Galapagos on Your Own: A Guide of Things to Do in the Galapagos Islands


How to do the Galapagos Islands on your own, on the cheap...

Why go to the Galapagos Islands anyways?

In short, Galapagos is the one place you can play with so many types of marine life in such a short period of time.  You know those pictures you’ve seen of African safaris with wild lions walking so closely to safari trucks? Think of your Galapagos trip as the aquatic version of that…except these (sea) lions will swim up, happily blow bubbles in your face, and hope you chase them as they swim off.

From sea lions to sharks and frigate birds to sunfish, on any given day while snorkeling, diving, hiking, or walking on the beach you will see tons of iguanas, lounging and swimming, sea lions, sharks, penguins, birds dive bombing into the water hunting for fish, and so many other animal watching experiences. You will come away with unforgettable memories of these interactions and a new appreciation and love of “wild life.” 

Top Adventures in the Galapagos Islands

Go Here & See This...

  1. Swimming with sea lions and sea turtles near Pinzon
  2. Swimming with sharks (Hammerheads, Reef Sharks, Galapagos sharks) at Leon Dormido
  3. Walking on the active Sierra Negra volcano on Isla Isabella
  4. Understanding the history of Galapagos and the importance of conservation (with an assist from David Attenborough)
  5. Walking through a place where, even on city streets, wild animals and people live in harmony and entertainingly

Galapagos Islands Tips

For the best memories, and cheapest trip in Galapagos...

  1. Skip the guided cruise and plan your own. Decide which animals you want to see, find out which tour on which island is optimal for seeing them, and create an itinerary accordingly 
  2. Choose day trips over multi-day trips. Day trips are potent experiences focus on one (or a few) places and animals allowing you to craft a Galapagos experience tailored to you
  3. 10 days is the optimal Galapagos Trip Length.  For stays of 5 days or less, pick one island (We recommend San Cristobal)
  4. Wait until you are in Galapagos to book ALL of your tours, they will be much cheaper, you will be able to inspect your gear (wet suits, snorkels, fins)…and rest easy, there is always another boats
  5. Get the right wet suit (long not short and at least 3mm) when diving and snorkeling
  6. Rent gear from dive shops (not travel agencies) whenever possible, the gear is generally higher quality and cheaper
  7. Choose snorkeling over diving (with the exceptions Darwin, Wolf, and Genovesa).  For most tours and locations, you will see just as much wildlife with 1/10th of the hassle
  8. Book your boat cruises (snorkeling and diving) directly at dive shops or providers instead of travel agencies, this will always be cheaper and have less of a sales pitch
  9. Plan your trip to see the animals you value and have the experiences you want instead of planning an itinerary that includes every island.  The Galapagos archipelago is all about the experience of seeing animals in their natural habitat, not about island hopping. 
  10. Stay longer!  The longer you stay, the more budget friendly your trip becomes…especially if you are long term traveling or backpacking

Why skip the cruise and guide your own adventure?

Tons of reasons! Cheaper, customized, and at your pace is always better...

  1. It’s cheaper! The costs will be IMMENSELY lower (think half the price)
  2. Spend more time seeing the animals you want to see. You can create your itinerary based on the animals you want to see and the experiences you value instead of seeing the “one size fits all” views
  3. Save time for the amazing beaches, lounging, and actual vacay time.  Galapagos has amazing beaches to fill rest days with
  4. Self-guided activities are great opportunities to have fun, cheaply, at a slower pace.  Galapagos has many self-guided day activities for cheap but still great fun (snorkeling and lying with seals and iguanas, hiking volcanoes and lava tunnels, so much more)
  5. Personalizing the trip to your speed and comfort preferences will improve your trip. An extra day with sea lions and one extra day laying on beaches on Isla Isabella with Mojitos in exchange for seeing Blue Footed Boobies for the third time?  All possible at the last minute if you control the show.

Most Popular Day Trips in Galapagos

Tons of reasons! Cheaper, customized, and at your pace is always better...

