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Shopping in the Galapagos islands

Cash or Card? Using Money in the Galapagos Islands

Updated July 9, 2017.

We often get asked about the best way to pay your way while you’re in the Galapagos Islands. Whether you’re on a cruise, land-based tour or independent trip, you’ll no doubt need to spend some extra cash at some point – perhaps for a drink in the bar, souvenirs, tips, snacks or anything else you might need.

You’ll also need cash for the $100 national park fee and, if you are going to Isabela Island, the $5 dock tax there. As well, often the price on restaurant menus does not include the 10% service (tips) or 12% IVA tax.

As these protected islands are 600 miles (1,000 kilometers) out to sea, it’s not as straightforward as simply whipping out your credit card. So before you go, be sure to read our top money tips.

Money, money, money
  • The currency used in the Galapagos Islands (and all of Ecuador) is the U.S. Dollar.
  • In Puerto Ayora on Santa Cruz Island, there are two banks. Banco del Pacífico has ATMs accepting Mastercard, Cirrus and Visa (Avenida Charles Darwin across from the fisherman’s wharf; Monday-Friday 8 a.m.-4 p.m., Saturday 9 a.m.-1 p.m.). Banco Pichincha has an ATM (Avenida Baltra, between Española and Genovesa Streets; Monday-Friday 8 a.m.-4 p.m.). ATMs are also at the Proinsular supermarket at the end of Avenida Charles Darwin, past the post office.
  • In Puerto Baquerizo Moreno on San Cristóbal Island, Banco del Pacífico has a 24-hour ATM and changes Euros to US dollars (corner of Avenida Hernán Melville and Ignacio; Monday-Friday 8 a.m.-4 p.m., Saturday 9 a.m.-1 p.m.).
  • Note that there are no ATMs in the town of Puerto Villamil on Isabela Island or in Puerto Velazco Ibarra on Floreana Island. Bring plenty of cash with you.
  • Nicer hotels, restaurants and souvenir stores accept major credit cards, but there is often a 5-10% fee charged. Many shops and restaurants do not accept credit cards, and neither do all hotels – check in advance. MasterCard and Visa are the most accepted; few businesses take American Express.
  • Traveler cheques are not widely accepted, so it is better to stick to cash and credit cards.
  • Bring some extra cash with you from the mainland, just in case your credit card isn’t accepted or the ATMs are out of bills. (It happens!)
  • Bring small bills – $10s and $5s are ideal. You won’t be able to use bills over $20.

 

Have you already been to the Galapagos islands? Help other travellers by sharing your money tips in the comments below.

 

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Photo credit: Steve Nomchong

Greater Flamingo courting ritual, Galapagos islands

Galapagos Islands: What happens in July

Updated June 2016.

July seems to be baby time in the Galapagos Islands, on land and in the air. The seasonal migrations continue, bringing many visitors to the islands, especially in the sea.

On Land
  • The female lava lizards are blushing deeply as their potential mates do push-ups to attract their attention. All of this is part of the lava lizards’ mating rituals, which will continue until November.
  • Marine iguanas have hatched. Watch where you step with hundreds of these miniature “imps of darkness” scurrying around!
At Sea
  • Whales and dolphins are resting in the channel between Isabela and Fernandina Islands.
  • Whale sharks are swimming by Darwin and Wolf Islands.
  • Along the west coast of Isabela Island, expect to see pods of white-bellied and bottle nose dolphins.
  • Galapagos penguins begin to nest.
  • It is also the sea lion breeding season. (Watch out for those macho males guarding their harems!)
In the Air
  • Many sea birds are breeding and nesting, including Moorhens (Common Gallinules) and Galapagos Penguins.
  • The Greater Flamingo is performing its spectacular courting dance.
  • You can also witness the Flightless Cormorants’ mating rituals on Fernandina Island.
  • July is a great time to visit the Blue-footed boobies, especially on Española Island. The downy chicks are hatching.
  • Also on Española Island, the Waved Albatross are nesting and the chicks beginning to hatch.
  • On North Seymour Island, the Frigatebird babies are appearing.
  • American oystercatchers are nesting on the beaches of Santiago Island, especially at Puerto Egas.
Humans
  • Highlander Ecuadorians on summer vacation are joining the seasonal migration of the Northern Hemisphere vacationers. Booking well in advance for trips in July is highly advised.
Climate
  • The cool season continues in July, with a brisk climate.
  • The fine, drizzling mist called garúa bathes the morning and evening. Skies will be overcast, and there is a chance of light showers. Expect afternoon showers. Pack a rain jacket.
  • Air temperatures are cool: 19-26°C (66-79°F). It is also breezy. A sweater will take off the chill.
  • The sea is a bit rougher. Some landings may be tricky. If you are prone to seasickness, don’t forget seasickness medication, or you may want to consider land-based tours.
  • The sea is also cool (21-22ºC / 68-72ºF). For snorkeling, you may need a wetsuit.
  • The nutrient-rich water means marine life is more active, making for fantastic snorkeling and scuba diving.

