🐢 The PERFECT 7 Day Galapagos Itinerary Your First Visit (2024)

7 Day Galapagos Itinerary blog cover graphic.  Text overlaying an underwater image of a sea lion swimming towards the camera in Galapagos.

This guide presents a carefully considered 7-day Galapagos itinerary precisely organized for maximizing time and experience.

This itinerary is primarily intended for those of you visiting the Galapagos islands for the first time on a self-guided vacation, as we did for 2 weeks in April 2023.

However, you will also find advice and recommendations should you decide to book a pre-arranged 7-day tour or cruise instead.

Below is an organized daily schedule that has been designed to be as time and cost efficient as possible while ensuring you get to see all of the most iconic sights and wildlife the Galapagos islands have to offer.

Be sure not to skim ahead too quickly; there are some essential things to know about the Galapagos islands first that will help to avoid confusion further along!

Disclosure: In order to keep providing you with free content, this post likely contains affiliate links. If you make a booking or purchase through one of these links we earn a small commission at no extra cost to you. So a HUGE thank you to you if you click one of these links 🙂

🏖 7 Day Galapagos Itinerary Overview

HighlightsOvernight
Day 1• Arrive on San Cristobal island.
• Swim with sea lions.
• Sunset at Playa Mann.
San Cristobal
Day 2• Hike Cerro Tijeretas & Snorkel Darwin’s Cove
• Optional: Hike to Playa Baquerizo Moreno.
• Sunset at Playa Punta Carola.
San Cristobal
Day 3• Explore San Cristobal on a 360° Tour.San Cristobal
Day 4• Highland Tour – or – Playa La Lobería.
• Ferry to Santa Cruz.
Santa Cruz
Day 5• Snorkel and swim at Tortuga Bay.
• See baby tortoises at Charles Darwin Research Station.
• Sunset at Playa Ratonera.
Santa Cruz
Day 6• Day trip to your choice of uninhabited islands.
(Isla Bartolome is our top choice!)
Santa Cruz
Day 7• Meet Galapagos tortoises at El Chato.
• Short hike to Laguna del Junco.
• Depart from Santa Cruz.

⚠️ Things to know before you go

There are a few things you need to be aware of before you dive into planning your 7-day Galapagos itinerary.

  • Only 4 of the approximately 20 islands within the Galapagos archipelago are inhabited: Santa Cruz, San Cristobal, Isabela, and Floreana.
  • Only San Cristobal and Santa Cruz have airports that service mainland Ecuador.
  • Each inhabited island has one town where you will find accommodation & services.
  • Bring cash! Credit/debit cards are rarely accepted and ATMs are unreliable.
  • Be cautious booking flights from Ecuador to Galapagos as there are “resident-only” fares that are not indicated!
  • You will need to buy your INGALA tourist card at the airport prior to departing for Galapagos and have $100 cash upon arrival for entry.
  • The Galapagos Islands are in a different time zone to mainland Ecuador. The islands are one hour behind Ecuador.

✈️ DISCOVER MORE:
HOW TO TRAVEL TO GALAPAGOS IN 10 EASY STEPS

🙂 Our Experience Visiting Galapagos in 2023

Three people crouched behind a pair of blue footed boobies at Los Tuneles on Isabela Island Galapagos

In April 2023, we (Adam, Sophie & Adam’s 70-year-old mom) spent three weeks in Ecuador, two of which were on the Galapagos Islands.

The highlight of our visit was a guided hybrid tour of mainland Ecuador and the Galapagos Islands with Adventure Journeys.

If you’re interested in a trip that combines culture, nature, and even a touch of luxury, we highly recommend their upcoming Thanksgiving Special: Discover the Galapagos Islands and Ecuador Cruise.

Over 7 days, you’ll discover the best that the Galapagos and Ecuador have to offer with expert guides and all of the planning done for you. This is very similar to the tour we took and absolutely loved, but includes a luxury cruise as well!

🗺️ Map of the Galapagos Islands

Color coded map of the Galapagos Islands showing inhabited islands and those accessible by day trip or cruise, plus ferry routes.

The map of the Galapagos Islands above shows the archipelago in its entirety.

It has been color-coded to indicate the islands that are inhabited and can be stayed on, those accessible by day tour, and those that are accessible via cruise ship only.

In addition, ferry services and airports are indicated by the appropriate symbols.

🐢 DISCOVER MORE:
BEST ISLANDS IN THE GALAPAGOS TO VISIT


7 Day Galapagos Itinerary Map

An interactive Google map showing all the best places to visit with 7 days in the Galapagos, color coded by day.

The interactive map of Galapagos above shows all of the points of interest recommended in this 7-day itinerary, color-coded by day.

Click on the image above or here to open the map in a new tab.

🤿 The Perfect 7 Day Itinerary for Galapagos

Young woman sat next to a marine iguana on Punta Carola Beach San Cristobal.

With 7 days in the Galapagos islands, we recommend exploring two of the main islands: San Cristobal and Santa Cruz.

Each of these islands has an airport to connect you to mainland Ecuador. This will allow you to fly into one and out from the other, with a short ferry ride between the two islands.

While we’ve set up this 7 day Galapagos itinerary to fly into San Cristobal and out of Santa Cruz, it can easily be reversed if you have a compelling reason to do so.

Additionally, those of you who prefer a slower pace of travel can simply decide which island looks more appealing and amend this itinerary to include just one of them.

Finally, for those who prefer a faster-paced itinerary and want to do more island-hopping, we have included some alternative itineraries that add Isabela island at the end of this guide.

✈️ Day 1: Arrive on San Cristobal Island

Spectacular sunset light shines onto the welcome sign for San Cristobal in the town of Puerto Baquerizo Moreno on Day 1 of 7 days in Galapagos.

We recommend you take it easy on Day 1 as you will likely be tired from your flight to the Galapagos.

Take time to stroll through the town and get your bearings, book all necessary tours and ferries, then hang out with some sea lions on the beach as you watch the sunset!

