Lay of the Land
The Galapagos Islands are an archipelago of 13 islands and many smaller islets lying 600 miles off the west coast of Ecuador. The three main islands are San Cristobal, Santa Cruz, and Isabela where the towns, shops, restaurants, and hotels are located. Much of the Galapagos is a national park, therefore the landscape is pristine and the majority of wildlife is native to the islands. The most popular way to visit the Galapagos is to join a cruise or charter a yacht to visit the main islands, as well as explore the more remote and undiscovered spots. Otherwise, there are luxury resorts on the main islands that can serve as a base. Day trips are available from Santa Cruz to destinations throughout the Galapagos.
San Cristobal: This is the capital of the Galapagos province and home to the largest town, Puerto Baquerizo Mariezo. It is less busy and touristy than Puerto Ayara on Santa Cruz, however it has its share of souvenir shops and restaurants in the town. The island has beautiful beaches, scuba diving, and regions reachable only by boat to spot birds, turtles and sea lions.
Santa Cruz: This is the most developed island of the Galapagos and is home to the town of Puerto Ayora, which has shops, restaurants, hotels, and nightlife. The island also has a stunning white sand beach, Tortuga Bay, and is the main port for yachts that come into the Galapagos. The premier accommodations of the Galapagos are located on Santa Cruz, as are the Charles Darwin Research Station and the Fausto Llerena Tortoise Center (home of the giant tortoises).
Isabela: Isabela is the biggest Galapagos island, but it is also the least developed and most laid-back of the three. The town, Puerto Villamil is a relaxed spot to visit the beaches, surf, dive and see indigenous wildlife like flamingos and tortoises. Many visitors come to Isabela to do the 5.5-mile hike of the spectacular volcano Sierra Negra, which has the second largest crater in the world.
Islands beyond: If going by yacht charter or day tripping, you will likely see or anchor at one of these more remote, undeveloped islands. Fernandina is the youngest island and known for its abundant population of sea lions and iguanas; Espanola Island is the oldest and most remote so it has many native species; Santa Fe Island is an easy daytrip from Santa Cruz and home to lava lizards and iguanas; Floreana boasts some of the best snorkeling, as well as Post Office Bay where visitors can bring their letters to be sent home.
Entry Requirements: The Ecuadorian government requires that all travelers entering the country carry proof of private health insurance coverage during their entire stay in mainland Ecuador and the Galapagos. If the traveler cannot provide proof of said insurance, Ecuadorian immigration officers can deny entrance to the country.