Island hopping Galapagos: A Galapagos Islands Itinerary

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The Galapagos was somewhere I had dreamed about seeing since I was a teenager. I still remember going to one of the travel agents and bringing home a massive pile of Galapagos Island brochures and flipping through. I dreamed about seeing the giant tortoises and sea lions and exploring the islands made famous by Charles Darwin.

Of course, as a teenager, I didn’t have the budget to visit the Galapagos Islands. As a remote set of islands, not only are they far to travel to, but they are also pretty pricey. However, my Galapagos dreams came true when I decided to run one of my ESBT group trips to the Galapagos. I spent weeks researching, planning, and organizing the perfect, adventure-filled itinerary for my group and we loved every minute of it. From boat trips to scuba diving, hammerhead sharks to sea lions to iguanas, this is what I suggest for a Galapagos Islands itinerary and some tips and tricks to plan your own Galapagos island hopping adventures.

How to Get to the Galapagos Islands

Sea lions on beach in Galapagos

The Galapagos Islands are a chain of islands off the coast of Ecuador and you will need to fly to get there. You can leave from Quito, the capital or Guayaquil which is on the coast.

If you leave from Quito, the flight is a quick 40-minute hop to Guayaquil on the coast where the plane will stop, pick up more passengers, and then take off again. The flight from Guayaquil to the islands is less than three hours. There are two islands with airports in the Galapagos, Santa Cruz and San Cristobal. I suggest you start on one island and end on the other so you don’t have to worry about backtracking.

Flights to the islands are fairly regular but you should still book them in advance since locals and tourists alike visit year-round. Keep in mind, when you arrive at the departure airport you will need to pay for a Galapagos transit card. As of 2024, this is $20 USD- cash only. When you arrive, you will need to pay $100 USD (cash only) for the National Park Fee. Upon departure, you will also have an extra security check. The Galapagos is a protected area and your luggage will be scanned to ensure you have nothing dangerous to the islands in your bags. 

When to go to the Galapagos Islands

Galapagos are a year-round destination, so it really depends on what you want to see and do. If you love snorkelling and scuba diving as much as I do, then you will want to go during the warm season. This is December through June. Note that this is also the rainy season. If you are more into hiking, then the dry and cooler season is a better pick to avoid the high humidity.

How to Visit the Galapagos Islands: Galapagos Cruise vs Island Hopping

Galápagos penguin on a rock with bright blue water behind it

There are two main ways to visit the Galapagos islands. The first and perhaps most popular is by cruise. These are smaller ships that go between the islands over the course of a week or so. While each cruise is different, most include all meals, guides and excursions, and accommodation on board. There are tons of advantages to a Galapagos Islands cruise, and everyone I know who has done one has loved it. It’s easy and hassle-free and since you are navigating by boat you can go to some quieter, less busy places and more uninhabited islands.

That being said, cruises are also by far a more expensive option and since I was running a group trip and trying to keep things affordable, I chose an island-hopping option. To be honest, as a boat lover, I was worried I chose wrong. But in the end, I’m so glad I chose to island hop and stay on land. Yes, it means you stay on the inhabited islands and not somewhere more remote. But it also allows for a different experience. If you cruise, you need to be back on the boat in the evening. You won’t see the snoring sea lions on the beaches, or the sharks and rays cruising the docks under the lights. Wildlife truly is everywhere so you are not going to miss out by staying on land. In fact, I would argue I saw more sea lions near the towns than anywhere else.

Staying on land also has more of a local feel to it as well, which is important to me as a traveller. I ended up coming early and spending a week on San Cristobal Island and had ‘my’ bar where I went every night and chatted with the owners as I drank the most delicious cocktails in a hammock swing. For me personally, the land-based option of island hopping was a better pick and would be what I recommend. Especially if you are trying to cut down on costs.

There are group tour options for both. Since this was a group trip, we had a local guide to take us around the islands. I loved our guide and the knowledge he offered but since there are so many day trip options as well, you can easily cut costs and plan an independent trip to the Galapagos yourself.

How long to spend in the Galapagos Islands?

