Are you looking for the perfect 5-day Galapagos Itinerary?
The Galapagos is a dream travel destination for so many adventurers, nature lovers and wildlife enthusiasts. So when we got the chance to go in May I was beyond excited. We spent a total of 8 days in the Galapagos, but if you have a little less time then I have put together this 5 day Galapagos itinerary to give you a helping hand with your planning.
If you are still deciding how long to go for then I will say right now that 5 days really should be the minimum amount of time you consider. Whilst on the Galapagos islands there is so much to see and do that you may even feel that 5 days is too little.
I know I certainly could’ve stayed a LOT longer had our budget permitted. The Galapagos Islands were only a part of our reasons to come to Ecuador so there was more to explore for us.
However, if you do only have 5 days then keep reading and I will walk you through the perfect itinerary to make sure you get the most out of your visit. I’ll also include a couple of alternative itineraries for people with specific interests too.
So let’s dive in!
5 Day Galapagos Itinerary Overview
For this 5 day Galapagos itinerary, I am going to start and leave from Santa Cruz Island. A little later I will cover how to get there and back but it is super easy and in my opinion, the best base to explore more of the other islands too as it is pretty central.
5 Day Galapagos Itinerary
Day 1 – Arrive on Santa Cruz Island and head straight to Los Gemelos and El Chato Ranch to visit the giant tortoises.
Day 2 – Boat trip to Bartolome Island for the day.
Day 3 – Visit the Charles Darwin research centre in the morning and walk to Tortuga Bay Beach in the Afternoon.
Day 4 – Boat Trip to North Seymour Island for the day.
Day 5 – Take a half-day boat tour of Santa Cruz Island and then head to the airport in the afternoon.
5 Day Galapagos Itinerary Details
Now that you know the plan for our 5 day Galapagos itinerary, it’s time to dive a little deeper into the details day by day.
5 Day Galapagos Itinerary – Day 1
On day 1 in the Galapagos, you will arrive in Santa Cruz and straight away take a mini tour of Los Gemelos and El Chato Ranch to visit the giant tortoises.
Once you land you will take a short bus and a boat ride to get to the main Santa Cruz Island and this is where you will be picked up from.
The best way to do this is through your accommodation. Ask them to arrange for a taxi driver to pick you up from the boat and take you straight to these 2 places on your way back to your hotel.
Our accommodation offered this to us and we are so glad we said yes. This way you will really get to make the most of your first day on the island. We paid $85 in total for this tour/transport to our hostel. $65 goes to the driver and it is $10 each for the tour at El Chato Rancho.
The first stop is to a couple of natural craters that are huge and filled with lush green jungle up in the highlands. You will get time to stop here, walk around them and take photos.
Then a little further on to El Chato Ranch where the infamous giant tortoises are free to roam. The tortoises are free to live wherever they please on the island and on any given day the ranch could have only 5 tortoises visiting or 100 but the chances of seeing some up close are very high.
We even got to see one on the road leading up to the ranch, which is not uncommon either.
Whilst at the ranch you will also get the chance to explore the natural lava caves too which are pretty cool.
For the rest of the day, take the time to explore Puerto Ayora, the town that will be home for the next 5 days.
My top recommendations are to spend some time on the main pier in town. This is where you will see many sea lions enjoying a nap in the shade and if you look into the shallow waters you will see lots of small reef sharks learning to fish in the safer shallows.
If you are lucky you may also get to see sea turtles and even rays from the pier too. The evenings, once it is dark are the best time to spot all the sea life.
You can also wander in the direction of the Charles Darwin centre and you will come across a small area where local fishermen gather to prepare and sell the fish they catch. This is a great place to see cheeky sea lions begging for food and huge pelicans also waiting to see if they get lucky.
Make sure to watch your step because all through town and along the water’s edge you will find the small black sea iguanas just lazing in the sun on the footpaths.
The afternoon on day 1 is also a good time to head to the tour shops and book any tours for the coming days if you plan to wait until you get there to book excursions.
We did it this way and I don’t think it was much cheaper at all. We also had to work around what availability they had left for the week as many tours were already fully booked. So it is entirely up to you if you want to take the risk to save some money or just book it all in advance so you know you won’t miss out.
5 Day Galapagos Itinerary – Day 2
On day 2 in the Galapagos, it is time to take a boat trip to Bartolome Island.
For more details on this day trip to Bartolome Island, you can read our full guide.
This is a really great day out and one of the few places where you will have a chance to swim with the adorable Galapagos Penguins.
On this trip, you will spend a couple of hours on the boat to get there and then have the chance to go onto the island and hike up to a viewpoint. This is one of the most iconic and beautiful views in all of the Galapagos.
The hike takes about 20 minutes and is entirely on man-made wooden walkways. There are quite a few steps but you don’t need to be super fit to make it to the top.
