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Galapagos travel Itineraries: how to make the most of your time in the Galapagos

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I wanted to share three amazing Galapagos Travel Itineraries ideas that you can choose according to how much time you have, 1 week, 10 days, or 15 days Galapagos islands itinerary.


ECUADOR ENTRY REQUIREMENTS AND COVID PROCEDURES

Mainland Ecuador and the Galapagos Islands, have officially reopened! So If the Galapagos were on your bucket list you should take advantage of these weird and difficult times and take a break from stress and uncertainty, while enjoying this wildlife sanctuary.  

The local authorities and operators are going beyond their ways to create a safe environment for locals and visitors alike, and protocols are in place and strictly followed.

Now, the Mainland and the Galapagos islands have slightly different entry requirements, which am explaining here below. 

MAINLAND ECUADOR ENTRY REQUIREMENTS:

As of mid-July Ecuador’s international airports reopened, and flights have resumed with the following requirements:

  •  Proof of a negative COVID PCR (PCR test only) test within 10 days of arriving in Ecuador,
  • Not presenting any symptoms of COVID on arrival
  • If the above conditions are met there is no need for self-quarantine, on the contrary, passengers must self-quarantine in a designated hotel at their expense for 14 days and then take the test again. 

GALAPAGOS ENTRY REQUIREMENTS:

  • For the Galapagos islands, policies are a little stricter, as follow:
  • A negative COVID PCR test within 96 hours of arrival in the islands (please note only PCR tests are accepted)
  • Proof of Travel Insurance, including medical coverage for COVID-19,
  • Proof of confirmed itinerary in the islands.
  • Entrance requirements for Ecuador and Galapagos are subject to change.

TEST TIMING AND LOGISTIC

Please note the timing difference. That means that if you don’t want to take the test twice you need to make sure to enter the Galapagos Islands within 96 hours from when you took the test before coming to Ecuador. So make sure you do the maths. 

Timing can be stressful. I had a similar situation when I crossed the border to Guatemala from Mexico. If you want to avoid stress, you can just take your time and arrange another test in Quito before getting to Galapagos. There are around 20 clinics in Quito where you can take it, and the cost is around 85 to 105 USD. You will have your results in 12 hours.

SECURITY PROTOCOLS IN ECUADOR

Both on the mainland, and in the islands, in all public spaces, including hotels, airports, yachts, and transportation, there are social distancing measures in place and new sanitation procedures.

After struggling with the organization of my own travel itinerary to the Galapagos, I thought it would be helpful to make things easier for you and offer a few itinerary suggestions depending on how much time you have available.

I am sure it will help organize your own trip and save you a lot of time and headaches.

If you haven’t done so, I would suggest you read my Galapagos Island Vacations post to familiarize with the destination and know more about all the things you can do.

After that, it will be easier for you to decide what to see and make your own Galapagos travel itinerary following my guidance.

If you have a specific question and need a specific itinerary please feel free to shoot me an email. I will be happy to assist you with a more personalized itinerary. (No worries, it’s free)

TABLE OF CONTENTS

ABOUT THE GALAPAGOS ISLANDS IN A NUTSHELL

The spectacular Ecuadorian archipelago is situated right across the Equator at about 600 km off the mainland coast.

Considering every rock and islets it includes more than 300 islands, of which only 5 are inhabited and a few others are only open to visitors on specific schedules and previous authorizations from the Marine Park.

 Its geographical location at the confluence of three ocean currents makes it one of the richest marine ecosystems in the world. (UNESCO)

Santa Cruz Island

Probably the most populated with 12.000 inhabitants, is the central hub of the Galapagos and where you can find most of the services, such as banks and supermarkets and various shops, besides a great variety of hotels and restaurants. An abundance of activities and tours to the main other islands depart from here.

Puerto Ayora is the heart of Santa Cruz Island and where everything happens.

In Santa Cruz is where the Charles Darwin Foundation Center is located, where researcher and scientists, local and foreigners look after conservations program to preserve the local flora and fauna and repopulate endangered species.

