is Santa Rosa. Here you can walk to Los Gemelos, which are not craters as many would think but the area where the surface rocks have collapsed forming 2 huge holes. It’s interesting to watch and there is a small hike to do if you love nature and want to look for birds.
In the highlands, you can visit El Chato, a private estate where for 5 dollars you can walk around and see the local tortoises hanging out. There are hundreds and they are free. They are not a property of the hacienda and free to come and go. So why to the stay? you would wonder. The environment is favorable for their lifestyle and love to stay there. You might see them walking at their own peace on the mow or in ponds. It’s not unusual to see a beautiful yellow bird flying around as well. You will see them a lot, actually. It’s one of the Darwin finches and it’s called Galapagos Yellow Warbler.
You can also enter into a natural cave made of lava. There are quite a few that you can visit in Santa Cruz, but since you are there you can try the experience.
In the hacienda, they will offer you a tea or coffee at the end of your tour. Or you can choose to go for lunch and try their local cuisine. I just did a quick visit.
How to get there
If you like the challenge you can rent a bike and ride up the hilly road. It’s 21 km only but all ascending. Just saying!
Or some suggested you can rent a bike in Puerto Ayora, hop on a local bus (3 USD) and hang out the bike at the back. They are equipped for that. Once in Santa Rosa, you can get to the Hacienda which is at only 3 km from town. It’s a pleasant road, a little hilly but doable and you can meet tortoises along the way. Then you can ride (or fly) back to Puerto Ayora.
The most comfortable way to go is by taxi, and that’s what I did. Normally I am more sporty but not this time, with the rain threatening. I hired a taxi for 30 USD and the driver took me to Los Gemelos and El Chato waited for me 1 hour and back to Puerto Ayora.
Get to know the Conservancy project in the Charles Darwin Research foundation and relax in one of its 2 beaches.
From the Malecon in Puerto Ayora you can walk all along the main street (Darwin street) with all the shops, hotels and restaurants are located and you will end up at the Charles Darwin Research Foundation.
It’s an interesting circuit where you can learn about their conservancy projects. A team of local and foreigners researchers, educator and scientist together with volunteers are working together for the conservation, restoration, and sustainable development projects to ensure that the archipelago is well-managed and the flora and fauna keep perpetuating their species in a safe and healthy environment.
There is also a great library with lots of interesting books about biology and history.
Bask in the sun at El Garrapatero Beach
The beach there is really beautiful and you can rent a kayak, paddle around the bay and snorkel along the coast.
Unfortunately the day we went turned quite cloudy and even chilly so we didn’t dare touch the freezing water. But it was still nice to hang out there and admire the beautiful landscapes. I even take some good shot of a Pelican posing for me – well he wasn’t even bothering, actually.
It is located about 30 minutes drive from Puerto Ayora. Some suggest that you can bike there but the road is winding with no cycling path on the side, so I don’t think it’s very safe.
The taxi costs 40 USD return. You will need to tell the taxi driver at what time to pick you up, which is not very convenient because you never know how long you want to stay in advance.
You can take the chance and tell your driver that you just want one way and on the way back you can ask for a ride. For sure you will find somebody to help you. Bear in mind that there is no signal on the beach and outside in the parking lot only Movistar has a phone signal.
Relax in the Laguna de Las Ninfeas
This is a tranquil a peaceful lagoon right in town, on the way to Tortuga Bay, where you can admire different types of mangroves and some fishes but you cannot swim. Locals and tourists alike like to go there and hang out on the boardwalk, read a book or just enjoy the silence.
Watch the baby sharks from the pier
If you walk on the pier at night you will see a lot of baby sharks swimming underneath, probably attracted by the light.
It’s fun to see them. On the pier be careful where you step because it’s not rare to find a couple of sea lions sleeping on the dock totally careless of the curious tourists taking awkward selfies or just observing them.
They just keep snoring, regardless. That will become my favorite animal during this trip.
Familiarize with the funny sea lions
Not only on the jetty at night but all day you can see them hang out on by the marina, especially I suggest you should check out the fish market, where you will see a couple of them ridiculously staying by the fish guy waiting for some food tasting.
Sometimes they fight between each other for their own spot. It’s a show to watch. If you are in an apartment and you wish to cook your own fish or lobster (only in season) this is also the right place to go.
As for the sea lions you will see more of them on other islands.
DAILY TOURS FROM SANTA CRUZ
The majority of tours are from Santa Cruz as there is such a variety of places to see, especially for those who love snorkeling, here below I list all the available tours, even those that I haven’t done…
How to book the tours
You need to know a couple of things before booking your tours:
1) you will see tons of travel agents selling their tours, however except for the diving tours, all the other day trips are organized by the boat owners who also make the price. The travel agent who sells the trip makes a commission out of that, which is normal.
You can probably see a 5 dollars difference from one agent to the other, so when you ask for information always ask the name of the boat used for the tour. In this way, you can compare prices correctly.
Therefore, in general, the prices should be more or less the same unless some agency wants to do a last minute offer. You can always check if you are in low season. Otherwise… see the second note here below.
2) IMPORTANT, because of what I was saying above, that the number of authorized boat for each tour is fixed, they won’t add more boats in high season. Therefore you should book in advance for your day trips otherwise you would risk being left out of your favorite tour either because there is no more space if you book last minute or they don’t do the tour you chose on that specific day.
We were there for a week for each island which gave us a lot of flexibility and it was low season. But if you have a limited time and/or you travel in high season you need to keep this in mind.
Full Day trip to Bartolome’ Island (190 USD)
This is one of the best tours we have had or one of the best. If you need to choose one tour for each island (and you are not a diver) you should choose this one for Santa Cruz.
The tour was done on a catamaran called Adriana. A bus collected us at the marina in Puerto Ayora and took us to the other side of the island where a dingy took us to our boat. The maximum on this boat is 16 people. There was a lot of space on the catamaran and we were very comfortable.
