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Traveling without a tour..but I need a plan!

Portland, Oregon
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Traveling without a tour..but I need a plan!

I'm traveling to Ecuador in June/July to do a field work trip and I'll have about a week after where I'd love to visit the Galapagos. I'd prefer to not spend too much money and am not too keen on the restrictions of being part of a tour. I really have no plan yet, so basically, I'm open to all opinions, suggestions and tips anyone has. Are there any MUST see places among the islands? Which would you recommend I visit? Any tips on hostels and what not? I would like to spend some time on what I'd assume to be beautiful beaches but I'm also eager to hike and explore. Like I said, I'm just looking for any information a more informed traveler can provide, thanks :)

Enchanted Expeditions
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1. Re: Traveling without a tour..but I need a plan!

On the right of this screen are Frequent Questions. If you can't see them because of being on a phone, then get to a tablet or PC. Ships (yachts really) are the common mode of transport to see the best and most of the islands. As they only hold 8 - 16 people and the park space must be viewed under the control of a naturalist, it will feel like a tour, but it is the rule. Most of the islands are park land so access is restricted. There is a good link on the right that discusses independent land travel. There are only 4 islands that you can visit this way (and the involve either expensive and limited flights or speeding boats and 2-3 hours in them with sea sick people) then you can go that option. Some beaches are accessible this way, but it will all be compromise as the best are only boat accessible. Read the items on the right and see what might start to work. Also Lonely Planet gives details on doing trips independently. You will need to do some independent research as well, as Galapagos is too complicated to answer broad questions about.

Same with your other question, there are numerous helpful tips on the right of each forum.

Rockville Centre...
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2. Re: Traveling without a tour..but I need a plan!

Caitlin, as for being "not too keen on the restrictions of being part of a tour" sorry to say it's more the opposite. There are far greater restrictions for NOT being part of a tour. Except for a few isolated pockets, Galápagos is all national park, and access is forbidden to anyone not on a naturalist tour. But having said that, you could visit Isla Santa Cruz, enjoy an excellent public beach, go hiking in the highlands, see some tortoises, visit the Darwin Research Station, so on.

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3. Re: Traveling without a tour..but I need a plan!

The best beaches for independent travel would be Tortuga Bay on Santa Cruz or the long sandy beach on Isabela which is right next to the town. Tortuga Bay involves about a 30 minute walk and you need to take all provisions with you. The Isabela beach is right next to town but its very long so quite possible to be alone.

You can hike at Media Luna on Santa Cruz without a guide but be careful not to get lost - GPS recommended. You can get to the trail head by Taxi from Puerto Ayora. You will either need to arrange a pickup time or you can walk down to the nearest town and get a return taxi on the corner by the store. You can also walk the main road to the twin craters and the side road to the tortoises on the farm, just be careful of traffic. Its a long way so you might want a taxi at least one way.

On Isabela you can walk along the beach and to the wall of tears but the volcano hike requires a guide. Note there is no food or water once you leave town.

As others have said, you are much less restricted in the places you can go if you are on a cruise. You can however get to some closer cruise destinations as a day trip if you just want a couple of days of guided tour. You should be able to get N. Seymour, Bartolome, S. Plaza and Santa Fe. Expect to pay around $170 a day though.

Dave Peters

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4. Re: Traveling without a tour..but I need a plan!

i just got back from 7 nights in Galapagos without an all-in tour. but I did take a number of day tours.

i did not want to go on a cruise either for several reasons, and I thoroughly enjoyed my experience. you have to be aware that there are tradeoffs as mentioned in previous comments, so adjust your expectations accordingly.

most of the advice here in TA English-language forum is heavily skewed towards cruises, it often takes the shape of "either a cruise or not worth at all"; I find that an extreme view.

the Spanish-language version of TA has a far more balanced view of Galapagos trips, as most South American travelers (tons from Argentina in particular) do not go the cruise route. While in Galapagos, I read somewhere that nowadays visitors to Galapagos are roughly evenly split between cruise-based and land-based visitors.

i found this lengthy dissenting report on the link below extremely useful to plan my trip; while I did not follow exactly what that guy laid out, it was a great starting point:


being land-based means you will not have access to certain locations; that means you will not see certain species or be able to dive in certain locations. in my particular case, not being a diver or an avid bird watcher and/or naturalist, I was very happy with all the animals I saw.

Galapagos is not a cheap destination by any means; just getting there probably means a US$400 RT from continental Ecuador plus US$110 in mandatory park and other fees. Day tours leaving from Santa Cruz Island (Puerto Ayora, main town) to other islands range from US$80 upwards. In order to partially make up for lack of access to certain places, I went on a day tour to North Seymour which costs US$150, I heard similar price to Bartolome. Not every tour is available every day and North Seymour tends to sell out fast (so I was told). I got the last place on that tour and I met other people afterwards who could not go for lack of space. I suggest that as soon as you arrive there you book such in-demand tours if you wanna go on them.

One way to save money is to stay away from restaurants on the boardwalks (malecon). You walk to side streets and will see places that cater to locals and budget tourists. A "merienda" dinner (usually soup+entree+some juice) will be US$4. As you will be in continental Ecuador prior to galapagos you will probably be familiar with it.

Tortuga bay in Santa Cruz is a great beach to go on your own. If you go to San Cristobal Island too (like many people, I flew into Santa Cruz GPS airport and out from San Cristobal SCY airport and took a US$30 boat between the two), you can walk to Tijeretas Hill and then climb down to a cove directly below it to snorkel, or go to Punta Carola beach. Just dont know about temperatures in July - it was scorching hot and humid in March. Also, the seas were quite calm for the day tours and inter island trip, but I hear it is can be quite different later in the year.

finally, travel as light as you can. dragging luggage from pier to water taxi to boat can become a pain...

Edited: 14 March 2014, 23:08
5. Re: Traveling without a tour..but I need a plan!

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