🏝 Galapagos Island Hopping: How to Explore the Islands (2024)

Galapagos Island Hopping blog post cover graphic.  Text overlaying an image taken from in the water at Bahia Sardina showing turquoise ocean with a white sand beach fringed with black lava rock, and a rugged mountainous landscape in the background.

With at least 16 islands you can explore in the Galapagos archipelago, understanding how to get around them can be a bit confusing for first-time visitors.

In this guide, you will learn everything you need to know for island hopping in Galapagos. This includes insight on where to begin and end a multi-island vacation, options for inter-island transport, prices, times, and all other pertinent information.

We visited the Galapagos islands on a 2-week self-guided vacation in April 2023. During our time, we were able to get to 5 islands including overnight stays on 3 of them.

If you still have any questions after you’ve finished reading, let us know in the comments section at the end so we can answer them directly!

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 πŸ™‚

🏝 Galapagos Island Hopping Overview

There is a lot to understand about inter-island travel within the Galapagos. Here are some of the most important foundational points to understand from the beginning:

  • There are at least 19 Galapagos Islands; the exact number is dependent on the minimum size qualifier the reporting source is using to differentiate a “rock” from an “island”.

  • Only 4 of the Galapagos Islands are inhabited (by humans, that is). In order of population, they are Santa Cruz, San Cristobal, Isabela, and Floreana.

  • All 4 inhabited Galapagos islands allow overnight stays without reservations or permits.

  • Santa Cruz, San Cristobal, and Isabela are the only islands with airports, and the Isabela airport is only available for inter-island flights.

  • The airport for Santa Cruz (GPS) is technically on the directly adjacent island of Baltra, but is still considered the “Santa Cruz airport” in most guides (including this one).

  • A ferry service is available connecting all 4 inhabited islands.

  • The uninhabited Galapagos islands can only be visited on a day tour or cruise, and each require an official National Park naturalist guide to visit.

Understanding these key points, most of your island hopping in the Galapagos will be via boat tours to smaller islands with a few ferry rides between the major islands of Santa Cruz, San Cristobal, Isabela, and potentially even Floreana.

πŸ—ΊοΈ 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.


πŸ™‚ 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!

β›΄ Galapagos Island Hopping by Ferry

A view of Santa Cruz island taken from the back of the Galapagos ferry.

There are ferries that service the four main islands of Santa Cruz, San Cristobal, Isabela, and Floreana, allowing visitors to easily get around.

Each ferry route will have two departure times per day, one in the morning and one in the afternoon, with the exception of Floreana which has only one departure daily.

The only direct ferries are to and/or from Santa Cruz Island as it is centrally located. To travel between any of the other islands, you will need to go through Santa Cruz.

As a common example, travelers going from San Cristobal to Isabela island will have to take one ferry to Santa Cruz, then catch the next one the rest of the way to Isabela.

While you will have the option to book this journey on one ticket, in actuality it is just combining the morning ferry to Santa Cruz with the afternoon ferry onward!

⭐️ Pro tip:Β 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 aΒ motion sickness tabletΒ or useΒ acupressure bands.

Galapagos Ferry Pricing

Galapagos ferry traveling from San Cristobal to Santa Cruz island.

The ferries cost $35 online or $30 locally and typically fill up in advance. Therefore, it is worth paying the extra $5 to pre-book online and have your seat guaranteed.

In addition to the ferry price, you will also take a small taxi boat from the pier to the ferry which will cost $1 per person.

Upon arrival at your destination island, you will need to take another water taxi from the ferry to the pier which will cost another $1 per person.

Finally, you will also have to pay a pier fee when arriving on Santa Cruz or Isabela. This is $1 on Santa Cruz and $10 on Isabela.

Be sure to keep some cash accessible for these numerous small fees.


Galapagos Ferry Routes & Times

Aerial photo of a Galapagos cruise ship docked off the volcanic shoreline of San Cristobal island.

As previously discussed, there are no direct ferries between San Cristobal and Isabela. While you can book the journey on one ticket, you will actually be booking the morning ferry from San Cristobal to Santa Cruz and then the afternoon ferry from Santa Cruz to Isabela.