Once back at the bottom, you will get time to snorkel and visit the beach. This was honestly the best snorkelling we have ever done.
We swam with around 15-20 penguins and were lucky enough to be with them when they were hunting. This also encouraged the local Blue-footed Boobies to join in which was incredible to see from in the water with them.
We also saw sea lions, sea turtles and plenty of fish whilst snorkelling here.
After you are done snorkelling you will have lunch on the boat before heading back to Santa Cruz. Don’t forget to keep an eye on the horizon because you never know when you might be joined by some dolphins.
We booked this tour through a small tour shop in the centre of town called Galapagos Tour local operator (original I know) and you can find them here. We paid $234 each for this day trip.
Did I mention already that the Galapagos is Expensive?
We booked both of our boat trips through this company and got some discount but I think if we had pushed harder we could’ve come down in price even more. In hindsight, I should’ve checked online too because I have managed to find the same tour for even less than we paid!
Keep in mind if you wait to book tours when you arrive, that when we booked ours we couldn’t choose the days. They only had limited spaces left on one day that week, so we took what they had left.
5 Day Galapagos Itinerary – Day 3
We are coming to the halfway point on our 5 day Galapagos Itinerary and it’s time to have a couple of fun independent adventures on Santa Cruz.
Start the morning with a visit to the fishing market. It is most lively in the morning and this is where you will get to see the wildlife and locals all existing together which is wonderful.
Continue on down the road to the Charles Darwin Research Centre. No visit to the Galapagos should be done without visiting the incredibly important giant tortoise research and breeding centres.
You only have to pay $10 per person for a guided tour which can be in English or Spanish, which will explain to you all about the different conservation projects the teams are working on and end with a visit to see the tortoises who are waiting to be released when they are big enough.
The tour lasts about an hour and once it is done there is a small museum you can visit, a cafe and also a small private beach where you can go for a swim if you feel like it.
When you are done at the research centre head back to town for lunch and to grab some more water and a towel because the afternoon’s activity involves a long walk.
In the afternoon I recommend walking to Tortuga Bay Beach. It is a long walk, around 45 minutes each way but it is flat and pretty shaded along the way.
To find the start of the trail you need to walk from the main pier up the main road, Av Baltra. Look out for the ice cream shop on the left called Helados Tato and turn left there, down Charles Binford Street. Walk all the way to the end of the street until you reach the dead end and up the stairs to the entrance. You can see the location here.
At the start of the trail, you need to quickly pop into the office and give your name, hotel name and passport number. They will then quickly advise you not to swim on the main beach and show you where you can swim. Don’t worry I’m going to explain it to you as well.
As you walk along the trail keep an eye out for the little Darwin finches and Lava Lizards that will certainly make an appearance. Once you reach the end you will be greeted by an enormous white sand beach. Welcome to Tortuga Bay.
This is the beach where you are not allowed to swim. This is due to strong currents in the water making it very dangerous. However, if you head to the right and walk ALL the way to the end of the beach you will be in for a treat.
At the end, you will see some rock pools and this is a great place to spot the swimming iguanas. You will also see them all hiding in the shade under the mangroves. You may even see some sea lions chasing fish in the small pools too.
If you follow the small signs through the mangroves and further round the right you will come out onto another smaller, secluded bay with a lovely sandy beach, mangroves to sit under and calm water that is perfect for swimming in.
I wouldn’t worry about bringing a snorkel as the water here is cloudy due to the mangroves so there is zero visibility.
At this beach, there is also the option to rent a kayak and go out into the bay to explore.
Keep in mind that this beach closes around 5 pm and they will come along and make everyone leave. So make sure to go early enough to have plenty of time to enjoy the beach.
5 Day Galapagos Itinerary – Day 4
On day 4 it is time to head out on another boat trip to North Seymour.
This is one of the best places in the Galapagos for spotting the beloved Blue Footed Boobies and also the impressive and unique Frigate birds.
Firstly, the tour took us to a beautiful sandy beach nearby called Las Bachas on the north side of Santa Cruz. This beach is stunning but we came for the snorkelling. Here you have the chance to see sea lions, sea iguanas and of course sea turtles.
We managed to see a few sea turtles and also some rays, along with hundreds of different kinds of fish.
After the snorkelling, you will head to North Seymour, where you will go on land and walk a small loop of the island. Everywhere you look you will see different sea birds, nesting, raising their young, displaying courtship behaviours and all the other magnificent things birds do in their natural habitats.
This is also a great place to spot another type of large land iguana that is found in the Galapagos. One of the beauties of the Galapagos is that all of the wildlife I have mentioned is usually only feet away from you. It is an experience unlike anything else.
Once you have walked the loop of the island, the group will head back onto the boat for lunch and the trip back to Santa Cruz.