Day 1 Breakdown

  • Fly into San Cristobal
  • Explore Puerto Baquerizo Moreno (main town on the island)
  • Book the 360º Tour & Santa Cruz ferry (if not arranged prior)
  • Walk along the many beaches nearby
  • Enjoy sunset at Playa Mann

Fly into San Cristobal

An aeriral view of Kicker Rock and San Cristobal island captured from an airplane window while flying into the Galapagos islands for a one week visit.

To make the most of your time on the islands, we recommend booking the earliest possible flight to San Cristobal!

This will typically get you into San Cristobal at around 10am, allowing plenty of time to explore on your first day.

Upon arrival to San Cristobal, you will need to pay a $100 national park fee per person. Be sure to have this in cash and ready to speed up the process.

Once you’ve paid your entry fee, you will have to wait for your checked luggage. Unlike typical airport baggage claims, all luggage from the flight will first be loaded into the hall and sniffed by police dogs before you’re allowed to collect your bags.

From the airport, it is only a 5-minute drive to the only major town on the island of Puerto Baquerizo Moreno. If you prefer to walk and packed light, the town is only a 10-15 minute stroll from the airport!

You’ll find white pickup trucks waiting outside the airport; these are the local taxis. A trip into town should cost around $3 to $4.

⭐️ Pro tip: Be sure to arrive a little earlier at the airport for your flight to get your INGALA Transit Control Card ($20 cash only) and to have your bags scanned.


Explore Puerto Baquerizo Moreno

A view of a sea lion swimming in the waters off of the palm tree lined Playa de Oro beach in the town of Puerto Baquerizo Moreno.

After you’ve checked in to your accommodation, it’s time to start exploring!

We recommend beginning with a walk through Puerto Baquerizo Moreno, the main town on San Cristobal island and the capital of the Galapagos province.

Despite being the capital, the town is small and easily discovered on foot. The main street, Malecón Charles Darwin, runs along the waterfront and is where you’ll find plenty of restaurants, shops, tour offices, and hotels.

Expect food prices to vary greatly, with local lunches available for $5 including soup, a main, and juice, while American and European fare can set you back upwards of $15-$25.

As you may expect, restaurants along the waterfront are pricier than those a block or two back.

🦭 READ MORE:
ULTIMATE GUIDE TO SAN CRISTOBAL ISLAND


Book Your 360º Tour & Santa Cruz Ferry

A view of the rugged coastline of San Cristobal island taken from a boat on the 360 Tour.

If you have not done so in advance, you will definitely want to book your seats for the 360º Tour and, most importantly, for the ferry to Santa Cruz.

Both the tour and the ferry fill up early and often. While you could choose to skip the tour if necessary, you absolutely want to have a seat on the ferry secured as there are only two that go out each day.

We absolutely recommend you book your ferry seats for 3pm as soon as your dates are fixed; it is only $5 more to book online than it is in person. If ready, you can do so here.

The 360º Tour and reservations will be discussed in-depth in the Day 3 section.


Hit the Beach(es)

A young woman in a swimsuit relaxes on the sand of Playa de Los Marinos beach surrounded by sea lions.

San Cristobal has a handful of sandy beaches that are easily accessible from Puerto Baquerizo Moreno, all of which are typically teeming with sea lions!

We recommend starting from Playa de Los Marinos (the southernmost beach near town) and working your way north. This will allow you to end Day 1 with a magical sunset at Playa Mann.

Starting at Playa de los Marinos, you will likely find 10s to 100s of sea lions lounging on the beach and on docked boats.

From here you can follow Malecón Charles Darwin north past the main dock to Playa de Oro. This is a great spot to relax on the beach or snorkel with sea lions.

⭐️ Pro tip: National Park rules specify a minimum distance of 2m (6.5ft) from wildlife. As the animals don’t know the rules, they may head straight toward you if you’re in their way! Always give them space to pass and absolutely never touch wildlife.

🏖️ MORE INSPIRATION:
TOP 25 BEST BEACHES IN GALAPAGOS


Sunset at Playa Mann

A stunning shade of orange fills the sky in this sunset photo from Playa Mann to end Day 1 of our 7 day Galapagos itinerary.

End your first day in the Galapagos at Playa Mann; a popular beach for both tourists and sea lions!

Playa Mann is the perfect place to watch the sunset from the sand. Grab a beer and dinner at one of the beachside huts and enjoy playful sea lions frolicking in the waters as the light changes.

There are also local restaurants serving $6 lunches and dinners, fruit and beer vendors, and restrooms all available.

Alternatively, grab your mask and snorkel and join the sea lions in the water for a magical experience swimming with these silly creatures as golden light spills onto the beach.

🏝️ FIND OUT MORE:
COMPLETE GUIDE TO PLAYA MANN

🦅 Day 2: Cerro Tijeretas, Darwin’s Cove, Beaches

Day 2 of your 7 day Galapagos itinerary will be spent on a self-guided adventure through the Bahia Baquerizo Moreno region just outside of town.

This region has some of the best things to do on San Cristobal that don’t require a guide, boat, or tour. Just pack some water, snacks, sunscreen, and your snorkel gear and you’ll have everything you need!

Day 2 Breakdown

  • Hike Mirador Cerro Tijeretas (Frigate Bird Hill)
  • Optional: Hike to Playa Baquerizo Moreno
  • Snorkel at Darwin’s Cove
  • Visit Playa Punta Carola beach

Hike to Mirador Cerro Tijeretas (frigate Bird Hill)

A view of Darwins Cove and Frigate Bird Hill taken from Mirador Cerro Tijeretas on a hike through Bahia Baquerizo Moreno.

After breakfast, begin the day with a hike to Mirador Cerro Tijeretas (which translates to Frigate Bird Hill viewpoint).

This beautiful vista provides sweeping views back over Puerto Baquerizo Moreno, as well as out towards Kicker Rock.

As the name suggests, it is also a great place to spot frigate birds as they nest in the nearby cliffside and soar overhead.

