Let me tell you about my latest Galapagos Cruise Experience on board the luxurious and brand new M/C Alya.
Top-Notch Galapagos Cruise Experience
The M/C Alya is a beautiful, sleek and modern catamaran. The Alya can accommodate 16 passengers in 8 spacious suites all equipped with a private balcony and floor to ceiling windows to enjoy all the breathtaking sites in the Galapagos.
Itineraries to choose from
The M/C Alya has 4 itineraries to choose from:
- 8 day – Western Islands (Monday-Monday)
- 8 day – Eastern, Northern and Central Islands (Monday-Monday)
- 5 day – Northern Islands and Central Islands (Thursday-Monday)
- 4 day – Eastern Islands (Monday-Thursday)
My itinerary summary
I got the 4-day A4 itinerary which does the following:
My Experience in the Galapagos Islands
Day 1: Arrival to San Cristobal / Free Afternoon
Early flights – Early wake-up call
My Galapagos Cruise Experience started early. I had an early flight out to the Galapagos Islands (6:50 am) and had to arrive at the airport at least 2 hours prior to the flight to have time for check-in. This meant I had to get to the airport bright and early at around 5:00 am. The new international and local airport in Quito is located in the town of Tababela which is about 45 minutes to an hour away (depending on traffic). Do plan for your transfer or taxi accordingly.
Check-in and TCT card
Upon arrival at the airport I headed to the Avianca counter and met my dispatcher. Most cruise ship operators have dispatcher at the Quito and Guayaquil airports, they help you check-in, have your boarding passes ready for you and help you obtain the Transit Control Card (TCT). You have to pay for your TCT at a special counter at the airport. There you pay (in cash only) $20 USD per person and go through a second-screening of your bags and person. The information entered on your TCT will be used by the Ecuadorian Government to monitor the visitors traveling to the islands.
Flight out to the Galapagos Islands
Finally I was all checked-in and had my TCT card and boarding pass. I grabbed some coffee at the Juan Valdez Cafe in the food court across the street from the terminal. If you need to purchase some last minute items like sunblock or sea sickness pills, the airport has a 24-hour Pharmacy called Fybeca in the lower level of the airport services building.
Take a snack or visit the VIP lounge
You will have plenty of time before boarding. By this time you will feel hungry and its always a good idea to pack a snack or ask your hotel for a box breakfast. Once past security you will have some options to purchase food but they are not that great and pretty expensive. You can also kill some time at the VIP lounge, it has a cost of $25 USD per person but you can get some great coffee, breakfast, and access to WiFi.
Off to Galapagos
My flight was not a direct flight from Quito to the Galapagos. After a 45 minute flight, we made a quick (about an hour) stop in Guayaquil to drop-off and pick-up some passengers. As I mentioned before, you can fly out to the Galapagos from two airports in Continental Ecuador; Quito and Guayaquil. Once the passengers boarded we were Galapagos bound. The flight from Guayaquil to Galapagos takes about 1 hour and 30 minutes. The plane was pretty new and spacious. We got some snacks during the flight and you could use a personal entertainment system which featured movies, TV series, and music. TIP: Don’t forget to pack your wired headphones in your carry-on to be able to use the entertainment system.
Arrival to San Cristobal
The M/C Alya was departing from the San Cristobal Island Port, so I had to take a flight to San Cristobal Island to be able to meet up with the boat staff. We couldn’t find spaces on the Monday flight so I had to fly out a day earlier to San Cristobal and meet up with the boat staff the following day. If you are trying to find a last-minute Galapagos Cruise, it is quite possible that you will not find flights for the day your cruise departs. If this is the case, you can fly out a day or two before your cruise begins and still be able to take advantage of a last-minute Galapagos cruise deal.
San Cristobal – 1 of 3 airport in the Galapagos
The San Cristobal airport is small but easy to maneuver. Furthermore, the main advantage of this airport is that the town of Puerto Baquerizo Moreno is only a 5-minute taxi ride away. You can even walk the distance to the main pier in town.
San Cristobal is 1 out of 3 airports in the Galapagos Islands. The other two airports are located in Baltra Island (off of Santa Cruz Island) and on Isabela Island. You can only fly into San Cristobal or Baltra Island from the mainland, the Isabela airport is only used for inter-island flights.
Park Entrance Fee and Luggage Claim – Galapagos
Once I landed at the San Cristobal Airport, I had to make my way to the “Galapagos Customs” counter where you have to present your TCT card, passport or Ecuador ID. Additionally, you have to pay for your Galapagos Park Entrance Fee. For foreigners, the Entrance Fee is $100 USD (payable in cash only). Make sure to bring along cash for this payment, you will have access to plenty of trustworthy ATM’s at the airport in mainland Ecuador. ATM’s are few and far between on the islands and could be out of order. TIP: Take along some cash for personal expenses, souvenirs and for the entrance fee. TIP: Make sure to hold on to your TCT card and keep it in a safe place, if you lose it you will have to purchase a new one and no one likes to throw $20 bucks away.
