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What follows is a comprehensive spread on what I learned about modern day Galápagos. Besides my personal observations, it includes advice from locals, expats, and the perceptions of awe-inspired tourists.
- Currency is in US dollars (adopted by Ecuador in 2000 following a financial crisis)
- I use the Spanish names of places (as opposed to their English names), and
- I encourage you to brush up on your Spanish as things will be a lot more accessible and you’ll better appreciate your surroundings.
Getting to the Galápagos
While Darwin sailed here on the second voyage of the HMS Beagle, exposing himself to presumably terrible bouts of seasickness, these days it’s most practical to fly. Domestic flights leave from two cities in Ecuador: Quito (kee-to) and Guayaquil (gua-ya-keel). Guayaquil can be more convenient as it’s closer and often cheaper. Several airlines operate and Skyscanner (or similar) will be your best bet for, umm, scanning the cheapest options.
Logistics and costs re: leaving from Guayaquil or Quito
Before departure to the islands, you’ll need to buy a Transit Control Card (tarjeta de control de transito or TCT designed to mitigate stays on the Galápagos to 90 days). Do this at the airport ($20). Present your passport, and you’ll receive a card which you’ll need to show upon leaving the islands. Before checking in your bags, authorities will screen your luggage for organic matter, a big no-no. This is to protect the endemic life and prevent further contamination. If all goes well, they’ll tag your luggage with the infamous unbreakable green tag. If they don’t remove this at your respective Galápagos airport, ask for scissors at your accommodation.
Quick tip: fly domestically from Guayaquil or Quito to either Baltra Island (for Isla Santa Cruz), or Isla San Cristóbal.
Flying into Baltra (for Santa Cruz)
Flying into Baltra is great for many reasons. Flights are frequent and cheap, but there’s a slight journey to the main area of Puerto Ayora.
Upon landing in Baltra (Seymour Airport GPS), pay the $100 conservation fee, which applies regardless of your entry point to the National Park. Authorities will scan your luggage again for any organic material. This is in case you happen to have slipped through the cracks or have any remaining food from the plane.
From the airport, take a bus ($5) to Itabaca Canal dividing Baltra and Santa Cruz (the central island of the archipelago). Once there, take a short ferry ($1) to the northern tip of Santa Cruz. From there, you have two options. Take a taxi ($25) to your accommodation (make friends on the plane, bus, and/or boat ride, so you can split the costs). Or hop on a bus ($5), taking you to the bus terminal in Puerto Ayora. Then take a taxi ($1.50-$2) to your accommodation (or walk).
Quick tip: fly into Baltra for the quickest access to the main hub of the Galápagos
Flying into San Cristóbal
Arrival logistics in San Cristóbal are much simpler. San Cristóbal Airport is a geographical stone’s throw away from the main district, Puerto Baquerizo Moreno. It’s walking distance, or a $1-2 taxi ride if you’re not up for a stroll with your luggage or it’s raining (which can happen out of nowhere, regardless of the season). Don’t forget the conscience-settling $100 entrance fee.
Transport between the main islands
There are two ways to travel between islands: by plane or boat. Flights are ≈$200 each way between the islands, depending on your haggling skills, operated by EMETEBE. As for boats, trips from Santa Cruz to either Isabela or San Cristóbal cost $30 each way. Certain companies offer trips for $25, so keep an eye out (for one, there’s a kiosk next to the supermarket in Puerto Ayora marked “Lancha Gladel”, you can’t miss it). It’s a good idea to book return trips, too, securing that $25 fare. You’ll be the envy of every sucker on the pier, tbh.
Note: boat transport to San Cristóbal and Isabela is only available from Santa Cruz. This means that if you wanted to go from Isabela to San Cristóbal, you’d have to cruise to Santa Cruz first (pun intended). Also, the government restricts the hours in which tourists can travel between islands. There’s a morning window (6am to 8am) and an afternoon window (2pm to 4pm), but not all routes are available in both, so it’s always best to check.