The hike starts from the Interpretation Center near Playa Mann. The trail is completely pathed, winding through a lava rock and cactus-filled landscape. However, there is little to no shade so bring plenty of water and sun protection.

The total hike time is only about 15-20 minutes. However, you’ll want to factor some time in to stop at the Interpretation Center and snap some photos of all the views!


Optional: Hike to Playa Baquerizo

A view of the white sand beach of Playa Baquerio on a sunny day.

For the more energetic and physically able, you can continue your hike from Cerro Tijeretas to Playa Baquerizo Moreno.

From the viewpoint, this secluded beach requires a 45-minute to 1-hour hike each way. While it is only 1 mile (1.8km) in length, much of the hike is exposed with uneven terrain and varying inclines.

Having seen the distance and being reasonably fit, we couldn’t understand how such a “short” hike could take so long… but we timed it, and it did!

Of course, if you don’t stop to appreciate the views along the way, you could probably manage it in half an hour, but it is not an easy walk.

We only recommend this for those who have good physical mobility and are well prepared as you will be isolated without access to any resources.

Underwater photo of a green sea turtle off the shores of Playa Baquerizo swimming towards the camera while a snorkeler photographs them from behind.

If you’re a confident swimmer, make sure to also take a mask and snorkel as it is one of the best snorkel spots in the Galapagos. We spent over an hour swimming alongside 5 sea turtles!

Ensure you have good footwear and sun protection (long sleeves, a good sunhat, and an umbrella were much appreciated on our hike!). Bring plenty of water, snacks, sunscreen, and a mini-first aid kit, just in case.

For those that do visit, you will be rewarded with a slice of paradise that you will likely only have to share with marine iguanas and perhaps a sea lion or turtle!


Snorkel at Darwin’s Cove

Top-down view of the crystal clears waters at Darwin's Cove, one of the most popular snorkel spots on a self-guided itinerary.

After viewing Darwin Bay from above, it’s time to explore its underwater world.

From Mirador Cerro Tijeretas, you will head back the way you came but keep right at the first fork to get to Darwin’s Cove.

Darwin’s Cove has the clearest and calmest water on San Cristobal for snorkeling. In its impossibly turquoise waters, you may encounter some of the most iconic Galapagos residents including sea lions, turtles, sharks, and an array of tropical colorful fish.

This is one of the best snorkeling spots on any of the Galapagos islands that can be discovered without a guide or boat tour!


Playa Punta Carola (Point Carola Beach)

A marine iguana takes a seat next to a young girl as both enjoy the sunshine from the sands of Punta Carola beach.

After you have finished snorkeling and are leaving Darwin’s Cove, take the first sharp right you encounter to walk over the headland for about 10-15 minutes to Punta Carola Beach.

Along the way, you’ll pass by a statue of Charles Darwin and a World War II gun stationed at a lookout.

Playa Punta Carola offers a beautiful sandy beach for relaxing in the sun, spotting wildlife, and snorkeling.

It is worth noting that shade here is limited (and often already occupied by iguanas!) and there are no kiosks or supplies, so be sure you have ample water and snacks with you.


Sunset at Playa Punta Carola

A sea lion pups takes a large stretch in this gorgeous sunset photo from the beach at Playa Punta Carola to end Day 2 of a 7 day Galapagos itinerary.

Day 2 of your 7-day Galapagos itinerary ends with a magical sunset from our favorite place to watch it on San Cristobal in Playa Punta Carola.

Your hike around Bahia Baquerizo Moreno will end here anyway, so if you have sufficient supplies you can choose to stay through sunset. Otherwise, Playa Mann is only 10 minutes away by foot and has all the services you may require.

Should you decide to go back to Playa Mann, you could simply take in another sunset from there as recommended to end Day 1 and save a bit of walking.

Playa Mann will be heaving with tourists, but there are restaurants, vendors, and restrooms available, all of which may be absolutely essential at this point in the day.

Playa Punta Carola will be far more quiet and will provide a new experience, but you will be on your own regarding amenities.

🦎 DISCOVER MORE:
BEST THINGS TO DO IN GALAPAGOS

🦈 Day 3: 360° Tour

Of all the day tours in the Galapagos that we did, the San Cristobal 360° Tour was our favorite!

As the name suggests, the tour takes you all the way around the entire island of San Cristobal. Along the way, guests will stop at multiple picturesque beaches, as well as at Kicker Rock which is renowned for its unbeatable snorkeling.

The 360° tour typically starts between 7:00-7:30am and returns around 4:00-5:00pm. Snacks, lunch, towels, and all snorkeling equipment are included.

The stops on the 360º Tour will include:

  • Kicker Rock (snorkeling)
  • Cerro Brujo (photo opportunity)
  • Bahía Sardina (Sardina Bay) (snorkeling)
  • Punta Pitt (photo opportunity)
  • Rosa Blanca (snorkeling)

Kicker Rock (known as León Dormido in Spanish) is known for being one of the best places to spot Galapagos hammerhead sharks.

Unfortunately, we weren’t lucky enough to see hammerheads on our visit, but we did get to see turtles and sea lions in some of the clearest water we would swim in.


Arranging Your 360° Tour

A view of deep aqua water taken at Rosa Blanca from the front of a boat that took us on a 360 tour of San Cristobal island.

This is one of the most popular tours on the island and can often sell out!

With just 7 days in the Galapagos, we would typically recommend booking your tour online in advance, particularly if you’re visiting during peak season.

However, this isn’t quite so simple in the Galapagos islands. Booking a tour online will cost you around $220-$260, compared to just $170-$180 at a local tour office on the island.

Additionally, most tour companies don’t have websites, and even the ones that do will not typically offer online bookings. Instead, you’ll be directed to a local WhatsApp number to arrange your tour or be redirected to book through Viator.

