The Best Free Activities On The Galapagos Island (Hero)

22 Free Activities On The Galápagos Islands [+4 Affordable Tours]

Here’s a list of all the best free activities on the Galapagos islands so you can stick to a shoestring budget!

Contents

What Are The Best Free Activities On The Galapagos Islands?

The best free activities on the Galapagos include:

 

  • Nature Reserves – all are free to enter and they’re the bets place to see animals
  • Snorkelling – great for seeing baby sharks and turtles. 
  • Coastal Walks/Viewpoints – perfect for seeing more nature, especially nesting birds like the blue footed booby
  • Beaches – ideal for relaxing, watching sunsets and seeing seal lions
  • Museums – a fun way to learn more about the history of the islands

Each of the three islands you can visit (San Cristobal, Santa Cruz and Isabel) have a variety of free activities. 

 

If you are looking to see the islands on a shoestring budget then these are perfect for you.

The Best Free Activities On The Galapagos Island (Hero)

The Best Free Things To Do On San Cristobal Island

San Cristobal is one of three main islands tourists visit in the Galapagos.

 

Both San Cristobal and Santa Cruz have airports, so most people will start their Galapagos Islands journey here.

 

These free activities can easily be spread over a 2-3 night stay on San Cristobal Island without having to book a single paid tour!

1. Galapagos Islands Interpretation Centre

  • Type: Museum 
  • Timing: 1 hour
  • Website

The Interpretation Centre is a short walk from the main town of Puerto Baquerizo Moreno.

 

The centre is an educational museum focusing on the natural history of the Galapagos Islands and the efforts to protect its habitats and environment. 

 

The exhibit provides a fascinating account of the islands such as past colonisation attempts, and the current economic and political situations facing the island.

 

It’s a great way to start your time on San Cristobal and leads perfectly into the next two free activities listed – Mirador Cerro Tijeretas and Playa Punto Carola.

 

 

Coastal path from Mirador Cerro Tijeretas, San Cristobal (Galapagos Islands)
Path to Mirador Cerro Tijeretas, San Cristobal (Galapagos Islands)

2. Mirador Cerro Tijeretas

  • Type: Coastal Walk / Viewpoint
  • Timing: 30 minutes

From the Interpretation Centre you can visit Mirador Cerro Tijeretas – a nice viewpoint looking out over the sea.

 

If you follow the path from the exit of the centre, it will lead you along a coastal path full of cacti. 

 

Here you’ll get your first sightings of some of the famous species on the island. I saw Lava Lizards, Darwin’s Finches and a Marine Iguana that was just chilling in the middle of the path along the trail.

 

Once you reach the viewpoint, you can sight of Kicker Rock far off in the distance and get some nice views of the coast and beaches.

Views From Mirador Cerro Tijeretas, San Cristobal Island (Galapagos Islands)

3. Snorkelling at Tijeretas Bay

  • Type: Snorkelling
  • Timing: 30 minutes

From Mirador Cerro Tijeretas, you can see Tijeretas Bay  – a small, secluded bay perfect for snorkelling in.

 

The path becomes rocky when you reach the water, and there are concrete steps leading into the sea.

 

You’ll find a few sea lions here and if you’re lucky you may get to swim with them. But don’t worry if not, most can be found on the beaches.

You can rent snorkel gear in town from one of the dive shops for around $10. Try:

 

  • Galapagos Fan Dive
  • Aquaventures Dive Centre

4. Playa Punta Carola

  • Type: Beach 
  • Timing: 1 hour

From Cerro Tijeretas, you can follow the trail along the coast to Playa Punta Carola (see map above).

 

Punta Carola is a sandy beach full of sea lions and the odd marine iguana warming itself in the sun.

 

You can park yourself down next to the sea lions and spend half a day catching some sun and enjoying the beautiful views across the bay. Or walk out to the lighthouse for a nice view of the beach. 

 

Be careful though, the sea entrance is blocked by lots of volcanic rock, so no swimming here unfortunately.

TOP TIP: These 4 free activities are the perfect way to spend your first day on San Cristobal Island. You can fly in, drop your bags off at your hotel and then do this in the afternoon. Plan so you arrive at the beach before sunset as the sun sets across the ocean directly in front of the beach.

