I’ve planned several trips to this destination for my clients and the most commonly asked question is first, “How to visit the Galapagos Islands?” The second question is, which way is best? There is no right answer, although I work with you to pick the best travel style for your needs, so I’ve assembled a few highlights of my favorite cruises and hotels to share below. This can be an incredible itinerary for travelers who wish to experience nature and exploration at its finest. If you’ve already done an African safari or an Alaskan wilderness cruise, consider adding the Galapagos to your bucket list!
Things to consider when choosing a trip to the Galapagos Islands:
- A land trip will generally have you stationed on 3 different islands through the course of the tour. You travel by speedboat between the islands and/or for day excursions. Please note each boat ride is 2-3 hours ride and is on a speedboat so if you don’t like those types of rides, take this into consideration. With a cruise, you sleep on the boats but you often wake up at each island already and the boat only moves at night to maximize travel time.
- Because you are limited to islands close by when staying at a lodge on a land-based vacation, you may not be able to visit the further islands or see certain species, but all lodge-based vacations will still offer access to landing sites near Santa Cruz, Isabela and San Cristobal.
- There is no way to have a 100% land-only experience, you will always need to take some type of water transportation since you’re on an island.
- Choose at least an 8 day cruise for the most varied number of islands and wildlife species. Some travelers also love the 14 day itineraries (which doesn’t have any repeat stops!).
- The “largest” cruise ships here are still only about 100 passengers, and to go ashore you must always be in groups of 16 people or less.
- Your guides and naturalists will form a big part of your experience, so don’t choose your package based on the price tag alone – ask your travel agent for recommendations for reputable guides and sustainable travel operators.
Things to know about cruises:
- Cruise itineraries are strictly monitored by the National Park Service, and daily excursions often start early in the morning from the ship. You’re not obligated to go on any excursions, however, so you can still get a chance to sleep in. But definitely remember that the Galapagos attract a far more adventurous and active type of traveler due to the opportunities for Zodiac wet and dry landings, hiking, and explorations. Due to strict ecological rules to preserve the national parks, cruise ships aren’t allowed to visit the same site twice in 15 days, which is why you will see a variety of itineraries or some re-arranging of back-to-back stops.
- Each island is different which means you won’t get bored on your cruise! Some of the highlights may include giant tortoises, sea lions, iguanas, volcanic lava flows, red sand beaches, flamingoes, albatrosses, Zodiac (boat) excursions, glass-bottomed boat expeditions, snorkeling, diving, and more.
When to go: Cruises to the Galapagos are available year-round. High season, reflected in prices, is June-September and December-January.
What to pack: Casual wear! Good hiking shoes and hardy sandals are appropriate, as is a hat for the equatorial sun. And don’t forget a camera for your animal encounters!
How to book: Let’s set up a consultation call to discover which one of these options would suit you best! Contact me here.
How to visit the Galapagos Islands: Finch Bay Eco-Hotel
Explore the islands by day and stay in a luxury lodge by night!
A visit to this stunning eco-lodge is like walking into a paradise that’s home to fearless wildlife that roams along the surrounding beach just outside. And it’s more than that, too – the Finch Bay Galapagos Hotel is incredibly well-connected to the Galapagos National Park, meaning guests can look forward to an experience that puts them at the forefront of virtually everything that the Galapagos Islands has to offer, especially when it comes to fascinating wildlife and otherworldly landscapes.
Your stay at the Finch Bay is also an experience that’s complemented by exceptional hospitality, a Cordon Bleu-certified gastronomic director, its very own Sea Lion Yacht, a plethora of excursion options, beachfront living, a swimming pool, and plush beds with fine linens. All of this makes for a truly unique way to savor your Galapagos Islands experience.
Located on the island of Santa Cruz, it’s part of the Galapagos archipelago’s central islands, which means that most of the National Park’s most important visitor sites (Bartolome, North Seymour, etc.) can be easily reached as part of the Day Tours aboard the Sea Lion Yacht. The hotel is both close and yet separate from the town, too, meaning guests can enjoy peace and tranquility while still having the urban center nearby.
Kayaking, wildlife viewing, exploring on day excursions on the yacht, hiking, exploring lava tunnels, snorkeling, scuba, and more are all available from the hotel.
How to Visit the Galapagos Islands: Celebrity Cruises
- Almost everything is included, including alcoholic drinks, excursions every day on the islands, gratuities, naturalist guides, and national park entry fees.
- Celebrity Cruiselines, a sister company to Royal Caribbean and Azamara, takes its special boat, the Xpedition, to the Galapagos 365-days a year! This boat holds only about 48 guests, so it’s a quite different feeling from Celebrity’s other sailings. Indeed, Celebrity itself refers to Xpedition as a “mega-yacht” rather than a ship.
