Ultimate Girl’s Guide to the Galapagos Islands

The Galapagos Islands are one of my favorite places in South America.  I liked them so much….I returned twice!  And I ended up meeting locals, who took me all over the islands ~ from the famous sea lions on Isla Santa Fe, to the massive tortoises & nightlife on Santa Cruz (along with incredible beaches), to great surfing on San Cristobal.  And don’t forget the blue-footed boobies!  There’s something for everyone in the Galapagos….& in this “Ultimate Girl’s Guide to the Galapagos Islands,” you’ll get a front-row seat to making your own travel decisions for this gorgeous archipelago.

Ultimate Girl's Guide to the Galapagos Islands, Girl Who Travels the World

The author & Galapagos local Adicho at El Chato Tortoise Reserve on Isla Santa Cruz!

Getting Oriented in the Galapagos…

Ultimate Girl's Guide to the Galapagos Islands, Girl Who Travels the World

This map is the best I’ve found for getting oriented in the Galapagos.

I love the map above, because it helps you get your bearings in the Galapagos: there are only two airports (which you can see with the airplane symbol) on Baltra/Santa Cruz & San Cristobal. And only islands with towns that are starred are actually inhabited: i.e. Santa Cruz, Floreana, Isabela, & San Cristobal. Thus, those are the only islands you can stay on! We’ll get into this more below…

Where to Base Yourself in Galapagos?

This can be a little confusing, as there are so many islands.  But what makes it more simple: there are really only FOUR islands you’ll want to stay on.  This is because many Galapagos Islands are only inhabited by animals!  So that narrows things down. 

Let’s take a look at the islands you can stay on:

Ultimate Girl's Guide to the Galapagos Islands, Guide to Santa Cruz Island in the Galapagos, Girl Who Travels the World

Flying into Baltra Airport, in the Galapagos Islands.

  • Isla Santa Cruz:  I put this island first, as most international visitors will fly into Baltra’s airport.  From Baltra, it’s a quick hop over to Isla Santa Cruz.  On both of my Galapagos Island visits: I stayed here.  It’s a great base, as there are so many things to do ~ & it’s also a great place to catch tours to other islands.  I loved strolling the town of Puerto Ayora every morning: greeting the sea lions, & heading to the local fish market to see what was happening.  There’s also the widest range of accommodations here: from five-star hotels to cute, boutique hotels ~ & even hostels, for those on a budget. 

Santa Cruz is Perfect For: Those looking for a little nightlife, a good range of hotels, & lots of things to do ~ plus easy access to other islands & tours!

  • Isla Isabela:  The largest island in the Galapagos, Puerto Villamil is the major town here.  There’s no airport on Isabela ~ so that’s a downside (or a plus).  To reach the island, fly to Baltra & then take a boat over from Isla Santa Cruz.  Isabela makes sense if you’re spending more than five days in the Galapagos, to give you time to get there & back.  But if you love WILDLIFE: Isabela may be the best island for you!  Because it’s so huge & there are so few people: you’ll see animals EVERYwhere!!  Even more than Santa Cruz.  There’s also loads of snorkeling & diving, & the island is home to more giant tortoises than anywhere in the Galapagos.

Isabela is Perfect For: True nature & wildlife lovers who have ample time.

  • Isla Floreana:  This is the island you’re least likely to visit. Why??  Because in order to reach it, you’ll need to fly to Baltra or San Cristobal ~ then take a boat over to Floreana.  But is it worth it??  I heard mixed reviews.  There are limited resources on this island, & only two hotels (Floreana Lava Lodge Hotel & Hotel Wittmer).  Plus, it doesn’t offer the rich diversity of things to do like you’ll find on Santa Cruz, Isabela, or San Cristobal.  In fact, you’re most likely to visit Floreana on a guided boat tour: & that might be the best way to visit this more remote island.

Floreana is Perfect For: Those on multi-day boat tours.

