We absolutely love wildlife, so if there was one place in South America that we wouldn’t have missed, it’s the Galapagos Islands. Everyone we’ve met who’d been to the Galapagos has always come back raving about it and telling us wildlife lovers that we just had to go there.
With Ecuador as the first stop of our South American trip, we made sure that we booked a cruise to finally explore the Galapagos. I did much research to work out the best way to see the islands, which islands to visit and which tour company to use. The whole thing is actually rather confusing but still, I pretty much doubt that you could have a bad time in the Galapagos. There’s wildlife pretty much everywhere you turn.
You can explore the islands by staying on one of the inhabited islands such as San Cristobal or Santa Cruz and taking day trips. You can also decide to do a cruise. As I suffer from sea sickness, I wasn’t sure if the cruise option would be the best for me but after doing a lot of research, I decided that in fact, the cruise option was the best way to explore the Galapagos.
In the end, I took the risk and decided to book a cruise. We chose the company G Adventures for our cruise because they seemed to offer the type of cruise we wanted. Their cruises are low-key, use smaller boats and offer better value for money than some other companies. We did their 10-day trip of the Central, South and East Islands aboard the Montserrat and we had a wonderful time. This 10-day trip was actually a 7-night cruise because the tour began in Quito. Here is how our trip went from day to day.
Day One – Quito
Quito and night briefing.
The first day was an easy one. All guest are required to arrive in Quito prior to or on the first day, in order to join the tour. We had arrived four days earlier, giving us a lot of time to explore the capital of Ecuador. We actually really enjoyed Quito, especially its beautiful Old Town and the numerous viewpoints around this lovely city. You can read more about what to do in Quito here.
On day one of our G Adventures tour, we checked out from our hostel, Quito Terrace, only a few minutes walk from the hotel selected for this tour, The Hilton Colon. We checked into the Hilton for one night prior to departure.
At 6 pm we met the rest of the group and went through a tour briefing with one of the G Adventures representatives. Once finished, we headed up for an early night of sleep before our 5.45 am wake-up call the next day.
Day 2 – First day in the Galapagos
Arriving in San Cristobal
After breakfast and an early morning transfer to Quito airport, our representative organised both our boarding passes and our Transit Control Card (which we had to pay $20 for) and off we went to wait at our boarding gate.
We flew to San Cristobal Island via Guayaquil and arrived in the Galapagos just before midday. Our arrival went smoothly. First, our baggage was scanned to ensure we weren’t importing any prohibited items and then we paid the $100 National Park entry fee. We were told later that the government is considering putting this price up to $200. That’s a bit steep but I guess it’s one way to stop over-tourism of the islands.
Boat briefing and lunch
Once out of the airport, we were picked up by bus and taken straight to the dock, in order to board our boat, the Montserrat. But of course, we first checked out the sea lions playing around in the shallow water and lazing on the dock’s pontoons! After that, it was a short boat briefing followed by our first lunch onboard the Montserrat.
Isla Lobos and our first snorkelling in the Galapagos
For our first snorkelling in the Galapagos, we stopped on Isla Lobos where we were greeted by some huge schools of fish. Some of them were tiny, but the most impressive was a big school of huge, King Angelfish. We also had our first underwater encounter with a sea lion pup who came over to swim with us. He was very inquisitive and oh so cute!
Although the snorkelling was certainly interesting, it was quite hard keeping our heads in the water because of the number of birds flying above us. Flocks of Frigate Birds, Blue Footed Boobies and others were all around us. There were also plenty of sea lions lying upon the rocks, taking a nap.
Afternoon walk around Isla Lobos
After our snorkel, we headed back to the Montserrat and were treated to some snacks and Canelazo (an alcoholic drink traditionally made in Ecuador’s highlands) to warm us up!
After a quick shower, we were off again on an afternoon walking tour around Isla Lobos. Isla Lobos is home to so many birds and we encountered many during our walk. We saw several Blue Footed Boobies, including some that were sitting on their eggs in the middle of the path, totally unconcerned about us. One Booby had two chicks with her and we also saw one male performing his courtship ritual.
