Best Free iPhone Games for Calming Anxiety and Relaxing

Stress and anxiety suck, big time, and they always seem to strike hardest when you need to be at your best. While it’s usually smart to address the issues at the root of your stress/anxiety, sometimes we all just need a quick way to relax and calm down. These are all free game apps that I find helpful when in a pinch. My research comes from personal experience and sites like Gizmodo and Mic.


OK, so Calm is not really a game—it’s a meditation app. The premium content comes at a cost, but there are lots of shorter meditation practices (10 minutes) that are free. The app will walk you through meditation specifically for stress, and there’s no experience required. I love this app more than others like Headspace because I swear it can read my mind. Every time I catch myself thinking “jeeze, I’m SO awful at meditating,” the app will reply “and if you think you’re bad at meditating, there’s no such thing.” How’s THAT for an awesome way to combat stress AND self-criticism?

Neko Atsume

This game is absolutely wonderful because it involves CATS! Everyone starts out with a yard that you can then fill with toys and treats. Cats will wander in and out of the yard as they please (because cats). You can read up on each cat and take pictures of them being pixelatedly adorable. Up your game by “purchasing” the coolest gadgets and highest-quality chow!

Rise Up

Keep a balloon from running into obstacles as it makes its way toward what I can only assume is space. This game is challenging, but in a way that you really don’t care if you win or lose so there’s no pressure. Instead, it’s just mind-numbingly calming.

Cut the Rope

Candy tied to ropes
Cut the ropes and use balloons
Feed the blob candy

Haiku FTW! Now go out and get that li’l blob some noms!


This spin-off of Candy Crush is WAY better than the original. First off, there are no sparkling colors and flashing lights that feels, to me, seizure-inducing. Secondly, Homescapes is fun because it has a storyline. Help Austin the butler fix up his parents’ mansion and (potentially) get a date (I don’t know, I’m only on level 400, but I’m REALLY hoping he gets the girl!). NOTE: I will warn that this game can be sexist. The mother spends a good amount of time lamenting her inability to bake a pie without burning it and “woe-is-me I’m a terrible housewife yada yada.” BUT, if you can ignore those blips of yes-a-white-dude-probably-invented-this-game, then it’s a LOT of fun.

Jurassic Park Builder

DINOSAURS! Need I say more? Create your own park, invent new dinosaurs, complete tasks and battle your beasts to make more money. This game is pretty slow. Turns out, it takes a long time for dinosaurs to hatch—even in the game world. BUT, if you’re looking for something to relax your brain, there’s nothing like feeding a dinosaur and watching it evolve.

Boggle and/or Ruzzle

Find as many words as you can in the shortest amount of time. This game can be a *little intense because of the timed aspect, but it really does a great job of taking your mind off of whatever’s stressing you out.

Words with Friends

My Algebra II teacher must’ve been crazy stressed because she spent most of the class hunkered down at her computer, playing this game. And though I sometimes get flashbacks from high school, that doesn’t mean this game can’t be super calming. Play Scrabble with people from around the world. Don’t have the attention span for a full game? No problem! You can sign up for lightning rounds that last about two minutes. AND, if you play against the app, you can access the game offline. WIN!


In this game, you play a dude who jumps and ducks his way through obstacle courses that resemble pool halls, football fields and outdoor trails. Drones, flying pies and low tree branches all have it out for you. The farther you get, the faster you run and the more you have to rely on your reflexes. It’s simple, engaging and totally stress-reducing.

Angry Birds

We all know about Angry Birds. There’s even a movie. After years of avoiding the inevitable, I finally broke down and got the game. I’ve been missing out! For some reason, chucking birds at pigs is incredibly satisfying. Give it a go yourself!


Unfold shapes to get from one point to another. This is like geometry on steroids! And, if you’re stuck, the app lets you ask for hints. =) I love the game’s design and feel—just looking at the landscape is already pretty calming.


Break down the Tetris wall
Let yourself relax
Don’t let the hexagon fall
Keep depleting those stacks

Your fingers must be steady
To clean up the mess
When the download is ready
Your mind will destress

P.S. This game is my fav so far!

Tetris and/or Pong and/or Snake

All the “old” games are available for the iPhone and kick-butt when it comes to busting stress. Download a few and take a ride down memory lane!