Besides, you will find spectacular beaches such as Tortuga Bay beach and Playa Alemanes, El Garrapatero and A spectacular snorkeling spot called Las Grietas. I wrote a detailed post about Santa Cruz that you can find here.

Baltra Island

Baltra Island is a small island located north of Santa Cruz and separated by the Channel of  Itabaca which you will cross if you fly from Quito or Guayaquil to Santa Cruz, as Santa Cruz airport is actually in Baltra.

Isabela Island

The spectacular geological formation of Isabela includes 5 volcanoes spread along the biggest island of the Galapagos which stretches from north to south.

Only the southern part is inhabited, in the small town of Villamil home of only 3000 souls. Some of the volcanos are active including Vulcano Sierra Negra which is also one of the main attraction of the island and you can hike there with an organized tour.

The island overall is very laid back and with little services and scarce food choice if you need to cook your own meals. Otherwise, there is quite a choice of restaurants and lovely hotels.  A few spectacular tours and interesting spots are available in and from the island, where a populated colony of funny sea lions seems to be the in charge of the territory, especially around the pier and the nearby Isabela Beach.

If you wish to know more about what to do in Isabela island this post is for you.

Hotels in Isabela Island: my pick

Hotel Albemarle – cute tiny hotel right in front of the beach and close to everything. The white rooms are nicely decorated with fine art and elegant touches and the internal courtyard is just a cozy little corner of paradise.

For more hotel options in Puerto Villamil, Isabela Island, click here. To check out TripAdvisor reviews, click here.

San Cristobal Island

San Cristobal Island is the oldest island of all Archipelago, geologically speaking. It is composed of three or four fused volcanoes, all extinct. It is the island where Darwin first went ashore in 1835.

It’s my favorite island both for its laid-back atmosphere and the tiny quaint village where restaurants and hotels are situated. San Cristobal also offers a good amount of things to do and places to visit in and around the island itself.

The main pier and the seafront promenade is literally occupied by an uncountable number of sea lions that you hear and smell. It didn’t bother me at all, though. I really love those creatures and I had a blast watching them in Puerto Baquerizo Moreno, the name of the main town.

Here you should not miss snorkeling at Las Tijeretas and watching the sunset at Punta Carola, where another bunch of Sea Lions will keep you company.

Check out this post to know all about San Cristobal.

Hotels in San Cristobal Island: my pick!

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.

For further hotel and home options, you can click on this link. To check reviews on  TripAdvisor, click here.

Floreana Island

It was the first to be inhabited and it’s known for its distraught history.  If you want to know more about it you can check out an interesting book Floreana: A Woman’s Pilgrimage to the Galápagos, by Margaret Wittmer, the daughter of one of the first inhabitants. They also made a movie-like documentary called The Galapagos Affair. I haven’t read the book nor watched the movie, yet.

Floreana Island is connected to Santa Cruz by boat but not every day like it is for the other islands. Otherwise, you can join a one day trip from Santa Cruz where a guide will show you all the highlights of the island.

A few other islands are reachable on a day tour or if you join a cruise and only specific points are accessible to tourists.

To know all the information and practical tips about the islands, transportations, tours, cruises, and whatnot, check out my guide to the Galapagos Islands a massive guide about all the islands, what to see, and how to get around.

Here below I will give you examples of itineraries which you can read about in more detail in the above-mentioned article.

ONE WEEK TRAVEL ITINERARY IN THE GALAPAGOS

Considering the amount of wildlife, history, and geology that the Galapagos offer, one week is quite tight. However, I understand that we have such little time for our vacations and we would like to have a taste of everything.

It is possible to see the Galapagos in a nutshell, and cover a lot in a week. Here is my suggestion, considering 7 days on the island including flights in and out.

Day 1  – Arrival in Santa Cruz ( Baltra Island)

There is a flight that leaves from Quito at 6.45 and gets to Baltra Island at 9.20 which gives you basically all day to discover your first Galapagos destination. And since you have only 7 days I would recommend getting this one.

