Explore the Galapagos by Land with Nature Galapagos

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The Galapagos Islands are a bucket list destination for many people, I know they were for me.  Unfortunately, the Galapagos remain a dream because they are largely viewed as being cost prohibitive.  Great news though, you don’t need to take a luxury yacht to visit the Galapagos (though that particular mode of transport is still on my bucket list).

IMG_48Explore the Galapagos by Land with Nature Galapagos Tours- Mags On The Move

While there are certain islands that are still best/only reached by boat, you can explore the main islands with a land based tour.  I spent last week on the 4 day “Magic of Isabela” tour with Nature Galapagos and it was a great way to see a lot of the islands (both Isabela and Santa Cruz) within a limited amount of time.

Explore the Galapagos by Land with Nature Galapagos Tours- Mags On The Move

I went on a short tour and just got a sampling, but Nature Galapagos offers 4-8 day tours.

So what can you expect on a Nature Galapagos tour?

4 day “Magic of Isabela” tour with Nature Galapagos

One of the main selling points of these tours is that, unlike cruises, these tours go everyday so you can start when you’re ready.  That’s a huge bonus for someone like me, who only had 6 days in the Galapagos.

Explore the Galapagos by Land with Nature Galapagos

Day 1

This was a long one.  I flew in to the Baltra airport around 9am and was met by Stephania, our local guide for our brief time in Santa Cruz.  It was great having a guide to help navigate the airport.  The island of Baltra is uninhabited and basically just a landing point to get to Santa Cruz, the most populated of the Galapagos Islands.

From the airport, after a very thorough check of all arriving luggage (by the most adorable German Shepherd) to make sure no one smuggles anything that could be harmful to their unique ecosystem, everyone is put on to buses bound for the port, where they must take a ferry to Isla Santa Cruz, so it was certainly helpful having a guide for this portion of the trip.

Once in Santa Cruz, it’s about a 30-45 minute cab ride to Puerto Ayora on the South side of the Island, the home base for the Santa Cruz portion of the tour and the departure point for the speed boat to Isabela.  The cab ride and speed boat is covered in the cost of the tour.  All you’ll have to pay for today is the water taxi from the dock out to the speedboat in Santa Cruz and from the speedboat to the dock in Isabela, which cost about $1 per person, and of course any souvenirs or drinks.

Flamingo Lagoon in Isla Isabela on the Galapagos Islands

Once on Isabela I was met at the port by our local Isabela guide, Ricardo, who took me to see Flamingo Lagoon on the way to the hotel.  Flamingo Lagoon is exactly what you’d think.  While flamingos are not one of the native species on the islands, they do quite well here, pose no threat to the naturally occurring wildlife, and are super pretty so they are allowed to stay.

There are different categories of hotel to choose from on the islands; Economy, Tourist, Tourist Superior, and First Class.  I stayed in the Tourist Class of hotels, because I’m poor but I’m also 30.  The tourist class hotel on Isabela is the Hotel San Vincente, which was charming, though if I’m being honest, part of the reason I chose the Tourist Class instead of Economy (aside from being 30) was the hot tub featured on the website.  Once at the hotel, I was informed that the “hot tub” was more of an “ambient/cold tub” an would need at least a half a day’s notice to set up.  I suppose that’s part of the charm of South America, though, and with only two days at the hotel packed with tours and other things to see, I didn’t really notice it’s absence.  Other than that though, the hotel was fantastic.

The Hotel San Vincente on Isla Isabela in the Galapagos Islands.

The Hotel San Vincente on Isla Isabela in the Galapagos Islands.

The Hotel San Vincente on Isla Isabela in the Galapagos Islands.Dinner was served at the hotel for all nights of the tour.  That would probably be my one minor complaint about the package.  The itinerary online reads, “Dinner will be served at the local restaurant specified by the guide” every night.  While the dinner at the hotel was good, I would have liked the opportunity to try some of the local restaurants as well.  In fact, one night I went to a sushi place our guide for the day recommended after dinner at the hotel.  That’s right, two dinners! (Don’t judge, I’m on vacation.)

Like I said though, the food was good, just lacked variety.  Lunch and dinner at both hotels consisted of a soup starter course, then either fish or chicken with veggies and potatoes, and a small cake or fruit plate.