Have you visited the Galapagos islands in July? Tell us about it in the comments below.

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Photo credit: Santiago Ron

Masked Booby, Galapagos Islands

How long should I spend in the Galapagos islands?

One of the first questions travellers ask us when planning a trip to Galapagos is how much time they need to visit the islands.

My usual response is to first ask, how much time do you have?

Then, what are your reasons for visiting the Galapagos islands?

Read more

Diving in the Galapagos

Galapagos Spotlight: Diving at Academy Bay

This week we put our Galapagos Spotlight on diving at Academy Bay. The bay’s convenient location on the island of Santa Cruz and its four sites of varying levels of difficulty make it a popular diving spot for beginner, intermediate and experienced divers alike.

Academy Bay is located close to the town of Puerto Ayora. It’s easily accessible and is one of the few dive sites that can be visited in half a day. The whole trip generally lasts around five hours.

There are four sites, two of which have calm currents and are ideal for non-experienced divers. The other two sites are more suited to intermediate or advanced divers as the current is stronger.

You will see a variety of marine life at Academy Bay, including reef fish, sea lions, sting rays, golden rays, eagle rays, invertebrates, morays, garden eels, turtles, marine iguanas and white-tipped reef sharks.

There are several agencies in Puerto Ayora offering trips to Academy Bay, either as a single trip or in combination with a visit to another dive site.

Academy Bay’s four sites are:

  • Punta Estrada: this site is located in one of the calmer areas and is therefore ideal for those who haven’t dived before. The site has an abundance of golden rays and white-tipped reef sharks, and, as this is also a sea turtle canyon, you’ll have the opportunity to dive with green sea turtles.
  • Caamaño Islet: this is the second of the sites offering calmer currents and is also suitable for beginners. You’ll spot a variety of tropical fish, marine iguanas and playful sea lions.
  • Punta Nuñez Cliffs: here you’ll find lava rock cliffs with underwater lava tunnels which form wonderful caves – great for exploring. You’ll see sea turtles, stingrays, tropical fish, white-tipped reef sharks and sometimes manta rays. This site is suitable for intermediate divers.
  • El Bajo: the ocean currents are usually calm but stronger than the other sites. This is a submarine platform that has mini-walls and a great quantity of marine life such as large schools of reef fish, rays, white-tipped reef sharks and sea turtles. Intermediate and experienced divers will love this site.

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Photo credit: Flickr/Anthony Patterson

Man arrested for attempted smuggling of Galapagos iguanas

The Ecuadorian Ministry of Environment has reported that a man has been arrested for attempting to smuggle 11 iguanas out of the Galapagos Islands. 

The man, who has not been named but is said to be Mexican, was caught with the iguanas in his vehicle in Puerto Ayora, Santa Cruz Island on Sunday 6 September. Officials believe he was attempting to smuggle the iguanas with the help of others who had been posing as tourists. The suspect is said to have a history of trafficking animals and previously served a 4.5 month prison sentence for illegally smuggling reptiles out of New Zealand. The arrest reportedly follows a three-month investigation by the Ministry into an international network of wildlife trafficking.

The suspect has now been transferred to a prison in Guayaquil on Ecuador’s mainland, and is facing a possible three year sentence if found guilty of attempting to smuggle a protected species. 

The iguanas – nine marine iguanas and two land iguanas – were said to be in a good condition and were being monitored by officials. 

