Taking The Ferry Between Santa Cruz and Isla Isabela With Kids – New For 2024

Exploring the Galapagos Islands with children is an extraordinary adventure that spans across this distinct archipelago, with island hopping being a crucial aspect of a land-based journey. Planning a ferry trip between Santa Cruz and Isla Isabela with kids in tow? Prepare for a memorable maritime expedition!

Much like flying to the islands, taking the ferry involves a few more steps than we were expecting, but with this handy guide you will be ready to explore new horizons together.

Adrian, Georgia and Eva posing on the Isabella Island sign with Villamil Beach and the sea in the background.
It is well worth taking the trip to Isla Isabela!

What to Expect from the Ferry Crossing

Before diving into the details, please forgive us if the information below sounds overly negative. In truth, the crossings are perfectly manageable, but we would rather give you the worst-case scenario than paint an overly rosy picture!

The journey between Santa Cruz and Isla Isabela takes about 2 hours on a boat that is possibly a little smaller than you imagine. We had expected a reasonable sized catamaran similar to the crossings in Patagonia, but instead it was a much lighter vessel.

The side and back of a white passenger ferry on the Galapagos Islands waiting at the dock.
This boat is typical of the ferries that run the crossing. If you are sat at the back or on the top deck you will be in the sun and rain!

There are toilets on board but no refreshments, so bring plenty of water.

We made three ferry crossings during our visit; the first two were smooth sailing, but the third presented us with rougher seas, which was far less pleasant. Fortunately, none of us are prone to travel sickness, but the choppy waters did leave us feeling a bit queasy by the journey’s end.

Your experience of the crossing will depend on the weather and how badly your family is susceptible to motion sickness. If you have children who suffer badly, it is worth considering taking some Dramamine or equivalent before you depart.

Although the seats on the ferry are roomy and comfortable, the journey entails spending time in a somewhat restricted area accompanied by the persistent hum of loud boat engines. If you or your children are particularly sensitive to noise, bringing noise-cancelling headphones can be a game-changer.

Looking back down the passenger ferry with passengers in their seats and Isla Isabella in the distance as the boat powers through the water.
The seating on the ferry is spacious and comfortable but the engines are noisy.

The cabin’s interior is well-ventilated, with a nice breeze when you are moving, but it can be hot when waiting to depart.

Talking to a local guide on our first crossing, he said the hotter it is, the more chance of people being seasick. This is why you are advised to get fresh air on a boat if you feel unwell.

Also, and this surprised us, he said panic attacks were not uncommon. We do not have much experience with this, but the guide said that something about the enclosed space and the noise of the engines can trigger people.

There are a couple of other things to consider: firstly, don’t assume you will be inside and out of the sun; we were not on our first trip. Fortunately, it was cloudy, but you could easily need sunblock or a raincoat. If you are sat at the back of the boat, you will be open to the elements!

A wet but happy Georgia on the pier on Isla Isabella carrying a rucksack on her front and her back with Eva in the background with her luggage.
Georgia a bit damp and bedraggled on our arrival!

Also, don’t assume you or your luggage will be dry! It tipped it down on our first crossing, and our main bags were soaked when we arrived. Luckily, our electronics were in our day packs with waterproof covers, but all our clothes and everything in our backpacks were a little damp!

Taking the ferry between Santa Cruz and Isla Isabela with kids. A selfie of Kirsty and Eva on the top deck at the front of the boat.
Kirsty and Eva were sat up front on the top deck – great views if a bit damp!

Planning a family vacation to Santa Cruz, Galapagos? Don’t miss our complete guide to making the most of this extraordinary island. Whether it’s wildlife encounters, stunning beaches, or adventure activities you’re after, our guide has it all covered.

Discovering Santa Cruz Galapagos With Kids

Where To Sit On The Ferry With Kids

The seats on the ferry have a trade-off.

If you sit at the front, you are away from the engines, and it is quieter, but you have no line of sight to the ocean, and it is warmer.

Sitting at the back is cooler; you can see the water so that you will suffer less from motion sickness. However, you are also next to the engines and exposed to the sun and rain!

Our advice would be to sit at the back with noise-cancelling headphones if you have a child who suffers from motion sickness. If not, then sit at the front.

Where To Purchase Ferry Tickets Between Santa Cruz and Isla Isabela?

The ferries sail between Puerto Ayora on Santa Cruz and Puerto Villamil on Isla Isabela.

As with most trips on the Galapagos, if you book directly with the boat operator, it tends to be cheaper. Going direct means avoiding the markups intermediaries put on the ticket price.

We booked our tickets at this kiosk on the seafront near the supermarket and cash machines.

A kiosk selling ferry tickets between Santa Cruz, Isla Isabella and San Cristobal with a large boards showing ferry times.
Booking direct tends to be cheaper.

If you have not got time to head down, then they are often for sale through your hotel or just about any tour shop.

We paid $55 each for a return ticket, or you can buy a one-way ticket for $30. There was no discount for kids.

Ferry tickets can be booked up in advance, with morning crossings being more popular, so it is best to purchase a couple of days in advance during peak season.

Ferry Schedule Between Santa Cruz and Isla Isabela

There are two sailings each way, seven days a week.

From Santa Cruz, Puerto Ayora: Departures are scheduled at 7:00 AM, with an estimated arrival at Isla Isabela around 09:00/09:30 AM, and a second sailing at 3:00 PM, arriving approximately at 05:00/05:30 PM.

