The Galapagos Islands. 1,000 km from the South American continent lies 19 islands, unworldly beauty, and endless adventure. On this unique BACK&PACK trip, you’ll island-hop between three breathtaking islands to snorkel with sea lions, get up close and personal with giant tortoises, kayak pristine waters, bike the highlands, hike active volcanoes, and so much more. Exploring the islands on foot (and by snorkel!) – without a cruise and away from the crowds – is equal parts intimate and magical. And it allows us to dig deeper than the average tour as we explore the present-day challenges of this extraordinary island chain through our locally-led conservation projects.
Situated between two mountain ranges at an impressive 9,200 feet in elevation, Quito’s setting is dramatically beautiful (to say the least!). Intrepid travelers experience a mix of the modern and traditional here, from newly constructed apartment buildings to shamanistic healers. Well-known to history buffs, Ecuador’s capital city contains one of the largest and best-preserved historical centers in North and South America. We’ll spend our first full day exploring the city’s “old town” and surrounding neighborhoods. With 40 churches, 17 plazas, 16 convents and monasteries, and more, there’s much ground to cover, yet with the help of our expert local guides, we’ll hit the highlights with ease.
After our days in Quito, we’ll leave the city and fly to the magnificent island of San Cristóbal. It’s hard to describe one’s first few moments in the Galapagos. “Magical” is as close a word as any! After getting settled into our comfy hostel/B&B, we’ll kick off our adventures with a hike and relaxing afternoon at Playa Loberia, where we’ll have a chance to frolic amongst blue-footed boobies, frigate birds, marine iguanas, and much more. You’ll quickly discover that sea lions greet you at every turn (and may crowd out the benches you yearn for!).
We’ll spend the next day on a professionally crewed boat tour of Leon Dormido (Kicker Rock) – one of the Galapagos’ most iconic rock formations. This towering 500-foot wonder is the remains of an extinct volcano, eroded over hundreds of years into the shape that earned it its name, “Sleeping Lion.” Kicker Rock’s location and unique ecosystem make it an underwater paradise and a highlight for many. Here, we’ll have a chance to strap on our fins and snorkel with rays, colorful fish, turtles, sea lions, and even hammerhead sharks. We’d say, “Don’t look down” – but in this case, you really should!
We’ll spend our last morning on San Cristobal Island hiking to the viewpoint of Cerro Tijeretas (~2 hours roundtrip). From the top, we’ll admire the panoramic views over the azure waters and vibrant green vegetation of the Galapagos landscape. Cerro Tijeretas is named after the large frigate birds found in the area, which will quickly become apparent as you see them peeping through the surrounding trees. We’ll also have more time to cool off and snorkel at a local beach, then be transported via high-speed boat to our next stay on Santa Cruz Island.
Our next stop (island hop!) will be the ever-popular island of Santa Cruz. Here, we’ll stroll the charming streets of the Galapagos’s largest settlement, Puerto Ayora. This sleepy town offers many modern comforts, from shopping to dining to internet cafes and more. During our time on the island, we’ll have a chance to get up close and personal with the giant tortoises at the Charles Darwin Research Station, swim the pristine waters of Tortuga Bay, snorkel the crystal blue pools of the Las Grietas crevasse, and bike to the volcanic highlands. Our days are structured to help us avoid the main crowds, and explore off the beaten path and into the heart of the Galapagos’ central island.
To truly understand the Galapagos’ unique place in ecology and conservation, you must get to know its present-day challenges. Thus, to add an extra dimension to our adventures, we’ll spend valuable time on Santa Cruz Island contributing to our locally-led volunteer projects. Projects change year-over-year based on the needs of our partner organizations but often include conservation work in sustainable agriculture or invasive species eradication for local farmers.
You’ll spend your last days in the Galapagos on the island of Isabela. Its main town, Puerto Villamil, is equal parts quaint and charming, with unpaved sand roads from end to end. During our days on Isabela, we’ll have two exhilarating day tours. We’ll kayak and snorkel the Las Tintoreras Islet, named after the whitetip reef sharks that call the channels home. On this spectacular excursion, you may spot turtles, rays, sea lions, and even the elusive Galapagos penguin!
Breaking from the coastal ecosystems, we’ll also have a chance to climb the Sierra Negra volcano, the second-largest volcanic caldera in the world. If you’ve ever wondered what it might be like to hike on the moon, this might be the closest thing to it! In our spare time, we’ll have the option of snorkeling at Concha Perlas, seeing nearby flamingo lagoons, and hiking to the historic Wall of Tears for an eye-opening glimpse into a darker side of the Galapagos’ history.
