Land based travel in the Galápagos Islands is common and less expensive than Galápagos Islands cruises.
You don’t have to do a cruise (but you should) in the Galápagos Islands. It is easy to set up daily land based tours on your own in the from Puerto Ayora, Santa Cruz Island and/or San Cristobal and Isabela Islands. There are also a number of self guided activities you can do on your own schedule.
Even if you are doing a cruise, I highly recommend spending some time in the islands on your own if time permits.
Here is a motivating example to do some time on your own in the Galápagos Islands: I was able to see wild Galápagos giant tortoises on my own while on Santa Cruz, however, we did not see wild Galápagos giant tortoises on my cruise which was an enormous disappointment to the other guests who left the islands without seeing them (pictures of this to come soon…)
After spending time traveling solo and unguided , I came up with a set of suggestions for you to think about before you go to the Galápagos Islands
1. Tour operators: Don’t talk to just one operator. Everyday is different on the islands as to who is going where and many operators may be calling the same boats. Some may have drastically different prices for the same trip or have very different additional offerings such as a box lunch, photos and videos, or nothing extra at all. Ask other tourists about their experiences with each tour/ tour company. Other tourists are your best barometer while you are in an ever-changing sea of tour operators.
2. Accommodation: Stay with a hotel or hostel that has a good reputation. Cheaper is not better at all on the islands, period.
3. Cabs: Taking cabs to any place out of walking range can save you money you would waste on a tour with a bad guide. I took a cab to find Galápagos giant sea tortoises and the driver was really fun to talk to (speaking Spanish helps). He didn’t know anything about tortoises except where they were and that they are delicious but he loved to talk about Ecuador, politics, and his 5 children.
4. Be patient: Long time resident, Forrest Nelson once said “Patience, flexibility, the capacity to adapt- these are the qualities a human must have to survive on these islands” (from Plundering Paradise). Raising your voice, yelling, or being short with people will get you nowhere because it will be ignored or met with a big island smile and shrug of the shoulders that says “that’s life, son”. I mean it, everyone wants business but they could care less about your money if you are going to spoil the mood. Following steps 1 and 2 should steer you clear of losing your mind.
5. Advanced research: I know its hard to visualize a place before you get there but having a tentative schedule of things to do will help. For instance, on Santa Cruz Island you want to on your own a. Walk to Tortuga Bay b. Visit Charles Darwin Research Center (go during tortoise feeding time!) c. Go see wild giant land tortoises d. Las Grietas. You may want to go to certain Islands too. Write down which ones and why. For instance. San Cristobal to swim with sea lions like Mike did.
6. Have a basic plan: So you get to, say, Puerto Ayora, Santa Cruz Island, you get an accommodation with a knowledgeable islander, chat with some tour operators, and find out schedules for the coming days. If there is a day with no boat trips you are interested in, now you refer to your list. On that day, get up early and hike to Tortuga Bay, hang out with a booby or two, watch the marine iguanas come out and heat themselves up in the sun, and maybe catch a sea turtle head down to the water. In the afternoon go check out Charles Darwin Station. You get it, I know, just trying to help.
7. Eat locally: You are going to eat two or three times everyday and if you don’t buy it at the grocery store, you’ll go to a restaurant. There are a huge number of options on Santa Cruz and San Cristobal but ownership is not always local. Many of the restaurants on the prime real estate of the main strip are owned by larger companies or non-islanders. They are often outsiders who not take part in the island nor does that money stay in the community. Many local places will be a bit cheaper and just as good or better (trust me- I can’t believe how many gringos buy land, build a restaurant, and make really bad food because they don’t know how to cook). If you are nervous about straying off the path and eating local, use this as a gauge…if the restaurant is busy or packed with local people you know that they have good food, reasonable prices, and its clean.
Much more Galápagos Islands travel coming here soon! Link to those posts.
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“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you did not do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines, sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover …” -Mark Twain