Someone you know recently mentioned a recent trip to the Galapagos Islands, or is considering one, and it’s piqued your interest. You remember hearing about the Galapagos Islands, but you admittedly don’t remember exactly where they are or what it’s all about. So, what exactly makes Galapagos Islands travel so interesting? Here is a brief outline of what to expect when considering a Galapagos Islands vacation.
Located approximately 1000 miles to the west of the mainland, the Galapagos Islands are part of the Republic of Ecuador. In the middle of the Pacific Ocean, The Galapagos Archipelago straddles the equator and is converged upon by the Humboldt, Cromwell, and Panama sea currents.
What makes the archipelago unique?
Mesmerizing volcanic landscapes, ongoing geological phenomena, and pristine beaches add to the intrigue of the archipelago, but it’s the wildlife of the Galapagos Islands that really sets in apart from other destinations. The quantity of endemic species in the Galapagos Islands is astounding, and not just endemic to the archipelago, but also to the individual islands themselves. The wildlife has no natural fear of humans, but rather curiosity; both on land and in the water. Charles Darwin’s visit to the Galapagos Islands had an overwhelming impact on his theories of Natural Selection and Evolution.
How to visit the Galapagos Islands
The only way to arrive to the Galapagos Islands is by flight from the Ecuadorian mainland, from the capital city of Quito or the economic port city of Guayaquil. Arriving to Ecuador really isn’t as difficult as one might think. Flights arrive daily from Miami, Houston, and Atlanta. There are other U.S. flights throughout the week, and other daily arrivals from Europe and other Latin American countries. A flight from Miami is a little under four hours, quicker than flying to Los Angeles.
Galapagos Islands Cruises
The absolute most comprehensive way to visit the Galapagos is by a small ship or expedition cruise. An all-inclusive expedition cruise allows you to maximize your time, gives you access to more remote areas, includes all activities and meals. The onboard naturalist guide will be your link to an amazing Galapagos Islands experience.
It is best not to think of an expedition cruise in the Galapagos in the same way you would a mass-market cruise to a destination such as the Caribbean or the Mediterranean. Service levels are exceptionally high, and many ships offer spectacular amenities, but the yacht itself should be thought of as your mobile base camp. The excursions, the wildlife, the educational experiences, and the landscapes are the focus of the cruise, not the ship itself.
How to book a Galapagos Cruise
There are a couple of different ways to book a Galapagos cruise. The most beneficial way is to discuss your needs with a Galapagos Islands specialist who will discuss your expectations and budget with you; ensuring you end up on the right cruise with the right itinerary for you. Booking with a travel specialist does not cost you any extra money. You will get extra service and be made privy to any deals and Galapagos cruise specials that may be available as well.
It is possible to book a cruise through a mainstream booking engine as well, but your options will be limited. Most agencies located outside of Ecuador only offer the very few cruises that are operated by large international cruise lines. One of these could end up being the right fit for you but they are generally quite a different experience from that which the smaller Ecuadorian operators provide. Celebrity, National Geographic, and Hurtigruten are some of the more well-known operators in this class. Ecuador Unlimited works with both the Ecuadorian and the International lines, which puts us in a unique position to provide our clients with a full range of options.
Galapagos Islands Travel: Land Based Tours
Galapagos Islands Multi-Island Tours
There are well-run escorted land tours on the Galapagos Islands. These are generally operated by the same operators that run the cruises. These tours can be five to eight days in length; include your lodging, most meals, and daily activities. You will have the chance to visit multiple islands, view a large range of wildlife, and be accompanied by a naturalist guide.
A Land-based tour may be a good option if you are traveling with kids. The reason being that there are very few discounts with the cruise operators for the little ones. Almost every cruise departure is 100% booked and there are park regulations in respect to capacity and guest to crew ratios. So, each operator needs to sell their space at full price or close to it. The land-based operators have a lot more flexibility in their pricing and occupancy, making it easier to budget for the whole family.
