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Let's Go to the Galapagos

Before I begin, let me first acknowledge the extreme privilege of travel. It's something I have prioritized and valued, and I am not never aware of how this freedom of movement and exploration isn't available to all.

Also, I am a yoga teacher and ballin' on a budget is how I always roll. I am perfectly ok with awkward layovers, and do what I can to save in some places so I can not be so frugal in others. Another hack for myself is that I will often search for flights headed south out of Fort Lauderdale airport (versus my home airport of Charlotte which can be on some b.s. for no good reason sometimes). My perk here is that my brother lives about 20 minutes from the FLL airport so I can be in charge of my layovers, and sometimes stay a few extra days, and most importantly sleep in a real bed (and ok his 2 super cute dogs also help).

When I lead retreats, I ask myself (and Google) where I can get from _______ (insert wherever I landed)? Even though retreats are magical, they are still A LOT of work for me as the organizer and lead teacher, I totally deserve a vacation afterwards! 

A few Galapagos fun facts to get us started:

  • The islands are located about 600 miles off the coast of Ecuador with the only direct flights from Quito and Guayaquil. The flights are about 2 hours and require a tourist visa ($20 paid at a counter at the airports).

  • There are a total of 14 islands available to visit with each island being slightly unique in its offerings. 

  • The whole area is a national park and requires a $100 entry fee (cheaper for folks with an Ecuadorian passport) that is paid upon arrival in the islands in a second round of customs and precautions. You also need to secure a $20 Transit Control Card (TCC pass) from the airport that helps them monitor your time there.

  • You don't need to look far to find wildlife, animals are EVERYwhere and there are signs warning folks to keep their distance. Most animals were pretty used to humans, and a few broke the rules and came closer to me - guessing they couldn't read the signs or just don't give af!

  • The national currency of the Galapagos Island is the U.S. Dollar, yes seriously. Cash is accepted everywhere, and cards are accepted at most places.

Like any science nerd and/or nature enthusiast the Galapagos Islands had been on my list, but not really on my "have-to" list more on my list of "yeah right, in my wildest dreams". And then I was searching for flights from Guatemala City for a post-retreat adventure and discovered VERY cheap flights to Ecuador. I started to think well maybeeee....

If you are like me, you probably have stories in your head about how expensive it is to visit or that the ONLY way to see them is via boat/cruise to island hop. Luckily, that's not exactly true. I started researching "Galapagos on a budget" and was pleasantly surprised with the numerous resources for backpackers and the abundance of hostels and cheap stays. 

I made some mistakes, and there's a whole other side story as to my journey down there that involves a Guatemala election, national protests and roadblocks, and a canceled retreat with uncertainty IF I would actually be able to make it....and that's a story for another day!

Here's how it went:

Preplanning + Planning

I’ve chosen to do this first part Q&A style, as I usually have a lot of questions! And yep - there’s some side stories included.

How long to stay and if short trips were “worth it”?

Short answer: YES! In my opinion, any time somewhere magical is better than no time, and there is always the consideration of how long it takes to get somewhere + not wanting to feel rushed or hurried. I knew that I wouldn't be able to see it all so I asked myself what my priorities were. PENGUINS being a clear front-runner made it easy for me to create a plan that would make me happy.

Sidenote: nature does what it does, and I fully recognize that even despite my best plans, the penguins could say nope! not today.

I spent a lot of time preplanning by reading blogs about free and cheap things to do and building a plan. I decided to prioritize location for my accommodations so I wouldn't need a car. This often means easy access to attractions, but more expensive food options. I opted for 5 days total - with 3 full days to explore. 

By land or by sea?

The biggest choice, for some, is how to best explore the islands - which ones, how long to visit, and transportation between them. Each of the 14 islands are diverse in its geography, flora, and fauna. I had “heard” that the only way to truly experience the Galapagos was by boat tour, which had placed this adventure firmly in the “not in this lifetime” category for me for many years. Also NOT TRUE! Boat cruises can easily cost $1000s-10,000s but allow for multiple stops and experiences. On the flipside, Puerto Ayora (the main town on Santa Cruz island)  is known for being backpacker friendly and there is no shortage of hostels, many with private rooms and access to a kitchen area. 

Best time of year?