I was sitting in front of the boat and halfway to the first spot a pod of dolphins, at least 10 of them, suddenly appeared jumping from all sides and racing with us. I was in tears for the emotion. It was one of those moments when you feel in full connection with the universe and you can’t help but be grateful for being alive. I have goosebumps just writing about it a few weeks later.
But the surprises are not finished.
The first stop was the short hike to the viewpoint from where they shoot the famous Galapagos iconic picture (see featured picture on top of this article). The hike is steep but on a comfortable boardwalk and very simple unless you have knees issues. While we were admiring the breathtaking views the knowledgeable guide would give us his speech about the history and geology of the islands. Really interesting.
The second part of the tour was the snorkeling. It was a little chilly but once you are in the water you get used to it. For the park rules, there are different snorkeling spots that the marine park assigned to the tour companies according to the day of the week and schedules.
We were hoping to snorkel by the pinnacle rock but they took us by the beach in front of it, on Santiago Island, which was still amazing.
And here it comes the other surprise, at least for me.
When I go out snorkeling I love to stay behind because I don’t like crowds, if you read me, you know already. So I was the last to get to the beach, our final destination and suddenly two penguin-shaped bullets flew right before my bewildered eyes.
I could not believe myself. I love penguins so much and it was one of my dreams to see one, but my hope went down to zero when they told me that it was not the season for penguins!
The sight lasted about 2 seconds as they passed in front of me and in a blink of an eye they were gone.
Silly me to even try to follow them. Penguins are known to be very fast underwater reaching up to 7 miles per hour.
But it was one of the best sights of my entire trip at the Galapagos, just like seeing the dolphins.
After the snorkeling, we hang out on the beach for a little while and then off to the boat where we had a 5-star lunch while anchoring in the bay, before heading back to Santa Cruz. The return trip was kind of choppy and most of us felt sick. I was about to, as well. but I sat at the back of the boat where it was more stable and looked at the sea while feeling the breeze and felt much better.
This was really a trip to remember. Probably the highlight of my Galapagos Vacation but I still haven’t decided yet. There were too many highlights. 🙂
Take a diving trip (250 USD – 190 USD for the discover dive)
My friend and I went to Nauti Diving shop, right by the marina in Santa Cruz to ask for information as I am a diver and I wanted to see what were my options.
When we started to talk and they were explaining the tours they convinced me to go for a dive and my friend to take a discovery dive. I was a little reluctant because I get a little anxious underwater but I wanted to do it at the Galapagos and the staff at the shop was really convincing, transmitting trust and calm.
They didn’t try to sell the tour, they just explained what it was like and we both liked that and ended up buying all the tours and transfers with them.
Needless to say, the dive was amazing. My friend felt super comfortable with her first time diving and I got rid of my fears. Jesus, the dive instructors, and Marco, the divemaster were just great.
Unfortunately, we didn’t see hammer sharks, as we hoped for, but we had an amazing time under and above the water.
The discovery dive consist in one dive and one snorkeling. During the snorkeling, my friend saw a lot of sea lions trying to pick her fins she had the time of her life.
Diving trips from Santa Cruz are:
- Gordon Rocks
Prices are normally from 250 USD per day, but if you book last minute and they have space you might get the chance to a discount. We paid 160 USD booking last minute. I don’t recommend it in high season (December through March)
These below are other trips available in Santa Cruz that I haven’t done (prices are approximate)
Half day to Seymour Island 150 USD
Half day trip to Pinzon Island 150 to 160 USD
There are 2 tours that take you to Pinzon Island, both from 8 am to 3.30 pm approx
- One will leave from Puerto Ayora pier in a Lancha (a small boat). The first stop is at Playa La Fe where, you would snorkel for 45 minutes and then you will reach Pinzon Island after another hour of navigation. Here you will have 2 snorkeling trips in two different spots around the island. You can see a huge amount of marine life among which White tip sharks, Tintoreras sharks, sea lions, sea turtles. It includes snorkeling gear, lunch, non-alcoholic drinks, snacks. (150 USD)
- The other option is to get to the Itabaca canal by transportation (included) at an hour drive from Puerto Ayora, where you board on a “Lancha” that will take you to Playa Bahia Borrero to do the first snorkeling, then you will reach Daphne Island to spot some bird species and then back to Pinzon, in another spot to do another snorkel. Just like the other one, it includes snorkeling gear, lunch, non-alcoholic drinks, snacks. (160 USD)
Half day trip to Santa Fe’ 130 USD
It’s a half day tour at about 45 minutes boat ride from Santa Cruz. It includes 3 activities, a fishing one and two snorkeling trips. Then you’ll be taken to a stunning beach where you can either bask in the sun or snorkel again. It includes snorkeling gear, lunch, non-alcoholic drinks, snacks.
Half day trip to Plazas 130 USD
Full Day trip to Floreana Island 180 USD ( Last minute 130 USD)
It’s two hours to reach the island. You are going to visit The Pirate’s Cave, the first inhabitants of the Island, then you will visit the “Asilo de la Paz”, a source of natural water, then after lunch, you will be taken to Playa Negra, a volcanic beach where you can see marine iguanas, turtles, sea lions and, sometimes, Penguins.
These prices are from Nauti Diving. As I mentioned before we booked all our tours with them and we had an amazing experience, both with service and organization. I couldn’t recommend them more. You can check their contact details here or their TripAdvisor reviews here, in case my opinion is not enough 😉
WHERE TO STAY IN SANTA CRUZ
We opted for a self-catering solution and booked an apartment not only for budget reason, but because we didn’t want to eat out every day and we loved to cook our meals and stay healthy, well, relatively healthy.
So we stayed at Coral Galapagos Suites, it was a very simple accommodation, anything particularly charming or fancy, but very comfortable, spacious and clean.
However, I went to visit other options that were hotels closer to the center and a little more upscale and here is my choice (including those that I have picked in booking.com and TripAdvisor for the excellent reviews)
Finch Bay Hotel – Located right on Playa Alemanes the hotel boasts a modern architecture that merges natural elements with functional features. Very elegant and stylish, away from the busy downtown, but only at 5 minutes boat ride.
