Before coming to Galapagos I had read that it is good to buy the ticket for the speedboat a day in advance during high season. As I visited in July and was going to be aboard a boat the day before my departure I was a bit worried not to get a ticket, but the travel agent I had booked the cruise with luckily made a reservation for me.
The office of Cabomar, where I was going to get the ticket, was just one minute away from where I arrived to Puerto Ayora with bus, by the harbour. I paid for the ticket, which was $25 one way (July 2011). The speedboat for Villamil leaves Puerto Ayora at 14.00 every day and I still had some time, so I left the backpacks at the office and went to withdraw money from an ATM and to have lunch.
I went to the harbour half an hour before the boat was going to leave and people were already standing in a queue to have their bags checked.. You are not allowed to bring seeds and fruits between the islands. So there is a control before you travel.
On board we were told to put on our life jackets and we all got a bottle of water and some caramels. I think this was because it was a bit bumpy and at least two people threw up during the journey.
After two hours we arrived to Puerto Villamil. While I was standing on the bridge waiting for my luggage I was very surprised to hear my name called out. It was a taxi driver who were going to take me to Hostal La Jungla where I had made a reservation. I didn’t pay for the taxi ride, but the driver had a few other paying customers going to other hotels.
The boat back to Puerto Ayora leaves already at 6am and as you have to be at the harbour in time, to once again have your bags controlled and to pay the tourist tax ($5) it will be a very early morning. Crossing over to Puerto Ayora the sea was calm and we didn’t have to put on the life jackets. And we didn’t get water or caramels this time. We arrived to Puerto Ayora around 8.30.
In Puerto Ayora I talked with some people who had taken an afternoon boat from Puerto Villamil to Puerto Ayora. It had been one of the daytrip boats going back to Puerto Ayora and the life jackets on board that boat had been very poor and the engine broke down just before they arrived to Puerto Ayora. So it might be better to take the regular speedboat.
Update June 2013: Besides the boat leaving Puerto Ayora at 14.00 there is now also a boat leaving at 7.00 in the morning. the price is $30.
Since pretty much the entire Archipeligo is a National Park with limited access and next to nothing in landing areas, you need to be able to land up against a rock, or on a beach. The zodiac boats, also knows as RIBS, are the mode of choice.
There are two airports on the Galápagos Islands, on Baltra and San Christobel, and we, like most tourists, flew to the former, on one of the several airlines serving the route, Tame (other possibilities are AeroGal and Lan).
Most of our group came directly from Quito, but we had spent the previous few days of our trip in Cuenca, and drove from there to Guayquil the afternoon before our cruise started, to pick up the flight there. Our original plan had been to fly from Cuenca in the morning, but a change to the timing of that flight meant we would have missed the connection to Baltra, hence the overnight in Guayaquil. We found the airport there to be modern, relatively quiet and well-organised for the additional complications of a Galápagos flight. These complications are:
1. The necessity of buying (for $10) an INGALA transit control card (INGALA is the agency that regulates travel to the islands)
2. Submitting all luggage to an additional inspection for quarantine regulations
Both of these operations went smoothly and we had time for a coffee in the bright and comfortable departures area (with good free wifi) before boarding our plane. The flight lasted 1 hour 45 minutes, but because the Galápagos Islands are an hour behind mainland Ecuador, we arrived well before lunch-time. Our first views of the islands, from the air, were enough to raise the excitement levels. Our dream holiday was about to begin!
But first, some more formalities. Everyone visiting the Galápagos has to pay a $100 national park fee, and as this can’t be paid in advance, it must be done on arrival at the airport and in cash – so make sure you’re carrying enough. I was pleased that in addition to the attractive souvenir ticket I also got my passport stamped (I later found out that a couple of travelling companions who’d arrived a day or two earlier hadn’t had theirs stamped, so do ask if this matters to you).
Baggage claim consisted of all luggage being piled up in a hall to one side of the arrivals area, and once we’d retrieved ours we were able to exit to the main part of the airport where Fabian our guide was waiting for us all to escort us to the Angelito.