In 2013, a German man was also caught attempting to smuggle iguanas out of the Galapagos Islands and was subsequently sentenced to four years in prison.

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Photo credit: Flickr/Rudy R

Galapagos penguins

Galapagos Islands in September

To read an updated version of this article click here.

We take a look at what’s going on in the Galapagos Islands during the month of September.

  • September is the start of the breeding season for sea lions so you’ll be sure to see a lot of sea lion activity – males can often be observed aggressively patrolling their territories (be sure to keep well out of their way!) 
  • Penguins are also very visible during this month: it’s a great time to spot and even snorkel with them, particularly on Bartolome Island
  • The cooler waters at this time of year means lots of potential whale sightings
  • September sees the lowest rainfall of the year, while temperatures are comfortable (18-24°C) – ideal for walking
  • Waters can be choppy in September, so if you’re prone to sea-sickness a land-based tour is recommended
  • September and October are low season, meaning you can find some great deals on tours and cruises, and tourist numbers are generally lower

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Photo credit: Flickr/Benjamin Jakabek

Traveler Spotlight: Combination cruise & hotel stay

In this month’s Traveler Spotlight – where we interview tourists about their experiences of visiting the Galapagos Islands – we spoke to Susana Cueva, who visited the islands by combining a cruise with a hotel-based stay.

  • What type of trip did you go on in the Galapagos? I took a four-day cruise and also stayed independently on San Cristobal Island.
  • What yacht did you choose for your cruise?  The yacht was called Amigo, it was a tourist-class boat. It was a wooden-hulled boat and a little old, but the service made up for it. The chef was excellent and the food was varied and delicious. The staff were very friendly.
  • How long did you stay for? I spent four days on the cruise, and two weeks staying on San Cristobal.
  • Which islands did you visit? Santa Cruz, Floreana, Española and San Cristobal.
  • What was your favourite experience on the islands? The best part for me was seeing the animals, who are so friendly with humans. It was wonderful to see so many species that are unique to the islands.
  • Would you have done anything differently? I would have loved to have gone diving!
  • What advice would you give to people planning to take a trip to the Galapagos islands? Take a great camera with you! Make sure you organize your trip well in order to make the most of your time on the islands. I think to make the most of your time, it’s best to take a cruise. Also, make sure you have extra money on you – things are more expensive in the islands than in mainland Ecuador.

 

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Photo credit: Waved Albatrosses on Española Island Flickr/Island Conservation 

Galapagos sea lion with pup

Galapagos Islands: What happens in August

Updated August 2016.

In August, the cold Humboldt Current becomes stronger through the Galapagos Islands, making the waters rich with nutrients. This is a boon for nursing sea lion and fur seal moms – and for human snorkelers and scuba divers!

On Land
  • On Santa Cruz Island, giant tortoises are returning to the highlands. You’ll have a greater chance of seeing these gentle giants.
  • Lava lizards continue their mating rituals. Look for the blushing females and their potential mates doing push-ups to attract their attention.
  • It’s pupping season for the Galapagos sea lion, especially on the central and western islands. Be aware that the mothers can be aggressive if they feel threatened.
  • Fur seals are beginning their breeding season on Fernandina Island.
At Sea
  • Humpback whales are migrating through the Galapagos Islands.
  • Whale and dolphin sightings are common near Isabela and Fernandina Islands.
  • Whale sharks are still hanging out up at Darwin and Wolf Islands.
In the Air
  • Migrant shore birds are arriving in the Galapagos Islands. Many will stay until March.
  • The Greater Flamingo continues to perform its courting dance.
  • Blue-footed boobies and their downy chicks are seen, especially on Española Island.
  • Also on Española Island, the Waved Albatross are nesting and the chicks appearing.
  • Courtship rites of the Galapagos Hawk can be witnessed on Española and Santiago Islands.
  • On North Seymour Island, the Frigatebird babies are hatching.
  • On Genovesa Island, Nazca Boobies and Swallow-tailed Gulls are nesting.
Humans
  • The high season continues, with highlander Ecuadorians and Northern Hemisphere visitors on vacation.
  • At the end of August, the villagers of Santa Rosa in the highlands of Santa Cruz Island will be celebrating their patron saint.
Climate

The strengthening Humboldt Current brings brisk conditions to the Galapagos Islands.

