Spotting tortoises, iguanas and other animals is the main reason why people visit the Galapagos. But still we were often surprised by how abundant and friendly the animals were.
Sea lions rest in benches at the port, rays swim next to you by the shore, sharks can be spotted in any snorkelling trip. There’s so much to see that sometimes you don’t know if you watch a colony of marine iguanas or focus on the sea turtles swimming in the distance.
Unlike any other place I’ve visited, in Galapagos you can always be sure that you’ll see lots of animals close by anywhere you go – from beaches full of sea lions with pups to tortoises grazing next to a main road. Time and again we were surprised by the wildlife everywhere we went.
There are three main towns in Galapagos – we stayed in Puerto Ayora in the island of Santa Cruz. The main road is Charles Darwin Street, which has some souvenir shops, tour operators and a few bars and restaurants.
Charles Darwin Research Station is a short walk from the centre and the main thing to see in Puerto Ayora. At the main port water taxis drive tourists to their hotels while reef sharks and sea lions hang around.
WHERE TO STAY – Finch Bay Hotel:
Because this was our honeymoon, we splashed out and stayed at the Finch Bay, which is a lovely hotel with a beach at its doorstep.
We booked the 8D/7N package which included boat trips to four nearby islands and land excursions to the highlights around Santa Cruz – you really don’t need to do any planning of your own with this package.
It included all meals (breakfast, lunch either aboard their boat or in the hotel, and a 4-course dinner every night) and not only did they know from the start that we were veggie, but also they were happy to adapt the menu to accommodate for vegans.
In the evening we often had a cocktail by the swimming pool, taking advantage of their happy hour deals on daiquiris, caipirinhas and other drinks from South America. Our room was bright and spacious and had a beautiful view of the bay.
The boat excursions were done aboard the Sea Lion, Finch Bay’s nice yacht. We were always accompanied by a naturalist guide (sometimes two) and travelled in small groups.
The staff at the Finch Bay were absolutely fantastic – not only was the service very good, but they were genuinely friendly and helpful. The Finch Bay is very expensive though, so it’s definitely a choice for special occasions. We booked it through Metropolitan Tours, a travel agency that manages the hotel.
GALAPAGOS BY BOAT:
We chose to stay in land as a week on a boat seemed a bit much for us, but visiting Galapagos by boat is the best way to see more islands and cover a bigger distance. There are lots of options to choose from with many different itineraries.
Galapagos is an expensive place to visit, and no matter how you do it, you need to be prepared to spend. Everything is quite expensive, as places are full of tourists and there aren’t many options around.
Tipping is welcome at tours and for services, but it’s not mandatory. Although the currency of Ecuador is the US Dollar, you should take small notes only, as it’s hard to change larger notes. Tours are usually all inclusive, so once you’ve paid for those there isn’t much else to spend.
Ecuadorian food is definitely not veggie, but in the Galapagos they are used to vegetarians. Even in Ecuador mainland people are always happy to adapt dishes and keen to ensure that you have a proper meal, so there are always good alternatives (and speaking Spanish goes a long way).
There’s lots of exotic fruit which is great, and of course Ecuadorian coffee and chocolate are world-famous.
Getting to the Galapagos from the UK is quite the journey: firstly, there are no direct flights from the UK to Ecuador (we flew via Miami on the way there and Madrid on the way back). You can get flights to Galapagos from capital Quito or the country’s largest city Guayaquil (most flights from Quito have a short stopover in Guayaquil), and it’s safer to allow at least one day each way in Ecuador in case there are problems with flights. Flights from the UK to Ecuador start at £550 return; from mainland Ecuador to the Galapagos it’s about £250 return.