The Galápagos Islands are one of the most remarkable archipelagos on earth. It is a unique experience that leaves a lasting impression on me and that I will never forget. How to explore the Galápagos Islands on your own? Quite simply. With this Galápagos itinerary, I will show you some of the highlights of the islands and some fantastic Galápagos day trips showing wonderful spots and places.
Galápagos by boat or on land? I preferred the land route. Not only because a cruise is quite expensive, but also because I wanted to get to know more about life on land. Besides, I’m not a big fan of cruising, even though a Galápagos trip by boat has the advantage that you can see more of the islands and also go to those that are a bit further away from the beaten track.
The Galápagos Islands consist of 13 islands, of which only 4 are inhabited: Santa Cruz, San Cristobal, Isabela and Floreana – 100 people live on this mini island.
Here are my things to do in Galápagos and some of the most fantastic places to visit:
1st stop: San Cristóbal
The island San Cristóbal with the capital Puerto Baquerizo Moreno and the convenient small airport is the first stop. It is located at the westernmost point of Ecuador and is perfect for excursions on the island and by boat.
This small hill offers several attractions and it is advisable to plan some time here to explore the walking paths and breathe in the first Galápagos air.
You start your tour at the Charles Darwin Interpretation Centre, which you can reach within walking distance of the city centre or spend two dollars on a taxi to save your energy. At the Charles Darwin Center you could spend hours studying the history and development of the islands on your own.
The well-maintained trail takes you through lava and cactus fields to Cerro Tijeretas, the frigate bird hill. Even if you don’t have anything to do with birds or are not an ornithologist, the view from the hill onto Darwin Bay is breathtaking and the immediate closeness of the frigate birds circling above you is fascinating. From the viewing platform, you can see them sitting in the trees below and with a little luck, you can also spot some frigate babies.
I recommend doing the tour in the late afternoon to admire the sunset from the viewing platform. Sunsets always make sense, don’t they?
If you go a little faster, you’ll manage to reach the beach at Punta Carola at the foot of Cerro Tijeretas before dark, with the lighthouse in front of you.
Tip: Be sure to bring mosquito repellent. Otherwise, the critters will eat you up in the evening.
Cerro Tijeretas images
The beach is located south of the capital and can be easily reached in a few minutes by taxi. The name Lobos Marinos comes from the many sea lions sunbathing on the rocks or the beach. The path passes mangroves and many plants and it is expressly pointed out to stay exclusively at the path to endanger neither plants nor animals. The National Park Authority is in charge of the Lobería and hands out penalties for non-compliance.
Marine iguanas – fascinating animals – are passing by along your way. They don’t fear humans, they don’t hurt anyone either, but you have to keep a distance of 2 meters to the animals. Galápagos rules! Take them seriously. The beach invites you to swim, snorkel, surf or photograph the cute sea lions and the babies.
LA LOBERÍA IMAGES
Day trip: A boat trip to Lobo Island and Ochoa Beach
Time for a boat trip and an exploration of the animal world. The trip to the small island of Lobo Island takes about an hour from Puerto Baquerizo Moreno in San Cristóbal. On a short walk with a guide, you will meet the inhabitants of the island, marine iguanas, sea lions, frigate birds and blue-footed boobies and you can admire and photograph them at close range. The boat trip is offered as a day trip. In between, you can jump into the sea and snorkel a little before the captain serves lunch on board.
After lunch on board of the boat, a snow-white, long sandy beach, crystal clear water, rare plants and the wildlife of Galápagos await you: Ochoa Beach.
Tip: Hat and sun cream are an absolute must. Comfortable shoes with which you can balance on rocks, as well.
LOBO ISLAND WILDLIFE IMAGES
In the evening in San Cristóbal
After delicious Empanadas and a Mora-Juice (blackberry juice) in the typical local restaurant El Rincon De Sebas I recommend you to watch the sea lion spectacle at Playa de Los Marinos when hundreds of sea lions with their babies pilgrimage to the beach to spend the night there. Not infrequently, they sleep on park benches or staircases.
If you’re one of those people who can’t do without coffee and cake, don’t miss out on a visit to Café Calypso.
At Encanto Manabita on Avenue Alsacio Northia, fish is grilled on the charcoal grill. Yummy!
