If you’re a digital nomad, you may be drawn to amazing, fantastical places with crystal-clear water and white-sand beaches, like the Galapagos Islands. But what is it like to work remotely while travelling this breathtaking archipelagos? Here are the details you need to know — from two digital nomads who did it for three weeks straight!
How many jobs ads have you seen for remote work that specify ‘with a good internet connection’? Basically all of them, right? It’s one of those things that can be pretty easy to nod your head to. In fact, during all our travels in South America we struggled to find a spot where we couldn’t complete our work online — until we got to the Galapagos.
FOR CONTEXT: My partner and I are both digital nomads. We complete the majority of our work via the web, WordPress, social media, Slack, and email. We have the odd voice or video call, and conduct a lot of research via the internet. The internet is essential for our work, although we’re not uploading videos or anything that is particularly bandwidth intensive.
There’s not much information online about internet accessibility in the Galapagos apart from it being slow and a bit spotty. So how bad is the internet on Galapagos? We took a chance and dived in to find out.
Overall: internet access on the Galapagagos Islands
Here’s the bottom line: working remotely on the Galapagos Islands is difficult. In fact, at some points it was downright impossible. There is internet access available on the islands in almost all hotels and cafes. However, speeds range from bearable to painfully slow — and these vary wildly depending on the time of the day.
When you do get a connection it can be prone to dropouts, so you quickly get in the habit of saving your work regularly. Sometimes we could work almost normally, and other times we couldn’t even send a message on Slack.
We found we quite often needed to supplement our WiFi with a 4G hotspot from our phones. Claro has the best reception in Galapagos, and prices aren’t extortionate, so this can be a quality way to improve your connection speeds.
In saying that, once we got used to the much slower speeds and regular dropouts, working on the Galapagos Islands was doable. Overall, working in the Galapagos Islands is possible – if you’re willing to make a few amendments to how you work.
Tips for working remotely in the Galapagos
We spent three weeks on the Galapagos Islands while maintaining our full-time jobs – and we don’t think our bosses minded (too much, thanks guys!). Here’s what we learned along the way:
Change your schedule
Internet access on the Galapagos Islands varies wildly depending on the time of the day. We found that early in the morning internet access was pretty solid. Around 12:30, when everyone has lunch breaks and siestas, it would slow to an almost stop for about two hours. In the late afternoon it would perk up again, then, when all the tourists would come back from day-tours slow down again. In the evening it was slow, but workable.
As a result, we turned our normal workday into starting early (around 6-7 AM) until around midday, exploring the islands in the afternoon, then returning back around 7 PM to finish off work.
Here’s a more visual representation of what we figured out optimal working hours were:
It’s important to note that the highest speeds we saw during our time on all the islands were only 7 Mbps and at times we reached below 1. To put that into context, home internet speeds are normally at least 25 Mbps, and high speed internet is over 100 Mbps. In short: speeds in the Galapagos will transport you right back to 1999 — they are slo-o-o-o-o-w.
Get a 4G connection
This will make the biggest difference to your time attempting to work on Galapagos. Make sure you have data available on your phone or on a portable WiFi hotspot. We recommend Claro, the largest network in Ecuador because they have the best coverage in the Galapagos. This isn’t a sales pitch or an affiliate link in any way, we just found they were the best.
While you can top up your pre-paid data for Claro at any number of small shops who act as agents for the service, if you go directly to a Claro shop you can access different deals. For example, we were topping up $10 USD at a time for 3GB of data at general stores. When I attended the Claro shop, they were able to give me a plan with 7GB for $20 USD, which was much better.
If you’re prepared to spend a little bit extra on mobile data, you’ll find remote working in the Galapagos Islands to be much easier.
I also found another blogger using a portable WiFi hotspot from Claro. He said that it was working pretty well. Information on this on Claro’s website is pretty sparse, so it may be worth popping into a shop to find out more.
As a note: there is only one dedicated Claro shop on the Galapagos Islands, on Santa Cruz. The other islands you’re restricted to third-party sellers.
Choose a smaller hotel or hostel
This goes for being a digital nomad almost anywhere. If you stay in a large hotel, you share the internet connection with more people, which makes it slower. If you choose to stay in a small hotel, Airbnb, or hostel, you share the connection with less people.
Download any work possible
During times when internet speeds are higher, make sure to download any work you need for when they inevitably drop again.
For example, I do a lot of writing and my partner does a lot of editing — we would download any information or documents we needed first thing in the morning, then work through them during the day.
Lower your expectations — or take some time off
Pulling an eight-hour workday is possible when digital nomading in the Galapagos — but your productivity is going to suffer no matter what. We’re all used to working with lightning fast internet, so when there’s a big drop in speed your workflow will suffer. Not being able to get in touch with colleagues, upload files, or slow loading webpages all add time to your day.
Reconsider what you can get done in a day, and make arrangements with your boss or clients. After all, it’s the Galapagos and there are a zillion things to see and do — make sure you’re not chained to your desk the whole time. Work to live, don’t live to work 😉
Switch between cafes
Many cafes in the Galapagos have WiFi — but they’re not all created equal. If you find that one cafe has a particularly bad internet connection, consider jumping across the road. You may be surprised by the jump in speed (you know, from slow to less slow).
Know the limits of the internet connection
Slow internet is a big deal — so if your job involves uploading videos, you’ll probably need to rethink being a digital nomad on Galapagos. Carefully consider whether any of your work requires a lot of bandwidth. For example, many webpages won’t fully load images. If you’re coding a website for an important customer, that may put you behind.
Have a room with aircon
It’s important to be comfortable while working, but the Galapagos can get hot. It’s not easy to work with sweat dripping down your back or a heat headache raging in your head. Look carefully for a hotel room that has air-conditioning, it will make a difference!
Working remotely in the Galapagos: by island
There are 13 major islands in the Galapagos, but only four are inhabited — and only three are worth staying on for more than one night. Santa Cruz, Isabela, and San Cristobal are the major hotspots, while you can technically do Floreana in just a day trip or a single overnight. We only did a day trip to Floreana, but spent about a week on the other three islands.
Santa Cruz is the busiest island of Galapagos, and subsequently has the most cafes and restaurants. We found an abundance of these offered WiFi (albeit slow) and a few offered reasonable seating for working. The absolute best coffee was at 1835 Coffee Lab, but it’s a small location so don’t expect to camp out for the day.
We stayed at both an Airbnb and a hotel on Santa Cruz and found that both had okay internet, although we had to switch to 4G at times.
Isabela is the island that is furthest from mainland Ecuador, and subsequently had the worst internet of our whole trip. It was virtually impossible to get work done on this island, even when waking up early to use it during the least-busy part of the day. There aren’t a lot of cafes here that offer WiFi, so we did a lot of work from the hammocks at our hostel.
San Cristobal had reasonable internet speeds, however is prone to power blackouts. This made getting work done frustrating. However, each blackout typically didn’t last longer than an hour.