On the day of travel, arrive at the pier about an hour in advance to check-in. Find your ferry kiosk, check your name off, and add your passport details. Authorities will check your luggage for organic material upon leaving Santa Cruz, and may also check again in San Cristóbal and Isabella.
Choosing between islands
The Galápagos includes three main islands: Santa Cruz (population ≈12,000); San Cristóbal (population ≈6,000); and Isabela (population ≈1,700). As with any adventure, you may not have the opportunity or the means to visit all three (let alone the smörgåsbord of smaller islands). I spent about a week on each, returning to Santa Cruz for a few days before flying back to Guayaquil. It’s not quite Darwin’s itinerary (he spent ≈5 days on San Cristóbal, ≈3 on Floreana, a smaller island south of Santa Cruz; ≈4 on Isabela; and over a week on Santiago, wedged north between Santa Cruz and Isabela), but financial circumstances strained me.
Life across the islands is developing, particularly on Santa Cruz, albeit less so on Isabela. Friday and Saturday nights mirror most places across the globe, as locals venture beyond the confines of their abodes and sprawl out over the streets in displays of food stalls, intense sports matches like football and street volleyball, outdoor gambling, and fiestas. Humans and wildlife have achieved a cosy equilibrium (locals often scold audacious tourists for getting too close to the animals, and rightly so).
Deciding between the islands is much a question of budget and what you hope to achieve (i.e. who and what you want to see).
So here’s what I thought.
Life in Santa Cruz
Dates travelled: 14 January – 21 January, 28 January – 29 January, 5 – 8 January
Puerto Ayora, Santa Cruz is the pseudo capital of the islands. As the most popular site of the Galápagos, it also suffers from tourist traps. Where you stay throughout Puerto Ayora can shape your experience. But given enough time and appreciation, there’s a lot to fall in love with. The initial sense of awe and wonder at the sheer volume of wildlife throughout the city takes some getting used to. Marine iguanas sunbathe carelessly across the city, including along well-trodden paths, while brown pelicans oil their feathers across the pier. Sea lions inhabit the foreshore; adults who’ve come for day-trips (although, for colonies of sea lions, San Cristóbal is where it’s at). And magnificent frigate birds circle the sky throughout daylight.
Puerto Ayora is the best place from which to organise tours and transport to the surrounding islands. If timing’s an issue, you can’t go too wrong basing yourself here. You can take day trips to the surrounding islands (including those free from human inhabitants) and experience snippets of what they offer. If money’s no problem, you can also take multi-day tours embarking from Puerto Ayora or back in Guayaquil (also possible from Puerto Baquerizo Moreno, San Cristóbal).
In conversations with taxi drivers, they often extolled the tranquil life attainable in the Galápagos as its greatest appeal. “Es mucho más seguro aquí que en Guayaquil (it’s so much safer here than in Guayaquil)”, said one taxi driver, who then mimicked getting shot in the head, explaining the perils of mainland Guayaquil. Another lady spoke about being on a twelve month working contract with a hostel. She acknowledged that while living costs throughout the Galápagos were double that of mainland Ecuador, the tranquility and safety more than compensated for it. She missed not being able to watch as much TV or access reliable internet (a common problem throughout the islands, but not dire), but life was, for her, more harmonious with nature.
While I spent much of my time on Santa Cruz daydreaming with wildlife, watching and coexisting with them as hours passed by, pondering my existence, I cannot discount how often I watched locals play street volleyball. There’s something mesmerising about watching middle-aged men exert themselves across the court, shouting and berating each other for silly mistakes, laughing with the crowds as they fumble. Vendors stroll around the stands selling empanadas, ice cream, nuts, cakes, fried plantains, and everything else between. Side-bets are inconspicuous but the authorities don’t seem to mind. It’s a great way to pass the time with a beer bought from the supermarket. I wrote about this at length in my piece here.
Where to stay
There are two broad options: stay in the tourist hub near the pier for the ultimate in convenience, noise, and accessibility; or stay further out for a more relaxed, local experience.