There’s no bad time of year to go, and it depends on your priorities. There are two seasons: warm and cool. Warm season is from December to May with temperatures ranging from 79-88 during the day and 72-75 at night. Cool season is from June to November with temperatures ranging from 79-82 during the day and 66-70 at night. What is not accounted for in these ranges is the HUMIDITY. Look, I’ve lived in the south my whole life and thrive in warm and humid conditions, and I was ill-prepared for the thickness of the air and the amount of sweating. I’m sure I will say this again - but ELECTROLYTES are our friends. 

High season (meaning a potential for LOTS of people + more expensive) is from June to August. There is also a spike in the number of visitors for the Christmas and New Year’s holiday season. I personally LOVE a shoulder season, that time right in between busy and not-so-much, and also have found that the off-seasons are pretty awesome because LESS people. 

As someone who is driven by animal encounters, I wanted to make sure that the time I had available was a good time for penguins. At the end of this blog, I compiled a short (and incomplete) list of animal activities you could plan around based on months. 

Ok, so how do I actually get there?

I will share more about my flights in a later section, this answer is more general. 

As mentioned above, there are no direct international flights to the Galapagos. The Galapagos National Park has strict requirements that airlines must follow. Therefore, is it unlikely there will ever be an international flight to the Galapagos. Your options are to fly into or out of mainland Ecuador from either Quito (UIO) or Guayaquil (GYE). 

Quito’s airport is located outside of town, expect about an hour to arrive in historic colonial Quito depending on traffic. I didn’t fly into Quito, but it is highly recommended for exploring  pre/post Galapagos. Like anywhere, be vigilant and watch your stuff.

Sidenote: if you choose Quito as your point of entry you will most likely have a stopover to pick up folks in Guayaquil. 

The Guayaquil airport is located close to town with a quick 20-minute transfer to most hotels. Guayaquil is popular with travelers proceeding straight to and from the Galapagos in the least amount of time. I have read mixed reviews about the safety of Guayaquil for tourists. Because of my flight times, I stayed in the airport, but it’s usually recommended to have an overnight stay. Like anywhere, be vigilant and watch your stuff. 

All flights from Quito and Guayaquil to the Galapagos Islands depart in the morning, with most flights from North America arriving late in the evening, between 8:00 pm and 11:00pm - a hotel overnight is almost always required/recommended. (My flight landed at 2am with a 7-hour layover, I opted to curl up in a chair - more on that later).

There are two choices for airports to arrive in the Galapagos and it depends on your purpose, or destination. 

First, Seymour Airport (GPS) is on Baltra Island. Travelers with cruises and tours embarking in Baltra or Puerto Ayora, on Santa Cruz Island, should choose the Seymour airport. The small island of Baltra is mostly just an airport, but it’s a noteworthy - as it's the world’s first green airport running solely on solar and wind power. 

Sidenote: if flying into GPS you will have a few more steps to arrive at your destination (Puerto Ayora for most). This looks like a short bus ride → ferry → longer bus ride (or taxi) → walk (or taxi) to your residence or dock for departure 

San Cristobal Airport (SCY) is on the island of San Cristobal. It services cruises and tours embarking from Puerto Baquerizo Moreno. The San Cristobal Airport is only a few minutes from town. Travelers can transfer from the airport bus, taxi or even by walking. San Cristobal is less popular than Santa Cruz and also the oldest of the islands. 

What should I pack?

I prefer to never check a bag, so I consider myself an expert at carry-on packing. And, this post isn't about that. But know that I start packing monthssss in advance, and also still don't always get it quite right. (A friend has requested/inspired me to write this post one day soon thought - is anyone counting the number of future posts I have promised? Cool cool cool)

I’m not one to advocate for buying a bunch of new things for a trip AND I did purchase a few “essential” items: my own snorkel gear and an underwater iphone camera cover. I wanted to be able to snorkel on my own, and gear down there is expensive to purchase and I’m not so sure about renting. I also wanted to be able to capture all the potential underwater moments. I found them on amazon, they are nothing special, but did the trick (yes, a few photos are below!!).

The Journey There (minus the other -ish)

There were moments when I wasn’t sure that this trip would happen. It was a bit of a risk, but not a dangerous one, to fly into Guatemala after canceling the retreat and with nationwide protests happening. After assessing the situation and rationalizing the worst case scenario being “stuck” in a fancy hotel in Guatemala City and then flying home, I decided it was worth the fly through.