You will, therefore, need to decide on the best option for you:

  1. Arrange the tour once on the island for a cheaper rate, but risk the tour being sold out.
  2. Book online through Viator for an easy and guaranteed tour at a higher price.
  3. Reach out to tour operators directly, but navigate complicated systems and pay a slightly higher price.

🧐 Our personal experience
We traveled with a group of 3 in April 2023. We were unable to find a next-day tour with space for all 3 of us (though some operators had availability for 1-2 people).

After visiting seven or eight tour offices, we found a tour with space for 3 people for the day after tomorrow.

⛵️ FIND MORE:
29 BEST GALAPAGOS DAY TOURS

🐢 Day 4: Highlands Tour or Playa La Lobería & Ferry to Santa Cruz

We recommend you get an early start on Day 4 to allow you to make the most of your last morning in San Cristobal before catching the 3pm ferry to Santa Cruz.

For your final morning on the island, we suggest taking a Highlands Tour for most people. If that does not sound appealing, consider enjoying some beach time at Playa La Lobería.

You will have time for either destination before catching the ferry at 3pm, but not both.

Day 4 Breakdown

  • Option 1: Highland Tour
  • Option 2: Playa La Lobería
  • 3pm Ferry to Santa Cruz
  • Check-in and explore Puerto Ayora

Option 1: Highlands Tour

A San Cristobal Highlands Tour will take you to three popular sites on the island:

  • Laguna El Junco: A volcanic crater lake with the largest freshwater reserve in the archipelago.
  • Galapaguera de Cerro Colorado: A Galapagos tortoise reserve and hatchery.
  • Playa Puerto Chino: A pristine white sand beach.

The highlands tour is a great way to see a different part of San Cristobal and provides an opportunity to see giant Galapagos tortoises up close.

Our visit to the Galapaguera de Cerro Colorado was one of the highlights of our time in San Cristobal.

With that said, we found our visit to El Chato Ranch on Santa Cruz even more enjoyable and have included it within this 7 day Galapagos itinerary as well. At El Chato, the adult tortoises are wild and free to come and go.

It is worth noting that visiting both sanctuaries will allow you to observe the completely different look of each sub-species. For example, the tortoises of San Cristobal Island are saddlebacks, whereas those on Santa Cruz Island are dome-shaped.

It is fascinating to see and reflect on how uniquely each species has evolved to thrive on each individual island in the Galapagos.

Additionally, the San Cristobal Highlands Tour includes Laguna El Junco which was far more impressive than we’d anticipated, offering spectacular views while flocks of frigate birds swoop overhead. Plus, a stop at Puerto Chino Beach.

🐢 READ MORE:
GALAPAGUERA DE CERRO COLORADO ULTIMATE GUIDE


Planning a Highlands Tour
View of Cerro Brujo from Laguna El Junco during a Highlands Tour on San Cristobal, Galapagos.

While it is possible to book a full-day tour to the San Cristobal Highlands with an English-speaking guide, it is not necessary!

The easiest and most popular way to visit the Galapaguera de Cerro Colorado is by asking a local taxi driver to take you on a San Cristobal Highlands tour. This can be arranged directly with any taxi driver, or you can ask someone at your accommodation to arrange it for you.

The half-day taxi tour will pick you up from your hotel and take you to three stops: Laguna El Junco, Galapaguera de Cerro Colorado, and Puerto Chino Beach.

This type of half-day tour will typically last 4-5 hours and cost $60-$80.

However, don’t be misled by the word “tour”. You will not have, nor need, a naturalist guide for this trip. Rather, you will have a taxi driver take you around the well-established highland tour route and wait for you at each stop.

Ensure you agree on the amount of time and price with your driver prior to your trip.

Our tour was 4 hours (9am-1pm) and cost $60 for four of us in April 2023.

⭐️ Pro Tip: If you’re traveling to the Galapagos on a budget, try to find others to join you on this tour. Most taxis will take up to four people, reducing the per-person cost.


Option 2: Playa La Lobería

Three sea lions swim underwater at the popular beach of Playa Loberia on San Cristobal island in the Galapagos.

If you prefer more beach time, Playa La Lobería is a great option.

Just a 5-10 minute taxi (~$3) from town, a visit here makes for an easy morning excursion.

The more active can even walk here if preferred. It is a 1.9-mile (3km) walk each way from the San Cristobal main pier and takes approximately 35-40 minutes.

This beach is named for the many sea lions (lobos marinos in Spanish) that once frequented this isolated stretch of coast. It is still a great place to spot these creatures and to snorkel with them, though most have moved closer to town.

But it’s not just the sea lions that enjoy this beach! You’ll also likely encounter marine iguanas, lava lizards, yellow warblers, and frigates here.

Playa La Lobería is also popular with surfers, known as one of the best spots for surfing in the Galapagos.

There are no facilities at this beach, so ensure you pack plenty of water and food for your visit, as well as sun protection and snorkel gear.

🤿 FIND MORE:
BEST SNORKELING SPOTS IN GALAPAGOS


3pm Ferry to Santa Cruz

A view looking back at Santa Cruz island from a ferry headed out.

As previously mentioned, you will want to have booked your ferry ticket well in advance. There are only two ferries per day and they fill up quickly.

If you have not done so already, you can book your ferry tickets here (3pm recommended).

You will want to arrive at the main pier by 2:30pm to catch the ferry. The ferry to Santa Cruz takes around 2-2.5 hours.

With this in mind, ensure you have time time to grab some lunch before boarding the ferry or bring something with you. After a busy morning, you’ll have time to rest on the ride over.

You will take a small taxi boat from the pier to the ferry which will cost $1 per person, so keep some cash to hand.

Once on the ferry, keep a look out to your left as you will pass by the uninhabited Santa Fe island.

⭐️ Pro tip: The ferry is more of a large speedboat and can be very bumpy, as well as warm and stuffy if you’re sat inside. If you’re prone to motion sickness, you may wish to take a motion sickness tablet or use acupressure bands.


