Let’s Go Exploring! Galapagos Part 3: Scary Boat Ride to Isabela

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This is part 3 of our trip to the Galapagos. Click here for Part 1 and Part 2.

“Hey, aren’t you Wanderer and FIRECracker?”

Wanderer blinked in confusion as the stranger offered to shake his hand.

When you’re standing on a pier in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, waiting for a boat at 6:30am, the last thing you expect is to be recognized.

But that’s exactly what happened on our way to Isabela island in the Galapagos.

“I wanted to tell you how much I love your work! I’m a blog fan!” After chatting for a bit, we realized our reader was on vacation in the Galapagos from Vancouver.

“I gotta go catch my boat, but keep up the good work guys! Enjoy your time in Galapagos!”

I have to admit, this isn’t the first time we’ve met readers in the wild as a result of the blog, but it still gets me every time. Back when I was working my soul-sucking, stressful developer job, if you had told me complete strangers would be coming up to me in a few years, talking about how much they enjoy reading my insane ramblings on the internet, I would’ve told you to get your brain checked.

But here we were. I was still trying to wrap my brain around this whole thing while the boat captain started taking our tickets and directing us to the speedboat.

I got in and picked my seat—the one right at the middle, with just enough shade from the sun but still access to the fresh sea air.

“Okay guys, we’re going to Isabela island. Normally that should take 2.5 hours, but the seas are a bit rough today and it’s raining so it might take us a bit longer.” The captain said over the speaker.

“Wait”, the grey-haired man next to me asked. “This isn’t the actual boat we’re taking to Isabella, right? This is a boat to transfer us to a bigger catamaran or something?”

What the ferry looked like:
Photo credit: Michael R Perry @ Flickr
What the ferry felt like:

I’ll admit the small speed boat we were in didn’t look sturdy enough to brave the Pacific Ocean. But since I had already made a similar ferry trip from San Cristabol to Santa Cruz, I had to tell him the truth. “Afraid so.”

“Do you think it’s going to be rocky? I get seasick easily.” His eyes were full of panic.

I didn’t have the heart to tell him I’d prepared for this trip the way combat soldiers prepare for battle. The only thing I had eaten for breakfast was a Dramamine pill, I spent last night meticulously researching the least rocky place to sit on a boat, and I had a bullet proof plan of avoiding conversations and aggressively focusing on a spot in the horizon.

Before coming to the Galapagos, the Godfather of FI, JLCollins, had already warned me about exactly what to expect with their ferries, so I came prepared.

In his own words, here’s what he said:

“The boat was rocking so much, I kept worrying we were going to capsize.”

“Then 2 hours into the whole thing, it became so torturous, I though Oh God, PLEASE LET US CAPSIZE.”

So you can see how much I was looking forward to the ferry rides.

Luckily, the locals told me that seas were less rough in the morning, so I was feeling somewhat confident.

My salt-and-pepper-haired seatmate? Not so much.

“Buffet breakfast,” he said, his complexion quickly morphing from pink to white to green. “Bad idea.”

Turns out, his fear was completely founded, because when we pulled out of the port and headed for the open sea, our 15-people ferry turned into a rollercoaster.

I didn’t think it was possible for anyone to throw up for 3 hours straight, but my seatmate proved me wrong.

Leaning out the side of the boat, I gulped in as much fresh air as I could, desperate to avoid the smell of his half-digested breakfast now filling up the cabin. My eyes were glued to the horizon.

Half way into the trip, the skies opened up and drenched my shirt, pants, and socks, but I couldn’t care less. I had to use all my concentration to focus on not throwing up. The good news is that it kept me from worrying about the boat capsizing.

After what seemed like an entire century, we finally arrived on Isabella.

Salt and pepper hair guy crawled his way off the boat, cursing loudly and muttering something about finding a flight on the way back.

I was just glad we were on solid ground again and managed to kept myself from dry heaving. It also helped that on our way to eat lunch, we saw a baby shark, a stingray in the water, black lizards and seals all over the pier. My harrowing ferry ride was quickly forgotten and I enjoyed myself, exploring this new island.

Since Isabela was the least inhabited island we visited, it didn’t have a single ATM, unlike Santa Cruz and San Cristobal. But luckily, we had known about that before hand so we had taken out money the day before. We also found that there were enough free activities on the island that we didn’t really need to worry about running out of cash.

Our first stop as the turtle-breeding center. For travellers with kids, this was the prefect interactive place to learn all about Galapagos tortoises—from how big their eggs are, to how long they take to hatch, to all the predators that are now threatening their survival.

We even got to meet a batch of new turtles and watch them eat:

On the way back, we saw flamingos just hanging out and eating fish:

And then we spent the rest of our time snorkeling at Concha de Perla (“mother-of-pearl”) which is perfect swimming hole protected from the waves. At one point, Wanderer saw this adorable seal follow me.

Check out the video of the cute little fella here:

Some of the attractions on Isabella we didn’t have time for:

  • hiking Sierra Negra (takes a full day and costs around $30 to get there)
  • snorkelling in the Los Tuneles (costs around $100 and takes a few hours)
  • seeing the sharks  at Las Tintoreras ($45 and takes around 3 hours).

