Galapagos – Ecuador – (How To Do) A Cheap Two Week Tour

Galapagos Islands Map

OCTOBER 2018:


Why not read our Retirement Reviews.


OVERVIEW:

PLEASE NOTE: The currency in Ecuador is US$s.

The Galapagos Islands were on my ‘Bucket List’.Galapagos Islands Map

SUGGESTION: I strongly suggest that, if you can, you should bring your own snorkelling equipment. This will give you the freedom to explore on your own … as well as bring down the cost of some of your day trips.

Before we continue, let me be clear:

  • The Galapagos Islands are one of the 7 wonders of the modern world
  • They know it
  • They make you pay for it
  • You are a captive market
  • They have you in a ‘Kremlin Crutch-hold’
  • I suspect that cartels are operating across-the-board
  • Everything is expensive
  • Even the cheapest ‘Tourist’ class Island Hopping cruises start at $325 /night
  • They don’t have to discount / They won’t discount
  • The return flights will cost Foreigners $450+
  • You have to pay a $100 per person National Park Fee to enter
  • You have to pay a $20 per person Tourist Card Fee to enter
  • To land on Isabela, you have to pay yet another $10 ‘Park Fee’
  • Everybody ‘clips the ticket’ to get a slice of the pie
  • For many things, Foreigners pay DOUBLE what Ecuadorians pay
  • When you walk into a store, they don’t scan the item for the correct price, they just invent a higher ‘Gringo’ price

BUILD A BRIDGE … AND GET OVER IT!

… you can still enjoy this place for what it is …

For us GRANDPAckers, it is a bit of a ‘challenge’ ... But, I’ll let you know what you CAN do at a reasonable price … Read on …


FLIGHTS FROM QUITO / GUAYAQUIL:

I researched return flights from the mainland to Galapagos for weeks (if not months) in advance. The ‘standard’ price is about US$450 return (with 23kg of stowed luggage). I had an Ecuadorian friend that tried to help me get a better price. Without success.

PLEASE NOTE: The return price from Quito to Galapagos is usually the same whether the flight from Quito is direct or via Guayaquil. Flights from Guayaquil tend to be slightly cheaper than from Quito. Most people fly to Baltra to connect to cruises. But, you can also fly to San Cristobal. To fly to San Cristobal, you usually have to go via Guayaquil. I suggest that you fly into one island and out from the other (to save unnecessary and time-wasting ferry travel). This may cost a little bit more but you save 1 day of holiday and a $30 per person ferry ticket.

THE ‘FOREIGNER’ SCAM:

You can search the internet and find sites that are offering flights at half this price. But, the truth of the matter is quite simple: Foreigners pay DOUBLE what Ecuadorians pay … and there is no way around it. Foreigners cannot get these ‘cheaper flights’. These cheaper flights are for Ecuadorians only.Money Icon

The TAME website is kind enough to ask you whether or not you are an Ecuadorian before giving you a price. Avianca and LATAM do not even ask … they both just allow you to go through the whole booking process and, at the very end when it is time to pay, they just reject your payment once they realise that you are a ‘Foreign Passport Holder’ paying on a ‘Foreign Credit Card’.

I must admit that this left a bit of a ‘sour taste’ in my mouth. If we did this to foreigners in my home country, we would be called ‘racist’. Out of principle, I nearly didn’t go.

THE ‘FINAL MINUTE’:

I decided to go for an Adventure in the Ecuadorian Amazon instead. But, 2 days before I was due to leave to the Amazon, I saw some ‘last minute’ flight deals to the Galapagos.

I got online and had a look. These cheap flights were being advertised on the usual ‘Foreigner sites’ (I didn’t have to go in through a ‘back door’ to find them). This inferred that these prices were, actually, available to Foreigners.Planning Icon

Avianca were offering the best deal. I went through their booking process selecting the cheapest departure and return date combinations that suited me. I was quoted $208.10 inclusive of 23kg of stowed luggage. I went to pay … my payment was refused.

I nearly gave up again. But we had one more try using my Ecuadorian friend’s credit card. SUCCESS! I was on my way to the Galapagos!

WEB CHECK-IN:

Avianca allow a ‘Web Check-in’ within 24 hours o your flight. It was easy, and I had no issues.

Only 1 thing was unclear that concerned me: the ‘Terms & Conditions’ said that I needed to print my Boarding Pass. I didn’t have access to a printer.

However, I noticed that they also had Self-Service Kiosk Check-in at the airport …

GETTING TO QUITO AIRPORT:

From my central Quito accommodation I caught an UBER taxi the 3kms to the Rio Coca Bus Terminal (US$3).Quito - Rio Coca Terminal Location Map

PLEASE NOTE: I prefer to use UBER in Quito. They are slightly more expensive than a normal ‘yellow’ taxi … but, you always know that you will pay the right price and not get ripped off.

There are 2 Rio Coca bus terminals. Make sure that you ask for the ‘Interparroquial’.

From the Interparroquial Terminal, standard ‘green’ buses leave for the airport about every 20-30 minutes. I boarded the waiting bus and we left 5 minutes later. The price is US$2.

The bus heads south east to connect with the 28C main road.Quito Airport Location Map

It, then, heads east before heading north to the Airport. Allow 1 hour to get to the airport.

SELF CHECK-IN KIOSK:

There were several Self Check-in Kiosks located next to the check-in counters. They service all airlines. I entered my reference number and printed my Stowed Luggage Tag. My Boarding Pass printed automatically.

CHECK-IN DESK & DEPARTURES:

The desk opened 2 hours before the flight. Check-in was fast and efficient.

I proceeded through to departures passing the normal security checks. At security, my backpack was dabbed for drug residue.Booking Flights

Finally, I settled down for a coffee ($5) where there was good free internet.

THE FLIGHT:

The flight left 1 hour late at 2:30pm. It was less than half full. I wondered how many people had paid the full $450 price …

We had free personal in-flight entertainment. We even got a free drink & sandwich. We soon got our first glimpse of the Galapagos Islands.Galapagos - First Sight of Land

… and its clear waters …Galapagos - Sight of Clear Waters

We landed at Baltra Airport at 4:20pm.


ISLA SANTA CRUISE:

GETTING THERE:

BALTRA AIRPORT:

We proceeded to ‘Immigration’? At the Immigration Desk I was asked for my Tourist Card… I didn’t have one … I knew about it but thought that I had to buy it on landing.

With an air of ‘this happens all of the time!” he directed me to another desk where a lady was waiting.

She processed my passport and gave me a Tourist Card. $20. Apparently, you are meant to buy this back in the mainland airport … but Avianca Check-in did not mention it.

PLEASE NOTE: Keep your Tourist Card. You will need it when you exit the Galapagos Islands.

She then charged me the $100 ‘National Park Fee’. Ecuadorians only pay $60.

With both of these in hand she put me back at ‘Immigration’ at the front of the queue. I got my entry stamp. As I went to leave I was stopped by another lady at a desk next to Immigration. I needed to pay $5 for the bus from the airport to the Baltra Ferry.

With a smile, I asked if I had paid everybody yet. With a smile, she said ‘yes’.

I went to bag collection. There were ‘sniffer dogs’ checking all of the bags. Once done, they were released for us to collect. The whole process was very quick.

BUS TO FERRY:

We proceeded outside to the waiting buses. It was only 4:40pm. When each bus is full it leaves.Baltra - Shuttle Bus to Ferry

We were at the Ferry Dock by 5:00pm and proceeded past more Police with sniffer dogs on to the waiting ferry.Baltra - Ferry to Santa Cruz

The ferry waited for the other buses to arrive before launching.Baltra - Ferry to Santa Cruz Seating

We launched at 5:10pm. The price is US$1.Baltra - Ferry to Santa Cruz View

We landed on Santa Cruz Island 10 minutes later.Santa Cruz - Baltra Ferry Dock

From here you have 3 choices to get to Puerto Ayora: bus (US$5 each), taxi (US$25 for up to 4 people), or your hotel’s Airport Shuttle (US$45 for up to 4 people).

If you can get 4 people together, a taxi is a good option. I was alone, so I jumped on a bus.Santa Cruz - Bus to Puerto Ayora

We left at 5:20pm. At 6:10pm we were in Puerto Ayora.

This is not the Terminal Terrestre. They are kind enough to stop 1km closer to town centre and drop you off outside of the Mercado Municipal.Pueto Ayora - Bus Terminals

From there, it should be easy for you to walk to your hotel.


