🐒 How to Travel to the Galapagos Islands in 10 Easy Steps (2024)

How to Travel to Galapagos: Planning a Trip to Galapagos blog cover graphic.  Text overlaying an image of San Cristobal island from the airplane, showing Kicker Rock surrounded by blue ocean with the island in the background.

It is easier to plan a trip and travel to the Galapagos islands now than it has ever been before and, contrary to popular belief, it can be done on your own without a guide, cruise, or tour!

There are three ways to travel to the Galapagos islands; by tour, cruise, or a self-guided trip.

Since the pandemic, many local businesses have established an online presence making self-guided vacations a more viable option than in the past.

Still, for the majority of first-time visitors, we would recommend a pre-arranged option. This makes planning as easy as choosing your favorite cruise or tour.

For the adventurous, experienced, and/or budget-minded travelers, however, a self-guided tour provides the greatest freedom and lowest cost.

Whether you are ready to start planning your travels to the Galapagos Islands or just want to better understand your options, this guide will provide tips, advice, and recommendations to help you make the right choice for you.

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™‚

🦎 Our Experience Traveling to the Galapagos Islands

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.

Our first week was spent on a self-guided adventure wherein we stayed on Santa Cruz and San Cristobal, arranging day tours to some of the smaller islands.

It was surprisingly easy to get to the islands and arrange everything we needed, but we are perhaps better equipped than the average traveler as we both speak extensive Spanish and have a lot of experience traveling.

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

Having spoken with the other members of our group at length, our conclusion is that a group tour or cruise is the better option for travelers who do not enjoy planning a trip or are uncomfortable with international travel.

If you actually enjoy researching and planning your trips and view travel as an adventure more than a holiday, go for the self-guided option! This guide will walk you step-by-step through everything you need to know for planning a trip on your own.


Recommended Tour Option

If you prefer to have the planning taken care of and are interested in a trip that combines culture, nature, and even a touch of luxury, we highly recommend Adventure Journey’s 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 arrangements and reservations done for you. This is very similar to the tour we took and absolutely loved, but includes a luxury cruise as well!

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.

🦭 How to Travel to the Galapagos Islands in 10 Steps

🚀 Step 1: Decide on Trip Type (Tour, Cruise, or Self-Guided)

⚠️ Key Takeaway
Start your Galapagos trip planning by deciding whether to visit by cruise, land-based tour, or self-guided trip.

There are three ways to visit the Galapagos Islands:

  1. Galapagos by Cruise Ship
  2. Galapagos by Land Tour
  3. Galapagos Self-Guided

The easiest way to visit the Galapagos is by simply booking an all-inclusive cruise or tour package and letting your operator do all the planning for you!

While we typically steer people toward DIY travel, this is one of the few destinations with such complexity that a pre-arranged tour will actually be the best option for most.

Of course, tours are simply not for everyone. Luckily, it is absolutely possible to travel to the Galapagos Islands on your own without a tour or guide.

For self-guided trips, follow the remaining easy steps below in the order in which they are presented.


A Note on Pre-Arranged Tours & Cruises

If you are not a confident traveler, do not have the time/desire to plan a trip, or just don’t enjoy independent travel, your planning will mostly come down to choosing the right multi-day tour or cruise for you.

In this case, you can skip Steps 5-8, though we still recommend you take a moment to browse the rest of this guide for the sake of familiarity.

You can also use the buttons below to begin your search for tours and cruises:


πŸ“† Step 2: Decide on Trip Length

A sea lion pups takes a large stretch in this gorgeous sunset photo from the beach at Playa Punta Carola.

⚠️ Key Takeaway
Allow 2-3 days per island you will be staying overnight on, plus one day for any uninhabited island you wish to visit.

The first decision you need to make for planning a trip to the Galapagos is how many days you will be spending there.

Most people do not realize that there are a myriad of islands in the Galapagos archipelago (the exact number varying by definition of “island” vs “rock”), most of which you can visit on cruises or day tours.

Among them, only four Galapagos islands are inhabited and can be stayed on, but only two of these have airports that service the mainland.