At the end of our trip, we’ll ferry back to Santa Cruz. We’ll have time to do any last-minute shopping or sightseeing in the area, then continue to Quito via Seymour Airport on the island of Baltra. On our final night in Quito, we’ll have a grand feast to celebrate our shared adventure. We’ll be sad to see you go, yet the end of one journey is simply the beginning of another. Whether you continue to another destination from here (Amazon and Andes, anyone?!) or head home, we hope you’ve enjoyed your stay in the other-worldly islands of the Galapagos.
Your journey will begin and end at Quito’s Mariscal Sucre International Airport (UIO). UIO typically has a wide selection of airlines and flight times, as well as reasonable fares. As we welcome travelers from all over the world, our pricing does not include the cost of flights.
We accept arrivals and departures at any time on the scheduled start and end dates. However, when possible, we suggest timing your arrival by early afternoon to make the most out of that first day – our day to break the ice and see some of Quito. Further details on arrival procedures are provided one week before the program. Typically, staff meet participants directly outside customs and immigration in the passenger pickup area.
Please note that our Galapagos itinerary involves internal flights within Ecuador (our transportation between Quito and the Galapagos). We strongly recommend that all participants book on the same flights and will advise participants on the route to book no later than 120 days before departure.
Please ensure you have emailed a copy of your full itinerary to email@example.com. If there are any changes to your anticipated arrival or departure time, inform our team immediately by emailing us or calling +1.720.340.1139.
Please see the dates and costs section for our current pricing. Our trip fees cover most major expenses while abroad, yet items considered personal expenses (such as airfare) are additional. To assist with your budgeting, please ensure you’ve reviewed the following.
- Experienced and professional guides
- Shared accommodations in hotels/hostels and B&Bs
- Ground transportation to/from group activities
- Group meals and drinking water
- Equipment and entrance fees for the adventure excursions
- All equipment and supplies needed for the volunteer projects
- Donations to our partner organizations
- Health/travel insurance (strongly recommended)
- Flight costs to/from Quito (UIO) and to/from the Galapagos Islands
- Airport/airline taxes, baggage fees, flight upgrades, meals, etc.
- Passport, visa, vaccinations, etc.
- Any costs incurred due to medical needs/emergencies/evacuations
- Personal spending money for shopping, snacks, etc.
- Cell phone and internet usage
- Laundry expenses
Local time – Mainland Ecuador’s time zone is GMT -5. It does not observe Daylight Saving Time (DST). The Galapagos Islands have a different time zone, GMT -6. To calculate the time difference between Ecuador and your area, we recommend timeanddate.com as it takes into account daylight savings rules and accepts present as well as future dates.
Currency – The official currency of Ecuador is the U.S. dollar. While U.S. dollar bills are used in Ecuador, the country issues its own centavo coins. For current conversion rates for currencies other than the U.S. dollar, we recommend visiting xe.com.
Weather – Galapagos is on the Equator but the weather is not tropical. Warm season is from December to June. Dry season is from July to November. For your convenience, we have compiled the following chart of key cities with the average ranges for highs (°F) / lows / rain days per month.
|Quito||66° / 49° / 17-22||66-67° / 48-49° / 8-22||67-68° / 47-48° / 4-8||66-67° / 48° / 12-14|
|Puerto Ayora||79-81° / 75-78° / 3-7||77-80° / 74-77° / 1-5||73-75° / 70-72° / 0-1||74-76° / 70-79° / 0-2|
Dress code – Whatever you wear at home is likely equally acceptable in the Galapagos. That said, if you want to look less like a tacky tourist and avoid unwanted attention, you should note that locals tend to dress more conservatively in Ecuador. We recommend you keep things simple, don’t show too much skin (the beach is, of course, the exception), and stick to classic combos (jeans/shorts and t-shirts, skirts and sweaters, etc.). It’s also important to dress for the weather, as swings in temperature, rain, etc. can catch even the most seasoned travelers off guard.
Language – Spanish is the dominant language in the Galapagos. Note that English is not widely spoken in Ecuador. In major urban centers and areas that cater to tourists, you will encounter other English speakers. However, there will be times when you should be prepared to navigate with a friendly smile, some basic gestures, and whatever Spanish you may already know. While that may be intimidating for some, do not be shy or afraid! We encourage you to jump right in, as locals are very welcoming and friendly. You may find yourself picking up the basics very quickly.
Safety – The Galapagos Islands are generally considered to be very safe for travelers. However, risk is inherent to travel, and there are always safety concerns regardless of where you go in the world. For a complete and thorough list of concerns and safety recommendations, please visit Ecuador’s “Safety and Security” section at travel.state.gov. Note that while violent crime is less common in the Galapagos, tourists can be the target of petty theft, pickpocketing, etc. However, if you exercise good judgment and common sense, you are likely to have an incident-free travel experience.
Food – Exploring all the unique foods and flavors of the Galapagos can be positively delightful. Meat (especially fish!), rice, and potato dishes are a mainstay. Your trip will include all major meals, so please be sure to inform our team if you have any dietary restrictions or allergies. We will forward this information along to our in-country partners.