Unlike San Cristobal and Santa Cruz, Isabella requires a tour to visit some parts of the island. And since we were only there for the day, we mostly hung around the pier. If you want to experience hiking the volcano, snorkling, and seeing sharks, it’s better to stay there over night.

I’m glad we didn’t buy the day tour though, since we were less rushed than the people who were on it (they told me they ended up doing pretty much the same activities, which were all free anyway).

So if you do visit Isabella, either stay on the island (but remember to bring money with you since there are no ATMs) and explore it for a few days or do a day trip on your own.  Don’t bother with a packaged day tour.

Just remember, if you’re going to take the ferry, do the following things to avoid puking your guts out:

1) Pick a morning ferry over an afternoon one
2) Take sea sickness meds an hour before the trip
3) Avoid a heavy breakfast
4) Look out at the horizon and avoid talking during the ride

5) Pick a seat in the middle of the boat or near the back. The front is the rockiest (though you will be warmer and drier). The middle keeps you shaded from the sun and rain while still giving you access to fresh air.

Also, if you’re going to go on your own, buy the ferry tickets from Christine’s, which is between the grocery store and the church near the pier on Santa Cruz.

This is the only place on all of Santa Cruz where you can get ferry tickets to Isabela for $25 instead of $30, and it’s all the same boats so you’re not getting anything special from the other ferry companies.

Oh and if you’re going to buy a day tour to Isabela or ferry tickets, avoid Galapagos Dreams Adventures on Santa Cruz (located across from the fish market) like the plague! Horrible customer service and misleading information. If you ever run into any issues, expect them to blame you. It’s a long story, so I won’t get into it but they have the worst customer service.

Despite the somewhat traumatic ferry experience, I still enjoyed Isabella. If you’re lucky, you’ll even get to see penguins.

If you like less inhabited islands with lots of hiking, animals, seclusion and don’t mind not having access to an ATM, Isabella is the island for you. It’s worth the $30 ferry ride (each way) and $10 tax on arrival. Just make sure you eat a light breakfast and bring seasickness meds.

Here’s how much we spent for the day on Isabela.

Food: $8 USD

Entertainment: $0

Transportation: $120 USD ( $30 per person each way for ferry)

Fees: $20 USD ($10 per person tax)

And here’s how much we spent on average over 9 days in the Galapagos.

CategoryCost in USD/coupleCost in CAD/coupleNotes
Accommodations:$54 USD/night$68 CAD/nightSurprisingly, all 3 island had good options for Airbnb. On Santa Cruz we even got to stay in the house of one of the island founders! It came with a pool, a maid and free breakfast everyday.
Food:$14 USD/day$17 CAD/day ($7/day for eating out, $10/day for groceries)Food was the cheapest thing on the island. You could easily eat on $4 USD per meal (drink + soup + main with rice) at the local mom and pop restaurants. Groceries were surprisingly cheap for an island–though probably considered exorbitant compared to mainland Ecuador prices.
Transportation:$97 USD/day$121 CAD/dayThis is by far the most expensive category. Just getting to the Galapagos islands from Quito will set you back around $200 USD/person each way.
Entertainment:$38 USD/day$47 CAD/dayThere's free entertainment all over the island. Of course, you can choose to pay for tours, but we didn't feel they were necessary and are rushed most of the time. Just explore at your own pace and you won't have to pay a dime. We did splurge for scuba dives, but other than that, the only other thing we paid for was to rent 2 snorkels for $3 USD for the whole day.
Fees:$29 USD/day$36 CAD/dayFees were $100/ person park entry fee, $20/person for the visitors card, and $10 /person for visitors tax on Isabella.
Total:$231 USD/couple/day$289 CAD/couple/daySo even though Galapagos wasn't cheap, averaged over 9 days, it's around the same as what we would've paid for a fancy Caribbean cruise back when we were working. In my opinion, this is so much better.

So what do you think? Would you go to the Galapagos? Are you brave enough for the ferry (and the price tag)?

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24 thoughts on “Let’s Go Exploring! Galapagos Part 3: Scary Boat Ride to Isabela”

  1. Wheee! I’ve fished out of Virginia Beach on a 42′ charter boat; there’s something about bouncing across the ocean, dozens of miles from the coast, that makes me grin from ear to ear. Someday my iron stomach will probably fail me. I do not look forward to that day.

    Thanks for the writeup! You’ve got a gift of being able to talk about an experience, warts and all, and still make it seem like an absolute blast.

    1. Can you imagine how much breading they would need for a turtle that size? I’d still be back there eating…

      P.S Good catch 🙂

  2. Wow, you sold that ferry ride like a *champ* FireCracker! 🙂 Haha!

    All kidding aside, it looks like a lovely place with plenty of natural beauty, but with pretty high costs.

    I guess you have to pay-up to get to those remote locations! Still — for a “once in a lifetime” kind of trip it’s not terrible.

    Looking forward to your next trip report! Where to next? Portugal?

    1. Patience, my young grasshopper. All will be revealed in my next post…

      Hint: It’s somewhere near the coast of Africa.

