Is there a Galapagos trip where I can sleep on the different islands, not on the boat which sails between islands?
Galapagos has 4 islands that are populated - Santa Cruz, Isabela, San Cristabal and Floreana. It is possible to stay on these islands and take boats between them. Santa Cruz has the largest population - mainly in the town of Puerto Ayora so this is the place where most tours start. Isabela is a very nice place and Floreana has very little facilities for tourists.
Some companies run what are called island hopping tours where you stay on an island overnight and move on to the next island the next morning. These tours are relatively new but becoming more popular.
In addition to the populated islands, you can normally get a day tour from Santa Cruz to either N. Seymour, plaza or Bartolome. Sometimes land based tours will combine island hopping with day trips.
The remaining islands are for cruises only. Some parts of the populated islands are also for cruises only and you tend to see the parts that are less dense in wildlife.
Getting between the populated islands is by speedboats and is between 2 and 3 hours of a normally bumpy ride. Day trips are often slightly larger boats but similar times and require about an hour by coach from Puerto Ayora to the start.
One company that offers island hopping is the Red mangrove hotel in Puerto Ayora who have properties on Isabela and Floreana but I am sure a google search will find many more. The tour company in Puerto Ayora at www.galapagosmoonrise.com also has various land packages available.
Beware of the many unofficial companies that are taking advantage of the lack of regulation of these tours. Since they run between public areas of the islands, there is little to stop anyone offering a tour package. The quality of what you get can vary a great deal.
You can also fly by light aircraft between Baltra (just off Santa Cruz), Isabela and San Cristobal but its rather expensive compared to the boats although just a few minutes. Luggage is limited to 15Kg total and there qare no flights on a Sunday.
We have just finished a week stay in the Galapagos doing both a 8 day cruise and a 6 day land tour with the Red Mangrove.
With the land tour we had 2 nights on Santa Cruz, 2 on Isabella and 1 on Floreana. Travel between the islands took 2hrs and was done during the day normally before lunch. There was 2 or 3 excusions a day including snorkelling.
Whilst the land tour was very good, it could not compare to the cruise. The sites you visit on a cruise have much more varied wildlife and you can get closer to the animals. We were on the Galapagos Voyager, the guide on which must be the best in the business, he was brilliant. Most travel apart from the last day was done at night so sea sickness wasn't really a problem (we took over the counter sea sickness pills to be on the safe side)
I kind of wish we had done the land tour first and the cruise second so that the land tour didn't seem like a poor second (although still good) but we are just glad that we got to see all the sights we did.
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We travelled to Galapagos in March 2010 and chose to use Red Mangrove for all our travel needs. Daniella Campana was wonderful to deal with and I cannot say enough good things about her professionalism and help.
I know it is a big deal whether to stay on land or boat, we choose the land - island hopping. Puerto Ayora is wonderful to walk around on your own especially in the evening when the shops reopen and the locals are playing some serious volley ball! We really enjoyed that.
The only problem I had was staying on Floreana as there was not much time and we didn't do very much, although the cabins are great - even is the power goes out in the evening AND you have a cold shower in the a.m. (still was fun).
We stayed extra on Isabella and both my husband and I would highly recommend that you take some extra time there. There is lots to do.
One thing to note is there are several companies on Santa Cruz offering day trips, but I am not the one to tell you who would be the best. I just know we stayed with Red Mangrove each time and whether they provided the tour or outsourced it we were extremely happy with their services.
Enjoy - we would go back in a heart beat!
There really isn't much to do on Floreana so you probably didn't miss anything. I stayed a few days in those huts last year as I wanted to ensure I saw the medium tree finch in the highlands.
If you stay on your own then there is no transport available to the highlands, no shops and only pre-arranged food so I recommend most people to do the island hopping or the day trip. I did manage to get a ride part of the way to the highlands in the back of a truck and on another day a tour that was doing the island hopping kindly invited me to join them.
The highlands consist of a loop that you can walk around where there are giant tortoises kept in semi-captivity by a large wall surrounding the area. You can search for the medium tree finch in that area. There is also the short trail to what they call the pirate caves which are not really caves but there is a good view of the island from the top. Some tours take you to the water source at the farm. Do be careful because they heard the cows down from the top to drink at the farm as there is no water on the top.
Behind the huts where you stay, there is a path to the beach where you see sealions and pups. There is the also the black beach near the whitmer hotel (which only seems to be advertised to Germans).
That's about it for the Floreana that can be seen without a cruise. If you are on a cruise then you will probably not see these places but will instead see post office bay and punta cormorant.
As you say, Isabela has a lot more to offer and has transport, shops, restaurants and is generally set up for tourists.
As for local culture, the human population is very recent and there is far more interest in the Ecuador mainland. Start at the official equator monument where there is good exhibition showing the history of the various tribes. In Galapgos the animals ruled for a lot longer !
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I fully agree with header, required information about permits, licensed guides, Insurance, enviromental practices. You want to minimize the footprints
A huge thank you to Heather for making an excellent point and I would encourage everyone to do the same - check the hotel and support the eco system where ever possible.
I know that is the reason alot of people prefer the cruise ships, however, not to be argumentative, they too pose their own issues.
I guess tourism will do that and the islands are so precious that not enough is being done to ensure the existence (on some of the islands/areas).
thanks everyone for your input,
I will be travelling to Galapagos in November and have a diving boat trip planned for our second week of travel so I specifically want land based for the first week.
I see many good reviews of Red Mangrove but am also looking at booking through MT a 6night tour with my contact for this, Zuri.
anyone done this tour?
it's all based on Santa Cruz with day trips including three island visits and is considerably cheaper than the Red Mangrove island hopping and hence closer to our budget but I would be happier if I heard some feedback on it.
or we be better island hopping independantly with local guided trips organised when we get there?
If you are going to do day trips instead of island hopping then you need to bear in mind that it takes 2-3 hours each way to get to another island. The advantage of island hopping is that you stay on each island so its only a single crossing from one to the next instead of a return trip.
Island hopping is only possible between populated islands though so you need day trips for places like bartolome, N seymour and Plaza - and those don't run every day.
Doing it yourself is more difficult because there is only one ferry crossing per day between the populated islands. This means you cannot get there and back in a single day - in fact it is pointless doing it in 2 days because you arrive late afternoon and the return is very early next moring. Its a cost effective way to share time between Santa Cruz and Isabela though. You could look into flying between Baltra and Isabela and/or San Cristobal but its expensive