My flights there looked like this:


This was the first thing I purchased as it felt too good to be true. The airline was Avianca, a South American airline with horrible customer service reviews online, but at this point what airline does actually have good reviews. Avianca has options for purchasing your flight: XS - XL with a range of perks for many budgets. I opted for XS as I don’t care about picking my seat, or a meal, or boarding privileges. At this point, I was considering a fancy book bag purchase that could maybe have counted as a personal item, and I also knew I could add a bag later as needed. This first leg would cost $197 and with baited breath I hit purchase…and then got an ERROR message that I had done it wrong and would be fined $150 at the airport. Further research led me to a whole bunch of angry people who were asked for the fine at the airport. APPARENTLY, only folks with an Ecuadorian passport are eligible for the XS option…doh! A teeny-tiny and brief pop-up had this warning, but it was barely noticeable and I had to screenshot and zoom in to confirm. It wasn’t worth canceling to me, as I had already decided it was happening. Later, I ended up wanting to add a bag which was an additional $85 and I had no issues in boarding so maybeee I won $65?

Protip: While it wasn’t possible for me, I would recommend booking roundtrip flights to/from either GYE or UIO and then booking round trip flights to either GPS or SCY. There seems to be an extra Galapagos hidden tax if it’s included initially. Also, there are only two airlines to reach the Galapagos: LATAM and Avianca. So chances are you will need to book separate airlines regardless.

Tbh…I LOVED flying Avianca. They were efficient, the rules made sense, and we even departed AND arrived early on all my flights. 

The flight from Guatemala City to San Salvador was an easy 30-ish minutes - felt like from Charlotte to Atlanta. Since I was only flying through SAL I didn’t have to go through customs/immigrations. The international transfers stay in one corridor with options for food and shopping. I had 2 hours here and my one complaint is that there are very few seats outside of the departure gates, many of which are ticket-only entry. I did a bit of walking back and forth before finding a place to sit, and finally found a place to read. I did have to go through an extra security check at my gate once it opened. Since it was at the gate, there wasn’t a machine so a real person physically opened, and searched, my bags. I read reviews online where some people were pretty salty about this, but I found the employees to be pleasant and kind with my broken Spanish attempts (and all the pockets in my bags). 

I landed in GYE around 2am and my next flight to GPS would leave around 9am. I don’t remember customs/immigration - it must have been easy, and I was a bit delirious at this point. My original plan was to spend my time in the VIP lounge, but this plan was thwarted by the odd hours. I needed to secure my TCC pass and a kind security guard guided me to the kiosk and some seats. The office opened at 6am, and he advised that I be “first” in line as it can get long. I curled up, literally, in two seats and took some rough naps in the meantime.

Protip: bring a eye mask + earplugs for some moments of quiet.

I was indeed first-ish in line and quickly filled out an online form while waiting my turn (although I don’t think it was really necessary, but I always try to follow the airport/travel rules). My bags went through an additional machine screening for biological stuff like seeds, plants, fruits, insects, etc. 

I was also one of the first to arrive at the gate and enjoyed watching people arrive. I could feel the child-like excitement of everyone getting ready to embark. I took a few moments to move my body and take some intentional breaths and FINALLY it was time to board. I lucked out with a window seat and loved watching our landing on the tiny island of Baltra. Prior to landing, flight attendants walk through and open the overhead compartments to spray our bags with special spray to kill any remaining insects or potential invaders.

We went through a second round of immigration complete with its OWN STAMP in my passport!!!! I may have been so excited that I had a dumb American moment and started talking to strangers like they knew me or where Charlotte is or where North Carolina is…yeah, they were from Brazil and of course I kept seeing them throughout my time there. This is also where you pay your $100 National Park Entry Fee. Your bags get checked (again) for any food and in full disclosure I let them know I had peanut butter pretzels and they were fine! If you check a bag, you wait on the other side and have your bags sprayed and checked from there.

Next up…

A bus to a ferry to another bus (or mode of 4 wheel terrestrial transportation) to bring you to Puerto Ayora - or wherever you may be residing for your duration.

Once out of the airport, you need to find the ticket window to pay for the bus ($5) or if you have a prearranged tour, a guide will be here to meet you. There was a bus waiting for travelers, and it is there until it fills up.  Then another one is there and ready. You may have your first wildlife encounters of finches, canaries, and land iguanas while waiting! The ride to the ferry is about 10 minutes through a Mars-like desert landscape with glimpses of blue water peaking through.