Hotels in San Cristobal Island
San Cristobal Island has plenty of Hotels to choose from. You can splurge and stay at the luxurious Golden Bay Hotel located feet away from the pier, you can choose a more convenient option in front of the boardwalk at the pier and stay at the Galapagos Sunset Hotel, or go for a more budget-friendly option at the Pimampiro Hotel, located about 20 minutes walking distance from the pier. If you are looking to book a hotel in the Galapagos Islands let us know and we can help you decide what hotel best fits your needs.
The Pimampiro Hotel – San Cristobal – Galapagos
This trip was quite last minute and I was not able to find availability on many hotels. I ended up choosing the Pimampiro Hotel, for the price, and for some of the extras. The hotel has a nice pool, good breakfast, friendly staff and bikes for rent.
Free Afternoon in San Cristobal Island
After lunch at a restaurant in the pier, my travel companions headed back to the hotel to rest. I really wanted to do something and I rented a bike close to the pier and went for a ride all around the pier, to nearby beaches and was able to get to know the port town in no time. It was a great ride.
The best beer I’ve ever had
The bike ride was superb and I got to see so much in no time. I visited the Galapagos Islands in early March and it really does get quite sunny. Furthermore, during this heat wave, locals close their shops at midday and go take their siesta or nap. Don’t expect to find much open during this time and the sun really does take a toll on you.
After my bike ride, I was sweaty and exhausted. On the way uphill to the Pimampiro Hotel, I made a pit stop at a store and had a liter Budweiser beer. This was by far the best beer I’ve had in years. So refreshing, so cold and so very tasty. TIP: Everything is more expensive in the Galapagos Islands, expect to pay up to three times as much as you would pay in mainland Ecuador. The beer I mention costs $1.50 in Quito at any store, in the Galapagos I paid close to $4 USD.
Puerto Baquerizo Moreno, San Cristobal
A lovely port town
Puerto Baquerizo Moreno is the capital of the Galapagos Islands province. Additionally, it is the second most habited town in the islands after Puerto Ayora in Santa Cruz Island. The town is nice, easy to get around and has a good selection of hotels, restaurants, pharmacies, convenience stores, souvenir shops, etc.
On the way back to the hotel I was able to check out some of the local homes and spotted a cat.
Once at the hotel, I was able to take a dip in the pool to cool down and rested a bit. At night we went out to look for a place to eat. I was excited about the following day’s activities so I went to sleep early.
Boarding the M/C Alya
Usually, when taking a Galapagos cruise, you would arrive at the Galapagos on a flight designated by the cruise operator which goes along with the cruise operation. Upon arrival at the airport, you are met by a cruise staff member who will help you pay for the entrance fee and will help with your bags. Then, you will take a short transfer to the pier where you board a dinghy which takes you and your luggage to the yacht. Since I arrived a day earlier, we met up with the cruise staff at 1:30 pm and boarded the yacht for lunch on board. When you first board the yacht the staff welcomes you with fruit juice and a snack.
My suite on board the Alya
I got a double suite on the Alya for myself. Usually, double cabins are priced with double accommodation in mind. If you are traveling solo, your best choice is to share a cabin with a passenger of the same gender. You can usually find this share option on budget-friendly boats or tourist superior class boats. Luxury boats don’t allow for a sharing option and if you would like to have a cabin for yourself you would have to pay a single supplement which usually ranges from 50-100% surcharge.
Day one aboard the M/C Alya
Our first day on board the M/C Alya was really cool. We boarded the catamaran and had some time to settle in. A tasty lunch was served and we had some time to relax for a bit. In the afternoon we visited the tortoise breeding center. At present, the itinerary mentions a visit to Lobos Island but the itinerary was a bit different when I did the tour.
After the visit, we had some time to wander around the pier to buy any last minute items or get some cash from the ATMs. I bought some candy bars and some snacks to take on board. TIP: At the end of the pier you will find a pretty hip bar which serves locally brewed beer.
We returned to the yacht. A fellow passenger and I really wanted to jump into the water. We asked for permission and we jumped in and swam around for a bit until it was time to get ready for dinner.
Day two aboard the M/C Alya
Waking up in the Galapagos Archipelago
Day two aboard the Alya was awesome. I woke up early (6:00 am) with the sounds of the anchor moving and couldn’t wait to start my day. Made some tasty coffee using one of the top-notch espresso machines on board the yacht. And went up top to the sundeck and sketched the island we would later visit. The sundeck was my favorite spot on board and taking in the sunrise in the Galapagos Islands is something I will never forget.
Before breakfast, we visited Isla Lobos where we got to see plenty of birds lizards, crabs, and other Galapagos wildlife. We went back to the yacht and had breakfast. After breakfast, a snorkeling activity was scheduled. I love snorkeling, but this one, in particular, was not my cup of tea. The water was rough, there was barely any visibility and I was close to barfing my breakfast. At present, the yacht has changed the itinerary to fix this issue.
We had some time to rest and take a shower and then we had lunch. Lunch and breakfast are served buffet style and dinner a la carte (you get 3 dinner options to choose from at lunch). It’s impressive what the chefs can come up with.