Angermeyer Waterfront house I didn’t have the pleasure to see this property but I saw a lot of great reviews and I love the location, on the same side as The Finch bay, a quiet peaceful area with stunning views over the bay.
Ikala Galapagos Hotel This is another gem, featuring an ultra-modern and minimal style, with an internal pool, wifi and an elegant deck where your breakfast is served and you can relax on the sun beds. The rooms are also spacious and finely decorated.
Mid-range price options
Hostal MorningGlory Located right on Darwin street, the heart of Puerto Ayora I found this little gem, hiding in a lovely internal courtyard. The rooms are simple but nicely decorated in bright colors which gives it a cozy feeling. This hotel would really be my choice if I had a mid-range budget.
For more mid-range options click here
Low budget ( Please note that I haven’t personally checked these hotels – My choice is based on trip advisor and Booking.com reviews)
For more budget options click here.
WHERE TO EAT IN PUERTO AYORA, SANTA CRUZ
As I was mentioning we didn’t really eat out that much, but we did check out some places and here below you can find my reviews.
LOW BUDGET PLACES
Eating out at the Galapagos islands can be expensive, but there is also a way to stay on the cheap and still try delicious local food, and that’s by going to non-touristic places. Out of many restaurants, you will see a board sign saying ALMUERZOS ( lunch) or MERIENDAS (dinner). Those are the local menu prices.
They would serve you a fixed menu that includes a soup a choice between two kinds of the main course, usually, fish or meat a drink and sometimes a “desert” which is a fruit and a drink, which is a fruit flavored water. For the Vegetarian/vegan friends I am afraid this option is not for you as the meals cost so little that it doesn’t leave room for flexibility.
Costs: 4 to 8 USD per person
REGULAR RESTAURANTS AND COFFE’ PLACES
There is a food street that lights up at night and lots of restaurants one close to the others, set tables out and serve their best meal, normally lobster, fish, ceviche and other local specialties. I have to be honest, we went there only once and I didn’t really like it. I found outrageous prices and low quality.
We have tried other restaurants instead such as:
El Giardino, we only had ice cream there but some friends we met along the trip had a lot of praise about this place. The menu looked really inviting, in fact, besides the bucolic setting, hence the name (the garden)
The Rock Galapagos Cool ambiance, although we didn’t make it there to try their food. It has been recommended to us quite often, though.
La Regata Here I had the best lemonade with lemongrass ever and delicious vegetarian quesadillas. They also have great espresso coffee and decent WIFI.
Hernan Cafe’ This place was always full and when we tried it we understood the reason. It’s a little overpriced but not for being in the Galapagos, we realized. On our last night on the island, we decided to take a splurge and try their specialties. The ceviche mixto is to die for, but mind that the portion is enough as an appetizer so we shared it and had also a seafood pizza which made our day as well.
Definitely, a place that I highly recommend.
To check out reviews for other restaurants, you can click here.
Coffee Lab As coffee’ addicts we found this cute little place on Darwin street and it became our expresso appointment, almost daily. They claim to be coffee’ specialist and they offer different types of coffees, not to mention the good looking deserts they display. Definitely worth a try.
VIDEO ON PLAYA LOBERIA AND PUNTA CAROLA – SAN CRISTOBAL – GALAPAGOS
SAN CRISTOBAL ISLAND: WHAT TO DO, WHERE TO STAY, WHERE TO EAT AND MORE…
San Cristobal Island is the last we visited and the one I loved the most.
The small quaint village develops around the Malecon (seafront promenade), populated by the funny sea lions that hang out there undisturbed by the human presence, just like everywhere else in the Galapagos Islands. For a few blocks from the seaside, you will find the heart of the main town, where shops, travel agents, bars and hotels are located.
On the sides, you will walk to the various point of interests as I will explain here below.
There are 3 cash machines and one bank, Banco del Pacifico, a few fancy hotels and apartments and restaurants on which I am afraid I cannot give you advise as we have never eaten out here.
FREE THINGS TO DO IN SAN CRISTOBAL, NO GUIDE IS NEEDED
Bask in the sun at Playa Mann
This is actually a nice walk from Puerto Baquerizo on your right. You will pass by Playa de Oro where a colony of Sea Lions lay down undisturbed, you might feel it in your nostrils as well, but they are so much fun to watch, I never get tired.
After about 1 km walk and you will arrive at Playa Mann, where you have also bathroom and bar services. Here you can just relax and snorkel. It’s a little more crowded than the next one, Punta Carola, but you also get a great sunset from here as well. And of course you can snorkel, and maybe a few sea lions will keep you company.
Right after Playa Mann, just before reaching Punta Carola you can make a little deviation to discover the Interpretation center, and even if you are longing for jumping in the water, I suggest you pay a visit. It is free and doesn’t take long, depending on how strong is your interest in understanding the Galapagos islands.
It’s one of the best sources of information you can find, a concise and yet explanatory overview of the natural and human history, geology and conservation displayed in easy to read panels in English and Spanish. There is also as well small exhibits and old photographs. It’s definitely worth passing through. The path will take you back on the way to Playa Punta Carola, or, if you prefer you can go straight to the Mirador (sea view) Las Tijeretas, the snorkeling and then back to Playa Punta Carola (see below)
Visit Playa Punta Carola (the best Sunset Spot)
It was my favorite beach, especially at sunset, it’s the best place for photography, both for the spectacular views and the huge amount of Sea Lions hanging out. We were there when the little ones were just born, a couple of months before and they were the cutest things to watch. We spent hours looking at them and watching their behavior.
Listening to their cry while they are looking for their mum is breathtaking. We were told that sometimes the mother sea lions would go away for a couple of days to fish for herself so that she is able to feed their babies. During that time the babies would feel lost and cry for her mum to go back to them.
You just want to grab the little ones in your arms and cuddle them but you can’t.