The ferry ride is $2 and you can pay once you sit down and takes you across the Itabaca Canal. There are places for roller bags at the front of the boat. The ferry ride is about 5 minutes from Baltra Island to Santa Cruz Island - arriving at the docks of Santa Cruz. There will be many people with signs for tours, taxis, snacks, and also the bus to Puerto Ayora. A taxi is about $25 and the bus is $5. The taxi fee can be split between passengers, and the bus will wait to fill up. A taxi will drop you off at your exact address, and you will need to walk from the bus stop (about 10 minutes and quite beautiful). I took the bus on the way there, and a taxi on the way back. 

The drive to Puerto Ayora takes you through the highlands where it will probably be gray and maybe even rainy, but also lush and green. This is where the land turtles spend much of their lives, and it’s very likely you will see one along the route. The drive is about 90 minutes and the road is paved and pretty well maintained.

The bus stop is about 7 minutes from the ocean, and an easy walk to the main street: Charles Darwin Avenue!!!!! 

I opted for a central location and booked a hostel through Airbnb, although there was no shortage of options on the main road or surrounding side streets. The size of the town is small enough that it’s easy to walk from one end to the other. I stayed at Morning Glory Hostel in a private room with its own bathroom. My 4 nights cost $162 and other than wanting more pillows (always) I couldn’t have asked for a better place to stay. Super kind staff, cute dog, perfectly hung hammocks, and steps away from the fisherman’s pier and SEA LIONS!!!

Call me David Attenborough

It’s not difficult to have wildlife encounters in the Galapagos Islands. A walk along the coastline features crabs, seals, and allllll the birds.

Sidenote: seals versus sea lions. What’s the difference? There are some physical features that mark their differences including shape of their ears and size of their flippers. Turns out that there are fur seals and sea lions in the Galapagos, but the fur seals may also technically be sea lions. I still kinda use them interchangeably.

First, I will share what I did, and then I will share what I planned versus what I did, and then I will follow with next time wishes. I will also share the restaurants that I ate in.

My truth: travel + heat = challenges for me and eating. I always travel with snacks and aim for 2 meals a day. I also stock up on beverages, but failed to do so initially this trip - again, ELECTROLYTES.  I tend to stick to meals with high density foods, and will eat more meat than when I’m at home. (Yes, I eat meat. I call myself a recovering vegetarian and maybe I will tell that story one day too) I also tend to be a creature of habit and find something that works and stick with it.

Day one:

Arrived, checked in around 2pm, and quickly changed clothes. This moment marked hour 24 of travel from leaving my hotel in Guatemala to arriving at my hostel - including time zone changes. I took a walk and within 2 minutes I spotted my first sea lion! There were two hanging out near the fisherman’s market, and my first encounter included an answer to question I never knew I had “how do sea lions poop?” I walked the main area and checked out the menus that were posted outside of the restaurants. I decided on the Cevicheria as I always HAVE to try the ceviche and it’s a great choice for small appetites with big nutrition. After my meal, I took another walk and found a travel agency. I had done my research and knew the best island for me to visit with the best chance of seeing penguins (Bartolome). I had 2 open days, as I already had plans for my final afternoon. The agent was super kind and talked me through a few options. She booked me on a full day adventure that included snorkeling. I paid $230 and my trip included being picked up from my hostel and driven to the pick up point, a bus ride to the Baltra dock, a full day of adventure with two different island stops, and food for the day. (Excursions can run from $150 - 500 depending on length and purpose). The smaller companies book the larger company’s boats. Depending on the season, there are a limited number of seats on the boats and all the travel companies are booking the same seats. I explored more of the main street and stumbled upon beautiful art, amazing doorways, more sea lions, and lots of smiling people. The sun set around 5:30pm and I was probably in bed not too long afterwards. The room was dark and the a/c was pumping and I quickly fell asleep - marking an end to my 36 hours of being awake (minus a few light naps in airports and airplanes).

Day two:

Going to bed early usually also equals getting up early and even with some solid hours of sleep, I found myself wide awake wayyy before the sun. My first thought was breakfast, and I found one place super close that opened the earliest - 7am. 1835 Coffee Lab had yummy smoothie bowls, a fun coffee menu, and cute videos of wildlife playing in the background. I found myself here every morning, and happy with the selections.  

