The Galapagos Islands, archipelago of about 19 islands and smaller islets sprinkled 620 miles off Ecuador’s coast, is a bucket list destination for many. You don’t need to be a zoologist to dream about encountering animals found nowhere else on the planet. You’ll see lava lizards darting between rocks and get close to friendly sea lions and the islands’ famous gigantic land tortoises. The Galapagos also boast some of the world’s best scuba diving. A trip to this wildlife wonderland allows you surprisingly close interactions with unique creatures such as marine iguanas, Galapagos Penguins, the Flightless Cormorant, and Blue-footed Boobies. Adventure travelers can hike on dormant volcanoes, sea kayak, mountain bike and more.
When making this once-in-a-lifetime trip, travelers have two main options to explore the islands: either through a land-based trip or a boat-based cruise through the islands. Find out what to expect and the relative advantages of each so you can choose the best option for making your Galapagos dreams come true.
What to Expect on A Galapagos Cruise
Your home for the duration of your Galapagos visit will be a live-a-board boat of your choice, ranging in size from 16-100 passengers. You will eat, sleep and relax on this vessel, which you will be your base for the duration of your 4, 5 or 8-day expedition. Each morning, after a hearty breakfast, you will disembark into a 16-passenger dinghy, known locally as a “Panga.” The Panga will take you for wildlife excursions, either on shore, or at snorkel sites. Your Galapagos naturalist guide will deepen your understanding and appreciation of the local wildlife, either on land or in the Galapagos Marine Reserve. After a morning of close encounters with some of the famous species of the area, you return to the boat for lunch and to prepare for the next excursion as the vessel navigates to another visitor site. Usually, your afternoon excursion will take you to a completely different island to add a whole new perspective to your Galapagos experience.
Advantages of A Cruise:
- Once you arrive in the archipelago, you can unpack your bags once and for all- you’ll stay in the same room on the vessel for the entirety of your stay
- Cruises are the most efficient way to visit the archipelago, especially remote islands without any human habitation
What to Expect on A Galapagos Land Based Trip
On land-based trips, you stay in eco-lodges or hotels in the port towns on the islands of Isabela, Santa Cruz and San Cristóbal. While you don’t visit as many islands as a cruise-based trip, land-based trips allow you to explore fewer islands in greater depth. Choose from superior accommodations including oceanfront boutique lodges, like Iguana Crossing and Finch Bay Eco Hotel. From your land base, you can get intimately acquainted with the island, independently exploring the wonders of the Galapagos in a small, private group with Galapagos naturalist guide. Although it is impossible to visit as many islands as you would by sea, land-based trips will allow you to enjoy a variety of activities. For example, in the evenings relish fresh seafood at a family-run eatery then go for a sunset walk on Isabela’s beach and observe marine iguanas crawling out of the ocean onto pristine white sand. During the day, active explorers might opt for sea kayaking, hiking on a dormant volcano or mountain biking among coastal mangroves.
Advantages of a Land-Based Trip:
- Land-based excursions allow you to spend more time on each island, with opportunities to visit multiple sites and engage in a variety of activities.
- You will have more flexibility to experience the islands according to your own schedule and interests.
Both of these modes of exploration will allow you to meet most, if not all, of the iconic Galapagos species and expose you to many of the island’s distinct treasures. While your preference may depend on whether you prioritize flexibility or efficiency in visiting multiple islands, you cannot go wrong with either way of experiencing this extraordinary place.