BRILLIANT 5 Days Galapagos Itinerary: Cruise, or Ride Solo?
I agonised for hours researching my Galapagos itinerary, adding to an already large list of things to do in Guayaquil (a popular gateway city to the Galapagos Islands, but I made my way there from the capital).
The Ecuador trip was close to my birthday, compounded with my love for animals and the possibility of seeing them protected on an unprecedented level was a no-brainer.
However, the decision to shell out the $4,500 from my apartment savings was a difficult one to make indeed.
I’ll try and make this Galapagos itinerary as concise and also simple as possible, explaining what to expect in the Galapagos Islands and at the end, I’ll explain whether I think it’s worth going on a cruise or not.
Day of Galapagos Itinerary 1: Arrive at Bartholome
Day one is all about settling into the cruise and having an introduction to the Galapagos Islands. A dip into the waters, so to speak.
I arrived at Baltra Airport (after exhausting my what to do in Quito items), where the local guide met and transferred me and a few others from the cruise onto our beautiful ship, named Ocean Spray.
Usual group-tour etiquette was carried out where we got to meet each other, fake-laugh at our guide’s recycled cheesy jokes and receive a briefing on what to expect on our five days, four nights Galapagos excursion.
Later that afternoon we headed out to Bartholomew to get our first taste of the Galapagos.
Bartholomew is a small island that derives from Santiago Island. It is home to the famous Pinnacle Rock and is named after James Sullivan, a friend of Charles Darwin who was also aboard the HMS Beagle. Of all the islands, this is the most photographed and is also featured in the 2003 movie Master and Commander.
Pinnacle Rock is a volcanic cone formed by magma expelled by an underwater volcano. The sea cooled the hot lava and as it exploded from contact, the pieces formed together this huge rock of many, many layers of basalt.
Galapagos penguins gather here, but I never saw any penguins during my whole trip. Thankfully, they were very much part of the activities in Ushuaia in November and also Antarctica sorted me out later on with my penguin fix!
Bartholomew Island Experience
Highlights: Pinnacle Rock, Galapagos penguins, marine life, panoramic views, climbing a mini volcano.
This island is named after ecologist and a lifelong buddy of Charles Darwin, Sir Bartholomew James Sulivan.
Swimming is an option here, if you are lucky you might get to see some white-tipped sharks and marine turtles amongst some beautiful tropical fish. It is possible to climb the volcano and we did just that, a lovely little meander of 114 metres.
It’s worth noting here that I was the youngest by far and the older parts of the crew had no issues making this hike to the top. The lava formations made a nice solid surface to walk on and the views from the top were a beauty.
This is a perfect intro to the Galapagos Islands for those simply wanting to ease into their Galapagos itinerary.
Day 2 of Galapagos Itinerary: Genovesa Island, Darwin Bay & El Barranco
Day two of the Galapagos itinerary ramps it up a couple of notches with promises of penguins, potential marine life and learning about a lot of majestic, colourful slightly creepy birds and another leisurely hike with a view.
Genovesa Island and Darwin Bay Exprience
Highlights: Nazca boobies, red-footed Boobies, swallow-tailed gulls, mangroves, coral pebbles beach. Underwater in Darwin Bay we saw some rays, and colourful reef fish and I saw a pod of hammerhead sharks – which went a lot better than the last time I saw one!
Genovesa Island is a horseshoe-shaped island which was formed by the eruption of a shield volcano with large slopes formed by gradual lava flows. It is known as ‘Bird Island’ due to the wide variety of birds that can be seen. The only reptile on the entire island is the marine iguana and it is one of the very few places red-footed boobies gather in one large mass.
After being introduced to the birds we set off to Darwin Bay for some snorkelling.
Snorkelling can often be very anticlimactic, but I knew that there was no chance of that over there. Also, the sea is bloody cold – so make sure you reserve the best gear! This is one of the places in the Galapagos where red-footed boobies can be guaranteed to be seen. Over 200,000 red-footed boobies are estimated to be living in the trees and bushes of Genovesa.
Birds can become boring very fast (sorry, birdies) – at least at face value. But if you really listen to the extremely complex life cycle of Galapagos birds, which have survived for so long in an intense predator/prey environment, you should find a newfound respect for them.
For example, if you’re a land bird you can’t even trust your own sibling in the nest. If it’s bigger and times are tough and s/he feels you’re going to be a burden on their hunger, they will kill you while you sleep. Ruthless!
El Barranco, better known as Prince Phillip’s Steps (after he visited there in 1964), is a steep and rocky path that leads up to a cliff with an epic view after walking past a species of funk-coloured cactus.
Although iguanas are on this island you won’t see them scuttling about like usual on land, there are only marine iguanas on El Barranco. In terms of animal highlights here; the Galapagos fur seals make an appearance, albeit from afar, but don’t worry; tomorrow you’ll…seal the deal.