The Galapagos Islands are incredible. I spent 2 weeks here and felt like I did and saw a lot, but of course, I could have stayed longer. I would suggest at minimum one week but it’s better if you can spend 10 days, which was the itinerary for my group trip. If you have more time, great. If not, 10 days will give you a feel for a few of the islands and plenty of opportunities to spot the famous Galapagos wildlife.

How to Get Between the Galapagos Islands

Sea lions on the front of a white boat

There are public ferries that will take you between the islands. These are more like big speed boats and the routes are usually 2-3 hours depending on the journey. Rides can be rough, so take seasickness medication ahead of time. There are toilets on board (usually the boat has to stop for you to use it though, so go in advance).

Ferries don’t run all day, usually just a couple of times per day so you don’t want to leave booking your tickets too late as the boats aren’t that big. You can find the schedule and book online here. Tip: Go to the docks early to pick your seat.

It’s also worth noting that your luggage will be checked as you transfer between the islands. Sometimes a quick backpack search, sometimes full suitcase checks. I was jokingly asked if I had any baby sea lions (I wish) but I was also asked if I had any local fruits. So be mindful of the rules!

Galapagos Islands Itinerary: 10 Days of Island Hopping

As mentioned earlier, there are two airports in the Galapagos Islands and I suggest flying into one and out of the other. For this Galapagos itinerary, I am going to recommend starting in Santa Cruz and ending in San Cristobal. Santa Cruz is the more touristic, expensive, and busiest of the islands so I think it’s good to start rather than end here. San Cristobal was my favourite island, so I’d end here and recommend staying longer if you have the time. With that in mind, here’s my suggested 10 Day Galapagos island hopping itinerary. 

Day 1-4: Santa Cruz Island 

Sign for Santa Cruz Galapagos. The letters are bright and colourful against back drop of the ocean.

As mentioned above Santa Cruz is the main tourist island of the Galapagos so it will be the busiest and most expensive. But don’t let that deter you, there is still lots to do here on land and by water. Here are my suggestions:

Explore Puerto Ayora

Puerto Ayora is the main town, it’s full of bars, restaurants, and lots of really nice shops for souvenirs. It’s fun to explore in the evenings after a day of exploring and many bars here have happy hours so be sure to take advantage of that for some cheaper drinks! I also like to recommend going to the pier in the evening. Sharks and rays come here to hunt at night and you will see dozens of them swimming around under the lights.

Boat trip to Bartolome Island

View from the top of Bartolome island. White sand beaches, bright blue water, and small islands

This was one of my favourite days in the Galapagos because the landscape and wildlife viewing opportunities are just unreal. You’ll take a speed boat from Santa Cruz to Bartolome Island which takes a little over two hours. When you arrive you can hike up the volcanic islands for incredible views. Then take a little zodiac ride around the bay to see some of the beaches and look for Galapagos penguins. Lunch and snacks are served on board and you will get a couple of hours to snorkel at a beautiful beach with sea lions, sting rays, turtles, and even swimming Galapagos penguins if you are lucky like I was! Keep an eye out on while on the boat too, I saw a jumping shark, giant mantas, and a huge pod (easily over 100) of dolphins. 

Tortuga Bay

Hannah sitting on the beach of Tortuga Bay

Tortuga Bay is a beach about an hour hike from town or you can take a boat from the harbour. It makes for a good half day trip.

If you choose to hike, it’s an easily marked trail that is really more of a walk. There is a steep set of stairs and a couple of smaller hills but it is very much a path that will take you to a large beach. Keep going until you hit Tortuga Bay. It will take about an hour each way.

I’ll be honest, visibility was very bad when I visited. The water was so murky it was actually a bit eerie. However, it’s also a shark nursery and we saw lots of baby black reef tip sharks as well as a baby hammerhead which was pretty much the cutest thing ever. The sharks came right up to the beach so they were very easy to see. 

Charles Darwin Station

Giant Galapagos Tortoise facing the camera

The Charles Darwin Station is a great place to come and see the Galapagos Tortoises. Since the tortoises have so many natural predators these days, the eggs are collected so they can be hatched at the breeding centre. They spend 5 years at these breeding centres until they are big enough to be safely released into the wild where they can live up to 200 years. You’ll only need a couple of hours maximum here, but it’s a great place to learn a little more about the wildlife and see the tortoises in different stages of growth.