From Isla Isabela, Puerto Villamil: The morning ferry sets off at 06:00 AM, reaching Santa Cruz around 08:00/8:30 AM, followed by an afternoon departure at 03:00 PM, with an expected arrival time of around 05:00/05:30 PM.

Taking the ferry between Santa Cruz and Isla Isabela with kids. Adrian and Georgia Chilling on the top deck.
On our first crossing, we were up top with the captain!

Where The Ferry Departs From In Santa Cruz

From Santa Cruz, all the ferries depart from the Gus Angermeyer Pier and Ferry Terminal in Puerto Ayora.

Boarding The Ferry From Santa Cruz To Isla Isabela With Kids

As we mentioned above, getting on the ferry between Santa Cruz and Isla Isabela is slightly more complicated than you would expect. In many ways, it is closer to boarding a flight, and certainly not like the ferries in Patagonia or Samoa, where you just turn up!

Firstly, you need to arrive at the dock at least 45 minutes before departure to give yourself plenty of time to get through the biosecurity checks and board your ferry.

When you arrive, before you pass through security, you need to find your boat operator (the name of your boat should be on your ticket). The operators tend to stand near the pier with a wooden pedestal. They will check your name and then issue you with a boarding pass. If you are struggling to locate them, there are plenty of border staff on hand to point you in the right direction.

A close up of both sides of the boarding pass to board the ferry between Santa Cruz and Isla Isabella. Showing the name of the boat and a map of the Galapagos islands.
Coolest boarding passes ever!

Next, you need to get your bags checked. There is a one-dollar-per-person municipal tax to pay (cash only), and then your bags are scanned for anything that should not be taken between islands. As with the flight over, you are not allowed to bring any fresh fruit, meat or vegetables with you.

Once you are through security, you will then be checked onto the pier, where you will hopefully be pointed into the correct queue for your boat. It is worth noting that multiple ferries depart at the same time, so make sure you stand with other passengers from your ferry.

You then take a water taxi (one dollar each, cash only) and a nice chap loads your bags and takes you to the main boat. If you are running a little late, the water taxi may stop at multiple ferries, so be careful you board the correct one. You will have your boarding pass around your neck, and the crew tends to check, too.

From there, you board your main boat and take your seats for the journey.

Arriving on Isla Isabela With Kids

When you arrive on Isla Isabela, you will then need to take another water taxi (another one dollar each, cash only) to take you to the pier. More nice chaps will help with your luggage off the boat, and then you then pay a $10 per adult and $5 per child under twelve municipal tax (cash only).

Once you have passed through the port, local taxis await to take you to your hotel ($1 per person, cash only).

These taxis are not official, but just local people who happen to be in the area. Just about everyone drives a pickup truck on Isla Isabela, so be warned that there is a chance you could be riding in the back!

Where The Ferry Departs From In Isla Isabela

All the ferries from Puerto Villamil depart from the Passenger Pier.

Boarding The Ferry From Isla Isabela To Santa Cruz With Kids

The return journey is a bit more civilised!

As before, you need to arrive at the dock at least 45 minutes before departure.

Taxis in Puerto Villamil are in short supply close to the ferry departures, so it is worth giving yourself plenty of time to get to the harbour or booking a taxi in advance. We used Galapagos Explorer and booked via WhatsApp (+593 98 812 6563).

The short journey costs $1 per person and you might find yourself riding in the back of a pickup!

Just before you arrive at the Passenger Pier, there is a biosecurity check (well, they have a poke about in your bags for a bit), and then you head to the departure point where you check in with your ferry company. You are issued with boarding passes.

A lady checking passenger bags at the ferry boarding point on Isla Isabella with a queue of people waiting.
It is not the most thorough of checks….

When heading towards the departure point, ignore the “embark disembark” sign that sends you up a path to the left, as this is for day trips. Head straight on, up the main road.

You are then directed to a water taxi (one dollar each, cash only) and a nice chap loads on your bags and takes you to the main boat.

From there, you board your main boat and take your seats for the journey of about two hours.

Arriving on Santa Cruz With Kids

When you arrive in Puerto Ayora, you again need to get on a water taxi (another $1 each, cash only) from the ferry to the pier. Once you are off the pier, then your bags are screened again at the same place they were screened on the way out (yet another $1 per person, cash only).

This time, there are no additional municipal taxes to pay.

Once you are through security, plenty of taxis are available to take you to your accommodation.

We hope you find this guide useful. The trip to Isla Isabela is well worth it, as there is so much to see on this stunning island.

If you think we have missed anything, or any information here needs updating, please let us know in the comments below.

The Spencer Family

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About the authors

Our lives have been intertwined with a passion for exploration and a shared love for travel. Our adventures began long before we met, as we individually embarked on daring expeditions across the globe. Our paths finally converged, and we soon realized that our adventures were much more meaningful when shared!

After a brief hiatus to start a family, we eagerly embarked on a new chapter of our travel saga. Determined to instil in Georgia and Eva the values of discovery and open-mindedness, our goal is to embark on exciting escapades and explore breathtaking landscapes, bustling cities, and remote corners of the world. From hiking through mist-laden forests to snorkelling in turquoise seas, every adventure is an opportunity to create lasting memories as a family.

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