Balvenie’s Cruising Information for the Galapagos Islands of San Cristobal, Santa Cruz and Isabela – June & July 2015

This will be SY Balvenie’s last year cruising as they will complete their 12 year circumnavigation in November when they return to Auckland, NZ. Amanda and Mark have contributed a wealth of cruising reports to noonsite during their circumnavigation, simply put “Balvenie” in the search to read of their adventures.

Published 7 years ago, updated 4 years ago

Pre-arrival paperwork

We decided to obtain an Autografo for our stay so applied for a 3 month, 3 island permit. This limits you to the main port on the 3 islands, so in effect only 3 anchorages.  This is a real shame as the islands have so much more to offer, but not to us cruising yachts and that is just the way the rules are.  Yacht movements are very closely monitored and we believe that tour boats will report yachts that they see in unauthorised areas, so best not try that.

If you do not apply for an Autografo you “should” be given a 21 day permit to stay, this is for one anchorage only and is not extendable and you must NOT have the Galapagos as your next port of call on your exit papers from the previous port, i.e. it should be shown that it was NOT your intention to come here but circumstances have made a stop necessary enroute.  As we did not do the one island option we can not confirm the cost, but believe it was around USD800 for our size (14 metres) plus exit zarpe of USD15.

The cost for our autografo was USD1345, extra charges detailed below, keep on paying ~ it’s worth it.  You must check in and out of each island, they are very strict and waiting for you!

We used the services of agent Bolivar Pesantes in San Cristobal, he came recommended by other friends and is listed on Noonsite, his contact is [email protected]. We found him to be very professional and efficient, but he speaks limited English and translates via Google Translate so some emails are a little challenging to understand.  Bolivar appeared to be the “go to man” for any hiccups and seemed to be very well connected and able to solve most problems.

You should apply for your Autografo at least 6 weeks prior to arriving, giving an approximate arrival date. Your Autografo will be issued from this date to try and be as accurate as us sailors can be if you want your full 3 months there.  We emailed him 2 months prior saying we would like to apply for an Autografo and gave our names, boat name with length and weight and approximate arrival date.  He then told us the fees and required PDF copies of our passports and ships papers and explained what else was required on arrival.  If you are like me and have no idea how to get a PDF file of your passport, download a free copy of CutePDF off the internet, take photos then hit print and Cute PDF comes up as a print option, hit it and it makes a PDF file which you can then send to him as an attachment.  We emailed about 3 weeks later to make sure all was in hand and he emailed back a copy of our Autografo, we also emailed him when we left Panama so he would be expecting us.

Passage from Panama City

This took 7 days and 23 hours, direct rhum line distance is 855 miles, the distance we sailed was 1006 miles.  This was mid-June.  This is NOT a downwind passage any time of the year.  We had light conditions for the beginning with the wind coming straight from the Galapagos, so we tacked off towards Ecuador for a day to get a better angle.  Conditions varied from dead calms to 25 knots in squalls, sea state from glassy to uncomfortable confused swell.  The current was pushing us north the whole time, so that made the angle even harder.  We rounded the top of San Cristobal at dawn with a squadron of boobie birds resting on the pulpit, it was one of the most spectacular landfalls we have experienced and the sail in light winds down the west coast was one of the best sails ever in flat water & light winds with the water and skies oozing with wildlife, absolutely magical.

Puerto Baquerizo Moreno (Wreck Bay), San Cristobal 

00 53.76S  089 36.79W  

Anchor in 10metres – Sand

CMap and Navionics charts were pretty accurate but there are a few reefs outside the entrance and some rather confusing markers.  I would not recommend a night arrival and you really don’t want to miss that west coast scenery, but night time is possible, always with extreme caution.  There may or may not be several large tour boats at anchor and on moorings, some nights we had over 10, other nights none.  Stay on the port side or centre of the anchorage if possible, there are some big yellow buoys yachts can use in all three anchorages and they are free, we chose to anchor.  First priority after anchoring is a chilly dip overboard to ensure your boat’s bottom is clean.