Considering the time for the transfer and all the airport formalities I would imagine you will arrive at Puerto Ayora at around 11.30. It will give you plenty of time to settle in your chosen hotel and then off to Tortuga Bay beach, where you can bask in the sun, snorkel or kayak or take pictures as we did.

Day 2 – Bartolome’ island

This is an unmissable tour where you will hike up to Bartolomé island sleepy volcano. It’s a mild hike from which you will enjoy spectacular views of the bays.

Then you will snorkel around Pinnacle rock or by a beach in Santiago island. The navigation there is itself a tour.

Day 3 – Transfer to Isabela Island

I would leave on the early morning boat at 6 am. So you will get there by 8 and you can enjoy all day on the island.

Once you get there you can settle in your hotel, have an earthy breakfast and then, rent a bike and ride towards the Wall of Tears, have the little hike to the viewpoint for spectacular views and then, on the way back you can make all the stops that you will find along the way, by the lagoon and at the beach Playa del Amor.

You can bring something to eat with you or go back to town, which is basically at the end of the path, and eat something in one of the local restaurants.

INSIDER TIPS – In Flamingo road there is a small kiosk which is a private house with the best empanadas. 🙂

If you are not tired, around 4.00 pm you can walk to the Tortuguero.

It’s a 2.5 km on a nice boardwalk (no hills)  through the mangroves and ponds where you can spot the elegant flamingos.

It’s most likely to see them around that time or on your way back, around 5 pm.

Or if you are more fond of the sea I would do the tour to Los Tuneles which leaves at around 11 am and comes back around 4 pm.

Day 4 – Kayak tour to Las Tintoreras  and transfer to Santa Cruz

It’s a kayak and snorkeling tour where you will see penguins and a lot of marine life.

You can take this tour in the morning and leave to San Cristobal in the afternoon on the 2 pm boat to Santa Cruz. You will sleep in Santa Cruz and will take the early morning boat to San Cristobal on the following day (day 5)

In this way, you can save time because you would be traveling where there is no activity available.

Day 5 – Transfer to San Cristobal – Punta Carola – Interpretative Center and Las Tijeretas

The first day is all for you. After you settle in the hotel at your arrival in San Cristobal, around 8.30 am, you can walk to Playa Mann and then to the Interpretative center where you will have an interesting tour through the history, geology and conservation projects of the Galapagos.

Then you will keep following the path to the Mirador Las Tijeretas with stunning views over the bay where you will snorkel too in a few minutes. 🙂

In fact, you will take the path down the hill and gear up for your solo (with no guide)  snorkeling adventure. It’s a spectacular place to watch the marine life, especially if it’s in a full moon or new moon day when the water is crystal clear.

After the snorkeling, you will have 10 minutes walk to Punta Carola Beach where you will bask in the sun and relax together with your new friends the sea lions.

You can even snorkel there if you wish, but most of all, wait for the spectacular sunset.

Day 6 – Tour 360 around San Cristobal

This tour will take you on a fishing boat all around the island with 3 snorkeling stops, spectacular views of the coast and local flora and fauna, accompanied by a knowledgeable nature guide.

You can check out the video I made here below.

Day 7 – Departure flight from San Cristobal

If you managed to book a late flight you have two options for the afternoon:

  1. go to playa  La Loberia and relax or snorkel
  2. hire a taxi and go visit the highlands, the juncos lake, El Garrapatero, and Puerto Chino, which is another beach.

IMPORTANT NOTE – To follow this itinerary, you will need to make sure to book all the tours in advance; otherwise, you will run the risk of not finding a place or that maybe that specific tour doesn’t run on the day you want. In this way, you are prepared, and you can shift things around.


OTHER USEFUL POSTS ABOUT THE GALAPAGOS ISLANDS


10-DAYS  TRAVEL ITINERARY IN THE GALAPAGOS

With 10 days you can cover a little more and at a more relaxed pace. Here below my suggested Galapagos Travel itinerary for 10 days. Please consider to check out the 1-week itinerary as a base, for more detailed information on the activities. Here I have just added more days, to avoid repeating myself.