ABOUT:

Don’t forget to put your clocks back 1 hour. This may or may not happen automatically on your laptop and smartphones … so check them. It wasn’t 6:10pm … it was 5:10pm.

Santa Cruz is situated in the center of the archipelago and is the second largest island after Isabela. Its capital is Puerto Ayora, the most populated urban centre in the islands.Santa Cruz - Island Map

This island is a large dormant volcano. It is estimated that the last eruptions occurred around a million and a half years ago. There is a gigantic lava tunnel in Bellavista that is over 2,000 meters long that many tourists visit and walk through. As a testimony to its volcanic history there are, also, two big holes formed by the collapse of a magma chamber: Los Gemelos, or “The Twins”.

Santa Cruz hosts the largest human population in the archipelago at the town of Puerto Ayora, with a total of 12,000 residents.Santa Cruz - Puerto Ayora - Town Map

Santa Cruz has over 25,000 inhabitants.


PHOTO GALLERY:

The Puerto Ayora waterfront has been tidied up quite nicely.Santa Cruz - Puerto Ayora - Waterfront Street

And it has the Ferry Dock.Santa Cruz - Puerto Ayora - Boat Dock

From these waterfront streets …Puerto Ayora - Typical Tourist Street

You only need to go 1 block before you find your more typical streets …Puerto Ayora - Typical Street

And your more typical side streets …Puerto Ayora - Typical Side Street

The further you get away from the watefront and Avenida Baltra … the ‘rougher’ they get.


FINDING A CHEAP CRUISE:

My plan was to land in Santa Cruz and to try and find a cheap, last minute cruise. Folding Cash. Most cruises leave from Baltra or Santa Cruz Island. That is why I flew there first.

I had done some research back in Quito before my arrival and made up a list of all of the cruises that left within 4 days of my arrival … and their prices.

September / October is slow season. There were plenty of births still available and many boats were ‘dutch auctioning’ their final places. Even then it was nearly impossible to find anything for under US$300 / night. And, these cheaper ones didn’t do much more than take you around Santa Cruz, Isabela, and San Cristobal … something that you can do a lot cheaper (yourself) by catching the public ferry between these islands and either doing ‘your own thing’ or going on day tours …Cruise Prices

The best that I managed to do with a local agent was to get a $2,100 7N/8D Island Hopping Cruise on the SAMBA down to $1,560 ($225 / night); it got booked by someone else whilst we were talking. In retrospect, this was an excellent price (for the Galapagos). The next best was a $2,350 7N/8D Island Hopping Cruise on the ANGELITO down to $1,940 ($277 / night). At those prices, I decided to wait.

I am a SCUBA diver.

It is worth mentioning, here, that I have been on SCUBA Liveaboard Cruises before. I went on a fantastic 5 night trip in the Andaman Sea for US$825. This included everything except alcoholic drinks … 21 dives, equipment, Nitrox … the lot. I swam within touching distance of 5 metre Whale Sharks and 5 metre Manta Rays. I swam in schools of Barracuda and Tuna. And, I dove Richelieu Rock. I know the sort of value for money that you can get.

I made one last bid for a decent priced SCUBA Diving Cruise … I emailed an offer to the Danubio Azul boat owners saying that I would pay $1,750 all inclusive on their 7N/8D DIVING boat that was leaving in 2 days. If they still had a space and wanted the money, they should get back to me. They replied saying that their lowest (non all-inclusive) price was $2,580 ($369 / night). At 3 times the price that I paid in the Andaman Sea (with far fewer dives), I declined … I’ll just go on 3 more trips in the Andaman Sea!

I can’t afford these prices. I needed to do my ‘own thing’. I decided to start my adventure the next day in San Cristobal Island.


ACCOMMODATION OPTIONS:

The hotel WiFi on these islands (in our price range) is, generally, rubbish … so don’t take whether or not they say they have WiFi into consideration. Come with your own smartphone plan with enough GBs for your needs.

BOOKING.COM:

Santa Cruz - Booking 2

PLEASE NOTE: BOOKING displays prices EXCLUSIVE of TAXES. You (usually) have to add 12% to the displayed price to get the final price.

AIRBnB:

Santa Cruz - AirBnB

PLEASE NOTE: AirBnB displays prices INCLUSIVE of TAXES. BUT, the displayed EXCLUSIVES ‘Service Fees’ (which can add as much as 16%). ALSO, watch out for the ‘Cleaning Fee’, as some places charge more than 1 day’s rent!

In S.E. Asia, I wouldn’t touch AirBnB with a barge pole … in my opinion and experience the accommodation that you find is an absolute rip off. However, here, they are worth a look.

IN SUMMARY:

To get something decent in Perto Ayora, a couple are going to have to pay $35 / night excluding Breakfast.


MY ACCOMMODATION:

I booked myself into a Double Room (single occupancy) at the Hostal Gardner which was located in a central part of town. I paid a discounted rate of $26.70 / night.Santa Cruz - Hostal Gardner - Room Entry

The room was large and came with a decent wardrobe.Santa Cruz - Hostal Gardner - Furniture

It had cable TV with all Spanish speaking channels with no other language options (so, useless to me).Santa Cruz - Hostal Gardner - Bed

The ensuite was ‘tight’. You had to sit on the toilet slightly side-ways.Santa Cruz - Hostal Gardner - Ensuite

The ‘hot water’ shower was unreliable. On my 1st night I couldn’t get a constant setting and fought between cold and boiling water. On my 2nd night, there was no hot water at all.

Even though I requested good in-room wifi when I booked (I need it for my work), my in-room wifi was useless and unusable. The wifi in the Common Areas was no better.

The blanket on my bed was so thin that I couldn’t sleep on my first night – I was too cold. The aircon was off. I should have put the aircon unit on to ‘heat’ but, electric is so expensive on these islands, that I was reluctant to do so. For my 2nd night I asked for another blanket.

The included Breakfast was served in the rooftop terrace.Puerto Ayora - Hostal Gardner - Free BreakfastAll-in-all, this hostal was ‘average’ value for money.


WHERE TO STAY:

Get what you can afford … walk whatever distance that results.

Ideally, you want to be in Puerto Ayora near the Ferry Dock or Ave. Baltra.


ACCOMMODATION SEARCH:

Have a look yourself:


Booking.com


EAT & DRINK:

Expect to pay 50%-100% more than you do on the mainland.

CHEAP EATS:

You will find many local cafes around town doing an Almuerzo (lunch) and Comida Del Dia (meal of the day / dinner) for $5. For this price you, usually, get a simple soup starter, a rice-based main with meat, and a fruit juice.Puerto-Ayora-Charles-Binford-St-Marine-SoupPuerto-Ayora-Charles-Binford-St-Fish-ala-Plancha-5

A popular place to go is Charles Binford Street.Puerto-Ayora-Charles-Binford-Street-Tables

This street comes alive at night and attracts lots of tourists. There are about 20 small restaurants displaying all types of fish in the higher price range. Here is a typical menu: Puerto-Ayora-Typical-Charles-Binford-Street-Menu-2 Puerto-Ayora-Typical-Charles-Binford-Street-Menu-1

But, you can still find your $5 meals. I had a Fish Ceviche which was surprisingly good value for $5. Puerto-Ayora-Charles-Binford-Street-Fish-Ceviche-5

DRINK:

Expect to pay DOUBLE for a beer compared to what you pay on the mainland. Even for a deposit on a bottle in a store. Yes, it is a rip off.

A lage Club or Pilsener costs $5. You pay $3 in a store plus 25c or 50c deposit on the bottle.

A bottle of wine in a store is DOUBLE the price too with the cheapest ($5 on the mainland) wine going for $10.

HAPPY HOURS:

You will find many Cocktail Happy Hours around town. The standard price is 3 for $10. Many ‘Happy Hours’ last all day.

IN SUMMARY:

Expect to pay an average of US$5 for a cheap local Breakfast with coffee.

Expect to pay an average of US$5 for a cheap Lunch with fruit drink.

Expect to pay an average of US$7.50 for a cheap Dinner with a Fruit Juice / Small Beer.


TRANSPORT:

You can walk everywhere around town.

Public ferries only go between 4 of the islands: Isabela, Santa Cruz, Floreana (new), and San Cristobal.Santa Cruz - Puerto Ayora - Ferry Times

Puerto Ayora is the ‘hub’ of Ferry transport between the islands. If you want to go between Isabela and San Cristobal, you have to go through Puerto Ayora.

The one-way trip between 2 islands costs a standard $30. What they fail to mention is that a Return Ticket is only $25 each way.


