The Galapagos Islands on a budget

The Galapagos Islands on a budget

the galapagos islands
Photos and Video: Kara Murphy

Many visitors to the Galapagos Islands explore via multi-day cruises; however, quite a few of these enchanted isles and their underwater wonders are accessible via less expensive, independently arranged travel.

Flights from Quito and Guayaquil, Ecuador, service Isla Santa Cruz and Isla San Cristóbal (the easternmost island), with ferries and far more comfortable inter-island flights connecting these two islands as well as the Galápagos’ largest island, Isla Isabela.

Here are three relatively inexpensive snorkelling spots within easy reach of Isla Santa Cruz, Isla San Cristóbal, and Isla Isabela.

1. Isla Santa Fe

the galapagos islands

You’ll see Galápagos sea lions hanging around the fish market in Puerto Ayora, the Galápagos’ largest, most populated town, but if you want to swim near them, Isla Santa Fe, about 20 kilometres southeast of Isla Santa Cruz, is a great choice for a day trip.

After an initial snorkel alongside Santa Fe’s sheer rock walls, near schools of angelfish, you’ll cruise to a rocky area frequented by sea lions.

These mammals alternate between resting above the water and moving beneath it, scratching their bodies against underwater rocks and playing, sometimes pausing briefly to stare at your camera. It’s quite a snorkelling adventure.

Snorkelling adventure

Snorkelling adventure

Cost of an Isla Santa Fe day trip from Puerto Ayora, Isla Santa Cruz: about US$90 per person, including lunch and snorkelling gear.

A more expensive trip from Puerto Ayora: Isla San Salvador (Santiago), which is often visited on an Isla Bartolomé day trip (approximately US$170 per person).

2. The base of Frigatebird Hill, Puerto Baquerizo Moreno, San Cristobal

On the northern end of Puerto Baquerizo Moreno, the Galápagos’ second most populated town, is the Galápagos National Park Interpretation Centre. From the centre, a five-kilometre loop trail leads further north towards Frigatebird Hill (Cerro Tijeratas), a site where two species of frigatebird nest in the same colony.

the galapagos islands

At the base of this hill is a protected, shallow cove, home to a colony of sea lions.

Snorkelling adventure

The sea lions love lounging on the walkway leading to this snorkelling spot, so you may have to wait awhile for them to move. If so, be patient – you’ll get there eventually.

the galapagos islands

When you do enter these calm, 3-5-metre-deep waters, you might encounter a green turtle, swimming gracefully or resting.

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And you might also observe some playful young sea lions, frolicking twenty metres or so from the resting adults in their colony.

Snorkelling adventure

Refrain from venturing too close to them, though. Adult males in particular can be quite territorial and aggressive.

Cost from Puerto Baquerizo Moreno, Isla San Cristobal: free. (BYO snorkel gear)

A more expensive choice from Puerto Baquerizo Moreno: a day trip to Kicker Rock (approximately US$80 per person).

3. Puerto Villamil jetty, Isla Isabela

About a kilometre from Isla Isabela’s main town, Puerto Villamil, is a harbour and jetty. The smaller walkway running alongside it is the perfect launching point for a fantastic, inexpensive snorkelling adventure. It’s a great place to go when visiting the Galapagos Islands.

Snorkelling adventure

Marine iguanas lounge on the walkway, and also swim in the harbour; while they’re interesting to observe, they’re not the main species you’ll probably encounter in the water, though.

The highlight of this snorkelling spot – as with the other places we’ve mentioned – are the sea lions. You might observe one or two …

Snorkelling adventure

the galapagos islands

…or possibly a larger group, playing and occasionally pausing to check out you and your camera.

Snorkelling adventure

Also keep an eye out for Galápagos penguins, which also zip past occasionally.

the galapagos islands

Cost from Puerto Villamil, Isla Isabela: free (BYO snorkelling gear)

A more expensive choice from Puerto Villamil, Isla Isabela: a day trip to Los Tuneles (approx. US$60 per person)

Here’s a video showcasing a couple of these snorkelling spots as well as a few others.

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