The first stop on my day was a walk to Tortuga Bay - a free beach and opportunity to see some iguanas and maybe go swimming. The walk from central Charles Darwin Avenue to first sight of the beach took about an hour and included a well-maintained and rather hilly stone path surrounded by a mix of cacti and trees. At the beginning of the path are a bunch of stairs to a beautiful view of the whole town, and a resource center where you sign in before walking the rest of the path. There’s a bathroom, and a place to buy refreshments before continuing on. There were a few places to stop along the way and I took plenty of water breaks. Fails for myself: no electrolytes and I forgot to bring a hat! Once I arrived at the beach, there were many many many signs warning folks not to swim as the waves were rough. The beach is GORGEOUS and has white sand with turquoise water. There were plenty of tidepools to explore at the start but everyone was walking to the right, so I followed along as they all seemed to know the way.

As I got closer to the trees at the end of the beach, I started to see why…IGUANAS!!! Towards the end of the walkable beach area was a large rock formation. Along the rocks were some marshy looking trees, which created the perfect habitat for the marine Iguanas to come to shore and rest (sunbathe). While they looked intimidating, and some were rather large, they rarely moved and were not opposed to the photo op. 

Around the corner was a small(er) bay with calm(er) waters. There were a lot of people swimming here (and a few kayaking) - the water felt warm and looked murky. I opted to walk around rather than swim (and leave my belongings attached to me). I followed a lava path and found a secluded spot to sit and touch the water. This is my absolute favorite thing to do when traveling, find the spot that is calling to me, sit and watch the magic that happens past. Extra magic comes with my phone still securely in my bag. I made a new friend back at the rock formation who shared his Galapagos map, talked about some fun facts, all while helping  me practice my Spanish. 

For lunch, I was HUNGRY and also HOT. I prioritized buying a new hat and made my way to a part of town called Los Kioskos - known for its cheap lunches. Los Kioskos is located at the corner of Charles Binford and Avenida Baltra and can be a bit overwhelming at first. Similar to other tourist destinations, there are people standing in front of their space trying to persuade you to eat at their restaurant. Most have similar items, quality, decor, and offer a $5 option. I walked the street several times before I could hone in on which one I wanted to stop in. I typically will notice which places are busy and which ones aren’t, and this day I opted for an empty place with women running the show. Per usual, I wanted ceviche and they were more than happy to oblige. My “mistake” was this was NOT included in the cheap lunch AND it was probably the best ceviche I’ve had in awhile. Also that watermelon juice (jugo de sandia) was life-giving!!

After some rest in the hostel's hammocks, I was ready for my next adventure: Charles Darwin Station (home and rehabilitation center for the Galapagos turtles!!!). A 5 minute walk down (you guessed it) Charles Darwin Avenue brought me to the start of Ruta de Tortugas. You can go down to the beach for free or it’s $10 to join the guided tour (includes multi-lingual guide, so many fun animal facts and of course TURTLES). We learned about pink iguanas, the life cycles of cactus, and about the center’s efforts to save the Galapagos land turtles from extinction.

It takes 120 days for the eggs to become babies and many times pests (rats) and other predators will consume the eggs. There were once 15 different species of turtles in the Galapagos and now there are 11. Scientists travel to the different islands and bring the eggs to the center where they are cared for until hatching, and then kept for an additional 5 years before being rereleased into the wild. There were also some big/old turtles housed here that were over 100 years old!!! Once the tour ended we could explore the rest of the center, and the beach area. The wind and the view and the feelings….created quite the moment for reflection and gratitude. Despite the trials and tribulations, I was here, now, in this - and it was perfect.

I ended my day at Midori - a sushi spot just a few doors down from my hostel. I truly believe in the superpowers of miso soup and often crave it when traveling. And then early to bed - as the next day is PENGUIN DAY!!!

Day three: 

This started just like any other…early and with a tiny bit of rain. I took some steps out on the wet concrete slope at my hostel (in my not-so-sticky croc flip flops) and my foot kept sliding which led to me slamming my left knee cap down into the hard ground. I was a bit concerned but wasn’t about to let that stop me from today…PENGUIN DAY!!!

I was picked up at 6:30am by the woman who booked my excursion. She drove me down to the pier and connected me with a different company and I boarded a bus. We drove back through the highlands and to Santa Cruz pier where we boarded another boat that would take us to Bartolome Island. I lost my new hat in the first 10 minutes - less than 24 hours later - to the high winds. The boat trip there took about 2 hours and included a drive by of Daphne Major - a lava island that is off limits to most human visitors but a hub for soooo many birds. We saw blue footed boobies, masked boobies, and even a few playful sea lions. 