Photo by Leon Liu on Unsplash


cape town, table mountain, south africa

Top Things to Do in South Africa

This is the list I used when planning my trip to South Africa. Scroll through it and see what jumps out at you. Enjoy your trip, and ping me with any questions!


Two days is plenty of time to see all that Joburg has to offer. Tack on an extra day to do quirkier trips and explore the city. Uber is the best (and cheapest) way to get around if you’re new to the city and unaware of its good/bad areas, especially since there aren’t that many sidewalks for walking. Make sure your cell phone works overseas without crazy fees because there’s very little free wifi in this city!

  • Soweto
    • “For real insight into post-apartheid South Africa – a visit to the township of Soweto, home to an estimated 3.5 million people – you need to hire a guide. Besides providing a glimpse into how millions of black South Africans live today, Soweto is historically fascinating. Nobel Peace Prize-winners Nelson Mandela and Archbishop Desmond Tutu both lived on tree-lined Vilakazi Street and Mandela’s former home is open to visitors. Left as it once was, Winnie’s military boots stand next to a bed with a jackal-skin throw, and old photos line the walls. Just down the road, the Hector Pieterson Memorial Museum, named after the 13-year-old whose murder by police sparked an uprising in 1976, is another hard-hitting reminder of the horrors of apartheid.” –Condé Nast Traveller
    • The guided tour of Mandela’s home is simply a memorized speech of significant dates. It’s interesting, but don’t expect it to take more than 20 minutes at the maximum.
    • The Hector Pieterson Memorial Museum was fantastic. It did a great job of explaining the uprising and its aftermath. All the feels.
    • I was skeptical of paying $70 to take a tour of Soweto, especially when I’d been told that it’s fine to walk around in the daytime. But I’m really glad we went with Township Travel (Siphiwe Kumalo The tour offers perspectives, not only from the tour guide, but from residents in their early 20s who take you around their neighborhood and answer all your questions. I highly recommend it!
  • The Apartheid Museum:
    • Built by the casino next door, this museum is pretty awesome. It’s also incredibly overwhelming (the layout is like a labyrinth!) and crowded. It’s worth a visit to learn some basics, but I think you’d get much more out of reading a book.
    • This place is difficult to get to. You can call an uber from where you’re staying, but there’s no wifi at the museum or the museum’s cafe to help you get back. Luckily, the pawn shop next to a gas station down the street has wifi. Ask an uber driver (they pull up to the museum all the time!) to take you to the gas station, ask for the pawn shop’s wifi and then request him/her on the app from there.
  • BOOKS!
  • Sporty Things
    • “If you can, try and watch a Premier soccer league game at the FNB stadium- kaizer chiefs (most famous and loved soccer club in SA) play there (world cup stadium finals were played and biggest stadium in south africa) tickets should be no more than $5 usd.  Sit in the heart of the crowd and get in the mix of their singing and dancing all game long. Another good PSL game to go to is Orlando stadium- for Orlando pirates (second most popular team in SA) –sit in the heart of the crowd to gain full experience.” -Emily Chow
    • “If you care to watch cricket games–you can watch at the wanderers stadium—warning: games can take up to 8 hours… or 3 hours for a “t cricket game”” -Emily Chow
    • “You can also go to Ellis Park, now known as emirates airline park to catch a rugby game. world famous stadium– where invictus was filmed and where mandela unified the black and whites thru sports.” -Emily Chow
  • Witchcraft
    • Kind of a letdown, actually. It’s only fun if you go with a tour and can have everything explained to you. The proprietors of the shop won’t take the time to point out all the cool stuff, (unless you show up at around 7 a.m. and ask for the owner’s son) which is understandable.

Click the link below to read more:




Best Vets in Arlington, VA by Price

These prices are for kittens as of September, 2017. Not listed—the feline leukemia vaccine, which you should definitely get for your li’l one!

