Galapagos cruise vs. land-based: take your pick
We can all agree that the Galapagos Islands are one of the world’s most fascinating and important natural wonders. Choosing how best to experience them isn’t quite as simple. To make your life simpler, we’ve put together a handy comparison of sea and land-based experiences.
Whether you choose to cruise or island hop, you must catch a flight from the Ecuadorian mainland (either Quito or Guayaquil) to Baltra or San Cristobal Island, both 600 miles off the coast. Most ships and hotels provide an all-inclusive experience, though you may pay extra for alcoholic drinks, equipment rental, and tips. Your destination expert can confirm all the details for you.
Both cruises and island-hopping holidays follow fairly set itineraries. If there are particular islands or animal species you're keenest on, be sure to let your Destination Expert know so they can arrange your experiences accordingly. Because the Galapagos is such a coveted destination, it’s best to book well in advance, especially during high season, which includes July-August, Christmas and New Year's, and Easter. 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 calm seas. June through November you can expect colder weather with less rain but cloudier skies. not to mention slightly rougher seas due to the presence of the nutrient-rich Humboldt current (which brings with it fantastic snorkel opportunities).
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 rustic luxury. You will follow in 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: you can experience the best of the archipelago in as little as four days and three nights, while ardent animal lovers and diving enthusiasts can spend up to two weeks exploring the islands. That said, most folks spend between 5 and 7 days: plenty of time to experience the archipelago’s staggering diversity but not so much as to risk overdosing on blue-footed boobies. For more details, read our more extensive post An Insider Look: Cruising the Galapagos.
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 are also land-based hotels on many islands. While short sea journeys between the islands are (almost) inevitable, you can very easily spend every night of your vacation on terra firma.
You’ll enjoy guided activities during the day and return to a relaxing lodge in the evening. The most common arrangement is to either spend 3 to 4 nights at a single hotel or to embark on an island-hopping program, staying in hotels on two islands (typically Santa Cruz and Isabela) for 2 to 3 nights each. Another aspect which sets land-based itineraries apart is the fact that many islands boast both coastal and highland hotels. Staying in the sierras is an unforgettable experience and one that is – duh – impossible to achieve on a boat! An island-hopping tour is also a good choice for travelers who want the freedom to enjoy some personal space. Cruises tend to feature compact cabins while land-based lodging is usually more spacious.
For those who get seasick just thinking about boats, there is one final option: scheduled flights between the main islands of Santa Cruz and Isabella allow you to experience two different islands in the Galapagos archipelago without ever setting sail. Understandably, this option is more restrictive than a cruise or island-hopping tour, but it sure beats staying at home!
Originally published July 2018.