INSIDER TIP It’s very important that you don’t touch the baby sea lions within their 4th year of age, because if they are still depending on their mum for their nutrition and if you touch them the mum cannot recognize their odor anymore and would abandon them. It seems cruel but it’s the way nature works. They recognize each other by the odor, not by their traits. So please don’t.
Snorkel at Las Tijeretas after checking out the viewpoint (Cerro Tijeretas)
If you continue either before basking on the sun at Punta Carola or after visiting the Interpretation Center you can walk up to Cerro Tijereta from which you have spectacular views over Las Tijeretas, an amazing spot to do Snorkeling. From the viewpoint, you can also admire the elegant Frigates resting on a huge tree and if you are lucky and they are in the breeding seasons maybe a male will inflate his red neck in front of you.
That would make an amazing shot! Ah Nature, you never stop enchanting me!
SUNSET: the viewpoint is quite high and in a good clear day you can also see the Insta-famous Leon Dormindo rock (Kicker’s Rock) on the horizon.
However, the sun would set on your left side and you won’t see it dipping into the sea because it would be covered by trees. I am sure the sky will still be painted in its pinkish-orange colors and the light will be amazing, but just so you know. As a wannabe photographer, I like to have this kind of information.
SNORKELING AT LAS TIJERETAS
From the viewpoint, you will see the well-protected bay with dark blue transparent water where people are snorkeling already and soon it will be your turn as well. You just have to make your way down through a well-marked path that leads you there. It’s a short and easy walk. You don’t need any special shoes. Flip-flops will do.
We went twice. The first time was the best one because the water was crystal clear, and although cold, I could really see the blue reflections in the deep rocky bottom, sea lions swimming with you or around you and other sorts of fishes and coral formation. However, I was not prepared. I didn’t have my wetsuit and most of all, my fins, and besides the cold, which I could have easily born, it made me uncomfortable.
So we decided to go back the following day, after renting a wetsuit and all the equipment and enjoy our snorkeling.
Too bad, when we got there after 2 days, it was nothing like what we found the first time.
The water was murky and currents much stronger, nothing enjoyable to be honest. Bummer! I was so disappointed remembering how beautiful it was just two days before. But hey, you cannot fight nature. She will always win! 🙂
INSIDER TIP So my tip here is when you are making your itinerary if you can choose when to go snorkeling at Las Tijeretas, possibly chose a day when the moon either full or new, that’s when the tides are high and you will have a clear and better vision. Here is an interesting article on tides and how the moon influences them.
Snorkel and bask in the sun at La Loberia beach.
It’s only 2 km from Baquerizo Moreno, opposite to Playa Carola. However, the road is not the nicest and if’ it’s hot, the asphalt will make it hotter, so you can get a cab for 4 USD and go straight there. This is what we did.
Once we arrived there we walked a few 100 mt and we arrived at this stunning bay.
It was a little crowded but the most hilarious thing was seeing a colony of sea lions basking underneath the racks where you are supposed to hang out your stuff in order not to deteriorate the environment. Well, we tried to do that anyway but one of those cuties didn’t really agree with us and gave us the mad look plus a scary sound so we decided to move further. We had a good laugh.
We put on our wetsuit and snorkeling gear and off we went into the water. We saw lots of turtles and sea lions playing with us, plus other cute tropical fishes.
Here below you can check out the video.
After resting for a while and eating our homemade sandwiches we went to check Las Tijeretas (see above). It was the day when it was murky. Luckily we had our time in La Loberia, which compensated the disappointment.
Inland tour and Puerto Chino Beach
Ok, I have to tell you an anecdote, after which you will think I am dumb and I have a dumb friend. But I take the chance and I hope to make you laugh.
We organized this day trip with a taxi driver who would have to take us to the Treehouse, the Junco lake, and the Garrapatero, the tortoise breeding center, ending up the tour at the beautiful beach of Puerto Chino to lay down and relax on what should have been our last day in San Cristobal. Too bad, on the night before we realized that it was not our last day but exactly the day of our trip back to Santa Cruz.
We had already booked our boat and our hotel for our last night before leaving the Galapagos. If our kind homeowner didn’t let us know that our booking was ending there, we would have missed all our connections and booking.
The funny part is that the two of us were thinking the same. So naive! As soon as we found out we were not sure whether to be more disappointed for having our last day spoiled and missing our tour, or to be happy and relieved that we didn’t miss our boat.
Anyway. It is what it is. Just remember to check the dates of your boats and flights because the Galapagos are really enchanting islands and you never know you might be so spellbound that you might miss your flight. 🙂
If you manage to do this tour let me know how it is, please 🙂
PAID DAY TOURS FROM SAN CRISTOBAL
In San Cristobal as well the prices of the tours are decided by the boat owners and the number of available boats are fixed. They don’t increase the number of boat according to the demand. This is part of the conservancy program and it makes sense. After “interviewing” different tour agencies we picked the one that gave us more reliability. We went by the vibes.
360º San Cristobal tour of the island – 180 USD
We chose this tour because it would have given us a complete overview of the islands and included also a snorkeling trip around Kiker rock and it was a perfect choice.
We were only 12 in a very comfortable fishing boat. The guide was great very informed and passionate about sharing his knowledge.
We made 3 stops for snorkeling, one at Playa Rosa Blanca where the beach is white powder and the water is turquoise.
I have never seen such a beautiful contrast of colors. I don’t think even the picture can make justice. We walked for a few mt on volcanic rock formations where we saw a boobie posing for us until we reached a tranquil bay where we did our first snorkeling. It was just spectacular as we saw a lot of sharks, turtles and manta rays and other tropical fishes.
The second stop was on another breathtaking beach, Bahia Sardina, where we had some time on our own, 45 minutes, just enough to appreciate it.
Of course, instead of basking in the sun I was walking around with my GoPro and camera to take the best shots.
We then cruised around the majestic Cerro Brujo, where, with a lot of imagination, you can see the skyline of the massive rock resembling a witch (Brujo in Spanish).
