There are two main ways to explore this little world within itself - either on a cruise, or through land-based excursions.
We are often asked whether it is better to explore the Galapagos Islands via cruise or on land, and there really is no straightforward answer.
There are benefits to both ways of travelling but whether a cruise or land based exploration suits you ultimately depends on what type of traveller you are.
To help you make the decision, we’ve put together this comparison of land vs. cruise in the Galapagos.
As the Galapagos Islands are one of the most isolated destinations on Earth, it can be difficult to know how to reach them. To get to the Galapagos, you have to pass through Ecuador, flying from either Quito – the capital – or Guayaquil – a charming coastal city. Making your way over to the islands from these two cities is fairly hassle-free, with flights from both only taking around two and a half hours. It’s worth arriving in Ecuador at least 48 hours before your scheduled flight departure date, though, to account for any delays or cancellations.
Cruising through the Galapagos tends to be the most popular way to see these islands, and it is easy to see why. On a cruise, travellers are able to see many more islands than if they were staying on land, including the more remote ones that can only be reached by boat. Pretty much everything is taken care of from when you book your cruise too, with a set itinerary, catered meals and a helpful crew all part of the package.
The types of cruises available vary, with the main difference being the size of boat. The boats range from small ones carrying around 16 passengers to larger boats carrying between 80 and 100 people. The smaller boats are much more intimate, but the larger ones are a good option for travellers who suffer from seasickness, or who would like more independence. To help you choose which cruise ship is right for you, our expert travel designers have picked some of their favourites.
The Endemic is one of the newest catamarans to cruise the Galapagos’ waters and one of the smaller boats available. Although small, the Endemic offers an intimate experience and provides guests with a luxurious and comfortable stay. Five spacious ensuite cabins come complete with large glass windows, balconies and air conditioning. Meals can be enjoyed in the indoor dining space, while a TV lounge and outdoor jacuzzi add to the luxurious feel. It is easy to explore the Galapagos’ waters from the Endemic, with the yacht providing kayaks and snorkelling gear.
The MV Origin combines sumptuous luxury with an environmentally friendly conscience. Ecoventura’s newest ship, this boat features panoramic windows and a hot tub, and provides locally-sourced gourmet meals. This medium-sized yacht can accommodate up to 20 passengers, so it’s a great option for travellers looking for a middle ground between the smaller and larger vessels.
The guide-to-passenger ratio is one of the best in the Galapagos, so travellers can enjoy an extremely exclusive feel. The amenities here are also second to none, with the spacious interior holding a dining and bar area, lounge, fitness centre, library, boutique and computer station. The luxury continues outside, with an outdoor dining area, loungers, hammocks, jacuzzi, hot tub and barbecue.
Towards the larger end of the scale, the recognisable La Pinta Yacht has capacity for 48 guests. Striking a good balance between size and facilities, this yacht is an excellent choice for travellers seeking a combination of comfort, personal service and high quality guiding. One of the newer boats in the Galapagos, La Pinta caters to all types of traveller and is kitted out with a delightful restaurant and bar, jacuzzi and gym.
Although the ship can accommodate just shy of 50 guests, the excursions still feel wonderfully private. All tours are conducted by expert naturalist guides in small groups of just ten guests or less. To explore the surroundings, travellers are able to use snorkelling equipment, sea kayaks, wetsuits and take trips in the glass bottomed boat.
Land-based exploration of the Galapagos involves staying in a hotel or lodge on one of the three major islands – Santa Cruz, Isabela or San Cristóbal – and hopping back and forth between the other islands each day. Staying on land allows for much more flexibility, as travellers are able to create their own schedule. Land-based stays also allow travellers to explore islands in much more depth, as you have ample time to discover the island you’re using as your base.
Choosing to stay on land is also a great option for any travellers who suffer from seasickness, for whom cruising is probably best avoided. There are many options to choose from when it comes to lodges and hotels, so to make the decision easier, our expert travel designers have picked out some of their favourites.
Staying at Galapagos Safari Camp on Santa Cruz island is a truly unique way to enjoy the magnificent nature this archipelago has to offer. With just nine large, well appointed tents here, this corner of nature’s paradise feels wonderfully remote. Each tent comes with its own private bathroom, hot water shower, large double bed and balcony from which to enjoy the views.
Galapagos Safari Camp is a great option for families; the new family suite has three bedrooms (a master and two twins) and its location next to the main lodge adds to the private feel. The hotel boasts an infinity pool with excellent views of the surrounding landscape, and there are a multitude of activities on offer to keep both adults and children entertained.
Lying atop an extinct volcano crater, the relatively new Pikaia Lodge is the perfect choice for eco-conscious travellers. Pikaia Lodge boasts the title of the first carbon neutral accommodation in the Galapagos and even comes with its own private tortoise reserve. With superbly scenic views, this lodge also comes with plenty of spots from which to admire the landscape. The infinity pool, ‘Sumaq’ spa and in-room panoramic windows all offer incredible views over misty volcanoes.
Pikaia caters to a range of travellers, with room types ranging from deluxe and superior to lavish suites. Traditional Peruvian and Ecuadorian cuisine is available in the ‘Evolution’ restaurant, but barbecues and romantic candle-lit dinners can also be enjoyed alfresco by the pool. Sailing around the islands, scuba diving, birdwatching, snorkeling, kayaking and hiking are all excellent ways to explore Santa Cruz from Pikaia.
On the island of Isabela, Scalesia Galapagos Lodge is nestled amidst forest highlands that overlook the pristine sea. 16 large safari-style tents with ensuite bathrooms sit on hardwood decks here, leaving a minimal footprint on the 16 hectare (40 acre) forest reserve. There is a vast array of activities to get stuck into on Isabela, making this lodge an excellent choice for active travellers.
Guests here can snorkel and scuba dive through pristine waters, hike up active volcanoes or bike through the island’s forest. For guests wanting to see more of the Galapagos, Scalesia can arrange island hopping tours that combine Isabela with nearby Santa Cruz, Floreana and San Cristobal.
Feeling inspired? Our expert travel designers are always on hand to help you discover the magical Galapagos Islands.