Joe and a friend with Sea Lions on the Galapagos Islands

5. Playa Mann

  • Type: Beach / Snorkelling
  • Timing: 1-2 hours

Playa Mann is another excellent beach close to the Interpretation centre.

 

You can go snorkelling here, and there are lots of sea lions as well, so this may be your best bet for swimming with one.

 

It’s  smaller than Playa Punta Carola though and does get busy, especially at sunset, so just make sure you get there early to grab a spot. 

Playa Mann, San Cristobal (Galapagos Islands)

6. Playa Loberia

  • Type: Beach / Snorkelling
  • Timing: 1-2 hours

Playa Loberia is another beach worth your time.

 

It can be found on San Cristobal Island’s southwest coast.

 

Loberia beach is a coral sand beach and another great place to spend the day watching sea lions. It is also an excellent place to snorkel as the water is calm and shallow. 

 

From La Loberia, you can also find a nice coastal walk which is the next free thing to do on this list!

7. La Loberia Coastal Walk

  • Type: Coastal Walk
  • Timing: 1-2 hours

At the end of Loberia beach you can find a marked trail along the coast.

 

The path leads you through fields of lava rocks and mangroves.

 

This is a short hike that should take about an hour (there and back) and along the way you can spot marine iguanas and lava lizards warming themselves in the sun.

 

Follow the trail to the end to find a great spot to look down on sea birds such as blue-footed boobies or frigate birds who nest in the cliffside.

 

Try to go during low tide as parts of the trail will be in the ocean at high tide.

Check out our extended itineraries to see how you can fit the Galapagos Islands and all these activities into a longer trip:

 

 

Coastal views from La Loberia, San Cristobal (Galapagos Islands)

8. Galapaguera (Giant Tortoise Habitat)

  • Type: Nature Reserve
  • Timing: 1-2 hours (including travel)
  •  Website

The Galapaguera is a semi-natural reserve built to help raise and care for the famous Galapagos Giant Tortoise.

 

The babies are kept in enclosures until they are old enough to be let out, and you can go and watch them get fed if you go at the right time. 

 

Once grown, they wander around the massive habitat and you can follow the paths through the area to easily spot them. 

How To Get To Galapaguera From Puerto Bazquiero

The tortoise habitat and the two places mentioned below (El Junco Lagoon and Puerto Chino beach) are free to enter.

 

However, the issue is that you need to find transportation to get to them as they are all on the other side of the island in the highlands.

 

It’s about a 22km journey (30-minute drive) and every taxi on the island charges $60. 

 

You can get a group of 4-6 people to bring this cost down. But if you want to save money then there’s another option!

 

Renting a bike costs between $10-15 for a full day and riding to the highlands should take about an hour.

 

Check out these places for bike and electric scooter rentals:

 

tortoise in Galapagos

9. El Junco Lagoon

  • Type: Nature Reserve
  • Timing: 1-2 hours (including travel)

El Junco Lagoon is a highland lake great for catching your first look at frigate birds which nest here.

 

This is on the same road that leads to the tortoise sanctuary so best to combine these two on the same day. 

 

However, if the weather is terrible, then skip this. The highlands can get wet and foggy and I visited on a foggy day and could hardly see the lake, let alone any birds.

For more great tips for visiting the Galapagos Islands on a budget, check out the post below:

 

 

bird in Galapagos Islands

10. Puerto Chino Beach

  • Type: Beach 
  • Timing: Half day including transport

Puerto Chino is another secluded beach great for seeing more sea lions and blue-footed boobies nesting on the rocks.

 

You’ll need transport to get there though as it’s over the otherside of the island. I recommend renting a bicycle to avoid the cost of a taxi.

 

However, you can probably skip this beach if you want as the ones you can walk to from town are just as good!

TOP TIP: Combine the Galapaguera, El Junco and Puerto Chino into a full day of activities. They are all in the highlands and you can follow one road to get to all 3 of them. All of them are free to enter so all you need to do is pay for transport. Renting a bike for $15 is the cheapest way. 

