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GALAPAGOS LAND-BASED ‘DIY’ ITINERARY: 5 DAYS, 7 DAYS AND 10 DAYS

Avoiding a cruise tour and planning your land-based itinerary for visiting the Galapagos Islands is a great way to save money while also seeing almost everything the islands have to offer. A lot of these over-priced liveaboard cruises end up taking you to the same places that we've listed below that you can easily visit for free - if we're honest , we think they're a rip-off!

THREE GALAPAGOS ISLANDS DO-IT-YOURSELF ITINERARIES

Even skipping a cruise, we know that visiting the Galapagos islands can still be an expensive endeavour, especially for backpackers.

 

That’s why we’ve got you covered. Start with our ‘6 tips for visiting on a budget’, followed by ‘how to visit without booking a tour’. Then it’s down to you to pick the itinerary you think is best.

 

We’ve outlined three itineraries so that there’s something for everyone.

 

  • Itinerary 1 ‘The In and Out’ – 5 days, San Cristobal & Santa Cruz
  • Itinerary 2 ‘The Island Checklist’ – 7 days, San Cristobal, Santa Cruz & Isabela
  • Itinerary 3 ‘The Bonanza’ – 10 days, San Cristobal, Santa Cruz & Isabela

To make the most from each island and to account for the time lost travelling between them, we recommend two nights stay as a minimum.

'THE IN AND OUT' - 5 DAYS/4 NIGHTS GALAPAGOS ISLANDS ITINERARY

  • Islands: San Cristobal and Santa Cruz
  • Budget: c.$695 = $470 flights, ferry and entrance fees + average cost per day for food and accommodation ($40 x 5). Prices taken from our budget breakdown. 

Itinerary Breakdown

 

  • Day 1 – Fly to San Cristobal, visit the Interpretation Centre, walk to Mirador Cerro Tijeratas and watch the sunset at Playa Punta Carola
  • Day 2 – Visit the Giant Tortoise Sanctuary, El Junco Lagoon & Puerto Chino Beach
  • Day 3 – Ferry to San Cristobal, visit the Darwin Centre and Playa De La Estacion
  • Day 4 – Visit Las Greitas and Tortuga Bay
  • Day 5:
    • Option 1: Ferry back to San Cristobal, fly to mainland
    • Option 2: Relax on Santa Cruz and fly back from Isla Baltra airport (north of Santa Cruz)

Who is this itinerary for?

The backpacker dying to visit the Galapagos islands but knows it’s going to take a chunk out of their monthly budget.

 

We’ve planned this 5-day itinerary so you can see and do as much as possible without spending hardly a penny whilst you are there.

 

Every item on the list is free apart from day 2, which you will need to pay a taxi driver for. However, this can be swapped for a beach day or further exploring at Loberia Beach but it would be a shame to miss the giant tortoises!

 

Therefore, all you need to do is pay for flights, accommodation, and food.

Day 1 - Interpretation Centre, Mirador Cerro Tijeretas and Playa Punta Carola

Flying into San Cristobal is the preferred option as it’s only a minute journey via taxi from the airport to town.

 

Read our full guide on planning flights to the islands before you book anything as flying from Guayaquil is the cheaper and more efficient option than Quito if you’re heading that way anyway.

 

Once you’re off the plane, checked in and your backs dropped off, it’s time to go exploring. A short walk from Puerto Baquerizo will take you to the Interpretation Centre – a small museum dedicated to the history of the islands.

 

As you leave the centre, a path will take you along the coast to Cerro Tijeratas viewpoint and then eventually to Playa Punta Carola, sit here with the sea lions and watch the sun go down to complete your first magical day on the islands.

Day 2 - Tortoise Sanctuary, Highland Lagoon and Puerto Chino Beach

Book a ‘tour’ (which is just a glorified taxi driver) to take you to the north side of the island to visit the Giant Tortoise habitat. The tour costs $60 total so best if you can split it with others.

