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Do you want to see beautifully colored wildlife - much of which only exists in the Galapagos archipelago? Animals that you can get very close to and that are not afraid of you? Experience rocky volcanic terrain and deserted gorgeous white sand beaches and turquoise water?
To save money, some peple fly to thje Galapagos and hop on day tours to see some of the islands that can be reached in a day.
Many of the major attractions are, however, beyond the reach of 1-day tours. That's why we decided to join a cruise.
There are many cruises from budget to luxury cruises. Regardless if you book a budget or luxury cruise: they all go to the same destinations.
We decided to take a budget cruise. After talking to Eddie from Trip Galapagos, a local travel agent who I found on the internet, we decided that a 5 day cruise plus two additional days would give us almost everything I wanted to see for significantly less money than a 10 day cruise.
We went on the 5 day, 4 night trip on the Guantanamera, a budget cruise ship, in late April. Sadly, this ship does not exist anymore, but there are plenty of other options. Anyway, I am describing this tour in detail to give you as much information as possible, as we found very little useful information when I was planning the trip.
Walter, our licensed tour guide met us and most other passengers at the airport. The Guantanamera had space for 16 passengers (8 cabins) and 8 crew. Walter speaks good English and the rest of the crew speaks either little or no English. He has 30+ years experience in this job.
The Guantanamera was a tourist class ship. Shoes are collected in 2 shoe boxes and everyone walks around barefoot. The upper deck has 6 beach chairs on a sun deck and a shaded general assembly area where the tour guide gives a briefing on the next day’s activities every evening. Five cabins are located on the intermediate deck. The cabin layout is from rear to front:
Left side: kitchen-6-7-8
Right side: dining room-4-5
The engine noise can be heard throughout the ship, but I assume that cabins 5 and 8 got the least of the noise as they are farthest away from the engine room. This is important to know as the ship does a fair amount of cruising over night. Cabins 5 and 8 are, however, next to the motor that operates the anchor. Raising and lowering the anchor is a noisy operation.
Cabins 5 and 8 have an extra suitcase rack between the beds and the bathroom. All cabins have bunk beds with very firm mattresses. On the intermediate deck, both beds are of single bed size. On the lower deck, the upper bed is single and the lower is of double bed size.
Cabins on the lower deck have port holes and cabins on the intermediate deck have windows that can be opened (1 for the bedroom and 1 for the bathroom).
The bathroom has a shower (water at best luke warm, shower has shampoo and conditioner dispenser; no soap provided; 3 towels provided), a small sink and a toilet. I estimate the size to be 3x7ft. There is so little space between the toilet and the sink that I had to sit on the toilet at an angle. The size of cabin 8 was approx. 7x10ft. The A/C overlaps the upper bed a bit. On the wall above every bed is a reading lamp. The cabins are tiny, but it does not really matter as we went there only to change clothes and to sleep.
There is 1 double power outlet (grounded) in the bedroom and one in the bathroom.
The cabins can only be locked from the inside. We and everyone else left the doors unlocked and opened the windows.
Here is the detailed itinerary:
Day 1 (pm: North Seymour)
morning: pick-up at the Baltra airport and transfer to the Guantanamera
2pm: North Seymour island: dry landing, nature walk over rocky terrain and on the beach
Day 2 (am & pm: San Cristobal)
6:30am: snorkeling around Kicker Rock
9:30am: Cerra Brujo: wet landing and nature walk and snorkeling
2:15pm: Isla Lobos: snorkeling
3:45pm: Isla Lobos: dry landing and nature walk over mostly rocky terrain
7:30pm: optional dry landing at Puerto Baquerizo Moreno (capital of Galapagos), 1h sightseeing (unguided)
Day 3 (am & pm: Espanola)
8:00am: wet landing at Gardner Bay, nature walk
3pm: dry landing at Suarez Point, nature walk over rocky terrain
Day 4 (am: Santa Fe, pm: South Plaza)
7:30am: wet landing at Santa Fe island and nature walk
2pm: dry landing on South Plaza island and nature walk
7:00pm: optional dry landing at Puerto Ayora, 1h sightseeing (unguided)
Day 5 (am: Santa Cruz)
6:45am: breakfast (5:30am for everyone with an early flight)
7:45am: dry landing and walk to giant tortoise breeding center/Darwin station (6am for folks with early flights and transfer to Baltra airport)
10:30am: our luggage was brought to the pier in Puerto Ayora where we continued our travels
There is a fair amount of snorkeling on the trip. Within a few days many of us got sunburned on our backs and wore shirts for snorkeling. The sun is very intense and even water proof sun lotion washes off during the 45min snorkeling activities. My advice would be to wear a shirt that blocks sunlight and dries easily. There are 3 currents that come together at the Galapagos. Thus, the water temperature varies from 63F (17C) of the Humboldt current to 77F (25C). While snorkeling gear is provided free of charge, wet suits can be rented for a charge ($7.50 per person per day).