Bright Red Crabs Of The Galapagos Islands
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The Best Free Things To Do On Santa Cruz Island

Santa Cruz is the more developed of the three main islands.

 

The town of Puerto Ayora has more tour operators, restaurants and bars to enjoy but there are still lots of free and cheap things to do as well.

1. Puerto Ayora Fish Market

The fish market is an easy to visit place in town.

 

Whilst seeing all the freshly caught fish and giant shrimp is fun,  the main attraction is Lupe the Sea Lion.

 

Lupe has been visiting the market every day for around the last 10 years. Apparently, she turned up one day, got fed and hasn’t stopped coming back since.

 

She’ll hang around the market waiting for the workers to chuck her a fish head. 

Sea Lion on rocks, Galapagos Islands

2. The Darwin Research Centre

  • Type: Museum
  • Timing: 1-2 hours
  • Opening hours: 7.30AM – 12.30PM and 2PM – 5.30PM 
  • Website 

 The Darwin Research Centre is educational space where you can learn more about the islands.

 

It provides detailed information on the islands’ species, the problems they are facing, and the conservation efforts currently being undertaken to help them.

 

 You also have another opportunity to see the Galapagos giant tortoises (although in full captivity this time) if you didn’t see them on San Cristobal.

 

This is also the final resting place of Lonesome George. He was the famous last Giant Pinta Tortoise. and you can see his taxidermied body here.

3. Playa De La Estacion

  • Type: Beach
  • Timing: 1-2 hours

From inside the Darwin Centre, you should see signs pointing towards Playa De La Estacion.

 

Follow the signs and a short path out of the centre will take you to a secluded beach.

 

You can spend a few hours here either snorkelling, catching some sun or watching groups of marine iguanas huddling together on the rocks. 

The beaches are one of many great reasons to visit the Galapagos Islands. For 16 more reasons,  check out the post below:

 

 

lizard in Galapagos Islands

4. Las Grietas

  • Type: Snorkeling
  • Timing: 1-2 hours
  • Cost: $10 as of 2021

Las Grietas is a huge crevice that has formed between the volcanic rock of the island.

 

This gap is now filled with ocean water and perfect for snorkelling in.

 

The water is refreshingly cool, super clear and the high cliffs of the crevice provide shade to escape the powerful equatorial sun – a great activity for a hot day.

 

I recommend visiting in the morning to avoid the crowds that build up in the afternoon.

How To Get To Las Greitas From Puerto Ayora

To get to Las Grietas, make your way to the harbour in Puerto Ayora, hop on a water taxi and ask for ‘Las Grietas’ – a two-minute trip that costs $0.80. 

 

You will be dropped off on a small boardwalk opposite the harbour and from here, follow the clearly labelled signs and path through lava rocks and cacti fields.

 

You will see two large, jagged cliffs rising up on either side with a crystal clear channel of water running through the middle when you arrive.

TOP TIP: As of 2021, Las Greitas is no longer a free activity on Santa Cruz. You now have to pay $10 to enter and be accompanied by a guide. This is still a great activity though and much cheaper than the paid full day tours on the island.

SWIMMING IN THE GALAPAGOS ISLANDS

5. Tortuga Bay

  • Type: Beach / Snorkeling
  • Timing: 2-3 hours

Tortuga Bay is a beautiful secluded beach surrounded by mangrove trees.

 

It’s another good spot for snorkelling, catching some sun and marvelling at the unique Galapagos wildlife.

 

Along the beach, you can see marine iguanas crawling out of the sea and up onto the beach to warm up and if you go snorkelling, try looking for baby sharks, rays and turtles in the mangroves. However, it can be sandy which will affect visibility. 

 

You can also rent kayaks for around $10 if you want to explore outside the bay further. 