A hotel package can be a great option for shorter stays. These options can be anywhere from three to eight days and can range from budget options to 5-star stays. Even with a budget option the Galapagos Islands can be costly, depending on how many activities are included. Hotel packages are limited in range, only offering excursions which can be completed in a maximum of 8-10 hours from the hotel. If you want to avoid a cruise because of seasickness concerns, a hotel package may not necessarily be the antidote. To reach many of the locations you may find yourself on much smaller day boat which may be a rougher ride to your destination.
DIY Galapagos Island Hopper
A lot of people wonder if you can just book a hotel in the Galapagos Islands and then do it yourself from there. It is possible to do it this way, but you must carefully consider the advantages versus the disadvantages. You will be able to visit some local beaches on your own and dine in town. There are a few travel agencies – tour operators around which sell day tours. These tours cost in the $200-350 range per person and will not be as complete of an excursion as one provided by a cruise due to range and transport times. An average day with lodging, meals, and a half-day excursion will cost around $250-300 based on double occupancy.
If you have plenty of time, a do-it-yourself vacation may suit your needs. If you wanted to experience the same inclusions and excursions offered in a hotel package, you would not be able to replicate it for the same price or save money. If you are okay skipping a few things, like leisure days hanging out with sea lions on the beach, and sprinkling in a couple of day tours, then a DIY could be a good option for you.
Galapagos Islands: Diving
The diving in the Galapagos Islands is world-class. The diving conditions are generally for intermediate to experienced divers. The strong currents can be difficult to manage but are extremely rewarding.
Diving is heavily regulated in the Galapagos and only a handful of boats are licensed. There are few dedicated dive boats and a small number of traditional cruises that are authorized.
Day trips from Santa Cruz and San Cristobal are easy to add-on to either side of your Galapagos cruise. There are several high-quality dive outfitters that offer trips every day of the week.
Galapagos Islands: as a family destination
The Galapagos Islands is an amazing family destination, suitable for every generation of traveler. Cruises can be a little restrictive for younger children, but there are options! This is an experience of a lifetime; its interactive, educational, and cultural.
Any age of traveler with any level of fitness can visit the islands. The key to getting the most out of your experience is mobility. There are very few activities that will test your fitness level, but overall good health is key. All cruises will require you to embark and disembark on zodiacs, both at the boat and at the shore. There is also a good amount of walking, often on uneven surfaces.
For more on the Galapagos Islands as a family destination check out this blog post.
Best time to visit
There is genuinely no better time than another to visit the Galapagos Islands. There are factors that will influence your decision on when to visit, because of weather patterns and wildlife viewing opportunities unique to each season. The amount of daylight is consistent throughout the year. Water temperatures and weather patterns do fluctuate, but this will come down to personal choice as each season presents unique opportunities.
As far as prices and availability are concerned, the months of May-August are typically the ones that sell out first. Dates around Christmas and Easter usually carry a premium price tag.
For more on Galapagos Islands seasons & when to visit check out this blog post.
Galapagos Islands: Wildlife
Oh the wildlife! This is what it’s all about. You will have literal face-to-face encounters with a variety of species found nowhere else on earth. This is a bird watchers paradise, a diving mecca, and an overly impressive experience for even the casual nature lover. Hammerhead sharks, whales, sea turtles, giant tortoises, endemic bird species, and of course the boobies! The list is extensive, check out the 20 most unique Galapagos Islands animals here.
Galapagos: Best Islands
Every island has its own unique qualities. The western islands are younger and still evolving, meaning more rugged and volcanic landscape. The eastern islands are little greener, have resident areas, and where you will find the giant tortoises. Each destination presents a distinct wildlife viewing opportunity. Each cruise itinerary is carefully crafted and will provide an amazing experience, so don’t worry too much about picking a bad one because they do not exist. There are certainly areas that are better for snorkeling and diving, other areas better for kayaking, and Isabela Island is the best for land excursions.
Please check out our Travel Tips & FAQ’s page if you have travel questions, or send us a message
Blue footed boobies on the island of San Cristobal, Galapagos, Ecuador
Iguana in the Galapagos. Santa Cruz Island