Check-In and Explore Puerto Ayora

Upon arrival to Santa Cruz, you will need to take another water taxi from the ferry to the pier which will cost another $1 per person. Then, you will have to pay yet another $1 entry fee on the pier to actually enter Puerto Ayora. As always, keep some cash handy.

From Gus Angermeyer Pier (the main pier at Puerto Ayora), you can either walk or take a taxi to your hotel. A taxi shouldn’t cost more than $2-$3 and there will be plenty waiting nearby.

You’ll immediately notice a difference in the vibe and atmosphere of Santa Cruz compared to San Cristobal. The main town of Puerto Ayora has almost double the population of Puerto Baquerizo Moreno in San Cristobal.

In town, you’ll find an array of amenities catering to tourists from boutique shops, art galleries, and jewelers, to tour operators, dive shops, restaurants, and bars.

Take some time to wander around the town, grab some dinner, and enjoy the more energetic atmosphere of this new island.

In the evening, be sure to take a stroll along the main pier to spot small black-tip reef sharks, as well as occasional turtles and rays swimming in the waters below illuminated by lights from the pier.

🦈 FIND OUT MORE:
ULTIMATE GUIDE TO SANTA CRUZ ISLAND

🏄‍♀️ Day 5: Tortuga Bay & Charles Darwin Research Station

A group of baby Galapagos tortoises scurry about at Charles Darwin Research Station on Santa Cruz.

Day 5 of your 7 day Galapagos itinerary will be fairly relaxed, but with a couple of activities to help you make the most of your time on Santa Cruz.

Again, we recommend you get a reasonably early start as you will begin with a walk to Tortuga Bay which is far more enjoyable earlier in the day when the weather is cooler.

If you prefer to sleep in a bit and don’t mind a warmer walk, you will have more flexibility of time on this day than most and can get a later start. You can also skip the walk altogether by taking a taxi boat.

  • Walk to Tortuga Bay
  • See baby tortoises at Charles Darwin Research Station
  • Sunset at Playa Ratonera or Playa de La Estacion

Tortuga Bay

Depending on where your hotel is located, you may want to take a taxi to the start of the trail for Tortuga Bay. This should cost $1.50 and can save you up to half an hour of walking!

From the trailhead, the walk to Tortuga Bay is around 30-40 minutes over a paved path. It is an easy walk with nothing more than a few undulations along the way. However, it is mostly exposed so ensure you have ample water and sun protection.

For those who prefer not to walk, you can take a water taxi from the main pier in Puerto Ayora for $10 per person each way.

Tortuga Bay is comprised of two beaches; Playa Brava and Playa Mansa.

Playa Brava is the beach closest to the bay’s entrance and greets you with a sweeping expanse of white sand with turquoise waters lapping at its shores.

However, while spectacular to look at, this beach has strong currents and often large waves. Swimming is not permitted at Playa Brava.

You will need to keep walking along the beach to reach Playa Mansa where you can swim and snorkel, often in the company of sea turtles.

You can also rent kayaks from Playa Mansa to explore the sheltered bay and mangroves.

Additionally, there is a small cove sheltered by lava rock and mangroves at the end of Playa Brava (before you reach Playa Mansa) that is a great place to snorkel with baby sharks and marine iguanas (see photos above).

There are no facilities available so bring everything you need.


Visit Charles Darwin Research Station

In the afternoon, you will have the opportunity to witness tortoise conservation in action at the Charles Darwin Research Station.

While you can visit the museum and exhibitions for free, it is well worth paying the $10 entry fee to visit the breeding center (centro de crianza in Spanish) and see the baby tortoises. Here you can see the various Galapagos tortoise subspecies and morphotypes.

The breeding program has been highly successful and over 7,000 tortoises have been released into the wild. You can see baby tortoises up to 7 years old; the age at which they’re typically released.

There are also a few mature adults that are used in the breeding program.

You will find various educational exhibits about Galapagos conservation, as well as the natural history of the islands and their fauna and flora during a visit.

⭐️ Pro tip: Bring your passport to get a Charles Darwin Research Station stamp!


Sunset at Playa Ratonera or Playa de La Estacion

A sunset photo of Playa Ratonera showing one of the best beaches on Galapagos that you can walk to.
Playa Ratonera during golden hour

There are two small beaches located directly adjacent to the Charles Darwin Research Station where you will be ending your day, both of which make for a lovely place to watch another magical Galapagos sunset.

Playa Ratonera is a bit closer to the station and is arguably prettier, but there is more lava rock along the shoreline making for a slightly less enjoyable experience in the water.

Playa de La Estacion is only a few hundred yards away at most and has more options for shade with a sandier shoreline.

🌅 READ MORE:
COMPLETE GUIDE TO PLAYA DE LA ESTACION

🚤 Day 6: Day Tour to an Uninhabited Island

From Santa Cruz, you can take a number of different day tours to your choice of an uninhabited Galapagos island.

Each island offers unique opportunities for spotting wildlife, which will also vary depending on the time of year.

While we personally recommend Bartolome Island (seen above), the best day tour for you will depend on your interests, budget, and the season you’re visiting.

A school of fish swim in crystal clear water in this underwater photo taken from Pinzon Island in the Galapagos.

For example, North Seymour is one of the best islands for birdwatching, Pinzon provides some of the clearest water for snorkeling (see photo above), and Bartolome features the most spectacular landscape and is the best place to see the endangered Galapagos penguins.

You may want to consider booking your tour in advance if there is one you are specifically interested in doing. However, as with the 360º Tour, this will typically be more expensive than waiting to book it in person on the island.

Whether you book online in advance or locally upon arrival, ensure you know what is included within your specific tour as this can vary!

Even tours that go to the same islands will vary in terms of landings, snorkel stops, and activities.


Popular Day Tours from Santa Cruz

Two Galapagos penguins walk onto land on a day trip to Isla Bartolome from Santa Cruz on a 7 day Galapagos itinerary.

Below are some of the most popular islands to visit on a day tour from Santa Cruz.

