Ecuador: Galapagos Islands

Ecuador: Galapagos Islands

“The Galápagos Islands are an archipelago of volcanic islands distributed in the Pacific Ocean, 906 km (563 mi) west of continental Ecuador, of which they are a part. The islands are known for their vast number of endemic species and were studied by Charles Darwin, as his observations and collections contributed to the inception of Darwin’s theory of evolution by natural selection”

To get to the Galapagos Islands we had to of course stop first at Ecuador. We came from Mancora in northern Peru to Guayaquil, southern Ecuador. Guayaquil is a very nice city, with coast and a very pretty boardwalk, but we only spent one night there because we were leaving for the islands the following day. As Galapagos is part of Ecuador here are the following general facts about Ecuador (including the islands):

  • AIRPORT:
    If you are coming from outside South America, you will probably arrive to the Mariscal Sucre International Airport in Quito. There are flights leaving from Quito to Galapagos, but they most likely make a stop at the José Joaquín de Olmedo International Airport in Guayaquil. The airport in Galapagos is called Baltra Airport in Santa Cruz Island.
  • LANGUAGE:
    Ecuador’s official language is Spanish, but the Galapagos islands are so touristic and full of researchers that a huge portion of the population speaks English, and a few other languages.
  • CURRENCY:
    Oddly enough the currency in Ecuador has been the American dollar since 2000, it has the same value, the same bills BUT not the same coins, these are different so don’t bring your pennies.
  • FLIGHT COSTS:
    Flights to the Galapagos Islands are not cheap, it cost us about the same from Miami- Bolivia as to Guayaquil- Galapagos even if it was only a 2 hour flight. They cost around 300 USD to 500 USD both ways. There’s only 4 flights departing daily from Ecuador (both Quito and Guayaquil) and they leave in the morning, so plan ahead for this, preferably arriving to Ecuador one day before.
  • Extra tip: Make sure to get to the airport with a little extra time, because you’ll have to fill some documents and get your bag scanned and searched throughly. This is so you don’t bring any seeds or organisms that can grow and become dangerous to the fragile ecosystems in Galapagos.
  • GALAPAGOS ENTRY FEES & DOCUMENTS:
    -To control the people who comes and go to Galapagos there’s a card called TCT which you have to fill at the airport. It costs 20USD and you have to return it at the end of the trip, so keep it in good place!
    -All tourists visiting the Galapagos Islands must pay an entry tax to visit the archipelago. The amount of this entrance fee depends on the age and nationality of the tourist. Most foreign tourists over the age of 12 pay 100 USD, while children pay 50 USD. For some, this entry tax may seem a bit high, but it is important to keep in mind that these fees are helping to protect the wonderful islands. (information from www.galapagosislands.com)

  • VISAS:
    Citizens of most countries do not require a visa to enter Ecuador for up to 90 days, with some notable exceptions including France. This “automatic” tourist visa is knows as the 12-X. If you plan on staying longer that 90 days, working or immigrating to Ecuador you will need one of the other types of visas. Please make sure to research what applies to your specific country.
  • WHEN TO GO:
    There’s never a bad time to visit the Galápagos really, it all depends on what are you interested in and would like to see. We were there in November and booked a couple of dives in advance, but when we got there, we found that there was no reason for it and there were plenty of dive shops looking for last minute customers. The peak season lasts from mid-June through early September and from mid-December through mid-January. At these peak seasons try to book everything in advance as it’s almost impossible to find a last-minute deal. Do some research before booking your trip to know what are the best months to see turtles, penguins, sea lions, fish or birds.

The Galapagos trip for me was very special and I remember it for various reasons other than its uniqueness and beauty. I took my diving license in Sweden in October, with a double wetsuit because it was freezing, just so I could dive in the Galapagos. A lot people consider it the best place in the world to dive, and they were not wrong, it was amazing. Also this trip was the last one where we booked “normal” hotels, because it was there in Galapagos where we met Jason, a Canadian guy who introduced us to the beauty of Airbnb. These milestones of my life will forever be associated with Galapagos.

