Planning Your Trip to the Galápagos Islands
Ten days are perfect for a well-rounded Galápagos adventure that includes top highlights plus exciting outdoor treks. In that space of time, you can visit three major islands, San Cristóbal, Isabela, and Española, plus take excursions to smaller ones for diving and snorkeling. Other activities include cycling tours, wildlife treks, and hiking up volcanic craters for sweeping views of endless lava fields.
To maximize your Galápagos experience, plan for two weeks. You'll have ample time to stop and smell the candelabra cacti while marveling at the famous sea lions, giant tortoises, marine iguanas, and flightless cormorants for which the region is deservedly famous. You can also enjoy highlights like snorkeling at Kicker Rock and diving at Los Túneles. An added bonus is learning about tortoise conservation efforts at the Charles Darwin Research Station.
But even if you don't have the time or budget for a two-week trip, you can still have an unbelievable holiday in five days. It allows just enough time to walk with giant tortoises in the highlands of Isla Santa Cruz, take boat tours and snorkeling trips to secluded coves, and sunbathe on the beach with sea lions.
The Galápagos Islands in 5 Days
In five days, you can hike and snorkel around one or two of the Galápagos' main islands. By keeping to so few islands, you'll maximize the experience on your limited schedule. You certainly won't miss out on anything, as every rock and cove in this archipelago is a haven for diverse animal and marine life.
The first option is a highlights tour of Santa Cruz. It's the second-largest of the Galápagos Islands, which means you can spend the entirety of your stay here and not miss any great activities or wildlife spotting. The famed sea lions are abundant, and the best experience is to swim alongside them on a boat tour of Santa Cruz's coves and bays. You'll encounter plenty of sea turtles as well, but more impressive are the giant Galápagos tortoises, which reside here at the Charles Darwin Research Station. On hikes around the island, you'll witness these and many more exotic species.
Or, maybe you'd prefer to commune with the Galápagos' abundant marine life on an underwater adventure. There's quite a bit to see, as the Galápagos Marine Reserve spans 51,000 square miles (133,000 sq km). Within this aquatic kingdom is incredible biodiversity that includes rays, sea turtles, sharks, and much more. You can see it all on scuba diving and snorkeling trips to the best spots. Swim with sea lions at Seymour Channel, and dive with hammerheads at Isla Baltra. You might even get lucky and spot the magnificent oceanic sunfish at Gordon Rocks.
It's possible to expand your Galápagos itinerary to include two islands, like on this combined San Cristóbal/Santa Cruz excursion. San Cristóbal is the fifth largest of the Galápagos Islands and is located about two hours from Santa Cruz by speedboat. First is a trip to Kicker Rock, one of the most popular dive spots in the Galápagos because the area abounds with tropical fish and sharks. Moreover, it's a great place to spot famous birds like cormorants and blue-footed boobies. The Santa Cruz leg of the tour allows time for sunbathing and swimming with marine iguanas and sea lions.
Check out more five-day itineraries to help plan the best brief Galápagos adventure.
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The Galápagos Islands in 1 Week
A week spaces out the itinerary, so you don't have to rush. On this schedule, you can comfortably visit two islands while allowing for a day trip to a smaller, uninhabited islet. If you'd like, squeeze in a tour of historic Quito, Ecuador's colonial capital city, in addition to your multi-day jaunt around the Galápagos.
If you're more comfortable on land than sea, consider this island-hopping active adventure. The unforgettable itinerary combines Isabela and Santa Cruz with day trips to two uninhabited islands. One highlight is the Charles Darwin Research Station. Founded in 1964 as a hub for scientists from around the world to come and promote conservation in the Galápagos, it's now home to 11 species of tortoise and various iguanas. After hiking around different islets, you'll head out on the water for snorkeling and a kayak trip near the stunning white sands at Tortuga Bay.
For a more sea-based tour, there's this seven-day Galápagos cruise. Get ready for a bit of the good life as you sail around six islands and islets on a yacht. There's Mosquera, a reef where massive groups of sea lions and shorebirds congregate, and Isla Plaza Sur, known for its turquoise waters and powdery white-sand beaches. A stop at Isla Española and Punta Suarez reveals colonies of seabirds like the waved albatross, Nazca booby, and swallow-tailed gull. Capping the trip is a visit to the islet of Eden, off the coast of Santa Cruz, to snorkel with reef sharks.