I first stayed in a hostel in the far north of Puerto Ayora, ≈20 minutes walk from the pier. If you’re short on time, this is not the approach for you. If it is, you’ll be privy to a great host of local life on your doorstep. Especially on Fridays and Saturdays when Santa Cruz and its locals shine. An open shed near Estadio Sintetico comes alive with a sprawling market, filled with displays of fruits, vegetables, meats, and makeshift food stalls. Religious ministers preach at max volume on their mega-boombox speakers. Steaming aromas float like chimney expulsions. And friendly smiles greet you everywhere. Hola. Buenos. ¿Qué tal? Empanadas are always a great snack in these hotspots ($1 for cheese (queso) or $1.50 for chicken (pollo)). Or try the papi pollo (fried chicken and chips) for $4.50.
Street food stalls open throughout the week, but it’s much more relaxed, pitched from about 6pm onwards. It’s a cheap alternative to dinner in a restaurant.
Strolling along the pier at night, you’re bound to spot sea lions sprawled across benches, white-tipped sharks lurking the waters, pelicans, the occasional blue-footed booby, other birds nested in the nearby mangroves, sally lightfoot crabs, marine iguanas, and sea turtles lit by the alternating green/yellow/red pier lights. So lit.
Things to do
From Puerto Ayora, I took a tour to Isla Plazas and Gordon’s Rocks (South Plaza Island, sightable off the east coast of Santa Cruz). Tours feature snorkelling around Gordon’s rocks, a packed lunch (including vegetarian options), a rocky boat ride, and an English-speaking guide. If you’re lucky, you’ll spot blue-footed boobies perched along lava rock formations protruding out of the ocean, and a variety of ocean fish. If you’re lucky, you’ll swim with a herd of sea lions like I did. Be careful with the males as they’ve a tendency to get right up in your grill and can bump into you. They’re fast, but oh so cute. If you have a PADI licence (unlike poor old me), diving at Gordon’s Rocks has a lot more in store for you: hammerhead sharks, white-tipped sharks, Galápagos sharks, green sea turtles, all kinds of rays, and the occasional octopus. Don’t pay more than $150 for this tour (diving costs a little more). This is one of the pricier options along the Galápagos because of the increased demand from tourists in this hub.
Note: snorkelling near Gordon’s Rocks is not for beginners, as the ocean floor lies beyond what the eye can see.
Key attractions you can do on your own are:
- El Chato (The Flat, a private turtle preservation centre also known as Ranchio Primicias, $5). El Chato is accessible by bus from the main terminal ($1) plus an hour’s walk. Or you can take any taxi ($10-15 each way) for half an hour. The driver will wait for you at El Chato and can take you to the Lava Tunnels close by ($5), if that tickles your fancy. Don’t pay your driver until the end of the trip. Weatherwise, Santa Cruz often gets wetter in-land, so bring gear if you spot dark clouds on the horizon.
- Tortuga Bay (Turtle Bay); a gorgeous stretch of pearly white beach, teeming with marine iguanas, devoid of shells. Some say it rivals any beach in Latin America. I say it rivals any beach in the world. The water’s calm, even on the worst of days, wavey enough for a casual surf, and chill enough in other parts for relaxed bathing. You’ll notice a flag system designed to describe conditions since the beach has no lifeguard (red for no swimming, yellow for exercising caution, and green for all good in the hood). The bay is accessible via foot from Puerto Ayora, taking 45 minutes each way. It’s well worth it. Sign your name at the entrance and enjoy the walk. It’s scattered with tiny lizards, Darwin’s finches (males are black, females are grey), other bird life I couldn’t recognise, and endemic florae.
- Las Grietas (or Camino Las Grietas, The Cracks). This is a fun little trail saturated with lava formations. It’s very accessible from Puerto Ayora and culminates in a snorkelling spot inside a large crack (phrasing). Take a water taxi from the pier (80¢) to Angermayer Point. They’re yellow. From there, signs will light the way. The snorkel spot isn’t teeming with life, but you’ll swim with the odd marine iguana. Try to go early (pre-11am) to avoid large crowds. Side note: by chance, a tour guide approached my friend and I on our way back to town and offered us a boat trip with snorkelling in a bay around the corner from Las Grietas and Tortuga Bay for $15. If you’re offered something similar, absent any concerns about your safety, I say take it. The upside? I swam with a school of sleeping white-tipped sharks and got frighteningly close to century-old green sea turtles.