We arrived at Bartolome Island and began our trek up up up to the top with one of the most iconic views. Our guide Felipe taught us about different lava formations, the creation of new islands (and eventual destruction of the current islands), Galapagos lava cactus, and pointed out lava tunnels from previous activity. This terrain felt otherworldly and the view got better as we continued our climb up up up. The stairs are well-maintained with a mostly sturdy railing and lots of landing areas to pause for a moment. The top is a larger landing with perfect photos at every angle with a peak at the next island over: Santiago. I took the journey down extraaaaa slow (remember my fall?) and avoided putting too much weight or bending into it. I leaned into the railings and mostly hopped down with some concern building in the back of my consciousness. 

We hopped back on the smaller boat and took a little trip around some of the coast. I was in conversation with some other travelers and missed what Felipe was saying but I thought I maybe kinda heard something…I asked what we were doing and he said, “looking for PENGUINS ''. I then let out the loudest noise so far of the trip and said "YES PLEASE, this is why I’m here.” My travel companions looked surprised at my outburst but at least they had a preview of what was to come. We turned the corner and boated towards this one area of small(er) black lava rocks. We saw TWO PENGUINS out to play, and my new human friends quickly ushered me to the front of the boat where I continued to squeal and talk to new animal friends. We delighted in watching these two penguins play both on land and water. I may have encouraged them to make more babies. The best moment involved one penguin taking a diving belly flop into their mate. I also now know what a penguin sounds like - feel free to ask me, I LOVE making animal noises. (not kidding - macaws are my favorite)

We continued around the shoreline and encountered so.many.seals loungin’ and chillin’ like nobody’s business. They were truly inspiring to how unbothered they appear to be. We stopped at Santiago Island - a small little sandy beach that had perfect snorkeling opportunities. I was excited to swim a bit and thought it would help my knee - which was still talking to me a bit after spending my time watching penguins in a deep squat. There were reports of a sea turtle sighting by one part and that sounded like a good goal. I saw sooooo many pretty fish and about ⅔ of the way there I could tell that swimming was probably not the best option for my knee. I continued to the sea turtle and then was definitely sure that swimming wasn’t working for me. Feeling complete (bc sea turtle!) I started back when the MOST AMAZING THING happened. I was minding my own (knee) business and a sea lion swam right up to me!! I felt both terrified and excited at the same time, and knew for sure that I wanted to keep that animal in my eye sight. As he circled me, I turned with him - and yep my camera was ON!! When I got back to shore, giddy with excitement and showed Felipe my footage as I told the story, he replied with “yeah, he was probably trying to bite you.” The males hang out in that area from ages 2-5 years old and get more aggressive as they age, and it’s mostly “play” but they have taken bites out of swimmer’s shoulders. I felt justified in keeping my eyes on my sea lion friend, and even more humbled by the experience. 

By this time, my knee was ripe - swollen and did not want to do too much else. I needed assistance to get back on the boat - shout out to my new human friends and their support. We were fed a delicious meal, and I ate what I could while my knee started to throb. It wouldn’t bend and the pain/locking up was starting to increase. I “hate” being in pain in front of other people, and this experience in front of strangers is truly what my nightmares are made of. And…people are amazing and kind. A yoga teacher from Germany offered me reiki, and pain pills. I gladly (and gratefully) accepted both. I spent some agonizing moments journaling my spiraling thoughts and then got to “work” in self-soothing. I remember my anatomy training and spent some time nurturing my quads (only muscles attached to the knee cap) while visualizing them calming tf down. I eventually napped and when I woke up the swelling had drastically decreased, and I could put some weight on it. I kept it propped on the bus ride, and was offered to be dropped off at the hospital. I opted to go back to my room, and assess from there (I also didn’t bring my passport or money). I ate dinner at the spot next door to my hostel (El Muelle de Darwin) and chose a cheeseburger to give me as much protein help as possible, and another jugo de sandia. And yep, early to bed with my knee propped and feeling so content!

Day four:

I woke up early on my last full day and quickly knew that my plans would need to change. I had a few more places to see, but they did require some walking or even biking. While my knee felt better, it was not 100% and I also just felt WORN out. I took a quick covid test - just to be sure as I had a special appointment later that required close quarters and did not want to be that person. I checked in with my body after a “negative” result, and decided to refuel via food, electrolytes, and rest. I hopped back over the 1815 Coffee Lab, and stopped by a store for coconut waters before returning to my hostel hammock. I napped off/on in my room and hammock and got ready for my tattoo appointment!