  • The fine garúa mist makes the mornings and evenings damp. Have a rain slicker on hand for the light afternoon shower that might fall.
  • August is the coldest month in the Galapagos Islands, with air temperatures ranging from 18-23ºC (64-74ºF) with a strong breeze. Be sure to pack a sweater or jacket.
  • The ocean is roughest in August, with strong currents. High waves can occur along south and west-facing shores. If you are prone to seasickness, don’t forget seasickness medication, or you may want to consider land-based tours.
  • The sea temperature can drop as low as 18ºC (64ºF). You will definitely need a wetsuit for snorkeling.

 

Have you visited the Galapagos islands in August? Tell us about it in the comments below.

 

Galapagos Travel Planner - FREE Download

 

Photo credit: Jan Hazevoet

Sea lions on a Galapagos beach

Best islands in the world? The Galapagos!

The Galapagos Islands have been named the best islands in the world in Travel + Leisure’s 2015 World’s Best Awards.

Hall of Fame

The awards – which have been running for two decades – gave the Galapagos a score of 90.82, placing the islands in the top spot and beating other exotic destinations such as the Maldives, Bali and Fiji. The score is compiled from votes from Travel + Leisure readers (travel industry professionals are excluded from voting), who score the islands on various characteristics such as natural attractions, beaches, activities, food, value, friendliness and romance.

This is the second time in 10 years that the archipelago has been named the best islands in the world by Travel + Leisure. In addition, the islands have been featured in the top 10 islands in the world every year for the last 10 years, meaning that the Galapagos is now a proud member of Travel + Leisure’s Hall of Fame.

With an utterly unique array of endemic wildlife, an amazing underwater world, astonishing landscapes and world-class snorkeling and diving, we couldn’t agree more with Travel + Leisure’s choice!

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Photo credit: Flickr/Scott Mathias

Tortuga Bay

Spotlight: Tortuga Bay, Galapagos Islands

A vast expanse of brilliantly-white sand. A perfectly preserved beach, unspoiled by man. Curious sea lions, marine iguanas, white-tipped reef sharks. Where in the world is this dreamy place?

The answer? It’s the Galapagos Islands’ beautiful Tortuga Bay. It’s a must-see for anyone visiting the island of Santa Cruz, or for anyone visiting the Galapagos for that matter – it’s consistently called the best beach in the whole archipelago.

The beach is part of the Galapagos National Park, but tourists can visit independently (though plenty of agencies also offer tours), and there is no entrance fee.

How to get there: 

  • Tortuga Bay is located 1.5 miles (2.4 km) outside of the town of Puerto Ayora, the Galapagos Islands’ main residential and commercial hub on the island of Santa Cruz. The beach can only be reached on foot, on a paved trail that weaves its way through cacti and palo santo trees. It’s a relatively easy walk, though there are some small hills and it gets hot under the strong sun – bring a hat!
  • The trail starts from Puerto Ayora’s main street and takes around 30 to 45 minutes to complete. Along the way, you’ll spot a number of birds, including Galapagos mockingbirds and finches. Note that the trail and beach are open from 6 a.m – 6 p.m. 

What you’ll see:

  • Tortuga Bay consists of two beaches, Playa Brava and Playa Mansa. Playa Brava is a wide, lovely expanse of beach that stretches for half a mile; note that the currents here are strong and swimming is prohibited, though you’ll often see sufers. A path leads west from Playa Brava to a beautiful cove, Playa Mansa, where the waters are calm and sea lions lazily hang out. There’s also a lagoon here which is ideal for snorkeling.
  • Along with sea lions, you’re likely to see marine iguanas, lava lizards, a variety of shorebirds, lava gulls, pelicans and blue-footed boobies. If you’re snorkeling, you can spot sea turtles, reef fish, rays and white-tipped reef sharks.

What to bring:

  • Plenty of sun cream
  • A sun hat
  • Comfortable shoes that are suitable for walking on rocks. A pair of sandals is also recommended
  • Swimming and snorkeling gear
  • Plenty of drinking water
  • Snacks (there are no trash cans, so be sure to bring back any trash with you to dispose of)

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Photo credit: Francisco Laso