Chief Explorer Nick Stanziano has just got back cruising the Galapagos with his kids – for the third time! Follow his tips to ensure your trip to the Galapagos Islands goes down as the best family vacation ever.
Traveling with kids is a delicate balance. Grown up vacations (a week exploring the boutiques and bistros of NYC, for example), might not go over so well with a five-year-old and family-friendly places like the Bahamas can be a bit tacky. Enter the Galapagos Islands off the coast of Ecuador…
Like Hawaii on steroids
The Galapagos reminds me a lot of the big island of Hawaii where I was born. But the wildlife experience is on an entirely different level. Unlike birdwatching in the Amazon or going on safari in Kenya, the animals in the Galapagos don’t stray far from their usual haunts, which makes them a real hit with kids. My five-year-old son Vasco absolutely loved the baby sea lions, the tortoises and the marine iguanas.
Meanwhile my daughter Chiara, who’s 12, really enjoyed the educational aspects of the trip. She asked loads of questions at the tortoise breeding center and scoured the exhibits. Snorkeling was also a real hit with Chiara. And who can blame her? Snorkeling in the Galapagos is totally out of this world. In the same underwater scene, you can see school of penguins swimming by, a marine iguana gnawing on algae and a family of sea turtles floating in the background. Not to mention all the fish and coral. All of the boats have snorkeling kit (including wetsuits) and the experience is extremely safe. Vasco was a bit young for it this time round but in a year or two he’ll catch on.
Big boat, small boat or hotel?
This is entirely up to you, although I personally think small boats work really well with kids. There were five kids out of a total of 16 guests on our recent cruise on the Sea Star Journey, and it worked really well. Smaller boats allow you to contain yourself as a family: we spent a lot of time hanging out at the hot tubs on the third floor, and often we had them all to ourselves. Most boats offer buffet menus which are great for picky eaters. Bigger boats, on the other hand, have more amenities (including play areas), and some even have kids’ programs. If you’re worried about seasickness, the bigger boats are definitely more stable. Most of the big boats we work with offer interleading cabins for families.
Staying at a land-based hotel (or island hopping between a few) is another great option for families. Finch Bay is wonderful for kids: it’s got an awesome swimming pool, a calm, private beach and a fantastic kids’ program. With 27 rooms it is a medium-sized hotel. Another option is the Galapagos Safari Camp which offers a really hands-on Kids Club (summer only) in the late afternoon / early evening. The Safari Camp is a smaller property (10 rooms) tucked away in the highlands that offers full-day yacht tours to the neighboring islands when staying for at least 4 days. Otherwise, many opt to combine a couple of days at the Safari Camp with a shortish cruise to experience all facets of the Galapagos.
Another serious bonus of any Galapagos cruise is the fact that there’s no wi-fi or cell phone signal while you’re at sea. You’ll get limited reception in Puerto Ayora, but for the rest it’s just you and the big blue yonder. I’m a firm believer that vacations with your kids shouldn’t only take everyone to a new place, but also to a new way of thinking and connecting with one another. Sure the teenagers (or in my case, pre-teenager) might get a little frustrated at the outset. But by the end, they will have discovered the wonders of not looking at a screen all day.
How long is too long?
You know your family better than I do, but I’d say four or five nights on a cruise is the sweet spot. This will give you plenty of time to experience the incredible diversity that the Galapagos Islands have to offer, but not enough time to drive each other mad. The Galapagos combines really well with Machu Picchu (another fantastic kids’ destination) or a trip to the Ecuadorean Amazon.
Other stuff to bear in mind
While we’re on the topic, Staci Steele (our resident Galapagos bookings expert) has put together some pointers for families planning a Galapagos adventure.
Most Galapagos cruise boats have a minimum age limit of 6 to 8 years and offer up to 25% discounts for children under 12. Generally speaking, the Galapagos cruises we work with don’t have child-specific cruise departures, but all are kid-friendly.
The Galapagos Legend (which can accommodate 100 guests) has no minimum age limit and a kids’ corner that chock-a-block with toys and games (it’s not a daycare center, though, so you’ll have to keep an eye on them). The Legend indicates ‘family departure’ on any cruise where children are signed up, so you can know which tours to aim for / avoid!
The Santa Cruz II, La Pinta and Isabela II offer a really spiffy Young Pirates program which includes activities (making bracelets, stargazing, treasure hunts) , a kiddies’ menu (cheeseburgers, chocolate milk, earlier dining times), educational program and even its own library of stories set in the Galapagos (titles include Dawn to Dusk in the Galapagos and Life on Earth: The Story of Evolution). The same program is offered at Finch Bay lodge.
The Legend and a few other boats including the Santa Cruz II have glass-bottom boats which are great for kids who are too young to snorkel.
Galapagos cruise vs. land-based: take your pick
An Insider Look: Cruising the Galapagos
When is the Best Time to Visit the Galapagos?
Planning and Packing for your Galapagos Adventure
A Galapagos family tour is one of the best family vacations you’ll ever have – you can take my word for it. Check out our Galapagos itineraries here or speak to a Destination Expert about crafting a bespoke Galapagos tour to meet your family’s exact requirements.