2nd stop: Santa Cruz
The ferry takes you in 2.5 hours from Puerto Baquerizo Moreno on San Cristóbal to the city of Puerto Ayora on Santa Cruz. The island is famous for its beautiful sandy beaches, sea turtles in Tortuga Bay and the lava-formed tunnels in the hinterland.
An absolute must on your Galápagos itinerary should be Tortuga Bay. The best way to reach it is to take a taxi to the Galápagos Centro de Energia Renovable and walk along the 2.4-kilometre path until you reach the whitest sandy beach you have ever seen: Tortuga Bay. I admit it, the march is a bit long, especially when the sun is burning down. But it pays off because the beach is really beautiful and if you keep to the right you will come to an idyllic lagoon with clear, calm water at the end of the beach. To get back from Tortuga Bay, you either have to take the path back or ask around at the lagoon if you can get a ride on a boat. You can also pre-order a boat taxi to pick you up at an appointed time.
The wildlife of Tortuga Bay: You’ll meet as many marine iguanas as you will see Sally lightfoot crabs. With luck, you will see brown pelicans and nesting sea turtles and in the lagoon behind the beach there are usually flamingos.
TORTUGA BAY IMAGES
Giant Turtles & Lava Tunnel
An approximately 30 minute drive from Puerto Ayora there is the Rancho Primicias, a private estate where the Galápagos giant tortoise has its home in the wild. It is the only one of its kind and only exists on Santa Cruz. On a walk along the ranch’s paths you can see turtles weighing up to 300 kilograms lying under trees or bathing in the pond.
If you are visiting between December and June, you may hear a loud bawl from afar. At first I thought of a cow… but in fact it was the male turtle that climbed one of the females. According to insiders, the pleasure is rather one-sided and the male is an insatiable one who doesn’t shy away from stones either… 😉
I played voyeur and watched the amorous play of a turtle couple and in fact it didn’t look so much fun for the female.
Near the Primicias Ranch you can visit the fascinating Los Gemelos Twin Craters. One of the few proofs that destruction can produce true beauty.
Most of the islands are made by magma flows from inside the earth that pushed and uplifted land over the ocean. This spectacular landscape was formed because under the ground you are stepping on magma flowed until the Vulcanic activity came to an end. When the liquid rock cooled down and contracted, unstable zones were left. As time went by, they collapsed and built the holes or craters you are looking at.
If you feel like it, you can walk through the 400 meter long lava tunnel. The tunnel is really huge but for a couple of meters you have to crawl on all fours…
LOS GEMELOS & LAVA TUNNEL
Seymour Norte & Bachas Beach
Time for another boat trip. This day trip is also highly recommended and belongs to the top things to do in Galápagos. From Puerto Ayora we leave for the first stop on Seymour Norte. Bird-lovers will get their full enjoyment there: Swallow-tailed seagulls with the red circle around their eyes, frigate birds and their babies and the male frigate birds with their distinctive inflated red belly. The walk across the island takes about 1.5 hours on a partly rocky path, which leads alongside the coast and into the interior of the island. Unfortunately you can witness the cruelty of nature. Some baby sea lion orphans starve in agony and die on the trailside. This is very sad.
Towards the end of the path you will see many land iguanas, which are orange-brown compared to the marine iguanas. Fascinating animals – I couldn’t see enough of them. Also look out for them on the trees, because they often sit on the treetops.
SEYMOUR NORTE IMAGES
After the hike across the island we return to the boat to reach Bachas Beach after a short drive. The water is so turquoise and the beach snow white – paradise!. Here you can snorkel, take a walk on the beach or watch the pelicans hunting. It is a show every time they throw themselves from the air into the sea to catch their prey.
Bachas Beach does not have very many shady places. Sunscreen with SPF 50 and a hat is a must.
BACHAS BEACH IMAGES
Where to eat in Santa Cruz?
Stop for a lunch menu at La Chocolate Restaurant on 1522 Pacific Ave. Relax with a drink at The Rock bar and wander through Calle de los Kioskos and pick the fish you want to eat for dinner.
Paúl from andesplanet.com was my travel guide. He is a wandering Galápagos encyclopedia and I named him Wiki-Paul. You can book your entire itinerary through Andes Planet.
This proposed Galápagos itinerary is suitable for 5 days to discover this wonderful place on earth on your own. Even if the Galápagos Islands do not belong to the cheapest destinations, they are absolutely recommended for an unforgettable experience.
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