I posted a full recap of all my stops in Ecuador at the end of last month, but in case those only interested in going to the Galapagos don't frequent that forum, I wanted to include my Galapagos-specific information here for those planning a trip as this forum was so helpful to me while planning my trip.
I learned a lot of helpful information here through these kind of detailed trip reports, so I wanted to pay that forward. Especially if there are other travelers out there who have some anxiety and/or reservations about traveling to Ecuador during a pandemic.
Our background: Two thirty-something year old women who have traveled pretty extensively. This was our first time to Ecuador and my first time to South America. We both typically opt for independent travel (no tours, etc) and favor adventurous activities over beach days, shopping, etc. We had originally planned this trip for May 2020, but well... that didn't go as planned. Neither of us speak Spanish beyond some simple phrases.
Overall thoughts on Ecuador: Ecuador is easily one of the friendliest countries I’ve ever visited. Everyone we met went out of their way to be welcoming, kind, and helpful. We never had much of an issue with language. Almost everyone spoke English (especially in the Galapagos) and when they did not, we communicated through hand signals and only had to resort to Google translate a couple times. I would also suggest having more cash than you think you need. While a few places accepted cards, it was mostly cash (even for a few of our hotels).
Overall thoughts on the Galapagos: I was pretty skeptical that it could actually be as magical as people claimed. I thought that by now the animals had been introduced to tons of tourists through the decades and they would have some fear of us. Nope! I was wrong. It was magical. Also, I had read one of the ways in which to save money was to book once we arrived but since we had such limited time and I am a planner, we booked everything in advance. I think this was worth it mostly because right now there aren't as many tours operating so if there's something you really want to see, it's important to book in advance. I also did not find the Galapagos to be AS expensive as I had thought they might be. Food and lodging seemed comparable (food was slightly more expensive on Isabela which is to be expected). The priciest thing was the tours we did, but if you're going to go all that way it seems silly not to pay for them. We had 3 full days and 2 half days in the Galapagos, split between Santa Cruz and Isabela. I know some will say this is barely any time, but it was enough time for us. I maybe would have added one more day to Santa Cruz, but I don't think we missed out on anything.
Re: land based tour vs. a cruise: We did look into both options, but a land-based tour was the way to go for us. It was really nice to have the flexibility to pick and choose what we wanted to do/see/eat each day. And while some things were not accessible to us this way, we still got to see everything we wanted to see. Our group tours were also always very small which helped our experience, too.
Thoughts on traveling to Ecuador during a pandemic: As others have mentioned, Ecuador is way more cautious when it comes to Covid than in America. Masks were worn at all times, inside and outside. We had our temperatures taken at the entrance of many places and were often sprayed down with disinfectant. The cons to traveling now are wearing your mask 24/7 (a minor inconvenience) and the possibility of getting stuck in the country should you test positive before your return trip home. The big pro (for travelers) is the lack of other tourists. We were often on our own private tours or very small group tours because of this. We had many places all to ourselves in the Galapagos and it's hard to imagine experiencing it any other way. We are both fully vaccinated so it did feel like less of a risk, but to me the pro outweighs the cons.
This is already getting long, but I did want to also include a detailed breakdown of what we did in hopes that it can help some fellow travelers who are feeling any hesitation about visiting like I was.
Day 1: Flew Delta into Quito. Our vaccine cards were checked multiple times. Once we arrived in Quito we had our vaccine cards checked again, our temperatures checked, and then went through immigration. It was all very efficient and though the line was long it went quickly. We stayed at the Wyndham which is only a few minutes from the airport, has an airport shuttle, and room service. It was a great place to spend the night.
Day 2: We took the 5:30am shuttle to the airport for our 8am flight to the Galapagos. The line for the TCT card was not long. Our PCR test was checked before even entering the line. Once at the counter we were again asked for our PCR tests and passports. No one asked to see our Salvoconductos or health insurance. We paid our $20 and off we went. Maybe took 10 minutes. We had our bags scanned and went through security which maybe took another 10. We had plenty of time in the airport for breakfast before our flight so traveling now I’d say 2.5 hours is a super generous amount of time to give yourself.
Once we arrived in Santa Cruz we had our temperatures taken and PCR tests checked again. We paid our $100 entry fee and had our passports stamped. It was very efficient.
We booked transportation and a Highlands tour through our hotel. The driver met us outside baggage claim. It was really nice to have him shepherd us through the bus and ferry. The bus ticket buying/getting on the bus felt a little chaotic so it was nice just to follow someone. We stopped at Los Gemelos which was a nice 20-ish minute walk. Then we went to El Chato Ranch. We had a guide, which felt mandatory but I’m not sure it is? They suggested $10 per person which was highly worth it because our guide was phenomenal. Very informative and even took some great pictures for us.
Our driver dropped us off at our hotel and we were met by the owner. He upgraded our room for us and even offered to buy our ferry tickets, which we gladly took him up on. We had dinner at Santa Cruz Brewery. The beer and food were okay, but the service and views were excellent.
Day 3: We decided on the North Seymour tour. Booked through book-ec and ended up on the Permissia. There were 7 other people with us. We had all been vaccinated so once on the boat we removed our masks. The ride to North Seymour was very calm and took about 45 minutes. We saw blue footed boobies almost immediately. There were mamas with eggs and babies. Also saw frigate birds, iguanas, sea lions, and a snake. It was a very slow paced walk but our guide was very informative.
