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Independent travel itinerary for the Galapagos Islands (7 days)

2.5 months living on the Galapagos Islands made it possible for me to see a lot of different places and see it from a different perspective than most people do. Many tourists book complete guided trips to the Galapagos as they think this is the best way to do it. If you want to do the Galapagos on a budget though, there are quite a few things you can do on your own and do not have to book a complete tour. So what I’m saying is, you should combine guided tours with self-guided excursions not only to make the best of your visit but also to spend less money.

Day 1: Arrival San Cristobal

You will arrive on San Cristobal around lunch time. Check in at your accommodation and start your exploring right away.

La Loberia

If you did not bring snorkeling gear, rent some equipment and bring trainers. You can get it in the office of Sharksky right on the Malecon. Now you can either walk to the beach La Loberia or take a taxi for about 2 USD. The walk would be about half an hour.

On the beach, you will already find a lot of sea lions laying around waiting for you to be photographed. Please never come closer than two meters, that’s a regulation of the national park and shouldn’t be broken. You should also keep your eyes open on the way to the beach as you sometimes are able to spot iguanas.

independent travel itinerary Galapagos Islands: La Lobería

Lobería Beach

Don’t bring valuables with you as you’re going to go snorkeling right now. Right where you enter the ocean, you are not only able to see fish and obviously sea lions, this beach is the best place to spot some sea turtles.

When you’re reading walk a bit further to your left (looking to the beach) on the lava rocks. There is a path but you should definitely bring trainers as you are walking on rocks obviously.

independent travel itinerary Galapagos Islands: La Lobería

Sea Lions on Loberia Beach

Further Reading:

Day 2: San Cristobal Island

Kicker Rock

Today it’s time for your first tour. Kicker Rock is one of the must-do’s on the island, so you shouldn’t miss it. You will visit one of three beaches close to the rock and then go snorkeling next to it. You’ll be able to see Galapagos sharks, white and black tip reef sharks, turles, sea lions, different kind of rays and a lot of fish.

independent travel itinerary Galapagos Islands: Kicker Rock

Kicker Rock

Further Reading:

Interpretation Center & Tijeretas

When you come back around 3 PM, you still have some time to explore before sunset. Make your way to the Interpretation Center where you are able to find out more details about the settlement of the islands, the animals and sustainability.

Afterwards don’t already leave again but continue walking the way through the cactus forest to the viewpoint of Tijeretas. From here you get a good overview of the city San Cristobal as well as the coastline of the islands.

There is a monument of Darwin with a sea lion and a turtle which makes a great picture. And if you still have time, you can go snorkeling here as well.

independent travel itinerary Galapagos Islands: Tijeretas

View from the hill

Further Reading:

Day 3: San Cristobal Island

Isla Lobos

In the morning you are going to visit Isla Lobos. In order to be sure that you can go, please book your tour in advance as they do not go everyday and you definitely do not want to miss it.

You will visit the island first, which is a lava island. Here is the number one place to spot the world famous blue footed boobies, frigate birds, iguanas and of course as the name of the island says sea lions.

independent travel itinerary Galapagos Islands: Isla Lobos

Sleeping blue footed boobie

After that, you are going to snorkel again, very close to the island. The sea lions are coming super close here but don’t be scared, they just want to play with you. They will not touch you anyway. If you are lucky, you are again able to see sea turtles and rays here as well.

Before heading back to the pier, you will make a stop at the beautiful beach of Ochoa. You can go for a swim, another snorkel or watch out for some more frigate birds here.

independent travel itinerary Galapagos Islands: sea turtle

Snorkeling on Lobos Island

Further Reading:

Highlands

When coming back from the tour to Isla Lobos, you still have time to explore the highlands of San Cristobal Island. Catch a taxi which will bring you to the volcano El Junco, Galapaguero – where you can find giant tortoises and the beach Puerto Chino (depends if you still have time). Bring trainers or hiking shoes for your trip to the highlands. The taxi driver will accompany you all the time and wait for you at the respective places as in the highlands you won’t find any taxis.