We also saw Frigate Birds, including one who was blowing out his red chest as part of his courtship ritual. Unfortunately, it was not mating season, so we didn’t see many of them doing this. We also came across several sea lions resting on the rocks or swimming in the shallows. Some were even lying right in the middle of the path so that we had to walk around them!
The walk across Los Lobos was actually a little tough because a lot of it was on slippery black volcanic rocks. Some of them were a little wobbly, so you really needed to pay attention to where you were stepping. When there is so much wildlife to see around you, it’s a little difficult to concentrate on where you place your feet!
After our afternoon walk, we headed back on board the Montserrat. We then had our nightly briefing about the next day’s activities, followed by a buffet dinner and our first night sleeping aboard the boat. Strangely, I didn’t seem to get seasick, perhaps because I was so tired!
Day Three – San Cristobal
Day two started with an early Panga ride along the rocky coastline, cliffs and caves of Cerro Brujo, on the northern coast of San Cristobal Island. After checking out some bird life and sea lions along the coastline, we stopped for a walk along the pristine white sandy beach of Cerro Brujo. A group of sea lions had chosen the beach to rest on and were happily snoozing on the white sand, completely obvious to the passing tourists!
Another highlight of this beach was the marine iguanas who we almost missed because their dark skin totally blended in with the dark volcanic rock they were sunning themselves on. We only noticed them as we got right up close to them. The beach is also popular with pelicans and of course more of Galapagos’ famous Blue Footed Boobies.
Many Sally Lightfoot crabs also hang around Cerro Brujo and we also spotted a ghost crab. They are so transparent that they’re a very hard crab to spot!
After walking up and down the beach admiring the wildlife, we donned our snorkelling gear and headed into the water for a snorkel. The water was beautiful but we did not spot that much, other than a few fish.
Jacinto Gordillo Breeding Centre
After lunch and a short siesta, we headed back to the main city of San Cristobal and caught a bus across to the other side of the island. There we visited the Jacinto Gordillo Breeding Centre, where they incubate and raise baby giant tortoises, up to three years old, before releasing them back into the wild.
This breeding centre helps the conservation of the tortoises and helps raise their numbers which are still much lower than they were before they were first hunted for oil. We walked around the grounds and came across some of the massive breeding tortoises, the males are huge! We watched them munch on food and slowly wander around. One even came straight towards us, without a care in the world.
We also saw the young tortoises being cared for. Some were tiny, only a few months old. It’s so amazing to see how small they are when young and how huge they become when they get older. It was also strange to think that those little tiny tortoises would probably outlive us. They often live to be 80 – 150 years old!
Day Four – Isla Española
After a rough night on board the Montserrat, we woke up to Isla Española. I say a rough night because that’s what I heard from Simon (the person who always sleeps through everything). I am normally a very light sleeper and I also get sea sick but I felt absolutely nothing, nor did I hear anything. All of the fresh air and exercise during the day must have really knocked me out!
According to Simon and others on board, the boat was moving around so much overnight that some people felt sick and items were flying around all over the cabins. How I slept through that is a total mystery!
First thing after breakfast, we hopped on the Panga boat and were taken to Gardner Bay’s beach on Isla Española. A colony of sea lions was already waiting for us there, snoozing, or going about their other daily activities. There were a few babies who seemed to be searching for their mums, which I always find heartbreaking. Just like on San Cristobal the day before, none of the sea lions appeared bothered by us at all.
The rocky part of the beach was the perfect spot for spotting marine iguanas munching on seaweed. We also saw our first Española mocking birds who were very cheeky indeed. They came right up to us and struck a pose. Then, as soon as we tried to photograph them, they’d run off!
After our walk along the beach, we went for a quick snorkel off the beach where we spotted a couple of stingrays hiding on the white sandy floor. Some people in our group even spotted some white tip sharks further out, sleeping under some rocks.
We finished our morning with another snorkel, this time from the Panga boat. This was a fantastic snorkel because we were greeted by some sea lions, who happily swam and played around us. A couple of them were fighting over the severed head of a large tuna, tossing it around and taking bites out of it.