Due to the amount of time lost and a relatively small difference in price, we recommend island hopping specifically between San Cristobal and Isabela by plane.

For all other inter-island journeys, the ferry is a good option as it is more affordable than a plane and delivers you directly to the main town on each island.

All ferry rides between the islands take around 2-2.5 hours and take you to the main pier at each town.

Below are the ferry schedules for each route.

Santa Cruz β†’ San CristΓ³bal:
7am and 3pm
San CristΓ³bal β†’ Santa Cruz:
7am and 3pm
Santa Cruz β†’ Isabela:
7am and 3pm
Isabela β†’ Santa Cruz:
6am and 3pm
Santa Cruz β†’ Floreana:
Floreana β†’ Santa Cruz:

✈️ Galapagos Island Hopping by Plane

View of San Cristobal showing Kicker Rock from plane window flying into Galapagos.

The only two airports on mainland Ecuador that fly to the Galapagos islands are in Quito and Guayaquil.

From mainland, you can only fly into Santa Cruz (GPS) or San Cristobal (SCY) in the Galapagos. It is worth noting that the Santa Cruz airport is technically on the neighboring island of Baltra, requiring a short bus and water taxi ride.

Accordingly, your Galapagos journey will have to begin and end with any combination of these airports.

Typically, we recommend booking flights from Quito to San Cristobal on your way to the islands, but flying back from Santa Cruz to Quito.

Galapagos Inter-Island Airlines & Prices

A view of San Cristobal island from high above taken from an airplane while island hopping in the Galapagos.

There are currently only two airlines that offer inter-island flights, these are Emetebe and ESAV. Both airlines offer morning and flights between Santa Cruz, San Cristobal, and Isabela.

Emetebe has been in operation far longer and has an online booking platform on their website, whereas ESAV only started operations in 2022 and is still without one. However, you can reach out via their website to make a booking.

Prices are reasonably comparable, ranging from $140-$190 one-way depending on luggage allowances and airlines.

It is worth noting that your luggage allowance will be significantly less than the flight from Quito.

For inter-island flights, you will typically have a maximum allowance of 15-35lbs, depending on the fare you choose.

You will want to take this into consideration when packing for Galapagos if you plan on flying between islands.


Galapagos Inter-Island Flight Routes & Times

View from plane window arriving in San Cristobal Galapagos showing the coastline scattered with white sand beaches and lava rock and turquoise ocean.

The flight time between the islands is about 45 minutes, making flying a faster alternative to the ferries.

However, keep in mind that if you fly into or out of Baltra (Santa Cruz), you will also need to factor in almost an hour to get from the airport to the main town of Puerto Ayora.

This journey includes a bus from the airport, followed by a water taxi to cross the Itabaca Canal, then another bus or taxi to Puerto Ayora.

Both the airports on San Cristobal and Isabela are within walking distance or a 5-minute taxi ride from town. This is another reason we recommend flying between these two islands but taking a ferry to or from Santa Cruz.

ESAV Galapagos Flight Schedule

ESAV has one daily direct flight between each island and a couple with layovers.

You can check the current flight schedule on the ESAV website.

Morning ItineraryAfternoon Itinerary
San CristΓ³bal β†’ Isabela:
San CristΓ³bal β†’ Baltra:
Isabela β†’ Baltra:
Baltra β†’ Isabela:
Baltra→ San Cristóbal:
Isabela β†’ San CristΓ³bal:

Emetebe Galapagos Flight Schedule

Emetebe offers similar morning and afternoon flights. However, their flights between Baltra and San Cristobal will always include a layover at Isabela.

Therefore, if you are looking for a direct flight between these two options, ESAV can be the better option.

You can also check up-to-date flight times and make bookings on the Emetebe website.

Morning FlightsAfternoon Flights
San CristΓ³bal β†’ Isabela β†’ Baltra
8:15am β†’ 9am / 9:15am β†’ 9:45am
Baltra β†’ Isabela β†’ San CristΓ³bal:
1pm β†’ 1:30pm / 2pm β†’ 2:45pm

πŸ—Ί Galapagos Island Hopping Itineraries

Sophie Clapton of We Dream of Travel poses for a photo at the iconic Isla Bartolome Viewpoint during our 2023 travels to the Galapagos islands.