5 Day Galapagos Itinerary – Day 5
On your final day in the Galapagos, I recommend booking your flights to leave in the late afternoon/evening so you can still have some adventures in the morning.
As a final activity, I suggest booking a half-day tour of Santa Cruz. The tour I have found includes stops at 4 different places to snorkel, swim and bird watch. You will get the chance to swim with Sea lions and sharks, sea blue-footed boobies and frigates and sea iguanas.
Half-day tours are pretty tough to find in the Galapagos but this one is perfect for your last day before heading to the airport.
If you opt to join the tour then make sure to sign up for the 9 am start time so you will be done in time to head to the airport for your flight.
When it is time to head to the airport you will most likely need to take a taxi as there are buses but they are at strange times from what I heard. Your accommodation will be able to arrange your transport for you, and it is best to do so on day 3 or 4.
Alternative 5 Day Galapagos Itineraries
As Epic as that first Itinerary is, here are a couple of alternatives you might like to consider.
5 Day Galapagos Itinerary for Divers
Day 1 – Arrive on Santa Cruz Island and head straight to Los Gemelos and El Chato Ranch to visit the giant tortoises. Then visit the Charles Darwin Research Centre in the afternoon.
Day 2 – Dive day to Gordon Rocks.
Day 3 – Dive day to Little Daphne and Seymour
Day 4 – Boat trip to Bartolome Island for the day.
Day 5 – Walk to Tortuga Bay Beach in the morning and then head to the airport in the afternoon.
For those like us, who love diving, the Galapagos is a dream come true. There are so many incredible dive sites to choose from with the ultimate one being Gordan rocks. You need to be certified and have a minimum of 15 dives to dive there but it is incredible if you can.
Gordon Rocks was where we got to see a group of hammerhead sharks!
Little Daphne was also a very special dive. It’s a wall dive with a sea cave you can explore and tonnes of wildlife including sharks, sea lions, turtles and the biggest schools of fish I have ever seen.
We did dives with both Shark Bay Dive Shop and Galapagos Travellers, and can highly recommend both of them.
Just remember with only 5 days and a flight to leave, you will need to do all your diving on days 1, 2 and 3.
5 Day Galapagos Itinerary for low-budget travellers
Day 1 – Arrive on Santa Cruz Island and head straight to Los Gemelos and El Chato Ranch to visit the giant tortoises.
Day 2 – Join the half-day boat tour of Santa Cruz in the morning and walk to Tortuga Bay Beach in the afternoon.
Day 3 – Visit the Charles Darwin Research Centre in the morning then take the passenger ferry to San Cristobal Island.
Day 4 – Hire a bike for the day and explore San Cristobal’s highlands and beaches.
Day 5 – Spend the morning on a beach with the sea lions then fly back to the mainland from San Cristobal.
We didn’t get the chance to visit San Cristobal but I have heard from friends that it is amazing. If you think there are a lot of sea lions on Santa Cruz then you are in for a treat.
If you are travelling on a small budget then diving and expensive day trips may be out of your range but that’s ok. The half-day tour is much more affordable and you will get to see so much wildlife. The passenger ferries are also only around $20 per person and San Cristobal has some really great snorkelling just from its beaches.
I have double checked and flying into Santa Cruz and out of San Cristobal is no more expensive.
5 Day Tours & Cruises In The Galapagos
If you would rather have all of the thinking, planning and potential stress taken out of your visit to the Galapagos then a cruise or land-based group tour may be a really good option for you.
Galapagos cruises and tours are incredibly popular because they allow you to see more in less time. After lots of research, these are some of the best 5 day tour options in the Galapagos that I could find;
Option 1 – Intensive 5 day (3 Island) land-based tour of the Galapagos. You will get to visit Santa Cruz and Bartolome OR North Seymour, so much of what I have mentioned already, as well as Isla Isabella.
Option 2 – A slightly lower budget 3 island tour that visits Santa Cruz, Isla Isabella and Santa Fe (or Similar). This relaxed 5 day tour is land-based with plenty of snorkelling and time for spotting all the local wildlife.
Option 3 – This 5 day small group tour, is all based on Isla Isabella and is more focused on sports and physical activities. For those who love to get physical, enjoy hiking, kayaking and more then this could be a really great option for you.
Getting To The Galapagos Islands
The only way to get to the Galapagos Islands is to fly. There are no ferries from the mainland but luckily it is just a short flight.
When you go to book your flights you have the option to either fly to the main airport on Baltra Island (GPS) or to the airport on San Cristobal (SCY). You can choose to fly from Quito or Guayaquil airport.
Flights from Guayaquil will all be direct but many from Quito will go Via Guayaquil. Due to this I recommend doing a few searches to see which option works best for you and gives you the best prices.