Giant turtoise in Galapaguera

Giant turtoise in Galapaguera

Further Reading:

Day 4: Santa Cruz

Tortuga Bay

At 7 AM take the ferry to Santa Cruz Island and check in in your accommodation there. Afterwards you should make your way to Tortuga Bay. You will walk through a forest of cactuses for 3 km before getting there. And then, you arrive on a stunning sandy beach.

When going to the right you will find some iguanas under the mangroves as well as a small lagoon where you are able to rent kayaks. It’s also better for swimming there, as the waves are quite high on the beach.

independent travel itinerary Galapagos Islands: Santa Cruz

Tortuga Bay

Las Grietas

In the early afternoon, you can take a speed boat (about 0.6 USD) over to “the other side” to visit las Grietas. You have to go to Finch Bay Hotel (there are signs) and follow a 15 minute track to get there. Again wear trainers for that. Las Grietas are two high cliffs with ocean water to swim in in between.

Charles Darwin Station

If you still have time when coming back from Las Grietas, you can visit Charles Darwin Station. It is an important research center, opened in 1964. Research is mainly done to sustain the Galapagos Islands. Visitors find information on giant tortoises and are able to see different species of iguanas among others.

Day 5: Isabela Island

Another early morning: At 7 AM, your ferry to Isabela Island leaves. It will take about 2 hours to get there.

On this day, you should do two activities, you should book a tour to Tintoreras Islet and snorkel in Concha de Perla. Depending on the start time of your tour, you choose the order of the activities.

Tintoreras

Tintoreras is a small islet just a few minutes of the main island. Here you can find a lot of blue footed boobies and iguanas. The island itself consists of many lava rocks (wear trainers again) and a lot mangroves grow there.

Additionally there is a channel you can observe from above where sharks are resting.

independent travel itinerary Galapagos Islands: Tintoreras

Resting white tip reef sharks

Concha de Perla

The activity you can do yourself is snorkeling in Concha de Perla. For that rent snorkeling gear or if possible, bring it yourself. Concha de Perla can be found directly where your boat arrived. Just get in the water there and snorkel with fish, sea lions, maybe rays and the highlight: small penguins (Galapagos penguins). There are extremely cute, so take an underwater camera with you!

independent travel itinerary Galapagos Islands: Concha de Perla

Snorkelling with penguins

Swim a few meters away from the pier. There is a small channel surrounded by mangroves where chances are big that you will see rays.

Further Reading: 6 Things to do on Isabela Island, Galapagos

Day 6: Isabela Island

Volcano hike

Wake up early to take part in the popular volcano hike. This again must be done with a tour group as you have to be accompanied by a naturalist guide to be able to hike there.

independent travel itinerary Galapagos Islands: Sierra Negra

Volcano hike

The hike is about 16 km but quite comfortable to do. During this tour you will pass the second largest active crater in the world. While enjoying views of the island below you, you are walking in the direction of the volcano Chico. It depends on the pace of the group how close you are able to come to the volcano. There are full day tours available as well.

Wall of Tears

In the afternoon you can visit the Wall of tears (Muro de las lagrimas) on your own terms. This wall was built by prisoners between 1945 and 1959. As a punishment, they had to carry lava rocks for kilometers and built this wall.

Further Reading: 6 Things to do on Isabela Island, Galapagos

Day 7: Airport Santa Cruz

Your speed boat to Santa Cruz will leave at 6 in the morning. Then you can catch a taxi or organize a transport beforehand to get to Baltra Island just north of Santa Cruz to catch your flight in time.

More time?

If you have more time on the Galapagos Islands and your budget allows, I recommend you to visit one uninhabited island. Those tours can be done from Santa Cruz and will be either Bartolome, Santa Fe, Seymour or Plazas.

Another thing you can do on Isabela is a snorkeling trip in the Cabo Rosa Tunnel. You are able to see sharks resting in caves here as well as sea horses among others.