Santa Cruz Highlands

Seeing the Galapagos tortoises at the breeding centre is awesome but it’s even cooler to see them in the wild and if you head up to the highlands of Santa Cruz, you will find lots. There are a few day trips you can book that will take you. Or you can hire a car (or even a taxi) and go on your own. Even just driving down the roads and looking into the fields you will see them but for the full experience head to El Chato which has trails, lava tunnels to explore, and dozens of free roaming giant tortoises.

Scuba Dive

Hannah wearing a yellow bikini top and black shorts sitting beside dive tanks

Santa Cruz is home to some fantastic dive sites, especially if you love sharks as much as I do. There are a bunch in the area. I went to North Seymour and Mosquera which were nice but Gordon Rocks was my favourite since that was where I saw all the hammerhead sharks. If you are looking for an awesome dive shop in the Galapagos check out Academy Bay Diving. Tell them Hannah aka: the pink whale shark, says hi!

Where to stay on Santa Cruz Island

Definitely stay in Puerto Ayora as this is the main hub, especially for day trips and boating adventures. Again, this island is a bit more expensive than the others but here are a couple of options.

  • Lobo de Mar (this is where I stayed, good location and decent breakfast but terrible wifi so heads up!)
  • Posada del Mar (midrange, homey, central)
  • Hotel La Isla (central and higher end)

Day 4-6: Isabela Island

Isabela Island is pretty small, especially compared to Santa Cruz and San Cristobal. However, I still think it’s worth a stop and a couple of nights. What’s really nice about this island is that a lot of the activities I share can be done on your own without having to worry about booking a tour, allowing you to see lots and save a little money! Most of the things I recommend are walkable (or you can rent a bike if you prefer)

Explore the town

Hannah's group on Isabela Island

Isabela Island is not only smaller in terms of size but also in terms of population. There are only about 2000 permanent residents here so overall, it has a very different vibe than the other islands on this Galapagos itinerary. There are a few shops and some good restaurants and a large beachfront which is nice for swimming- bring your snorkel gear!

Arnaldo Tupiza Breeding Centre

This is a breeding centre for the giant Galapagos tortoises. I actually preferred this one to the one in Santa Cruz since it’s focused solely on the tortoises themselves. You can see the tortoises at all stages including newly hatched (assuming there are some at the time) to adulthood.

Look for Flamingos

pink flamingo searching for fish

Isabela Island has a population of beautiful pink flamingos and there are two main places to see them. The first is Flamingo Lagoon which is close to the Arnaldo Tupiza Breeding Centre. The second is the small lake in the town itself. Flamingos are best seen at dawn.

Snorkel among the Lava and Mangroves

There are tons of snorkel opportunities around Isabela that you can do on your own without having to worry about joining a tour. Concha Perla is a popular spot, it’s a shallow bay by the mangroves with lots of fish, sea lions, turtles, and a few Galapagos penguins.

Isabela also is famous for its lava rock formations which can be explored below the water. Los Tuneles is the best site to snorkel to see the lava arches and marine life.

Las Tintoreras

brown marine iguana hanging out on a rock

This little Islet is close to Concha Perla and has a walking trail that allows you to explore and see the wildlife. You might see some Galapagos penguins and sea lions along the shoreline. You will definitely see tons of lizards and iguanas. There’s also a section where you will see a large crack in the rocks, look down into the water there for sea turtles and white-tip reef sharks.

Where to stay on Isabela Island

  • Hotel San Vicente (I stayed here. Rooms were pretty big, clean, comfortable but nothing fancy. Wifi only in common area)
  • Drake Inn (homey beachfront property)
  • Hotel Albemarle (a little more upscale and on the beach)

Day 6-10: San Cristobal Island

A cuddle puddle of sea lions lying and sitting on a sandy beach

San Cristobal was my favourite island. It felt more authentic and local but still had a big enough town to be lively and fun. It’s also where you are going to see the most sea lions which, for me, was a definite highlight. Here’s how I suggest you spend your time at San Cristobal Island.