 

The ‘tour’ will take you to El Junco, a highland lagoon to see frigate birds,  as well as Puerto Chino beach, another secluded spot where you can sight blue-footed boobies, marine iguanas and sea lions.

 

If you still have time after then, you can visit La Loberia beach to see iguanas and more sea lions.

Day 3 - Travel to Santa Cruz Island / Darwin Research Centre

Take the early ferry to Santa Cruz Island so that you have the whole day to explore. Once you’ve settled in your accommodation, it’s a 20-minute walk from Puerto Ayora to get to the Darwin Research Centre.

 

The centre is a fantastic educational space dedicated to the conservation of the rare animals that live on the Galapagos islands. Here you can also see another giant tortoise breeding facility.

 

A path from the research centre will take you to Playa De La Estacion, where you can go snorkelling and find land iguanas.

 

The centre is open 7:30-12:30 and reopens 14:00-17:30; you’ll want to spend 1.5-2 hours here as there are lots to see.

Day 4 - Las Greitas and Tortuga Bay

Two more free activities today. In the morning, rent some snorkel gear and take a water taxi to the entrance to Las Greitas, a high walled crevasse of volcanic rock filled with seawater which you can swim in.

 

In the afternoon, a 45 minute walk will take you through cacti fields to Tortuga bay. Here you can spend the day relaxing on the beach, go searching for turtles and baby sharks in the mangroves or rent a kayak to explore further.

Day 5 - Return to the mainland

If you have return flights from San Cristobal, then it’s time to head back there. Or the smart thing to do would be to book separate inbound and outbound flights and fly from Santa Cruz (Isla Baltra).

 

On our last day, we sat outside at Fresco Café on San Cristobal for breakfast and a coffee while waiting for our flight.

'THE ISLAND CHECKLIST' - 7 DAYS/6 NIGHTS GALAPAGOS ISLANDS ITINERARY

  • Islands: San Cristobal, Santa Cruz and Isabela
  • Budget: c.$905 = $500 flights, ferries and entrance fees + average cost per day for food and accommodation ($45 x 7) + 1 extra tour (c.$90)

 Itinerary Breakdown

 

  • Day 1 – Fly to San Cristobal, visit the interpretation centre walk to Mirador Cerro Tijeratas and watch the sunset at Playa Punta Carola
  • Day 2 – Visit the Giant Tortoise Sanctuary, Highland Lagoons & Puerto Chino
  • Day 3 – Ferry to San Cristobal, visit the Darwin Centre and Playa Mann
  • Day 4 – Visit Las Greitas and Tortuga Bay
  • Day 5 – Ferry to Isabela, Tortoise Breeding Centre, Flamingo Lake and Snorkelling at Concha de Perla
  • Day 6 – Las Tintoteras Tour or Lava Tunnels Tour
  • Day 7 – Ferry to Santa Cruz – fly back to the mainland

Who is this itinerary for?

The person who wants to visit the three main inhabited islands on the Galapagos archipelago, get a fuller experience and who has a little spare time and money.

Day 1-4 - Same as previous itinerary

The itinerary is the same as our five day one, so it’s still a great way to cut down on costs, only with two additional days to visit Isabela island.

 

The extra days will increase your budget, but once you reach Isabela, it’s worth paying for either of the tours mentioned below as they are fantastic experiences.

Day 5 - Travel to Isabela, Flamingo Lake and Concha de Perla

Firstly, take another early morning ferry to Isabela so that you have the entire day to explore.

 

Once you’ve arrived and settled, if you didn’t get a chance to see the tortoise sanctuary on San Cristobal, then you have another opportunity to catch these magnificent creatures here.

 

Your second stop is Flamingo Lake to see the largest concentration of flamingos on the islands.

 

After that, you are snorkelling at Concha de Perla – a very calm bay, with crystal clear waters. This is one of the most popular spots for snorkelling 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.

 

Day 6 - Lava Tunnels Tour or Las Tintoterras Tour

Time for a paid tour. Isabela has some of the most exciting day tours due to all the volcanos on the islands.