The amount of time you will want to allot for your visit will be dependent on how much you have available and how many islands you hope to explore.

For simplicity’s sake, we generally recommend budgeting 2-3 days per island you wish to stay on, plus one additional day for any minor island you will be visiting via a day tour.

You will learn more about each island in Step 3.

🐒 READ MORE:
HOW MANY DAYS TO SPEND IN GALAPAGOS


🏝 Step 3: Choose which Island(s) to Visit

⚠️ Key Takeaway
Santa Cruz and San Cristobal are the best islands to stay on, and both have airports that connect to mainland Ecuador + inter-island ferries.

While there are 16-22 Galapagos Islands (depending on your definition), only three of these are viable vacation destinations that support significant tourism. In order of population, they are Santa Cruz, San Cristobal, and Isabela.

*Note: Floreana is the 4th inhabited island and technically offers accommodation and services for tourism, but it is extremely limited.

Before you begin arranging flights or hotels, you need to decide which island or islands you wish to visit.

Be aware that only Santa Cruz and San Cristobal have airports that service mainland Ecuador, so you will have to begin your vacation on one of these two islands.

A sea lion swims up to a female snorkeler with a camera while snorkeling at Kicker Rock.

Once you have arrived to Galapagos, there is an inter-island ferry service that provides transport to all four inhabited islands.

We recommend anyone with 7 days or less should fly into San Cristobal and out of Santa Cruz (or vice versa), utilizing the inter-island ferry in between. Isabela Island is beautiful and worth visiting, but including it in your itinerary adds a significant level of time and complexity.

We only recommend including Isabela on your itinerary if you have 10 days or more in the Galapagos.

If you already know how much time you have available, consult one of the guides below for help arranging your itinerary:

🏝️ DISCOVER MORE:
BEST ISLANDS IN THE GALAPAGOS TO VISIT


✈️ Step 4: International Flights to Ecuador

An incredible view of Mount Cotopaxi from an airplane window flying into Quito, Ecuador.
View of Cotopaxi Mountain from the airplane window flying into Quito.

⚠️ Key Takeaway
You should book your flight to Quito separately from your flight to the Galapagos islands.

Should I fly straight to the Galapagos?

While it is not necessary to stay overnight in mainland Ecuador prior to visiting the Galapagos Islands, it is highly recommended!

Booking a flight from home all the way to the Galapagos Islands makes for a long journey with a lot of layovers, which comes with a major risk of disruption.

The trouble with so many layovers chained into one ticket is that delays or cancellations anywhere along this chain can throw off the entirety of your vacation.

Additionally, we recommend most visitors fly into San Cristobal island but fly out of Santa Cruz in the Galapagos. This will be difficult to arrange if booking flights from home all the way to and from the Galapagos.

Time permitting, most people should arrange 1-2 nights on mainland Ecuador before venturing onward to the Galapagos islands.


Which city should I fly to to travel to the Galapagos?

The only two cities that offer flights to the Galapagos Islands are Quito and Guayaquil. Accordingly, these are the only two cities to consider booking your international flights into.

As Quito is the largest city in Ecuador, this will typically be the easiest and best option for international travelers to fly in and out of prior to visiting the Galapagos.

In addition to the ease and availability, Quito is also a far safer city to visit than Guayaquil.


πŸ›« Step 5: Flights to the Galapagos Islands

View of San Cristobal showing Kicker Rock from plane window flying into Galapagos.
Kicker Rock and San Cristobal island, as seen from the plane flying in.

⚠️ Key Takeaway
Rather than a roundtrip, book your Galapagos flights to arrive in San Cristobal (SCY) and depart from Santa Cruz (GPS), or vice versa.

You can easily find flights to the Galapagos Islands from anywhere in the world through sites like SkyScanner, but you will be looking at 4+ stops on average.

This is the first reason that we recommend booking flights to Ecuador first, then traveling to the Galapagos islands on a separate flight.

The second is that you will easily be able to stay on two islands if you have at least 5 days in the Galapagos, so you will not want to book roundtrip flights to/from the islands but instead as one-way flights to/from San Cristobal (SCY) and Santa Cruz (GPS).

