The Galapagos Islands are a wildlife wonderland situated 600 miles off the coast of Ecuador in South America. Visiting this remote archipelago is a dream come true for many travelers but serious planning is required to make this trip a successful one. The most important thing to consider is selecting the right Galapagos tour or cruise that suits your preferences.
There is no right or wrong way to experience Galapagos. Cruises are fantastic for people who would like all-inclusive adventures out at sea, whereas land-based tours will suit backpackers on a budget or those who want to take their time hopping from one island to the next. The great benefit of a cruise is that you don’t have to worry about logistics like water taxis between the islands. Cruises are also good at finding hidden gems.
Since tourism is a thriving industry on the islands, you will be spoilt for choice when it comes to choosing Galapagos tours or cruises. To make your search that much easier, we recommend browsing through the Galapagos cruise options with Happy Gringo who have been running tours in Ecuador for over 15 years. The amazing staff at this Anglo-Dutch company are passionate travelers and local experts who know Galapagos inside and out.
How to Find the Right Galapagos Cruise
The majority of ships that tour around Galapagos are run by small local operators, so you won’t find too many multinational cruise corporations on these shores. Small group cruises are the norm because the precious environment and wildlife of Galapagos needs to be safeguarded from exploitative mass tourism. This is good news given the fact that small cruises take you to see the rich wildlife on offer in a more intimate fashion.
Each Galapagos cruise has its own qualities that will appeal to different types of folks. A select few take you onboard extravagantly luxurious yachts where you get pampered for the journey, while other cruises save you money every step of the way by providing the basics without compromising on the sights. Itineraries all vary in route and duration – from short four day trips to comprehensive two week adventures.
There are four considerations when selecting a cruise: duration, itinerary, group size and budget. The most popular duration is eight days. Shorter trips can fly by and you might regret not going for longer – especially because you lose several hours on arrival and departure by traveling to and from the airport. A four day cruise will only give you two full days. It would be a shame to come all the way to Galapagos for such a short period.
The four or five day Galapagos cruises are better suited for people who will add land-based tours onto their itineraries or stay on the islands for a few weeks traveling independently. Eight days is a superb choice for first time visitors to Galapagos, as you can pretty much incorporate all of the diverse landscapes and wildlife into that timeframe and not feel rushed as you go.
Better yet, cruises that last for 10+ days provide a slow-paced in-depth look at this archipelago. These longer voyages are commonly booked by people who have come to South America just for this one experience and wish to fly back home afterwards. Once you have decided on your duration, the next step is to think about your cruise itinerary – what islands you would like to visit and what type of wildlife you have at the top of your bucket list.
Deciding on your perfect Galapagos itinerary can be tricky due to the fact that most travelers have no knowledge about the island’s geography and where the best wildlife is located. That is why it’s so important to link up with a quality local tour operator like Happy Gringo who can recommend a route that takes all of your desires and wishes into account. You can contact their team for a no-obligation free cruise quote.
The final considerations are group size and budget. Most of the Galapagos cruises with Happy Gringo have a 16 guest limit while several others have a 17-40 passenger capacity. Perhaps you would prefer less than 16 people (which they can accommodate) or you don’t mind jumping on board with 40+ guests. There are even options to book your own Galapagos charter for the ultimate private experience exploring the islands at your own pace.
Of course, the charters come with a significantly higher price tag and will fall outside most travelers budgets. But for the small minority who can afford it there is no better way to explore the remote wilderness that is the Galapagos Islands. Budgeting will be a central component of your cruise planning. To have a basic understanding, here are some of the price ranges that you can expect to pay per day: <$499, $500-599, $700-850 and >$851.
Not everyone will be able to afford $850 per day but for those who have saved their entire lives for this experience it would be worthwhile to splash out on this once in a lifetime journey. Remember that each cruise comes with its own itinerary and naturalist guide – so you won’t have to do any major research or planning before you set sail. Costs like food, tours and transport are covered on the cruise so keep that in mind also.
3 of the Very Best Galapagos Cruises
Below are examples of awesome Galapagos cruises that you can book with Happy Gringo. We have provided just three specific recommendations because there are so many potential choices and combinations out there that it can make your head spin. Narrowing down the options will hopefully make finding the right Galapagos cruise a little easier for you.
1. Ocean Spray Catamaran – Itinerary A (8 Days)
The Ocean Spray Catamaran is a luxury yacht which can host up to 16 guests. Rooms are spacious with their own private balconies and there is a jacuzzi on the boat’s sundeck. This itinerary is a wonderful choice for first-time visitors to Galapagos because it combines Isabela and Fernandina islands out in the west with Espanola island in the south. For those who want a little luxury out on the ocean, this is the perfect booking.