Walking on the islands is often over volcanic rock. Sport shoes are sufficient. For some of the wet landings, sandals or other shoes that can get wet are advisable.
The ship has its own cook. He is well experienced and always had the food ready on time. The meals are buffet style and there were very few repetitions. There is typically 1 meat or fish dish, rice, pasta, fruit, vegetable and desert. Coffee, hot water and tea bags and chilled water are available all day.
After most activities, snacks such as cookies or potato chips or protein bars and fruit juice are available on the upper deck.
You will probably take tons of photos. Make sure to bring a good camera with a zoom lens and plenty of storage for your photos. I strongly recommend to also bring an underwater camera.
The most important item on you packing list should be a full bottle of sun blocker! We almost went through an entire 8 fl oz (237ml) bottle. I would advise to wear a hat on the land tours.
There is a TV in the dining room. Each room is provided with 2 water bottles. Alcohol (beer, wine, liqueur) is available for purchase.
Land excursions are typically 90min whereas snorkeling is typically 45min.
There are ropes and clamps on the upper deck where you can hang your wet clothes and towels up for drying.
We had a thick cloud cover every morning, but the sun burned that away by mid-morning. Much of the day was clear blue sky. The clouds returned at sunset and made star gazing impossible. There was no rain at all except for a sprinkle on the last day at the Darwin station.
A few times when we left an island, we were accompanied by frigate birds that flew over the ship for quite a while, some even landed on the ship.
After our cruise, we transferred to Isla Isabela and explored Isabela for the next 2 days.
Our hotel in Puerto Villamil on Isla Isabela: Sun Island
We stayed in this small hotel with only 3 rooms for 1 night. The owner speaks very little English and we used the google translate app to communicate with her. We had the blue footed boobie room, which is the mid-level room. There is no elevator and you will need to carry up your luggage through a narrow staircase. The building has a roof terrace where you can see the ocean over 2 rows of houses.
The room is clean and has a kitchenette, but no pots and pans and utensils.
There is a fridge with a complimentary pot of water. The room is clean, has 2 beds and an efficient and quiet A/C.
One of the owners was in the office when we arrived. After we realized that she forgot to give us the wifi password, we went to the office which was locked. We tried to call the main hotel number and never reached anyone. Luckily we met a lady who had rented the room below us and she gave us the wifi password. Long story short: It is impossible to reach the owners if they are not in the office and they appear to be barely ever at the office. We did not do it, but you may want to tell the owners when you will check in and out and maybe ask them for their cell phone number.
As a notable exception to all the other hotels we had stayed in Ecuador, we paid the owners at the time when we checked out.
The hotel is directly on the main road parallel to the ocean close to all the restaurants.
Breakfast is served at a nearby restaurant which opens at 6:30am. Make sure to mention that you are from the Sun Island hostal so that you don’t have to pay for it but be aware that they don’t speak English at the restaurant.
Pt. Villamil is a small 3,000 soul community with dirt roads and only 3 main roads. It has 2 supermarkets and a beautiful 2 mile (3km) long beach with very fine sand. As this is a very small community, there is no data signal for your cell phone. However, the hotels and restaurants offer free wifi.
The pier is a bit of a walk and so is the flamingo lagoon. The lagoon behind the hotel had barely any flamingoes when we were there.
On the walk to the flamingo lagoon, make sure to stop by the giant tortoise breeding center. You will see different tortoise species and also baby tortoises. The interpretive center is also worth a few minutes.
Long story short: The hotel is located near the heart of town and close to the beach. I can recommend this hotel, but you need to be aware that it may be difficult to get ahold of the owners.
Our hotel in Puerto Ayora on Isla Santa Cruz: Hotel Coloma Galapagos
We were greeted by the very friendly owner on check-in. She spoke some English. We had the Santa Cruz room (I believe it was room #8).
The room had 2 beds and was very clean. The A/C was efficient and quiet.
We only stayed for 1 night and left for the airport the following morning at 6:15am (breakfast starts at 6:30am). The owner greeted us at 6:15am and gave us a zip-lock bag with 2 pears, 2 granola bars and 2 fruit juices. Thank you very much!
The hotel is located on a quiet side street but close to many restaurants, stores etc. It is also only a few blocks away from a street which turns into a food street in the evening. It is also only a few blocks away from the pier.
Long story short: This is a nice hotel with a super friendly owner. It is very affordable as it is not located in a prime location, but it is in short walking distance to everything. I definitely recommend it.