WHAT TO DO:

I didn’t have much time on my first visit to Santa Cruz.

WARNING: I was advised by more than one traveller NOT to book any tours with ‘Joe B’. Too many people have had bad experiences with them.

TORTUGA BAY (DIY):

On my 2nd day I took the walk to Galapagos Beach at Tortuga Bay.Santa Cruz - Tortuga Bay Map

First, I popped in to have a look at Laguna Las Ninfas.Santa Cruz - Laguna Las Ninfas - View from Walkway

Before hitting the road out of town.Santa Cruz - Beach at Tortuga Bay - Road out of Puerto Ayora

After a few 100 metres you reach the path to Tortuga Bay.Santa Cruz - Beach at Tortuga Bay - Path 1

It is a pleasant 2.5km walk to the beach.Santa Cruz - Beach at Tortuga Bay - Path 2

But, you don’t see much wildlife.Santa Cruz - Beach at Tortuga Bay - Notice

The beach is beautiful.Santa Cruz - Beach at Tortuga Bay - Beach East Santa Cruz - Beach at Tortuga Bay - Beach West

But, again, you don’t see much wildlife.Santa Cruz - Beach at Tortuga Bay - View from Eastern Rocks

You come here for the beach and to surf the waves.Santa Cruz - Beach at Tortuga Bay - Surfing Waves

But, I didn’t come here for the beaches (it was the wrong time of the year for that anyway).

BELLAVISTA LAVA TUNNEL (DIY):

Another good, cheap DIY option is the 2km long lava tunnel located in Bellavista only 5kms north of Puerto Ayora.Santa Cruz - Bellavista Lava Tunnel Map

Just rent a bicycle or share a taxi from town. I was unable to find any Public Transport / buses that take you there.

LOS GEMELOS (DIY):

Other cheap, DIY alternatives include Los Gemelos in the centre of the island about 15km out of town. For most, the 30km+ round trip is too far to cycle. Also, I did not find any public transport going in that direction. I don’t know if the bus to the airport stops here … even if they did, you may have to wait a long time for a bus back. A taxi costs about $15 each way … you can try and share this between 4 people.Santa Cruz - Los Gemelos

DARWIN RESEARCH STATION (DIY):

Take the short walk to the Darwin Research Station east of town centre.Santa Cruz - Darwin Research Station

The whole return trip from your hotel should take less than 3 hours.Puerto-Ayora-Charles-Darwin-2

You can walk around the new path.Puerto-Ayora-Charles-Darwin-1

And see different species of Giant Tortoises.Puerto-Ayora-Charles-Darwin-3


BANKS / ATMs / MONEY:

There are several banks and ATMs around town. There is no Bureau De Change. Banco Guayaquil and Pichincha banks allow you to take out $500 and charge US$1.50 for the privilege. Most other banks limit you to US$300 and charge US$3.


INTERNET / WIFI:

Your accommodation should provide free WiFi – but, don’t expect it to be very usable.

I suggest that, in Quito, you buy a US$27 Claro Prepaid Tourist Plan which includes 4GB of data, unlimited texts, 20 minutes of International calls (in the Americas), and 110 minutes of local calls.

My Claro SIMcard had a 3G/4G signal most of the time in town that dropped to H+ out of town and disappeared completely in remote locations.


MY CONCLUSION:

Santa Cruz was my least favourite of the 3 islands. It is commercialised and has a ‘greedy’ feel about it.

Having said that, there are 2-3 very good DIY day trip options available that you can do for next to no cost.

Mix a couple of these DIYs in with 1 cheap Day Trip Tour (of about $50 each) and 1 ‘highlight’ Day Trip Tour (of about $150 each) and you will get an excellent 4 day experience at the best price possible.


ISLA SAN CRISTOBAL:

I went to San Cristobal second because some cruises start in San Cristobal … and I still wanted to investigate a last minute discount cruise option. When I got there, I realised that this was a waste of time.


GETTING THERE:

I decided to catch the 2pm (not the 7am) ferry. At 12 noon, I went down to a kiosk on the waterfront and bought my $30 one-way ticket. I was told to be at the Ferry Dock to register at 1pm.

RECOMMENDATION: Always catch the early ferry. Firstly, the seas tend to be calmer early in the morning and, secondly, you make better use of your limited time on the islands.

There isn’t one big ‘ferry’. There are, actually, several 25-seater launches. You get to the Ferry Dock and find the desk for your launch.Puerto Ayora - Ferry Registration

I found my desk and presented my ticket. I was told that they were full and had no seats. 2 people next to me were told the same. There is no centralised booking system … it is all done by phone calls between ticket-seller and boat. Us 3 had all bought our tickets from the same kiosk. We went back to the kiosk and she put us on another boat. If this happens to you, don’t fret … they’ll sort it out.

There are too many boats leaving at the same time, so they cannot dock. They stay anchored and you get to them by water taxi.Puerto Ayora - Typical Ferry

They call people through one boat at a time. You queue to have your bag contents checked at bio-security. Then, you queue for your water taxi.Puerto Ayora - Water Taxi

Before you disembark you are asked to pay $0.50c each.Puerto Ayora - Dont Pay The Ferryman

Our boat had seating for 25 passengers.Puerto Ayora - Ferry Ready to Go

We set off slightly early at 1:55pm.

The seas were flat but we sped through them at 30+ kph which meant that we hit the odd good, hard bump. A couple of people were sick … thank God the seas weren’t ‘rough’.

In less than 2 hour we were disembarking in Puerto Baquerizo Moreno, San Cristobal (Puerto BM). You disembark onto the ferry pier – there is no need for a Water Taxi at this end.San Cristobal - Landing

On exiting the Ferry Dock, we had to clear another Bio-Security check. As I placed my backpack on the counter I said to the lady in a kindly tone ‘please tell me, what do you think has happened since I passed Bio Security and got on the ferry in Santa Cruz?’. A bit embarrassed, she let me pass through without checking my bags.

From the Ferry Dock it was a 700m walk to my hotel.


ABOUT:

San Cristóbal (Chatham) is the easternmost island in the Galápagos archipelago, as well as one of the oldest geologically.San Cristobal Map

Its Spanish (and official Ecuadorian) name ‘San Cristóbal’ comes from the patron saint of seafarers, St. Christopher. English speakers increasingly use that name in preference to the traditional English name of Chatham Island.

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

A small lake called El Junco is the only source of fresh water in the islands. The availability of fresh water is what led to the early settlement of San Cristobal.Puerto Baquerizo Moreno Map

The population is approximately 6,000. Most of whom live in the main town of Puerto BM.


PHOTO GALLERY:

You land at the Ferry Pier.San Cristobal - Ferry Pier

And immediate hit the nice waterfront streets.San-Cristobal-Port-Waterfront-Road-2 San Cristobal - Waterfront Street

On the waterfront you find sea lions lazing around freely. Which immediately gives this island a more natural and less touristic feel than Santa Cruz.San Cristobal - Friendly Sea Lions San-Cristobal-Port-Sleeping-Sea-Lion San Cristobal - Sea Lions on Beach

Within 2-3 blocks of the Ferry Pier, the streets are typical of what you would expect.San Cristobal - Park San-Cristobal-Port-Back-Streets-2

But, go any farther and it starts to get a bit ‘shoddy’.San-Cristobal-Port-Back-Streets-1San-Cristobal-Port-Back-Streets-3 San-Cristobal-Port-Back-Streets-4

Most of the AirBnB accommodation options are found on these ‘shoddier’ streets.


ACCOMMODATION OPTIONS:

Accommodation is a bit more expensive than Santa Cruz (on average).

BOOKING.COM:

San Cristobal - Booking

PLEASE NOTE: BOOKING displays prices EXCLUSIVE of TAXES. You (usually) have to add 12% to the displayed price to get the final price.

AIRBnB:

San Cristobal - AirBnB

PLEASE NOTE: AirBnB displays prices INCLUSIVE of TAXES. BUT, the displayed EXCLUSIVES ‘Service Fees’ (which can add as much as 16%). ALSO, watch out for the ‘Cleaning Fee’, as some places charge more than 1 day’s rent!

In S.E. Asia, I wouldn’t touch AirBnB with a barge pole … in my opinion and experience the accommodation that you find is an absolute rip off. However, here, they are worth a look.

IN SUMMARY:

Discounts are very hard to get. But, if you physically turn up at an hotel you should be able to get a room with no 12% tax (booking.com) or no cleaning / service fees (AirBnB).