Checking In ~ Water Taxis will come to you on arrival, just tell them the name of the agent you have engaged and it seems they contact him/her and they turn up and the check-in process will begin.  We found it all very straightforward, lots of officials and a diver to check the bottom, loads of forms to complete, cold drinks and plenty of cookies distributed, a cursory look inside and it was all done.  Don’t know if we were lucky, but it was all very easy and professional.  No extra charges (bribes). We paid USD15 to Bolivar for our Exit Zarpe to go to Santa Cruz.

Getting Ashore ~ The anchorage was a little rolly when we were there but not at all bad.  You can use your own dinghy, but leaving it on the dock out of the way would be quite difficult and it would be overflowing with sea lions on your return.  You can also land at the beach depending on the swell and whether you could fit your dinghy between the sea lions.  We used water taxis, there are about 4 of them so you get to know them. It is 1USD per person each way and we didn’t often go in more than once a day so economical and very convenient. They were careful of Balvenie but when the swell was up you needed to be quick and nimble. We normally managed to wave or whistle one over or they do listen on VHF (channel forgot) – just say “Taxi para ~your boat name~ copia?” and you will get a “se” back or 4 taxis heading for you at speed!  They don’t work too late after dark, but there’s not much to keep you ashore at night.  Rubbish Bins at the dock.

Money ~ Galapagos uses US Dollars, do not plan on using a credit card anywhere, if it is accepted there will be a fee of up to 20%! There is at least one bank with ATM one block back from the waterfront, but try and bring plenty of USD with you. There are ATM’s on Santa Cruz but NOT Isabela.  USD are NOT easily accepted or changed in the Marquesas, Tuamotus or Gambier, so don’t have too much left over!

Communications ~ Now is the time to stop surfing the net!  Both data sim and wifi service are poor, it is still 2G.  We bought a Movistar Chip from one of the little grocery stores (ask for chip NOT sim) USD20, plus bought 2 x USD10 prepay “Tarjeta Prepago” scratch cards, instructions on the leaflet with a sim on how to set up data package, all in Spanish. To activate and top up I think you call *333 option 3, then I think you call * 100#, pressing 3 gets you 7 days USD5, pressing 4 is 15 days USD10 and pressing 5 is 30 days USD20. It’s cheap but it was ever so slow – but better than nothing and did just work in all three anchorages.  The same sim can have money put on for voice too.   The Icecream Parlour by the dock was reputed to have ok wifi but was closed for refurbishment while we were there.  We found a great cafe upstairs with a sort of thatched overhanging roof and an open terrace where the wifi was ok, sometimes good enough to skype if not busy, excellent cheap “menu del dia” lunches too and they would let us stay once they closed and leave wifi on for us.

Provisions/Fuel/Laundry ~ We organised with Bolivar to get fuel, you must pay the tourist price whether he gets it or you go yourself, and the gas station is a taxi ride away.  We got 30 gallons of Diesel and two 1/2 gallons of petrol for USD135 and 4 huge water bottles for USD14.

To get to the produce market turn right along the waterfront from the dock until the Tourist Office then head up inland about 6 small blocks, it’s on the corner when it levels out, plus more across the road and another corner.  Best on Saturday morning but we found it ok any day, reasonable selection of fruit and vegetables, some refrigerated items, prices never as cheap as Panama but ok.  A couple of bakeries did a variety of products, one was the next block back and almost behind the tourist office, the other right down the other end (past the dock) on the same street, almost the last corner before the houses.  There are a few small mini-markets around, ok selection with prices about double that of Panama – but you shouldn’t need anything!

A couple of laundries (not self-service) cost USD7 for a big bag, maybe $1.50 a kilo. They are under and by the cafe with the thatched roof.