- Charles Darwin Research Station: known as the home of our beloved Lonesome George (Solitario George); rest in peace. You can still visit ol’ George here (his body at least, preserved in a climate-controlled sanctuary) but don’t expect too much. You’ll also see a variety of turtles bred in captivity, and specimens of endemic plant life and insects. The station has a small indoor area with information for you to learn about life throughout the islands, as well as spend too much on gifts (prices have ‘recommended donation’ values, and you’re encouraged to specify a greater value to ease your conscience). For example, a Charles Darwin branded cap has a recommended donation value of $60.
- Laguna Las Ninfas (Lagoon of the nymphs); a quiet spot off the beaten track, accessible via a short stroll from the pier. The lagoon itself is a brilliant turquoise, entrenched by red and black mangroves, spotted with fish and passing birds. Small snakes also inhabit the nooks and crannies of the mangroves, so be careful if that ain’t your jam. They’re quick to flee upon noticing you, if that helps. While it takes only minutes to walk the length of the lagoon, how long you spend here is up to you.
Best places to eat:
- Street food along Isla Duncan road near Estadio Sintetico. Every evening, street vendors set up stalls of fried papi pollo (chicken and chips, $4.50), salchipapas (frankfurts and chips), empanadas, and grilled meats (including chicken feet).
- Lo & Lo: a well-kept establishment offering delicious bollo de pescado (fish with plantains, steamed in a banana leaf), among a selection of Ecuadorian dishes with reasonable prices ($10-$15).
- Empanadas near the corner of Avenida Balta and Isla Duncan. The crowd will gather from about 6pm. The best empanadas I had on Santa Cruz.
- La Esquina Del Sabor (near the corner of Avenida Baltra and Indefatigable). This inconspicuous establishment features unbeatable lunch and dinner specials for $4.50 with vegetarian options. Specials include a soup, a choice of a main meal (often fish, chicken, or beef), juice and a dessert (chocolate cake if you’re lucky!).
- Helados Tato: for $1 choose from chocolate, vanilla, coconut, or guayaba ice cream coated in chocolate sauce and sprinkles (or hundreds and thousands, as we say).
Life in Isabela
Dates travelled: 21 January – 28 January
Anyone familiar with the true sense of the phrase “island life” will find comfort on Isabela, largely untouched by humans (≈60% remains unexplored), and the largest land mass of the Galápagos. Isabela is a sparsely inhabited behemoth. It’s not the place for spending your nights in clubs or bars, or saturating yourself in “entertainment”, although you could probably find something if you’re looking to part unceremoniously from your money. Minutes tick away like hours and it’s the perfect mise en place for lounging around in a hammock all day with a hefty book while the ocean air wafts gently through your nostrils and the waves beckon softly from beyond the horizon.
With a smaller human footprint, life is muy tranquilo. Some outlets (including restaurants) close on Sundays and Mondays, and during the week from 2-5pm (siesta, baby). These opening hours aren’t strict so you may visit places that aren’t yet open when you expect them to be, and vice versa.
You’ll cross paths with yellow-crowned night-herons nesting throughout the bushes that hug the streets (they feed on mosquitoes and baby Galápagos geckos). And black-necked stilts frequent the watering holes among the odd Greater Flamingo.
For those living on Isabela, they’re enticed by the greater focus on community and simplicity (and paradoxically the burgeoning tourist industry). Isabela remains underdeveloped, but neighbouring residents of Santa Cruz and San Cristóbal are catching on. I met a young lady who had moved to Isabela two years ago from Santa Cruz, leaving her family behind to start a restaurant with her now 6-month-old dog, Dharma. My hostel proprietor had also moved down from Guayaquil, unable to convince his wife and children to join him. The island life is not for everyone, admittedly. For one, Isabela’s remoteness means a scarcity in produce and raw materials, resulting in prices that are typically double that of Santa Cruz. Prices reflect this both at the supermarket and in restaurants where the menu of the day averages $7 and a la carte options can start at $20.