As aforementioned, almost all of the AirBnB options are in ‘shoddy’ streets / areas.


MY ACCOMMODATION:

PALMA DEL MAR 2:

I booked 2 nights at the Palma Del Mar 2 at a discounted rate of $25 / night (single occupancy). It was about 700 metres north-east of the Ferry Pier.San Cristobal - Palma del Mar 2 - Frontage

There were 4 rooms with a communal area and shared kitchen.San Cristobal - Palma del Mar 2 - Common Area

My room was an average size with a Double and Single Bed.San Cristobal - Palma del Mar 2 - Room Entry

It had cable TV with 1-2 English Speaking channels (if you were lucky).San Cristobal - Palma del Mar 2 - Furniture

And a wardrobe!San Cristobal - Palma del Mar 2 - Bed

The ensuite was an average size.San Cristobal - Palma del Mar 2 - Ensuite Entry

But the ‘hot’ water shower was poor. To get anything near ‘hot’ you had to turn the water flow down to a ‘drizzle’ and run around to get wet. There was, also, no mirror over the sink to help a man shave.San Cristobal - Palma del Mar 2 - Ensuite Shower

The WiFi was non-existent … if you did get ‘internet access’ it strugged to even display your home facebook page. When it did work, it was only good enough for text based communications.

For $4.50 more they will provide Breakfast (please note that you also get 1 scrambled egg).San Cristobal - Palma Del Mar 2 - Breakfast $4.50

ALGARROBOS:

I needed 2 more nights in Puerto BM. The Palma was full so I hit the streets and looked around. I google-mapped where all of the AirBnB places were located. To protect their income, AirBnB do not show you the exact location on their website … only the approximate location within a block or so. Anyway, I tried to find them along with some budget hotels listed on BOOKING.COM.

I didn’t like the locations of any of the AirBnB listings going for under $30 / night.

The only BOOKING.COM listing that I liked was the Casa De Mi Sub but it was on a ‘scruffy’ side street out in the suburbs and too far from the ferry pier. However, they did offer me a nice big 1 bedroom apartment with fridge, cable tv, hot water ensuite, and aircon for $25 / night. For $20 / night they offered me a very small Double Room with the same facilities – there was about 1 metre clearance around the Double Bed.

In the end, I decided to pay more and book the Algarrobos. I went to reception and waited 1/2 an hour ringing the bell every 5 minutes. Nobody came … so I gave in and booked online (which meant that I had to pay the 12% ‘tax’).Puerto BM - Algarrobos - Room Entry

I booked a Double Room at a discounted rate of $26.50 / night (single occupancy).Puerto BM - Algarrobos - Bed

It came with Cable TV (2-3 Eglish Speaking channels), a small fridge, and a chest of drawers for your clothes.Puerto BM - Algarrobos - Furniture

The ensuite was a good size.Puerto BM - Algarrobos - Ensuite Entry

And, there was plenty of water pressure and hot water in the shower.Puerto BM - Algarrobos - Ensuite Shower

They had meal options available: Breakfast $5, Lunch $10, and Dinner $15. I didn’t take up any meal options.

One of the reasons why I chose the Algarrobos (and paid a bit extra) was that it advertised good internet. I shouldn’t have bothered … I don’t even know why they bothered to give me the internet password … for almost all of the time that I was there, there was ‘no internet access’. If we did get internet access it was in the early hours of the morning when text-based emails might be able to get down the line to your computer.

In the end, I had to buy 2GB more data on my smartphone (for $10) so that I could get online and do some work.


WHERE TO STAY:

Try and get somewhere within 3 blocks of the Puerto BM waterfront.

You can stay 2kms inland at San Cristobal town but, without transport, you will be a bit isolated.


ACCOMMODATION SEARCH:

Have a look yourself:


Booking.com


EAT & DRINK:

Pretty much the same as Santa Cruz.

CHEAP EATS:

You can find some local eateries in the back streets where you can get a Comida Del Dia for as little as $4.50 and only pay $3.50 for a large Pilsener Beer to go with it.San-Cristobal-Port-Comida-del-Dia-4.50

My hotel recommended the, following, value for money eateries (i.e. $5 meals):

  • Lucky Restaurant (town centre)
  • Any of the 3 restaurants on Playa Mann Beach.
DRINK:

As per Santa Cruz.San-Cristobal-Port-Waterfront-Midori-Bar

There area a couple of nice waterfront bars to choose from. I popped into the Midori for a beer but at $6.50 for a large Pilsener I walked straight out again.

HAPPY HOURS:

You get Cocktail Happy Hours around town. Most are 2 for $10.

IN SUMMARY:

Expect to pay an average of US$5 for a cheap local Breakfast with coffee.

Expect to pay an average of US$5 for a cheap Lunch with fruit drink.

Expect to pay an average of US$7.50 for a cheap Dinner with a Fruit Juice / Small Beer.


TRANSPORT:

You can walk everywhere around town.

San Cristobal has its own airport.San Cristobal - Charles Darwin Boat

The Ferry in Puerto BM connects you to Santa Cruz (and beyond).


WHAT TO DO:

You have enough options to keep you busy for a few days.

360 TOUR:

For $140 you can spend a day doing a boat trip around the island stopping off at all of the favourite spots.

HIGHLAND TOUR:

Pepi, at Palma Del Mar 2, offers a 5 hour ‘Highlands’ tour for $40; $30 each for 2 or more people.San Cristobal - Puerto Chino Map

It is, basically, just a trip across the island along the main road to Puerto Chino. You are picked up at his hostel in a Ute at 8am and driven to El Junco where you take a short walk up to the fresh-water crater lake. San Cristobal - Highlands - El JuncoSan Cristobal - Highlands - El Junco PathSan Cristobal - Highlands - El Junco Lake

This is followed by a stop at the Giant Tortoise Reserve.

San Cristobal - Highlands - TortugasSan Cristobal - Highlands - Tortugas HouseHere you see the nursery.San Cristobal - Highlands - Tortugas Nursery

Seeing these little fellahs reminded me of when I was 4-5 years old. I went to a fair in Harpenden, England. I got onto one of the game stalls and got a perfect score. The man gave me a baby tortoise as a prize. I went around the dodgems and other things and decided to give the stall one more go before heading home. Again, I got a perfect score. The man was very surprised. Not many people had ever done that 2 times in a row. He said that I could have any prize in the stall … a teddy bear … a balloon animal … a painted bird … but I said ‘no thanks’, I’ll just have another one of those crusty meat pies! He fainted 🙂

On Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays you can catch them feeding the Giants (who live up to 120 years). San Cristobal - Highlands - Tortugas Giants Reference PointSan Cristobal - Highlands - Tortugas Giants 3San Cristobal - Highlands - Tortugas Giants 2

For me, the highlight was Puerto Chino. This is a popular stop for many cruise boats too.San Cristobal - Highlands - Puerto Chino

You can climp up on the rocks to get close to the birds (like Blue Footed Boobies).San Cristobal - Highlands - Puerto Chino SouthSan Cristobal - Highlands - Puerto Chino Birds 1 San Cristobal - Highlands - Puerto Chino Sea Lions Birds 2

But, for me, the ‘action’ is down on the beach.San Cristobal - Highlands - Puerto Chino Sea Lions Beach

Here you find Sea Lions lazing around. They aren’t scared of humans so you can get up close … but, you are asked not to get closer than 2 metres. If you touch them expect to get bitten.

San Cristobal - Highlands - Puerto Chino Sea Lions 1San Cristobal - Highlands - Puerto Chino Sea Lions Cuddle 5The first thing that you notice is that Sea Lions like to cuddle up in pairs. While I was standing there, one little fellah waddled up to me and lay down inches from my feet – no doubt trying to partner up for a cuddle.San Cristobal - Highlands - Puerto Chino Sea Lions Cuddle 1 San Cristobal - Highlands - Puerto Chino Sea Lions Cuddle 2 San Cristobal - Highlands - Puerto Chino Sea Lions Cuddle 3 San Cristobal - Highlands - Puerto Chino Sea Lions Cuddle 4

This tranquility is only broken when the Alpha Male turns up.San Cristobal - Highlands - Puerto Chino Sea Lions Alpha MaleSan Cristobal - Highlands - Puerto Chino Sea Lions Alpha Male Fighting

The first thing that he does is chace all of the other males away to the edges of the group.San Cristobal - Highlands - Puerto Chino Sea Lions Fight 2 San Cristobal - Highlands - Puerto Chino Sea Lions Fight 3 San Cristobal - Highlands - Puerto Chino Sea Lions Fight 4 San Cristobal - Highlands - Puerto Chino Sea Lions Fight 5

Once the competition is sorted, the Alpha starts wandering around all of the ladies whispering sweet nothings in their ears 🙂

After Puerto Chino were headed back into the hills to a farm.San Cristobal - Highlands - Farm RestaurantSan Cristobal - Highlands - Farm Grounds

We took a walk to a rare fresh-water stream.San Cristobal - Highlands - Farm Stream

And returned to the farm for the included lunch. I chose fish (of course).San Cristobal - Highlands - Farm Meal

We were back at our hotel by 2pm.