Appointment: $68.50
Preventative heartworm meds: $36.96
Flea/tick prevention: $57.17 Provecto (lasts six months)
FVRCP booster shot: $24.50
(Feline Leukemia Vaccine + booster: $60)
Total: $187.43
Total per year (excluding booster shots, including two office visits): $325.26

Appointment: $75
Preventative heartworm meds: $59 Revolution (lasts six months)
Flea/tick prevention: $?? Provecto (lasts three months) –>estimated $28.58
FVRCP booster shot: $41
(Feline Leukemia Vaccine + booster: $96)
Total: $203.58
Total per year (excluding booster shots, including two office visits): $382.32

Virginia Square

Appointment: $75
Preventative heartworm meds: $149.97 Revolution for cats above 5lbs (lasts one year)
Flea/tick prevention: included in Revolution
FVRCP booster shot: $31.50
Total: $256.47
Total per year (excluding booster shots, including two office visits): $299.97

Appointment: $89
Preventative heartworm meds: office wouldn’t disclose cost
Flea/tick prevention: office wouldn’t disclose cost
FVRCP booster shot: office wouldn’t disclose cost
Total: Unknown
Not accepting any new patients

Appointment: $89
Preventative heartworm meds: $46.95 (six months)
Flea/tick prevention: $47.33 (three months)
FVRCP booster shot: $29.40
Total: $212.68
Total per year (excluding booster shots, including two office visits): $508.55



Where to Take Spanish Classes in Miraflores, Peru

I did extensive research on Spanish classes when I first moved to Lima. I read reviews; I compared prices; I talked to friends, and I sat in on classes.

Since I was on reporting trips every other week and learning a lot on the road, I didn’t end up taking a class. BUT, perhaps you can benefit from my many hours of research:


A friend of mine swears by these classes. He’s says they’re quick, informative and, most importantly, effective. He’s been going for about a year now, I believe, and loves it. This one ended up being way too far away from my house to consider as an option, but check it out!

Hispana Spanish Language School

I would highly recommend Hispana Spanish Language School. The staff were very efficient, helpful and approachable. The professor was a woman from Cusco, and the lesson plan doubled as a Peruvian culture course. We learned learned about politics, Lima’s landmarks and foods. The curriculum was tough—there were often words I didn’t understand—but it’s a friendly atmosphere, and the professor welcomed my questions. I learned quite a bit from just one class, and, if I’d had time, I would’ve signed up for courses here.

ECELA Spanish

This school is more expensive than the others I looked at. They also expected me to pay in U.S. dollars, which is a bad deal 1. Because I need U.S. dollars to travel 2. Because the exchange rate is forever growing in North America’s favor. However, their customer service is amazing. They got back to me very quickly and answered all my questions, which often doesn’t happen here. And, if you sign up for their mailing list, they frequently offer discounts.

El Sol

A friend recommended this organization, but I didn’t have a good experience with the staff. They weren’t friendly or helpful, and they insisted on placing me in a Beginner class. When I explained (in Spanish) that I know numbers, colors, verbs, etc., they didn’t listen. So I sat in on a class and wasn’t impressed by their teaching style. The class itself wasn’t very structured, and I felt like the professor (a very nice individual!) took things too slowly, wasting time. I could’ve bumped myself up a level and taken classes in Intermediate, but meh.


In summary: I’d recommend going with Hispana or ICPNA. Enjoy!