We finally arrived at the highlight of the tour, the ultra photographed Kicker Rock or Leon Dormido, because, again with a lot of creativity and the right perspective, it can resemble a sleeping sea lion ( Leon Dormido in Spanish)
There we had another amazing snorkel adventure, where we swam by a stunning multicolored coral wall, and we saw sharks, turtles, swimming sea lions and lots of tropical fishes.
I have tried to put together a video of the entire tour that you can find at the bottom of this section.
It was a hell of a day indeed, worth the money.
Snorkeling at Kicker Rock (Leon Dormido) 100 USD
This tour last just half a day and include a longer snorkel tour where you will go all around the Leon Dormido, instead of doing half of it as we did on the 360 San Cristobal tour.
To be honest, if you can do both, good for you. But if you have to choose I would do the 360 for the reason I mentioned before.
If you are a diver though, I would rather to the diving at Kicker Rock rather than snorkeling because you will have more chances to see the hammerheads sharks which we hoped to see but didn’t.
Diving at Kicker Rock 200USD
I went to gather information but decided not to do it because I was already stretching my budget way over any prediction. No regrets, but still…
However, if I could go back in time I would have probably done it. But hey, I have an excuse to go back to Galapagos now, right!?
It’s 2 dives in two different spots around the famous rocks and you have lots of chances to see the hammerhead sharks, besides other marine creatures.
Española Island 200 USD
Española Island is another tour that I would recommend. It was just fascinating to look at the Albatros adults and babies at such a close distance, but most of all the Nasca boobies which have become one of my favorite birds, so elegant in their movement and so candid its snow-white plumage. It looks unreal. We had the privilege to have a couple dancing and posing right in front of us and I took a thousand shots.
The landscape was also just incredible, almost surreal. The guide was great and gave us lots of information on the Galapagos wildlife and the service on the boat superb as well.
Punta Pit – 200 USD
We wanted to do it soo much when we found out that the right in Punta Pit it was possible to see the Red-footed Boobies from a close distance. Unfortunately, this is not a much-demanded tour and they didn’t have a sufficient number of people to justify it. It was so unfortunate because it’s the only place where to find this species besides Genovesa Island, that you can only reach if you join a cruise.
If you are so passionate about wildlife I hope you can make it. Please let me know how it goes and send me a picture 😉
VIDEO ON THE 360 SAN CRISTOBAL TOUR
WHERE TO STAY
Here we stayed in an apartment that we have found on Airbnb. It was comfortable, clean and very central, close to everything, but nothing fancy.
While there I have spotted a couple of hotels that I haven’t had the chance to explore inside but I am sure they are spectacular from what I have seen. They are right on the front line:
Galapagos Sunset Hotel, located right in front of the pier the hotel boasts modern rooms with elegant furniture and decorations and a spacious terrace from which you can admire breathtaking sunsets.
Hotel Casa Bianca, featuring comfortable cozy rooms, in a laid-back tropical style, this cute little property is located right beside the previously mentioned Galapagos Sunset hotel and has a pretty busy restaurant. Good sign.
Casa Opuntia, also beachfront, it’s an excellent middle-range option. The rooms are minimal but spacious, some of them with great views over the bay and the funny sea lion.
For further hotel and home options, you can click on
WHERE TO EAT
I have to be honest we have never eaten out in San Cristobal but there are quite a few restaurants either along the seaside road or in the internal streets.
I use TripAdvisor quite often and I always find it quite accurate in general. Here is the link to check the reviews of the available restaurants in San Cristobal Island.
ISABELA ISLAND : WHAT TO DO, WHERE TO STAY, WHERE TO EAT AND MORE…
Isabella Island is the biggest island of the Galapagos in extension but although the village is very tiny and laid back and with only 3000 soul living there.
What makes it so attractive is its peculiar geological formation as it is made of 5 vulcanoes among which some are active including Volcano Sierra Negra, which makes a great hiking tour with stunning views from the top.
The other highlight of the island is a colony of penguins located on the rocks formation right in front of the village of Villamil reachable either by boat or kayak, as I will explain better here below.
As soon as you arrive at the main pier you are welcomed by a landing tax of 5 USD per person, that you have to pay at the counter right there before leaving the pier.
Right after you will just burst into laughter when you realize you are literally surrounded by sea lions that would make their way through the human passers-by while crossing the street and head to the nearby beach. It’s just hilarious. They also pretend to occupy all the benches that were probably supposed to be used by tourists to enjoy some shades and hang out by the beach.
Nothing like that. The sea lions decided that those are their benches and they would through away anything that they find on their way. I know for a fact as I saw one of them throwing my stuff away in order to make room for his nap. I couldn’t stop laughing.
Isabella island is a laid-back place of 3000 souls that all know each other. A long stretch of beach is lined by lovely hotels and restaurants. There is not a lot to do rather than snorkeling and a few interesting tours.
Here below I will tell you all about it.
DIY THINGS TO DO IN ISABELA ISLAND
Snorkeling at Concha de Perla
This is a bay that you reach by a boardwalk right before reaching the main pier on your left. You will see the entrance and a sign, right by a local restaurant and a bunch of iguanas of all and age taking a nap totally undisturbed. Be careful not to step on them. Sometimes they camouflage very well.
Your walk to the bay can be quite complicated if the Macho alfa sea lion decides to make it his napping spot.
If you get to close he might become aggressive.
The smallest ones are mild and you can just walk by them. If it happens that a sea lion wants to confront you, just be firm and don’t let him know you are shitting in your pants.
Clap your hands and scream “move, move”! It happened to me on Punta Carola in San Cristobal and I was freaking out. So I throw him water with the help of a book I was reading and he went away.
My friend who watched the scene is still laughing.
Anyway, back to Concha de Perla. Once you make it through iguanas and sea lions you will finally get to the dock from where you can jump, oh well, step down to the water. It’s like a giant round natural pool surrounded by mangroves and with a natural canal to the open ocean. I did try to swim there but I was way too cold and didn’t resist a minute and went back.