Flights from to the Galapagos begin at around $210 one way. While they are listed as “direct”, most will stop in Guayaquil to pick up and drop off passengers.

Those headed to the Galapagos islands will not deboard the plane, so the flight is still listed as “direct”.

An aerial photo of Quito with Cotopaxi in the distance, taken on an airplane while traveling to the Galapagos islands.

⚠️ IMPORTANT: GALAPAGOS FLIGHT PRICES

Be cautious of accidentally booking a locals-only fare!

Flight comparison sites may pull up cheaper flights than those listed above, but these are for locals only.

As a foreign visitor, you must book the higher price point or you will be charged an additional $150-200 at the airport.

There are three airlines that fly from Ecuador to Galapagos. The fares you need to purchase for each airline are:

  • L” fare for Avianca
  • Top” fare for Latam
  • Cacao-Premium” fare for Equair

Unfortunately, this is not clear on airline websites and we met many people on the islands who had made this mistake.

✈️ READ MORE:
HOW TO GET TO GALAPAGOS ISLANDS


β›΄ Step 6: Arrange Inter-Island Transport

Galapagos ferry traveling from San Cristobal to Santa Cruz island.
The Galapagos ferry on a grey day.

⚠️ Key Takeaway
The ferry allows you to easily and affordably visit 2-3 islands.

There is a ferry service that provides affordable transport between the four major, inhabited islands of the Galapagos (though it is really more of a fast boat than a ferry)!

Additionally, Isabela has a small airport for inter-island flights to connect to San Cristobal and Santa Cruz.

Once you have decided which island(s) you wish to visit, you will need to arrange transport between them. For most people, we recommended limiting your trip to include only Santa Cruz and San Cristobal, which requires just one ferry ticket if you have booked your flights as suggested in Step 5.

Those with more than 7 days in Galapagos can consider visiting Isabela Island as well, but this will require significantly more planning.


Galapagos Ferry Services

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

Here is a quick list of everything you need to know about the ferries between the Galapagos Islands:

  • Ferries cost $35 online or $30 locally, and typically fill up!
  • There are only two ferry times available to/from each island per day! One morning, one afternoon.
  • All ferries go to or through the middle island of Santa Cruz!

This final point is the important one. What this means is that there is not a direct ferry between San Cristobal and Isabela islands.

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.


Galapagos Inter-Island Flights

We would typically only recommend using the inter-island flight service for those of you who are planning on traveling to the 3 major Galapagos islands.

If you have 10 days or more available and would like to see as much as possible, consult our 10-day Galapagos itinerary for an easy-to-follow daily schedule.

Inter-island flights begin at a fairly reasonable $140 between Isabella and San Cristobal, which is not extravagant when compared to a $60-$70 price tag for the same journey via ferry, but this does not include luggage fees.

Availability is extremely limited, however, and should be booked well in advance.

⛡️ DISCOVER MORE:
COMPLETE GUIDE TO GALAPAGOS ISLAND HOPPING


🏠 Step 7: Hotels & Accommodation

A view of the pool from our room at Hotel Silberstein on the Galapagos Island of Santa Cruz.

⚠️ Key Takeaway
Accommodation in the Galapagos is surprisingly affordable and wide-ranging in quality.

Once you have chosen the island(s) you wish to visit and have booked your flights, you will next need to arrange accommodation for your holiday. This includes any potential accommodation on mainland Ecuador as well as on the Galapagos Islands.

The options for accommodation in the Galapagos Islands are very wide-ranging that vary further still from island to island.

Hostels and basic rooms are available in the Galapagos for as little as $15 USD per night. These budget options will be extremely basic, but we found even the cheapest accommodation to be clean and well-maintained.

Conversely, higher-end hotels can run anywhere from $100-$300+ per night.

Many of these will be touted as 5-star, but expectations should be somewhat managed. Ecuadorian 5-star may not feel the same as it does in the US or Europe.

Even the most basic accommodation options should provide drinkable water, fans or air-conditioning, and “warm” showers.

