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Getting Around the Galapagos Islands

In terms of getting around the towns themselves, it’s pretty easy. Even Puerto Ayora, the largest of the towns, is small enough that you can walk basically everywhere. Some of the hotels on all three islands are a few blocks away from the pier or where the bus drops you off, so if you have a lot of luggage you can take a taxi (costs about $1 in all three towns, or maybe a bit more on Isabela).

If you’re in Puerto Ayora or Puerto Baquerizo Moreno and want to check it out, there are bikes for rent. They cost about $10-20/day and prices vary so look around. Most of the tour agencies will have them. There isn’t much to see and you don’t really need one unless you’re taking some sort of bike trip (see things to do sections of the towns).

Getting from one island to another

Inter-island transportation is relatively straightforward. You can travel between Santa Cruz and the other main islands of San Cristóbal and Isabela either by plane, ferry or private boat. Itineraries and prices can change. The small airline, EMETEBE, flies a small plane between the main islands every day, if there are passengers. Tickets can be purchased at any of the airports or at the EMETEBE office near the port supermarket in Puerto Ayora (hours: 7:15-10:45 a.m., 2-6 p.m.; telephone: 05-252-6177). The flight costs about $160 one-way and lasts about 30 minutes.

Most people simply use the ferry. Every day, a handful of private ferries will leave Puerto Ayora for Isabela or San Cristóbal and vice versa. Some are better than others, so book your ferry ahead of time with a tour agency in town. You’ll see signs on the travel agencies that say “Ferry Isabela San Cristóbal” or something similar. Stay away from the cheesy little hole-in-the-wall agencies near the dock and never buy a ferry ticket from a “tour operator” in the street. It’s possible to buy a return ticket when you book your ferry, but it’s not necessary.

Every day at 2:00, ferries leave Puerto Ayora for Puerto Villamil and Puerto Baquerizo Moreno, they return daily at 6:00 am. Why so early? Because sometimes people on Isabela and San Cristobal need to catch flights.

The “system” of ferries is a little hectic. There are several small boats that go between the islands, and some are better than others. Some are quicker, some have less fumes or have more comfortable seats. There is a co-operative of these ferries loosely overseen by the Galapagos park service. Here are the steps you must take:

  1. Decide when you want to travel. You can buy your ferry tickets a couple days in advance.
  2. Purchase your ticket. They cost $30, or sometimes a little less. There are several places to buy them: many little tour agencies will have signs out front that say “Tickets San Cristobal & Isabela” or something similar. Do not buy them on the street, or from the cheesy little tour agencies close to the pier. Many hotels will help you: if your hotel has this service, use it.
  3. You do not need to purchase your return ticket when you buy your departure ticket. You can, but it’s just as easy to get it in Puerto Villamil or Puerto Baquerizo Moreno, and in fact may save you some hassle.
  4. The tour operators know which are the better boats, and a good vendor will help you get on one of the more comfortable ones.
  5. You’ll need to arrive at the old tourist pier (next to the Proinsular supermarket) by 1:30 on the day of your departure, because the park service must inspect your bags before you board. Stand in the “line” and wait your turn: when the park official determines that you are not smuggling illegal plants from one island to the other he or she will put a little tag on your bag.  
  6. Find your ferry. The vendor might have told you which one to look for, or it might say on your ticket. Sometimes, the vendors will accompany you to the pier and help you find the right one.
  7. Get comfortable for the two-hour ride!



Tips for the ferry ride:

The water can get quite rough on the two-hour ferry ride, especially during the colder months of June-October.  If you are prone to motion sickness, don’t eat anything after 10:00 am or so and take a motion sickness pill about forty-five minutes before the ferry leaves. Motion sickness pills are called “mareol” in Ecuador and are available at any pharmacy. On the bright side, you’ll know quickly how bad the waves will be: within fifteen minutes of leaving port you’ll be in open water and you’ll know how rough it will be for the rest of the trip.

Also, if you get motion sick, sit near the back of the boat, as it moves less.

Sometimes, the water is not your worst enemy. Many of the ferries are small and covered and quickly fill up with fumes from the engines. If you feel yourself getting lightheaded, sit where you can get some air.

Ferry times: Puerto Ayora-San Cristóbal: Daily, 2 p.m. San Cristóbal-Puerto Ayora: Daily, 6:30 a.m. Puerto Ayora-Isabela: Daily, 2 p.m. Isabela-Puerto Ayora: Daily, 6 a.m. All ferries leave from the municipal docks and cost $30 one-way.

If you are in a hurry or cannot acquire a space on the ferry, you can contract a private boat in any of the port towns. Private transportation will be more expensive. Prices are negotiable, but you should expect to pay between $80 and $100 one-way to either San Cristóbal or Isabela. However, it will be faster and most certainly guided, since local boat-owners love to share their knowledge with tourists. The capitanía, or port captain, should also be able to tell you which boats are going to these islands and their expected departure times, or just ask around.

Here are some related tips to help plan your trip to The Galápagos Islands: Day Trips in Galapagos, The Waved Albatross, Ruddy Turnstone, Post Office Bay Visitor Site, Galápagos Health & Safety, The Islanders Take Over, Recommended Reading List, More Isabela Visitor Sites, The Flag Cabrilla and Brown Pelican.

By Christopher Minster
I am a writer and editor at V!VA Travel guides here in Quito, where I specialize in adding quality content to the site and also in spooky things like...
22 Apr 2011

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