Dinner at the Hotel San Vincente on Isla Isabela in the Galapagos Islands

After dinner there was a bit of time to wander the town.  The town is small but adorable and full of great beach bars, that are unfortunately closed on Sundays (guess what day this was!)  It was sunset on a beach full of nesting marine iguanas, so I can’t complain too much, and you can still buy beer at markets.

Hundreds of marine iguanas can be seen nesting on the beaches in Isla Isabela in the Galapagos Islands

Sunset on Isla Isabela in the Galapagos Islands

Day 2

The first full day in Isabela starts bright and early with a 16 kilometer hike up a volcano at 8am!  This tour is billed as “soft adventure” and I will say that the Nature Galapagos website has a slightly different definition of “soft” than I do.  This hike was hard, but the views from the top were totally worth it.  The main attraction is the Sierra Negra volcano crater, and I may have been a sweaty sunburned mess in terribly unflattering pants, but I still had to get a photo at the top.  Pics or it didn’t happen right?

Hiking the Sierra Negra Volcano on Isla Isabela in the Galapago.

After Sierra Negra, our group continued on to Volcan Chico, an incredible landscape of lava rocks.  The Volcan Chico portion of the hike felt like walking on another planet.  Lava lizards navigate jagged rocks way more gracefully than I do, but still a cool experience.  The terrain kind of looks like the American Southwest had a baby with the moon.  There’s even a part where you can see where the new lava (the black from an eruption in the 1970s) meets the old lava (red).

The line where the old lava meets new at Volcan Chico on Isla Isabela in the Galapagos Islands

If I’m being completely honest, this was the part of the itinerary I was least excited about, mostly because it was my first day in the Galapagos and I was going to be so far away from giant turtles and just looking at rocks.  Obviously, I was wrong.  It’s great and I never would have gone if it weren’t for the Nature Galapagos tour.

The line where the old lava meets new at Volcan Chico on Isla Isabela in the Galapagos Islands

That being said, my skin is still falling off from the sunburn I got up there.  The equator is no joke.

Sierra Negra and Volcan Chico on Isla Isabela in the Galapagos Islands is other worldly!

After cooking up nicely in the volcano it was time for snorkeling!  Near the port in Isabela there’s a small snorkeling area called Concha Perla.  Now full disclosure, snorkeling is not my favorite.  I love the beach.  I love the water.  I’m just always aware that I’m better at breathing outside of it.  However, I really want to like snorkeling and this time there was a promise of swimming with sea lions!  Once I got there however, the sea lions had other ideas.

Sea Lions at Concha Perla on Isla isabela in the Galapagos Islands.

I snorkeled a bit like a champ, but mostly I just wandered around bugging these guys with photo requests while they were trying to nap.

Sea Lions at Concha Perla on Isla isabela in the Galapagos Islands.

Sea Lions at Concha Perla on Isla isabela in the Galapagos Islands.

After dinner at the hotel, I was able to finally hit those adorable beach bars!  I have never felt more entitled to drink 100 passion fruit mojitos in a hammock.

Fresh passion fruit mojitos served to me in a hammock on Isla Isabela in the Galapagos Islands. I'm pretty sure this is the best my life will get.

Fresh passion fruit mojitos served to me in a hammock on Isla Isabela in the Galapagos Islands. I'm pretty sure this is the best my life will get.

I’ve also never felt so entitled to an early bed time.  My Apple Watch tells me that it’s the most I’ve ever exercised.

Not today, Apple Watch, Not today

Want to see more hilarious commentary from exotic places, follow me on snapchat @mags_onthemove

Day 3

Another early morning, this time to catch the 6am departure of the 2.5 hour speedboat back to Santa Cruz.  I had heard horror stories about these speedboats being rough and full of hot, pukey tourists which did not sound like a dream at 6am, but it was actually very pleasant.  *Insider Tip* head for the back of the boat, it’s a nice breeze and the people on the inside of the boat were packed in like sardines.  They really push the boundaries of a “full” boat on these things.

Travel between the islands of the Galapagos affordably on a public speedboat.

Once in Santa Cruz a new guide met our group and and drove us to our new hotel for breakfast.  This time I was staying at The Hotel Fernandina.  The Hotel Fernandina is just as charming as the San Vincente in Isabela and was located walking distance to everything you could want in Puerto Ayora.

