In our quest to enjoy a trip to the Galápagos without spending a fortune, we did decide to splurge on one important step – getting from one island to another.
Our plan, you may recall, involved taking advantage of there being two airports on separate islands; we could fly into one and out the other so we would only have to make one inter-island transfer.
The cheapest and easiest way to do this is to book passage on a boat. There are many to choose from, ranging in size from small tenders all the way up to large yachts. In general, you will pay anywhere for $30-$80/person to make the trip by sea from (in our case) Puerto Ayora on Isla Santa Cruz to Puerto Moreno on San Cristôbal. You may also have to pay 50-cents to $1 for a water taxi to take you from the docks to the boat (and vice-versa), as the Islands are understandably touchy about how close to shore larger ships can anchor.
The trip is about 60+ miles (100km) depending on route, and can take anywhere from 2.5 to 5 hours, depending on the weather and how rough the seas are when you make the voyage.
Which gets us to why we were not particularly looking forward to a boat transfer. First of all, generally you have to choose a start time of either 6:30 – 7am or early afternoon, so it is either get up early or risk arriving after dark if the weather is bad.
Mainly, we were concerned about the roughness of the sea. Remember these are volcanic islands hundreds of miles off the coast. The water becomes very deep very quickly as soon as you are out of the harbor. Sudden squalls can blow up with little notice, and the seas can feature 5-7′ waves if you are there during the cooler, dryer season of June through November – which we were.
Many of the boat companies are pretty upfront about this. They warn that you may become nauseous during the trip, and that generally staying near the back of the boat in the open air helps. However, the back of the boat tends to get very wet from spray as the boat bounces along.
Case in point, we met a young researcher who was staying at our hotel on Santa Cruz. The day after we checked out, we saw her again on the streets of Puerto Moreno on San Cristôbal. She had booked a boat transfer, and told us she would stay in front until she couldn’t stand it any more, then move to the back until being completely drenched in the rain and spray forced her forward again, rinse and repeat.
Not our idea of a good time.
Instead, we decided to book passage with Emtebe for a flight from Baltra to San Cristôbal. This does cost much more than the boat transfer. Even with our discount for Ecuadorian residents, the total for our two one-way tickets came to $300 – plus we paid a small fee to be able to pick our seats, sitting directly behind the pilot.
Extravagant? Maybe. But it turned out to be a very pleasant experience with stunning views along the way. Our pilot, although looking to be about 17 years old, did a fantastic job of making it a smooth flight. Plus, even though our flight plan called for us to fly west to Isabela first, change a few passengers, and then back east to San Cristôbal, the trip was still faster than boat.
We started our trip to San Cristôbal with the 30-minute taxi ride back to the ferry to Isla Baltra. We were able to hop right on a ferry after passing our luggage to the gentleman stacking them on the roof, and we were treated to a flock of boobies escorting us across the channel to the airport bus.
We arrived at the airport with plenty of time to relax and enjoy a snack. Dropping off our luggage was a breeze, since after all, there were only going to be six passengers on the first leg of our flight.
They didn’t exactly “call” our flight. Instead a guy walked over and said “Listo?” (Ready?), and we followed him out the door and onto the tarmac. There she sat waiting for us, our own personal sky chariot. Picture a Volkswagon bus with wings, but not as fancy.
We climbed into our seats, shoulder to shoulder and heads nearly touching the ceiling. They didn’t waste much time, just handed us our noise protection earphones, and we were off and taxiing.
After the brief shock of seeing that our pilot had apparently taken the day off from high school, and while we tried to ignore that there was a Garmin GPS device affixed to the dashboard, we were quickly up in the air and on our way to our stop on Isabela.
We were only on Isabela long enough for two couples to unload, and for a few more people to stow their luggage for the next leg. We had a young boy along now, who enjoyed sitting in the co-pilot seat.
The long ride (about 40 minutes) from Isabela to Puerto Moreno was so rock-steady, it was almost boring. Luckily, the beautiful scenery saved the trip. It was great seeing our new home for the next four days get closer, and to get an overview of the bay and city before landing at the airport.
Another uneventful landing and we were on San Cristôbal, safe and sound, completely dry, and with no sea-sickness. After the novel experience of standing next to the plane while they pulled our bags out, it was just a 5-minute and $2 cab ride to our hotel.
I guess the moral of the story is that while it is a great thing to be able to visit a wonder of the world on a decent budget, never forget that your travel experience still needs to be pleasant. Yes, we could have saved about $300 by taking a boat ride, but the memory of a cold, wet, and potentially nauseating transfer would have spoiled the remainder of our trip.
For us, the pleasant and different experience made the short flights a bargain.
Coming up next: “Galápagos Islands: Welcome to San Cristôbal!“