Money saving tip
If possible try to book your flight as follows: Arrive in San Cristobal and fly out from Santa Cruz (or vice versa). This way you do not have to return to one island in the end and save the ferry costs.

Which activity would you like most?

More posts on the Galapagos Islands:

  • Travel Preparation Galapagos Islands: What you need to know before you go
  • Galapagos Islands: Cruise vs. Island Hopping – Find out what’s better for you
  • The complete guide for San Cristobal Island, Galapagos
  • The ultimate wildlife guide for the Galapagos Islands: Where to find which species

14 thoughts on “Independent travel itinerary for the Galapagos Islands (7 days)

    1. Stef Post author

      Yes it’s so easy to get close to wildlife on the Galapagos. Even in the city of San Cristobal island sea lions are right on the main promenade and the beaches. You can go snorkeling right from the beaches and will swim with turtles and sea lions.

    1. Stef Post author

      Yes, I loved my time there. I cross my fingers that you can go there one day. In which parts of Ecuador have you been then?

  1. Sab

    What a great blog post. This is exactly what I was looking for – incredibly concise 🙂 Thanks!
    I had a couple questions for you, as I try to figure out a trip (in possibly two weeks!!):

    1) What accommodations did you stay at on each island? Any that you would recommend? Not sure if all accommodations are convenient to get to and in a good location. Any safety issues?
    2) Would you recommend Sharsky for all day trip bookings?
    3) Do you think one day is enough in Santa Cruz?
    4) I’m also thinking of going from Isabela back to Santa Cruz on the same day as my flight. Wasnt sure if this was risky though in terms of timing (potential that boat ride might be delayed, the taxi ride, the second ferry…) – how much time would this take for the full journey back to the airport? Do you need to be at the airport well in advance?

    Sorry about all the questions. You seem incredibly knowledgeable. Thanks so much again for the great posts!

    1. Stef Post author

      Hi Sab,
      Sorry for my late response. I am very happy my post was helpful for you.

      1.) In my San Cristobal Post (http://goo.gl/3cPRiL), you ll find the accommodation I would recommend there. Regarding Santa Cruz and Isabela, I have to look it up and tell you later. Those accommodation were really nice and I would recommend them to you. I send them later to you today.
      2.) Tell Sharksky I recommended you and if you book all your tours with them you are more likely to get a good price with a discount. When you only book one tour, you obviously pay the normal price. They have representatives on San Cristobal, Santa Cruz and Isabela and organize every tour on the Galapagos for you.
      3.) I would say yes IF you go to the highlands in San Cristobal (http://goo.gl/ekmDk6) if not you should do that on Santa Cruz (I liked the highland tour of San Cristobal more though).As in the highlands you get to see the giant turtoises and you do not want to miss that when being on the Galapagos.
      And IF you do not want to do a day trip to an uninhabited island as those are starting in Santa Cruz only (Bartolome, Santa Fe, Seymour or Plazas).
      4.) When is your flight? During lunch time right? The ferry on Isabela leaves at 6 AM as far as I know just because of that – so that people can get in time to their flights. I cannot tell you the exact time you need to get there. The first ferry takes about 2 hours. Then a taxi or shuttle and the other ferry to the airport is more like a taxi ferry as well, so is fast. I will ask a friend of mine how long the taxi takes to get to the north of the island.
      If you have any more questions please do not hesitate to ask. I will get back to you for the accommodations and taxi ride on Santa Cruz later. How many days do you have on the Galapagos in total?