Hotel Fernandina in Puerto Ayora, Santa Cruz in the Galapagos Islands

Hotel Fernandina in Puerto Ayora, Santa Cruz in the Galapagos Islands

Best of all, I arrived on Valentine’s Day and the place was really decked out!

Hotel Fernandina in Puerto Ayora, Santa Cruz in the Galapagos Islands

Oh yeah, and there are turtles everywhere!

Hotel Fernandina in Puerto Ayora, Santa Cruz in the Galapagos Islands

Hotel Fernandina in Puerto Ayora, Santa Cruz in the Galapagos Islands

Which was really exciting since I had been in the Galapagos for two days now without seeing a giant tortoise!

After breakfast, the real fun started.  A guided trip to the Charles Darwin Research Station to see all of the tortoises!  (AHHHH!).  This is what I came for.  I’ve wanted to hang out with these guys since I was a kid.

The Charles Darwin Research Station in the Galapagos Islands fulfilled some serious bucket list dreams for me.

They even give you a passport stamp!

The Charles Darwin Research Station in the Galapagos Islands fulfilled some serious bucket list dreams for me.

After learning about these awesome guys at the research center, our guide, Caesar, took us into the highlands to see them in their natural habitat.   I don’t think I could ever see a 150 year old giant tortoise crossing the road without squealing with joy .  Up in the highlands we visited El Chato Ranch Reserva Ecologica and saw so so many tortoises (who really didn’t seem to care we were there)!

Bucket list complete. Visiting the Giant Tortoises in the Galapagos Islands

Bucket list complete. Visiting the Giant Tortoises in the Galapagos Islands

There were some amazing photo ops and free lemongrass tea at the end too.

Bucket list complete. Visiting the Giant Tortoises in the Galapagos Islands

Climbing into that giant tortoise shell was not as easy as it looks, in case you were wondering.

After a dinner at the hotel, there were no more planned activities on the tour, but the town really went all out for Valentine’s Day.  There was an outdoor concert near water and more people that I had seen in a week.  Seriously, I don’t know where they were all hiding, but they sure love Valentine’s Day.  I also followed a neat tip from Caesar and went out to the pier at night.  The lights on the pier at night illuminate the water and make the Black Tip Sharks visible.  This begs the question no one really wants the answer to; are they attracted to the light, or are they always there and just visible now?  I was re-thinking the snorkeling.

Watch the Black Tip Sharks from the pier on Santa Cruz Island in the Galapagos

Day 4

The final day of the tour includes transportation to the airport, however I skipped out on this part and stayed an extra day, which I highly recommend.  The tour was great, and really jam-packed, but there was much more I wanted to explore and I’m glad I had a little time at the end to explore on my own.  Doing a Nature Galapagos tour is a great way to get a lay of the land and participate in several activities and excursions without having to worry about planning (and paying for) them all separately.

Explore the Galapagos Land with Nature Galapagos

I would definitely recommend booking a tour through Nature Galapagos.  They displayed nothing but professionalism, the excursions were great, and all of the guides were personable and spoke great English.  It was the perfect introduction to the Islands.  They offer tours year round for every interest group and are a great alternative to a cruise.  If you’re like me and terrible at advance planning, they even offer last minute discounts (and we’re really good sports about all of my last-minute flip-flopping).

Explore the Galapagos by Land with Nature Galapagos Tours - Mags On The Move

I was graciously invited to by Nature Galapagos to participate in the Magic of Isabela tour at a discount in exchange for a review, but as always all opinions are my own.

 

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22 thoughts on “Explore the Galapagos by Land with Nature Galapagos

  1. That looks like a fantastic experience! So glad you got to check off another item of your bucket list. It looks like a great place to be close to nature 🙂

  2. I only made it to the Poor Man’s Galapagos on Isla de la Plata on my last trip to Ecuador, looks like I’ll have to start saving for the real thing. I saw Blue Footed Boobies there but not Frigate Birds which I really wanted to see, though it looks like there’s so much wildlife that no-one can be disappointed. I’m not much of a planner so it’s great knowing that there are a few companies that depart for tours daily – I’m making a note of Nature Galapagos for my dream trip!