In the afternoon we visited Pitt Point. Furthermore, Pitt Point is a beautiful islet filled with all types of boobies. Here I was able to spot blue-footed and red-footed boobies, as well as masked boobies.
Later on in the afternoon we had a chance to go for a kayak ride along the islet. This was my first time riding a double kayak. It was truly a wonderful experience. Highly recommended!
Day three aboard the M/C Alya
On day three we woke up at Española Island since we had sailed during the night. Española Island is usually one of the best visits you can have in the Galapagos Islands. Here you get to see the Galapagos Albatross taking flight. Unfortunately, during our tour (March) the albatross migrate and are not found in the Galapagos. Nevertheless, we got to see a colony of sea lions and their pups as we entered the island. On the island you get to spot many bird species, iguanas, lizards, snakes and you make it all the way to the blowhole which is pretty cool.
Upon return to the yacht my new friend and I decided to jump off the sun deck. This was awesome! Then we asked permission to snorkel around the yacht. The water was crystal clear and we got to see a sea turtle swimming and some manta rays.
After lunch, we had some time to rest and then we had another snorkeling activity close to Española Island. This snorkeling activity was really cool, we got to see plenty of colorful tropical fish and the water was much calmer. Later on, we went for some beach time at Gardner Bay. The beach was truly pristine and just beautiful.
Day four – Farewell to the Alya
I was abruptly woken up on day four of our cruise. We had come closer to Santa Cruz Island and I got some reception on my cellphone. This meant I received all pending emails and messages and reality hit me hard. I didn’t want the cruise to be over yet! I was feeling down and was about to pass on the last activity. The night before on the briefing our guide told us that an optional snorkeling activity would be available before breakfast.
This last snorkeling activity was the best snorkeling I’ve done in the Galapagos Islands, second only to the Devil’s Crown. I got to see sea turtles, manta rays, tons of colorful fish and a white tipped shark swim right next to me. TIP: Take my advice and join all the activities you can on board your cruise. If you don’t, you will definitely regret it.
After breakfast our cruise was over. I really wanted to stay on board for one more day. If you are thinking about heading to the Galapagos Islands, I would opt for at least a 5-day cruise. Eight days might be too long, but four days is really too short.
Back on land – Baltra Island to Puerto Ayora
Again since this was a last minute cruise I was not able to find a flight getting me back the same day the cruise ended. I was able to find a flight for the next day so I would have to spend the night in Santa Cruz Island in the town of Puerto Ayora.
Usually when the cruise is over, you are transferred to the nearest airport and you fly out the same day to Quito or Guayaquil. The boat staff will take you to the Itabaca Channel (between Santa Cruz and Baltra Island) on a dinghy and then you board a bus which takes you to the Baltra Airport. Since my flight didn’t depart that day I had to make my way to Puerto Ayora the most habited town in the Galapagos. To do this you have to cross the Itabaca Channel on a ferry (costs $1 USD per person), then once on the other side you take a pick-up truck/taxi to town. The way down takes about 45 minutes. On they way we spotted some giant tortoises crossing the road.
Puerto Ayora – Santa Cruz Island – Galapagos
Puerto Ayora is a nice town. They recently have refurbished the boardwalk and have installed bike routes all around town and all the way to the highlands of Santa Cruz. In Puerto Ayora you have tons of options for your hotel stay and plenty of places to eat. I stayed at the Villa Laguna hotel. This hotel had a small pool, comfy rooms, a nice breakfast and good WiFi access. It was well located close to the boardwalk and close to La Laguna de la Ninfas (Fairy Lagoon). This is a free visit to a cool ecosystem where salt water meets fresh water. You have some cool trails around the lagoon.
Las Grietas Visit
Another great visit is to Las Grietas. To get here you have to cross the bay on a water taxi ($1 USD per way) and trek along some paths and trails. On the way to Las Grietas, you pass by the Angermeyer Beachfront hotel with its very Galapagos style and hip bar overlooking the Puerto Ayora Bay. Further down you get to see the Finch Bay Hotel which is luxury at its finest. A beach called the Playa de Los Alemanes is in front of the Finch Bay.
Las Grietas is a lava formation which allows for a natural pool. Its a really cool place to snorkel and swim at. Back in the day, you could jump off the top but it’s prohibited now. The water is oh so nice and refreshing.
Farewell to Galapagos
For my last night on the islands, I went for some street food in Puerto Ayora. There is one street where you will find tons of street food options serving BBQ style food. You can choose beef, chicken, fish or a Galapagos Lobster. The rice and lentils you get with your combo are amazing and the BBQ meat is mouth watering.
The next day we had breakfast and then we took a taxi ($25 USD per person) to the Baltra Airport. Again I really didnt want to leave yet but I was reminiscing on the wonderful time I had in the Enchanted Islands.
Galapagos is truly a magnificent place to visit. Everytime I go to the islands I have a new experience, see wildlife I hadn’t seen and get a different mindset.