Day 1  – Arrival in Santa Cruz (Baltra Island)

Arrival at Baltra airport at 9.20 am on a 6.45 flight from Quito.

Considering the time for the transfer and all the airport formalities, I imagine you will arrive in Puerto Ayora at around 11.30. It will give you plenty of time to settle in your chosen hotel and then off to Tortuga Bay beach, where you can bask in the sun, snorkel or kayak, or take pictures as I did.

Day 2 – Bartolome’ island

(see the previous itinerary)

Day 3 – Darwin Foundation, Las Grietas, and Playa Alemanes

You can have a walk up to the Darwin Foundation Center in the morning learning about the conservations effort and checking out the tortoise breeding center.

Then you can have a light lunch and get a taxi boat to Playa Alemanes. Take a walk to Las Grietas. It’s just about 20 minutes. Enjoy snorkeling among the tall rocky walls and then back to playa Alemanes where you can snorkel again or just relax on the beach. (Remember to bring water with you)

Day 4 – Another activity of your choice in Santa Cruz

It can be:

  • Diving to Golden rock or Seymour (depending on your level as a diver) Seymour is easier.
  • Half-day trip to Santa Fe
  • One day trip to Floreana

There are many more choices for free activities or organized tours.  You can check them out here

Day 5 – Transfer to Isabela Island

I would leave on the early morning boat at 6 am. So you will get there by 8 and you can enjoy all day on the island.

Once you get there, you can settle in your hotel, have a hearty breakfast and rent a bike and ride towards the Wall of Tears, have the little hike to the viewpoint for spectacular views, and then, on the way back, you can make all the stops that you will find along the way, by the lagoon and at the beach Playa del Amor. You can bring something to eat with you or go back to town, which is basically at the end of the path and eat something in one of the local restaurants.

INSIDER TIPS – In Flamingo road there is a small kiosk which is a private house with the best empanadas. 🙂

If you are not tired, around 4.00 you can walk to the Tortuguero. It’s a 2.5 km on a nice boardwalk (no hills)  through the mangroves and ponds where you can spot the elegant flamingos.

It’s most likely to see them around that time or on your way back.

Or if you are more fond of the sea, I would do the tour to Los Tuneles, which leaves at around 11 am and take you back at around 4 pm.

Day 6 – Kayak tour to Las Tintoreras  and snorkeling in Concha de Perla

It’s a kayak and snorkeling tour where you will see penguins and a lot of marine life. On the way back, you can have lunch in the local kiosk right by Concha de Perla, which is right there across the road from the beach (Playa Isabela), and then you can snorkel in Concha de Perla and relax on the beach.

Day 7 – Transfer to Santa Cruz/Cristobal

Today it’s basically lost for the transfers, but not completely. You must take the morning boat from Isabela to Santa Cruz and get to Santa Cruz around 9.30 am.

You have a lot of time to go and hang out either at Playa Alemanes or Playa Estacion, inside the Darwin Center.

Just make sure to be back by 1om since you need to be one our before embarking on your boat to San Cristobal.

You will get to San Cristobal around 4.00. You will have the time to settle in your hotel and have a nice dinner. Getting ready for the next adventures.

Day 8 – San Cristobal – Punta Carola – Interpretative Center and las Tijeretas

The first day is all for a do it yourself activity-packed day.

First, you can walk to Playa Mann and then to the Interpretative center where you will have an interesting tour through the history, geology and conservation projects of the Galapagos.

Then you will continue the path to the Mirador Las Tijeretas with stunning views over the bay where you will snorkel in a few minutes.

In fact, you will take the path down the hill and gear up for your solo snorkeling adventure.

It’s a spectacular place to watch the marine life, especially if it’s in a full moon or new moon day when the water is crystal clear.

After the snorkeling, you will have 10 minutes walk to Punta Carola, where you will bask in the sun and relax together with your new friends, the sea lions. You can even snorkel there if you wish, but most of all, wait for the spectacular sunset.