How To Get To Tortuga Bay From Puerto Ayora

You have two options to get to Tortuga Bay:

 

  • Water Taxi – head to the port and grab a water taxi which takes around 20 minutes and costs $5 return
  • Walk – in town you can find the start of the Tortuga Bay path and walk instead. The walk is approximately 2km along a paved path where you will see lots of vegetation, lava lizards and finches. It should take 30-45 minutes walking. At the end of the path, you can see a huge stretch of beach. Take a right, follow the beach, and make your way a little further down to where you can see volcanic rocks and mangrove trees to find the entrance to the bay. 
Tortuga Bay, Isla Santa Cruz (Galapagos Islands)

6. El Chato Giant Tortoise Reserve

  • Type: Nature Reserve
  • Timing: 1-2 hours
  • Cost: $5 + transport
  • Website

If you didn’t get to visit the Giant Tortoise reserve on San Cristobal, then you have a second chance to see these beautiful creatures in their natural habitat on Santa Cruz.

 

The entry fee is $5 here, but that’s still cheap compared to most of the day tours offered by agencies in town.

 

As the reserve is in the highlands, you can also combine it with a visit to some other great sites like the lava tunnels.

How To Get To El Chato From Puerto Ayora

El Chato Reserve is 2km south of the small town of Santa Rosa.

 

You have three choices to get there:

 

  • Taxi – The easiest way to get to El Chato is to take a taxi. The drive should take 20 minutes, and taxi drivers will include waiting time into their fare if you ask them to take you back.

 

  • Bike – Another cheaper alternative is to rent a bike – most agencies on the main drag in Puerto Ayora offer this service. Leaving Puerto Ayora there is a lot of uphill and along the main road there can be traffic, but not much. Stop at OMG! Coffee along the way to break up the journey. Coming back will all be downhill so it will be worth it. 

 

  • Tour – for $30, this tour is a great way to get transport up into the highlands to see the lava tunnels and the giant tortoises. 
Giant Tortoises In The Highlands of Santa Cruz (Galapagos Islands)

7. Lava Tunnels

  • Type: Nature Reserve
  • Timing: 1-2 hours
  • Cost: $5 + transport

If you decide to visit El Chato then the Lava Tunnels pair perfectly with this activity.

 

The Lava Tunnels are underground tunnels formed by the ancient lava that once flowed across the islands.

 

Most are privately owned for paid tours, but there are a couple you can enter and explore by just turning up.

 

As mentioned, for $30, this tour combines the El Chato Reserve and the Lava Tunnels.

VIEWS IN GALAPAGOS ISLANDS

8. Los Gemelos

  • Type: Nature Reserve
  • Timing: 1-2 hours

The third and final place you can visit on your highland bike tour is the twin craters known as Los Gemelos.

 

These craters are two massive sinkholes created when the volcanic roof of empty magma chambers collapsed.

 

The highlands of the islands are a lot different from the volcanic rock beaches closer to the towns. You should be able to see more greenery along with several species of birds.

TOP TIP: Renting a bike in Puerto Ayora is a cost-effective way to see the highlands on Santa Cruz. For around $15, you can visit El Chato, the Lava Tunnels and Los Gemelos. Check out Bike and Smile for tours and rentals.

To see how all these free activities fit into a 5-day itinerary on the Galapagos islands, check out our post below:

 

 

Kicker Rock, San Cristobal Island (Galapagos Islands)

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The Best Free Things To Do On Isabela Island

Isabela island is the least visited of the three as you can’t fly directly to it from mainland Ecuador.

 

It’s also a bit more expensive and has less free activities compared to the rest. However, some of the affordable tours are the best out of all the islands.

 

The free activities will keep you busy for a day or two but there’s no point visiting unless you’re going to pay for the full day tours like the Sierra Negra Volcano or Las Tintoterras.

1. Concha De Perla

  • Type: Snorkelling
  • Timing: 1-2 hours

Concha de Perla (Pearl Shell) is a calm bay with crystal clear waters.

 

This is one of the most popular spots for snorkelling on the island as you have excellent visibility.

 

If you’re lucky, you may get to snorkel with turtles, watch penguins diving for food as well as swimming with all varieties and colours of tropical fish.

 

Try Agora Tours for renting your gear.

Galapagos Penguin on Isabela Island

2. Playa Amor / Wall Of Tears

  • Type: Beach
  • Timing: 1-2 hours

Playa Amor is a small but peaceful beach by the path going from Puerto Villamil to the Wall of Tears. 

