If you always wanted to volunteer, this might also be THE chance for you to visit Galapagos on a budget and even experience the local life for a bit (which is hard with alle the tourists, but you can try).
There are quite a lot of WWOOFing projects going on. Also the Charles Darwin Foundation offers interesting programs if you have a few months to spare.
27 June 2013
At the end of your snorkeling trip you normally even walk a little around the volcano stone island to a place where white-tipped sharks rest during the day.
I'm kind of afraid of open water so I freaked out and asked the guide why the hell we were snorkeling right next to the resting sharks to which he only replied "Relax chica, they only eat at night". Well, I was't too "relaxed" but tried to convince myself that sharks really only eat at night (still I didn't go into the water anymore ;)).
Snorkeling in mangroves
The Bay Tour of Puerto Villamil which would take a few hours brings you to some really cool islands before the coast of Santa Isabela. There you will be able to go snorkeling and see animals like Galapagos penguins, tortoises, interesting colored fish and mangroves.
Hiking in volcano landscape
This is a magnificent hike around a crater and up through volcanic stones! The Sierra Negro is a really cool hike, which CAN be done on your own, but definitely involves speaking Spanish and hitch-hiking as well as convincing the park officers to let you hike on your own.
On the other side you could also join one of the tours, making your life a little easier and letting you fully enjoy the half-day hike. The tours usually start very very early because it can get really hot when hiking up the volcano. Make sure you bring good shoes, as most of the trail is made of gravel and stones.
26 June 2013
Bar at the beach
So that evening we went exploring Puerto Villamil, the town of Santa Isabela, which is already very different from the touristy Puerto Ayora you experienced on Santa Cruz.
No paved roads and a lot more hints about the local life than in Puerto Ayora. Also we celebrated my 20th birthday that day, walking down to the beach that evening and right at the one pier on the beach you'll find a really cool and fun bar, serving wonderful cocktails (especially the one in a coconut).
Getting to Santa Isabela
In the afternoon we went to Santa Isabela, the second inhabited island of Galapagos. Again by motor boat and to stay there for nights, as the Santa Isabela is huge and offers completely different flora and fauna to explore.
Like mentioned before, make sure you book your motor boat trip about a day in advance to make sure you can reach the other island on time for your next plans.
Charles Darwin Research Center
Cool place to get near the giant tortoises again and see how they are bred to make sure specific species won't die out.
The other part of the Charles Darwin Research Center features places for breeding iguanas, which is super-interesting, because those dragon-like creatures were way more interesting for me than the tortoises.
Also, you can learn a lot about the evolution and the history of the Galapagos Islands at the Research Center.
You'll find iguanas also everywhere in the nature around the different islands. :)
25 June 2013
Hiking around Pirate caves
Your day trip to Floreana most likely includes a hike around the pirates caves, which is awesome and gives you a great view over Floreana.
The Galapagos Islands were perfect hiding spots for pirates, because their existence was not marked on maps for a long time.
Also, they took the Galapagos tortoises with them on their ships as they could survive for weeks without food and could be eaten when the normal food stock was used.
Visiting the giant tortoises
Floreana, where the habitat of the giant Galapagos tortoises is located, is a perfect day-trip-island from Puerto Ayora. The trip including everything should cost you about $70 to $80.
You can get really close to the tortoises and will learn a lot about the different species and their life on Galapagos today.
This is how you get around. Make sure you reserve your trip the day before leaving. Especially Puerto Ayora is horribly filled with tourists who have everything pre-booked, making it hard to find transportation on the spot. (It's also quite annoying to wait for free seats in the crazy Galapagos heat.
If you book a day trip somewhere with a guide the motor boat trip is included. Lots of the day trips are guided tours, as it's quite hard to get around on not inhabited islands without a a van or small bus waiting for you there.
24 June 2013
Accommodation & Food
You can find hostels on Galapagos, where you spend around $15 for a bed in a dormitory, but also some cheap other hotels, just don't opt for the center of the towns and you might find apartments a little bit off the beaten track, which offer nice rooms for cheap prices.
The best idea is to go for the "Menu del día" costing you between $2.50 and $5. You can also just stock up on a healthy breakfast and then make sure you have meals included in the tours you decide on.
Make sure you calculate the $100 you have to pay upon entering Galapagos Islands into your travel budget, those have to be paid. Only Ecuadorians pay less.
Planning a Galapagos Islands Trip
We actually went to Galapagos on a pre-booked 4-day tour, because it was the easiest with my friend working at a tour operator as we got it way cheaper than it would have been when booking the whole trip beforehand online, and because we only had a few days, this was a great option for us.
But, we met a few backpackers who did Galapagos on their own, which wasn't too hard either - so I'll share those tips I collected, combined with our route, which was quite awesome, because we got to see a lot of different sides of the islands.
Puerto Ayora on Santa Cruz is the main hub for many day trips to other islands and for booking snorkeling or diving trips.
Also, you might be able to get last-minute cruise tickets on the spot - especially in off-seasons it's possible to buy cruise tickets for 50% of the the normal price.
Upon arrival in our hotel in Puerto Ayora, the main city of Santa Cruz - the one inhabited island of Galapagos everybody has to visit - we packed our swimming gear and hiked up the trail to Tortuga Bay.
The sand there is amazingly white as it consists only of grind corals. This is also the place the sea turtles come to lay their eggs.
You will for sure find lots of iguanas around the beach, the might also swim by if you jump into the ocean for a little swim in the waves.
Seals & iguanas everywhere
Prepare yourself for lots and lots of animals all around you. The animals on Galapagos haven't really experienced danger by humans as they have been protected for such a long tim and therefore don't mind photo sessions.
Especially the seals don't really care how close you come when they're enjoying the sun.
A cool spectacle is also the fish market in Puerto Ayora where the fisher men cut the fresh fish right at the harbor and many seals and pelicans linger under the tables and around the catch some snacks. :)
Flying to Galapagos Islands
All flights to Galapagos leave from Guayaquil, even if you book a flight from Quito, the capital of Ecuador, the plane will stop in Guayaquil filling up the seats with passengers from there.
The cheapest airline is TAME, followed by AeroGal. Also LAN Airlines brings you to the islands, but this is usually the most expensive option.
The airport is located on Baltra, a little island next to Santa Cruz. From there you take the free airport bus to the crossing (by boat) over to Santa Cruz. This costs about $1 and then it will be about an one-hour bus or van ride to Puerto Ayora.
Guayaquil Practical Info
Guayaquil as a whole is one of the bigger South American cities and therefore a big clash between poor and rich, making it a quite dangerous city for foreigners.
Especially as a girl, make sure not to walk around on your own when it's dark. If you have to get somewhere without public transport - make sure you take registered taxis. Those leave from the central bus station and some major transportation hubs. They are a little more expensive, but it's definitely worth it - and this is me, a blond Austrian girl who lived 6 months in Peru, recommending this :)
Parque de las Iguanas
This is a really fun place with iguanas (lots of them) running around freely. Imagine it like one of the children's zoos you know from European countries with little rabbits, goats, sheep etc., but with many dragon-like iguanas which you can pet and feed in this open and amazing park. A friend of mine used to come here to watch them while having his lunch, but soon stopped going there with food, because the hungry creatures kept following him to get a little snack out of his lunch box ;)
Cerro Santa Ana
This little hill in Guayaquil can be climbed via 456 stairs, which are clearly marked and lead you around lots of awesome little bars, cafés and tourist shops up to the lookout point. Nice place to watch the sunset too and as it is touristy, also not dangerous at all. Many of the bars have specials at night, I went bar-hopping, and therefore I'm not sure which one to recommend - you gotta try them all!