There are 13 major islands and many smaller ones in the archipelago, named a natural heritage site by UNESCO. Five islands are inhabited, and Santa Cruz is the most important of these. Set in the middle of the archipelago, Santa Cruz has the largest town, Puerto Ayora, and most of the tour agencies, restaurants, hotels and anchorages.
North of Santa Cruz, tiny Isla Baltra has the islands' major airport. The remaining inhabited islands, Isla Isabela, Isla Santa María, also called Florentina, and Isla San Cristobal have fewer residents and fewer amenities. Puerto Baquerizo Moreno on San Cristobal is the provincial capital.
The islands have multiple names:
There are many small rocky islets and formations, such as Isla Bartolomé, Isla Tortuga, Rocas Bainbridge, Isla Seymour, Isla Bosqueda, Isla Lobos, León Dormido, also known as Kicker Rock, Islas Plazas and others.
There are five volcanos on Isla Isabella and one on Isla Fernandina. The highest peak at 905 m is Cerro Cowan on Isla San Salvador.
The islands are a mix of vegetation. Some islands support both lush forests and sere, cactus-only areas. There are areas where cattle ranches flourish.
Getting to the islands isn't cheap. In addition to a park entrance fee (currently $100 USD), there are also travel costs, tipping to guides and boat crews, entrance fees to the various facilities, port and city visitor fees.
Unless you are a diehard wildlife enthusiast, love snorkeling and scuba diving, enjoy boats or cruising, you may want to think twice. Don't get me wrong, the Galápagos islands are scenic, a fantastic wildlife wonderland, but some areas are barren and dry.
Going by air is recommended for both time and cost.
Daily flights from Quito and Guayaquil to Isla Baltra on TAME and on SAN-Saeta to Puerto Baquerizo Moreno are similarly priced. At the time of writing, the fare for a single foreigner, round trip from Guayaquil to Isla Baltra (GPS), is $263 USD. (Remember that Ecuador uses the US dollar as its currency.) No tax or fees are included.
It's possible to land on one island, tour them and then return from the other airport.
Be sure you know which island you'll land on. From either, ferry and bus service will get you to Puerto Ayora on Santa Cruz. You can arrange flights and lodging and tours on your own, or take advantage of tour as like this Adventure Life and other agencies listed on Galapagos Islands Touring.
Many cruise ships depart from Guayaquil, anchor in Puerto Ayora, use that as a base for explorations, and then cruise the islands, stopping on several to view wildlife. Examples of cruises from Galapagos tours, cruises, and charters offering a range of prices, and others listed on Galapagos Islands Touring.
It's also possible to arrange passage for the three and a half-day trip on a cargo ship from Quayaquil, though they are not passenger ships and sailing schedules are not fixed. You'll have to arrange this from the docks in Guayaquil and may have to wait days or weeks for passage, but if you have the time and patience, it may work for you.
Passage on a Navy vessel, or an air force transport, is sometimes possible. Inquire as well in Quayaquil.
Some visitors worry that the trips ashore and the walks to see wildlife may be too strenuous. On the contrary. The daily walks average less than two miles each, and are conducted at a leisurely pace. As far as the inflatable boats, they are also easily boarded.
When to Go
The islands are equatorial, which means the climate doesn't vary much, but high season is December to January, and prices are higher then, as they are around Easter. June to August, with the influx of foreign travelers, also makes availability scarcer.