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Galapagos cruise vs. island hopping: take your pick

Secondary Categories: EcuadorThe Essentials

Let’s not mince words. A Galapagos cruise is a dream vacation. It combines the best of nature, adventure, convenience, and depending on which boat you choose, even luxury. On a Galapagos cruise you can follow the footsteps of Charles Darwin as you discover remarkable marine and land wildlife, experience an isolated windswept environment, and learn about how this strange habitat fostered such an amazing display of living evolution.

The length of your Galapagos cruise is entirely up to you as the options are endless: three days for those on a limited schedule, and up to three weeks for adamant animal lovers and diving enthusiasts. However, the most common length is between 5-7 days, giving you enough time to see the archipelago’s diversity without overdosing on blue-footed boobies.

Galapagos cruises don’t start from the mainland. Rather, you must catch a flight from Ecuador’s Quito or Guayaquil to Baltra or San Cristobal Island, both 600 miles off the Ecuadorian coast. Most ships provide an all-inclusive experience, though you may pay extra for alcoholic drinks and equipment rental. Your destination expert can confirm all the details for you.

Each Galapagos cruise ships has a set itinerary. If there are particular islands or animal species you’d like to experience, be sure to carefully read the cruise itinerary before booking. For more details, read our more extensive post An Insider Look: Cruising the Galapagos.

Because the Galapagos is such a coveted destination, its best to book in advance, especially during high season, which includes July-August, Christmas, and Easter. And although there is never a bad time to visit the islands, each season offers a unique perspective. From December until May the weather tends to be warmer with afternoon showers and the sea will be at its calmest, while June through November you can expect colder weather with less rain but cloudier skies and slightly rougher seas.

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If you worry about seasickness spoiling your Galapagos vacation, fear no more. Although a Galapagos cruise is by far the most popular and common way to visit the Galapagos Islands, there is a great alternative: island hopping. While short sea journeys between the islands are inevitable, an island hopping tour is based on land, taking to the sea only when transportation requires it.

Like a cruise, a proper island hopping tour is all inclusive with a set itinerary. You’ll enjoy guided activities during the day and return to a relaxing lodge in the evening. A major difference between this type of tour and simply staying in a Galapagos hotel on one of the islands is that you’ll stay in a different lodge almost every night. This eliminates backtracking and gives you more time to explore the further reaches of the island system.

An island hopping tour is also a good choice for travelers who want the consistency of a group but the freedom to enjoy more personal space. Cruises tend to feature compact cabins while land-based lodging is usually more spacious. And, of course, you’re able to enjoy the lodge’s surroundings and offered amenities.

For the truly seasick, there is one final option. Flights between the main islands of Santa Cruise and Isabella are available. By flying between the two you’ll be able to experience two different islands in the Galapagos archipelago without ever setting sail. This option is more restrictive than a cruise or island hopping tour, but still a wonderful option if you’re more comfortable on land.

Keen to see the Galapagos for yourself? Check out our Galapagos & Ecuador itineraries here or speak to one of our Destination Experts about crafting the bespoke vacation of your dreams.

Photo credits: RHTRAVELER

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