My husband and I (36 and 38 year old Canadians) returned last week from an amazing 13 day trip to the Galapagos. TripAdvisor and similar trip reports were a huge help to me when planning this complex adventure, so I wanted to provide the same back in the hopes I might help someone else!
We flew from Toronto (Canada) to Quito for a reasonable price (around $600CAD, each, return) and stayed at a hotel near the airport – Quinta La Costanza. I’ve already left them a glowing review on Expedia – the grounds were lovely, the staff were very accommodating and the transfer to/from the airport was effortless (cost, an extra $10USD each way which is not cheap for a 10 minute ride, but saved a lot of hassle). Lovely rooms, recently renovated. We liked it so much we stayed there on our way home, too! If you stay here, don’t expect to readily leave (locked gate!), but if you’re just passing time between flights it’s great. We were on the afternoon flight out to Baltra airport, and found we were at the airport WAY earlier than we needed to be. Buying the transit card and having our bags inspected took maximum 10 minutes – then again perhaps the Friday afternoon flight is simply not a popular one – our plane was maybe 1/3-1/2 full. Guacamole Grill in the Quito airport past security hit the spot! We flew with Avianca. I was on TripAdvisor stressing out about accidentally getting an Ecuadorian resident rate on the flight and having to pay a cash premium at the airport – I eventually decided to call Avianca and book with them directly. I called a few times, and prices bounced around but I eventually made the call and booked – again about $550CAD return flight per person (yikes). However, glad I did book with Avianca and more on that later.
We were doing a combined self-guided and live-aboard ship trip. We held off booking a cruise as long as we could and finally cracked around October 7. I emailed the Beagle directly and was connected with one of the owners of the ship, Sebastian Cruz. He was able to offer me a competitive price, and just a note in general that booking this close to sailing saved us literally thousands and thousands of dollars – perhaps $4500USD (total) compared to booking 6-9 months out. WORTH IT. We didn’t get the last spots either. Because we were travelling in the low season, many of our fellow passengers booked days (including one day) or a week in advance and secured spots. More on the Beagle in a moment. A quick note that sending Sebastian the money to a UK bank account was a little nervewracking (and cost me $45CAD on my end!), but everything worked out perfectly fine. Much better solution than carrying thousands of dollars of cash down there.
We were on our own in Santa Cruz (based out of Puerto Ayora) for a few days before our ship left. The Darwin Centre was a nice way to spend a morning; Tortuga Bay a nice way to spend an afternoon (but it’s a pretty mind numbing 2.5km each way walk – possibly consider taking a boat out there and walking back!). The highlands (Los Gemelos and El Chato tortuga reserve) were nice and fun, but the $45USD cab ride there and back feels a bit steep (though it is far) – we saw lots of people on bikes at least one way, and if I had it to do over I would have combined it with getting back to the airport to depart for our cruise – that cab ride is only $25USD so I wonder how much I would have needed to pay to get him to add on the other adventures along the way. We spent more time dealing with “admin” in Puerto Ayora than I would have liked – laundry (we sacrified extra clothes to bring our wetsuits and snorkel/mask), booking tours during the 4 days in Puerto Ayora and 3 days at the end in San Cristobal, and switching hostels. I booked the Mi Caleta Inn for our first night – it was nice, simple, lovely staff – but kind of dark and basic. So for the next three nights we switched to Captain Max B&B which was much more centrally located and just wonderful – great breakfast, super lovely staff, awesome rooms, big showers with lots of hot water – can’t say enough good stuff, especially at a rate of $65USD/night. A note on admin – booking day tours and transfers in advance would probably save you some valuable time where you could be doing other things – I would recommend it. I’m sure we realized some savings ($20-30USD total per day trip) by waiting, but we almost didn’t get to Espanola which was a little scary.
We took one day trip at the start of our trip to Santa Fe which was magical – the sea lions out there are ridiculous. One took a feather right out of my hand! The ship was a converted fishing boat and the staff were medium-nice – not a lot of English spoken. Lunch was fish caught fresh the day before – pretty cool. Santa Fe was a highlight for sure and not too far of a ride.
We boarded the Beagle which was super easy and we were very well taken care of for the next 8 days. The crew on this boat are phenomenal. The guide, Fabrizio, was great. And our fellow passengers (13 of them) were so, so much fun and really enhanced our enjoyment of the trip – our group age averaged from 30-45 with a couple of outliers on either end – not the gray haired group we were all expecting! The indoor/outdoor dining area was very special. The food was nice – plentiful and healthy with lots of vegetables. Just be very clear about food allergies in advance and if you prefer to eat vegetarian sometimes, I’d call yourself a vegetarian to be safe – there was limited veg fare and always plenty of meat! The rooms on the boat were everything we needed in terms of space, storage, comfort. We could even grab 1-2 hot showers/day, and the a/c worked like a charm. We rolled around a LOT at night as we navigated from Santa Cruz to Genovesa and then to Santiago – we both struggled a bit with motion sickness and after giving up on the wristbands and ginger pills switched to scopolamine patches which caused mild side effects of drowsiness and dry mouth but were totally worth it.