Fortunately, each inhabited island only has ONE town you will be staying in, so you do not need to worry too much about the area you book accommodation.

πŸ›οΈ FIND OUT MORE IN OUR COMPLETE GUIDE:
WHERE TO STAY IN THE GALAPAGOS ISLANDS


πŸ‘¨β€πŸ‘©β€πŸ‘§β€πŸ‘¦ Step 8: Arrange Tours & Activities

⚠️ Key Takeaway
Most of the Galapagos Islands can only be visited with a guide or day tour.

Did you know that 95% of the land area in the Galapagos archipelago is designated as protected by the Galapagos National Park Directorate?

Accordingly, many of the best places to visit and things to do on the islands can only be done with a naturalist guide.

In fact, any of the uninhabited islands you may wish to visit can only be reached by booking a day tour or as part of a cruise.

Unlike much of South America, local negotiations are not an option for saving money or bypassing restrictions; the Galapagos Islands and its residents protect and respect their home. In other words, you will want to book the tours you wish to take ahead of time.

If budget is a concern, each island also has a handful of beaches and tourist attractions that you can visit without a guide or tour, most of which are free or inexpensive.

Deciding which beaches, islands, snorkel spots, and wildlife encounters you wish to experience will require some careful research and consideration.

Take your time on this important step and, as often as possible, try to book as far in advance as possible; popular tours fill up often, especially during peak season!

⛡️ SUGGESTED GUIDES:
β€’ TOP 50 THINGS TO DO IN THE GALAPAGOS

β€’ BEST GALAPAGOS DAY TOURS
β€’ BEST SNORKELING IN GALAPAGOS


πŸ—Ί Step 9: Buy Travel Insurance

A group of sea lions approach a tourist boat on a 360 day tour from San Cristobal Galapagos

Travel insurance is highly recommended for anyone visiting Galapagos.

If you’re traveling by tour or cruise, you will most likely be required to have comprehensive travel insurance.

The Galapagos islands are remote and have limited medical facilities on the islands. Ensure you have an adequate plan to cover medical evacuation, as well as any specific activities you’ll be doing.

There are many benefits to using travel insurance beyond health care.  It will also often cover unforeseen circumstances such as missing bags, damage from natural disasters, stolen goods, or even trip cancellation.

Always read your policy carefully when booking travel insurance to ensure you have one that suits your needs.


🧳 Step 10: Pack Your Bags

Luggage packed for a trip to the Galapagos islands with "We Dream of Travel" on the front.

Packing for the Galapagos Islands is not terribly difficult, but it becomes more tricky if you plan on spending any time on mainland Ecuador, especially with Quito at 10,000ft (3050m) elevation!

While it is a sunny destination filled with beaches, the Galapagos Islands should not be seen as a “tropical getaway.” As the islands are located directly along the equator, the UV exposure is significant and needs to be respected.

When packing for the Galapagos islands, we recommend following the three Ls: light, long, and loose. In other words, pack light-colored clothing that will not absorb heat and that covers as much skin as possible while being breathable.

Flowing dresses are a great option for women as they protect most of the body from direct sunlight while still allowing airflow. For men, lightweight long sleeves with collars to provide neck protection are recommended.

In the water, long-sleeved swimsuits or rash guards are highly recommended for men and women.

Of course, there are plenty more items to consider packing such as reef-safe sunscreen, snorkel sets, and water shoes.

We’ve created a printable packing list of the essentials you’ll want to bring as well as a list of important items to consider that you can find in our ULTIMATE GALAPAGOS PACKING LIST GUIDE.

🧳 FIND OUT MORE:
PACKING LIST FOR GALAPAGOS

πŸ™‹β€β™€οΈ FAQs for Planning a Trip to the Galapagos

A man sits at the waters edge of Playa Mann beach with a sea lion swimming in front of him.

In this section, you will find answers to the most frequently asked questions people have when traveling to the Galapagos islands and planning a trip for the first time.

Use the drop-down arrows below to reveal answers.

Can you visit the Galapagos islands without a tour?