We also had a couple of meals at the open-sided corner restaurant with long bar, also on the road one back from the port and from memory on the corner if you walk straight up from the dock. It is normally full with tour groups at lunchtime, but they do a “menu del dia” at lunch and at night a special plate of the house. We spent $24 for dinner for the 2 of us with juice and beer.

Fun for Free ~ You can have hours of endless entertainment trying to keep the sea lions off your boat, jump overboard into the chilly waters and play with them, go ashore and avoid tripping over them – basically this is sea lion heaven and us mere mortals are simply passing through, THEY RULE!  We bought a laminated wildlife card from a touristy shop so we could tick off and identify everything we saw, it was very helpful and fun. There are several hikes ashore you can do from the anchorage.  The Tourist Office has some brochures in Spanish/English with activities on one side and a map on the other.  They have the brochures for all the islands, make sure you get the right ones as the island name is in small print!

We split the visit to the Interpretation Centre into two visits, there is so much excellent information it was a bit much in one go.  From there keep walking out to Punta Carola for the seabirds, marine iguanas and sea lions.  At the back exit in the centre, there is a proper path that goes to the lookout points and down to the small cove with steps down for swimming, plenty of sea lions and sometimes sharks.  We continued on the path after the top lookout to get to the distant beach, but the path was very overgrown and we eventually turned back.

On another day pack a picnic lunch and hike out to La Loberia Beach, it’s about 40 minutes along the roads with no shade, but the temperature isn’t bad for hiking.  When the road runs out at the water you head left, have a really good look at all those black rocks – they are littered with hundreds of iguanas!  Not far to the beach, it’s sheltered by a rocky outcrop which forms a barrier to the ocean, but there were strong rips in there and a couple got pulled along the beach through the rocks some distance before they could get safely ashore so be careful.  Here is where you swim with more sea lions and giant turtles, when we say giant we mean giant, just great.  Don’t turn around from here!  Keep going to the end of the beach and there was a tiny sign indicating an ongoing hike, if you don’t find the sign carry on anyway, its not a proper paved path, but a trail across volcanic rock for about 30 minutes (don’t stand on the iguanas). Then it climbs a little (odd sign or rock cairns making the way) up onto the cliff top, another 10 minutes, walk along through the cactus to the cliff edge, find a comfy rock and welcome to bird watching heaven, sit back and have your picnic lunch.  This was outstanding, plus we saw giant turtles surfing below in the waves.

Paid Activities ~ There are mountain bikes for hire and the main road out of town has a separate excellent cycle path. The best way would be to hire a taxi to take you up, then cycle all the way back down.  We didn’t do this but would have if we had stayed longer.  We hired a taxi for a day, it’s USD60 flat rate and they are pick-up trucks so could fit a few in, but there was just the 2 of us. They do a standard Island Tour run and were very flexible.  We visited the oldest tree, which was better than it sounds!, then onto the highlands were we hiked up to the top of El Junco a volcanic peak and round the lake in the crater. Next, we drove down to the Jacinto Gordillo Breeding Centre (free entry) where we saw several giant tortoises lumbering around in their natural habitat and had our picnic lunch, then out to the lovely white sand beach of Puerto Chino, good bird spotting wetlands area on the walk there from the taxi.  We are not divers so did not go to Kicker Rock, those that did say it was exceptional.

Puerto Ayora (Academy Bay), Santa Cruz

00 44.93S   090 18.53W  

Anchor in 7metres – Sand

Anchorage ~ When you look on the chart you can’t imagine why this is the main port, there appears to be very little (if any) wave/swell protection and limited wind cover.  That, unfortunately, is precisely how the anchorage is and we waited for a 1 – 2-metre swell forecast, down from 3 metres.  If you can fit into the tiny harbour area, with a stern anchor, it might be ok, but even then there is so much local traffic buzzing around just the wave action from them alone is tiring.  We tucked out of the wind and managed to get just behind the tiny rocky natural breakwater, but the swell and sea state was hideous plus we had a huge tour boat anchor just metres in front of us, their tender hitting our anchor chain when they swung.