Water – The tap water in Ecuador and the Galapagos is not safe to drink. Do not drink tap water, even in major hotels, and try to avoid drinks with ice. You should drink only bottled water, which is widely available. Additionally, you’re safer only eating fruits that you can peel or salads and fruits washed with purified water.
Electrical outlets – Depending on the difference between your home country and Ecuador’s electricity systems, you may need to bring a travel plug adaptor (changes the plug/outlet type) and an electric converter (changes the voltage/frequency) for your electronics to work. Ecuador’s voltage/frequency is 120V/60Hz (same as the U.S.). Ecuador’s outlets are like those in North America – two flat, parallel prongs (type A). If you are coming from outside the U.S., you will need to ensure your electronics can be charged at 120V/60Hz or bring along an electric converter and plug adapters.
Cell phone – Many major cellular carriers have broad coverage overseas. Please check with your carrier for rates and coverage before travel, as many plans require you to activate international roaming before use. We will provide further guidance on connectivity post-enrollment.
Wi-Fi – You will find Wi-Fi in most cities and towns in Ecuador. Many cafes, restaurants, and hotels/hostels offer free Wi-Fi – though be prepared for sometimes painfully slow connections!
Laundry – Laundry services are available in many of the accommodations we use. Typically, you drop off a load at the front desk, pay by the pound, then receive your fresh and crisp clothing the next day. Very convenient! As such, we recommend packing light then doing your laundry every week or so.
BACK&PACK can not apply for passports or visas on your behalf, yet the information below should help guide you through the process. As always, contact our team if you have questions or run into any issues.
Travelers with U.S. passports – For the most up-to-date information, please visit Ecuador’s page at travel.state.gov. Travelers with U.S. passports do not need a visa for stays less than 90 days but must have 6+ months of validity on their passport. If you need to apply for or renew your passport, please submit your application as soon as possible.
Travelers with non-U.S. passports – Please verify passport and visa requirements for your nationality by contacting your local Ecuadorian embassy or consulate. The websites embassypages.com and embassy-finder.com operate handy directories of embassies and consulates around the world. If you’re required to obtain a visa and need specific information for the application process, please let us know at firstname.lastname@example.org. We will be happy to assist you.
Keeping your documents safe – Please be aware that passports are quite valuable abroad. Guard your important documents as you do your credit/debit cards, and keep these items in concealed locations. Additionally, we suggest you make copies of your important documents (passport, visa, etc.) before travel. Having these copies is very useful in the event of loss or theft. You can make photocopies or scan documents into a secure yet accessible computer file (a password-protected file stored in the cloud, for example). If photocopying, we suggest you make two copies of your documents. Leave one copy at home with a close friend or family member. Keep hold of the other copy while abroad, separate from the original.
BACK&PACK is not able to supply medical advice (we’re not doctors, after all!), yet you may use the steps below to guide your decision-making process regarding travel vaccinations.
- Go to the Travelers’ Health section for Ecuador on the CDC’s (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) website.
- Read through the information carefully and consider which precautions you may want to take.
- Schedule an appointment with your physician or travel health professional. For assistance locating a travel clinic in your area, you may wish to try the Find A Clinic service on the CDC website. Please allow plenty of time before your trip to see your healthcare provider (CDC suggests 4-6 weeks). Let your provider know before your appointment that you are coming in for travel vaccinations. They might ask about the areas where you may visit. Our Galapagos itineraries typically include urban and rural areas in/near Quito and the Galapagos Islands. The Amazon basin and lowlands are not part of this itinerary.
Mosquito and other vector-borne illnesses – It’s important to note that protecting yourself from insect bites can significantly reduce your risk of vector-borne diseases (Zika, Malaria, Dengue, West Nile, etc.). On your packing list, we have included insect repellent with DEET along with long-sleeved shirts/long pants. We recommend you use these items during your trip when contact with mosquitos and other insects is possible (excursions in outdoor settings, etc.).
Please note, the packing list below has yet to be updated for our 2024 trips. Please check back in March for changes and additions.
Below you will find a detailed list of our recommended items for the Galapagos. Above all, remember you will be responsible for carrying your luggage from place to place. Do not skimp on essentials but know that you’ll likely feel every ounce of weight over time. Thus, the lighter you can pack, the better. As a general rule, if your pack is more than 30-35 pounds, you’ve overpacked. Strive for less! You will have the ability to do laundry every week or so (see the “Laundry” note on the “Country Info” tab).
- Main bag (35-70 liter capacity, depending on your packing habits) – We suggest a wilderness-style backpack for ease of use in various environments abroad. Wheeled luggage or duffel bags are acceptable but should be easy to carry over long stretches of rough terrain (sand/dirt roads, stairs, etc.).