Next tip: ”Transfer to your boat”
The airport at Baltra is just a five minute drive away from the small port where the cruise boats moor, and the journey is undertaken on a fleet of elderly buses whose comings and goings are controlled by the military who own the airport. Your guide will tell you which one to board, and, on arrival at the port, will organise the transfer to your boat. Even the smaller ones, judging by our experience, aren’t able to moor directly at the dock, so you will probably need to cross to your boat in one the small dinghies (in the case of the Angelito) or zodiacs (for most other boats, it seemed) that each possesses. During the course of the week you will become very used to getting in and out of these small boats or pangas as they are usually termed, but if this is your first time boarding such a vessel, take your guide’s advice about the safe grip to use when accepting a helping hand (hold the arm, not the hand, so your grasp is less likely to slip) and watch your step. There’s no need to worry about your luggage – the crew will bring that aboard for you.
Our group of 16 was transferred to the Angelito in two trips, as the second dinghy was engaged in that luggage transfer, and we were very soon all on board and looking round eagerly at our home for the next week – and at each other, our travelling companions. It would have been good to have known already at that point that we would quickly become a tight-knit group and would thoroughly enjoy each other’s company as well as the trip itself.
Next tip: ”The Angelito”
Regulations have been introduced quite recently that prohibit any boat from revisiting any island within a fortnight, so all the boats these days have two one-week itineraries, which they alternate. The plus side of this is that anyone with the time, money and enthusiasm who wants to, can book both and have a two week cruise! For the rest of us, short on the first two of these ingredients, there is the difficulty of choosing which to do. Every boat’s schedule is different, although of course with only so many islands to include, there is plenty of overlap. I studied the options for ages, trying to make up my mind! I’d identified a number of islands I’d particularly like to see, but no boat (in our price range at least) covered all of them in a single week. But the Angelito had been strongly recommended, and its itinerary A covered all but one of my priority islands (Genovesa for the birds, Bartolomé for the views, Española for the albatrosses – only Fernandina was missing). So that was our final choice, and a great one too! Although I have read elsewhere that everyone agonises over their choice of itinerary, and in the end has a wonderful time regardless of where they decide to go – there are NO bad itineraries when it comes to Galápagos cruises!
Anyway, the A itinerary of the Angelito which we experienced was (in 2012):
1. Sunday: Baltra - North Seymour
2. Monday: Sombrero Chino – Bartolomé
3. Tuesday: Genovesa: Darwin Bay and Prince Phillips Steps
4. Wednesday: Santiago (Puerto Egas) – Rabida
5. Thursday: Santa Cruz: Darwin Station & Highlands
6. Friday: Española: Playa Gardner and Punta Suarez
7. Saturday: Santa Fe - South Plaza
8. Sunday: Black Turtle Cove (Santa Cruz) – Baltra
Of all the islands we visited, my favourites proved to be two of those I had especially aimed to see (Genovesa and Española) and one that I had not (Santiago), although it was Santa Fe that gave me two of my most memorable experiences – snorkelling with sea lions, and a close encounter with Galápagos hawks.
Next tip: ”North Seymour” – the first of the islands we visited.
When you fly to Galapagos Islands from mainland Ecuador you will either arrive at the airport near Puerto Baquerizo Moreno on San Cristóbal, or to the main airport on Isla Baltra. Isla Baltra is a small, flat island just north of Isla Santa Cruz. There are no visitor sites on Isla Baltra, but people are transferred from here to Isla Santa Cruz, or directly to their cruise boat.
The first time I arrived to Baltra was with plane and I was going on a cruise. We (the people going on the cruise) were met at the airport by our guide and, as we were visiting the highlands on Santa Cruz and Charles Darwin Research Station before boarding the boat, we took a bus from the airport to Canal de Itabaca. Frequent ferries are crossing the canal, and on the other side our bus was waiting. The second time I arrived to Baltra was in the end of the cruise when we were all taken to the airport. I was not flying back to the mainland, but was going to Isla Isabela.
