The Galapagos Islands are a magical destination that everyone should visit at least once in their lifetime. Most travelers do have the islands on their bucket list, which makes perfect sense! What doesn’t always make sense though, is the information found online for Galapagos Islands travel. I planned my trip from start to finish, entirely on my own. However, I found it more difficult to research information online compared to other destinations. This is why I have compiled my own list of Galapagos Islands travel frequently asked questions based on information I gathered myself during my trip. You can read about my trip here, or check out the FAQ’s below to plan your own Galapagos Islands travel!
Galapagos Island Travel FAQ's
The native language in the Galapagos, and the rest of Ecuador, is Spanish. English is not always widely spoken here. Your tour operators and naturalist guides will be able to fluently communicate in English. At hotels, the front desk will be able to speak English, though the other staff may not. Many of the hostesses, waiters, and bartenders at restaurants in the main parts of town will be able to communicate enough to seat you and take your order, though they likely won’t be fluent. You will likely run into situations where you won’t be able to communicate with someone in English when you need to. Communication with taxi drivers, boat operators, and retail staff may be where you run into these issues. Non verbals, especially pointing are very helpful. However, I do recommend learning a few Spanish words and phrases before you go.
Helpful Spanish Words and Phrases
¿Hola, Cómo está?
Hello, How are you?
Good Morning/Good Day
Asking for Help/Directions
Necesito ir a…
I need to go to…
How much does it cost?
Una mesa para dos
A table for two
May I have…
Más Por Favor
Despite being in Ecuador, the Galapagos Islands have completely converted over to the United States Dollar. It is the only currency you need to worry about while visiting there! Unfortunately, only about twenty to twenty-five percent of businesses on the islands accept credit cards, and if they do, it will only be MasterCard and Visa. The large majority of places will require you to pay cash. There are ATMs located in a number of places in Puerto Ayora. However, their connectivity is slow and unreliable, just like all internet connection on the Galapagos. I recommend travelling to the islands with a few hundred dollars in cash (small bills are best!) already in hand, especially as you’ll need some immediately upon entry.
The Galapagos are extremely safe! It is the safest place in Ecuador without a doubt, and there is hardly any crime. There were times I walked around alone or went on a tour without my travel partner and I felt completely safe as a solo female traveler. Just use common sense and you will be completely fine!
The weather stays relatively stable throughout the year in the Galapagos. Expect temperatures to remain in the 70s(F)/20s(C). January through May is considered “wet” season. It’s rainy during this time, though it’s quite warm, with plenty of sun in between the rain. June to December is “dry season.” There is very little rain, and the temperature is a bit cooler, which may require a wetsuit when snorkeling or swimming in the water. If you are in need of some guidance on what to wear during your trip, check out my Galapagos packing list!
There is wildlife literally everywhere in the Galapagos. Most of it will allow you to get very close, since many of the animals don’t have any major predators on the island. You can certainly approach the wildlife, take selfies with them, and video or photograph them to your hearts content. However, you should never touch the animal-life and keep 2 meters of distance between you to ensure your protection and theirs. Also as a note, when snorkeling remember that the coral is a living organism and it will die if stepped on or repeatedly touched!
The Galapagos Islands are considered a protected area, with the large majority of the islands falling under the territory of the National Park. There are plenty of places, particularly in the most populated island of Santa Cruz, where you are free to wander. However, beware that most of the islands, and areas of the islands, require you to be accompanied by a naturalist guide. If you book a tour, one will automatically be provided for you. However, other areas, such as at Las Grietas, you will be required to pay a small fee for a guide to show you around. Remember, it is always important to stay on marked trails, leave no trace (i.e. don’t litter), don’t take anything from the island, no smoking in prohibited areas, no open campfires, no hunting, and no fishing unless accompanied by a guide or have obtained a permit.
Transportation To/From the Islands
There are four inhabited islands in the Galapagos. Santa Cruz and San Cristobal are reachable by the mainland via Quito or Guayaquil. Isabela Island also has an airport. Emetebe Airlines serves this airport and provides small air taxi flights between Isabela, San Cristobal, and Santa Cruz. Prices tend to start at $170 USD. You may also travel between these islands, and Floreana Island, using the public ferry, which costs $35 USD. To visit any of the uninhabited islands you must book a cruise, a day trip, or private charter.
