If you travel to Galapagos independently, i.e. not part of a package tour or on a cruise, then you will definitely want to book some day trips to explore places that can only visited by boat and/or to get a more in-depth experience by going with a local guide.
These are our recommendations for each island along with the approximate costs. All prices listed are the minimum price per person and include snorkeling gear and lunch unless otherwise noted; verify if a wetsuit is included as you will likely need one from June to November. Tips are not included.
Tours are available daily unless otherwise noted, and are typically operated in 12-16 passenger speedboats or catamarans.
San Cristobal Day Tours
Highlands of San Cristobal – This 4-5 hour tour follows the only road across San Cristobal island, and typically includes stops at El Junco (a freshwater crater lake), Jacinto Gordillo Breeding Center of Giant Tortoises (also known as La Galapaguera) and Puerto Chino (a soft-sand beach in a tranquil bay that’s perfect for swimming). This can be done as an organized group tour booked via a travel agency, or more informally, via taxi. Galapagos Surf Discovery offers the latter option, a variation of which is also available by bicycle.
Cost: Varies according to activities/itinerary and whether lunch is included, but expect to pay at least $50
Kicker Rock/Leon Dormido – This 7 hour tour visits two sites: a beach where you can snorkel and see sea lions swimming, marine iguanas feeding underwater, and various fish; and a stop at Kicker Rock /Leon Dormido, two massive rocks 140 meters high jutting out of the ocean that you snorkel between to see sea turtles, rays, and hopefully, Hammerhead sharks. You have much more chance of seeing the latter if you scuba dive as they prefer to swim deep, but this is your best chance in Galapagos to see Hammerhead sharks while snorkeling.
360 – This tour does just what its name implies: it circumnavigates San Cristobal Island. Lasting approximately 9 hours, you’ll have multiple stops for snorkeling and hiking, as well as a sport fishing demonstration. It’s an excellent way to observe diverse geology on one island, while also gaining a better appreciation of how little of the island is populated.
There is a version of this tour that only goes as far as Punta Pitt (about the halfway mark in terms of circumnavigation), but includes more hiking and allows you to see all three species of booby as well as observe giant tortoises in their natural habitat.
Cost: $160+ for the 360 tour (operated daily) and $180+ for Punta Pitt (only operates a couple of times a week; verify the exact itinerary before booking as not all tours include the strenuous hike to La Galapaguera Natural)
Espanola Island – The trip to Espanola, the southernmost island in Galapagos, takes two hours each way in a speedboat with a maximum of 12 passengers. The ride can be rough; take seasickness remedies before embarking and bring more for the return trip. The tour typically includes snorkeling for an hour in Gardner Bay where you can see sea turtles, schools of fish, and playful sea lions, as well as hiking for about two hours. Espanola is the biggest breeding site for waved albatross (only from April to November). Besides the impressive albatross, you can observed blue-footed and Nazca boobies nesting, tropic birds, Galapagos hawks, mockingbirds, tons of marine iguanas, lava lizards, and more. The scenery is beautiful and there probably won’t be any other people on the island when you are there.
Cost: $220+; only available a few days per week and, in our opinion, only worth it if you’re here during nesting season (April to November; best June to August to observe hatchlings)
In addition to the above tours, there is a shorter trip to Isla Lobos that includes snorkeling and hiking (~4.5 hours, $120), as well as many attractions around Puerto Baquerizo Moreno that you can visit on foot or via a short taxi ride, with or without a guide. Galapagos Surf Discovery offers a variety of half-day excursions to suit all abilities and interests.
Santa Cruz Day Tours
There are a variety of day trips from Santa Cruz to other islands including North Seymour, Bartolomé, Santa Fé, South Plaza, and Floreana. North Seymour and Bartolomé tours are very popular and get booked out very quickly. We advise you to reserve in advance, especially if you are traveling during the high season.
Also note that, unlike on San Cristobal island where you can literally walk to the dock for any tour departure, many Santa Cruz day tours require a 45-minute bus ride from Puerto Ayora (where your hotel will be) to the Itabaca Canal to catch your boat. While these round-trip transfers are included in the tour price, just remember that’s 1.5 hours of your total tour time that will be spent riding on a bus.