Tours and cruises are the easiest way to visit the Galapagos Islands, but self-guided visits are absolutely possible. While all of the uninhabited islands require a registered naturalist guide to visit, anyone is allowed to travel to the inhabited islands of Santa Cruz, San Cristobal, and Isabella.

Since the Covid-19 pandemic, more accommodation and tourist services have an online presence than ever before making it easy to plan a self-guided trip.

How do you plan a visit to the Galapagos Islands?

The easiest way to plan a visit to Galapagos is to simply book a tour or cruise with a pre-arranged itinerary. These two options take care of everything from accommodation to entry to meals and activities for you.

It is, however, possible to travel to the Galapagos without a tour or guide. You will need to first get to Quito or Guayaquil in Ecuador, then fly to either San Cristobal or Santa Cruz island.

What is the best month to visit the Galapagos?

June is widely considered the best time to visit the Galapagos Islands due to the comfortable air and water temperatures and the active wildlife population.

That said, there is no good or bad time to visit the Galapagos. Rather, there are three seasonal factors that can influence your decision on the best time to schedule your trip. These factors are tourist volume, climate, and wildlife activity.

How many days should you spend in the Galapagos?

You should budget at least 3 days per inhabited island you plan on visiting in the Galapagos, plus 1 day per visit to uninhabited islands.

5-7 days is the minimum you will want for visiting the Galapagos if you are traveling internationally, with 10+ days being the ideal amount of time.

How do I prepare for a trip to the Galapagos?

Booking a cruise or tour is the easiest way to prepare for a trip to the Galapagos as you will only need to arrange flights. There are no visa or entry requirements for most travelers to visit Ecuador.

If you are visiting the Galapagos on a self-guided tour, be sure to book all accommodation, flights, activities, and inter-island transport ahead of time as all of these services tend to book out up to a week in advance.

How much do Galapagos tours cost?

The cost of a trip to the Galapagos begins at about $200/day for land tours and $500/day for cruises. These prices vary wildly based on the size and quality of the vessel and/or accommodation, as well as other inclusions.

Do you need to book Galapagos tours in advance?

It is very important to book day tours in the Galapagos in advance as the most popular tours tend to fill up at least a week in advance even during off-peak seasons.

Additionally, many tours are only offered 1-2x per week, making it important to schedule and book ahead of time.

What is the best way to see the Galapagos?

Booking a cruise or tour to the Galapagos Islands will be the best option for the majority of visitors as it simplifies an otherwise complicated planning process and ensures a full itinerary.

Self-guided tours offer the most budget-friendly and time-flexible option for visiting the Galapagos Islands, but this is only recommended for experienced travelers.

Can you visit the Galapagos without a guide?

While all of the sister islands of the Galapagos require a certified guide to visit, anyone is allowed to visit the major islands of Santa Cruz, San Cristobal, Isabela, and Floreana. You will only need to purchase an INGALA Tourist Control Card (TCT) at the airport upon arrival.

Is a visa required to visit the Galapagos Islands?

A visa is not required to enter Ecuador or to visit the Galapagos Islands for most visitors.

However, you are required to purchase an INGALA Tourist Control Card (TCT) which costs $20 at Quito or Guayaquil airport prior to flying to Galapagos. Additionally, you must pay a $100 entry fee upon arriving in the Galapagos Islands, which allows you to stay for up to 90 days.

Are the Galapagos Islands safe to visit?

The Galapagos Islands are one of the safest holiday destinations in the world, boasting a “crime index” of less than 5.0 (out of 100)! Even petty crimes are nearly non-existent with locals leaving doors unlocked.

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 on Planning a Trip to the Galapagos Islands

A woman take a sip of beer during a magical sunset at Playa Mann beach on the last day of her travels to the Galapagos islands.

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 detailing how to travel to the Galapagos Islands in 2023 useful as you begin planning the vacation of a lifetime!

Now we’d like to hear from YOU!

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Help us help future readers by leaving your thoughts in the comments below! And, if you feel so inclined, consider making a small donation to show your appreciation before closing this post.

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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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