Bolivar had arranged for the agent and port captain to come at 5pm and they arrived promptly and were gone in minutes, the cost to agent normally USD15 but it was Sunday so extra USD15!  Water taxis are 60 cents pp here but not nearly as careful on approaching the boat and the swell does not help.  Got a couple of locked Wifi signals onboard and data sim worked slowly.  We really did not like this anchorage and therefore stayed only 2 nights.  Rubbish Bins on the dock.

Ashore ~ This is the hub of the Galapagos and most of the organised tours depart from here.  It is a bustling little town and had a touristy South American feel to it, nice place.  Good supermarket opposite the wharf with excellent bakery area, sold Galapagos shopping bags for USD2, great for gifts or lugging back the groceries.  We visited the excellent Charles Darwin Centre (free), hiked on a couple of the paths, walked to the fresh produce market which was poorly stocked when we were there but should be good apparently.  The fish market is great, mainly for the photos but bought fish and it was good too.  We then met our agent Irene as agreed and went by taxi with her to Immigration to check out, the cost to agent normally USD15 but it was a public holiday in Ecuador for Popes visit so extra USD15!!!, plus USD15 to Immigration.  There is no Immigration on Isabela so that needs to be done here.  There is much to see and do from here (several free options) but life onboard Balvenie was very uncomfortable and we did not feel it safe to leave her.  It was a hard bash south to clear the coast before you can bear away to Isabela.

Puerto Villamil, Isabela 

00 57.91S   090 57.77W  

Depth 4 metres – Tied to Yellow Mooring

Anchorage ~ 50 miles run across in brisk trades, we seriously doubted that it would be safe enough to enter with the following seas we had, but as we closed on the outer bay things did settle and we had an uneventful arrival.  The charts are NOT ACCURATE, (there is quite an offset) the port (red right returning) and starboard marks are out from charted positions, it was clear enough on visual daylight but this anchorage is NOT recommended for night arrival.  Some tour boat anchor outside the protected area, there is some coverage from the swell probably better than Santa Cruz but inside the rocky sheltered area, it was pretty comfortable although at high tide some waves come over.

We picked up the free yellow mooring buoy, the one furthest to the south, but moved to anchor when the wind dropped and we started banging the buoy.  Anchorage depths are the best south of the buoys, but this does put you on the entry/exit route (not too busy).  This is a delightful picturesque anchorage, full of sea and bird life, a magical place.  Yachtie movements within the anchorage by dinghy/swimming are restricted, (must be on tour with a guide). We managed getting close to the penguins and around a little more before we were turned back, snorkelling is a possibility but you will be turned back too if they see you.   Passage to the dinghy dock across the bay is unobstructed at high tide but shoals at low tide, so you need to do a big loop to the south and around, watch the local boats.  There are a few water taxis here, we used our dinghy and there is a floating dinghy dock that was being rebuilt while we were there, it is in behind the main wharf area.  Rubbish Bins at end of the path from dinghy dock.

Ashore ~ This is the Galapagos we came to find, sleepy little place, roads are sand, a few tourist shops, tour operators and restaurants and not much else.  The road into town was being paved so good if you have bikes, otherwise about a 15-minute walk.  Tour operator Rosedelco is on the left at the first fork, there is a bike hire just up on the right fork but bikes a bit iffy, sometimes they sold fruit outside.  Stay on left fork for the town, two laundry on left, we used the first – USD13 for a big bag of clothes – I think the 2nd was cheaper.  There are about 4 open-air well-presented restaurants (didn’t try any) in a row then keep walking west on this main road and you will smell the bakery. It didn’t seem to open until mid-afternoon but had some yummy products. A little further along there is a “quaint” open-air cafe painted blue (name maybe Sol y Mer) which has ok wifi and a good very cheap “menu del dia” and tacos at lunch and great batidos (fruit drinks).  Keep going, and there is a mountain bike hire next – USD3 an hour per bike. They have good bikes and have a good look inside the store for random items of fresh produce (avocados on the floor behind the counter!)  We left our laptops here while out cycling twice with no problems. Keep going to the end of the buildings, Pink Flamingo on beach front has happy hour with very loud music and the opposite is the Booby Trap Cafe with American Jim the Agent here in Isabela.