I started feeling pretty bad after the walk and back on the boat, so I ended up not eating lunch and getting sick. The crew were all very kind to me. We made it to Bachas Beach to snorkel. No one wanted to walk to the lagoon since there weren’t any flamingos. Our guide took the 6 older people on our tour on a walk down the beach while the rest of us hopped in the water. It was pretty chilly. A sea lion came right up to me but was gone quickly. We snorkeled for awhile but barely saw anything. We dried off on the beach while we waited for the rest of our crew. The horse flies were so bad that we asked if we could go back to the boat. The ride, though calm, was very rough for me and I got sick again. The bus ride back was tough. I took a nap and had some Gatorade when we got back. We had dinner that night at Galapagos Deli and went to the pier to see the baby sharks.
Day 4: The owner of our hotel kindly walked us to the pier. We left at 7:40 and were there at 7:45. He gave us instructions once we were there which was basically pay the pier tax and wait for them to call our boat name. They also gave us lanyards with the boat name. Went through bag security and then to the water taxi. We had to wait awhile because the security guard had the wrong list. There were 9 of us plus a crew member on the ferry. I had read a lot about the ferries and knew it would be bad, but it was miserable. I took Dramamine and wore sea bands and it was still bad. Thankfully I didn’t get sick, but it was worse than I had imagined. Not to be overly dramatic, but just to prepare others (and I thought I was prepared!). It was worth it to get to Isabela, but just... brace yourself. It took a little less than 2 hours.
We paid our $10 entrance fee once we arrived and then grabbed a taxi for $2. We could have easily walked, but it was fine. Our driver didn’t know our hotel and didn’t have change so our hotel paid until we had small bills to pay them back.
We recovered from our ferry ride for awhile then walked to Posada de Flamengos. The path was very nice and we spotted flamingos at both lagoons. We opted against the tortoise center and walked back to town for lunch. There was very little open, but we found something off the main square. Isabela, especially in comparison to Santa Cruz, is a ghost town.
We had an afternoon Tintoreras tour booked with Pahoehoe. We met them at their shop to pick our wetsuits, snorkels, and fins. There was only 1 other couple on our tour (they were actually from Quito) and everyone was kind enough to speak English to us. They had not yet been vaccinated so we all wore our masks at all times except when snorkeling. The boat was very slow and easy. We immediately found tons of penguins and then blue footed boobies. The walk was nice and slow paced. We probably stayed for 15 minutes just watching two sea lions. The snorkeling spot was okay. Going through the lava tunnels and having a sea lion swim beneath us was the highlight.
We grabbed an early dinner at Endemic Turtle. We were the only ones there until we were about to leave.
Day 5: We opted to pay for breakfast at our hotel on the beach since our other walks through town made us skeptical if anything would be open early for breakfast. We were picked up early for our Los Tuneles tour by Pahoehoe. We went to the shop to pick up our wetsuits. When we were leaving our hotel we were advised to have them purchase our ferry tickets for us that morning just in case, which we also inquired about at the shop. We gave them our info and were told to just come back to pay/pick them up.
Los Tuneles was easily the best one we did. We were two of four people (we were with the same couple as the day before). The boat ride there was a very bumpy 45 minute journey. I think they were nervous we were going to overboard. We went to the snorkeling spot first because of the tides. There was one other boat there. We were glad for the wetsuits because the water was much colder. We saw a seahorse, turtles, white tip reef sharks, and tons of fish. Our guide was great at pointing them out to us. He then took us to a second snorkeling spot which was even better. We had sea lions and penguins in the water with us. Also spotted blue footed boobies. Then we went to the tunnels for lunch and a short walk. Again we saw boobies, sea lions, and turtles. Easily the most beautiful scenery we saw. The ride back was bumpy again but we did see huge manta rays.
We relaxed at our hotel before walking to Concha y Perla. The best part was walking over all the sea lions on the path. The spot itself was probably the busiest we’d seen but there were sea lions swimming in the water with snorkelers. We watched the sun set from the beach nearer to the Iguana Crossing Hotel before dinner. We were the only ones there. The chef didn’t even arrive until after us.
Day 6: Walked to the pier from our hotel, about 10 minutes. Arrived at 5:30 as we were advised by our hotel and the tour company. There was plenty of time but it was nice to be one of the first groups on the ferry. We had our passports checked at the counter and then got on the water taxi. Thankfully this ferry was larger with nicer seats but was almost completely full. It was an easier ride going than coming but still pretty rough. Arrived in Santa Cruz a little less than 2 hours later. We walked to our hotel from the ferry.
Grabbed coffee at 1835 after putting our stuff down. It was ok. Walked to the Darwin Center. It was a mandatory $10 per person for the guide. Our guide was great and very informative, but I did find the cost a little steep for what it is. In the afternoon we went to Laguna de las Ninfas (can’t walk around the full boardwalk currently) and while it’s pretty, I’d say it would be easy to skip. Then we walked to Tortuga Bay. The path is nice and fairly long, but it only took us about 30 minutes. The water was really rough once we got there and we didn’t stay long. We're from Florida, so pretty spoiled by nice beaches so this wasn't a favorite either.
Day 7: The owner of our hotel suggested we leave for the airport at 10am for our 1:20 flight. We split the taxi to the ferry with a young man we had actually been on the North Seymour tour with. The total cost for the 3 of us was $20. The boat and the bus were both waiting for us and it was a very quick process. We were to the airport by 11:20. We had checked into our flight earlier so security was also a very fast process. They checked our passports one last time. We ate in the little cafeteria before our flight. We probably could have left 45 minutes later and still had time to spare.