  • Isla San Cristobal:  The only other island with an airport makes Cristobal a great option as a Galapagos “home base.”  This island has some of the region’s best surf breaks (says my friend & Galapagos local, Adicho).  Famous Kicker Rock is also here, & you’ll see sea lions a’plenty on the beaches near town here….just like in Puerto Ayora on Santa Cruz.  And other than Santa Cruz, you have the widest range of hotels here ~ so if you prefer to stay somewhere nicer than a hostel: San Cristobal is a great choice.

San Cristobal is Perfect For: Surfers or those seeking more upscale accommodations.

San Cristobal, Ultimate Girl's Guide to the Galapagos Islands, Girl Who Travels the World

Sea lions on the beaches of San Cristobal island.

Galapagos Islands Travel!

  • Safety = Very Safe 90% 90%
  • Cost = Moderate to Expensive 60% 60%
  • Sea Adventures = Abundant! 95% 95%
  • How Safe I Felt as a Solo Traveler = Very Safe 95% 95%
  • Amount of Animals = Off the Charts! 100% 100%

Galapagos Island Quick Facts

  • Galapagos Islands in One Word = Animals.
  • Galapagos in a Few More Words = Animals, animals, animals
  • How’s the Wi-Fi?  The Galapagos is where I experienced some of the worst Wi-Fi in all of South America!  I mean, you’re 1,000 miles from the mainland ~ so you can’t expect great Wi-Fi.  Mine only worked at my hotel, some of the time.  My Tip: LEAN INTO THIS!!!  When in life are you away from Wi-Fi for longer than a few hours?!  Long walks on the beach are so much more enjoyable when your phone’s not pinging every few minutes, & when you’re not tempted to scroll social media.  LEAN INTO NOT HAVING WI-FI!!  Trust me on this.
  • How to Get to the Galapagos Islands = You need to get to Guayaquil Airport on the mainland of Ecuador.  From there, fly either into Baltra’s airport (by Isla Santa Cruz), or to San Cristobal’s airport.  Those are the ONLY two airports in the Galapagos.  If you’re taking a cruise in the Galapagos, your tour operator will most likely take care of this flight ~ or instruct you on which airport to fly into.
  • Where Did You Stay in the Galapagos?  I stayed mainly on the most populated island, Santa Cruz ~ in its most populated town, Puerto Ayora, which I really loved.  It’s such a walkable town, & I loved strolling down to the waterfront every morning (two blocks from my hotel).  Here, I stayed at the Gloria Galapagos Inn ( a cute family-run hotel) for $35/night for my own room.  A true steal!  But there are also amazing luxury hotels in town, such as the Angermeyer Waterfront Inn ($303+) & Acacia Galapagos Boutique Hotel ($260+).  Puerto Ayora is where you’ll find the most hotel options, by far.
  • Galapagos Island Must-Do’s = Get on a boat tour & go snorkeling or diving with the animals!  Snorkel with the friendliest sea lions EVER on Isla Santa Fe.  Stroll the incredible white sands of Tortuga Bay, on Isla Santa Cruz.  Check out what some say is the most scenic island: Bartholomew.  Take in the nightlife in Puerto Ayora…& bring your dancing shoes.  See giant tortoises in the wild on Isla Isabela ~ or head to El Chato Giant Tortoise Reserve on Isla Santa Cruz.  Go to “secret” swimming hole Las Grietas, also on Santa Cruz.  Surf legendary breaks over on San Cristobal.  Kayak through mangrove forests on Isabela, & appreciate the stillness.
  • Top Tips for Travel to the Galapagos = I have two major tips.  1) Bring the absolute STRONGEST sunscreen you can find!!!  The Galapagos sit virtually ON the equator, which makes the sun’s rays so intense ~ if you’re from the States, you’ve never seen sun this strong.  And on your first day out: only stay out for 30 minutes or less.  Your skin will need to adapt to this type of sun, even with sunscreen on.  If you’re someone who burns easily: cover up & get NO sun at all ~ plus wear a hat, & make sure to get sunscreen on the top of your ears.  I can’t emphasize enough how strong this sun is!! 2) Bring a great underwater camera + a real camera to get amazing shots of your family & the animals of the islands!  If you don’t bring a good camera: you’ll regret it.  And if you want shots of yourself in the water with animals: ask your tour guide to take them!  They’re pretty much pros at this.
  • Is the Galapagos Good for Solo Travelers = YES.  I tend to love islands for solo travelers (Iceland & Cozumel are two wildly different ones that come to mind)!  Something about islands tends to enhance my feeling of safety; you start seeing the same people day after day: your waiter at the local cafe, the cute lady who runs the coffee shop, your outgoing tour guide, etc.  This “small-town” feel always makes me feel safer as a solo female traveler, & it was exactly this way in the Galapagos for me.  
  • What Animals Did You See in the Galapagos?  TONS of sea lions….every day, all the time, everywhere!  We also saw tiger sharks, marine iguanas (hidden in the rocks), blue-footed boobies (which apparently are quite rare), many giant turtles (particularly at El Chato Tortoise Reserve), pelicans, & turtles in the water too….when we were snorkeling.  
  • Would I Go Back = YES!!  I still haven’t been to every single Galapagos Island (there are many of them).  It would be really fun to take my niece & nephew here, because they love animals too!