 

Like the rest of the islands, you will be able to see iguanas, sea lions and go snorkelling on this beach.

 

If you carry on, you can reach the Wall of Tears. The wall was built in the 1940s by prisoners who were sent to Isabela Island.

 

This is a decent walk so you may want to rent bicycles.

Galapagos Islands From Above

3. Centro de Crianza Arnaldo Tupiza Breeding Centre

  • Type: Nature Reserve 
  • Timing: 1 hour
  • Website

This free activity is another tortoise refuge dedicated to breeding the endangered giant tortoises.

 

A boardwalk connects the town to the Breeding Centre, stretching across the wetlands making for a beautiful walk.

 

At the centre, you will learn about the conservation efforts and be able to see new-borns in their small enclosures.

4. Flamingo Lake (Poza De Los Flamingos)

  • Type: Nature Reserve 
  • Timing: 1 hour

At Flamingo Lake you can observe the highest concentration of flamingos in the islands.

 

This lagoon is right on the edge of town and you can walk there easily. 

TOP TIP: Combine all 4 of these activities into a self-guided day tour. There’s a 5-kilometre route from the town where you can stop at all these places along the way.

This route is best renting a bicycle. The price for the full day bike renting should be around $15.

The route goes like this: Concha De Perla > Flamingo Lake > Tortoise Sanctuary > Playa Amor > Wall Of Tears

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The Best Affordable Tours On The Galapagos Islands

The free activities on the island are great, but if you are staying longer than 2-3 days on each island you’ll eventually want to pay for a tour.

 

Whilst many of the tours online are overpriced and worth avoiding, some are reasonablly priced.

 

Here are the best affordable tours I’ve found on the Galapagos Islands, costing between $20-100:

1. Stand Up Paddle Boarding Tour (Super Bay)

  • Cost: from $40
  • Time: 2 hours
  • Island: San Cristobal

This tour takes you out on a stand up paddle board to look for turtles and sea lions in the water.

 

You’ll visit Shipwreck Bay, pass in front of the Mann Beach lighthouse, and the floating sea lion platform in front of the La Predial dock. 

2. Highlands Bike Tour

  • Cost: from $30
  • Time: 2-3 hours
  • Island: Santa Cruz

With 26 five-star reviews, this tour seems like an absolute bargain!

 

This tour is one of the easiest ways to get into the highlands to see the giant tortoises in their natural habitat.

 

It will also stop off at the lava tunnels.

3. Sierra Negra Volcano Hike

  • Cost: from $60
  • Time: 5-6 hours
  • Island: Isabela
The Sierra Negra Volcano is a must if you’re visiting Isabela Island.
 
Hiking to the top, you’ll experience one of the world’s biggest craters and enjoy panoramic views of the island.
 

With great reviews and  hotel drop-off and pick-up, this is one of the most affordable tours in the Galapagos Islands.

4. Las Tintoterras

  • Cost: from $60
  • Time: 3 hours
  • Island: Isabela

Las Tintoterras is a small islet teeming with wildlife. 

 

This is a great day tour if you want to go snorkelling with turtles, rays and white-tip sharks. You’ll also be able to see penguins here.

How To Find Discounted Tours On The Galapagos Islands

Many of the best tours, such as Pinzon and Bartolome Island cost around $200. 

 

However, there is a way to find these tours for much cheaper.

 

Follow these tips to find discounted tours on the Galapagos Islands:

 

  • Visit in the low season – less demand means it’s easier to find better deals on tours.
  • Don’t book online – paid tour prices are always inflated online, however, researching prices is still recommended.
  • Go window shopping – tour companies will have signs outside advertising their tours and last-minute deals.
  • Book last minute – The best time to book a tour is the day before it leaves as you’ll get the best and final price.
  • Haggle – once you have seen a range of prices from different tour companies, pick the best one and then go and haggle with them. You should be able to get down the price, especially if you book the day before.

TOP TIP: I used this method to get a Pinzon Island tour for half the price advertised online. These tours are usually around $200 and by shopping around and booking one last minute (the day before I wanted to go), I got it for $100

How To Get Cheap Tours On The Galapagos Islands

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