Islas Galápagos, named after the shells of saddlebacked Galápagos tortoises, is an archipelago of volcanic islands distributed around the equator, almost 1,000 kilometers west of continental Ecuador. These islands are famed for their endemic species studied by Charles Darwin which supported his theory of evolution by natural selection back in the 1830’s. The most amazing experience at the Galapagos Islands is that the animals have little fear for humans.
The days when Darwin was one of the few visitors to these remote islands are long gone. No longer are these locals pay.
Most animals you can approach very closely but please, do keep your distance and don’t test the limits of these amazing animals. Never touch, and certainly no feeding of the animals and do not get between a parent and their juveniles. If you have the time, just fly to Puerto Ayora and visit a few of the local booking agents. There are many types of cruises to choose from – Economy, Tourist, Tourist Superior, First Class, and Luxury Class. Even if you have the money, you may want to avoid the Luxury Class – unless you are a spoiled brat!
Avoid the high season! During the dry season – especially August and September – the sea can become very choppy. Some say the best time to visit is mid-April to mid-May. Don’t bank on anything. Conditions can change unpredictably!
The Economy and Tourist Class are known to have more down to earth and friendly juveniles but stay clear from the grumpy and very territorial males – especially the old and big daddies.
Enjoy the seas and feel free to plunge off the roof of your boat (unless you’re on a Luxury Class boat which likely will prohibit it). Two warnings: many boats flush their toilets directly into the sea so be careful where you take the plunge. Also, these waters have sharks so be careful.
While the island cruise is a must, make sure to spend a few days on the islands of Isabela, Santa Cruz, and San Cristobal. These are some of the few islands which allow independent Globerovers befriended an American guy referred to by his wife who works in Puerto Ayora and he came to pick me up in town and took me to his farm where I spent an entire day roaming amongst the ancient giants – the Galápagos tortoises.
Be a very responsible traveler, respect the animals, and you’ll have an unforgettable time on Islas Galápagos.
GALAPAGOS TRAVELLER TIPS
1. Ecuador’s currency is the US dollar. Bring enough as the Galápagos is not cheap.
2. Take an eight or ten-day boat cruise. Don’t base yourself in a hotel and take day trips.
3. If you’re on a budget – consider buying your boat cruise ticket in Puerto Ayora – but only if you have enough time. Shop around and negotiate without fear. An Economy Class boat can vary from about $300 per day, down to $160 per day. In high season you may have to wait a week for your preferred class boat. In low season, maybe only a day or two. Try to avoid booking online which could be significantly more expensive.
4. If you want to select a specific boat, make sure to read reviews of its crew and the boat’s performance and facilities. Not all Economy Class boats are as much fun as the one Globerovers took. Make sure to get some reviews before you book. Otherwise hope for the best.
5. Plan for at least 12-14 days at the Galapagos including a cruise of 8 days and then go solo to explore the islands of Isabela, Santa Cruz, and San Cristobal for another 5 days.
6. Diving is good especially for manta rays and hammerhead sharks. The water is not tropical so you won’t see much coral. Most boats rent snorkels and fins or you can hire in town.
7. Whether diving or snorkeling or swimming be careful as currents can be strong during June to December, and particularly in August and September.
8. If you love children, make sure to avoid a boat full of them – or any of them… as after 8 days on a boat with kids you may change your mind about them.
9. If you like a night-cap or sundowner, buy your liquor before going on board (best buys are on the mainland). If you are on the more luxury boats, bringing your own liquor may not be kosher – but then again money may not be an issue. Drinks on board are not cheap!
10. If you get seasick – then best is to stay on land.