Staying Safe in Peru

Safety is a problem here, and it isn’t. As long as you’re hyperaware and don’t make silly mistakes, you should be fine. Here are some tips on staying safe in Peru:
  • Have you taken a basic self-defense class? This isn’t Lima-specific. You can use those tips to get out of bad situations in your own neighborhood. Check out the options available in your city, and sign up! It’s incredibly helpful and empowering.
  • It’s common to get robbed here. I rarely carry a purse. I invested in a lot of lovely sports bras and keep my money there. I could still get robbed, of course, but I feel like I’m less of a target. The Significant Other uses a money belt.
  • Leave your passport in the hotel/hostel and take a copy of your passport with you. You’re more likely to get robbed on the street than in a hotel, where a bad review on TripAdvisor could bring down business. NOTE: Hostels generally have lockers so bring your own lock!
  • If you have a lot of expensive camera equipment, I’d recommend getting insurance for it. In Miraflores, you’re safer, but be very careful with your camera equipment in downtown Lima. Exercise common sense and:
    • Don’t leave your purse/camera on the back of your chair or under your chair. Always keep everything important to you on your lap, with the strap wrapped around your wrist.
    • Don’t walk around alone with equipment. Always have a partner/group.
    • Get a camera case that doesn’t look like a camera case.
    • Put your camera away unless you’re actively using it.
    • Keep the camera strap securely around your wrist at all times.
    • Keep the camera close to your body.
  • If you’re in an unfamiliar area, try not to speak English. It instantly makes you more of a target.
  • Don’t walk around at night alone.
  • If you’re here for a while, buy a Peruvian SIM card from Claro or Movistar, the local cell providers. If not, use free wifi. Then download the app EasyTaxi. It’ll let you call safe taxis. They’re slightly more expensive, but always worth it. I rarely take taxis off the street. People get robbed quite frequently. [Significant Other adds: EasyTaxi also offers a price guide, so you can keep your driver honest.]
  • Taxis will try to stiff you. Count your change before leaving. Ask how much it costs before getting in. For off-the-street cabs, a ride shouldn’t cost more than 15 soles to downtown. For EasyTaxi, it shouldn’t cost more than 20. If you’re getting around within Miraflores, it’ll be 10 soles. Check the price guide for the current rates.
  • When going out drinking, be overly cautious. It’s conceivable that the bar tender will slip you something—even if you’re in a large group. And this warning doesn’t just apply to young women. Everyone is a target. Stick to bars that are recommended and in nicer areas of town.
  • Don’t drink the water. I use it to brush my teeth, but I wouldn’t recommend it if you’re new to the country.
  • Don’t eat fruits without washing them in a cleaning solution. Also don’t eat any uncooked vegetables, especially salads, unless you’re at a nice place. I got food poisoning my first week here because I ate a salad at a fast food restaurant.
  • Don’t wear flashy jewelry (or any jewelry!).
  • Be aware that stores open late most days and very few things are open on Sundays. Don’t leave any necessary purchases to the morning or the weekend.
  • Everyone says this, but it’s worth repeating… If you’re getting robbed, give them your stuff. Your stuff is replaceable—you aren’t!
With the exception of food poisoning, I’ve never had a problem! But it pays to be vigilant so keep an eye out. =)


Mind Powers Mollie

I’m Leaning In

Me: how do you check in on a job?
Significant Other: how?
Me: yeah, like what do you say?
Significant Other: say “hey, i just wanted to check in regarding the science writer position. i’m glad to answer any other questions”
Me: or I could photoshop a picture of me riding a dragon
SO: ha
Me: because I think someone who could ride a dragon would be a great hire
SO: that, too. couldn’t hurt #psdSkillz
Me: wait, are you seriously telling me to do this? because I think yes
SO: go for it
Me: today just got better


Jurassic Park, Dinosaurs, Arequipa

Top Things to Do: Arequipa, Peru

Transportation in Arequipa

  • Before we get to the fun stuff, here are some tips on getting around Arequipa.
  • There are two bus stations in Arequipa: Terminal Terrestre and Terrapuerto. Luckily they’re right next to each other!
  • The bathrooms are pretty clean as far as terminal restrooms go. s./0.50 for bathroom + a little toilet paper
  • The terminals themselves have LOTS of snack options, breads, candies and chocolates
  • When you’re leaving the terminals, grab a taxi on the main road and avoid those parked in the parking lots—those ones will overcharge you. The cost of a taxi from each terminal to near the Plaza Mayor is s./7

Getting to Monasterio Santa Catalina in Arequipa

  • Note: The opening times on the monastery’s website are INCORRECT. Here are the times listed on the building itself as of mid-April, 2015:
    • Tues and Thurs nights 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. from Jan. – April
    • Mon, Weds, Fri, Sat 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. from Jan. – April
  • The cost is s./40 pp (which is CRAZY expensive), and they take Visa, AmEx, MasterCard
  • If you can avoid it, don’t bring your backpack because they’ll make you check it, and that’s never safe.
  • We didn’t end up going in because the opening times on their website were incorrect (*sigh, oh Peru), but we’ve heard a guided tour is best rather than exploring yourself.

