Country #77: Ecuador (The Galapagos)

As Dan’s birthday approached, we started to weigh our options for where he’d want to spend his birthday. He first thought of Ecuador because he had a friend he hadn’t seen for many years outside of Quito. However, he wasn’t sure whether he’d want to head to the small town where he was staying or where exactly made sense for a celebration. Additionally, we became aware of some political instability in Quito (Ecuador’s capital). We decided it would be best to circumvent any issues by avoiding a visit to the major city. And then bam! It hit me. I knew exactly where we should go to solve these issues: The Galapagos. 

Dan loves all kinds of water adventures and wildlife. He had mentioned a few years ago that he’s had a lifelong dream of visiting the Galapagos. As soon as I pitched the trip, he was ecstatic. Although we typically would’ve wanted to stay on mainland Ecuador for some time in addition to the Galapagos, we decided to stick to the islands this time. Here are the highlights of his birthday weekend.  

Arriving in the Galapagos 

For safety reasons, we decided to fly in and out of San Cristobal (the capital of the Galapagos) via Guayaquil Airport. If there was ever a flight we almost missed, it was from Guayaquil to San Cristobal. We arrived from Bogota to Guayaquil with plenty of time. Unfortunately, upon arrival, we had to stand in line, register for arrival, purchase transit cards, and have our bags checked for any forbidden items. It took around an hour, and we were pushing it for time.

Additionally, Dan was taking a critical work call from the airport while I stood in line and registered for both of us. When it came time to purchase the transit cards (much like visas), I was feverishly texting him to come over, so we wouldn’t get kicked to the back of the line. Dan showed up — laptop in hand, headphones in — and barely looked at the officer in charge of issuing transit cards, but we managed to make it through. 

After arriving on the island, we had to go through the additional process of showing our transit cards and handing over a $100 visa fee to access the island. It was expensive but worth it! We found the airport funny. It was fairly small. Almost like a giant warehouse. Once we exited, we were able to walk right to our guest house. Although we could’ve taken a cab (think dusty old pickup truck), it wasn’t necessary. The streets were quite walkable. It was all island-style. 

Eating in the Galapagos

I will say that we had a hard time finding high-quality food in San Cristobal. It’s a bit of a monopoly because only Ecuadorians can own businesses on the island. This sounds great in theory. I’m all about protecting native lands for native people. At the same time, if there’s a bad business, it could shut down because of bad reviews and reopen a year later. The market is relatively captive. It’s an island, and no companies or people could come in to help lift up the economy or market in any innovative way. 

We had a particularly bad experience on the main strip. Neither of us could eat the food served. I’m not able to find the restaurant name or the business on the map retroactively. Not great but also not uncommon — we heard many bad businesses close and then reappear later on. 

However, one nicer restaurant that we went to on Dan’s birthday was Muyu. I’d recommend that to anyone going to San Cristobal. Additionally, we found Sea Garden on our last day. It had fairly functional Wi-Fi (extremely rare – see below).  

Staying in the Galapagos

We stayed at Hostal Cattleya. It is a small guest house in San Cristobal. We were hosted by Ivan and Trudy who made us a homemade breakfast every morning. It wasn’t anything fancy, but the double bedroom and private bathroom were everything we could have hoped for. I actually had even lower expectations based on what was described and pictured, so I was pleasantly surprised. If you’re looking for a modest place to stay that won’t break the bank (as most places will in the Galapagos), I’d recommend it! 

Touring in the Galapagos 

Based on our research, the traditional way to “tour” the Galapagos is via cruise. You get on a ship for a minimum of 4 days (up to 2 to 3 weeks), and you visit several islands to maximize the number of animals you see. Unfortunately, this is one of the least accessible ways that you can tour the Galapagos. It’s thousands and thousands of dollars for a multi-day cruise, and unless you’re doing the Galapagos as a destination trip (as in, saving for it for years), you’re probably not prepared to drop $5,000+ on an 8-day cruise. 

So, we decided to select one island and do a couple of day tours off of it instead of doing a minimum four-day cruise. Because of work, we were short on time anyway. It seemed like a better fit for our needs, and it still allowed us to celebrate Dan’s birthday the way he wanted. 

We booked two tours through Enjoying Ecuador: Day Tour Española and 360 Tour. The two days on these tours were my greatest wildlife experiences. Some of my favorite animals we saw were sea lions, dolphins, and Galapagos sharks. 

For the future, there are three things I’m keeping in mind. 

  1. Tours are cheaper if you wait to book until you arrive. We met a couple who didn’t book anything until they arrived in San Cristobal. They landed and then spent their first day going around to different tour agencies to get the best rate. This majorly pays off if you want to save money. However, because you can’t book one-way tickets to the Galapagos (they WILL check when you’re departing), you’re taking a risk. If you go in high season, there’s a chance that every operator will have their tours booked. You could be out of luck and end up with no tours. How disappointing would that be? I’m not sure if I would do an entire trip this way, but I think I would consider chancing it on more days in the future. 
  2. You can travel between islands. We didn’t really investigate this because of time. However, you can island hop, and a lot of people were doing it. It makes me want to do it next time we go back. 
  3. I’d like to do a cruise. I don’t think people should write off the day tour approach. There were tons of people doing it, and frankly, if you get seasick (I do), the Galapagos can be a tough place. One of the boats we were on turned around at certain spots because of how rough the sea was. Imagine being on a ship for 8 days if you heaving the entire time. That’s no fun! It was ideal to be able to put my feet on solid ground at the end of the day. That said, I do think it would be an amazing experience if you saved up funds to do it the luxury way. 

Working in the Galapagos

I’d recommend against working in the Galapagos if at all possible. We’re remote workers — we work everywhere (even if it’s just sending emails). We had enough service in the Galapagos to maybe send some text messages. The Wi-Fi was practically non-existent. Streaming? Video calling? Good luck. 

I had read that the Wi-Fi was bad in the Galapagos, but please heed this warning that I wish I had seen in big bold lettering before we stressed ourselves out. Do not go to the Galapagos expecting to find a strong enough signal to work. It doesn’t exist as of 2022, and it’s highly unlikely to exist in the near future based on what I saw. 

Instead, take that well-deserved vacation time and log back on when you get back. It’ll be better for all involved. 

Final Thoughts 

I cannot recommend the Galapagos enough! It was an exhilarating weekend and dare I say Dan’s best birthday yet. Come back in a few weeks for my next country — Country #78: Brazil. 

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