Traveling to the Galapagos Islands is one of the most incredible travel experiences out there. Although I had visited Ecuador 3 times and have been living in Quito for two years, for the longest time I didn’t even think about going to Galapagos. Why? I thought it was too expensive. But then, my sister came to visit me in the summer, and I thought that it was time to bite the bullet. When I started planning our trip, I realized that I didn’t know much about the Galapagos Islands. Of course, I knew the islands inspired Darwin’s theory of evolution and that animals roam free there, but that’s about it. To make it easier for you to plan your own trip and know exactly what to expect, here are 16 things you should know before visiting Galapagos!
1. Some islands are inhabited
Let’s start with the biggest one. At the time Darwin visited the islands, he probably didn’t run into galapageños. However today, some of the Galapagos Islands are no longer the lost paradise you imagine. Santa Cruz, San Cristobal, Isabela, and Floreana are inhabited. Puerto Ayora, Galapagos’ biggest town counts over 10,0000 inhabitants! It’s not necessarily a bad thing, but if you pass by these islands (and you will, even if you take a cruise), you’re bout to encounter more people than sea lions and marine iguanas.
2. You can visit the islands on your own
Contrary to popular belief, you don’t have to book a cruise to visit Galapagos. It’s one option, but you can also plan your own itinerary in the archipelago. There are three islands you can explore on your own: Santa Cruz, San Cristobal, and Isabela. Island hopping is a more budget-friendly way of visiting Galapagos, however, if you want to see the other, smaller islands, you’ll have to book day tours as you must be accompanied by a naturalist guide to visit these parts of the archipelago.
(Read more: The Perfect 8-Day Galapagos Land-Based Itinerary)
3. There are last-minute cruise deals
If you do decide that a cruise is the best option for you, you can book a last-minute cruise in travel agencies in Quito or Guayaquil to save on your trip! If you’re lucky, you could pay half the price. Of course, there won’t be as many options as if you were to book in advance but if you are flexible with your dates and regarding the islands you want to visit, it might be worth it.
4. A lot of endemic species are endangered
The Galapagos Islands are home to unique species found nowhere else in the world. Unfortunately, the survival of some of these species, like the Galapagos Fur Seal, Galapagos Penguin, and subspecies of Galapagos Tortoises, are threatened by human activities such as the introduction of non-native species, illegal fishing, and global warming.
5. There’s a $20 dollar fee to pay at the airport
There are two hidden fees to visit Galapagos. The first one is the $20 Transit Control Card you have to buy at the INGALA counter at the airport in Quito or Guayaquil. This card is the government’s way to monitor how much time visitors spend on the islands. Keep it in a safe place because you will have to give it back when you leave the archipelago.
6. … and a $100 fee when you arrive in Galapagos
The second hidden fee is the $100 entry fee you must pay upon arrival in the Galapagos Islands. The National Park Entrance fee helps funding conservation initiatives in the islands, as well as services for the local community and tourists. Children under the age of 12 pay $50.
7. There is no best time to visit Galapagos
The Galapagos Islands are a year-round destination. There are two seasons, the wet (warm, clear skies, downpours) and the dry (cooler, cloudy, seldom rains) season, but what will really determine when you should visit is what kind of animal behaviors you’d like to see.
8. Stay at least 5 days
While there’s no best time to visit the Enchanted Islands, you should spend at least 5 days in Galapagos to make the most of your trip. With the flights and transfers, you don’t want your trip to be any shorter than that otherwise you won’t get to enjoy everything the islands have to offer.
(Read more: 6 Best Day Tours in the Galapagos)
9. Each island has its own wildlife
… which is why it’s important to do your research to identify what species you’d like to see because ultimately, that’s what will determine which islands you should visit, which day tours you should book or which cruise itinerary you should pick. For example, if you want to see Galapagos Penguins, go to Isabela. But if you would rather hang out with land iguanas, include a North Seymour stop.
10. Not all cruises are created equal
If you decide to take a cruise, make sure to carefully compare the different options because not all cruises are created equal. The price of the cruise varies but so does the length, the itinerary, and the boat capacity. Try to opt for a smaller boat if possible and make sure the cruise will take you to the islands you want to visit.
11. There are luggage controls
Because of the islands’ fragile ecosystems, you can’t bring seeds, plants or animals (I doubt you would) neither from mainland Ecuador to Galapagos nor between islands. There are control points both at the airport and between islands at the docks.
12. Ferries between islands run twice a day
This one is especially important for you, island-hoppers. Ferries between Santa Cruz, San Cristobal, and Isabela only depart twice a day. In the morning, at 6 or 7 am, and in the afternoon at 2 or 3 pm depending on the island. Keep this in mind when you craft your land-based itinerary!
13. There are not ATMs everywhere
Bring cash. You can pay by card at certain places in Galapagos, but in most places, it will be easier to pay in cash. If you need to withdraw money, there are ATMs on Santa Cruz and San Cristobal but not on Isabela so make sure to plan your expenses correctly.
14. You won’t be alone
Not on the inhabited islands, but not on the other ones either. The national park does a good job restricting the number of boats that can be present at a given place at the same time, but there will always be at least one other boat there at the same time as yours.
15. You’re not guaranteed to see any species
While it’s pretty likely that you will encounter sea lions and marine iguanas at some point during your visit, other species such as the Galapagos penguin are not always around. Remember that the animals are in their natural habitat so keep an open mind and hope for the best! At the end of the day, you won’t be disappointed.
16. Pack multiple memory cards
For real! With all of those beautiful landscapes and wildlife encounters, you won’t be able to stop yourself from capturing every second of your trip… until your memory card’s capacity is reached. Don’t make the same mistake as me and avoid sending files to your phone to make room by bringing an extra memory card… or two.
(Read more: The Ultimate Galapagos Islands Packing List)
That’s everything you should know before visiting Galapagos! As always, let me know in the comments if you have any questions.
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