I walked over to Santa Cruz Tattoo that offers a rotation of artists from mainland

Ecuador. I had sent over some penguin tattoo inspiration, and since I did actually

encounter them the previous day, all systems were a GO for my permanent souvenir. I had the joy of spending a few hours with Fran Alava of Tinte Rebele Tattoo where we may not speak too much of the same language but music was a common thread we could land on. He was playing Led Zeppelin so I introduced him to TOOL. I named my new tattoo Bartholemew after the island that we met. (Goes well with my macaw tattoo from February that I named Petey Pablo)

I ended up back at the sushi spot for dinner, and yep! early to bed. 

I spent my last morning with some walks along the water, and breakfast back at 1815 coffee lab - opening at 7am + across the street will win every time in my book.  


Las grietas - dubbed the “best swimming hole in Santa Cruz” this is a place where two pieces of large lava rocks created a crevasse and is filled with emerald green water. You can swim, snorkel and/or cliff dive here. It’s a quick (and cheap) boat ride from the main pier area in Puerto Ayora, followed by a short hike through desert and cactus. It’s $10 to enter and there are 3 pools to choose from with plenty of wildlife to observe.

Lava tubes - located in the highlands of Santa Cruz in the town of Bellavista. Lava tubes are formed when the outer skin of the molten lava hardens while the liquid magma continues to flow through, leaving behind a cavity of empty tubes or tunnels. There are stairs that assist you in the initial descent and then a trail to follow that sometimes is large and sometimes small in height. People will often couple the lava tubes and los gemelos as they are close in location. 

Los gemelos - ”Twin Craters” in the highlands of Santa Cruz Island that are actually sink holes, not craters caused by impact. These sinkholes were created when the volcanic roof of empty magma chambers collapsed from tectonic shifts and erosion over time. There’s a trail that can be biked or hiked. People will often couple the lava tubes and los gemelos as they are close in location. 

El chato - giant tortoise reserve in the highlands of Santa Cruz Island. El Chato is home to hundreds of the famous giant Galapagos turtles – the perfect place to see them in their natural habitat. They wallow in mud pools, crunch on green shoots, and are free to wander around this huge reserve. There are also some lava tubes to explore on this site. 

The Journey Home (or the the hot tub at my brother's in Fort Lauderdale)

And everything in reverse:

Taxi → ferry → bus → airport

I met up with a friend from my penguin tour on the ferry, and we stayed connected until he departed from GYE for his next stop in Lima then onward to Machu Picchu. Navigating the many stops can be easier with a friend, especially one that speaks better Spanish than me!


The GPS airport is super small with large glass windows for optimal views of land iguanas and landscape. There are the usual security measures, and you show your TCC pass to the folks before entering the main area. There are two gates, with a few options for food and final souvenirs. You walk outside to the runway to board and are allowed one last look!

I took the latest flight out of GPS and although it’s generally advised to not have your flights on the same days, I found a flight to Fort Lauderdale that had enough time in between that I felt confident to book. We flew out of the Galapagos at 2pm and landed before 5pm (including a time zone change), my next flight left at 11:50pm. There was no customs/immigration as it was a domestic flight. I thought I would spend my time in the VIP lounge (again!) but wasn’t allowed to go through security until closer to my flight. I had a meal with my friend, and he continued on as his flight was earlier. I returned to the chairs I slept in a few nights/mornings earlier, and curled back up in a similar manner. I tried again a few hours later, and met my friend in the VIP lounge (finally!). It was my first VIP lounge experience and it was definitely worth the price of admission: $40. There was “free” food and n/a beverages (with opportunities to purchase alcohol if that’s your thing), options for sitting and watching tv, a kid’s play area, and an area with lounge chairs and dim(mer) lights. I always travel with a blanket so stretching out with my kindle was perfection. 

I landed back in Fort Lauderdale around 5am and had the easiest customs/immigration reentry ever. First, I don’t check bags - like ever. Second, because I had flown a direct flight from a South American country on a South American airline, I was one of the few holding a U.S. passport. I ended up first, and was definitely seated wayyyy further back in the plane. 

My trick is to call an uber/lyft (whatever is cheaper) while I’m standing in line (or for domestic flights while I’m deplaning). I waited maybe 5 minutes before being picked up, and was “home” and in a hot tub (tattoo arm extended) before 6am. 