2. Aida Maria Yacht – Itinerary B (8 Days)
The Aida Maria is a best-seller with budget travelers and for good reason. It offers economical prices and the stellar service that you expect on Happy Gringo cruises. Itinerary B runs for eight days and is an exciting trip as you will get to visit amazing destinations like the Charles Darwin Research Station, Volcan Sierra Negra and Rabida Island Red Beach. At only $3,060 per person, this cruise provides the highest value for money on the market.
3. Anahi Catamaran – Itinerary E1 (15 Days)
The Anahi Catamaran ensures a smooth sailing experience for 15 days (if you choose the E1 Itinerary). Fit for 16 passengers, this luxury vessel has spacious cabins and large windows to watch the world go by. Highlights of the cruise include a visit to Elizabeth Bay in Isabela, Kicker Rock in San Cristobal and Devil’s Crown in Floreana. This is the ultimate Galapagos cruise which gives you the time and space to explore abundantly.
Should you Book a Galapagos Land-Based Tour?
Land-based tours have become popular due to the increase in the number of backpackers who are searching for flexible ways to navigate the archipelago. What these travelers do is book day tours or multi-day tours to remote places that they couldn’t reach themselves and then freely explore during the rest of their stay. These tours are also a natural fit for people who have booked short cruises and still yearn for more.
Instead of sleeping in a catamaran cabin, travelers stay in hotels and have excursions booked for them. For example, there are four types of Galapagos land tours which you can book with Happy Gringo. These include classic Galapagos highlights, activity tours, short island extensions and all-inclusive hotel packages. If you get seasick or don’t want to be out at sea then you can consider one of the best land-based tours below.
3 Galapagos Land-Based Tours to Consider
- Galapagos Explorer (8 Days): A seven night tour where wildlife viewing, snorkeling and trekking adventures keep your days full to the brim. You will get to see many of the highlights in Galapagos while having the option of saving lots of money if you choose the backpacker version of this tour. Prices start from just $1485 per person with Happy Gringo.
- Galapagos Discovery (6 Days): Prices get even cheaper on this five night tour with Happy Gringo, starting at a mere $1215 per person. If you are traveling through Ecuador on a tight budget and have the Galapagos Islands on your bucket list then this could be the opportunity for you. Visit an array of volcanic islands and see extraordinary wildlife up close.
- Pikaia Lodge (4 – 6 Days): This hotel might just be the most exclusive accommodation in all of Galapagos. Stay at the Pikaia Lodge which is a 5-star hotel built spectacularly on an extinct volcanic crater and run with an eco-friendly ethos. The views here are outstanding and so are the wildlife opportunities. Expect to see many birds and giant tortoises.
Final Tips for Visiting Galapagos
Visiting Galapagos takes travel to unimaginable new heights. It doesn’t matter if you choose to book a cruise or land-based tour, this legendary volcanic archipelago teeming with wildlife will take your breath away. Selecting the right Galapagos cruise or tour is just one of the elements that you have to get right. Being here is everything but first you need to know how to get to Galapagos before you can start your adventure.
Ecuador is the only country with direct flights to Galapagos. If you come all the way from the USA or Europe, you should consider traveling around the Ecuadorian mainland as well because it offers many phenomenal places such as Quito, Banos and the Amazon. However, if your primary goal is to just see Galapagos then you can still fly directly into the country and take another flight straight to the islands without too much stress or fuss.
Another key tip is related to Galapagos weather. Two seasons define the climate of the islands and they are the warm & wet season and the cool & dry season. The warm & wet season starts in December and runs through to May. The sun shines during these months but occasionally it rains. The cool & dry season brings about cloudier skies, cooler temperatures and less rain. This time is considered more pleasant for adventurous excursions.
There is no right or wrong time to visit Galapagos. Even with a bit of rain or cloud cover, the wildlife of these islands will still be around waiting for you. Temperatures are warm year-round, so the only added extra you will need during the warm & wet season is a light raincoat for that sporadic shower that may or may not occur. Remember to pack everything you need for the trip like swimwear, hiking boots and sun protection items.
Last but not least, make sure you leave the Galapagos Islands in a better shape than you found them. This tip is of the utmost importance because Galapagos is a fragile ecosystem and one of the world’s most precious places. Everyone who visits her beautiful shores is responsible for looking after her. Visiting the islands is a privilege and not a right. Let’s keep Galapagos pristine for generations to come. Safe travels everyone!