Day 9 – Tour 360 around San Cristobal

This tour will take you on a fishing boat all around the island with 3 snorkeling stops, spectacular views of the coast, and local flora and fauna, accompanied by a knowledgeable nature guide.

Day 10 – Departure flight from San Cristobal

If you managed to book a late flight you have two options for the afternoon:

  1. go to playa  La Loberia and relax or snorkel
  2. hire a taxi and go visit the highlands, the juncos lake, El Garrapatero, and Puerto Chino, which is another beach.

IMPORTANT NOTE – To follow this itinerary, you will need to make sure to book all the tours in advance; otherwise, you will run the risk of not finding a place or that maybe that specific tour doesn’t run on the day you want. In this way, you are prepared, and you can shift things around.

2-WEEKS  TRAVEL ITINERARY IN THE GALAPAGOS

Here is my suggestion for 15 days.

NOTE: Since most of the tours are the same as the 1 week and 10 days itinerary, please refer to the above section for more detailed information. In the 15 days, I will add more activities and give you a more relaxing time, so you won’t feel like you are running a marathon.

Day 1  – Arrival in Santa Cruz ( Baltra Island)

Arrival at Baltra airport at 9.20 am on a 6.45 flight from Quito.

Considering the time for the transfer and all the airport formalities, I imagine you will arrive in Puerto Ayora at around 11.30. It will give you plenty of time to settle in your chosen hotel and then off to Tortuga Bay beach, where you can bask in the sun, snorkel or kayak, or take pictures as I did.

Day 2 – Bartolome’ island

(see the previous itinerary)

Day 3 – Darwin Foundation, Las Grietas, and Playa Alemanes

(see above itinerary)

Day 4 – Another activity of your choice in Santa Cruz

It can be:

  • Diving to Golden rock or Seymour (depending on your level as a diver) Seymour is easier.
  • Half day trip to Santa Fe
  • One day trip to Floreana

There are many more choices for free activities or organized tours.  You can check them out here

Day 5 – Biking  (or taking a bus or a taxi) to El Chato Lodge and end up the day to El Garrapatero beach.

Here you can enjoy quite a challenging 20km uphill ride or get on a bus with your bike to the small town of Santa Rosa in the highlands, in the middle of Santa Cruz. There you can ride to  Los Gemelos, two sinkholes immerse in thick vegetation, and then visit the Private Hacienda El Chato to see the giant tortoises hanging out freely in the huge meadow.

If you went on a bike, the way back is much easier, while if you went in a taxi, he’d be waiting for you. Just make sure you agree previously on time and price.

Taxi drivers are not the friendliest or the most honest in the Galapagos, I noticed. Or at least that was my experience.

After that, you can relax on Garrapatero Beach at about 45 minutes from El Chato and 30 minutes from Puerto Ayora.

It is a spectacular beach where you can also snorkel or kayak, or enjoy the sun.

Day 6 – Transfer to Isabela Island

I would leave on the early morning boat at 6 am. So you will get there by 8, and you can enjoy all day on the island.

Once you get there, you can settle in your hotel, have a hearty breakfast and rent a bike and ride towards the Wall of Tears, have the little hike to the viewpoint for spectacular views, and then, on the way back, you can make all the stops that you will find along the way, by the lagoon and at the beach Playa de l’ Amor. You can bring something to eat with you or go back to town, which is basically at the end of the path and eat something in one of the local restaurants.

INSIDER TIPS – In Flamingo road, there is a small kiosk, a private house which makes the best empanadas. 🙂

If you are not tired, around 4.00, you can walk to the Tortuguero. It’s 2.5 km on a nice boardwalk (no hills)  through the mangroves and ponds where you can spot the elegant flamingos. It’s most likely to see them around that time or on your way back.

Day 7 – Kayak tour to Las Tintoreras  and snorkeling in Concha de Perla

It’s a kayak and snorkeling tour where you will see penguins and a lot of marine life. On the way back, you can have lunch in the local kiosk right by Concha de Perla, which is right there across the road from the beach (Playa Isabela), and then you can snorkel in Concha de Perla and relax on the beach.