 

You can either visit the Lava Tunnels or Las Tintoterras.

 

The Lava Tunnels/Los Tuneles tour will take you snorkelling through lava tunnels. The tunnels were created by the cooling of lava when it reached the ocean, creating water canals now filled with lots of marine life. This is a paid excursion as the tunnels are 1½ -2 hours by boat and the day trip lasts 5 hours in total.

 

We’ve seen the tour offered for $90 and Pahoehoe are a recommended company. Try and haggle on the price to include rental of the wet suits and snorkelling equipment unless you have your own.

 

Second tour option – Las Tintoreras is a series of islets situated close to Isabela Island. As part of the national park, you will need a guide, but the tour offers a chance to see Galapagos penguins, blue-footed boobies, marine iguanas, sea lions, blue herons and crabs.

 

You can also snorkel to see white tip sharks and sea turtles. We’ve seen tours for $60-$65 with Pahoehoe which you can do with kayaks. The trip lasts 2-3 hours.

'THE BONANZA' - 10 DAYS/9 NIGHTS GALAPAGOS ISLANDS ITINERARY

Islands: San Cristobal, Santa Cruz and Isabela

Budget: c.$1,265 = $500 flights, ferries and entrance fees + average cost per day for food and accommodation ($45 x 9)  + extra tours (c.$360)

 

Itinerary Breakdown

 

  • Day 1 – Fly to San Cristobal, visit the interpretation centre, walk to Mirador Cerro Tijeratas and watch the sunset at Playa Punta Carola
  • Day 2 – Visit the Giant Tortoise Sanctuary, Highland Lagoons & Puerto Chino
  • Day 3 – Snorkelling or Diving at Kicker Rock
  • Day 4 – Ferry to San Cristobal, visit the Darwin Centre and Playa Mann
  • Day 5 – Visit Las Greitas and Tortuga Bay
  • Day 6 – Day Tour to Pinzon Island
  • Day 7 – Ferry to Isabela, Tortoise Breeding Centre, Flamingo Lake and Snorkelling at Concha de Perla
  • Day 8 – Las Tintoteras Tour / Lava Tunnels Tour
  • Day 9 – Sierra Negra Volcano
  • Day 10 – Ferry to Santa Cruz – fly back to the mainland

Who is this itinerary for?

This itinerary is for the flashpacker who has little worry about time or money, or someone planning a two-week holiday in Ecuador. The additional days mean you will run out of free activities unless you are happy relaxing on the beaches with the sea lions.

 

Days 1-2, 4-5 and 7-9 are the same as our ‘Island Checklist’ itinerary with an extra day on each island added on. We have laid out what to do on the additional days below.

Day 3 - Kicker Rock

San Cristóbal’s famous rock can be seen jutting out of the ocean from most viewpoints on the island.

 

The ocean currents that swell around the rock attract large marine life, including sharks and sea lions. We went diving here and loved it.

 

If you have your qualifications and fancy diving, then read our beginners guide here. If you aren’t a diver, then it’s still a great place to snorkel, and you will be able to see a lot of marine life.

Day 6 - Pinzon Island

There’s a lot of options for day tours from Santa Cruz Island. We went to Pinzon island to snorkel with sea turtles and baby sharks.

 

However, you can also visit North Seymour island or others if you prefer hiking and landscapes to snorkel.

 

We paid $100 for the tour down from $150 advertised online. Top tips – go in low season and book in-house last minute (the day before) to get the lowest prices.

Day 9 - Sierra Negra Volcano

Isabela has several active volcanoes on the island.

 

This volcano last erupted in 2008 and has the second largest caldera in the world measuring 7km by 9km!

 

The volcano is a 45-minute drive from the port and then some hours walking. Pahoehoe offers tours for $60. This may be a trip you could do without a tour guide, but we’re not sure how much the taxi transport to the volcano would cost so it may not be worth it! The tour takes 5 hours.

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