  1. Leon Dormido/Kicker and Manglecito Beach Snorkel Tour (San Cristobal): An open water snorkel tour around 150 meter tall spires chasing sea lions and hammerheads ending on a picturesque beach
  2. Pinzon Snorkel Tour (Santa Cruz): A three stop snorkel tour with sea turtles, countless sharks, and playful sea lions, with a little deep sea fishing for added fun  (Santa Cruz Island)
  3. Los Tunneles Snorkel Tour (Isabella): Snorkeling through shallow waterways created by lava flows, chasing sharks, and peering into tiny caves, nooks and crannies for hiding sharks, rays, octopuses, seahorses, and so much more
  4. Sierra Negra Volcano Hike (Isabella): A hike into the clouds along an active volcano to see the second largest volcano caldera in the world and feel heat from the vents of Galapagos’ most active volcano
  5. Tortoise Ranch/Incubation Center Tour (Any Island): Take a couple hours to walk among giant, dinosaur like creatures that are a half century old and amazing peaceful and awe inspiring

Galapagos Island Itineraries

The Whole Archipelago!! (10 Days)

Day 1: Flight into Baltra island and take a water taxi and land taxi to Puerto Ayora, Santa Cruz Island

Day 2: Charles Darwin Center, Highlands tour (lava tunnels, lava crater, and tortoise ranch)

Day 3: Pinzon Snorkeling tour

Day 4: Ferry to Isla Isabella

Day 5: Tunnels tour

Day 6: Volcano tour, hike to wall of tears

Day 7: Ferry or fly to San Cristobal Island

Day 8: Visit the Loberia beach and hike to the cliffs where the birds nest

Day 9: Take the Leon Dormido/Kicker rock and Manglecito snorkeling tour. End with sunset at Punta Carola beach with the sea lions

Day 10: Fly out of San Cristobal Island

Santa Cruz Island Itinerary (5 Day)

Day 1: Flight in, Darwin Research Center and Tortoise re-population project, La Ratonera

Day 2: Daphne Snorkel Tour

Day 3: Highlands Tour (El Chato Tortoise Ranch, Lava Crater, Lava Tunnels), Las Grietas

Day 4: Pinzon Snorkel Tour

Day 5: Relaxing beach day, Fly Out/Boat out to next island

San Cristobal Island Itinerary (5 Day)

Day 1: Flight in, Sunset at Punta Carola

Day 2: Leon Dormido/Kicker Rock + Manglecito

Day 3: La Loberia, Cerro Frijeretas

Day 4: 360 Tour

Day 5: Kayak/Paddle board out from Playa Mann, Fly out

Isabella Island Itinerary (5 Day)

Day 1: Fly in + enjoy the beach

Day 2: Snorkel in Concha y Perla, Rent a bike and ride to the wall of tears

Day 3: Volcano Tour

Day 4: Los Tuneles

Day 5: Enjoy the beach + fly out

Note: 5 day Isabella Itinerary only recommend as part of a 10 day Galapagos Tour

Which Galapgos Island Should You Go To?

Choosing "your" Galapagos Island

The Galapagos Archipelago has 4 inhabited islands, 3 of which are suitable for as launch pads for self-guided adventures in Galapagos: San Cristobal, Isabella, and Santa Cruz.  Each of these three islands is best suited to a particular goal ad traveler type.  Note that most animal life can be seen on day trips launching from each of the islands, so the main differences between islands are creature comforts, “poshness”, and population size…

Isla San Cristobal: Flashpackers, travelers willing to spend a little more cash, and travelers that require the creature comforts (i.e., craft cocktails, top notch ceviche, great western style dishes) for a satisfying adventure

Isla Santa Cruz: Backpackers and budget travelers that want to be perfectly positioned to keep costs low by eating more local and living a little more “rustically” while being perfectly positioned to explore most everything in the archipelago

Isla Isabella: Travelers that like rural, peace, quiet, and small populations.  The population is 1/10th of that on San Cristobal, the main roads on the island are dirt, and all of the locals are super chill…most moved to this island because of its deserted feel

Get Samsara’s Guide to the Galapagos Islands Free!

For the adventurer that outruns the herds. Where to go, what do, and how to do it solo in the Galapagos Islands
Samsara's Guide to Galapagos

Or discover what's next in Samsara's Galapagos Series

Samsara's Guide to San Cristobal Island

Samsara's Guidde to Santa Cruz Island

Samsara's Guide to Isabella Island

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