The Galapagos Islands is one of the most sought after destinations in the world and, once you’ve booked your trip, you want to make sure you take full advantage of your days there. There are endless things to do in Galápagos, but take into consideration how much time you have, your budget, and the main islands you’ll be visiting. Not all activities and tours are accessible from all islands.
A general rule of thumb is DON’T OVERDO IT. If you’re visiting the Islands for less than a week, focus on just one of the main islands, like Santa Cruz or San Cristóbal. If you’re staying for a week or more, you’ll have enough time to visit more than one island and participate in the day tours from these. In this case, consider flying into Baltra Airport and leaving from San Cristobal’s airport.
Day tours or cruises in the Galápagos Islands?
A common question when planning things to do in the Galápagos is deciding between day tours or cruises. There are pros and cons to both that you should consider while making your choice.
Day tours give you more decision making power over the activities you experience on your trip. The downside of this, of course, is that you have to do all the organizing.
If you’re traveling on a budget, day tours might be a good option because you can do one every other day and on the off days do free activities or just lounge on a beach. Since there are many day tour operators/boats, you can find cheaper and more luxurious options, depending on your budget.
A downside of day tours is that, since the Galápagos National Park imposes restrictions on where boats/providers can take travelers, you’ll only have access to a certain number of tours depending on the island you’re based at. To access other areas or day tours, you’ll need to change islands (e.g. between Isabela, Santa Cruz, and San Cristóbal).
If you’re interested in day tours, but don’t want to organize everything yourself, consider going on a packaged Galapagos tour, which organizes all your activities for a set number of days.
Going on a cruise may be ideal if you have no interest in planning your day-to-day activities and just want to sit back and enjoy the Islands. Cruises are a package deal so everything is covered, including food. This also means that they can get pricey, though there are some budget-friendly cruises available.
Another advantage of a cruise is that you can see areas of the park that aren’t accessible on day tours. You’ll visit smaller islets where sea life may be more diverse and, since you don’t need to return to port every night, you’ll visit harder to reach locations.
All the best day tours
Even if you decide to go on a cruise, here are some of the best day tours to do in the Galapagos:
From Santa Cruz:
There are several day tours you can take from Santa Cruz. Check them all!
Bartolomé is an otherworldly place and tours to the island usually include a hike to a magnificent viewpoint, and snorkeling wither at Bartolomé beach of Sullivan Bay. You can expect to spot many bird species here and, once in the water, you’ll be snorkeling with sea turtles, sea lions, much tropical fish, rays and sharks.
Santa Fe Island
Santa Fe is another great snorkeling option where you can see marine iguanas, Galápagos sharks, and sea lions, which are harmless, but very playful! You’ll also likely see rays and sea turtles. Expect to spend a lot of time in the water here, though a hike on the island itself is also possible.
North Seymour is one of the uninhabited islands in the Galápagos. Here, you can see land iguanas and many bird species. A day trip to this island usually involves a snorkeling stop at las Bachas beach, where you might see flamingos, frigates, blue-footed boobies, iguanas, followed by a 1.5 hours hike on the Island itself.
Pinzón is another beautiful island where you can swim with sharks, sea lions, turtles, and more. From the boat, you might see boobies and lava gulls, among other species.
South Plazas Island
This is a lovely island to explore on foot – the landscape here is arid and rocky so, on a sunny day, make sure to use sun protection. Here, you’ll see land iguanas and a colony of sea lions and later in the day tour, you’ll usually get to snorkel in a place called Punta Carrión.
Floreana Island is rich in history and a wonderful island to visit if you have enough time. Here, in its highlands, you can visit what were once pirate caves, as well as a freshwater spring. You’ll learn about the island’s first settlers and also visit La Lobería, where you can observe many sea lions and marine iguanas. You can lounge on Playa Negra and snorkel if you so desire.
From San Cristóbal
Check all the amazing day trips you an take from San Cristóbal!
Kicker Rock is one of the Island’s most popular destinations because it’s a huge rock that juts out of the sea. Depending on the season, you might spot schools of hammerhead sharks which you can see by snorkeling or scuba diving. You’ll also see sea lions, sea turtles and other sharks around Kicker Rock.
Many travelers head to Española in the hopes of spotting the waved albatross, especially during mating season. These elusive birds are usually around between April and December. Apart from the albatross, you’ll likely see lava iguanas, Nazca, and blue-footed boobies as well as a variety of iguanas.
Punta Pitt is comparable to Bartolomé, from Santa Cruz Island, except that you might see red-footed boobies and Galápagos tortoises. There’s a cool hike you can do here across volcanic stones and most day tours involve snorkeling in the coral reef beside fish, sea lions, and turtles.
Activities to do in the Galápagos
Regardless of what day tours you decide to book, you can plan to do some, or all, of the following activities during your trip.
Snorkel with the sea lions
Snorkeling in the Galápagos Islands is incomparable. Since most marine life here doesn’t feel threatened by humans, they often approach snorkelers, making for an unforgettable experience. Not only will you see sea lions as they twirl exuberantly through the water, but you’ll also likely penguins, marine turtles and much more!
If you’re more into diving than snorkeling, there are a few companies that will take you out to some incredible locations. Just remember, the harder it is to reach a spot and the more exclusive of a tour it is, the more it will cost you. While diving, you might be able to see whale sharks, pilot whales (and other species), hammerhead sharks, and manta rays.
A lot of visitors to the Galápagos prefer to explore the islands by land rather than on snorkeling trips. There are a variety of terrestrial animals and breathtaking landscapes you can visit on hikes around the different islands. A few favorites include the Sierra Negro Volcano, Punta Pitt and Lobos Island where you can see booby species and the Galápagos Tortoise (Punta Pitt).
On the Galápagos, you’ll see bird species you might never see elsewhere, including the Waved Albatross, Boobies, Darwin’s finches and the Galápagos Hawk. Some species are only found in specific islands or even specific areas of the Islands, so make sure to do some research beforehand.
Apart from birds, you’ll see an array of wild animals on the Galápagos. You’ll likely come across a large number while snorkeling and hiking, but some of the following can only be seen at specific times at certain locations, like the Galápagos Giant Tortoise, Galápagos Pink and Santa Fe Iguana, Galápagos Marine Iguana, Galápagos Fur Seal, Galápagos Penguin, Flightless Cormorant, and the Floreana Mockingbird.