  • Bartolome Island features the most iconic viewpoint in the Galapagos islands and a chance to swim with penguins. This is often fully booked as it is one of the most popular tours. We booked ours with GalaTrails and couldn’t have been more impressed with the service.
  • Pinzon Island offers some of the clearest waters for snorkeling and you’ll often encounter sea lions, turtles, rays, sharks, and many tropical fish. During the cold season, you may even get to see Galapagos penguins swimming.
  • North Seymour is the best island for birdwatching. Here, you’ll see many different nesting birds (depending on the season) including frigate birds and blue-footed boobies.
  • Santa Fe has the largest variety of endemic wildlife species of any Galapagos island, including two species of land iguana. It also provides a blend of picturesque landscapes and turquoise waters, which offer some of the best snorkeling in the Galapagos.

⛵️ DISCOVER MORE WITH OUR COMPLETE GUIDES:
• ULTIMATE GUIDE TO BARTOLOME ISLAND DAY TOURS
• ULTIMATE GUIDE TO PINZON ISLAND DAY TOURS

🐢 Day 7: Explore Santa Cruz Highlands & Depart

For your final day, we recommend booking the latest flight out of Santa Cruz (Baltra airport), which is typically around 3:30pm.

Be sure to get an early start to the day so you have enough time in the morning to visit the Santa Cruz Highlands and El Chato Ranch tortoise sanctuary on the way to the airport.

At El Chato, you will come face-to-face with the most iconic Galapagos resident; the giant tortoise!

Day 7 Breakdown

  • Meet giant tortoises and explore lava tunnels in the Santa Cruz highlands.
  • Depart Santa Cruz from Baltra airport.

Meet Giant Tortoises & Explore Lava Tunnels in the Highlands

There is no better way to end an incredible 7 days on the Galapagos islands than by having an encounter with the iconic giant Galapagos tortoises in their natural habitat.

Rather than taking a taxi directly to the airport, we recommend you start very early and arrange for a driver to take you via one of the highlands tortoise reserves.

There are a few tortoise reserves in the highlands of Santa Cruz where you can meet wild Galapagos tortoises and explore lava tunnels, remnants of the island’s volcanic origin.

The best one is El Chato Ranch as it is privately owned and allows wild tortoises to roam freely.

The entrance costs $10 and includes a naturalist guide, rubber boots to avoid fire ant bites, and access to lava tunnels.

It is no longer possible to do a self-guided tour at El Chato, but you can visit without a tour and they will simply provide a naturalist guide upon arrival.

You can decide whether you want to just visit El Chato, or pair it with a visit to the popular Los Gemelos (Twin Craters).

A taxi to the highlands will cost you around $40-$50 and includes waiting time at the ranch and Los Gemelos. Expect to pay a little more than this to include an airport drop-off.

⭐️ Pro tip: Weather in the highlands can be unpredictable so bring a rain jacket along with sunscreen. Also, bring socks to wear with the rubber boots you’ll be given at El Chato!

🐢 READ MORE:
THE COMPLETE GUIDE TO EL CHATO RANCH


Fly Out of Baltra Airport

A view of Itabaca Canal as our plane departs from the Baltra airport to fly back to mainland Ecuador from the Galapagos islands.

After your stop at the tortoise reserve, you will want to continue onward to the airport.

Note that the airport for Santa Cruz is actually on the neighboring island of Baltra!

This means you will need to continue by taxi to the Itabaca Canal, which is approximately a half-hour drive from El Chato Ranch.

From here, you will board a ferry to cross the channel which costs $1-$2 per person, depending on which ferry you are able to catch.

Once across the channel, you will board the airline direct bus to the airport terminal. The bus costs $5 per person and takes around 10 minutes.

⭐️ Pro tip: Keep an eye out for land iguanas at the airport and on your bus ride there. We saw several on the way and hanging around just outside the airport!

🛳 Best 7 Day Galapagos Tours and Cruises

A Galapagos cruise ship sets out to see during a beautiful sunset off of Santa Cruz island.

For those of you that prefer to have the planning taken care of, you will find a variety of land-based tours or cruises with pre-arranged 7-day itineraries for the Galapagos.

Each of these tours and cruises will offer different experiences. They range in terms of the islands you visit and the activities available on each, as well as the type of accommodation and food provided.

While our 7-day Galapagos itinerary includes staying in San Cristobal and Santa Cruz, you’ll find that most of the 7-day tour options visit Santa Cruz and Isabela instead.

For a self-guided tour, we highly recommend San Cristobal over Isabela for a variety of reasons. Besides the fact it was our favorite island, having a local airport available eliminates the need for multiple ferries. Also, there are more places to explore independently on San Cristobal than Isabela.

Conversely, the best places to visit in Isabela require guided tours so if you’re already considering a pre-arranged 7-day tour, including Isabela is a great option.


Top-Rated 7-Day Galapagos Tours

A Galapagos naturalist guide sits down with her tour group on a 7-day Galapagos itinerary through Isabela and Santa Cruz islands.

Inspiring Ecuador

On our visit to the Galapagos islands, we were self-guided for the first week and with an Inspiring Ecuador group tour for the second week.

While we loved our independent time, we must admit that we would highly recommend a group tour with Inspiring Ecuador for inexperienced and non-Spanish-speaking travelers. The islands catered less to tourists than we expected and English was not widely spoken.

If a group tour is sounding like a better option for you, consider Inspiring Ecuador. You can check out their incredible 5-star TripAdvisor reviews here.

Inspiring Ecuador offers a 7-Day Galapagos Island Hopping on a Budget Tour. It includes stays on Isabela and Santa Cruz islands, as well as a day trip to Santa Fe.


Other Tours

Below are some of the highest-rated Galapagos land-based tours available to book through Viator. Keep in mind that there are many more tour companies and options out there, but as with day tours, many websites don’t allow for direct booking.

Instead, you will need to reach out to them via email or WhatsApp to arrange your tours. This will typically be a bit cheaper than booking through Viator and allows you more options, but requires a bit more work and technical savvy.

