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Travel Preparation Galapagos Islands: What you need to know before you go

The Galapagos Islands aren’t a usual holiday destination. For most people it is a once in a lifetime destination. And you don’t want to mess that up. In order to plan and prepare yourself for your time on the Galapagos Islands and know the important things before you go, read further:

Structure

  1. Travel Seasons
  2. Ingala Migration Card
  3. Entrance Fee National Park
  4. Isabela Port Tax
  5. ATMs
  6. Restaurant visits
  7. Price differences between the islands
  8. Food
  9. Medial provision
  10. Speed boats
  11. Flights
  12. Taxi Prices
  13. National Park Guidelines
  14. Naturalist guides
  15. Ecuadorian words

Travel Seasons

Generally spoken, the Galapagos Islands can be divided into two seasons: the hot and wet season from December to early May and the cooler and dryer season from May to December. Nonetheless, the Galapagos Islands are a year-round-destination.

For tour operators April, May, September and October are considered to be low season as tourism numbers decrease during those months.

If you travel from December to May, you are able to find more choice in terms of daily tours as some boats are in maintenance or don’t go on a daily basis during the low season. On the other hand you might have to plan a bit more in advance as speed boats and tours are booked out faster.

What is the cause for those travel seasons? Basically there are three currents which have an influence on the climate variations. From June to December, the Humboldt Current and the Cromwell Current are bringing cold currents to the Galapagos which means the water is colder. But if you rent a wetsuit it’s totally fine. During this season weather can change quite quickly. You might go out during scattered showers and end up with a hot afternoon. The sky tends to be cloudier during the dry season. But don’t trust the weather forecast, during the 2.5 months I’ve been there, it always said 22°C but it was so different. From short-trousers weather to I need to bring a jacket to work. There is actually just one weather station on the whole archipelago, so it’s clear as daylight that it cannot be the same on each of the 18 (major) islands.

The Panama Current is heading to the Galapagos from December on which means the water is warmer and high season starts. The sky is blue and you can expect a lot of sunshine. Swimming and snorkeling is more comfortable as you do not require a wet suit.

During an El Niño year (approximately every four years), the whole circulation can be reversed. This affects the vegetation and wildlife of the islands in a very strong and unpredictable manner.

Currents of the Galapagos Islands

Currents of the Galapagos Islands (Source)


Ingala Migration Card

When you leave the mainland of Ecuador in either Guayaquil or Quito, you have to pay $10 in cash to receive the Ingala Migration card, so you can enter the plane and go to the Galapagos.

Ingala Migration Card

Ingala Migration Card (Source)


Entrance Fee National Park

When arriving on the Galapagos, you have to pass the immigration and have to pay $100 to be allowed to enter the Galapagos National Park. Make sure you have this money in cash as there are no ATMs in the airport and you don’t want to have the stress to go back there to bring the money.

Isabela port tax

Another fee is necessary to pay when you go to Isabela. It’s $5 and needs to be paid in cash. If you go there with a tour group, this is usually included in the price.

ATMs

It might be that your credit cards do not work at the ATMs of the banks on the Galapagos Islands. But don’t worry. All you have to do is go inside the bank with your passport, say how much money you want to get out and they give it to you. Simply say “Me puede dar … dolares por favor?!” I’ll give you the translation of the numbers as well, so you’re not lost in the bank when nobody speaks English:

$100 = ciento dolares
$200 = dos cientos dolares
$300 = tres cientos dolares
$400 = cuatro cientos dolares
$500 = quinientos dolares
$600 = seis cientos dolares
$700 = siete cientos dolares
$800 = ocho cientos dolares
$900 = nueve cientos dolares
$1000 = mil dolares

Be sure to have a credit card on which you can feel the numbers when touch it as cards where the numbers are just written on the cards are not accepted in the bank.

One ATM worked with my credit card. It was the Pichincha bank on Santa Cruz. You can find it when you get off the speed boat. You’ll see a big supermarket from the pier. Go there and on the right of the entrance you’ll find three ATMs. One of them is from Pichincha (yellow colour).

You should also have always some cash in your pocket as most of the shops, restaurants and hotels do not accept credit card payment.

If you go to Isabela or Floreana, bring all the money you need in cash. There are no ATMs on these two islands.

Restaurant visits

Tips are generally not expected in the restaurants but of course appreciated.

Sometimes the tax is included in the price of the dishes and drinks, but sometimes they aren’t. I made the experience that on San Cristobal and Isabela, prices in the menu are usually complete. On Santa Cruz on the contrary, you often have to add the tax to the price. Simply have a look in the menu, it should be written on each page below the food choices when applicable.

Price differences between the islands

Even though San Cristobal is the capital island of the Galapagos Islands, it is the cheapest island to be. Food in restaurants as well as supermarket supplies are cheaper here than on the other ones. Santa Cruz is kind of in the middle but you also need to have a look where you’re going as there are more luxury options available.