Explore Puerto Baquerizo Moreno

Puerto Baquerizo Moreno is the main town of the Island and the best place to stay. You will find plenty of restaurants and bars, cute shops for souvenirs, dive centres and places to book excursions. The waterfront area is full of sea lions, many of whom make their way up to the boardwalk to take a nap on the benches.

The town also has a couple of great beaches. I spent most of my beach time in town at Playa Mann which is super close and full of sea lions. The beach is open to humans until 6pm, at which point the sea lions take over.

Lots of great bars and restaurants in town. Our group really liked Muyu, The Post Office, Umami, and Rosita. I also loved The Pier for cocktails and ceviche. If you are visiting on a Friday night, there are cultural events in the evening featuring small street markets and dance performances from the different clubs in the community.

Kicker Rock

Kicker Rock against a cloudy sky

Kicker Rock is famous in the Galapagos. The giant rock, which is shaped like a boot, juts out of the ocean providing an impressive view and an incredible place to see some of the best marine life in the Galapagos Islands. You have the option to snorkel or scuba dive this site depending on your interests. I did both and they were equally incredible.

There are two main sites at Kicker Rock. The first is the channel between the rock which is where you are most likely to see hammerhead sharks. You do have a better chance of seeing them scuba diving, I saw several on my dive. We also got lucky when we went back snorkelling and saw one then too. This one was a little more curious and stuck around longer, it even allowed me to free dive down to it which was pretty amazing.

Further along the rocks is the second site which is a massive bait ball. Thousands of silvery fish converge together into a giant black cloud that you can dive through and snorkel on top of. While the fish are pretty magical on their own, what’s even cooler are the reef sharks and Galapagos sharks that are also cruising through. If you’re lucky, you’ll also get a couple of sea lions diving around. I loved snorkelling and diving here but I will say as a diver this was one of my favourite dive sites ever. Aquaventures offers both scuba and snorkel trips to Kicker Rock and I highly recommend them.

Isla Lobos

Lobos Island is famous for its birds. Sadly, given the recent fears around the avian flu, you could not physically go to the island when I was there. However, we still had an amazing half-day trip around the island. The captain of the boat got us close to shore and stopped for us to take photos of the blue-footed boobies on the rocks and the frigate birds with their puffed-up red throats. After we circled the island, we got to snorkel around the bay where we saw swimming marine iguanas, sting rays, and playful sea lion pups.

La Loberia Beach

sea turtle resting on the bottom with a snorkelled behind it

One of the most popular beaches on the island for snorkelling, La Loberia Beach is only a short drive from the main town of Puerto Baquerizo Moreno. You’ll have to walk about 10-15 minutes from the parking lot to get to the beach but it’s a relatively flat and easy trail. Once you have arrived you’ll be rewarded with a nice beach filled with playful sea lions and tons of sea turtles, so make sure to bring a mask and snorkel!

Interpretation Centre and Cerro Tijeretas

San Cristobal has an Interpretation Centre for visitors. This is like a small museum with information on the islands both in terms of history, geography, and wildlife. Pass through here on your way to Cerro Tijerteas which is a hill offering beautiful views. In the area, you will also find the Charles Darwin Statue and you can go down to Muelle Tijeretas, a beach where you can swim and snorkel with sea lions. Keep an eye on the tide though because it is very rocky.

Where to stay on San Cristobal Island

As mentioned, the main town is Puerto Baquerizo Moreno so I suggest staying there. Ideally, closer to the waterfront. There’s a mix of accommodation. I stayed in two separate spots which were mid-range. Basic but clean and comfortable. I will share below and there are also a couple of higher-end options if you want to splurge.

Final Galapagos Itinerary Tips

The Galapagos Islands are incredible and as an ocean lover and wildlife enthusiast, it quickly made its way on my list of favourite destinations. I felt safe, I found the locals welcoming and friendly, and of course, the wildlife is unreal.