I never had the chance to do it again, maybe for laziness.
But you should do it. They say if you go around 5 pm, you might see even dolphins coming in and other sorts of marine life. Bring your snorkeling gear and a swimsuit, you don’t need any particular kind of shoes.
Bike(or walk) to the Muro the las Lagrimas (or walk)
You can rent a bike (20USD per day), or this is how people normally do it, and ride all along the coast with beautiful sights of long stretches of beach only interrupted by mangroves and other local trees until you will lose sight of the water and will be riding in a green tunnel of thick vegetation. It’s about 6 km long but you can do many stops along the way in many interesting points. I would suggest you should go all the way up to the Wall of Tears. There you can park the bike and have a nice hike up to the top. You will see the steps. Up there you will enjoy breathtaking views of Puerto Villamil and the entire bay, and opposite to that a neverending green carpet. It’s spectacular indeed.
On the way back you can take your time and stop either on the left side where the lagoons are and you might spot some flamingos, while on your right side you will find two beaches.
Playa del Amor, an organic beach made of pure coral.
At the back of it, there is a protected and off-limits area where the iguanas lay their eggs.
Another one is la Playita where you can freely go and take a swim or relax after your bike ride.
NOTE – on the way to the Wall of Tears, you will need to sign in and write your name at the security checkpoint. It’s nothing major and you will see it every time you will enter a protected area. It’s a way to have a sort of control of the visitors. it says it closes at 6 pm but there is no gate and people go back and forth to run. It’s just not advisable to walk through the path when it’s dark.
Walk on the boardwalk to the Tortoise Breeding center and watch the beautiful Flamingo along the way.
Right passed the Hotel Iguana Crossing you will see the beginning of a boardwalk, with a giant iguana sleeping on it to welcome you. I am not sure if it’s always there but it’s for sure a nice encounter.
It’s a silent walk across the lagoon and it’s very common to find flamencos searching for their food in the swampy waters.
They are accompanied by beautifully colored ducks that navigate the ponds in a group and fish their food submerging their tiny head and lifting their but as if diving. Super funny to watch.
When you are tired of taking photos of the feathered critters, you can keep walking for about 1,5 mile passing through intricated trees and mangroves until you arrive at the Tortoise breeding center, where you can admire the old giant tortoises in their different stages of life.
I would suggest you should do it around 4 pm so that you are more likely to see the flamingos.
Hang out on the beach
There is one long stretch of beach lined by little boutique hotels and a couple of bars and restaurants. The beach is free and you can even take a swim, just be mindful with the currents.
DAY TOURS FROM ISABELA ISLAND
Also in Isabela Island, you will find plenty of travel agents selling their tours which are basically all the same with a 10 USD variation on the prices. Here below I will tell you what we did.
Kayak to Las Tintoreras and snorkel around the reef
We did this tour with Paddle to the Penguins a relatively new company run by young and enthusiastic guys. Their equipment is all news and in great conditions, so we didn’t mind paying a little more compared to other company. Their tour costs 60 USD and with a maximum of 10 people and 2 guides you will kayak to Las Tintoreras, a group of rocks right in front of Puerto Villamil bay that boasts an abundance of marine creatures, including Tintoreras Sharks, hence the name.
You leave from Playa Isabela where you will leave all your belonging which should be limited to clothing stuff. Then you will hop on the Kayaking in pair and start paddling towards the rocks. it’s a short trip, so no worries if you have never done it. It will be easy to learn and fun.
Once you get to a secure zone the guide will secure the kayak and you will start snorkeling around. We have seen sharks and turtles besides other local fishes.
But the best part came later on, during our trip back we followed another route and found 2 penguins hanging out on a rock together with Blue-footed boobies. So cute. It made my day.
When we were almost back to shore we have been welcomed by mantas and turtles. A marine feast!
If you don’t want to paddle, regular tours are organized to Las Tintoreras by boat and cost about 40 USD.
Snorkeling trip to Los Tuneles
Los Tuneles is a half day tour to this spectacular unique geologic formations of lava rocks whose nooks and crannies make the perfect environment for a rich sea life underwater and bird nesting on the surface.
We had a short hike around and one long hour of snorkeling about which I will tell you more on another post where I will explain in more details the surprises we had on the way back.
This tour is definitely one of the highlights of Isla Isabella not to be missed.
Snorkel and fishing trip to Tortuga Island – 150 USD
The tour company sold it to us so well that we ended up so disappointed for not being able to do it.
Unfortunately, it was low season and they didn’t have any other requests to fill a boat. The tour was supposed to take us to Tortuga island a massive horseshoe-shaped rock populated by the big guys of the ocean. Huge manta rays, hammerhead sharks and blacktip sharks among others. The tour implies also fishing and eating our own fish. It would have been so great.
Make sure you request it if you have time. It will be an experience.
Hike to Sierra Negra Volcano – 30 USD
I am so embarrassed to say that I didn’t feel like hiking up there. The tour costs only 30 USD and it must be a spectacular hike in a moon-like landscape not to mention the views you get once you arrive on top.
I really didn’t feel trained enough and I decided to pass. Needless to say, I have regretted it quite a bit. But that’s the way it went. If you go make sure to bring good hiking shoes and water. It’s hot and dry out there.
WHERE TO STAY IN ISABELA ISLAND
In Isabela Island, we stayed in one of the apartments of the San Vicente group which apparently have quite a few accommodation options on the island. After seeing some of the great hotel options that the island offer we thought that a hotel would have had the same convenience. Here I will tell you about the cute hotels that we have checked out.
HIgh-end hotel options
Iguana Crossing you wouldn’t believe in such a laid-back hippie place as Puerto Villamil, you could find such an elegant and fine hotel as Iguana Crossing. It’s probably the most exclusive and expensive property, located right on the beach on the way to the Muro de las Lagrimas and the tortoise breeding center.