Clearance costs: USD30 for arrival, departure and port tax. No one came to the boat. Jim can also organise diesel and petrol, we only needed petrol it was USD4 a gallon.  The Booby Trap was the cruisers hangout for wifi (slow) and more western style meals.  Heading back into town, turn left at the end of the plaza, and there is a good open air big restaurant on the first corner up to this side road, good set menus with choices for dinner around USD10 pp. We went twice with big groups and it was very good (make a reservation if there is a group of you).  Further up the road intersects with the produce market on the corner. This is a bit “hit and miss” with regards to the selection available, Saturday morning should be best but look every time you are ashore.   For final produce provisioning there is Silvio Troya, he sometimes comes to the Saturday market but doesn’t bring much (why??). Go by taxi to“Finca Silvio Troya” about USD10 each way and the taxi will come back for you. You will need a couple of hours as you go around choosing and picking to order, we spent just USD25 and got lots, however, it did not keep as well as I had hoped.  We were told (after) that there is a German-owned restaurant up in the highlands near Silvio Troya, so it’s good to combine lunch and then walk to select your produce.

Fun for Free ~ Walk through the wetlands just past the Booby Trap to the Centro de Crianza Breeding Centre (free) and see baby giant tortoises just a couple of inches long to giant grandpas.  Carry on up the road a little way further to the big pond for pink flamingo spotting. Hire bikes (not free but need mountain bikes not little folding ones), about 3 different days as lots to do.  The cycle trail out to the Wall of Tears runs parallel to the beach, we actually cycled on the hard sand on the beach which was great.  Do this trail on at least 2 days as there are so many nooks and crannies to discover and its good to do one of the beach/mangrove side trips (El Estero) late in the day when the birds are feeding, awesome.  Tortoises are in the wild out here, the lookout is great and the Wall of Tears and surrounding area excellent, and stand where Sir David Attenborough showed the difference in 30 years of land movement at Tunel del Estero.  We tried to get a taxi to take us and the bikes up to the highlands so we could cycle back, but had no luck, there are not many taxis here.  There is a wetlands trail just by the dinghy dock path that takes you to a swim platform where you can snorkel within the inner harbour area, visibility was poor and water cold but this is where the penguins live.

Paid Activities ~ We booked the Cabo Rosa & Tuneles de Lava Tour with Rosedelco Tours – USD85 each, It’s a full day tour including very good lunch and they collected/dropped us at Balvenie.  This tour was excellent and their operation very professional, we snorkelled with enormous giant turtles, saw seahorses and sleeping white sharks, visited the lava tunnels, stopped to swim offshore with giant manta rays, it was superb and they could not have done more to exceed everyone’s expectations, their boat handling skills were exceptional through some very large surf!  Sierra Negra Hike – USD30 each, full day guided hike including lunch, booked with another company as Rosedelco closed when we wanted to book.  Collected from the wharf, drove to Highlands with English speaking guide, about 14 in our group and there were a few groups.  Sadly cloud cover over the crater, but clearly another side, great views north, very muddy though and felt our guide was constantly rushing us, however excellent hike not difficult and had the weather been better the views would have been sensational, great value for money.


It was worth every cent of the Autografo, 3 weeks would have felt very rushed and then you could not choose your onward weather window as well.  This is an exceptional, unique, remote environment where tourism is heavily controlled.  We are extremely lucky to have had the opportunity to visit these incredible islands.

For our blog updates from the Galapagos with photos follow this link To read our cruising info on other places we have visited go to

Amanda Church and Mark Farrell

New Zealand yacht BALVENIE

Bobbing about in Taioha’e, Nuka Hiva, French Polynesia

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