      1. Sab

        Ah that’s great, thank you!! I’ll be on the island for 6 nights total, currently allocated 2 nights per island!!:) I will have to see what day trips are offered from Santa Cruz cause I heard they don’t offer each island everyday? Are all day trip islands pretty nice to check out?? Would you do a day trip from santa cruz or go for highlands tour instead? Ah, sorry again for the questions and thanks so much 🙂

        1. Stef Post author

          Hi Sab, I stayed in those accommodations: http://www.viajaragalapagos.com/ (Isabela) and http://www.laperegrinagalapagos.com.ec/ (Santa Cruz).
          Unfortunately I couldn’t do any of the uninhabited islands as I worked on San Cristobal and was only able to do a 4 day trip around other islands. It’s a tough decision…I mean seeing an island without any men is really special but the tortoises are a must see as well.
          Day trips to the uninhabited islands do not go every day that’s true. Ask Sharksky if they can tell you where they go on the days you’re in Santa Cruz. They can ask the respective company and let you know the price as well.
          Do you have two full days in San Cristobal? I would then recommend you to do either Kicker Rock or Lobos Island on one day and the highlands on the second day. In the afternoons you can go to Tijeretas and Playa Lobo.
          Then on day 3 you take the ferry to Santa Cruz and could visit Tortuga Bay and Las Grietas or the Darwin Station (depending what you want to do), next day you could do an uninhabited island. Then you leave for Isabela on day 5 and should absolutely do Tintoreras and the volcano hike in those two days. Or are you already leaving on day 6? If yes then I would skip the uninhabited island and rather spend two days on Isabela than on Santa Cruz.

          1. Sab

            Oh boy – so many options 😐 I arrive San Cristobal around noon that day so not sure if that will give me enough time to do highlands that day? How much time would you allot to the highlands? I would like to do Kicker Rock the next day as it sounds great!

            I do have two downs on Isabela – though I will be catching an early ferry to get there so not sure if I will be able to book myself into a tour that day, since tours normally start fairly early? Would you choose Tintoreras over Los Tuneles? Do you think doing highlands on Isabela and San Cristobal are musts? Wondering if I can squeeze in Tintoreras, Los Tuneles, and Highlands trip in 2 days 😐 Ahhh!!

            Thank you again for the reply 🙂

          2. Stef Post author

            I think you can still go to the highlands as you go by taxi anyway. If time gets in the way you have to either skip the volcano lake El Junco or the beach stop. But you can definitely go to see the turtoises and you should.
            Day 2 Kicker Rock then. You will be back at about 3 PM and can still go to Tijeretas or Lobos Beach. If you prefer snorkeling go to Lobos Beach (you will snorkel with sea turtles and sea lions there), otherwise the view of Tijeretas is really nice and you can snorkel there too, it is just not that much to see there as on Lobos Beach.
            The day you get to Isabela you are not able to do the volcano hike, that is early in the morning. But Tintoreras is available in the afternoons as far as I know. That is why you should contact Sharksky in advance in order to know for sure that you can do all these activities (as they either tend to be sold out during high season or not going everyday during low season). I did not go to Los Tuneles. But I would say do Tintoreras because you get to see Blue Footed Boobies! You might see some on Kicker Rock but not for sure. During your Kicker Rock Tour if you are not very unlucky you will see white tip reef sharks though and that is the same in the tunnels. Ah and you see them as well on Tintoreras. There is a small tunnel. You do not snorkel with them but you see heaps of them from above which is really spectacular. Just ask if you can do the volcano hike and the tunnels in one day maybe that is possible as well, probably depending whether there are other people doing it as well (I mean you can book private tours as well if you want to spend the money but I guess you are a traveler like me and go for shared tours :P).
            And when you come back from the Galapagos pleaaaase let me know how you liked it and say hi to Sharksky from me 🙂

  2. Sara

    My husband and I are hoping to go to the Galapagos in May, and this blog has been super helpful in making us feel like we can do it within our (not unlimited) budget! Are there any other companies you would recommend for day tours? We’re hoping to be able to book in advance so that we know ahead of time that we’ll be able to take advantage of everything.

    1. Stef Post author

      If you want to go diving, I can recommend you the company Los Mantas on San Cristobal. That’s the only other company I did trips with. With Sharksky you can book everything in advance (all islands). If you have any further questions, please do not hesitate to contact me again. I’d love to help you.

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