Let’s go. Nah, too expensive. But we’re here. Yes, but we should also put some money aside for our kids’ college education — or perhaps a downpayment on a house after we finish this trip. But…but! We’re here. And this place is famous. Darwin or something. And that one book by Vonnegut. We must go. We still have both kidneys, right?
We had a derivative of that conversation for several months. Seemingly you couldn’t voyage all the distance to the never-lands of Ecuador and not go to the Galapagos. What if Ecuador ceases to exist in the future? Disappears off the South American continent? You’d be pissed. Right…?
Our main hesitation was, if you’re not getting my forced attempts at humor, cost. From everything we’d read online — and from everything we’d heard from other overlanders, some of the cheapest folks roaming Earth — you couldn’t visit the Galapagos for less than a few thousand greenbacks por persona. And discounts for kids don’t exist. If you spent less than that, you risked scurvy. Pirate attacks. Being swallowed whole by an iguana.
We actually priced it out. Several times. Online. To visit the Galapagos, in relative comfort, at least relative to living in a van, would’ve cost us between $10k and $20k. A downpayment on a modest FHA-financed house, in other words. The ends didn’t seem to justify the means, also in other words.
Then we met an awesome family from Sweden our last night in Banos, Ecuador. They’d just returned from the Galapagos. Still high on the experience (we believe). They told us how incredible their experience was. And how’d they done it, as a family, for less than we’d been quoted for an individual.
We booked our flights that day for the next day. Then drove five hours to Guayaquil, Ecuador, a city that, besides a swanky mall splashed in el centro, made me think about the inside of that one garbage can you refuse to clean. Parked and slept in the secured parking lot of a hotel that made me think it financed its operation from the world’s oldest profession.
We arrived in the Galapagos the next day, expecting uninhabited lands, stick-structured huts, unruly animals, and a bunch of wannabe biologists wearing Panama hats and feverishly scratching notes in dogeared Moleskins.
We got quite the opposite. While it was apparent, from the moment we landed, that the Galapagos, more so than other islands we’ve visited, was committed to environmental protection. The only (or first? I can’t remember…) off-the-grid airport in the world. Lots o’ solar panels. Plug-in hybrid governmental SUVs. However, beyond that, the Galapagos reminded us of most every other island we’ve visited. Stark white hotels. Must pay for every trip besides a walk. Knickknacks galore. It felt like a trap. A tourist one. And we were trapped.
We questioned how, quasi-educated and -informed individuals, who had just spent the last year roaming Earth in a camper van, could’ve gotten it wrong. Muy wrong. I can’t think of one other experience on this trip that we’ve been so far off. Hit the wall not the dartboard.
Still Cool, Though
It’s not that we had a bad experience. We enjoyed ourselves. Mucho. It was just unexpected.
We suppose, based on our misconceptions, that folks travel to the Galapagos for four primary reasons: Nature, Wildlife, Science, and Beaches. I’ll discuss each below.
Plenty of it here. And most of it is preserved and protected — the towns and commerce are concentrated. And it’s scenic, in it’s own way. Like anywhere, I suppose. It reminded me of the high deserts in Idaho. Gnarly bushes and stout cacti force their roots into crevices of the islands’ volcanic core. Little (if any) tropical fauna. A few palm trees here and there.
Plenty of them here too. Finches, iguanas, tortoises, flamingos, lizards, sea lions, penguins, sea turtles, blue-footed boobies and more. I got up close and personal to some boobies. Just like I like it. And if you come here, you’ll get up close and personal with all the wildlife. They’re everywhere. Plentiful. You’ll never have to work so little to see so much. Within five minutes of stepping into the ocean, a Galapagos Penguin surfaced right in front of us. It’s also one of two areas in the world (the other being a remote atoll in the Indian Ocean) where you can see the Giant Tortoises.
If you’re a biologist, I’m guessing you have to come here. At some point. It’s your Mecca. The Galapagos and its finches were paramount to Darwin’s theory of natural selection in the Origin of Species. However, besides the fact that Darwin spent some time here and a scant museum on Isla Santa Cruz bears his name, you won’t find much science here. Other than the natural kind right in front of your face, of course.
Two of the beaches we visited — Tortuga Bay on Santa Cruz and Playa Isabela on Isabela — were two of the nicest beaches we’ve seen on this trip — perhaps only topped by Balandra on Baja California and Manuel Antonio on Costa Rica. This fact surprised us the most. We honestly weren’t expecting white sands and turquoise waters. Golden sand, perhaps. Hoards of sea lions roaming the golden sands, for sure. But not sacrifice every ambition and mold into the sand for the rest of your life, no.
The Final Take
Is it worth it? If you have a dump-truck of discretionary income to drop on a vacation, then probably — if that’s the case, though, I’d probably take one of those swanky cruise ships that take you all over the Galapagos islands (what we did, the budget option, was rented AirBnBs on two islands, Santa Cruz and Isabella, and I’m guessing we saw ninety-three percent of what the cruise ships see).
You can certainly find better and cheaper in any of the four categories above. Nature is prettier in Hawaii. Wildlife is more abundant in Costa Rica. Science is better on your iPad. Beaches are better in the Virgin Islands. But, if you’re hankering for a combo of all four, then the Galapagos may just be the islands for you.