Toro Muerto, Arequipa

Getting to Toro Muerto From Arequipa

  • Go to the bus station (either one) and book a ticket with Transporte Del Carpio to the town Corires s./12.
  • The trip takes a little more than three hours because of stops along the way. Make sure to buy return ticket as soon as you arrive in Corire because posted times are unreliable and, in our case, the bus was almost full for the ride home! You don’t want to get stuck in this town.
  • If Transporte Del Carpio is full, there’s another company across the street and half a block to the right of the Del Carpio office, which is off the main square. The proprietor of that company was on her phone for the whole time we waited (at least 5 mins), so we left. Because CUSTOMER SERVICE, JEEZE.
  • Bathroom Break: The polleria off the main square let us use their bathroom for free (bring your own TP). If you’re standing in front of the giant lobster in the square it’s at your 9 o’clock.
  • OK, so once you’ve had your bathroom break, you can head off to Toro Muerto. We got lucky and ran into Felix Pichuilla Condori. He’s lived in the area his whole life and has two kids, an 18-year-old daughter and much younger son ~10. He drove us to the site and offered to take us on a mini tour, leading us to the best hieroglyphs. Without his help (and unlimited patience!), it would’ve taken us forever to get around the whole park, and we would’ve missed a lot. Give him a call beforehand at 957864424 and have him pick you up from the main square. He charged us s./50 for the whole trip. Highly recommend getting in touch!
  • Getting into Toro Muerto costs s./5 pp. Photograph the map on the wall for reference. There are three routes:  30 mins, 1 hr, 2 hrs
  • We’d recommend wandering through. Sticking to the path won’t take you by the most interesting hieroglyphs. Plan to spend a maximum of 2 hours at Toro Muerto.
  • When to go, Toro Muerto: If you can, go to Toro Muerto around sunrise for the best photos and most comfortable hike. It gets hot quickly ~9 a.m. because of dry desert conditions so make sure to have more than enough water and sun protection. Lonely Planet says to bring mosquito repellent, but there wasn’t enough water to breed mosquitos (again, desert) when we were there in mid-April.

Jurassic Park in Querulpa Chico

  • If you have some extra time after visiting Toro Muerto, catch a combi directly in front of lobster (yup, lobster) in Corire plaza and ask them to let you off at “los dinosaurios”.
  • The trip only takes ~15 mins and s./1.20 soles.
  • The town is tiny, and the opening to the “park” is well marked. You’ll see a ginormous dinosaur from the road. The walk up the trail to the park’s viewpoint is about 45~ depending on your pace.
  • There’s brontosaurus and T-Rex model as well as a “museum” (I’m using this word very loosely!) with ~6 nondescript fossils.
  • Bathroom break: Bathrooms are available at museum. Bring your own TP.

Brilliant Views of Arequipa

  • Climb to the top of Iglesia de San Miguel for a panoramic view of Arequipa. Then grab dinner in Cayma, a neighborhood with brilliant views of the valley.


Which Galapagos Islands Should I Visit?

If you’re hoping for gorgeous beaches and landscapes, the Galapagos Islands can’t compare to, say, Hawaii. Go to the Galapagos for the wildlife. You’ll see species there that aren’t living anywhere else. It’s absolutely incredible.

Here’s a rough guide of where you can spot specific animals. Of course, there’s no guarantee! And please note that it’s easier to see animals in the dry season. (Although we went in March and only had one, light sprinkle.)

NOTE: There are several islands you can’t visit without a cruise. The national park service is very stingy with permits, and for good reason—they have to protect the animals. As of March 2015, I know (100 percent certain!) you can take day trips to San Cristobal, Santa Cruz, Isabela, Floreana, Bartolome, South Plaza, Santa Fe and North Seymour.

Which places in the Galapagos Islands are best for seeing wildlife?

Blue-Footed Boobie, GalapagosBlue-Footed Boobies

According to a study from 2014, there are six blue-footed boobie nesting sites in the Galapagos.

  • Ferdinandia (Daphne)
  • Isabela (Punta Roca)
  • North Seymour
  • Santa Cruz (Playa Perros)
  • Espanola (Punta Suarez)
  • San Cristobal (Punta Pitt)

Our guide highly recommended North Seymour, and we did see a good number of boobies walking around with that adorable deer-in-the-headlights look forever plastered to their li’l faces!