  3. Thanks for walking day-by-day through what tour would be like. I also heard that a lot of companies offer last-minute discounts.
    Sutee recently posted…A Jaunt Through a Jungle Market (Belén Market, Iquitos, Peru)My Profile

  4. You are hilarious! Love the pic with the tortoise shell. And the lazy sea lions are so adorable. What an amazing trip.

  5. What a trip of a lifetime! Looks so fun. I love the picture of you with the turtle shell and the watch…come on, can’t it tell when your heart is in “love” mode. LOL Great photos. I hope to make that trip some time.

  6. Wow, what a great tour, this looks like something I would also enjoy, fantastic post

  7. A friend of ours just got back from an educational tour here. It has been somewhere I have wanted to visit since I was very little. Looks like you really enjoyed your time here – your images and information really help to paint a clear picture of your experience. Big fans of the lazy sealions 🙂

  8. Sounds like a terrific tour package. Lots of activities and plenty to do amd see. Two dinners? 100 drinks in a hammock? You’re our kind of travel! I hope we can one day visit the Galapagos Islands.

  9. Great story. We are looking for the best way to visit the Galapagos and this looks like a decent trip. A 10 mile hike isn’t exactly soft adventure but it is perfectly do-able.

    re: Picking hotels for hot tubs…. We had the exact thing happen to us in Thailand over Christmas. We picked a series of hotels based on having hot tubs. We were particularly excited about soaking in the hot tub after our grueling trans Pacific flight and at nights during our 150 mile bike tour. Unfortunately, every tub was a cool tub. Jenn tried to convince me that soaking in cold water was what professional athletes do to keep the lactic acid from building up. She is a certified trainer and massage therapist so she probably was correct but somehow I wasn’t buying it.

  10. The tour package is well packed. The Galapagos Islands are so distant to me now, but I would definitely look for such structured packages. Value for money.

  11. Oh my gosh! Those sea lions are hilarious! I’m the opposite though, I’m a diver, so I’d take any opportunity to be down below the water! Looks like a simply amazing trip

    • Mags

      That’s awesome! I really want to be a diver an I keep trying. It always looks so amazing then I dive in and have a mini panic attack. I just can’t get used to breathing with my face underwater.

  12. This is a bucket list trip for my hubby! He is a photographer and would go nuts here. I would definitely NOT snorkel with any kind of sharks, but I am just a big wimp!

  13. Chrysoula

    That was a fun trip packed with great activities. I would love to go to Galapagos and this land based tour looks like a great way to do it without getting bankrupt. The hotels look very decent being the budget ones!

  14. Bucket list item indeed! I’ve definitely wanted to go to the Galapagos to see the tortoise but didn’t know too much about all the other stuff. That photo of you in the shell is hilarious. Love it!

  15. The sea lion on the bench cracked me up! What a fantastic trip of a lifetime. The Galapagos Islands would be a dream come true. This looks AMAZING! So glad you were able to fulfill some of your childhood dreams. It’s true, put your mind to it and you can do anything you want!

  16. Megan Jerrard

    So glad you had an amazing time in the Galapagos! We also did the Galapagos by land, though we did it independently which meant we stuck to Santa Cruz. Would love the opportunity to organize a tour and visit a couple of different islands. I liked traveling by land because it gave us time to explore in the evening and at night, as opposed to being confined by a boat, even though luxury cruises do sound fabulous too!

    • Mags

      I’m still waiting on that luxury cruise! It’s definitely worth it to explore Isabela if you get a chance. I can’t speak to the other islands since I only visited the two, but I loved both Isabela and Santa Cruz.

  17. It is unbelievable that you were able to get so close to the sea lions and turtles. What an amazing time. Visiting the Galapagos Islands would be a dream come true and it sounds like Nature Galapagos puts on a really terrific experience. Looks like they got you in some pretty comfy rooms. Great write up and incredible story. Thanks for sharing your experience…it does make it feel more accessible 🙂

  18. Looks like such a fun trip! I’ve always wanted to go to The Galapagos! The nature looks spectacular! Good to know about the sun, SPF 100 is a must!

  19. There is so much to do in The Galapagos but I can’t believe how much you got fit into such a short amount of time – And looks quite luxurious if I’m honest. Hopefully I get back here someday soon and can check out Nature Galapagos!

  20. The Galapagos is a bucket list destination for me … awesome to see how accessible it is!

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