SCUBA DIVING:

The main attraction on San Cristobal is Kicker Rock. The standard price is $160 for 2 dive. Alternatively you can snorkel and do 1 ‘discovery’ dive for the same price. I advise the latter for first-time divers only (as you only dive to 12 metres and don’t really see much).

Another main attraction is the Wreck Bay (shipwreck). The standard price is $140 for 2 dives.

A 2 tank dive at Punta Pitt is rarer to find. The standard price is $190 for 2 dives.

Even rarer is the 4-hour round trip to Isla Espaniola. The standard price is $250 for 1 dive.

I negotiated Kicker Rock down to $140 at Wreck Bay Diving and left at 8am on a Wednesday.Puerto BM - Wreck Bay Diving - Frontage

There were only 3 SCUBA Divers on the boat … the rest were snorkelling.Puerto BM - Wreck Bay Diving - Boat

We got under way but stopped briefly in a small bay (the first place that Darwin landed on the island) to do a ‘check dive’ … to get our lead weights right and to ensure that we knew what we were doing 🙂 It wasn’t the most professional outfit that I’ve ever come across (I doubt if any of them are).Puerto BM - Wreck Bay Diving - Underway

In less than 20 minutes were arrived at Kicker Rock.Puerto BM - Wreck Bay Diving - Kickers Rock 5

We did 2 dives here. During the ‘surface interval’ we partook in hot chocolate and wafer buscuits. We saw Barracuda, Sharks, Eagle Rays, Morays, Octopi, Turtles, Lobsters … The rock face was also picturesque and interesting. I always like getting in and amongst schools of fish.San Cristobal - Wreck Bay Diving - Kicker Rock - School of Fish 7

Back on the boat we were served lunch as we made our way to a nearby beach.Puerto BM - Wreck Bay Diving - Beach 1Puerto BM - Wreck Bay Diving - Beach 4

We stayed on the beach for 1.5 hours whilst others did their ‘discovery’ dive. Puerto BM - Wreck Bay Diving - Beach 3 Puerto BM - Wreck Bay Diving - Beach 5

We returned to Puerto BM by 3pm.Puerto BM - Wreck Bay Diving - Return

All-in-all a pleasant day … and, for Galapagos, good value for money.

DO-IT-YOURSELF (DIY) DAY TRIPS:

A good, cheep, DIY Day Trip option is a trek to Mirador Cerro Tijeretas stopping off at Playa Mann and Playa Punta Carola on the way.San Cristobal - Mirador Cerro Tijeretas

Alternatively, head south to Playa Loberia.San Cristobal - Playa Loberia Map


BANKS / ATMs / MONEY:

There is 1 ATM in town. There is no Bureau De Change.


INTERNET / WIFI:

As per Santa Cruz. Bring your own smartphone with data plan.


MY CONCLUSION:

San Cristobal was my second favourite of the 3 islands. It is less commercialised than Santa Cruz and feels less ‘greedy’.

Again, there are 2-3 very good DIY day trip options available that you can do for next to no cost.

I do not advise renting a bike to cycle to the Giant Tortouse Centre (you will, likely, be disappointed by your efforts). Take the $30 Highlands Tour instead.San Cristobal - Highlands - Tortugas Giants 4

Mix a couple of these DIYs in with 1 cheap Day Trip Tour (e.g. the Highland Tour) and 1 ‘highlight’ Day Trip Tour (of about $150 each – e.g. the 360 Tour or SCUBA Dive Tour) and you will get an excellent 4 day experience at the best price possible.


ISLA ISABELA:

I decided to ‘bite the bullet’ and do San Cristobal to Isabela in 1 day: the 7am 2 hour ferry to Santa Cruz, a 5 hour wait, and a 2:30pm 2 hour ferry to Isabela.


GETTING THERE:

I bought my 1-way ticket to Santa Cruz ($30) at Wreck Bay Diving and met them at their offices at 6:40am the next morning. No ticket was issued. They walked me across the road and checked me in with my boat.

I passed through Bio-Security where they checked the contents of my bags. Funnily, the same lady was there that I met on my arrival. She remembered me … and, gave my bags a very ‘light’ inspection (with a smile).Puerto BM - Ferry to Santa Cruz

You embark directly off of the ferry pier – there is no need for a Water Taxi. We left at 7:15am and arrived in Santa Cruz at 9:05am. We needed a Water Taxi to get us from the ferry to the pier ($0.50c).Puerto BM - Ferry Water Taxi

This time, we just walked past Bio-Security. There was 1 person there but he was on his smartphone (and not checking anyone’s bags).

I went to a nearby kiosk and bought a return ticket to Isabela ($50). The boat leaves at (7:30am and) 2:30pm so he was kind enough to let me leave my luggage with him whilst I headed off to find Breakfast and while-away the next 5 hours. He wanted me back at his kiosk at 2pm. In hindsight, I should have gone to the Darwin Research Station but (instead) I sat in a cafe and worked.

Our group got together at 2:00pm and we made our way to the ferry. We passed Bio-security and had our bags checked, again, before taking a water taxi to our ferry ($0.50c). Two hours later, we arrived in Puerto Villamil.Isabela - Entering the Harbour

The water taxi from ferry to shore costs $1 each. On shore you have to pay a $10 ‘Isabela Tourist Tax’ ($5 for Ecuadorians) before leaving the dock.


ABOUT:

Isabela Island is the largest island of the Galápagos. It is almost four times larger than Santa Cruz, the second largest of the archipelago. The island straddles the equator.Isabela Island Map

At approximately only 1 million years old, the island was formed by the merger of 6 volcanoes. 5 of these volcanoes are still active, making it one of the most volcanically active places on earth. Two of the volcanoes lie directly on the equator.

The island is primarily noted for its geology, providing an excellent example of how the Galápagos Islands were created … including the ‘uplifts’ at Urvina Bay and the Bolivar Channel, tuff cones at Tagus Cove, and Pulmace on Alcedo and Sierra Negra (one of the most active volcanoes in the world).

The relatively new lava fields and surrounding soils have not developed the sufficient nutrients required to support the varied life zones found on other islands. Isabela is home to more wild tortoises than all the other islands. The west coast of Isabela in the Bolivar Channel is the best place in Galápagos for viewing whales and dolphins.Puerto Villamil Map

The settlements of Puerto Villamil and Santo Tomás were founded in 1893.


PHOTO GALLERY:

We landed at Concha del Perla. You leave the dock on a feeder road that takes you into town.Isabela - Concha de Pearla road into Town

The roads bordering town are what you would expect.Isabela-Photos-Town-Edge-Street-1 Isabela-Photos-Town-Edge-Street-2

After about 400 metres you hit the main waterfront road.Isabela-Puerto-Villamil-Waterfront-Road

You immediately notice that the town is clean and tidy.Isabela-Puerto-Villamil-Typical-Main-Street

Perhaps some of that $10 fee is actually making its way into the community (for a change).Isabela-Puerto-Villamil-Typical-Side-Street

The centre of town roads all look like this. The only difference is how much building work is going on in each street. There are several roads that lead to the town beach.Isabela-Puerto-Villamil-Typical-Side-Street

The east end of the beach isn’t much.Isabela-Puerto-Villamil-Beach-Left

But you don’t have to go far west to find a nice spot.Isabela-Puerto-Villamil-Beach-Right

Alas there is no wildlife on the beach like you find in San Cristobal. This is a swimming beach.Isabela-Puerto-Villamil-Beach

I rigged up my hammock between a couple of palm trees and relaxed for a while.Isabela-Puerto-Villamil-Hammock-View


ACCOMMODATION OPTIONS:

This is what you find online in mid October 2018:

BOOKING.COM:

Isabela - Booking MapIsabela - Booking

PLEASE NOTE: BOOKING displays prices EXCLUSIVE of TAXES. You (usually) have to add 12% to the displayed price to get the final price.

