In my last article on Galápagos, I told you how to have the best once-in-a-lifetime Galápagos experience: a 5-7 night cruise followed by 3-5 nights in a hotel, so that you can relax a bit after your intensive learning and photographing experience on your live-aboard.
So now that you’ve booked your cruise (I hope you chose Haugan, they’re great!), where should you have your relaxation?
On which Galápagos island should you have your hotel experience?
Your choice is somewhat limited as there are only four islands where you can stay overnight:
– Santa Cruz (Galápagos’ main settlement, Puerto Ayora, is here)
– Isabela (a large island, but with only a small populated area)
– San Cristobal (some cruises begin or end here, but there’s not a lot to see on this island and fewer than 10 accommodation options)
– Floreana (just two hotels here)
Your cruise itinerary will also dictate your choice. If your cruise disembarks on San Cristobal, it makes sense to stay there. Most cruises, though, take their passengers to Baltra airport, on a small island which connects passengers to Santa Cruz by ferry.
Your largest options — for hotels, restaurants, shopping and activities — are on Santa Cruz. Santa Cruz is also home to the Darwin Research Station, a tortoise reserve in the highlands (a better animal photo opp than the Darwin Station), two sinkholes (Los Gemelos), a few lava tunnels, and some beaches and swimming areas. A walk to Tortuga Bay beach is a lovely way to stretch you legs after your cruise. There’s a 1.5 km long soft sandy beach (many say the prettiest beach in all of Ecuador) where you can watch surfers, and, at the far end, a tranquil and warm lagoon. There are lots of marine iguana and lava lizards, and you may see spotted eagle rays in the lagoon (bring your snorkel). You’ll have seen photos of sea lions waiting for scraps at the Puerto Ayora fish market and taking naps on the port walkways, and you’ll probably want to snap a few yourself.
Isabela is a very laid-back island, with some very laid-back residents who probably won’t even open their eyes for your camera (those sea lions are everywhere!). The animals find just about anywhere to take a nap, one of the favourites being a park bench near the port. While your cruise will have tried to give you an experience snorkelling with sea lions, you might have just had a brief glimpse of them. On Isabela, you’re pretty much guaranteed to swim with sea lions, and they will probably come over and play with you too. This is a once in a lifetime experience, and it makes it worth the flight or the two-hour speedboat from Santa Cruz.
The best hotel on Isabela is Iguana Crossing Boutique Hotel. Within walking distance to snorkel at the port, the hotel is at the beginning of a long beach ideal for strolling and, yes, for spotting iguanas crossing the road. A short walk behind the hotel brings you to a tortoise breeding centre and to some ponds frequented by flamingoes.
Which Galápagos hotel is right for me?
As above, your best choice on Isabela Island is the Iguana Crossing Boutique Hotel.
On Santa Cruz you have several options. We’ve personally checked out these four, all providing different experiences, one of which will be perfect for you.
– In the cooler highlands, Royal Palm Hotel Galapagos is a five-star resort and member of the Leading Hotels of the World. They have yachts for day trips, so you can explore islands like Bartolomé and Santa Fe, which your live-aboard cruise might not have visited. The lava tunnel on Royal Palm’s 190 hectare private estate is a can’t-miss stop. Royal Palm’s spacious villas and casitas have fireplaces and jacuzzi tubs, and this is your perfect choice if you’d like privacy.
– If you like to be in the centre of the action, Hotel Solymar has an ideal waterfront location. It is between the open-air market (go early to photograph sea lions when they’re alert), and the port itself, where you’ll see more napping sea lions and maybe even a school of rays swimming among the water taxis. Solymar has a small pool and a very talented chef in their seafront restaurant.
– You might want to take advantage of Galápagos’ fresh seafood and cook up a storm, or perhaps you’re travelling with kids or a bigger group and want space to stretch out. Torre Mar Vacation Rentals would be perfect for you. Just a couple blocks up from the port, you’ll have your own kitchen, a big patio with a barbecue, and can rent out as many flats as you need (they also have a town house available). Throw some of those big lobsters on your barbecue!
– If you have trouble choosing between a pool and a beach, choose both at Finch Bay Eco Resort. This hotel requires a two-minute water taxi ride from the main port, and a 5 minute stroll on a boardwalk — just enough to leave the hustle and bustle of Puerto Ayora behind, but close enough to get back easily. Then you arrive at a crescent beach ideal for wading and a large pool ideal for lengths and for lounging. Finch Bay has two day-cruise yachts that can take you out for more animal-viewing and snorkelling, and have you back in time for a sunset swim and dinner.
Cruise, then hotel: the best Galápagos vacation
While you certainly can enjoy just a live-aboard cruise or just a hotel stay and see plenty in the Galápagos, this is a once in a lifetime trip. It isn’t easy to get here — you need to overnight in Quito (we recommend two or three nights though), and then fly 900 km from the mainland. You’re unlikely to be back more than once, so you really must make the most of your time here. (And since you’re all the way there … why not check out Baños in the centre of Ecuador, and then go to Peru to see Machu Picchu, Cuzco and the high-altitude Lake Titicaca too? And don’t skip feasting on seafood in Lima!)