Getting a chance to see more far flung islands like Genovesa, Santiago, Isabela and Fernandina made the live-aboard ship the right way to go. Our trip simply wouldn’t have been as special without seeing the Flightless Cormorants, groups of Galapagos Penguins, giant piles of marine iguanas and groups of whales that we got out in the west. The Nazca and Red-footed booby colonies on Genovesa were amazing to enjoy as well – what special birds! Snorkeling every day was the magic ingredient on this trip and our favourite things encountered underwater included countless sea turtles, reef sharks, penguins, cormorants and more sea lions that I can remember. Puerto Villamil was likely my lowlight, only because you can only do so many giant tortoise breeding centres and we were fogged out of hiking the Sierra Negra volcano.
After re-entering civilization we were off to San Cristobal. To maximize our time there, we went to the Avianca office in Puerto Ayora to inquire about switching our flight home to leave from the San Cristobal airport. Avianca doesn’t require a change fee and charged us $29USD total to make this change. Amazing! The transfer on the “ferry” to San Cristobal was wild – one bumpy ride but at least it was over in 2 hours. Puerto Basquerizo Mareno is an incredible little town – surf vibe, nice restaurants, decent hostels, sea lions littering the streets! We stayed at the Hostal Andry which was fine though the staff didn’t speak English (totally fine, commonly encountered, it was on us to have tried to learn more Spanish!) and ended up being a little aggressive with us while trying to communicate. I wouldn’t necessarily expect a hot shower while in this town – many friends reported lukewarm at best. We spent the next day doing excursions which we booked through Maranatha travel agency on the main drag in Puerto Ayora. Working with Juan Carlos was a treat – he got us everything we needed and even secured a discount on Espanola without us asking (avg day trip price is around $150USD pp)! There are some tour agents who are well connected to boat operators (ie they can call them within seconds and get an answer) and others who are left waiting on replies for hours – if the latter happens (and it did to us) just go to Maranatha to save yourself time and headache. Espanola was magical – the Waved Albatross is a once in a lifetime bird, only living on this island across the world! It’s also just a gorgeous island and all the wildlife was spectacular including the curious sea lion pups and mint green marine iguanas. The 360 tour around San C the next day was also great, though one of the engines went on the boat so we didn’t make as many stops as planned. The snorkelling was still super – so many sharks and rays – a trip high for those creatures.
General notes: The weather was generally perfect. A bit cloudy in the morning, sunny and usually 25C in the afternoon, and only 1 day of rain. The sun is crazy so our best gear choices were long-sleeved rash guards (for hiking and snorkeling; requires less sunscreen application! And it’s pricey down there, bring lots), floppy hats, buffs and long light hiking pants. Water shoes (e.g. Keans) were great for wet landings on the cruise and day trips since you could get them wet and still hike safely over lava with them. Bringing a little backpack with water and sunscreen and binoculars was great. Grateful to have had our own masks/snorkels and boats and shops were always super easy about renting or lending fins (too big to pack!). The food overall on the trip was nothing to write home about, and I ended up with the dreaded travellers stomach (grateful for loperamide type drugs I brought..). I’d take Dukoral if I had it to do over. The seafood is nice – my favourite dishes were fish/shrimp and rice with coconut sauce. The sink packs of Tide saved us in a pinch and laundry was cheap and plentiful - $7 a pop for a giant garbage bag full! Wifi across Galapagos is just terrible – can’t stress that enough. So if you can buy a card for your cell phone: DO THIS! It will serve you well in the main towns. A Puerto Ayora highlight was the restaurant Andrea & Valerio – had decent wifi, they source a lot of local food from Galapagos farmers, and we really enjoyed speaking with the owner Valerio Rapetto at length. He arranges trips to Galapagos and knows a ton about every island and every animal – I’d recommend dropping him a line to see what he can offer (firstname.lastname@example.org). We started the trip with about $700USD cash and visited the yellow bank machine near the grocery store about 3 other times to remove similar amounts. All day trips, meals, tips on cruises (plan for $200—300 for an 8 day) etc. had to be paid for in cash, so be ready for that. Banco Pacifico has tight withdrawal limits, so avoid that machine and bank itself. My bank only charged me $5 to use the yellow machine and there were no additional charges. My last note is the bakeries in San Cristobal were lovely for breakfast pastries (picked up the night before; shops don’t typically open early in Galapagos) – super cheap and nice for a break from huevos (eggs).
Would do this trip all over again in a heartbeat – once in a lifetime, amazing, unforgettable experience. Hope this (DETAILED) review helps you plan yours and avoid some pitfalls!