Mid-Range budget properties
Hotel Albemarle – when I saw this hotel I just fell in love. The white rooms are nicely decorated with fine art and elegant touches and the internal courtyard is just a cozy little corner of paradise, not to mention the seafront location. I wasn’t sure if I should include it among the high-end or the middle range as it falls in between I would say. You will decide.
La Casa de Marita – cozy seaside option, with lovely decorations and a great restaurant.
Hotel Coral Blanco – beautiful, cozy, sparkling clean. This is where I would have stayed with a low-mid range budget. It has actually quite a low price but a mid-range quality. Great value for money.
WHERE TO EAT IN ISABELA ISLAND
Here we had a couple of meals only out.
El faro which was not impressive, and quite expensive.
A little kiosk by the pier right on the way to Concha Y Perla that offers a delicious Almuerzo ( fixed menu lunch) which was just delicious for 5 USD.
The best empanadas are made in a little kiosk in Calle Flamingo, right around the corner of Paddle to the Penguins shop.
Other than that you can find a lot of touristic restaurants along the main road
There are tons of restaurant options. The touristic ones are located
HOW TO MOVE AROUND AND BETWEEN THE ISLANDS
There is a boat service that connects the inhabited islands of Santa Cruz with San Cristobal, Isabel, and Florencia which costs around 30 USD per ride per person, or, if you are not fond of boats or you can stand sea motion sickness, you can always check out the inter-island flights with EMETEBE, a local airline. Their prices are around 200 USD per person one way.
Here is what you should know about interisland transportation by boat:
The cost per person per ride is 25 USD to 30 USD. The boat owners decide the price, although the tickets are sold by the various travel agents that you find all around the islands.
It is advisable to book your ride a few days in advance in the high season. In the low season, even one day before is safe, but it’s better to book everything as soon as you know your itinerary, to be on the safe side. As I mentioned before, you must have all your hotel reservations booked ahead of time anyway.
There are two rides per day one in the morning around 6 or 7 am depending on the island, and one in the afternoon around 2 pm. We thought that the afternoon ride would be choppier but it’s not true, it all depends on the currents and the weather conditions.
All the islands connect via Santa Cruz. You cannot travel from Isabela to San Cristobal directly. So for example, if this is your itinerary you will need to take the boat in the morning from Isabela to Santa Cruz and the one in the afternoon from Santa Cruz to San Cristobal. This is what we did at least.
However, you could be smarter than us and if you are planning to stay on the three islands, you could fly to San Cristobal first, then visit Santa Cruz, then Isabela, and then come back to Santa Cruz on the day before you fly out. This is a suggestion if you don’t want to waste one full day for your island transfer or if you suffer from sea-motion sickness.
Sea motion sickness: tips
I know about it because I realized I love the sea so much as I suffer a lot for the sea-motion. Therefore every time we needed to move from one island to the other I panicked. I don’t want to take medicines whatsoever, let alone for a stupid 2 bumpy hours.
So I found my remedy. I realized if I stayed at the very back of the boat looking at the sea, I had no issue at all, well maybe a little when the sea was particularly choppy but bearable.
So my main worry was not the seasickness but to get on the boat as first so that I could choose my seat. I spoke to the captain or the agent at the pier and explained my needs and they have been usually accommodating. At the back, you might smell a little gasoline, but you are in the open air and the wind will relieve you. Although you might get wet sometimes, it’s definitely the best way to travel on a boat if you have any motion-related issues.
Other than that, it’s a beautiful ride:)
GALAPAGOS ISLANDS WEATHER
We were there in November and we got quite a few unexpected showers and the sky was most of the time cloudy even though during the day it would clear up.
It was chilly and the water quite cold, at least for us.
However, we were told by the locals that the week prior to our arrival was much warmer and mostly sunny.
The fact is that because of the location right on the Equator and seasons are not clearly defined. Here below a general overview, but always be ready for exceptions.
The Galapagos Wheather From June through December
This is supposed to be the cool and dry season where the sea tends to be choppier because of the Humboldt current, a cold current coming from Peru towards the Equator which is also responsible for cooling the marine air and consequently preventing the precipitations.
The Galapagos Wheather from January through May
This is the hottest season and mostly humid but also sunny with occasional showers. The winds are more moderate and the sea less rough.
The best time to visit Galapagos
Well, that depends on what are your priorities. I am sure the main reason why you want to visit this enchanted islands, is to appreciate their moon-like landscapes and rare creatures that most of the time are not found anywhere else in the world.
I have good news for you, whenever you go you are visiting the Galapagos island you will be able to encounter its unparalleled wildlife and spectacular landscapes.
In November, when we were there we managed to see almost everything we wanted to see, even Penguins, my favorite, although we were told that it was not the most favorable time to spot them.
If you want to have a more precise overview of the wildlife activity with respect to the seasons here below I am including a great insight from this informative website.
Top Wildlife Highlights during the Wet Season
- Hordes of green sea turtles
- Marine iguanas start their nesting season.
- Albatross arrive in Española.
- Blue-footed boobies courtship
- Flightless cormorants start nesting.
Top Wildlife Highlights during the Dry Season
- Flightless cormorants nest on Fernandina Island
- Booby and frigate bird eggs begin hatching
- Flamingos begin mating rituals August.
- Sea lions very active, the breeding season begins in September
- Galapagos penguin breeding season during the month of September.
Consider though that if you wish to snorkel and dive in warmer water and suffer from sea- sickness you would probably choose to travel to the Galapagos in the dry season from June through December.
WI-FI IN THE GALAPAGOS ISLANDS
Let’s put it like that: If you have to work online, forget about it in the Galapagos.
Probably in luxury hotels might work better, but in general, WIFI sucks. It’s ok for WhatsApp and email. You can talk and download email quite easy. But if you need to load pages, it’s going to take a while or maybe impossible.
In Santa Cruz is a little faster, especially in the morning, but in Isabela you can tell your boss to forget about you for a few days, so lay back and go hang out with the sea lions.