Photos of the Galapagos Islands

Ultimate Girl's Guide to the Galapagos Islands, Girl Who Travels the World

A preview of what’s to come…

Photos of the Galapagos Islands, Girl Who Travels the World

The islands tend to be less tropical, more desert-like. Though there are tropical areas on some islands…

Ultimate Girl's Guide to the Galapagos Islands, Girl Who Travels the World

The interior of Santa Cruz (pictured here) is one example of a greener, more lush spot in the islands.

Ultimate Girl's Guide to the Galapagos Islands, Girl Who Travels the World

Isla Santa Fe is where you’re most likely to get great underwater shots of sea lions ~ they LOVE it here!!

Photos of the Galapagos Islands, Girl Who Travels the World

St-Barthélémy Island is often called the most beautiful island in the Galapagos…

Photos of the Galapagos Islands, Girl Who Travels the World

One of my favorite underwater shots, taken by Daphne Mayor.

The Ultimate South America Bucket List, Guide to Galapagos Islands, Tortuga Bay

Hundreds of iguanas hang out on the beaches of Tortuga Bay…on Isla Santa Cruz.

Photos of the Galapagos Islands, Girl Who Travels the World

Another shot of gorgeous Tortuga Bay: a Santa Cruz MUST-SEE.

Check prices at Angermeyer Waterfront Inn ~ one of the top places to stay on Isla Santa Cruz, that puts you in easy walking distance to town & Tortuga Bay (pictured above).

Photos of Isabela Island in the Galapagos, Girl Who Travels the World

Isabela Island is the largest in the Galapagos, with gorgeous turquoise water. Photo by Galapagos Islands.

Photos of the Galapagos Islands, Girl Who Travels the World

While you’re out on a boat tour, it’s possible that you may see a whale leaping out of the water (depending on the time of year).

Photos of San Cristobal Island

Photos of the Galapagos Islands, Girl Who Travels the World

Coming up to Puerto Baquerizo Moreno, the main town on San Cristobal.

Check prices for oceanfront hotel rooms in San Cristobal’s main town: Puerto Baquerizo Moreno.

Photos of the Galapagos Islands, Girl Who Travels the World

Playa Mann is a short walk from town, & you’ll likely run into many sea lions ~ some sleeping.

Photos of the Galapagos Islands, Girl Who Travels the World

And San Cristobal is where you’re most likely to find great surf. Photo by Surf Simply.

What You Need in the Galapagos!

Animals & Wildlife of the Galapagos 

Pack your favorite bathing suit ~ because you can’t live without it in the Galapagos Islands!

Spray your head & ears…otherwise you may get sunburned in strange, hard-to-reach places!

All the locals wear them ~ you need one too!  Protect your face from the strong Galapagos sun with your favorite hat.  

Ultimate Girl’s Guide to the Galapagos Islands

If you have any questions about travel in the Galapagos, or insights into staying on Isabela or San Cristobal islands ~ let me know in the comments below!

xoxo Noelia

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Which Galapagos Island to Stay On? Girl Who Travels the World

Ultimate Girl's Guide to the Galapagos Islands, Girl Who Travels the World