We arrived at the Baltra airport and got our bags scanned one more time, even after they had been sprayed with some kind of bug spray on the plane. They really want to avoid any kind of outsiders to come into the islands!
Getting to Puerto Ayora:
Once you arrive to the airport you must get to Puerto Ayora and to do that you’ll need to take 3 steps: 1.- the free shuttle bus from the airport, it only take 5 minutes to reach the Itacamba Channel where 2.- there are ferries that take you across the canal and where you can see the first signs of the thriving ecosystem. The ferry costs about 50 cents to 1 dollar, I don’t remember and the ride lasts about 10 minutes. Once you’ve reached the other side you’ll need 3.- a taxi or a bus to take you to Puerto Ayora. Taxis cost about 15 USD per ride, and will take you directly to your accommodation, so if you make new friends you can split the cost. You can also arrange for a pick up from your hotel as we did, and I believe it cost about the same. if you want to take the bus it will cost you about 2USD but these buses have no air conditioning and will drop you off at “downtown”. The town is not very big so if you can handle it, you can walk to your accommodation from there.

First glimpse of nature from the ferry

While waiting for the ferry

After dropping our bags we decided to walk around and explore the town. We were diving the very next day so we also needed to swing by the dive shop to prepare everything for the next day. I didn’t mention it before but everywhere you go, beginning in Guayaquil’s Airport, during the flight, at Galapago’s Airport, at the hotel, you can see the rules for interacting with the animals. You shouldn’t come closer than 2 meters and never even think about touching them. I wasn’t expecting this to be hard, I thought it was common sense, but as soon as we started walking through the town we realised the animals were EVERYWHERE. Iguanas and crabs stand in your way so you have to be careful not to step on them. If you happen to walk through the “port” when fishermen are trying to sell the catch of the day you’ll see a few sea lions and pelicans stealing what they can, unaware of the people around. It was amazing. It’s even better to see the locals not doing anything to them, yes, the seals are stealing their fish, but no, the fishermen can’t do anything about it.

 

After fitting our wetsuits and leaving everything ready for the following diving day, we realised the Charles Darwin Research Station was just around the corner, so we went and check it out. It’s full of endemic plants and a lot of different tortoises. It also has a nice small beach full of marine iguanas.

The following days were mostly diving days, I was a new diver so all the sites we did were “easy” and not for advanced divers. It’s not very cheap to dive in the Galapagos I must say, but very worth it. It was the first time I saw sharks as well, I was very excited. It already looked promising when we were handed a sheet for shark counting, this is to keep track of how many sharks are around of course. Other than that, we saw a lot of different fishes, a big ass manta ray which was amazing, the biggest I’ve seen, and of course we were able to dive with the marine dogs aka sea lions. They are so cute and curious, I loved them.

My favorite animals are elephants and turtles/tortoises so I had to go one of the reserves to watch them. There are several tour operators who offer you some deals, but you can also do it yourself by just taking a taxi to your desired place. We went to El Chato reserve, where the tortoises roam freely.

Galapagos has no tropical islands, so don’t expect it to be like the Caribbean. Most of the beaches are made from coral and seashells, or volcanic rocks and there are no palm trees, so don’t go expecting that.

“Sand”

One of the days though, we went to a place called Tortuga Bay. I had seen pictures and this looked so amazing, with white sand beach and very blue water, the perfect place to spend a “beach day”. This beach is so secluded that you have to register to get in first and it closes at 18:00, you’ll also have to walk about 45 minutes, from the registration point, to reach the beach. But it is well worth it.




The last day full day before taking our flight back we took a tour to Bartolome Island, which claims to have the best view of Galapagos. It will cost you some energy though, because it is quite a climb with no vegetation whatsoever, so the sun hits you directly, but it was soooo worth it.

During the same tour, we went to a beach where we finally spotted penguins. And also iguanas and sea lions, those were everywhere!

Sun bathing

I really don’t encourage you to take a photo like the last one. I was looked down by all the locals, because as you can see, I’m not 2 meter away from it, but there were a lot of stupid tourists (like me) doing that so I was basically influenced by them. It looks cute, but I don’t really like to break the rules while being in another country, also that sea lion could have ripped my face off, and I would have been the only one to blame.

And just like that, it was time for us to go back to mainland where we spent one night in Quito and caught a flight back to Sweden. And we couldn’t have ended in a better note. Galapagos is amazing and a place that should be in your bucket list.

See you in the next country! 🙂

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