- Smaller bag for day trips, sightseeing, and weekend excursions
- Valid passport and visa (see “Travel Docs” tab)
- Electronic or physical copy of travel documents (see “Travel Docs” tab)
- Electronic or physical copy of flight documents/itinerary
- Debit/credit cards and cash (see “Money” note below)
- Insurance information
- Student ID or other identification (optional – student IDs can sometimes get you discounts abroad)
- Electronic or physical list of phone numbers, addresses for postcards, etc.
- Lightweight short-sleeved shirts, casual dresses, etc.
- Long-sleeved shirts, casual dresses, etc.
- Lightweight pants or long skirts
- Nicer outfits for going out
- Warm pants
- Warm upper layers/sweaters/jackets
- Raincoat/outer shell
- Thermal underwear
- Warm hat
- Comfortable walking shoes
- Flip flops or sandals
- Sun hat or cap
- UV protected sunglasses
- Mesh laundry bag labeled with your name
- Travel plug adaptors and/or electric converter (see the “Electrical outlets” note on the “Country Info” tab)
- Cell phone and charger
- Tablet or laptop (see “Valuables and electronics” note below)
- Headphones (optional)
- Camera (optional)
- eReader (optional)
- Locks for luggage (optional)
- Journal (optional)
- Water bottle (see the “Water” note on the “Country Info” tab)
- Quick-dry towel and washcloth
- Soap or body wash (see “Eco-friendly products” note below)
- Toothbrush, toothpaste, and floss
- Lip balm
- Eye care supplies (glasses, contact lenses, etc.) and spares
- Hairbrush or comb
- Any necessary razors, trimmers, and shaving cream
- Nail clippers and tweezers
- Medications (see “Medications” note below)
- Personal first aid kit (see “First Aid” note below)
- Waterproof sunscreen (SPF 30+)
- Small bottle of insect repellent with DEET (25-30% concentration)
- Earplugs and/or sleep mask (optional)
- Any personal items you need not on this list (feminine hygiene products, etc.)
Valuables and electronics – Note that BACK&PACK is not responsible for lost, stolen, or damaged items. You are free to bring a tablet, laptop, camera, jewelry, watch, etc. – but if you are concerned about losing/damaging an item, then it’s best to leave it at home.
Eco-friendly products – For your toiletries, please consider traveling with reputable “green” brands to help reduce environmental impacts. For soap/body wash, we’re fans of Dr. Bronner’s Pure-Castile Liquid Soap, for example.
First Aid – We recommend that all travelers come with a basic first aid kit for personal use. Supplies may include Band-Aids, antiseptic cream, pain/fever medication, cold medicine, antidiarrheals, mild laxatives, Pepto Bismol, anti-itch cream, decongestants, cough drops, etc. While you can purchase premade first aid kits, these products tend to be bulky and don’t always contain sufficient quantities of certain items. Alternatively, you can simply list what you like to have on hand when you get a cold, the flu, upset stomach, bug bites, etc. Purchase necessary items (in sufficient quantities!) at your local pharmacy, then pack everything together in a ziplock bag.
Medications – You are responsible for the proper administration of any prescription and over-the-counter medications. Note, some prescription medications are difficult to find in pharmacies abroad. Please consider taking precautions to reduce the risk of loss. For your flights, ensure prescription medications are in your carry-on bag, NOT checked baggage. They should be clearly labeled in their original packaging/with instructions, as required by the airlines. Then when in Ecuador, you may wish to err on the side of caution by securing prescription medications in a bag with luggage locks. Luggage locks can be purchased at your local Walmart, Target, travel store, etc.
Money – Ecuador is a largely cash-based society. As such, we recommend traveling with a few days’ worth of cash from your home country, then converting upon arrival in Ecuador. Note that money changers in Ecuador are notoriously picky. All cash you bring must be in excellent condition – without tears or blemishes (even tiny ones!) – as many vendors and exchange houses abroad will not accept “damaged” bills.
We also recommend traveling with a debit/ATM (for additional cash withdrawals) and a credit card (kept in separate, concealed locations). Each offers distinct advantages abroad, plus having two cards is very useful in the event of loss, theft, or denial of one by a particular vendor.
Visa and Mastercard are both widely accepted. Your cards will need chip technology and a 4-digit PIN. If you have questions or concerns regarding your debit/credit cards, contact your card provider.
Be aware that some cards charge significant fees while traveling (e.g., 2-3% foreign transaction fees), so please budget for your card’s total cost of use. It is also critical to inform your debit/credit card providers of your international travel plans before departure to avoid suspension of your account (i.e., fraud protection).
Current Ways To Save
Enroll in any 2024 trip by Dec. 31st, 2023 & receive 20% off your program! Use promo code TB24.
Save 10% off each trip when you enroll in back-to-back programs! Use promo code GT24.