AIRBnB:

Isabela - AirBnB Map

PLEASE NOTE: AirBnB displays prices INCLUSIVE of TAXES. BUT, the displayed EXCLUSIVES ‘Service Fees’ (which can add as much as 16%). ALSO, watch out for the ‘Cleaning Fee’, as some places charge more than 1 day’s rent!

In S.E. Asia, I wouldn’t touch AirBnB with a barge pole … in my opinion and experience the accommodation that you find is an absolute rip off. However, here, they are worth a look.

IN SUMMARY:

Isabela is the most expensive of the 3 islands. You may want to start to look for ‘discounts’ well in advance … as I found out, waiting until the very last minute doesn’t always result in a discounted price.


MY ACCOMMODATION:

I have an S1 prolapse which played up in San Cristobal. I didn’t know how it would handle the bumpy 2 hour ride to Santa Cruz. I decided to wait to see how it felt before buying a ticket on to Isabela. If worst came to worst, I may be forced to spend a night in Santa Cruz… This meant that I didn’t book my Isabela accommodation until the day of my arrival. I didn’t have many choices. What was available looked ‘pretty average’ for $30. Then, I struck lucky and found a promo on EXPEDIA.COM. I booked a Double Room at the El Paraiso de Isabela for 4 nights at $21.20 / night including Breakfast. This was nearly half the price that it was being listed for elsewhere (obviously an error on Expedia’s part).

I arrived at the hotel soon after 5pm. They knew nothing about my booking. I wasn’t surprised. With Expedia, you pay up-front on your Credit Card. I showed them the Confirmed Booking and the fact that I had already paid. After 15 minutes of trying to find my reservation (and calling Expedia without success), they just honoured the booking and took me to my room.Isabela - El Paraiso - Room Entry

The room was simple but adequate. It came with a small fridge but the only thing that worked was the internal light.Isabela - El Paraiso - Room

The ensuite was also adequate.Isabela - El Paraiso - Ensuite Entry

And, it came with a decent hot water shower.Isabela - El Paraiso - Ensuite Shower

The room came with aircon (a silent heatpump – that worked). It came with in-room Wifi (that was so slow it was unusable most of the time – this seems to be a common theme throughout the Galapagos Islands). It also came with Cable TV (said Expedia) … I went down to Reception to get the remote. No TV he said … they have no signal. More to the truth is that they stopped paying for the cable channels. No WiFi and no TV … On went my music! 🙂

The ‘free Breakfast’ was served upstairs in the Terrace Restaurant.Isabela - El Paraiso - Terrace

It was a typical Breakfast with coffee / tea, juice, scrambled egg, bread roll, margerine, and jam. It varied slightly each day.


WHERE TO STAY:

You can stay anywhere around the main town. It is all very pleasant.


ACCOMMODATION SEARCH:

Have a look yourself:


Booking.com


EAT & DRINK:

Isabela is the most expensive island of the 3. Even the Almuerzos start at $7-$8 (as opposed to $5 elsewhere and $3 back on the mainland).Isabela-Puerto-Villamil-Waterfront-Road-Menu-del-Dia

A ‘typical’ meal will set you back about $15.

CHEAP EATS:

Walk along the western end on the main waterfront road. You will find a string of small cafes selling Set Lunches and Set Dinners. I tried one for $8. Don’t expect anything big!Isabela-Puerto-Villamil-Main-Road-Cafe-Menu-Del-Dia-8

For dessert, I got a small piece of chocolate cake.

I tried another $8 Menu Del Dia at a next door restaurant the next night. It wasn’t as good. The soup was half the size. I chose the pasta option which was small and tasteless (spaghetti with a tomato-based vegetarian sauce). For dessert, I got a cold banana.

TripAdvisor reckons that one of the cheapest restaurants in town is the Sharwarmahot. I disagree. It may have been once but not now. Here is their latest menu:Isabela-Puerto-Villamil-Sharwarmahot-Menu

Other ‘average’ restaurants charge about $10 for something simple.Isabela-Puerto-Villamil-Waterfront-Road-Menu

A restaurant worth checking out is El Toque de Melida – but, I didn’t have a chance to try it myself.

The locals recommend Anabel’s Grill but I didn’t have a chance to get there either.

DRINK:

Expect to pay $5 for a large beer in an average bar. Up this to $6 in a ‘Gringo’ bar. You pay $3.25 ($3 if they like you) for a large Club plus $0.25c bottle deposit in a Minimart.

HAPPY HOURS:

There are several Happy Hours around town. Almost all offer 2-for-1 Cocktails at $10.

IN SUMMARY:

Expect to pay an average of US$6 for a cheap local Breakfast with coffee.

Expect to pay an average of US$7 for a cheap Lunch with fruit drink.

Expect to pay an average of US$10 for a cheap Dinner with a Fruit Juice / Small Beer.


TRANSPORT:

You can walk everywhere around town.

You can rent a bike for $3 / hour, $10 / half day (4 hours), or $15 / day. I tried nearly all of the bicycle rental places around town to see if I could get a discount … most had 10-20 bikes sitting out the front with no renters. Nobody was prepared to move on the (above) rates … I even tried to get just 1 extra hour for the 1/2 day rental … without success.Isabela-Concha-de-Perla-Iguana-1

The fact that they would rather get nothing (when they had so many bicycles ‘idle’ earning nothing) than give me 5 hours (instead of 4) suggests to me that there is a ‘cartel’ operating. I would, also, suggest that this goes wider than just bicycle rentals. I would, further, suggest that this goes wider than Isabela Island.

You can see this happening in many things from tours to ferry prices.


WHAT TO DO:

Alas, my bad back restricted my options so I cannot give you as much detail as usual.

You cannot get a trip out to the west coast – the jewel of the island. You can only get there on a Cruise.

CYCLE (or TREK) TO THE WALL OF TEARS (DIY $10 / $0):

Rent a bike for 1/2 a day ($10 each) and ride along the town beach road, past the Tunel de Estero to the Wall of Tears. If on bicycle allow 3-4 hours. I decided to walk and I did it in 3 hours without any stops. With detours in / out of the places of interest, the return journey is about 16 kms.Isabela - Wall of Tears Map

Just leave town on the north road and keep going.Isabela-Puerto-Villamil-Road-North

You start by following a nice stretch of town beach.Isabela-Wall-of-Tears-1

After a few 100 metres you enter the National Park (no fee).Isabela-Wall-of-Tears-2

Inland you pass some pretty pools (Pozas).Isabela-Wall-of-Tears-3

Before you hit the National Park Entrance ‘proper’ where only people and bicycles can pass.Isabela-Wall-of-Tears-4

A quick detour left takes you to La Playita (little beach).Isabela-Wall-of-Tears-5

But you better watch your step … not everyhting black is a rock …Isabela-Wall-of-Tears-6

You pass more Pozos. Each one has a name … my favourie was Poza Escondida (hidden pool) … but, it was signposted (so, it wasn’t really ‘hidden’ anymore) 🙂Isabela-Wall-of-Tears-7

Soon you reach Playa del Amor (lover’s beach).Isabela-Wall-of-Tears-8

Next to that is the Tunel de Estero lava tunnel. Isabela - Wall of Tears - 9

From this point (about 1/2 way) you still have 4 kms to go before you reach the Wall of Tears. Isabela - Wall of Tears - 9

You can take a quick detour to El Estero. A nice detour that takes you down a gorgeous path to another little spot where Sea Lions sleep on the benches.Isabela-Wall-of-Tears-13Isabela-Wall-of-Tears-12

The next phase is to ‘run the gauntlet’ down the ‘walk of the tortoises’.Isabela-Wall-of-Tears-14

As aforementioned, Isabela has the most wild tortoises of all of the islands. Depending on the time of year (and your luck) this bit of road can get very busy. Perhaps they need a Zebra Crossing?Isabela-Wall-of-Tears-15

From here you have a long walk before you get to the Cerro Orchilla Mirador (viewpoint).Isabela-Wall-of-Tears-16

From the top you get great views around the southern island.Isabela-Wall-of-Tears-19Isabela-Wall-of-Tears-17 Isabela-Wall-of-Tears-18

From here, it is only a few 100 metres more to the Wall of Tears.Isabela-Wall-of-Tears-20

The Wall is a ‘folley’ built by prisoners for no other purpose than to break their wills.