From Baltra Airport I took one of the free buses going to the canal. It is a short bus ride, maybe 10-15 minutes. Canal de Itabaca is the narrow canal between Isla Baltra and Isla Santa Cruz. Here you put your bags on the flat roof of the ferry, before boarding it. Tickets for the ferry is sold onboard and I paid $ 0.80 going to Santa Cruz, but only $ 0.50 going the opposite way almost a week later. At the dock on the Santa Cruz side of the canal I immediately found a bus to Puerto Ayora. My big backpack was put on the roof and I went inside to take a seat. Tickets were sold on the bus and it was $ 1.80 (July 2011). To Puerto Ayora it took less than an hour and in Puerto Ayora the bus stopped on Av Charles Darwin, just opposite the harbour. You can also take a taxi from Canal de Itabaca to Puerto Ayora and it is $15 (July 2011).
When it was time to go back to the airport I took a taxi from my hotel in Puerto Ayora to Terminal Terrestre, from where the buses leave. The taxi was $ 1.00. I arrived to the bus terminal at 8am and the next bus to Canal de Itabaca was leaving at 8.40, so they are not very frequent.
There are no international flight to Galapagos Islands, but you have to fly from Quito or Guayaquil. From Quito to Galapagos it takes almost 2.5 hours, and that includes a stop in Guayaquil (when I travelled this route we changed planes in Guayaquil). From Guayaquil it takes 1.5 hours.
From mainland Ecuador you can fly to Baltra Island (just off the north coast of Isla Santa Cruz) or to Isla San Cristóbal. There is also an airport on Isla Isabela, but it is only operated by small planes coming from Baltra or San Cristóbal (so far at least). There are several daily flights, all arriving to Galapagos in the morning. They then return with passengers to the mainland, and the last plane is leaving around 13.00.
A return ticket in high season cost over $400 dollars for foreigners and less than $400 in low season (2011). For Ecuadorian citizens it is cheaper and for residents of Galapagos Islands it is even cheaper. My airplane ticket was included in the price of the cruise.
The three airlines flying to Galapagos are TAME, LAN and AeroGal.
When you arrive to Galapagos Islands you have to pay the National Park fee which is $100 (June 2011). There is also an INGALA transit control fee of $10 to be paid already at the airport in Quito or Guayaquil. This INGALA-fee was included in the price of my cruise.
At the airport on Isla Baltra there is a restaurant/café and there are a few souvenir stands. If you want to have a Galapagos stamp in your passport you can get it at a counter at the airport.
Galapagos is an hour ahead of mainland Ecuador, so don’t forget to change the time on your watch.
WE travelled around the Galapogos on the Letty . We booked the trip directly with Ecoventura which is the company that owns the Letty and her two sister ships. It was less exoensive than an outside agent.
We were quite pleased with the Letty .The food was very good and lots of it . They had a nice friendly crew and everyday the chef met us onboard when we returned from an excursion with a snack.
The boat itself is rated as a Superior first-class 20-passenger motor-yachts, M/Y Eric, Flamingo I and Letty, were custom-designed for Galapagos excursions.
A Captain, eight dedicated crewmembers, and two experienced English-speaking naturalist guides attend to the details of your Galapagos cruise. Each naturalist takes a group of no more than 10 passengers on all shore excursions and shares extensive insights into the Islands ' diverse wildlife. Small wooden boats, locally called pangas, ferry passengers to shore for Island visits.
For me 5 nights would have been enough!! I was so seasick . The longer trips spend as long as 17 hours out at sea each night . And it was rocking!!!
You will travel from Quito or Guayaquil to the Galapagos. TAME schedules daily flights and operates principally out of the Baltra Island airport. A second airline, AeroGal, operates mainly out of the San Cristobal airport.
Things to keep in mind when checking your bags in at the Quito/Guayquil airport:
• All of your luggage will undergo a search for food or plant products that could introduce harmful organizms into the Galapagos ecosystem. Be prepared to open your bags before you check them in at the desk.
• Strict luggage allowances are vigorously enforced. You are permitted 20 kg of checked luggage. Divers typically carry lots of heavy gear, so expect to have to pay an overweight charge of approximately US $2 per kilo if you are taking anything more than the basics.
Once you arrive at Baltra, there is more to the "TO" part of your trip. Read on, in the next tip....