Giant Tortoises, GalapagosGiant Tortoises

Skip the Charles Darwin Research Center on Santa Cruz. (ProTip: It’s open from 7:30 a.m.-12:30 and 2 p.m.-5) It’s not very interesting unless you want to see baby tortoises. Even then, the whole thing will take you about an hour, maybe two if you savor every. single. minute. (ProTip: Bring an umbrella and lots of water because the sun is unbearably hot, there’s little shade, and the center is a decent walk from town. Luckily, there are bathrooms evening spaced throughout the trails.) Instead, I’d recommend taking a cab to El Chato where you can get up close and personal (stay 1 meter away!) from the GIANT tortoises that roam all over a farmer’s property. For a reasonable fee, you can take your time, wander the paths and hang out with tortoises—which generally ignore you as they go about their day. The place also has a little cafe, gift shop (of course!) and decent restrooms.

Iguana, GalapagosIguanas

It’s difficult to pick a favorite when you’re in the Galapagos, but the iguanas definitely come close to my No. 1. I loved their unique coloring and intricate scales—such gorgeous creatures. You’ll see iguanas everywhere, but I was most interested in the endemic species—species not found anywhere else in the world—on Santiago and Santa Fe.

If you don’t have time for too many day trips and haven’t had your fill of iguanas, you can see some of the marine reptiles at the beaches on Tortuga Bay Reserve, Santa Cruz. (ProTip: You can walk there from town. Bring plenty of water and an umbrella for the sun. Start walking to the beach as early as possible. It gets unbearably hot around 10 a.m.)


We saw pretty amazing video of penguins from Isabela and Bartolome. #somuchadorable


These dudes are a sight to see! They show off their red pouches all year long, but inflate them only for mating season, which is March and April. The best, easiest way to see the colorful beachballs hanging from their necks is to visit North Seymour.

Lava Lizard, GalapagosLava Lizards

You’ll see lava lizards all over the place—each more brilliantly colored than the next!

Sharks and RaysSally Lightfoot Crabs


Sea turtle, GalapagosTurtles, Sharks and Rays

These aren’t your average garden variety turtle. We spotted some the size of grown men. If you can get to Black Turtle Cove (Santa Cruz) early, early morning before the sun rises, you’ll see them swimming out of the mangrove and into the ocean. (ProTip: Bring 100% DEET mosquito repellent and wear long sleeves.) Snorkeling around Kicker Rock in San Cristobal is a great way to get close to these majestic denizens of the sea.

We saw sharks almost every time we got in the water. If you’re not keen on snorkeling but still want to see sharks and rays check out the Tortuga Bay Reserve on Santa Cruz. It has a two lovely beaches: walk past the first one to the second, and that’s where you’ll see (and can swim with!) sharks and rays. (ProTip: You can walk there from town. Bring plenty of water and an umbrella for the sun. Start walking to the beach as early as possible. It gets unbearably hot around 10 a.m.)


Espanola is the only place in the ENTIRE world where you can see the waved albatross. We explored the island in March and missed the birds. The return home to nest between April and December, although our guide said they’ve been hanging out on the island later and later each year. I’ve heard that seeing these birds up-close is worth the trip to the Galapagos alone. Waved albatross mate for life. When they return home to meet their partners, they participate in this intricate dance—almost like a secret handshake. It’s said that the sound of hundreds of these birds all ritualizing at the same time sounds like a huge sword fight!

Finch, GalapagosFinches

Most islands have their own version of finch, which have evolved to fit the specific conditions of their habitat. *cue science nerdout

Flamingos, Galapagos


According to the Significant Other, “a day trip to Isabela is probably your best bet to see flamingos.” Although we did see a handful at Las Bachas, Santa Cruz, which is one of the stops during a day trip to North Seymour.

Sea Lions, GalapagosSea Lions

As a native Californian, I wasn’t too interested in sea lions. We have oodles of these animals all up and down our coast. BUT California sea lions are nowhere near as amazing as Galapagos sea lions. The Galapagos sea lions spend their lives in utter happiness. I’m not one to put human emotions on animals, but they just seemed so ridiculously blissed out ALL the time that it’s mesmerizing. Watching them play in the water and loll about on the sand is such a feel-good experience. We went in March and got to see quite a few pups, which are VERY curious about humans. These li’l guys are wont to walk up and investigate the strange aliens in their homes. You’re supposed to stay 1 meter away from the pups at all times at 5 meters away from the males (very territorial, very intimidating), but this is plenty close to get good photos!

