We all want to go to the Galapagos Islands but what do you actually do there? Of course if you are doing a cruise, your days are planned out for you so you don’t have to really think about how to spend your time. But because we did the islands by ourselves, it was hard for us to imagine exactly what our day to day life would look like. We needed to look into things we wanted to do and how to do them so here are some activities to give you an idea of what you can do if you are doing a DIY trip to the Galapagos Islands. I will only speak about the three islands we visited, San Cristobal, Santa Cruz and Isabela.
Walk around the docks
Yes I know this doesn’t sound very exciting but we actually spent a lot of our time just hanging out on or around the docks of each of the islands.
We walked down to Puerto Baquerizo Moreno in San Cristobal after first arriving and we couldn’t believe how many sea lions were on the beach down there. They were barking and making so much noise, exactly what sea lions are supposed to sound like, who knew?! We also saw a blue footed booby chilling on the rocks. We felt very lucky, we thought they were supposed to be quite rare to see and we got to see one within half an hour of being on the islands.
Puerto Ayora on Santa Cruz didn’t have as many sea lions as San Cristobal but there were still a few lying around. One thing you should do is walk a few hundred metres down to the fisherman’s market where you’ll find dozens of pelicans and a few sea lions trying to get scraps from the fisherman. It’s also interesting to see the types of seafood being sold.
The dock in Isabela is a little walk away and not so much is happening down there but the pier off the main street looks out over the sea. The colour of the water here is just stunning, the hue of that blue, my god! Here you can also find many baby marine iguanas basking in the sun. They are so cute!!
One of the most obvious go to activities in Galapagos is snorkeling. I have already written a post about our favourite places to snorkel in Galapagos so I won’t go into too much detail here but a couple of places I would like to mention which I haven’t yet spoken about is Las Grietas in Santa Cruz and Concha de Perla on Isabela.
At Concha de Perla we swam with eagle rays, turtles and fish and saw a penguin and marine iguanas swimming from a distance! There are also sea lions hanging around and occasionally swimming so if you’re lucky you may get to swim with them also.
Las Grietas isn’t really a place to go snorkeling as all we saw was fish but swimming in the clear waters between the two cliffs makes for some awesome photos!
Both these locations are free to visit, you just need to rent or bring snorkel equipment and the taxi boat to and from Las Grietas is 80 cents each way.
Each of the islands has some great information and research centres which were interesting to visit.
The Interpretation Centre on San Cristobal was informative and gave a timeline of the Galapagos Islands from how they were formed to the current day and the kinds of conservation projects in place to preserve its habitat. The centre is only about 1km from town and is easy to walk to. Entry is free.
We also went to the Charles Darwin Research Station on Santa Cruz. This gave detailed information regarding the wildlife of Galapagos with most of the focus on the Giant Tortoises. There were tortoises in captivity but the station helps to breed these endangered animals and rears them until they are ready to enter the wild. Entry is also free and only a 15-20min walk from the main street in town.
Each island has other giant tortoise reserves which all help to breed these animals. We didn’t go to all of them, only Galapaguera on San Cristobal but if seeing giant tortoises is your thing, know there are plenty of options.
We were mainly thinking of our visit to Galapagos as a wildlife spotting trip and didn’t give much notice to the fact that the beaches were going to be some of the most beautiful in the world. While we didn’t have that many days just lazing around on the beaches, we did visit a couple and probably didn’t take in their beauty as much as we normally would have because we were so distracted by the rays and sharks we just swam with!
Punta Carola on San Cristobal had the biggest sea lion colony from what we saw and we spent hours just sitting and watching the interactions of these funny creatures, even giving them names and story lines. Barnacle Joe was a boss!
Tortuga Bay was the obvious go to on Santa Cruz. It’s a beautiful beach but has a lot of people. We would have visited Playa Garrapatero if we had more time but it is a bit further away.
Isabela had the best beaches in my opinion, with coast line for kilometres, all with perfect sand for tanning and the bluest of blue water. I don’t know why I don’t have any photos from here?!
Go to the Highlands
While Galapagos is mainly thought of as a beach and wildlife destination, there are many options for those who maybe don’t want to get their feet wet. Each island has interesting things to do off the coast.
We did a highlands tour on San Cristobal and hired a taxi for half a day to take us around to three locations. Unfortunately the time of year we were there was quite overcast and misty for the highlands. As soon as we drove five minutes inland, the sun was completely gone and it started to rain and El Junco lagoon, our first stop just became a wet, muddy and sightless endeavour. Luckily we combined this day with a visit to Galapaguera Tortoise Reserve and Puerto Chino where the sun was out again once on the coast!
Because of the bad weather inland on San Cristobal we decided to give a miss to the highlands of the other islands but we know popular sights to see on each are Los Gemelos craters and the Lava Tunnels on Santa Cruz and hiking Sierra Negra volcano on Isabela which I’m sure are amazing to visit in the right season.
We had read this blog about someone doing a bike ride through the wetlands of Isabela and finding a huge colony of blue-footed boobies. So we did the same! Unfortunately we didn’t see any boobies but the bike ride turned out to be super cool anyway. We saw real life wild giant tortoises. This was something we really wanted to see as we had only seen them in reserves. We also visited some beautiful beaches and saw another marine iguana swimming, still looks so weird to me! The views from Cerro Orchilla were highly appreciated as the sky was clear which is a rarity in Galapagos and we could see the coast and highlands of the island. The ride usually takes about 3 hours and ends at the Wall of Tears but it took us just under 4 because we stopped a lot, scouring the lands for boobies!
Another ride is the highlands tour on San Cristobal which we did by taxi. I think it’s quite steep both ways but there was a couple doing it the day we were so if you’re keen and have quads like Cadel, go for it!
I didn’t even really want to include this as a thing to do because it’s just so blatantly obvious but I guess I had to in case anyone thought I was living under a rock and didn’t know they existed. There are hundreds of tours you can do on the Galapagos Islands, we did exactly four and they were chosen according to our taste and what we were wanting to see. For more information and pricing, see my other posts about Galapagos as I go into more detail about the tours we did there. We didn’t visit any of the big name islands from Santa Cruz because these were running at around $200 each for the day and we thought we’ll just have to come back one day when we’re filthy rich and old!
I hope this post helps you figure out what you want to do on your trip, I’m so jealous, I already want to go back! If you like these photos check out mine and Harry’s instagram pages @lucindafifi @hposty 🙂