I'm not typically one who books tours or package deals. But I was glad I did on this trip. A boat cruise is the only way to get around and see several islands. I posted info about GAP in my Accomodations tip. They were great and provided an excellent itinerary. At the end of 4 nights and 5 days, we felt like we saw everything and were ready to go back to land. I couldn't have planned it on my own, knowing which islands not to miss. Also, having a knowledgable naturalist guide who lives with you on the boat and takes you around the islands made it so exceptional. He knew exactly where to take us to see all the animals on our list - Galapagos penguin, iguanas, blue footed boobies, turtles, etc. I highly recommend GAP Adventures and am even thinking of taking other trips they offer.
Ummm, AEROGAL SUCKS! This is one of two airlines that flies to the Galapagos Islands. Aerogal and Tame both have daily flights leaving Quito and then Guayaquil to Baltra near Santa Cruz or Puerto Baquerizo Moreno on San Cristobal. All flights begin in Quito and make a stop in Guayaquil to unload and pick up more passengers (which takes about 45 minutes). The total flying time is about 3 hours.
We were delayed for 6 hours leaving Quito because the engines were broken. We were given no truthful updates on the state of the plane, they promised us a new plane and then reneged, lied to us, yelled at us and caused a huge uproar from passengers that had spent hundreds and thousands of dollars on cruises that were taking off without them. Once we finally left Guayaquil we had to return to the city after dumping all of our fuel because our wing flaps were no longer working. Then we aborted our take-off in Guayaquil because gas was flying out of the wing and passengers were hysterical. 60 people got off because they had lost confidence in the safety of the aircraft (which was over 30 years old). Aerogal had 2 emergency landings the weeks prior because of engines catching fire while in flight! AVOID THIS COMPANY. But beware, I had problems flying with TAME before too as they had a broken computer and couldn't fly the plane for hours, causing more undue delays.
When I complained personally to the manager of Aerogal she refused to offer me any reimbursement for the flight or for the missed time aboard my cruise (a whole day equalling around $200). Instead she offered me 2000 miles despite the fact that she knew I didn't live in Ecuador and wouldnt be traveling on their local airline ever again, by my choice or not. They were HORRIBLE!
The flight from Quito costs about 400$ and from Guayaquil about 50$ less. The plane lands on Baltra, a flat barren island, and then you can catch a bus-ferry-bus combination to Puerto Ayora. In case you are in a prearranged tour a member of the Agency will meet you and see you do the right thing. If you are in a cruise you will probably have a short bus ride to your boat in Baltra.
If you fly to Puerto Baquerizo Moreno on San Cristobal island you can walk to town.
There is a flight from Baltra to Villamil on Isabela if you want to see the island independently.
If you decide to stay more TAME extends your ticket for no extra charge.
Here you will pay 100$ for the entrance to the National Reserve. I only hope the money does go for the right cause...
2 more photos
There is only one realistic way to get to the Galapagos Islands and that is to fly. Only two airlines are allowed to ply this route so again your choices are limited right off the bat. They seem to be in cahoots with regard to prices. That said, many people seem to prefer AeroGal over TAME. We chose the latter as our guidebook was evidently dated by saying AeroGal did not fly from Cuenca to Guayaquil which is where we got our flight to the Galapagos from. This led to our having to sit around in the airport while AeroGal's passengers sped off to the islands an hour or so before us. Warnings about overbooked flights are infamous so I re-confirmed the flights in every city I went including Puerto Ayora just a day before our flight back to Quito only to have one of the biggest flight fiascoes in my long travel history.
We arrived at the airport a good two hours before our “scheduled” flight only to be told that that flight only runs during the “season” and that we missed the check in for the earlier flight. Hmm, I wondered why they not only sold me this ticket not two weeks earlier but also reconfirmed the flight just the day before. The fact that the plane was not on the runway only added fuel to my growing fire. I demanded to be put on the flight but was told that we could fly the next day at no extra charge. I lied and told them our flight to Miami was the next day and they said it was not possible. I asked to be put on AeroGal's flight that was just getting ready to board but they said it was not within their abilities. I insisted, they said to buy a ticket from them and get a refund for my TAME flight in Quito. My voice grew louder and angrier. They asked me to step into the office. We went over everything again, them insisting I was in the wrong with me insisting their booking agent in not only Cuenca but also Puerto Ayora had either lied to me or was totally incompetent. They made calls, my wife acted like she was about to faint. They allowed us back outside when they thought they had me calmed down but once back in the public eye my fury increased ten fold. I yelled, I threatened, I cursed like an angry sailor. They tried to get me back in the office and I pranced around like a rooster with my head cut off and screaming bloody murder. I admit it. I made a bloody fool of myself but rather than let every gringo in the AeroGal line watch me any longer, they quickly bought me a ticket on their flight with the refunded money they now magically could offer. About this time another couple comes walking up for the flight they were also scheduled for. Luckily for them, I had already showed them how to run an airline and they were offered the same deal I had painstakingly fought for. Lesson one, confirm the flight, confirm the flight, confirm the flight. Lesson two, don't be afraid to make a jack ass of yourself when you know you are right.
