Choosing Between Land and Sea when Visiting the Galápagos

A sea lion pup sleeps against its mother on the rocks.

A sea lion and pup rest on the rocks of Santa Cruz Island in the Galapagos. Photo © Cynthia Perry, licensed Creative Commons Attribution.

There are basically two ways to see the Galápagos: on a cruise or on a land-based tour. Cruises have historically been the most popular, and advantages include the opportunity to travel farther, cover more sites, and spend more time there without needing to get back to port at dusk. There are also many sites only accessible to cruise tours, and there is less environmental impact than staying on land, with none of the associated pollution from hotels. The drawbacks are that you are on a boat with the same group for several days with a fixed schedule, which doesn’t suit everyone. Seasickness is also a factor, even on the best boats.

With the wide choice of classes available, it’s important to remember that, by and large, you get what you pay for.With the wide choice of classes available, it’s important to remember that, by and large, you get what you pay for. You could save a few hundred dollars by opting for the cheapest boat, but you’ll end up with a guide with less knowledge, less comfort, and probably worse seasickness.

Land-based tours are becoming increasingly popular, particularly for those not suited to spending a long time on a boat. Many operators organize short tours based on one island, or you can do an island-hopping tour. However, with the wide availability of day tours in Puerto Ayora and regular ferries between the three main populated islands (San Cristóbal, Santa Cruz, and Isabela), increasing numbers of budget travelers are shunning tours and doing it themselves, saving a lot of money. Bear in mind, though, that doing it this way restricts you to day tours close to the main islands, and islands such as Genovesa, Española, Santiago, and Fernandina as well as the better sites on Floreana and Santa Fé become off-limits.

Whatever you decide to do, it’s important that you don’t get preoccupied with a checklist. Eight days (or even five days) in the Galápagos is an incredible experience to be savored, so don’t ruin your enjoyment of it by becoming obsessed with seeing it all.

Excerpted from the First Edition of Moon Galapagos Islands.

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