Galapagos Islands: From research station to tourist destination

Embark on an extraordinary adventure to the Galápagos Islands and witness the unparalleled wonders of evolution unfold before your eyes. Immerse yourself in the unique biodiversity of this pristine archipelago, where fearless wildlife and untouched landscapes await your discovery.

The Galapagos Islands is a volcanic archipelago in the middle of the Pacific Ocean that is considered one of the best places for wildlife viewing as it has flora and fauna that is unique to the islands and found nowhere else on Earth.

Initially discovered by accident in 1535 by Fray Tomás de Berlanga on his way to Peru, the archipelago was made famous in the mid-18th century by Charles Darwin with his theory of evolution, based on the island’s animals and adaptation to the ecosystem through isolation.

Today, the Galapagos Islands are a prominent feature of nature documentaries and bloggers who visit the sanctuary to explore its incredibly unique and exciting ecosystem.

The Galapagos Islands has begun to evolve from a research station to a tourist destination. I had the chance to visit the Galapagos Islands in 2018 and found it amazing (as expected) but the journey challenging.

Everything you need to know before you visit the Galapagos Islands


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Planning your trip to the Galapagos Islands

Major international ports of entry

The Galapagos Islands welcome you with breathtaking panoramic views of untouched beauty. Getting to the archipelago is easy’ish via aircraft or ship, but one has some surprises depending on how you arrive.

Cruises have varying schedules on the time of year and passenger demand and usually anchor offshore near Puerto Ayora with tender boats to bring you into town. Cruise ships will typically include the mandated fees in the booking price, unlike airlines.

Commercial airlines operate a handful of domestic daily flights from the mainland to Baltra Island. Upon landing, you’ll undergo additional customs screening, generally focused on agricultural inspections/control.

Once you’re out of customs, you immediately enter a queue at the welcome desk, where you’ll pay the USD 100 per person entry fee to the Galapagos National Park.

Once you pass the welcome desk, USD 100 lighter, you’ll be in the arrivals hall, unlike any other airport. There are no pick-up areas, ride shares, or different ways to get to the ferry terminal – only a queue to shell out another USD 5 for a bus ride to the Ferry Terminal, a short 5 minutes away.

The ferry terminal charges you USD 1 to take a small boat across the 500-meter (1,800-foot) channel to Santa Cruz island.

Once you arrive on Santa Cruz island, there are no rental cars or ride-sharing services – it’s another USD 40 taxi ride across the island into Puerto Ayora, the island’s population center. Most hotels, hostels, and restaurants are located around Puerto Ayora’s city center and along the bay; however, there is a lot of boutique lodging throughout the island, near the E5 highway.

Some destinations may require a water taxi ride, which is conveniently available from Gus Angermeyer Pier and Ferry Terminal in Puerto Ayora. Fees vary based on the distance and location, and if you look like a tourist (like I did), you’ll pay USD 5 to your AirBnB but only USD 1 back.

Activities and top tourism destinations in Galapagos Islands

The Galapagos archipelago is expansive, and Santa Cruz Island is a strategic launch point for exploring it. Connections to smaller cruise operators are conveniently located in Puerto Ayora.

If your trip doesn’t include visiting additional islands by boat, there are a handful of exciting destinations on Santa Cruise Island.

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The Galapagos Islands have been a top destination to explore because of its untouched ecosystem and the simple fact that some animals exist nowhere else on this planet.

The only downside to visiting this magnificent destination was the constant nickel and diming at almost every turn, here’s the top three things you have to remember when visiting the Galapagos Islands:

  1. Cash is king – Local merchants rarely accept credit cards. Some touristy places and high-end gift shops may take them out of convenience, but cold, hard cash is king. If you didn’t bring much money with you, ATMs are available with a steep surcharge. The islands are a territory of Ecuador, and both the mainland and Galapagos islands have standardized on the US Dollar as the local currency.
  2. Technology is a foreign word – The island’s cell service is spotty, and data service is abysmal. Expectations for WiFi shouldn’t be much better. There’s no Uber, no uber eats, pretend it’s 1990, and you’ll be just fine. Sorry kids!
  3. Humans yield to animals – It’s normal to see a seal sleeping in the middle of a busy walkway. Iguanas tend to prefer the hot sandy beaches and will sun themselves right next to you. Tortoises will slowly meander across the road without looking both ways. The animals give no fucks.

In Conclusion

Visiting the Galapagos Islands is a must-see destination for nature enthusiasts and adventure seekers. Renowned for its unparalleled biodiversity and unique wildlife, the islands offer a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to witness the wonders of evolution up close. The pristine landscapes and unspoiled beauty provide an immersive and unforgettable experience I highly recommend.

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