Day 8 – Half day tour at Los Tuneles

A spectacular tour packed with lots of wildlife sights, including marine fauna and blue-footed boobies. We even saw penguins and 6 mt manta rays floating by our boat.

The rock formations of Los Tuneles is something unique and fascinating.

Day 9 – Transfer to Santa Cruz/Cristobal

Today it’s basically lost for the transfers but not completely. You must take the morning boat from Isabela to Santa Cruz (6 am)and get to Santa Cruz around 8.30 am.

You have a lot of time to go and hang out either at Playa Alemanes or Playa Estación, inside the Darwin Center. Just make sure to be back by 1 since you need to be one hour before embarking on your boat to San Cristobal.

We had lunch at La Regata, where I had the best lemonade with lemongrass ever and delicious vegetarian quesadillas. They also have great espresso coffee and decent WIFI.

You will get to San Cristobal around 4.00. You will have the time to settle in your hotel and have a nice dinner. Getting ready for the next adventures.

Day 10 – Cristobal – Punta Carola – Interpretative Center and las Tijeretas

See day 8 from the 10 days itinerary

Day 11 – Tour 360 around San Cristobal

See day 9 from the 10 days itinerary above.

Day 12 – Take a tour to the highlands

You can hire a taxi and go visit the highlands, the treehouse, the juncos lake, El Garrapatero, and Puerto Chino, which is another beach where you can relax.  Make sure you agree with your taxi driver in advance about price and schedule.

Day 13 – Snorkel and relax in Playa Loberia or take another tour

If you are a diver, I would suggest you should take the Kicker Rock dive. It’s 2 tanks dive around the massive rock. You will have spectacular views of the multicolored wall, and you have a high probability of seeing hammerhead sharks among other underwater guys.

If you are not a diver, you could either take one of the half-day snorkeling tours or just relax and snorkel in Playa Loberia or go back to Playa Punta Carola to watch the last Sunset in the Galapagos.

Day 14 – Departure flight from San Cristobal

Goodbye Galapagos!

IMPORTANT NOTE – To follow this itinerary, you will need to make sure to book all the tours in advance; otherwise, you will run the risk of not finding a place or that maybe that specific tour doesn’t run on the day you want. In this way, you are prepared, and you can shift things around.

THINGS TO KNOW BEFORE TRAVELING TO THE GALAPAGOS

There are a few things that you should know about traveling to the Galapagos.

However, the most important information you really need to know is about entry regulation and park regulation. Being it a protected park, the government has installed specific rules which are more or less implemented, but you need to know before getting there.

Here is a list of the most important:

  • There is an entry fee of 20 USD that you pay before check-in at a separate counter. Here is where they will check your paperwork, which they need to be all in order, and that is:
    • a printed copy of your travel insurance
    • a printed copy of your hotel reservations for the entire stay or an invitation letter if you go to work for a project or anything different from a hotel/homestay
    • return ticket
    • (they don’t always ask for these proves but its good to have everything in place)
  • You cannot stay in the Galapagos Islands for more than 60 days. 90 in Ecuador overall, including the Galapagos, of course. You can still ask for an extension for Ecuador, but you will have to pay a fee.
  • You will pay 100 USD as an entry fee (for conservations)  once you pass immigration at the airport.
  • The organized tours have a limited number of seats, and they don’t add boats according to the request. This is a strict rule that the park has to prevent deterioration of the natural environment. This means that you will need to book your tours in advance in high season or if you travel for a limited time. Otherwise, you risk missing your favorite spots. This is very important to know if you have a precise goal.
  • If you don’t like to move from one island to another by boat, you can always check out the inter-island flights with EMETEBE, a local airline. Their prices are around 200 USD per person one way.
  • WIFI is decent but not everywhere and not consistent. You can WhatsApp or check Facebook, but to load pages, it takes forever when it works.
  • Language Spoken in 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.

MAP OF THE GALAPAGOS ISLANDS


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