Ok, the particulars: Flights from Cuenca to Guayaquil to Santa Cruz to Quito on TAME was $435 per person. It was shoulder season, certainly not high season but not off season either. Flights from Quito are more money as they go via Guayaquil and run 3 ½ hours. From Cuenca to Guayaquil wasn't even an hour. Though the flight was pricey, it saved us a lot of time either backtracking to Quito or a very long bus to Guayaquil. If one is going to do San Cristóbol it would be best to fly either into there or from there on the way back to save backtracking. Unfortunately, San Cristóbol's airport was closed while we were in the Galapagos which pretty much eliminated our going there due to lack of time. Evidently the airport is closed there often and shows how travel around the Galapagos is not only restricted but also honed into what the travel agencies want-everyone going to the same places and doing the same things. Same, same, easy, easy. So, make sure to inquire about San Cristóbol's airport even if you aren't going there!
Once you arrive in Baltra, the small northern island off Santa Cruz where the airport is located you'll need to hop on one of the free buses that takes you to the small ferries that shuttles people across to Santa Cruz. It's all pretty small scale and impossible to get lost. I guess you could get on the wrong bus but they are all going the same way and if they ask for money that's about the only way to tell the difference between the buses. Once you get to the small ferries you just hop on and wait for someone to come around and collect the money (80 cents). On the other side, there'll be buses waiting that will take you to Puerto Ayora for $1.80. It's all really straight forward and this is one herd you pretty much can't avoid unless you want to take a taxi if you want to pay considerably more. The ride across the island is a bit disappointing though you do see a big change in vegetation as you go. The one advantage of the taxi is you could stop and see the twin craters of Los Gemelos though my guess is your cabbie will want more money to do so.
Getting from island to island is what makes the Galapagos not only expensive but a challenge. Inter-island flights are very expensive for the small distances covered but there are reasonably priced small boats that make the three hour journeys to both Isabella and San Cristóbol on a daily basis for $30. If the seas are calm it can be a pleasant ride especially if there are few dolphins tagging along. We had a very nice trip to Isabella but the trip back was pretty rough. Some might say it was exciting. That it was for about a half hour. After that it was just pretty rough and I think everyone on the boat was happy when the excitement was over and we finally arrived back in Santa Cruz! We unfortunately did not get to go to San Cristóbol due to time restrictions.
Some island cannot be reached without either doing a tour or hiring not only a boat but also a private guide as there are park restrictions on landing on the islands. This is probably a good restriction as one can imagine what would happen if everyone could just run around stopping on islands whenever it hit their fancy. Since doing this independently would be quite expensive most either do cruises or opt for much less expensive day trips. While it is true that many of the day trips are quite long and much of your day is spent in transit, there is lots to see while out on the water and I found the time spent on most of the islands was enough. One advantage of a day trip is you have a new group every time out. With a cruise you are stuck with the same people which can be very good if you like the group and not so great if you don't. We found the people on the day trips were quite a mixed bag, from backpackers to Ecuadorians finally realizing their dream Galapagos vacations. The trips were all under $100 and always included a good lunch and one time we even got breakfast as it was a particularly long trip. I'll provide more detail when I describe an individual island.
Puerto Villamil, Isabela Galapagos Islands, , Ecuador
Good for: Solo
Barrio Punta Estrada S/N, Puerto Ayora, 00000, Ecuador
Good for: Business
Isla Isabela, , Puerto Villamil, Galapagos
Good for: Business