San Cristobal has tons of sea lions. You don’t even need to leave the town center to see them—they’re known to hang out on park benches and chill in planters. However, you’re sure to spot sea lions no matter where you go—they’re all over!


galapagos, viewpoint, ocean

Planning for a Last-Minute Trip to the Galapagos

The Significant Other and I just got back from a trip to the Galapagos. Rather than gush about HOW COMPLETELY AND UTTERLY AMAZING IT WAS, I’m offering some tips to make your vacation planning easier. The devil is in the details! I think this is pretty extensive, but drop me a line in the comments if you have specific questions.

Booking a Last-Minute Galapagos Cruise

Cruises sound expensive right off the bat, but when you consider how much it costs to explore the Galapagos on your own, cruises can actually be cost-effective. For example, a day tour of North Seymour Island is ~$160. Add $20 for the hostel and $10 for home-cooked food. Factor in all the time and energy you’ll spend booking your own trips, and you’re already pushing $200. When you do the math, cruises aren’t that pricey.

NOTE: It’s impossible to base your budget off anything you read online or in a guidebook. Prices are constantly going up. Keep that in mind, and always bring extra cash in small bills $1, $5, $10.

If you can wait until two weeks before your vacation date to start looking for cruises, you can snag amazing discounts (~60 percent!). Book a flight to Quito, and stay at a hostel in the Mariscal District (NOTE: We stayed at the Traveler’s Inn. The breakfast is free and includes eggs, toast, yogurt, fruits, juice and tea/coffee. The wifi is incredibly slow, and the showers are luke-warm.) This is where all the tour companies have offices. Visit each tour office and see what kinds of deals they’re offering. Tour offices are generally open between 10 a.m.-12 p.m. and from 3 p.m.-5 p.m. They will NOT be open after 12 p.m. on Saturday or at all on Sunday.

Please be aware that all tour operators expect you to pay in cash for the tours—even if it’s a couple thousand dollars. Luckily for U.S. citizens, Ecuador operates in American dollars.

Most tour companies will offer to book the flight for you. I booked the flight on my own so I’m not sure how cost-effective this is, but it’s definitely an option.

NOTE: We almost booked a cruise with Yate Darwin and would highly caution against it. There were many frustrating problems, which I won’t go into here. We ended up booking a four-day Angelito cruise using PalmaRoja Tours. I can’t recommend the Angelito highly enough. The staff was incredibly friendly and helpful. I have several food allergies, and the cook made special meals and snacks for me every day. I never had to worry! It was amazing. Plus, our guide Maja, was the best guide I’ve had in all my years of traveling. Really fantastic company.

If you can’t find a tour you like in Quito, you can hop on a plane to the Galapagos and head directly to Puerto Ayora in Santa Cruz. Tour companies also have offices in this city and will offer deals.

sea lion, galapagos

How to Pick a Galapagos Cruise

After days of research, all the cruises started blurring into one, and I suffered from information overload. I recommend picking the cruise based on the ease of access, animals you want to see, cruise size, days at sea and budget. Make a spreadsheet and assign points—it’s the only way to stay sane.

  • Ease of Access: You can (to my knowledge) take day trips to Santa Cruz, San Cristobal, North Seymour, Floreana, Bartolome, South Plaza and Santa Fe. We chose cruises that took us to islands we couldn’t reach on our own, like Santiago and Espanola.
  • Animals: Each island is known for specific animals. No guarantee you’ll see them, of course, but there were a few endemic species that I was dying to see. For example, North Seymour: blue-footed boobies and frigate males, Santa Cruz: tortoises, Espanola: albatross, Santiago: iguanas, Santa Fe: iguanas. The cruise that promised the most animals won.
  • Cruise Size: Pay attention to the number of people on the boat. Our head count was 16, and it was perfect. Anything larger, and you’re going to get lost in the shuffle. Anything too small and your boat will be so tiny that it bobs up and down with each and every wave. Ugh.
  • Days at Sea: I’m the kind of gal who likes her feet firmly planted on the ground. It was important that we got to see what we wanted to see but didn’t spend unnecessary time on the water. We ended up with a four-day cruise, but I think we also would have enjoyed a five-day. NOTE: six- and seven-day cruises are rare. It’s usually four, five or eight days. Also remember that a “four-day” cruise is really just two days because the cruise doesn’t start till late afternoon on the first day, and ends before 10 a.m. on the last day.
  • Budget: Go in with a budget for your cruise, and follow it. I had tour operators send me “deals” that were two- to three-times more than my max budget. It was tempting, but I had to put my foot down.

frigate, galapagos

Getting to the Galapagos

Flights to the Galapagos: There are two airports in the Galapagos: Baltra and San Cristobal. If you’re thinking of taking a cruise, fly into Baltra. Most (if not all) of the cruises start/end there.

