Galápagos Islands
Photo Courtesy of Joao Canziani

Getting to the Galápagos from Ecuador’s mainland is easy, though not always affordable. Flights from the Quito and Guayaquil airports arrive daily at both Puerto Baquerizo Moreno (San Cristóbal Island) and Baltra (Santa Cruz Island), with tickets ranging from $400 to $550 (varying by season), though they are often reserved months in advance by visitors and cruise operators, reducing the availability of discount tickets. LAN, Tame, and Aerogal airlines operate between the Galápagos and the mainland, and EMETEBE Air offers interisland transportation that serves the small airport on Isabela. All visitors to the Galápagos are subject to the $100 national park fee, payable in cash (US funds).

The Galápagos archipelago is much larger than most people think. It encompasses 19 islands and over 40 islets; it's home to more than 30,000 people; and it's nigh impossible to visit with your own pleasure craft. The Galápagos are one of the few places on Earth where it’s best to eschew intrepid adventure and get around as part of a group tour. Cruises offer the opportunity to visit a number of islands—the geographic biodiversity between land masses is stunning—over a short period of time, with naturalists who have dedicated their careers to the study of Ecuadorian flora and fauna. Pre-booked cruise passengers will be met at the airport by a guide and ferried to the proper ship, while independent travelers will have better luck landing on Santa Cruz, which has a more robust tourism infrastructure than San Cristóbal. Backpackers on the lookout for last-minute discount tickets on cruise ships are best served in Puerto Ayora, which has a number of excellent hotel and day trip options, and is also the best place to arrange diving excursions.