- Their newest ship, the Flora,is the first ship of its kind to be built especially for the Galápagos Islands. This 100 passenger all-suite mega-yacht features their innovative outward-facing concept—designed to ensure the destination remains the center of attention during your sailing. To bring you an even more in-depth experience, certified naturalists from the Galápagos National Park are on board to guide the journey. Proving you can practice responsible tourism and deliver ultimate luxury at the same time, Celebrity Flora was built with the latest environmental technologies. The dynamic positioning system allows the mega-yacht to remain on station without dropping anchors, protecting the seabed—and the solar panels supplement electricity, reducing emissions. The result is one of the most eco-friendly ships sailing anywhere—just one reason Celebrity Flora was voted “Best Overall Cruise Ship” in 2019.
Guests who already sail frequently on Royal Caribbean or Celebrity may prefer this sailing, as they will continue to earn frequent cruiser points and/or apply their current status for perks. The atmosphere is casual, as are most Galapagos cruises – the proximity to nature naturally attracts easy going conversations about the day’s activities and sights. Dining is open-seating (you pick who you want to eat with) and often features fresh-caught fish from the local fishermen!
Celebrity offers packages featuring 7 night sailings with 2 or 3 nights in Quito on mainland Ecuador. I highly recommend this option as Quito is one of my favorite cities, and you’ll be flying to Ecuador anyway as this is the only gateway to the Galapagos. You may as well spend a few days before or after cruising getting to know this fantastic city. Celebrity Xpedition operates an exclusive, non-stop flight from Quito straight to Baltra, Galapagos. It’s great to travel with a company like Celebrity that charters its own flights, as the commercial airlines sometimes cancel their own flights to Baltra due to weather if you’ve made your own arrangements.
All-Inclusive Value: Although its other sailings in the Caribbean and Europe don’t always offer all of the following options, Celebrity’s Xpeditions sailings include the following values:
- (10- and 11-day sailings) 2-night pre-cruise and 1- or 2-night post-cruise hotel accommodations, meals, tours, and beverages during meals. VIP check-in/check out services at the JW Marriott hotel. Luggage service including mandatory agricultural inspection of all luggage at the hotel pre-departure.
- Full-day guided tour of historical Quito, including a visit to Middle of the World Park and the Colonial City Center.
- Round-trip airfare Quito-Baltra-Quito, on exclusive non-stop flight, with meet-and-greet services by Celebrity Xpedition® Naturalists, all airport transfers and pier-to-Zodiac transfers.
- 7-night all-inclusive Celebrity Xpedition cruise (including all gratuities, shore excursions, open bar, Internet service, )
- Park entrance fee and Galapagos Tourist Card fee
As in every Galapagos sailing, it’s best to book early as cabins fill up quickly.
How to visit the Galapagos Islands:
National Geographic Expeditions / Lindblad Expeditions
National Geographic partners with Lindblad for its Galapagos trips. Prices are the same regardless of which vendor we book with.
On these Galápagos cruise itineraries, you’ll be snorkeling, hiking, paddleboarding, and cruising by Zodiac. You’ll encounter animals unafraid of you. Accompanying each expedition is a diverse team of experts — from naturalists to regional specialists — who will share their knowledge and insights on the wildlife, landscapes, and local culture.
Join Lindblad Expeditions to get everything their more than 50 years’ experience in Galápagos Islands cruise has to offer, aboard the 96-guest National Geographic Endeavour II or the yacht-scaled 48-guest National Geographic Islander. Since the first international tourist expedition cruise to the Galápagos Islands in July 1967 with Lars-Eric Lindblad, they’ve introduced generations of guests to these strange and wonderful islands, the world’s first UNESCO World Heritage Site. Sailing twice weekly, all year round. They even offer special family sailings!
You’ll be able to snorkel nearly every day, sometimes twice a day. And advanced scuba divers are invited to dive incredible sites of stunning biodiversity over two days at an additional charge. For those who prefer to stay dry, there’s the adventure of Endeavour II’s glass bottom boat. And each day you’ll have the option to walk, hike, kayak, paddleboard or Zodiac cruise, and to join a different naturalist as you choose: there are no assigned groups for your Galápagos adventure travel.
Explore under the sure guidance of an expedition leader, four handpicked naturalists, including a Lindblad-National Geographic certified photo instructor and an undersea specialist, plus a wellness specialist. Their knowledge and passion for the islands is the key to your once-in-a-lifetime experience.
How to visit the Galapagos Islands: UnCruise Adventures
UnCruise is a fantastic option for travelers wishing to see the Galapagos by ship but who wish an alternative to traditional cruising. UnCruise offers 8- and 9- day itineraries, both departing on charter air from Quito, Ecuador.