If you want to do any amount of island hopping in the Galapagos, you will need at least 2-3 days per island you wish to stay on overnight, plus an additional day for any uninhabited island you wish to visit by day trip.

The table below provides a good rule of thumb for how many islands you can reasonably visit based on the number of days you have available and links to our suggested itinerary for each:

5 DaysSanta Cruz and/or San Cristobal5 Day Galapagos Itinerary
7 DaysSanta Cruz & San Cristobal + 1 uninhabited7 Day Galapagos Itinerary
10 DaysSanta Cruz, San Cristobal, Isabela + 1 uninhabited10 Day Galapagos Itinerary
14+ DaysAll 4 inhabited + multiple uninhabited islands

🚒 Island Hopping Galapagos by Cruise Ship

A large Galapagos cruise ship leaving Santa Cruz island.

The easiest way to visit lots of Galapagos islands (and the only way to visit some of them) is to book a cruise.

While we typically prefer DIY travel and rarely recommend cruises, the Galapagos islands are a unique destination where the difficulty in organizing a self-guided vacation adds a lot of value to having someone do it for you.

Additionally, it is by far the most time-efficient option for traveling around the islands.

Our Cruise Recommendation

Meeting our guide for the Inspiring Ecuador Galapagos Tour, who is holding a sign with my last name on it.

For part of our most recent trip to the Galapagos, we traveled with Inspiring Ecuador, who are part of Adventure Journeys, and highly recommend them as a tour operator.

They are running a cruise this November that is a fantastic option for exploring the islands for those of you who are leaning away from a self-guided visit.

While we did not experience one of Inspiring Ecuador’s cruises, we found their land-based tour to be a tremendous value, and having reviewed the November itinerary, are confident this will be the same or better.

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

Other Galapagos Cruises

There are a number of other Galapagos cruise options, each with different itineraries, lengths, and inclusions.

The maximum ship size in the Galapagos is 100 passengers, so you can expect smaller ships than elsewhere in the world.

Additionally, island hopping the Galapagos islands by cruise is a much less formal affair than other destinations. The main focus will be adventure and exploration, rather than dinner formalities!

You can find a variety of cruises available on Cruise Direct or by clicking the button below.

πŸ™‹πŸ½β€β™€οΈ Galapagos Island Hopping FAQs

An underwater image of a sea lion swimming towards the camera at Playa Mann on San Cristobal Island Galapagos.

Below are answers to the most frequently asked questions for first-timers hoping to island hop around Galapagos.

Simply click the drop-down arrows to reveal answers.

Which islands can you stay on in Galapagos?

You will find accommodation for tourists to stay overnight on any of the 4 inhabited Galapagos islands. In order of population and popularity, these are Santa Cruz, San Cristobal, Isabela, and Floreana.

Can you island hop in the Galapagos?

Booking an inter-island Galapagos cruise is the easiest way to explore multiple islands in the Galapagos and is the only way to reach many of the uninhabited islands. However, there are inter-island ferries as well as flights available that allow visitors to island hop around the Galapagos, as well as boat tours to visit some of the nearby uninhabited islands.

How do you travel between islands in the Galapagos?

The inter-island ferries are the cheapest and easiest way to travel amongst the 4 inhabited Galapagos islands, including Floreana. There are also flight services connecting the three most populated islands of Santa Cruz, San Cristobal, and Isabela.

Traveling to the uninhabited islands requires boat tours or cruises.

πŸ“š 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 πŸ™‚

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

πŸ’­ Final Thoughts

A marine iguana resting on a handrail with palm trees lining Isabela beach and Puerto Villamil in the background.

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 πŸ™‚

We truly hope you have found this guide useful for learning how to island hop around the Galapagos archipelago.

Now we’d like to hear from YOU!

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Help us to help future readers by sharing your thoughts 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 β€œChief Exploration Officer” in 2021.

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