A few days to decompress in this timezone but still warm and tropical, and then back to Charlotte. 

Overall, I think Disney World owes the Galapagos Islands a tagline because we were all living our best lives while playing David Attenborough. So many smiles and conversations, and of course animals!! The happiest place on earth - for me - most definitely involves lazy sea lions, even if they want to playfully bite me. Also, electrolytes!

Some potentially still remaining questions:

Would I go back? 

Most definitely!! There’s still so much to see on Santa Cruz Island, and I would love to see more boobies. Also, FLAMINGOS or as my sister called them as a kid "mango piggies", and I would definitely love to see some orcas and maybeeeee even figure out this scuba diving thing to see whale sharks. 

Would I stay in the same place? 

Another yes! Both the hostel and town were perfect for my needs.

What would I do differently?

Plan food a bit better (maybe even take advantage of the kitchen situation in my hostel), bring more electrolytes and lightweight clothes, and remember my hat from home. The humidity and sun were so real. And definitely would NOT bring my croc flip flops - they caused a few spills, and tbh my knee still kinda hurts when I write this 3 months later. 

Do I plan on leading a yoga retreat here?

Probably not. It wasn’t really the vibe. I did some scouting and will still look into a few locations that I stumbled upon. Also, some places are maybe just for me and not meant to be marketed and sold. But also, maybe - if people ask and we set different expectations. 

A few of the main islands + their animals friends:

Santa Cruz Island - Galapagos Giant tortoise, Marine iguana, Land iguana, Galápagos sea lions, Sally lightfoot crabs

Bartolomé Island - Galapagos penguins, Galapagos sea lion, Marine Iguana,

San Cristobal Island - Red-footed booby, Blue-footed booby, Galapagos giant tortoise

Isabela Island - Whales, dolphins, Galapagos penguin, Galapagos giant tortoise, Flightless cormorants

Española Island - Waved albatross, Blue-footed booby, Española mockingbird, Española lava lizard

Floreana Island - Flamingos, Floreana mockingbirds, red-billed tropicbirds, marine turtles

Is this the best month?

I mean probably, but also it depends on your goals. Here's a short list of the months + their animal rhythms. Note: this list is by no means exhaustive. Also, once some of these animals rhythms begin, they may continue for a few months.


  • Marine iguana mating season begins. Male iguanas turn bright colors to attract a mate.

  • Green sea turtles begin to come ashore to lay eggs.

  • Giant tortoises are hatching.


  • Greater flamingos begin nesting.

  • Penguins migrate to Isabela and Fernandina.


  • Marine iguanas begin to lay eggs.

  • Frigatebirds begin laying eggs.


  • The main hatching season for giant tortoises ends.

  • Albatross migrate to the islands en masse.

  • Green sea turtles begin to hatch.

  • Female Galapagos sharks move to shallow waters to give birth.


  • Marine iguanas begin to hatch.

  • Galapagos penguins are nesting.


  • Giant tortoises begin to lay eggs.

  • Blue-footed boobies begin the year’s principal mating season. Males dance to display their brightly-colored feet.

  • Frigatebirds begin their mating season. Males inflate their red gular pouch to attract a mate.

  • Orcas, spotted dolphins, Fraser’s dolphins, pilot whales, and striped dolphins migrate through the islands.

  • The sea-purslanes on South Plaza Island turn bright red, orange, and purple.


  • Orcas, spotted dolphins, Fraser’s dolphins, pilot whales, and striped dolphins migrate through the islands.

  • The California sea lion breeding season begins.


  • Galapagos penguins are nesting.

  • Orcas, spotted dolphins, Fraser’s dolphins, pilot whales, and striped dolphins migrate through the islands.

  • Baby California sea lions conceived the year before are born.


  • Orcas, spotted dolphins, Fraser’s dolphins, pilot whales, and striped dolphins migrate through the islands.

  • Penguins begin mating displays on Bartolome Island.

  • Humpback whales and sharks migrate to the northwestern islands.


  • Blue-footed boobies have hatched on Isabela and Española Islands.

  • Orcas, spotted dolphins, Fraser’s dolphins, pilot whales, and striped dolphins migrate through the islands.

  • Breeding season begins for Galapagos fur seals.


  • Galapagos penguins are nesting.

  • Green sea turtles begin mating.

  • Baby sea lions are abundant.


  • Galapagos penguins are nesting.

  • Giant tortoises begin to hatch.

  • Baby albatross hatch and fledge.


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