Travelers with Physical Limitations or Mobility Constraints
The fact that cabs are Puerto Ayora and other island towns are so reasonable is actually one of the reasons why we are going back to the Galápagos next. I am still recovering from a pretty complicated hip injury despite being in the early 30s, so we want to have the safety net to be able to even afford to be driven everywhere and STILL remain within our budget.
We had considered returning to South Africa to visit our dear friends. The airfare would have been slightly more expensive to Cape Town (even catching a great deal), but we would be spending significantly less on the ground. I am usually the primary driver when we rent cars abroad (I’ve spent much more time driving on the other side of the road and am a bit more confident adapting to less than ideal conditions abroad), but my injury makes driving myself around difficult. That, coupled with the fact that a private car hire, particularly on a daily basis, is very reasonable in South Africa, but still not exactly kind to our budget. Knowing it will be less than $10 a day to be driven absolutely everywhere allows me rest easy even with a bum hip. Those are certainly not the prices we would be paying for multiple cab rides in other beach or island towns.
Do be prepared, however, for lots of inconveniences, as ADA standards are not common outside of higher-end accommodations in the islands. Streets are paved, but often uneven, small steps and short flights of stairs are common entering even the most accessible restaurants, and areas outside the city centers tend to be hilly. I have also found that public bathrooms are usually set far back in restaurant layouts and some restaurants even have sandy beach areas in place of flooring which are less than ideal for those with mobility issues.
As someone who has used mobility aids, I believe that it is possible to navigate the cities with a cane, but crutches and wheelchairs will have a great deal of difficulty. There are some companies that work specifically with disabled travelers, but these companies usually charge top-dollar for the ease-of-mind their services provide. Do not hesitate to reach out if you have questions about disabled travel in the Galápagos (or elsewhere) – we want travel to accessible to everyone regardless of economic status and physical limitations and are glad to help provide any additional information that can help with your planning.
Most trips also require some physically challenging tasks that aren’t exactly advertised. For example, any boat travel (including cruises booked in advance) will require transfer by water taxi (usually an open, uncovered small vessel, such as a panga is used) due to the draft limitations of the ports. This only costs ~$1 per person, but those who haven’t spent a lot of time traveling by water may find this slightly daunting. Be sure to use the “Galápagos handshake” if a crew member offers their hand – grab behind the crew member’s wrist for extra stability. It is slightly awkward, but you will be grateful for the extra stability when transferring between two vessels rocking in the waves.
Also know that almost all day trips will involve physical activities of some sort – land hikes (either with elevation changes or over uneven volcanic surfaces), snorkeling or a combination of the two. As I build out guides for each day trip, I will include information on the accessibility level for different destinations. I honestly think you would be better for self-guided than booking with a tour agency in most cases if you are worried about physical limitations. Day trips and multi-day cruises all take place within the national park (comprising 97% of the islands), which means you are required to 1) be led by a trained and certified naturalist guide and 2) that you are able to keep up with the group. Even before my hip injury, I had a hard time keeping up with our tour guide on the Pinzon and Daphne tour we took in 2016, so I would also suggest notifying your guide that you may be lagging behind slightly so that they can adjust their pacing accordingly.
Though I will break down accessibility for individual trips in more detail in future posts, I would not recommend the ever-popular Bartolome Island trip for those with mobility issues, sports-induced asthma or breathing problems. There are over 300 steps required to get the iconic shot and the last 100 steps or so are just straight up the face of a volcano you are scaling. There are plenty of trips and numerous self-guided activities where you can better control your mobility and access, but make sure you know what level of physical activity you are in for no matter where you decide to go. No one wants to travel hours to a destination only to not be able to participate in the experience. Plus, knowing if you are making wet or dry landings is important when deciding how to dress and what type of footwear to bring for the day.