Greetings from Guayaquil, birthplace of Mike Judge and Gerardo. I know Rico Suave is still one of your favorite early 90´s songs. I just spent a week in the Galapagos and I highly recommend you go immediately. Seriously, it is that awesome and you will have it to yourself. If the Galapagos Islands were a mutual fund, Morningstar would give them five stars. I am sure it is great with huge crowds, but being able to sit next to sea lions and iguanas with no humans in site is too special to miss.
I had heard the Galapagos Islands were nice, but expensive. While I am sure you can find a small cruise ship with a published naturalist for $500+ per night, let me assure you that can have an awesome time on a budget. Ecuador uses the US dollar for its currency and it is one of the cheapest countries I have ever visited. Most of my meals were between $5 and $20. While I am not an expert on traveling in Ecuador; here is my account of what was one of the best five trips of my life.
Getting Into Ecuador (updated 6/6/21)
To travel to Ecuador, you must show a negative PCR test within 3 days and also show a negative PCR Covid test to get to the Islands no older than 4 days. If you live in the DFW area, I have had two good experiences with Realtime Labs in Carrollton, TX. You drive in and they charge $125 for next day results and $250 for same day results. Ecuador will also allow you to show a vaccine certificate to get into the country. Most flights from the U.S. currently fly from Houston and Miami. In continental Ecuador, you must wear a mask everywhere outside and in the Galapagos, you don´t have to. Supposedly 100% of the residents in the Galapagos are vaccinated and most everything you do is outside with the wind blowing.
I have been to almost every U.S state and 31 countries and I can not recommend the Galapagos enough. To get to Ecuador, you will first have to fly into Quito, the mountainous Capital, or Guayaquil, the biggest city on the Pacific coast. My recommendation would be to fly into Quito and spend a day or two there and then go straight to the Galapagos so you don´t have to get a second Covid test while in Ecuador to also go the Islands. 95% of you reading this would not like Guayaquil. It is a run-down and dirty city of 3 million with very little nice architecture and not much to do. I really liked Quito and its Colonial Architecture. It felt safer than Dallas and it helps that most Ecuatorial men are only 5´ 3.¨
When I flew to Ecuador, I knew next to nothing. I had the impression that all the animals would be tucked on a remote island where you had to take a 2 hour boat ride to see them. I was so wrong!
From what I can tell, all flights go from Quito with a quick stop in Guayaquil where you don´t have to exit the airplane. When you land in the Galapagos, you have to pay $100 U.S. for a tourist pass and $20 for a Régimen Especial de Galapagos in cash. You should also ask your hotel to email you a Salvoconducto, a form that shows you have a place to stay (no one asked to see mine). I am sure I missed a lot, like the penguins, but all I can share was my incredible experience.
Some Of What I Did
I flew into the Island of San Cristóbal and walked only ten minutes to the small town of Puerto Baquerizo Moreno. The town is only a ten minute walk from the airport and I was blown away with how many animals live right in the middle of town. San Cristóbal has more Sea Lions than humans! Sea lions have so much character and they are a blast to watch. The pups were nursing and can´t figure out which one is their mother, they walk right over each other, and they are constantly making funny vomit noises!
These fools were fighting for over five minutes two feet from me.
This guy climbed these stairs to sleep in the light house.
Sea lions offer endless entertainment. From the docks and beach in the town, you can see tons of sea lions, turtles swimming, blue footed boobies, and pelicans. While Puerto Baquerizo Moreno is small, I think it is worth spending two days there to see the wildlife that is so close. Sea lions are right up there with dogs as the most fun animals.
You also need to go to San Cristóbal to see Playa Punta Carola. It is a top 10 beach in the world and is only a 20 minute walk from town. The time I spent there watching the sea lions, turtles, and marine iguanas was magical. I first got shots of them swimming from the beach.
I then decided to follow them underwater and I am so grateful that I was able to watch them eat algae off the rocks. Forgive me for the video, the surf was rough. I have the bruises and cuts to prove it!
I stayed in a nice hotel with a beach view and breakfast for only $35 per night in San Cristóbal. My favorite restaurant was Wok by the Sea and I also liked Patio de Comidas on Playa Mann. It is was teeming with locals and a nice sized lunch was only $5.
Marine iguanas are lit. Where else can you even see these amazing reptiles?
After my stay on Isla San Cristóbal, I took a $30 ferry to the city of Puerto Ayora on Isla Santa Cruz. This is the largest city in the Galapagos and there are more tours that leave from there. There are a more and better tours and scuba expeditions from Santa Cruz than Isla San Cristóbal. I also paid only $35 per night for a nice hotel in Puerto Ayora. I really liked the craft beer and atmosphere at the Santa Cruz Brewery, but the food wasn´t that good. In four dives from Puerto Ayora, I saw more turtles and sharks than all of my previous 45 dives combined. Here is the most ridiculous video I took.
Puerto Aroyo has a lot more going on and has more night life. If you only stay on one island, I suggest you stay here. I saw a huge shark from the pier and the baby marine iguanas had just been hatched. I also highly recommend that you walk to the beautiful Galapagos Beach at Tortuga Bay and take a cab inland to see the famous tortoises here. It was $30 round-trip in a cab and $10 to see the giant tortoises.
After falling completely in love with the Galapagos, I did my last day of diving and luckily we came across a pod of over 100 dolphins.
The dive master asked me if I wanted to snorkel with them. I jumped out of the boat and saw three swim right by and then a Galapagos shark came by to see what all of my splashing was about. I got back into the boat and we came across the dolphins again. I jumped back out into deep blue sea by myself and missed the dolphins again, but another shark came pretty close to me. I am not scared of sharks while scuba diving, but when you are on the surface with only fins, they can be really scary. Here is the video of the second shark. I think they follow the dolphin pod looking for scraps. Fortunately I wasn´t on the menu that day.
I hope this gives you a glimpse of how awesome the Galapagos Islands are. I had one of the best trips of my life. If you are into animals and outdoor vacations, I can only compare it to Alberta, Iceland, and Tanzania. It was such a special place and the consensus was that it is only at 10% of capacity right now. If the Galapagos is on your bucket list, I highly recommend that you go as soon as possible. It was truly incredible to see all these amazing animals with very few tourists around.