Upon arrival to Isabela, there’s a $10 fee ($5 for Ecuadorian residents).
Where to stay
Puerto Villamil’s a small enough city to stay almost anywhere along the coast and remain within walking distance of everything available.
From Puerto Villamil, two tours feature highly along the main strip:
- Los Túneles (the tunnels). This is one of the most rewarding snorkelling tours achievable from the three main islands. If your experience is anything like mine, you’ll tread alongside a handful of centenarian green sea turtles munching algae along the seafloor or coasting majestically along your adjacent lanes, the odd Pacific seahorse endemic to the Galápagos, families of Galápagos penguins perched along protruding black rocks (occasionally coming out to play), sunbathing sea lions, loitering white-tipped sharks discussing harmless exploits, and inter-school competitions of fish. You’ll also gain knowledge about the lava tunnels formed from the multiple eruptions of Volcan Sierra Negra over the last hundreds of thousands of years. If you’re lucky, you’ll spot male blue-footed boobies attempting to court prospective partners with elaborate whistles and dancing. Keep an eye on the water during your boat rides, too, as you might spot the odd imposing orca dolphin (otherwise known as the ‘killer whale’), just below the surface, and occasionally breaching. Don’t pay more than $100 for this tour. The value proposition is hard to beat.
- Volcan Sierra Negra and Volcan Chico (Black Mountain and Guy Volcano), the second largest active volcano on Earth. And they don’t call it Black Mountain for nothing. This incredible vista of remnant black ash coating the 9.2km (5.7 miles) wide caldera peering 1,124 m (3,688 ft) above the sea, imposes a child-like grandeur. Continue on towards Volcan Chico (having last erupted on 27 June 2018), and no one would fault you for mistaking the landscape for something extraterrestrial. Depending on your guide, you’ll learn about (and taste) a lot of the endemic florae, what geologists know about the history of the volcano, and get up close to the remnant lava flow of 2018’s eruption. The walk takes approximately 4-5 hours, so bring about 1-2 litres of water (more on a hot day). Your tour will include a small packed lunch, too. Tours start around 7am and bring you back into town by 2pm (enough time if you’re in a rush for the 3pm ferry to Santa Cruz, with a 2:30pm check-in).
Key attractions you can do on your own are:
- Mura de Lagrimas (the wall of tears), requiring a 5km (3.1 mile) hike out of town (or cycle costing ≈$20 per day, steep since it’s Isabela). It’s a memorial to the island’s less than favourable Penitentiary Colony. Its remains are a stone wall, built under the forced labour of prisoners; a blight on Ecuador’s history. Bring ≈2 litres of water on a hot day and afford yourself ≈5 hours return, give or take. I encourage you to take all the little side quests along the way (there are signs) and be on the lookout for tortoises as they’re abundant. Don’t touch.
- “Arnaldo Tupiza-Chamaldan” Giant Tortoise Breeding Center, with various flamingo estuaries along the way. With a keen eye, you’ll also spot the odd smooth-billed ani, a pigeon-sized black bird with a thick beak. Give yourself ≈2.5 hours to complete the walk, including ample time to gaze at the intrepid tortoises. Don’t touch the little apples you see on the way (including the trees that fruit them), as they’re poisonous to us mere humans, but delicious to the tortoises.
Best places to eat:
- Shawarma Hot: (despite the name) does a reliable menu of the day for $7, which includes a soup, a main dish (often fish, chicken or beef), and a juice. You can also order shawarmas and other fast food ($8-15).
- Maestro de Casa (master of the house) does large portions of fast food (hamburgers, tortilla-wrapped fish/chicken/beef, potato chips (papas), etc) with the best prices in the tourist district.