7-day Galapagos on a Budget Experience: 5/5 ⭐️
This budget-friendly 7-day guided tour stays in tourist-class hotels on Santa Cruz and Isabela islands and includes a day trip to Santa Fe.

7-Day Galapagos Island Hopping: 5/5 ⭐️
On this tour, you will stay on San Cristobal, Santa Cruz, and Isabela, with day tours to explore all of them, as well as a tour to a fourth island, Santa Fe.

7-Day Galapagos Small Group Tour: 5/5 ⭐️
Stay on all four inhabited islands with this 7-day tour to San Cristobal, Floreana, Isabela, and Santa Cruz.


7 Day Galapagos Cruises

A large Galapagos cruise ship leaving Santa Cruz island.

The Galapagos islands are one of the few destinations in the world where taking a cruise is genuinely the best option for seeing as much as possible.

Cruise ships can reach islands that you are unable to get to via day tours and can travel at any time.

Additionally, they are typically all-inclusive, making your 7 days in the Galapagos as stress-free as possible and eliminating time lost with hotels and restaurants!

For cruises or land tours to the Galapagos, we highly recommend Inspiring Ecuador. They offer a variety of cruise options and itineraries for different budgets and travel styles.

Don’t just take our word for it though, you can check out their incredible 5-star TripAdvisor reviews here too!

You can also find a variety of cruises available on Cruise Direct.

🦎 Alternate 7 Day Galapagos Itineraries

Daytime photo of the Welcome to Isabela island sign on Playa Isabela.

While our recommended 7-day itinerary includes staying on just the two islands of Santa Cruz and San Cristobal, we appreciate that some people will wish to add Isabela to theirs.

Adding Isabela to your itinerary will require you to lose almost a whole day to ferry rides, or a half-day for an expensive flight to/from Isabela.

The main Isabela highlight, in our opinion, is the tour to Los Tuneles where you can see many blue-footed boobies up close, as well as snorkel with sea turtles, sharks, and sea horses.

It would also be possible to remove San Cristobal in favor of Isabela. However, on a self-guided tour, we truly believe San Cristobal is a better option as there’s much more self-exploration available.

Personally, San Cristobal is our favorite island and we’d urge you not to miss it!

Below are a couple of 7-day Galapagos itineraries that include visiting Isabela Island for those who are interested.

🏝️ EVERYTHING YOU NEED TO KNOW:
ULTIMATE GUIDE TO ISABELA ISLAND GALAPAGOS


Option 1: 7 Day Galapagos Itinerary including Isabela Island by flight

HighlightsOvernight
Day 1• Arrive on San Cristobal island.
• Swim with sea lions.
San Cristobal
Day 2• Explore San Cristobal with 360° Tour.San Cristobal
Day 3• Morning flight to Isabela.
• Explore Isabela Beach.
• Visit Centro de Crianza, Wall of Tears, Flamingo Lagoon, and/or Concha de Perla.
Isabela
Day 4• Los Tuneles day tour.Isabela
Day 5• Morning ferry to Santa Cruz.
• Charles Darwin Research Station.
Santa Cruz
Day 6• Day trip to your choice of uninhabited islands.
(Isla Bartolome is our top choice!)
Santa Cruz
Day 7• Meet Galapagos tortoises.
• Depart Santa Cruz.

It is possible to fly between islands with flight times of only 45 minutes or so. The cost of inter-island flights start from $140.

Not only is this an expensive option, but you will also have further luggage restrictions which will impact how you have to pack for Galapagos if you plan on flying.

Despite being more expensive up front, flying from San Cristobal to Isabela is still the best option if you wish to see all three islands as the alternative is to take multiple ferries and lose nearly an entire day just commuting between them.

As Isabela does not have an airport that flies to mainland Ecuador, you will have to get to Santa Cruz to end your trip. This is why we specifically recommend the order presented above if you plan on visiting all three islands.

From Isabela island, you should take the ferry to Santa Cruz. It is cheaper and takes about the same amount of time to reach Puerto Ayora as it lands you right in town rather than at the northern island of Baltra.

If you cannot afford the inter-island flight, you will find an alternative for getting to Isabela via multiple ferries in Option 2 below.

Quick Recap
Flight
: Mainland Ecuador –> San Cristobal
Flight: San Cristobal –> Isabela Island
Ferry: Isabela –> Santa Cruz
Flight: Santa Cruz –> Mainland Ecuador

Palm trees line the sandy beach on Isabela island on a blue sky day.
Playa Isabela on a beautiful sunny day.

Option 2: 7 Day Galapagos Itinerary including Isabela Island by Ferry

HighlightsOvernight
Day 1• Arrive on San Cristobal island.
• Swim with sea lions.
San Cristobal
Day 2• Explore San Cristobal with 360° Tour.San Cristobal
Day 3• 7am ferry to Santa Cruz.
• 3pm ferry to Isabela.
Isabela
Day 4• Los Tuneles day tour.Isabela
Day 5• Explore Isabela Beach.
• Visit Centro de Crianza, Wall of Tears, Flamingo Lagoon, and/or Concha de Perla.
• 3pm ferry to Santa Cruz.
Santa Cruz
Day 6• Tortuga Bay.
• Charles Darwin Research Station.
Santa Cruz
Day 7• Meet Galapagos tortoises.
• Depart Santa Cruz.

It is also possible to explore all three main islands by ferry. However, the biggest drawback to this is the amount of time lost for commuting between them.

This means that while you will get to experience Isabela island, you give up a day tour to an uninhabited island.

We would generally only recommend visiting all three islands on a 10-day Galapagos vacation.

🏨 Where to Stay for 7 Days in Galapagos

Swimming in the beautiful pool at Hotel Silberstein, our Galapagos tour accommodation in Santa Cruz.

If you follow this 7 day Galapagos itinerary, you will want to book three nights in San Cristobal and three nights in Santa Cruz.

