I have wanted to travel to the Galapagos Islands ever since my first year university biology class where we were learned about Charles Darwin and his infamous finches. I was fascinated by these little creatures and the more I learned about these exotic islands, the more I needed to go.
A few years later, I got my chance. A friend of my boyfriend was going to Ecuador and, since I was already semi-planning a trip to South America, I figured I would tag along with her. My dream of visiting the Galapagos suddenly became a reality. I was headed to the land of finches, marine iguanas, and giant tortoises. GIANT FREAKIN’ TORTOISES!!! It was going to be awesome.
This series of posts will be to share with you what you can expect, what you must do and what not to bother with when you’re visiting the Galapagos. There are definitely a few things they don’t tell you in the guidebooks so I’ll do my best to point you in the right direction.
This first post will be about the basics: how to get there, booking in advance, what you should bring…you know, all that boring stuff that will make your life easier. Subsequent posts will be about the good stuff: Animals you’ll see, tours to take, and islands to visit.
Let’s start with the basics.
Before You Go
First off, and in my opinion the most important, don’t book in advance. No seriously, don’t do it. Even if you’re one of those people who likes to plan the exact time you take a whizz, don’t book your tours or accommodation before you go to the Galapagos Islands. Ok, maybe book your first night because then at least you know where you’re going once you get there, but you don’t need to schedule out your entire stay.
We booked a few months in advance and chose an 8 day tour package that included accommodation and meals ($1300 US in 2014). In hindsight, we would have booked our accommodation in advance and researched the tours available.
The main street in Puerto Ayora is lined with hotels, restaurants, and shops and there are “Daily Special” signs for snorkeling, scuba diving, and walking tours every 20 steps so you won’t be stuck with nothing to do. Shop around when you get there. It definitely won’t be as cheap as mainland Ecuador, but you should find some good deals.
NOTE: We did a land-based tour so if you want to do a live-aboard boat tour, booking in advance may be your only option. After 10 minutes on a boat I feel the need to blow liquid kisses into the big blue sea, so a land-based tour was the best choice for us. It’s also cheaper.
It’ll cost you a bit of money to get to Galapagos. First, you have to be in Ecuador to get a flight. All flights go through Guayaquil so if you’re already there then you can probably save a few pennies. We flew from Quito and had a layover in Guayaquil. Flights are about $400-500 (round trip) depending on time of year.
You’ll need a tourist card (about $20) and you get this at the airport before departing. There is also a park fee of $100 US (2014 price) when you arrive in Galapagos and get your Visa stamped.
When you get to the airport to check-in, there is a special kiosk for Galapagos flights. They do special security screenings of your bags to make sure you’re not bringing in any outside food or animals, so if you’ve been carrying around a baby llama on your travels, this is the time to set him free. Adele and I had some granadillas that we were planning on bringing with us but unfortunately those are restricted as they are fresh fruit. I’m not sure you’ve ever had a granadilla but they’re a cross between snotty frogs eggs and heaven. We weren’t going to let them go to waste so we stood there and ate those little beauties while the security guards watched us.
Galapagos is hot. I’m talking +30°C every single day. I’m Canadian, I don’t know how to deal with heat very well so it took me a couple days to adjust. Here are some items you definitely need to bring with you to help cope with the sun, or it will cost you a fortune to buy it there.
Sunscreen: bring really good quality, waterproof (you’ll be in and out of the water a lot), sweatproof (it’s 30°C, you’re gonna sweat) sunscreen. Actually bring a couple bottles. If you have to buy it there it will cost you nearly $30 US. Maybe bring a small container of aloe vera gel too just in case you burn. I’m not sure it actually helps but it sure feels good.
Hat: I don’t want to sound like your mom here but bring a hat. You can bring one of those huge stylish ones that you see fancy ladies on the beach wearing. Just as long as it shields you from the sun you’re good to go. I used a bandana instead and it worked just fine.
Bathing Suit Cover-Up: Like I said, you will be in and out of the water a lot. Almost all the tours have you spending at least a little time snorkeling, swimming, or diving. You want to be able to guard yourself against the sun and a cover-up is perfect. I wish I had taken my own advice because I burned really bad on my first day there, and couldn’t wear my bathing suit after that. I had to make due with a sport bra and lycra t-shirt. Not great but slightly less painful to take on and off.
Comfortable Walking Sandals: you will be doing a lot of walking and it’s still going to be really hot. I have a pair of Keen sandals with thick soles, and they can be used in or out of the water. They also dry really quickly so that was a bonus. Anything comfy that will keep your feet cool is a must. And don’t forget to put sunscreen on your feet. Those little piggies will burn too.
Bathing Suit: did I mention you’re going to be in and out of the water a lot? Better bring two.
Day Pack: With all the walking you’re going to be doing, and all the excursions, a day pack is a must. You can carry your water, sunscreen, sunglasses, hat, and all that other good stuff in one place, and you can keep it packed so it’s ready to go. I didn’t go anywhere without my little orange pack. Oh and bring toilet paper. You just never know.
CAMERA: This is the most important thing you can bring. Photo opportunities are EVERYWHERE and start immediately after you arrive. From the incredible, ever-changing scenery, to the sea lions making use of the public benches, you will want your camera ready at all times. I brought a Panasonic Lumix Waterproof/Shockproof camera so I could take photos in and out of the water. I saw a lot of people lugging around huge DSLR cameras and while I’m sure they got some amazing shots, I just wasn’t interested in packing that much equipment.
Hopefully that helps you out with the initial stages of planning. Do you have any questions or stories about travelling to the Galapagos? Feel free to contact me or leave comments below and I would be happy to reply.
Next up: Travel Tips for the Galapagos Islands