We always use a search engine like SkyScanner to compare flight prices.
When you land on Baltra Island, there is nothing else there except the airport. There is a shuttle bus service from outside the main doors that costs $5 per person to take you to the boat crossing to Santa Cruz. You will need to buy your tickets from the small booth next to the buses.
These buses leave every 15 minutes or so. Once at the boats again everyone and all luggage is transferred onto the small passenger ferries for the quick 10 minute trip across the channel. This journey is $1 per person. This fee is paid on the boat and they will come around to collect it once everyone is on board.
Once you have crossed the channel there is a public bus for $5, that runs regularly from the port or there are always plenty of taxi drivers waiting to offer you a ride. The taxis all have standard fees of $25 for the trip across the island.
Accommodation for 5 Days In The Galapagos
For the purpose of this Itinerary, you will only need somewhere to stay on Santa Cruz Island. You will be happy to hear that there are also plenty of budget accommodation options in Puerto Ayora, as well as all of the more luxury options.
To help you decide, I will give a few of the best options below, depending on budgets.
Budget Option – Historico Hostal Elizabeth
This is the hostel we stayed at for the whole 8 days that we were in the Galapagos and it was great. The rooms are basic but clean, there’s a kitchen and the location is PERFECT. This is an ideal option for anyone on a budget.
Midrange Option – Casa Del Lago Lodging House
This beautiful accommodation is in a super quiet part of town but is still only a couple of minutes walk to the centre or the beach. This place has really great ratings and the all-important aircon!
Good To Know Before You Visit The Galapagos Islands
To help make your once-in-a-lifetime trip to the Galapagos go as smoothly as possible, here are a few more useful things to know before you go.
Visa Requirements For The Galapagos
As the Galapagos are part of Ecuador, it is their Visa rules that apply when visiting, even if you don’t intend to stay on the mainland.
Luckily for travellers (Including those from the USA, the UK and Europe) you do not need a visa to enter Ecuador. You will get a stamp on arrival that allows you to visit for up to 90 days.
Entry Fees & Taxes for the Galapagos
When visiting the Galapagos, all tourists must pay 2 fees/taxes.
The first is a fee of $20 for a tourist transit card. This is purchased at the airport in mainland Ecuador before you are allowed to check in or board the plane. It is important that you keep this safe as you will need to show it a few times during your trip there.
The second is a tourist tax of $100 each that needs to be paid as soon as you land in the Galapagos before you are allowed to leave the airport. It is a good idea to have this in cash as the card machines are not reliable.
What To Pack And Not To Pack For The Galapagos
There are just a few good tips to remember when packing for the Galapagos…
✅ Take plenty of mosquito repellent, sunscreen and any other toiletries you might need, as they are very expensive to buy once you get there.
✅ Take a reusable water bottle to avoid single-use plastics. We have Water-To-Go bottles which are great as we can safely drink tap water and save some money too.
❌ Do not pack any organic material or fresh foods, these are strictly banned from entering to protect native species.
❌ Do not pack dirty or muddy shoes, as they may make you clean them.
For more inspiration on what to pack for your trip, you can check out our packing list.
5 Days Galapagos Itinerary FAQs
Lastly, I wanted to cover a few more frequently asked questions that you might also have when planning a 5 day Galapagos trip.
Is 5 days enough for Galapagos Islands?
I would advise that 5 days is the minimum amount of time you should plan to spend on the Galapagos.
How many days do you need in the Galapagos Islands?
having spent 8 days in the Galapagos this was a good amount of time but I think 10-14 days is ideal if you have the budget. This way you will have enough time to really see the main islands.
What currency do they use on the Galapagos islands?
The currency used on the Galapagos is the US Dollar. This counts for mainland Ecuador as well. Due to inflation, the government decided to stop using the Ecuadorian Sucre, and start using USD instead.
What month is best for Galapagos?
The Galapagos are beautiful all year round so no matter when you go there will be wildlife in abundance. However, it could be argued that the best time to visit is from December to May as the temperatures are more pleasant.
How far in advance do you need to book Galapagos?
It is advisable to book as far in advance as you can if there are specific things you wish to do.
We booked our flights about 3 weeks in advance so they were a little more pricey. Accommodations also book up at least a couple of weeks in advance too.
That being said, it is possible to wait and book your activities and excursions once you arrive but you may not be able to do everything you want to do if you take this risk.
5 Day Galapagos Itinerary – Final Thoughts
So there you have it, an awesome 5 day Galapagos Itinerary with everything you need to know in order to make the most out of your visit.
The Galapagos will forever hold a small piece of my heart. This truly is an incredible part of the world and I know you will understand as soon as you get there. As always I hope this was helpful and feel free to reach out if you have any questions, I am always happy to help.