In San Cristobal is kind of decent, like Santa Cruz, but still, I wouldn’t rely on a consistent connection.
If you know you need to be connected for work or urgent matters you should then buy a local SIM card and use your phone DATA when the WIFI will let you down.
GALAPAGOS PACKING LIST
So you are ready for your trip and you are unsure about what to bring?
Here I am showing you how your Galapagos packing list is the shortest you have ever had! 🙂
You don’t really need much.
It’s a very laid back place and even if you are staying e in one of the few luxury hotels, they have still a quite casual ambiance.
So here is the list of things you cannot do without:
- Shorts and T-shirts
- Hat (if you use it, I didn’t)
- Sunscreen, better if is Ecological
- Windbreaker or a jumper, evenings and boat rides can get chilly
- Reusable water bottle
- Underwater Camera or GoPro or similar: you will want to take some turtles and sharks back home with you, at least in pictures.
- Camera with a zoom, you don’t want to miss capturing the spectacular wildlife.
- Flip flops
- Gym or hiking shoes
- Wet suite and snorkeling gear if you have your own, otherwise you can rent it anywhere (it’s normally 5 USD for short wetsuits and 10 USD for long per day and the snorkeling gear 10 USD per day.
- Dry/waterproof Bag
- Motion sickness pills, if it’s really unbearable. I prefer to avoid it and just sit back in the open air and watch the horizon, but I know for many it’s not enough.
HOW LONG SHOULD I SPEND IN THE GALAPAGOS ISLANDS
This is a tricky question to answer. Let’s put it like that: you could stay in the Galapagos 3 months and still have things to do and to see left.
It really depends on your time and budget availability and your interest in marine activities and wildlife.
I have to say that our 3 weeks were a little too much, despite our passion for nature and being in the water. Probably if the weather and water were warmer we would have enjoyed and endured even more.
I will write a separate post with suggested itineraries. For now, I am just sharing the following information that you should consider:
- Santa Cruz Island is the island with more daily tours and diving spots, and things to do on your own. So you could stay a week there and not even complete your visit (Click here to get to Santa Cruz Section)
- San Cristobal Island is the island that I loved the most has a lot to do as well, between tours and spectacular beaches, we spent there 5 days and couldn’t see it all.
- Isabela Island is the most laid back island with less activity. 3 days could be enough. Although if you like to bask on the beach this is the perfect place. Well, also san Cristobal
- If you take a cruise I would also try to spend a few days on an island either before or afterward to know a little of both worlds.
- Floreana Island should be interesting as well, more for being the first human settlement and its’ mystery stories, but we didn’t make it there. It’s on my list together with a cruise for my next trip.
It is really difficult to determine a specific time if I am not in your head :). It all depends on what you want to see and what time flexibility you have. I will be happy to give you a personalized itinerary if you can’t make up your mind after reading this guide. You can email me, by clicking here.
GALAPAGOS ISLANDS FACTS
- The Galapagos islands are in a peculiar location, where the currents from Panama and Chile meets, which is the reason for its extraordinary and abundant marine environment which is also one of the main natural attraction of the Archipelago, besides being home of many interesting endemic and native spices.
- Galapagos islands inspired the book “The Origin of Species” by Charles Darwin, whose observation on the islands’ bird spices and their ability to adaptation brought him fame with his famous theory of evolution by natural selection.
- The name “Galapagos” comes from Galopar in Spanish which means to Gallop and also to Saddle in old Spanish. This is because the carapace of what was called the Galapagos tortoise had the form of a Saddle.
- The Galapagos National Park covers approximately 7,970 square kilometers, which corresponds only to its terrestrial part.
- The Galapagos archipelago is made of 330 islands ( including rocks and islets), but only 5 islands have any type of human settlement, which are also the largest and have natural resources to support the life and development of the communities they host. Santa Cruz and Baltra (where Santa Cruz airport is located), San Cristobal, Isabela, and Floreana.
- Floreana Island is the first that has been inhabited but it’s the least populated. I didn’t make it there this time, although I was really curious to see it and know more about its interesting history and anecdotes. There are quite a few interesting novels based on true stories that have been written if you are curious to know about the history.
- More than 45 species of endemic birds, 42 reptiles, 15 mammals and 79 fish species live in Galapagos and live in harmony with humans. The Galapagos Islands also have a rich variety of endemic flora, reaching 500 species including vascular plants, bryophytes, and algae.
- Lonesome George, who recently died of natural causes at the Santa Cruz Island Giant Turtle Breeding Center after 40 years in captivity, was the only specimen of the Chelonoidis abingdonii species on Pinta Island.
- Galapagos National Park faces some problems that threaten its protection and care, among them the voluntary and involuntary introduction of exogenous species to fragile ecosystems.
- Baltra airport claims to be the most ecological airport in the world.
- The maximum number of days anyone is allowed on the islands is 60. The rule applies also to Ecuadorians.
- If you wish to move to the Galapagos islands, it’s not going to be easy. Even Ecuadorians need special permission to move there.
- And all of the tours and cruises through the Galapagos Islands are planned far in advance according to the guidelines set out by the National Park.
- The Galapagos Marine life is influenced by the crossing of sea currents, like the Humboldt current which a cold current affects the water temperature and prevents precipitation in the dry season.
- The Ecuadorian islands are located over 600 miles off the coast of the mainland.
- The lack of predators is the reason why both the endemic spices and migratory ones live peaceful and scarless of the human presence. they know they don’t need to get defensive.
- Are the Galapagos Islands Safe? Yes, they are super safe, although the usual commonsense rules need to be followed, like don’t leave your belongings unattended, for example.
- TIME ZONE – Galapagos is 6 hours behind GMT (USA Central Standard Time)
- The Equator line passes slightly north of Santiago Island
- Language Spoken is Spanish, some locals speak English but not so much as you would expect from such a touristic place. Certified guides do speak English and sometimes other languages.
Do you have more interesting facts to add? please write up, don’t be shy!:)