Enjoy a mix of land and sea excursions in this San Cristobal and Santa Cruz itinerary. At the Interpretation Center in Puerto Baquerizo Moreno, you'll learn some history of the Galápagos and its wealth of biodiversity. Then, at Santa Cruz, meet giant tortoises at Charles Darwin Station and have lunch at a local farm. Day trips to uninhabited islands reveal more incredible basaltic lava scenery, home to endemic water birds like frigates, finches, and flamingoes.
For more options, take a look at this roundup of seven-day Galápagos trips.
The Galápagos Islands in 10 Days
With three extra days, the options for adventure start to get interesting. Not only can you visit three major islands (plus take day trips to islets), but you can also mix and match wildlife outings, yacht cruises, and multi-sport adventures.
If you prefer an active eco-tourism excursion, there's this 10-day wildlife and nature tour. It packs kayaking, mountain biking, trekking, snorkeling, and more into a comfortable space of time. Begin with a leisurely stroll along the coral sands La Loberia Beach in Isla San Cristóbal, which is packed with sea lions. The trip kicks into higher gear with a mountain-biking adventure across Isla Isabela, followed by a hike up to the lava-filled crater of Sierra Negra volcano. Snorkeling at Tortuga Bay is an option, as is scuba diving at Isla Bartolomé, off Isla Santiago.
For a seafaring jaunt, choose this pleasure cruise. Before boarding a yacht, you'll hike up Tijeretas Hill in San Cristóbal, a nesting site for the Galápagos' famed frigate birds. There are also great views of iconic Kicker Rock and rugged Shipwreck Bay. At Isla Plaza Sur, you'll marvel at scurrying land iguanas, while at Santa Cruz, there are giant tortoises to discover. Mangrove tours are perfect for flamingo spotting, and a hike up Sierra Negra offers views of the northern volcano peaks of Isabela and Fernandina. Exploring the tide pools at Puerto Egas, on Santiago, is a precursor to more wildlife spotting at Isla Seymour Norte.
The alternative is a land-based Galápagos adventure. It starts in San Cristóbal with a downhill ride from the highland viewpoint of La Soledad to sea-lion-packed La Loberia. Snorkeling around Kicker Rock, you'll view spotted eagle rays and sea turtles, while another boat trip to the sparsely inhabited Isla Floreana is great for seeing whales and dolphins. Then, onshore, you can check out highland caves once used by pirates. More marine life is visible on a kayak ride around Isabela, and on land, you'll see a few of the 1,000 tortoises at the Giant Tortoise Breeding Center. Throughout, be sure to keep an eye out for the Galápagos penguin—the only penguin found north of the equator.
For more 10-day Galápagos adventures, some of which include tours of Quito and Machu Picchu, check out these itineraries.
The Galápagos in 2 Weeks
For the full Galápagos experience, you can't beat a two-week trip. In that space of time, you'll enjoy all the adventures, wildlife spotting, boating, and snorkeling you can handle. It's possible to visit four major islands, plus a handful of islets and dive spots. There are also plenty of free days to relax, hike, sunbathe, swim—whatever you desire.
One such option is an island hopping and wilderness trip, where you'll stroll San Cristóbal and witness a postcard sunset on the crescent beach at Playa Mann. Stretch your legs with hikes around Tijeretas Hill and Cerro Brujo, then sunbathe alongside sea lions and head out for snorkeling around Kicker Rock. Guided tours of Santa Cruz include visiting local farms and witnessing the conservation efforts at Charles Darwin Research Station. Besides Isabela, you'll take multiple trips to uninhabited isles to see flamingoes and frigate birds, swim with sea lion cubs, or simply laze on secluded beaches with a good book.
There's also a packed highlights tour of the archipelago covering four islands. Beginning in San Cristóbal, you'll laze on Playa Mann, learn Galápagos history at the Interpretation Center, and snorkel at Kicker Rock. Active excursions continue as you hike around Española and marvel at endangered avian species like the waved albatross. Between free days around Santa Cruz and Isabela, you'll hike volcanoes and snorkel at premier sites like Los Tuneles. Alternate between speedboats and yachts as you zip between islands and walk with giant tortoises, iguanas, sea lions, and blue-footed boobies.
More Great Galápagos Islands Itineraries
Looking for more inspiration for your trip to the Galápagos Islands? Check out these other Galápagos itineraries, with outdoor adventures, bird-watching trips, and best-of tours to hit the highlights.