Suggested Length of Trip
I don’t recommend spending less than 5 days on the Galapagos Islands. It’s an entire process getting there and you won’t be able to fully enjoy yourself in less time. There are many, many islands in the Galapagos. You won’t be able to visit them all during one trip. However, depending on your method of travel, in 7 days, you can comfortably visit 3 or 4, a 10-day trip will allot time to visit 4 or 5, and a 14 day trip will allow for a visit to 5 or 6.
Group Tours: Land-Based vs. Cruise
If, during your Galapagos Islands travel, you want someone else to be in charge of your itinerary from start to finish, book a group tour or cruise! Land-based tours will organize your nightly land accommodation, daily day trips (either on land or via boat), and all transportation on your behalf. Cruise’s will provide your nightly accommodation on a yacht, and bring you onshore for daily excursions. Both options provide some or all drinks and meals. For budget to moderate options, check out Intrepid Travel and G Adventures. Live Aboard is a great resource to see available Galapagos Island’s cruise trips, from budget to luxury. Multi-day land tours are always available to book on TripAdvisor.
Should you choose to book your Galapagos Islands travel on your own, you do have several accommodation options available on land located on Santa Cruz, Isabela, and San Cristobal Islands. Hostel’s, Bed and Breakfast’s, and AirBnB’s are a cheaper options. There are moderate 3-star hotels, as well as a few, expensive, luxury 5-star hotels. Expedia is a great place to sort through your options!
There are two kinds of taxi’s you need to be aware of when spending time in the Galapagos. First, are your traditional land taxi’s. On the largest, most populated island, Santa Cruz, you will find plenty of available taxis throughout the island. They are small, white, 4WD pick-up trucks with a tiny, circular, green logo on the side. When you arrive at the ferry port on Santa Cruz, you will find several dozen taxi’s that are available to flag down and take you to Puerto Ayora. This trip will cost you $25 USD. Within Puerto Ayora, taxi’s can be found driving around, at all times of the day. It is very easy to flag one down whenever you need or want one. Any trip within the town costs approximately $2 USD. To visit the highlands, expect to pay between $15 and $20 USD.
Second, there are water taxi’s on the island. Water taxi’s are small, 10-12 passenger motor boats. There are water taxis available to cross Itacaba channel from Baltra Island to Santa Cruz Island. You can also find these water taxis in Puerto Ayora! There is a beautiful area in southern Santa Cruz, just southwest of Puerto Ayora, that is only accessible by boat. You are able to take a quick water taxi ride here from Puerto Ayora’s pier for only $1 USD.
The internet connection and WiFi all over the Galapagos Islands is very weak. Basic tasks, such as checking email and scrolling social media shouldn’t be too much of a problem. However, streaming video and uploading or downloading content will be extremely difficult. It’s recommended to download any music, movies, or shows before you leave home. Phone service, even if you have an international plan, will also be inconsistent – so keep this in mind whether you need data for calling, messaging, maps, etc.
Tap water is not safe (!) to consume on the Galapagos Islands, for both locals and tourists. Make sure you don’t fill up water bottles in sinks, bathtubs or showers. If you are particularly sensitive (i.e. tend to get sick abroad) you may not want to use the tap to brush your teeth either. Even filters may not always be the best bet, as the tap water can be quite salty and any salt won’t be filtered out. Bottled water is your best bet. It can be purchased all over and is very cheap. Seeing as tap water is not safe for human consumption, you also don’t have to worry about consuming fresh fruit or vegetables, as they will be washed with bottled water and are safe to eat. If you plan on doing any of your own cooking, purchase several liters of bottled water in advance.
In the three main towns of the Galapagos, Puerto Ayora, Puerto Baquerizo Moreno, and Puerto Villamil, have plenty of delicious restaurants for you to choose from. There are all types of cuisine, including local Ecuadorian favorites, of course. There are also grocery stores and convenience stores around as well. Keep in mind as you plan your trip that the Galapagos Islands, the cost of food, drink, and convenience items are all significantly higher than the mainland of Ecuador. As a native New Yorker, I found the restaurant and bar prices to be pretty comparable to Manhattan, which if you are not from the area is very expensive.
You may book tours online, in advance, before arrival. TripAdvisor is the best place to research tours, look up reviews and book through a reliable website. You are also able to book tours in the Galapagos days, or sometimes even hours, before. Tour companies sell discounted trips right out of their office in the main areas of town. Many of these tours are not found online and cost less than if booked in advance. Just take your time to shop around and price compare before making your final decision if you decide to go this route on your trip.