Isabela is the most expensive island which is probably because there are no flights coming from the mainland and food supplies require to be brought from Santa Cruz or San Cristobal.

Food

The cheapest way to eat is to order a homemade dinner or lunch. Prices start from $3.5 (please note again that San Cristobal is the cheapest island and cheapest prices vary on Santa Cruz and Isabela). Simply ask for the almuerzo casero (lunch) or merienda casera (dinner).

Sometimes you can choose between two options (chicken, beef or fish) but mostly there is one dish you’ll get for this price. The almuerzo or merienda includes a soup as a starter, a main dish as well as a juice. The main dish consists of rice with chicken, beef or fish and some vegetables (often beans).

If you book a group travel, please don’t complain about the food variety. Always remind yourself that almost all the food supplies require to be imported from the mainland. That is why during group travels, you mainly get the above mentioned homemade lunch or dinner options with an additional dessert.

In case you are a vegetarian, you should tell your tour operator beforehand as every usual dish includes meat or fish.

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Medical provision

There are hospitals on Santa Cruz and San Cristobal. But the fact is that if something worse happens than a cold, they cannot do a lot there as the staff isn’t that well trained and a lot of medicine just isn’t available. Locals fly to Guayaquil or Quito for serious issues or even for general check ups.

A friend of mine had serious toothache and took pain killers for more than 2 weeks as they couldn’t do anything on the island. The good thing is they suggested her a good dentist in Guayaquil and made an appointment for her in advance. In the end all she could do was waiting for going back to the mainland and have the root canal treatment there.

But don’t worry, basic issues can be dealt with, you should just know that it’s different than at home.

Speed boats

The speed boats go from one island to the other and are the cheapest option to get around the Galapagos Islands. One ticket costs about $30 for an approximate boat ride of two hours (can vary due to weather issues). Boats go twice a day and the times are the following:

  • San Cristobal to Santa Cruz: 7 AM, 3 PM
  • Santa Cruz to San Cristobal: 7 AM, 2 PM
  • Santa Cruz to Isabela: 7 AM, 2 PM
  • Isabela to Santa Cruz: 6 AM, 2 PM

Go to the bathroom before you hop on a speed boat. There is a bathroom available but the crew has to stop the boat when someone needs to go to the bathroom, so you don’t injure yourself when the sea is rough. So if you don’t want everyone waiting for you, go beforehand.

Are you susceptible to sea sickness? Then you should take some pills against it before the ride. The boats are very small and you’ll notice every bump on the way. When the sea is rough, you’re going to jump up and down from the seat for two hours. The best place for people with sea sickness is in the back of the boat but you’ll get wet there very easily. So in my opinion the best place is the last one on the side. You’ll might get a bit wet as well but by far not as wet as in the back.

When you arrive to Santa Cruz or Floreana by speed boat, the boat will stop a bit away from the pier and have to catch a water taxi to get to the pier. Have some small change in your pocket to pay the water taxi ($0.7 to $1).

Podmar speed boat

Speed Boat in San Cristobal (Source


Flights

From the mainland you can fly to San Cristobal (airport code: SCY) or Baltra (airport code: GPS) island. Airlines flying from either Quito or Guayaquil are LAN, Avianca or Tame. Return flights from the mainland currently cost $400-$550 for foreigners.

If you want to fly from one island to the other, the two companies to go to are Emetebe and Zair. Planes are small 5-persons planes and cost around $150.

Emetebe plane

Emetebe plane (Source)


Taxi Prices

Usually you can walk everywhere in the cities of the Galapagos Islands. Nonetheless if you have to get from the airport or the pier to your hotel with all your stuff, you’d want to catch a taxi. The normal price within each city is $1 for each way.

Of course if the taxi driver has to wait for you in front of your hotel or you want to get outside the city, it will cost you more.

Always remember that if you go to more remote places like to the Highlands, El Progreso or La Loberia and want to go back by taxi, tell the taxi driver to come back or wait for you.

National Park Guidelines

Please read the rules of the Galapagos National Park before visiting the islands and respect them during your stay to ensure the preservation of the archipelago.

Naturalist guides

Something which isn’t necessary to know but I found very interesting is about the naturalist guides. In order to become a naturalist guide on the Galapagos Islands, you or your parents have to be born on the Galapagos Islands. There is no way to get around that regulation.

Ecuadorian words

In case you speak Spanish and want to extend your knowledge with some typical Ecuadorian words. Here are some words, Ecuadorians use a lot:

Spanish English
Chevere great; awesome
chacho joke
Chuta what a pity; damn
Chucha Madre shit
Chuchaqui hangover
Vamos de chupa Let's party
de ley of course

I hope you’re well prepared now, if you still have any questions, ask me anything in the comment section.


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4 thoughts on “Travel Preparation Galapagos Islands: What you need to know before you go

  1. Pingback: Galapagos Islands: Cruise vs. Island Hopping

    1. Stef Post author

      Hi Pauline!
      I’m happy I could help you and made you more excited for your trip. The islands are incredible. When are you going?

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