The main town in San Cristobal is Puerto Baquerizo Moreno and in Santa Cruz it is Puerto Ayora. These towns are where you’ll find all accommodation options for a variety of budgets.

🏠 READ OUR COMPLETE GUIDE
WHERE TO STAY IN THE GALAPAGOS ISLAND ULTIMATE GUIDE


Recommendations for Puerto Baquerizo Moreno in San Cristobal

You will find ample basic hostels to mid-range hotels, which can start as low as $15-$20 per night. However, there are very few options for luxury accommodation and literally no 5-star hotels on San Cristobal.

The most high-end luxury available is the newly built Hotel Indigo Galapagos, an IHG Hotel. However, unless money is truly of no concern, we wouldn’t recommend this hotel as it is typically 2-3 times more expensive than any other hotel on the island.

Below are some of the top-rated hotels for a variety of budgets:


Recommendations for Puerto Ayora in Santa Cruz

Santa Cruz has an even wider range of accommodations to choose from than San Cristobal, but similarly, you’ll find a greater selection of budget and mid-range hotels than luxury ones.

With that said there are a few luxury hotels on Santa Cruz, most notably Angermeyer Waterfront Inn and the Finch Bay Hotel. Both of these highly-rated hotels offer unique stays with their own private piers from which the hotel water taxis can take you to the main pier in minutes.

Below are some of the top-rated hotels for different budgets:

🧳 Packing for 7 Days in Galapagos

Well Traveled compression packing cubes are a great packing hack and a must on any packing list

For the complete rundown, we have created the COMPLETE GUIDE TO PACKING FOR GALAPAGOS with downloadable and printable checklists, as well as 25 items you probably haven’t thought of (or didn’t know existed) to bring with you.

If you just want the essentials, here are some things that you will want to consider packing for your 7 days in Galapagos:

  • Camera: The Galapagos is a truly photogenic place and you’ll want to capture many memories. We use the Sony a7riii and love it. However, beginners may wish to consider an entry-level DSLR to start with.
  • Waterproof camera: With some of the world’s best snorkeling, you may find yourself taking more photos underwater than on the land! We highly recommend a GoPro which is what we used for most of our underwater Galapagos photography.
  • Reef-safe sunscreen: Galapagos is a wildlife sanctuary and regular sunscreen is extremely damaging to marine life. We use Stream 2 Sea sunscreen as it’s reef-safe and most of their bottles are made from sugarcane resin rather than plastic.
  • Beach towel: You will want to take a towel with you for use at the beach. We always have a travel towel with us. Although Galapagos is really safe, we still love this one with a hidden zipper pocket.
  • Hiking shoes: Galapagos has some great hikes!  Hiking sandals are the ideal choice as they keep your feet cool, protect them from lava rock, and can also be worn in the water.
  • Reusable water bottle: We don’t travel anywhere without a reusable water bottle. Remain hydrated without wasting single-use plastic bottles! Most restaurants and hotels will refill bottles for you.
  • Snorkel gear: It will typically work out cheaper and easier to bring your own snorkel and mask and fins than renting them each day. You can also buy these items as a snorkel set which works out cheaper still.
  • Mini first aid kit: Whether out hiking or just on the beach, we always have a mini first aid kit in our bag just in case.

🧳 READ MORE:
COMPLETE PACKING LIST FOR GALAPAGOS + PRINTABLE CHECKLIST

🙋‍♀️ FAQs for 7 Days in the Galapagos

Underwater photo of a sea lion in the Galapagos islands catching sunlight while spinning around in crystal clear water.

Below are answers to the most frequently asked questions first time visitors have when crafting their 7 day Galapagos itineraries.

Simply click the drop-down arrows to reveal answers.

Is 7 days enough for Galapagos Islands?

7 days in the Galapagos is the ideal amount of time to see the highlights and stay on 2-3 major islands, with at least one day trip to an uninhabited island. This allows you to see 3-4 Galapagos islands in total with just a week of exploring.

As with most destinations, the more time you have the better!

How many days do you need to see the Galapagos?

7-10 days is the perfect amount of time to see the Galapagos Islands, with 5 days as the minimum you would want. Within 7-10 days you can explore 3-5 islands on a land-based tour, or more if you decide on an inter-island cruise.

How many Galapagos islands should I visit in 7 days?

With only 7 days in the Galapagos, you should stay overnight on San Cristobal and/or Santa Cruz and take 1-2 day tours to the uninhabited islands nearby that interest you most.

📚 More Galapagos Islands Travel Guides

The two of us work very hard to create these free travel guides to help you plan your dream vacation. If you think we’ve done a good job and would like to say thanks, please consider clicking the donate button below 🙂

Hopefully, this guide has answered all of your questions, now it’s time for the rest of your planning!

These guides will help you through the process step-by-step, providing insight on everything from finding flights to top activities and so much more.

Planning Guides

Local Guides

Things to Do Guides

💬 Final Thoughts

The two of us work very hard to create these free travel guides to help you plan your dream vacation. If you think we’ve done a good job and would like to say thanks, please consider clicking the donate button below 🙂

We truly hope you have found this guide useful in planning the perfect 7-day Galapagos itinerary for your upcoming vacation.

Now we’d like to hear from YOU!

Was there any information you found confusing, misleading, inaccurate, or outdated?

Or perhaps this was the best, most helpful guide you found on the internet?!

Regardless of your thoughts, we’d like to know them! Help us to help future readers by sharing your feedback in the comments below.

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Written by
Adam Marland is a professional travel blogger and landscape photographer from Oregon. After over a decade of experience as a freelance travel photographer, Adam found national acclaim when he became the National Park Foundation's “Chief Exploration Officer” in 2021.

2 thoughts on “🐢 The PERFECT 7 Day Galapagos Itinerary Your First Visit (2024)”

  1. I’ve always wanted to visit Galapagos Island! I love how detailed this itinerary is. If I’m ever planning a future visit I’ll be sure to look up your recommendations. Thanks for sharing!

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