Life in San Cristóbal
Dates travelled: 29 January – 5 February
Not too populated, not too sparse, just right.
Where you could characterise Santa Cruz by its abundance of tourists and Isabela for its notable tranquility, San Cristóbal fits snugly in the middle. It offers access to affordable groceries and restaurants while maintaining a respectable balance with wildlife. A growing Galápagos sea lion population inhabits the beachfront at Puerto Baquerizo Moreno, the central city of San Cristóbal. Hoards gather to rest in the evenings and deep into the night. Their decadent fragrance is detectable a hundred metres away, and even further if the wind’s just right. If you’re typically swayed by toxic aromas of the sea, tread carefully. Striated herons also frequent the water spaces across the southern end of Puerto Baquerizo Moreno.
San Cristóbal appeals to a crowd insistent on all the beauties of the Galápagos, without the pretense of Santa Cruz. It’s more akin to Melbourne than Sydney, Wellington than Auckland, Brooklyn than New York. There’s more coffee available here, too, with one local supplier drying their beans in plain sight within the city centre.
Puerto Baquerizo Moreno also offers a lot by foot and is most appealing to those keen on solid hikes. Beaches are less populated than in Santa Cruz, which means more to yourself, and less human footprint.
Did I mention sea lions? There’s lots here.
Where to stay
Puerto Baquerizo Moreno is about three quarters the size of Puerto Ayora, offering bonuses for staying further out from the pier. However, where the pier in Puerto Ayora can be noisy, Puerto Baquerizo Moreno’s central town is less hectic. Many places will close in the afternoons, or not open at all until the evenings.
There’s a lot to do on your own on San Cristóbal:
- Interpretation Centre; a perfect way to start your Galápagos journey. This information centre provides a comprehensive overview of modern human history on the archipelago, including its unfavourable tidbits. It covers topics such as the future of human civilisation on the islands and questions the viability of an increasing tourist influx. The centre is accessible by foot, ≈10 minutes out of town.
- Cerro de las Tijeretas (Hill of the earwigs); a board-walked trail starting out of the Interpretation Centre. Approximately 1.7km (slightly over 1 mile) northeast of Puerto Baquerizo Moreno, this trail offers bounties of lava lizards, Galápagos mockingbirds, and butterflies. A small side-track towards the end leads to a statue of Charles Darwin, an additional viewpoint, and an alcove for high-visibility snorkelling with small families of sea lions.
- Playa Baquerizo (Baquerizo beach) continuing on from Cerro de las Tijeretas. This medium-difficulty 1.5 hour trail (each way) over sequencing boulders requires a good pair of hiking boots. It’s complete with magnificent frigate bird nests, camouflaged marine iguanas, endemic spiders (you’ll walk through spider-webs from time to time, admittedly), butterflies, and an endless darting of lizards. The trail culminates in a secluded beach where the water is teeming with sea lions and green sea turtles. Keep to the trail by following the black and white wooden sign-posts and heading toward human-eroded rocks. Pack your bathers and snorkelling gear (and an ample minimum 2 litres of water).
- La Lobería (The Lobelia); a nice beach, suitable for minor snorkelling across coral with the occasional sea turtle and an abundance of fish. This place is more popular with surfers, given its propensity for mounting waves. Sea lions also inhabit the rocks that cuddle this beach. Afford yourself about an hour to walk from Puerto Baquerizo Moreno, or 5 minutes by taxi ($2) plus 10 minutes walk.
- Las Negritas/ El Acantilado (the bold ones/ the cliff); accessible from La Lobería, over a rocky trail, which can be muddy depending on conditions. Swallow-tailed gull nests skirt the coastal rim of the trail, and you’ll typically spot them in pairs. Be careful not to step on resting marine iguanas along the way. Keep an eye out for over-flying magnificent frigate birds, blue-footed boobies, red-billed tropicbirds, and hiding yellow warblers. When you reach the cliff, you’ll notice crevices inhabited by an array of these birds, as well as timid sally lightfoot crabs. Take your time here, and watch the birds as they take part in majestic take-offs and circular glides, often coming impressively close.