At the Wall of Tears, alas, you cannot follow the ‘green dotted path’. This path takes you into the National Park and access is restricted.Isabela-Wall-of-Tears-21

My Recommendation:

If you just like walking then great … you can waste many hours doing this trek. However, you don’t actually see much wildlife (well, I didn’t). For that reason, I recommend that you rent a bicycle for 1/2 a day and do the whole thing in 4 hours. This will give you enough time to see everything and still leave you enough time to spend 1-2 hours relaxing in your favourite spots.

CONCHA DE PERLA / PEARL SHELL (DIY):

This is just a short walk from town. Walk down to the Ferry Dock where you find more Sea Lions.

Isabela-Concha-de-Pearla-View-1 Isabela - Concha de Pearla - Sea Lions Playing

The path starts next to the Ferry Dock.Isabela-Concha-de-Pearla-EntryIsabela-Concha-de-Pearla-Path

Along the short path, you will need to dodge sleeping Sea Lions as well as large Iguana. Isabela-Concha-de-Pearla-Iguana-2 Isabela - Concha de Pearla - Iguanas 1

At the end of this short path is a small pier where you can relax and take a swim.Isabela-Concha-de-Pearla-End-View

Allow 1-2 hours.

TINTERERAS ($35-$40):

For $35-$40 you can take a 3 hour (1/2 day) snorkelling and hiking trip into the Tintoreras (which are located just south of Pearl Shell, Puerto Villamil).Isabela - Tintoreras Map

The price includes transport, a wetsuit, and snorkelling equipment.Isabela-Tintoreras-Tourist-Map

This, on paper, should be good value for money (for Galapagos).

SIERRA NEGRA ($35-$40):

For the same price, you can trek in Sierra Negra and its nearby Volcano(s).Isabela - Sierra Negra Map

This trip involves 5-6 hours of hiking through some unique landscape.

CABO ROSA / THE TUNELES ($110):

The best trip is said to be The Tuneles which you get to by taking a 45 minute each way boat ride west along the south coast of the island to Cabo Rosa.Isabela - Cabo Rosa Map

The standard price is $110 but (off season) it is possible to get this down to $90. The trip takes a total of 5 hours and includes a boxed lunch, wetsuit, and snorkelling equipment.


BANKS / ATMs / MONEY:

There is 1 CooPccP ATM on the island; I didn’t find any more. Google Maps shows none. There is no Bureau De Change. For safety, bring enough cash.


INTERNET / WIFI:

As aforementioned, don’t expect your hotel wifi to be usable. Bring your own Smartphone with your own data plan with enough GBs for your needs.Isabela-Concha-de-Pearla-Iguanas-2

My Claro SIMcard had an H+ signal most of the time that disappeared completely in remote locations.


MY CONCLUSION:

Isabela was my favourite of the 3 islands. Alas, it is also the most expensive. It is almost like Isabela is trying to be too … perhaps they want to differentiate themselves from the other islands to attract a more ‘up-market’ tourist.

The Wall of Tears is the only good DIY day trip. Concha de Perla is just (really) a fill-in.

Fortunately, there are 3 Organised Trips that are reasonably priced: Sierra Negra, Tintoreras, and El Tuneles. All 3 of which can be done (off peak) for $30-$35, $30-$35, and $90-$100 = $150-$170 (each) if you put on your negotiating hat and organise all 3 through the same agent. With this mix, you will get an excellent 4 day experience at the best price possible.


BACK TO QUITO / GUAYAQUIL:

BACK TO SANTA CRUZ:

I had to return to Santa Cruz to catch my return flight back from Baltra. In a away, this sort-of wasted a day.

RECOMMENDATION: For this reason, I recommend that you fly into Baltra and fly out from San Cristobal (or visa versa).

I caught the 6am ferry from Isabela to Santa Cruz. I was down the Ferry Dock clearing bio-security at 5:30am.Isabela-Ferry-Dock-0530am

We needed a water taxi to take us from the dock to our ferry ($1).Isabela-Water-Taxi-to-Ferry-1

We set off on schedule and landed in Santa Cruz about 2 hours later. Another water taxi took us to shore ($0.50c). From there, I walked the 700 metres to my accommodation.

MY ACCOMMODATION:

I booked myself into a Double (fan) Room at the Carliza II Backpacker. I paid $18.20 for 1 night. You do not need aircon at this time of year … in fact, some nights I was so cold that I needed extra blankets.Puerto-Ayora-Caliza-II-Street-View

I chose it because it was only 2 blocks (in the back streets) from the Mercado Municipal (where the Airport Bus dropped us off when I first arrived) … I was hoping that I could get on the bus to the Airport from the same location.

The Carliza has 2 floors with about 8 rooms on each floor.Puerto-Ayora-Caliza-II-Rooms

My room was an average size.Puerto-Ayora-Caliza-II-Room-Entry

It came with a ceiling fan and a wardrobe.Puerto-Ayora-Caliza-II-Furniture

It had a TV which I managed to re-tune to get a couple of English speaking channels.Puerto-Ayora-Caliza-II-Room

The ensuite was small but adequate.Puerto-Ayora-Caliza-II-Ensuite-Toilet

The shower had good water flow and plenty of hot water.Puerto-Ayora-Caliza-II-Ensuite-Shower

There was a shared kitchen.Puerto-Ayora-Caliza-II-Shared-Kitchen

And, to my utter amazement, the free wifi had a strong signal in my room and was fast enough to be usable!

This is, also, a cheaper area of town. For instance, a take-away large Club Beer from my local minimart was only $2.60 … she made the mistake of scanning the barcode on the POS machine! Next door they didn’t scan the barcode but just charged me $3.25 ($3 plus 25c deposit).

Even though it was the cheapest room that I booked in my whole stay in the Galapagos, it looked like the best value for money. The downside was that to get the good in-room wifi, I had to be next to Reception and the Kitchen – which were noisy until about 10pm at night. The other downside is that the road outside started to get very noisy at 5am.

TO BALTRA AIRPORT:

I was out of luck. You cannot catch a bus from outside of the Mercado Municipal. You have to catch a bus from the Terminal Terrestre.

I was approaching the Terminal just before 9am when a couple stopped in a passing taxi. Apparently the last bus to the airport leaves at about 8:30am. This couple had abandoned the Terminal and found themselves a taxi ($25). They asked if I wanted to share the taxi for $8. I accepted. By 9:30am we were at the Ferry Dock.

You buy your airport bus ticket at the Ferry Dock before gettng on the ferry. The ferry waits until it is full before it leaves. Other passengers slowly arrived in taxis and group shuttle buses. We left at 9:50am ($1) and landed at the other side at 10am. The Airport Bus was waiting. By 10:15am we were at the airport.

The Avianca check-in desks opened at 10:45am (exactly 2 hours before the flight). There are no Self Check-in Kiosks. I had done my Web Check-in the previous night but only had an Electronic copy of my Boarding Pass. Not a problem. I checked in at the counter and my ePass was good all of the way to the plane.

In Quito, I caught Public Transport home.


HEALTH & SAFETY:

There is no reason to feel unsafe. As always, exercise normal levels of caution … don’t make yourself an obvious target.

The main problem is Petty Theft … which is a ‘typical’ problem in the Americas. Don’t leave anything unattended. Lock up your hotel room. Lock up your valuables within your hotel room (single lock hotel room doors are notoriously easy to break into without a key).

There weren’t many mosquitos but on some of the beaches you may get sandfly problems – they’re not really ‘sandflies’ as I know them but they do pack a bite that leaves you with a small lump that has a small hole in the middle.

Don’t drink the tap water.


WHEN TO GO:

This link offers excellent information.

The climate does not vary dramatically over the year. The climate of the Islands can best be described as subtropical.

There is, however, some variation driven mainly by the ocean currents. December to May can be best described as the ‘warm season’. This period brings a unique mixture of warmth, rain, and sun. This season is driven by the El Niño Current, which brings a warm current, thus making both the water and the land warmer; this season is also known for afternoon showers. Average Air temperatures is 80ºF to 90ºF (27ºC to 32ºC). Average Water temperature 70ºF to 80ºF (21ºC to 26ºC).Isabela-Concha-de-Perla-Sea-Lion-on-Seat

June to November can be best described as the cool season. This season also makes a unique mixture in the climate, usually: cloudy, cool, and dry. The Humboldt Current is responsible for this; it brings a cooler current to the Islands, thus making both the water and the land cooler. Average Air temperatures 70ºF to 80ºF (21ºC to 27ºC). Average Water temperature 65ºF to 75ºF (18ºC to 24ºC).