Our afternoon was spent on Punta Suarez, where we had a three-hour, guided walking tour with our excellent CEO/naturist guide, Milton. There, we were not only greeted by sun-basking sea lions (yes they are everywhere!) but also by hundreds of Espanola Marine Iguanas.
The Marine Iguanas are also known as Christmas Iguanas because they turn bright green and red during the mating season. They too were basking in the sun on the rocks. There were so many of them it that it was impossible to count them all. Some were even lying on top of each other!
The island is also renowned for its nesting bird population and especially for the Waved Albatross. We were very fortunate to see quite a few of those Albatross during our visit because it was their mating season. We were also lucky to see the hilarious courting dance that they do to attract their mates.
As we followed the path around the island, we were treated to some stunning coastal scenery, along with a very powerful blowhole. Another amazing day in the Galapagos!
Day Five – Floreana Island
This morning we headed to Punta Cormorant on Floreana Island, where we visited two totally different beaches. One beach had greenish coloured sand (coloured by olivine crystals) and the other beach had perfectly white sand. The white sandy beach is a turtle nesting beach but unfortunately, we did not see any turtles there. We did, however, see many stingrays hanging out in the shallow water as we stood by the edge of the water.
One sad thing that we saw on that beach was that there was a lot of micro-plastic that had washed ashore. We helped Milton pick some of it up because he collects some every time he visits. It’s so small that it’s a huge job to pick up all of it but it needs to be done because of the damage it can do to animals who unknowingly ingest it.
Punta Cormorant also has a huge lagoon in the middle of it, where flamingos and other birdlife like to congregate.
After our visit to Punta Cormorant, it was time for snorkelling. Our boat took us to Champion Islet. As soon as we jumped in, we couldn’t believe our eyes. There were schools and schools of colourful fish and the water was crystal clear.
But the best part wasn’t even the fish but rather the sea lions. As we swam a bit closer to the rocks, a pod of sea lions decided to come and play with us. There were too many of them moving around us to count but there were at least 10 of them. They were swimming amongst us and coming up close to check us out. It was a highlight of the trip, absolutely incredible!
Post office Bay
In the afternoon, we visited Post Office Bay. In the 18th Century, English whalers decided to put a barrel there that they used as a post box. People would put their mail in it and other whalers who came from all around the world would take letters that were addressed close to their own home back with them and deliver them by hand. Nowadays, the box is only used by tourists who put postcards in and take some out to deliver them by hand on return to their home country.
After dropping off a postcard and taking one to deliver when we finally return home, we went for a snorkel just off the beach of Post Office Bay.
After our amazing snorkel that morning, we didn’t expect anything to top it but here we were in the water with turtles everywhere and of course more playful sea lions. It was even more amazing than our morning snorkel.
At one point I counted six turtles near us, munching on the seagrass. The best part was that, just like in Lady Elliot Island (our favourite snorkelling place in Australia), the turtles were not shy! They didn’t move, even if the current pushed you close to them, nor did they mind coming right up next to you.
The sea lions were also as cheeky as ever. A few of the younger ones tried to chew on our fins and one even tried to mouth my camera as I filmed him!
When we returned to the Monserrat after such an amazing day, we headed up to the sundeck for some sunset cocktails. A beautiful end to another perfect day in paradise.
Day 6 – Santa Cruz Island
On day six, we woke up to Santa Cruz Island, the second largest island in the Galapagos. Our morning activity today was a visit to the Fausto Llerena Breeding Centre for giant tortoises.
Similar to the centre we visited on San Cristobal island, we walked around a path and were able to check out some of the breeding tortoises, as well as finding out more about their nesting and incubation process. We were also able to see lots of young tortoises of various ages.
After our time at the Fausto Llerena Breeding Centre, we had one and a half hours of free time in Puerto Ayora, the main town on Santa Cruz and the largest town in the Galapagos.
We did some souvenir shopping and then moved on to the fish market, where we checked out the fishmongers chopping up their big pieces of fish. There were also some “locals” there (the sea lions), trying to assist with the sales, or should I say assist in eating all the leftovers! The market also attracted a few Galapagos Pelicans who were also interested in any leftovers.