  3. AAHAHAAHAHAHAHA!! Your ferry experience reminds me so much of our family’s one and only deep-sea fishing adventure. Twelve hours in choppy waters regretting life. (midnight to noon). My dad took out his dentures to keep from losing them while barfing over the side. My brother nearly threw himself overboard (at least, that’s how it looked from my angle) to avoid barfing in the boat. Meanwhile I’m pretty sure I killed brain cells inhaling diesel fumes down below in the cabin — my strategy was to try to sleep it out. It worked! I barfed last, and only once. Win!
    Nobody caught a fish. But it’ll probably stick with me as one of our most hilarious family adventures ever. Thanks so much for the laugh. And for reminding me I should ditch the cube soon for another travel adventure.

    1. Twelve freaking hours?! I would’ve totally thrown myself overboard. On the plus side you got to get high on diesel fumes, so there’s that!

  4. Well, this brought back some truly horrible memories. 🙂

    Far and away the worst boat ride of my life. Four hours with everyone around me heaving their guts out. Nothing like that stench added to the motion to set my own guts churning.

    All you can do is grit your teeth, be grateful you kept your stomach mostly empty and stare at the horizon hoping the boat leans just a bit further and the ocean comes cascading over the gunwale.

    I flew back. First and only (so far) flight where my seat didn’t have a seat belt. But the view was stunning and the air blessedly smooth.

    1. Well if it wasn’t for you giving me a heads up, I probably would’ve heaved my guts out or thrown myself overboard. But I knew I had to stick it out and make it to Chautauqua 😉

  5. Wow your trip to the Galapagos sounds like it was incredible! Being able to have the opportunity to go out and explore the great outdoors is always a wonderful opportunity. 🙂

    It’s too bad you didn’t get to see the penguins though, I hear they frequent the Galapagos quite a bit!

    1. Yeah, it’s too bad I didn’t see any penguins, but the sea lions and turtles were there to keep us company, so all good!

  6. Wish we would have made it there… next time. We want to go back we didn’t make it much outside of Puerto Arroyo. But still awesome none the less.

  7. Omigod, your scary boat ride brought back some memories from my honeymoon. We were excited to go on a whale watching tour. It’s never a good sign when the captain warns everyone when we’re already out of the harbour about how rough the seas were that day. It started to feel like a roller coaster only a couple of minutes out and got way worse the further out we got. People were puking in bathrooms, over the sides of the boat. By the time whales appeared I felt so sick that even if the whales had been talking I wouldn’t have cared. Just get me off that boat. Back in the harbour the captain said it was the rockiest day he’s ever taken the boat out in the ten years he’s been doing that job. I got a sympathetic pit in my stomach just reading about your captain’s casual warning to you guys!

    1. Yikes! That sounds awful. Your description of “By the time whales appeared I felt so sick that even if the whales had been talking I wouldn’t have cared.” really paints the picture.

      Being on a roller coaster at sea where you can’t get off for hours is never fun.

  8. I’m so impressed with your preparation skillz! I was ALL IN on the Galapagos until this post (I got seasick just looking at those “ferry” photos), but, who am I kidding? I would TOTALLY still go! (And I’d hope that that seal would come up to me and say he likes reading my blog.)

  9. I went out in rough seas to go whale watching in a zodiac. Picture professional version of inflatable boat with massive engine. I seemed fine but no one else was getting sick. So it couldn’t have been as rough as your boat ride….

    Sounds like it was totally worth it though! Especially love the pic where the turtle is looking straight at the camera.

    1. Good thing you explained what a “zodiac” was ’cause I was just about to look it up.

      Seasickness or not, definitely worth it 🙂

  10. Oh man, the ride out did not sound good at all. I get a bit seasick sometime, but usually I could keep it down. It really helps to have less food before you go. I’ll make sure to pack Dramamine when we go. 🙂 Thanks for the tips…
    The pictures look great.

  11. Rougher the better, when the instructor pulled back the controls and pushed the left pedal to the floor, the plane flipped on its roof, and went into a spinning free fall…

    I yelled YEE HAW… do it again… at that point he said, “oh ya, you’ll do just fine”

    Mrs Spaceman gets sick just sitting in a boat… doesn’t even have to be in the water.

    Your one very brave Commando… thanks for the tips.

  12. Our group from Chautauqua went over and we brought LOTS of dramamine. Take one a couple hours before and then one right before you leave on a (mostly) empty stomach… We all sat in the back or the sides outside specifically to get the wind/air – helps tremendously.
    We had some kidney jarring bumps but it wasn’t super horrible like yours was. We lucked out that besides our group most of the folks seemed local, used to it, and no one puked.

    Most of us did the snorkeling at los tunelos…we were a big enough group to get our own boat. The snorkeling was incredible and totally worth the money…we saw so much wildlife including ONE penguin (they’re usually on the other side of the island in Oct)… which our guide called to and it would call back, which was hysterical to watch.

    Most of us also did Sierra Negra…it was fine, but I recommend skipping if you’ve spent any time around Volcano Nat’l Park in Hawai’i… there are more interesting things to do that are cheaper and take less time, if you’ve already done that type of volcano.

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