Three airlines go to the Galapagos. TAME appears to be the cheapest at first-glance, but they tack on a whole bunch of fees at checkout that actually make them more expensive. I used Avianca for the most cost-effective flights.

NOTE: Don’t forget that there’s a $120 fee to get into the Galapagos. Airport officials will also search your bags for fresh fruit and animal products. I would highly recommend bringing in your own snacks since healthy food is hard to come by on the islands. They’re OK with dried, packaged fruit, granola bars, even peanut butter sandwiches! If you don’t want your bag locked with plastic ties after getting searched, tell the officials. Keep a pair of nail clippers in case they lock your bag anyway.

Getting into Santa Cruz from the airport: You’re not allowed to walk around Baltra because it’s a military base. You’ll take a short (free!) bus from the airport to Baltra’s dock. A $1 ferry will take you across the river to the island Santa Cruz. From there you can catch a (~$5) bus or take an $18 taxi (in total NOT per person) into town. It’s a 40 minute drive via taxi and longer with the much slower bus.

Taxis are poorly labeled, white Toyota pickup trucks.

Taxis in Santa Cruz: Once you’re in town, taxi rides should be about 50 cents per person up to $1 max. Taxi drivers often pick up multiple people so don’t be alarmed if a few strangers hop into the cab.

Snorkeling tips: Snorkeling is transportation, right? A few tips to enjoy your snorkeling experience: Try on your mask before leaving land. If you can press it to your face (without using the straps) and it stays in place, it’s a good fit. If you need glasses, bring your own prescription goggles as there aren’t any (that we saw) on the islands. Or you can make your own prescription goggles. Spit on your lenses or use baby shampoo to keep them from fogging up. If you have facial hair, your mask might not fit well. Slather on some vaseline to help make the seal. Your flippers shouldn’t fit comfortably when you’re on land. They need to be a little tight because they’ll loosen up in the water. Check the snorkel mouthpiece to make sure it has two notches to bite on. I’d recommend renting a full-body wetsuit for sun protection, added buoyancy and extra warmth (the water can get chilly).


Things to Do in the Galapagos

I’ll write another post with an outline of our cruise. These are the two day trips we took outside the cruise.

San Cristobal

We went snorkeling off Kicker Rock and explored Cerro Brujo beach for $100 with the tour company Cindy Sol. They were very professional and served a delicious lunch. I would highly recommend their services. I don’t have the cross street for the company’s office, but the harbor area is tiny (only ~five blocks) so you can either ask for directions or walk up and down the streets until you run into Cindy Sol). NOTE: Tour agencies close in the afternoon to avoid the heat and open up again in the evening. I’d recommend booking a day trip the night before. However, most tours leave at 8:30 or 9 a.m. so you can also show up at the office around 8 a.m. and book any available seats on the spot.

Stay at Casa Mabell for $20 per person. The hostel doesn’t have a microwave, and the owner doesn’t speak English. But the place is spotless, has AC, is two minutes from the shore, and if you can speak a little Spanish, the owner will help you book tours.

Get your laundry cleaned for $1.50/kilo at La Lavanderia Rosita. We gave our clothes to them at 8 p.m., and they had everything done by 3 p.m. the next day. Great service.

North Seymour

Booked this tour with Esmeralda III. We wouldn’t recommend this boat. The guide was unnecessarily rude. The tour also promised to take us to North Seymour in the morning (better wildlife pictures!) and then snorkeling in the afternoon (cooling off!). Instead, we spent far too much time snorkeling in the morning and saw no wildlife. Then, during the heat of the day, we were rushed around North Seymour. I absolutely loved the island (we saw blue-footed boobies and frigates!), but go with a different tour company.

Signing off for now! More tips later, and please add your own!


What to Pack for a Trip to the Galapagos Islands

Here’s a very detailed list of what I brought to the Galapagos. It looks like a lot, but everything fit in a carry-on.

This list will save your checks for 365 days so if you like packing (*high five) early, you can return to this page and survey your progress!