Part of what makes the wildlife of the Galapagos so impressive is how unafraid the animals are of humans. They are protected so have no need to fear us, but that doesn’t mean that there still aren’t rules. At a minimum, stay 2m away from wildlife at all times. Do not touch or feed them. Remember, this is their home and you are a guest in it. Most places will rent you mask and snorkels or have them available. However, I highly suggest bringing your own and keep it with you while exploring. There are so many places to snorkel.

Another thing to be mindful of is the heat and the weather. I went during the warm and wet season and the humidity had me sweating buckets. Make sure to hydrate lots, bring a water bottle with you as most hotels have places for you to fill it. Liquid IVs can also be helpful or Gatorade/Powerade which is sold at most stores. Also, don’t forget sunscreen! It’s best to bring some with you (ideally, a reef safe kind) as it is incredibly expensive on the islands. The sun here is super strong so don’t get burned.

For those worried about staying connected, wifi and cell phone service isn’t amazing out on the islands. Even in hotels with wifi, I struggle to get a strong signal. I did have a SIM card, I was told Claro was best which is also what e-sims connected to but it was still very hit or miss. 

The Galapagos Islands are one of the most magical places I have ever been and I definitely recommend a visit.

Galapagos FAQ

sea lion on a dock napping

What is the currency in the Galapagos Islands?

Ecuador uses the US dollar, so if you are American you can bring some cash from home to save on banking fees. I also suggest using the ATMs in the mainland and bringing a bunch of cash with you. There are ATMs on the islands but they are not the most reliable and can run out of cash pretty quickly. Cash is king here, so make sure you are stocked up.

Is it expensive to go to the Galapagos Islands?

The Galapagos Islands definitely are not cheap, but, like every destination there are ways to stay on a budget. As listed above there are some more budget friendly hotels. You can also choose the more local restaurants over the touristic ones. Head a couple streets back from the beaches and waterfront and you will notice prices are different on the menus. If you want cocktails or alcoholic drinks, take advantage of the places that have happy hours.

The big thing is the day trips, especially boat tours and diving. Of course, these are also major highlights so do some research ahead of time and budget accordingly. You don’t want to get all the way to the islands and miss out. 

Is it safe to go to the Galapagos Islands?

Safety is a big concern for many. When I visited, Ecuador had declared a state of emergency over which meant increased security and curfews in some areas. However, remember that the Galapagos Islands are their own chain far away from the mainland and while it technically is part of Ecuador, these islands operate and feel very different. I felt incredibly safe in the Galapagos Islands, even when visiting during a country-wide state of emergency.

For more Galapagos tips check out this post.

Ready to Book Your Trip?

Don’t forget travel insurance!

Please do not travel without travel insurance! I’ve had to use it multiple times throughout my travels and it has saved me thousands of dollars. You can learn more about travel insurance here. If you are looking for a provider I love and recommend SafetyWing. For Canadian readers, take a look at SoNomad.

Book your accommodation

I love and recommend for accommodation. They have a range of hostels, guesthouses, hotels, and resorts. Plus, the platform has a great loyalty program that means the more you book, the more you can save. 

Book your tours

My go-to tour provider that I love to recommend is GetYourGuide. They have options all over the world and partner with local companies for everything from day trips to food experiences and even airport transfers. 

Get connected

If you want to have data while travelling for online maps or any other needs, an esim is one of the easiest solutions. I’m a big fan of Airalo and have used their sim cards around the world from Brazil to Uzbekistan, Greece to the USA. It’s really easy- you download the app, pick what country you want an esim for, and after you purchase it follow the installation instructions. You can use promo code HANNAH3326 to save $3USD on your next esim purchase. 

Not sure what to pack?

I have destination-specific guides for some countries but you can also check my travel essentials and camera gear if you are looking for some ideas. 

Looking for a travel buddy?

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  1. Donna on March 20, 2024 at 10:26 am

    Thx for the info. I hope to go in Jan 2025 since I missed out on your tour. Under the San Cristobal section you wrote the main town is Peurto Ayora. Is this correct?

    • Hannah Logan on March 20, 2024 at 11:02 am

      I hope you go! It’s amazing.
      And typo fixed, thanks 🙂

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