North Seymour Island – If you love birds, this is a can’t miss day tour! The 8-hour trip starts with an early hotel pickup and bus ride to the Itabaca Canal where you will board the boat. You will navigate 45 minutes to North Seymour and have a guided hike to see nesting frigate birds, fluffy frigate chicks still in their nests, blue-footed boobies courting and nesting, large land iguanas, and various plants endemic to Galapagos. You will also be taken to one or two snorkeling stops including Playa Las Bachas. There you can walk a short way along a beautiful sandy beach to see turtles nesting (November to February) and flamingos feeding in the shallow lagoon behind the sand dunes.
Cost: $220+; may not operate daily so be sure to confirm the schedule in advance
Bartolomé and Sullivan Bay – This 10-hour tour takes you to one of the most impressive sights in all of Galapagos, a 360-degree view of the famous Pinnacle Rock and nearby islands. You’ll bus to the Itabaca Canal and board the boat, then navigate to Bartolome. You’ll hike up the boardwalk trail to the top of the island for panoramic views, then snorkel off the beach near Pinnacle Rock and/or at Sullivan Bay. You’ll also go for a hike on the interesting lava formations at Sullivan Bay.
Floreana – The smallest and least-populated of the inhabited islands, Floreana boasts an interesting history. A day tour here requires a total of four hours of navigation in a speedboat to and from Puerto Ayora, which leaves limited time for sightseeing. Activities include a stop at Post Office Bay, snorkeling at La Loberia, visiting a pirate’s cave, and observing flamingos at Cormorant Point. You may want to inquire about overnighting on the island, and then return to Puerto Ayora the following day on the afternoon ferry. This will need to be coordinated in advance, but we think it’s worth the effort to get a taste of life on a remote island.
Cost: $150; may not operate daily
There are several other day trips by boat from Santa Cruz, as well as diving excursions, but we think the above options offer the most diverse scenery and wildlife-watching for the money, especially if you also plan to spend some time on San Cristobal and/or Isabela. We also have a post about free things to do near Puerto Ayora.
Isabela Day Tours
Las Tintoreras – “The Rifts” are a group of small islands 10 minutes from Isabela. Although the area is close by, there’s significantly more wildlife than on the main island. A tour lasts about 3 hours and offers the opportunity to swim with penguins and sea turtles and see blue-footed boobies and amazing amounts of Sally Lightfoot Crabs on the lava rocks. Sometimes penguins swim alongside the boat, and there are sea lions and eagle rays. Las Tintoreras is covered in cooled lava and in one area you can see sharks in a canal of seawater. Note – this tour can also be done by kayak.
Cost: $50 by boat; $65 by kayak
Los Túneles – One of the most popular day tours on the island, this 6-hour trip starts with a 40-minute speedboat ride to the Cabo Rosa lava tunnels. Here you’ll walk for about 30 minutes are the lava formations and observe the blue-footed boobies, then enjoy some of the best snorkeling in Galapagos, where you might see penguins, sea lions, giant sea turtles, white-tip reef sharks, stingrays, sea horses and more.
Volcan Sierra Negra – This 5-hour tour takes you to the two volcanoes of Sierra Negra (Black Mountain) and Volcan Chico (Little Boy Volcano). Sierra Negra has the second largest volcanic crater in the world and last erupted as recently as 2018. You will be transported 40 minutes by van to the trailhead. The walk covers a total of 16 km but is a fairly easy hike as it is mostly flat with little elevation gain. You also have the option to continue past the highest point to Volcan Chico (Little Boy Volcano), which is worth the extra effort to see the “alien” landscape. There are places where you can put your hand on the rock and feel the heat of the volcano. Note – If it is an overcast or rainy day then this tour is pointless.
We also have a post about free things to do near Puerto Villamil.
While this is not a comprehensive list of all the day trips available in Galapagos, it does include the most popular and highly recommended tours. Let us know how we can help you plan your island adventure!
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We not only live in Galapagos, but we’ve also been on multiple cruises and visited all of the day trip destinations on Isabela, San Cristobal, and Santa Cruz. We will give you our unbiased and expert opinion as to how to make the most of your trip on any budget. Contact us and let us know how we can help you!