Best places to eat:
- Restaurante Lucky: the cheapest option in San Cristóbal for Ecuadorian cuisine. Menus of the day for lunch and dinner include a juice, soup, and a main (one of chicken, beef, shrimp, and sometimes vegetarian) for $4. Servings are large so if you’re not in the mood for soup, the price drops to $3. But add an extra $1-$2 if you fancy an ice-cream (pre-packaged) for dessert, muy rico!
- Casa mi Grande, or signed as Aquí mi Grande: an upstairs restaurant offering a selection of breakfasts for $4. This includes scrambled eggs, bollon de queso (a ball of plantains and cheese), toasted sandwiches, fruit salads, milkshakes, and coffee. Casa mi Grande also offers vegetarian burgers for $4 and other super-cheap tourist friendly selections.
- El Cangrejo Loco (The Crazy Crab): this new establishment offers a $6 chicken shawarma during the week that ain’t too bad. Endemica beers (brewed in San Cristóbal) are at wholesale prices of $4, or six for $20, which is great if you’re with friends or just really thirsty.
- Panadería Fragrata (Frigate Bakery); an excellent place for well-priced pastries and cakes. The owner, Reece, speaks excellent English and is more than happy to help with questions you might have about his baked goods or the rest of the island.
- Mercado Municipal for groceries; a nice building with designated stalls for fresh produce and butchered alternatives.
Other important stuff
Cash money and ATMS
ATMs (or cash machines, geldautomaten, cajeros) are available only on Santa Cruz and San Cristóbal. On Santa Cruz, three are available near the supermarket and there’s also a bank along the main strip, Avenida Charles Darwin, near the fish market. On San Cristóbal, they’re scattered throughout the main district along the pier (malecon).
Personal safety across the Galápagos
The Galápagos is one of the safest places I’ve travelled, concurred by all the travellers I met, including solo travellers. Isabela feels by far the safest. Throughout the islands, bicycles are rarely, if ever, locked up (only by other tourists). Taxi drivers regularly extol the tranquility of the islands compared to the hard-knock life of Guayaquil or Quito in which they admit they have previously felt unsafe in extenuating circumstances.
The biggest concern on the Galápagos is perhaps, other travellers, and crimes of opportunity. Be smart about where you put your things and ensure everything is always visible.
Eating out and the menu del dia
If you’re on a strict budget but you still want to experience the joys of eating out (because your life now involves doing only things that spark you joy, thanks Marie Kondo), then the menu del dia (menu of the day) diet is for you. Most restaurants across the islands offer set lunches (from about 12pm), varying in price between the islands (from as low as $4 on San Cristóbal, or $7 on Isabela). What’s available will fall within two categories: locally inspired dishes with rice (arroz) and a protein option like fish (pescado), chicken (pollo) or meat (carne), or something entirely tourist-tailored like a hamburger with chips (hamburgueser con papas).
Google reviews can’t lead you too astray, as long as you know what you’re looking for. When considering any place, check for bad reviews, and reviews in Spanish (the longer the review the better and more assured you can be it’s not planted). Also sort by most recent as a lot of places have been open for a while and things may have changed. Cross-reference with TripAdvisor, too, if you can. In my experience, opting for Ecuadorian restaurants nets the best results. Even on occasions where I ate somewhere on a whim, it never disappointed.
Buy bottles in supermarkets that are returnable (store clerks will usually tell you, otherwise the bottle says ‘no retornable’). Your beer (cerveza) will contribute a lot less to the environment so you can enjoy your booze responsibly and sustainably.
Groceries and fresh produce
On each of the main islands is a Mercado Municipal (Municipal Market), always a good option for the cheapest selection of fresh fruit and vegetables. Avoid places smack bang in the middle of tourist districts (the further inland the cheaper they’ll be). That said, prices will vary across items, so it’s always a good idea to frequent a few before making purchases if you’re price-conscious.
Photography by Frankey on his Google Pixel 3.