In the afternoon, we drove 45 minutes to the highlands in the north of the island where we could see the giant tortoises in the wild. Seeing them in the wild was so much better, they were not at all afraid of us and would happily pose for a tortoise selfie.
After our tortoise time, we explored some lava tubes and searched for owls inside them. Sadly, we were not successful. This part really reminded us of our time on the Big Island of Hawaii.
Day 7 – Santiago and Bartolome Islands
Sullivan Bay – Santiago Island
We had an early start this morning with a 6.30 am breakfast, in order to do our walk on Santiago Island before the day heated up. We had a 2-hour walk across a 200-year-old lava field and in the heat, it can quickly become quite unbearable out there. Santiago Island also reminded us of the Big Island in Hawaii.
Snorkelling off Bartolome Island
After lunch, we snorkelled off Bartolome Island where we saw a variety of fish, reef sharks, some stingrays and some colourful starfish. But more importantly, we saw two Galapagos Penguins sitting up on the rocks just above the water. Unfortunately, they declined to jump in and swim with us, preferring just to watch us quietly and rest.
Panoramic viewpoint – Bartolome Island
Afterwards, we walked up to a viewpoint that gave us panoramic views over the island and all of its lava fields. We learnt from our guide all about how the Galapagos islands form via volcanic action. The islands form from a stationary hotspot that lies under one of the tectonic plates. As the plate moves over the hotspot, new islands are formed and the older islands slowly drift away towards the mainland of South America.
Day 8 – Back to Santa Cruz
Overnight we cruised back to Santa Cruz and docked on the northern shore of the island. Our morning activity was a walk on the pristine Bachas Beach. As we approached the beach we could see a couple of reef sharks gliding through the crystal clear waters. We first walked around the beach and learnt more about the fauna and flora on this side of the island. We spotted a flamingo flying over us and a few marine iguanas sunbathing.
Then it was on to an hour of snorkelling off the beach, We saw a few different fish, an octopus, four sea turtles and a stingray.
Dragon Hill (Cerro Dragon)
After lunch, we cruised an hour to Dragon Hill, another part of Santa Cruz Island. There, we went on a little hike to find the Land Iguanas which we still hadn’t seen yet. Thankfully we managed to spot three of them during our walk. One of them was resting on the top of the hill, just enjoying the beautiful panoramic views in front of him.
Once back on the beach we were very glad to jump into the water to cool off. The sun was very strong and the walk had made us very hot!
Snorkelling was not very eventful there but it was nice to be in the beautiful blue water of the Galapagos for the last time because the next day we would fly back to Quito.
Day 9 – Last morning in the Galapagos and back to Quito
This was our last morning in paradise and after a 5.30 am start, we hopped on the dingy at sunrise for our last activity, a dingy ride around Tortuga Bay. The bay’s mangrove area was a great spot to see lots of wildlife, including a big flock of Blue Footed Boobies diving down and fishing for their breakfast.
In the water, we also saw green turtles, a Hawksbill turtle, baby black and white tip sharks, baby Hammerhead sharks and a family of Spotted Eagle Rays. It was the perfect end to a perfect trip.
Flying back to Quito
After getting back on board and eating our final breakfast on the boat, we headed back on land to catch our flight back to Quito.
Our flight took just over two hours, with a quick stopover in Guayaquil. From Quito airport, we were transferred back to the Hilton hotel for our last night of the trip.
Day 10 – The end!
Today we were free to depart at any time. For us, it was another early start as we were on our way to Baños with the Wanderbus! We had a 6.10 am departure, which was very hard after a full week of activities in the Galapagos, but then again, who’s complaining, another day, another discovery!
Please note: Free Two Roam endorses a policy of full disclosure. We were not hosted by G Adventures on this trip and paid for it out of our own pocket. We really enjoyed this trip and these are our own views and true opinion of this company. However, we are a member of G Adventures’ affiliate program, so if you purchase a trip with them via a link from this article, we will earn a small commission that helps support our work.