Visiting the Galápagos islands – cruise vs independent travel.
Once you take the plunge and book a Galápagos cruise you are unfortunately signing up for scheduled meal times, early morning wake up calls and 5 – 7 nights spent on the rocky ocean waves. You will join 15 – 25 other guests as you follow your set itinerary for the week. You move as slow as the slowest in the group and must be prepared to cater to everyone’s interests. It is great to be able to meet new friends, but you risk spending a week with a group of people that you don’t actually fit with.
Independent travel looks a bit different in that you decide when you go and where you go. You can take lazy days and eat breakfast/lunch/dinner on your own schedule. You will still end up working with tour companies, but you can shop around and pick the locations and prices that work for you. You don’t have a set group of travelers with you 24/7, but there are opportunities in the cities and on the excursions to meet other travelers. Your expenses will depend on how much you do. You could spend the week doing all of the free activities, or you could explore a different island or diving excursion each day which will definitely add up.
The animal and plant life in the Galapagos Islands is unbelievable. Don’t skip over visiting the Galapagos because you are scared off by the cruise prices or the rumored high tourist fees. Jump on a plane and visit the islands independently. Plan your own schedule and manage your own budget while exploring paradise.
My independent itinerary:
22nd Feb: Flew from Quito to Isla Santa Cruz. Got my first sighting of Galápagos sea lions, Galápagos fur seals, and Pelicans.
23rd Feb: Visited El Chato Tortoise Reserve, where you can observe giant tortoises in the wild. Watching these slow moving prehistoric looking beasts is truly amazing. Nearby are some impressive Lava Tunnels, which are more than a kilometre in length, formed when the outside skin of a molten-lava flow solidified. When the lava flow ceased, the molten lava inside the flow kept going, emptying out of the solidified skin and thus leaving tunnels. Just north west of Puerto Ayora is the Charles Darwin Research Station.
24th Feb: Took the local ferryboat to Puerto Villamil, the main town on seldom visited Isla Isabela. Backed by a lagoon where flamingos and marine iguanas live and situated on a beautiful white-sand beach, it’s a sleepy little village of sandy roads and small homes.
25th Feb: 4km west of town is the Muro de las Lágrimas (wall of tears), a 100m-long wall of lava rocks built by convicts under harsh and abusive conditions. Hiked there and back and stopped off at various viewing points and of course the beach!
26th Feb: Took a half-day tour and visited Los Túnneles, a wonderful spot for snorkelling, formed by convoluted lava formations standing between mangroves and the open sea. Saw white-tipped sharks, manta rays, eagle rays, sea lions, turtles and a sea horse. Also got to see a number of blue-footed booby and Galápagos penguins.
27th Feb: Walked around the Villamil Lagoon, which is known for its marine iguanas and migrant birds. A 1km-long trail begins just past the Iguna Crossing Hotel along a wooden boardwalk over the lagoon passing mangroves and dense vegetation, eventually ending at a Giant Tortoise Breeding Centre. Along the way I got to see lots of Pink Flamingos. In the afternoon I took the local ferryboat back to Isla Santa Cruz and spent the night there.
28th Feb: Took the local ferryboat to Isla San Cristóbal. Locals call San Cristóbal the capital of paradise, and since Puerto Baqueirizo Moreneo is the capital of Galápagos province, it technically is.
1st Mar: Went snorkelling around Kicker Rock, so named because of its resemblance to a sleeping lion. The island is an imposing, vertical, sheer-walled tuff cone that has been eroded in half. It was an awesome place to snorkel and the highlight was swimming with a green sea turtle. Got to see more Galápagos sea lions.
2nd Mar: Visited the interpretation centre, which explains the history and significance of the Galápagos better than anywhere else in the islands. Got to see more Galápagos sea lions.
3rd Mar: Flew back to Quito.
The total cost of my independent visit to Galápagos was approximately $1,500 USD (approx. $150 USD per day) for everything, including flights to/from Quito.
Next stage: Otovala.