Day 3 of Galapagos Itinerary: Buccaneer Cove, Espumilla Beach & Egas Port
If you are birdied out and have hit your upper tolerable limit of hearing about the history and want to see the cool wildlife that Galapagos has to offer, day three is ready for you with open arms.
Check out this incredibly cute baby sea lion on my Instagram vid:
Buccaneer Cove, Espumilla Beach & Egas Port Experience
Highlights: Buccaneer Cove is better known for excellent snorkelling opportunities and was once known as a refuge for British buccaneers or pirates. The underwater formations are amazing and many different species of fish gather here.
On Espuimilla you will potentially witness nesting turtles and flamingos gathering while majestic Galapagos Hawks stalk from up above the beach.
The American oystercatchers are the star of the show amongst the array of wildlife on Egas Port. White chested, with red eyes and a long orange beak, they work in pairs and sustain solely on shellfish.
This was the best day on the Galapagos Island trip by a country mile. I deep-sea snorkelled and played underwater with a gorgeous baby sea lion.
It stared at me with curiosity, come real close, look at me upside down and swam around me. This was for about 10 minutes and one of my favourite travel moments of all time, making the whole trip worth it in this short period of time.
On the same day, I saw three massive sea turtles too underwater, they just went about doing their own thing. It was the first time I had ever seen this species in its own habitat. In all honesty, I didn’t know the difference between a tortoise and a turtle at this point, but luckily the next day was going to be a tortoise-centric day of extremes…
Day 4 of Galapagos Itinerary: North Seymour & Charles Darwin Research Station
The Charles Darwin Research Station in Galapagos is an ecological centre for the study and conservation of numerous species of Galapagos plants and animals, with the stars of the show undoubtedly being the giant Galapagos Tortoises.
Charles Darwin Research Station Experience
We pretty much spent half a day with the iconic species of Galapagos Islands; The Galapagos tortoises!
With a lifespan of over 100 years for turtles, Galapagos Islands can live well into their 170s. Shortly after this trip, I sized the Galapagos Tortoises up vs the Aldabra tortoises as seeing them is one of the coolest things to do in Zanzibar and it turns out the Galapagos ones are the king in terms of size.
We didn’t only get to see huge tortoises, there is also a baby-tortoise house with special incubators. The breeding programme repatriates them to the Galapagos Islands when they are around 4 years old.
Galapagos tortoises have a huge appetite, eating around 80 pounds of food a day, they pretty much munch on the grass all day long. The males can weigh more than 500 pounds (227 kilograms), and females average about 250 pounds (113 kilograms).
The main highlight of my Galapagos itinerary was either the day frolicking with the baby sea lions or this day with the massive Galapagos Tortoises.
The rest of the day on North Seymour Island was similar to what we were already used to; watching the sea lions, crabs, and funky-coloured birds and reptiles living in unison (and sometimes in battle) on the craggy rock formations of the Galapagos Islands.
Final Day of Galapagos Itinerary: Mosquera Islet & Departure/Transfer to Airport
We said goodbye to these famous Islands on the swansong of our Galapagos itinerary, not before snapping a photo of the elusive blue-footed boobie.
I was lucky to get a pic seeing so he disappeared almost as fast as he appeared. thanks to the only predator for the blue-footed boobie, The Galapagos Hawk, making an unsuccessful attempt to make it dinner!
Is A Galapagos Islands Cruise Worth it?
Now it’s time to answer the
million $4,500 dollar question.
To answer this question, I need to dissect it into two questions:
- Are the Galapagos Islands worth visiting?
- Is it worth spending the extra money and going on a cruise?
The answer to the first question isn’t hard at all. Hell yes, make sure you get to see the Galapagos Islands. Not torn at all on this one. Other than Antarctica, I haven’t seen a place where animals are left alone to flourish and live in their own habitat as much as this.
I’m beyond happy that I got to do this and treat myself with an early birthday present.
The answer to number two about going on a cruise, or even the next extreme like me, a luxury Galapagos cruise – I’m not too convinced. I’m not saying that born rich people are boring, but…ok I am, born rich people are usually dreadfully boring.
Which is quite an ironic statement to be made by someone who has always wanted to be rich and is working on making that happen. In my experience, people who are born into money are nowhere near as interesting, or as people who have made their own money and have a story to tell.
As much as I like old-fashioned politeness, I also like to be around people with a little bit of edge and character. A lot of the people on the ship were a little too prim and proper for my liking and a bit snobby and it was clear that if it was the Big Brother TV show, I would have been voted out first.
Also, I was the only single on a cruise full of couples, so I felt like a bit of a weirdo. 😛
I guess I need to research my demographics better before making such purchases.
My personal insecurities aside, I have spoken to many people who have done budget and medium-range Galapagos Island cruises, and they saw the same amazing things as me at half (and more) the price.
I also know people who have gone DIY in the Galapagos and got it a lot cheaper, alongside more hassle with logistics too, of course, it’s all about priorities.
I don’t think that the extra expenditure by going luxury or even on a cruise is necessary for your Galapagos itinerary (unless you simply want to, of course).