UnCruise charters the yacht La Ptina from Metroplitan Touring who is an absolutely fantastic partner for Ecuador and Galapagos travel, and I have had clients travel with both companies. I can discuss further with you when to book directly with UnCruise and when to book with Metropolitan Touring.
Yacht La Pinta offers a completely safe travel experience aboard a Galapagos Expedition Yacht in the Enchanted Isles. Each cabin provides not only ample space and comfort but a spectacular view of the Galapagos Islands’ unique landscapes. The ship’s modern feel extends to its hot tub, cardio gym, and sundeck. Land and aquatic activities – from hiking and coastal exploration to kayaking, snorkeling, and even paddleboarding – are complemented by a glass-bottom boat option for curious guests wishing to remain dry. A splendid dining experience featuring delicious, healthy, and top-quality food along with tasty bar options makes the experience all the more enjoyable, whether traveling with friends, family, or by yourself.
- 84% of the sites visited aboard Yacht La Pinta are not shared with any other ship.
- In the Galapagos Islands, the average ratio of an excursion group is 16 guests per guide. La Pinta offers a more comfortable average of 12 guests per guide
- Yacht La Pinta’s itineraries offer a unique balance of experiences in some of the most important and not-to-miss places in the archipelago.
Included highlights in an UnCruise package:
- Two UNESCO World Heritage Sites: Galápagos Islands and Quito’s Colonial city center
- Two nights at Quito’s historic Casa Gangotena
- Six-night Galápagos cruise aboard La Pinta
- A private dinner at Quito’s premier view restaurant
- Set foot on seven islands and islets
- Nesting birds and wildlife in their natural habitat
- View marine life by snorkel and glass-bottom boat
- Charles Darwin Research Center
- Certified guides escort small groups of 12
- Roundtrip air between Quito/Galápagos
- Alcoholic beverages on La Pinta
UnCruise’s mission is: “To provide our guests an enriching adventure travel experience and inspire an appreciation of local cultures and the natural world.” Guests come back raving about the quality of the staff, the “un-cruiselike” atmosphere of the adventures, and the company’s emphasis on small ship cruising and sincere interaction with cultures. (If you’d like to read about my experiences on UnCruise in Alaska, click here.)
How to visit the Galapagos Islands on a luxury sailing: Silversea
If you have always wanted to visit the Galapagos but want to have a luxurious and elegant experience, consider Silversea. Their fares include your international flights to Ecuador as well as the air between the mainland and the Galapagos; 2 nights in Quito; transfers; and shore excursions.
- Butler service in every suite – all guests are pampered equally
- Open-seating dining options – dine when and with whomever you please
- Beverages in-suite and throughout the ship – select wines, premium spirits, specialty coffees and soft drinks, plus your own tailored mini-bar
- In-suite dining and room service – available 24 hours aboard Silver Explorer, and from 06:00 to 23:00 aboard Silver Galapagos and Silver Discoverer
- Enrichment lectures by a highly qualified Expeditions Team
- Guided Zodiac, land and sea tours, and shoreside activities led by the Expeditions Team
- Gratuities always included in your fare
- Roundtrip Economy Air between Ecuador and the Galápagos Islands
- Two-night pre-cruise hotel stay with breakfast at the Quito JW Marriott
- Post-cruise hotel day room at Hotel Oro Verde in Guayaquil (for guests with flights after 10pm)
Silversea’s oceanview suites are some of the most spacious in luxury cruising. All include the services of a butler thanks to the highest service ratio at sea and almost all have a private teak veranda so that you can breathe in the fresh sea air by merely stepping outside your door.
The most elegant ship ever to sail the Galapagos.
The first destination specific ship built by Silversea, Silver Origin is the height of experiential travel in the Galapagos. Never before have the islands been so superbly presented: a team of Ecuadorian national expert guides, the highest crew-to-guest ratio in the Galapagos, 8 Zodiacs, seamless hybrid spaces that offer an extraordinary voyage – for extraordinary people. All-suite accommodation, Horizon Balconies, butler service, sophisticated interiors, interactive basecamp, Ecuadorian inspired cuisine … no aspect of Silver Origin has been left to chance. The most environmentally conscious ship we have ever built, take a vertical leap and transform your idea of travel with Silver Origin.
Are you ready to visit the Galapagos now?
This is a thrilling destination perfect for any adventurous traveler! Don’t waste time or get overwhelmed searching through all the options. As a professional travel advisor I can help you choose on how to visit the Galapagos Islands. I can take your budget, travel style, “must see” wishlist, and schedule and present you with a proposal that matches your travel personality. If you’d like to book a trip to the Galapagos, contact me today! Or learn more about my services here.