‘High Season’ is mid-December to January and from June to August … which coincides with the general holidays and vacation months around the world. So, avoid these dates if you want the best prices.

I experienced my best weather on Isla Isabela and this may not be a coincidence. I have read other blogs that have said the same. Perhaps there is something in it.


In summary: The best time to do this 2 week tour is November through mid December. Isabela may have the best climate.


GRANDPAcking COSTS:

GRANDPAckers will be hugely over-budget.

Read About – GRANDPAcking Costs if you don’t know how to interpret my figures.

SPREADSHEET SUMMARY:

Galapagos GRANDPAcking Costs

MY ACTUAL COSTS:

My costs are broken down into:

  • Cost of Existence: The basic costs of just being there
  • Cost of Living: The additional costs that make being there fun
COST OF EXISTENCE (COE):

I did this trip to GRANDPAcking standard. But, please note that I was travelling alone and I get Single Occupancy rates in my GRANDPAcking Double Rooms and I take advantage of ‘last minute discounts’.

Half of my accommodation included a free Breakfast. I was lucky with my accommodation costs (especially in Isabela). I averaged $23.50 / night on accommodation.

I got lucky (again) and got a last minute $208 return flight to Baltra, Galapagos direct from Quito. I paid my standard $11 from the airport into town. With the taxi, it cost me $14 to get back again. I made the mistake of only getting a one-way ticket to San Cristobal ($30) so had to pay $30 to get back again. I rectified this by getting a return $50 ticket from Santa Cruz to Isabela. Water taxi costs are added on top. In San Cristobal I did a Highlands Tour ($30) and a SCUBA dive to Kickers Rock ($140). My bad back prevented me from going on more tours. All up, I spent over $500 on Transport & Tours.

I already had my postpaid Claro Smartphone Plan. I arrived with about 1.5GB of data. I had to buy another 2GB ($10) and another 1GB ($6). I pay for these GBs when I return to Quito. I paid the $100 National Park Fee and $20 Tourist Card at Baltra Airport. I paid another $10 Isabela Park Fee.

I averaged about US$18 / day on food. When I needed to buy a Breakfast it cost me an average of US$6 (but I always have extra coffees). I don’t really eat Lunch anymore. I averaged about US$8 / day on Dinners (these were, usually, a Comida Del Dia). I averaged about US$4 / day on Drinks. Drinking water was free at my Hostals.

My COE worked out to be about US$89 / day. This was 72% OVER budget.

COST OF LIVING (COL):

In / Out Costs:  It cost me US$5 to get to Quito Airport by UBER and Public Bus.

Living Costs: I gifted US$7.

My total COL was about US$90 / day (74% OVER budget).

COSTS FOR 2 GRANDPAckers:

Again, costs are broken down in Cost Of Existence (COE) and Cost Of Living (COL).

COST OF EXISTENCE:

Accommodation: I have booked you into the cheapest decent ‘pre-booked’ accommodation in each location. You may be able to get better prices if you take a gamble and wait until the last minute … or just physically turn up. In each location there are some Hospedajes that are not listed on the internet; I don’t know the prices but I suspect that they are as un-negotiable as everything else on the islands. Realistically, you should budget $35 / night in Puerto Ayora and $40 / night elsewhere.

Transportation: You have to get a return flight from the mainland – so, this is a mandatory cost. I have budgeted the full $450 per person rate. Since nothing needs to be pre-booked on the Islands you could gamble (especially off peak) like I did and try and get a last minute cheap flight. It will cost $11 each to get from Baltra Airport to Puerto Ayora. The return ferry to Isabela costs $50 each. It will cost you $30 each for the ferry to San Cristobal. You should be able to get to the  San Cristobal airport for under $5.

Suggested Tours: On Isabela I recommend that you do 3 organised tours: La Tintereras, Sierra Negra, and El Tuneles. Do the Wall of Tears yourself on a rental bike for $10 each. You can do Concha de Perla as a ‘fill in’. On your return to Santa Cruz I suggest that you choose 2 organised tours: a cheap one ($40-ish) and a ‘highlight’ one ($150-ish) … the ‘highlight one may be a SCUBA dive. Do the Bellavista Lava Tunnel on a $10 rental bike or shared taxi. Only do the Gemelos if you can get a group together to share a $30+ return taxi. You can do the Darwin Research Station or Tortugas Bay Beach as ‘fill ins’. On San Cristobal I suggest that you do 2 organised tours: the Highlands and the 360 (you can swap the 360 for a Kicker Rock SCUBA dive). You can do the Mirador Cerro Tijeretas and Playa Loberia as ‘fill ins’.

Communications & Fees: You are srongly advised to come with your own Mobile Data Plan. Each person will have to pay $100 National Park Fee, $20 Tourst Card, and $10 Isabela Island Park Fee (a total of $130 each just for the privilege).

Food: Your budget averages about US$60 / day for 2 people. This is to eat all of your meals in Cheap Restaurants. You should be able to get a Desayuno and Almuerza for US$5 each ($6 on Isabela) … this will set you up nicely to keep your Dinner cost to a minimum. An average ‘cheapest’ Dinner with a Fruit Juice will cost $8.50. Goods are so expensive in the stores that you won’t save much by getting in groceries – not unless you want to eat bread, noodles, and rice all of the time.

Beverages: You did not come all of this way and spend this kind of money to go home to bed as soon as it gets dark. I have included a 2-for-1 cocktail (or 2 large beers) per person each night.

Your COE is US$266 / day. This is 515% over your daily budget. Simply put, it is going to cost each person just under $1,000 / week to do Galapagos ‘on the cheap’.

COST OF LIVING:

I have included most of the costs that make this trip worth while in the COE. The normal GRANDPAcker should budget $2,000 for this 2 week trip so that they have a small ‘float’.

PLEASE NOTE: It is possible to get a 4 night last minute / discount Cruise for under $1,000 but this does not include all costs. You may need to add snorkel equipment, soft drinks, and alcoholic (etc) drinks to that total. You also need to add another $1,500 to those costs to make up the 2 weeks. To include the cheapest 3 to 4 night island hopping cruise, effectively, adds another $750 to your total costs.


FINAL CONCLUSION:

If you want to lie on a beach all day … why are you coming to the Galapagos? You can do that at 1/3rd of the price on better beaches elsewhere.

I assume that you want to come to the Galapagos to experience the unique things that it has to offer … getting close to Giant Tortoises, Giant Iguana, Sea Lions, Exotic Bird, etc ... and getting into pristine seas to sea Turtles, Sharks, Rays …

If you want to do the latter on an affordable budget, you have to ‘get real’ about your expectations and ‘get smart’ with your money.

RECOMMENDATION:

Fly into Baltra. You will probably arrive to late to make the connectig ferry … so, stay 1 night in Puerto Ayora. Catch the 7:30am ferry to Isabela. Spend 4 nights in Isabela, followed by 4 in Santa Cruz, followed by 4 in San Cristobal. Fly out from San Cristobal. Reverse this route if you prefer. Budget to do free activities (like a beach or a trek) every other day and payable activities in-between. Budget 1 ‘expensive’ ($150-ish) and 1 ‘cheap’ ($40-ish) activity on each island. Catch the public ferry between islands. This will deliver the best value experience at the best value price.

SAN ANDRES & PROVIDENCIA COMPARISON:

I find myself compelled to compare the Galapagos Islands with San Andres & Providencia, Colombia.

  • Both require you to fly from the mainland: Galapagos $208 vs San Andres $150.
  • Both require you to catch a ferry between the islands: Galapagos $50 return (between any 2 islands) vs San Andres $126 to / from Providencia.
  • Both require you to pay a National Park Fee: Galapagos $130 total vs San Andres $40.
  • Both have relatively expensive accommodation: Galapagos $35-$40 vs San Andres $25-$30. On Galapagos you get better quality.
  • Both have relatively expensive daily ‘Eating Out’ costs: Galapagos $20 each vs San Andres $24 each.
  • With Flights, Park Fees, Tours and Entertainment excluded … both have a similar COE: about $75 / day for 2 people.

The main difference is that the Galapagos Islands are safe and they have so much more to offer whether that be beaches, treks, tours, snorkeling, diving, geology, bio-diversity, eyc …. San Andres offers good snorkelling (and, perhaps, SCUBA Diving) but very little else.

The Galapagos Islands matches San Andres & Providencia in COE and beats them hands down in all other respects.

TTFN


Why not FOLLOW US to stay up to date with our Postings and Retirement Reviews.