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Thanks to its world’s fascinating creatures and natural wonders, the Galapagos Islands is a leading destination for tourists.
This isolated terrain lies about 600 miles off Ecuador’s coast and comprises 19 islands and islets. It’s famous for its diverse animal and plant species, predominantly found on the islands.
It’s a place where you can get close to friendly sea lions, sea birds, and lizards. And not to mention some unique creatures, including Blue-footed Boobies, Galapagos penguins, marine iguanas, and the famous giant land tortoises which inhabit the islands.
What’s more, these beautiful islands afford travelers the luxury of hiking dormant volcanoes and seeing incredible landscapes, including volcanic craters and lava fields. In this post, we’ll discuss Galapagos cruises vs land-based tours and which one is right for you.
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How to Travel to Galapagos Islands
The weather is warm from December to May, although there are some showers in the afternoon. The seas are also calm during this period.
But from November through June, it gets cooler, and water temperatures drop, although there are fewer rains.
So what’s the best time to visit this coveted wonderland? There’s no wrong time to explore Galapagos Islands.
This seasonal travel guide delves more into the subject so you can know the right time for you to explore the islands. But briefly, the high season is as follows:
- Christmas and New Year
The beauty of traveling in these different seasons is that each offers a unique perspective.
Ideally, you may want to secure enough travel time in Ecuador — about two weeks minimum. That allows you to arrive in the country 2-5 days in advance to book your Galapagos trip in time. That said, you can still purchase Galapagos last-minute deals for both cruise and land tours.
Furthermore, if you’re flexible, you can purchase last-minute cruises or day tours right on the islands.
However, the most critical decision you can make before traveling to the Galapagos is how to tour the archipelago? You have two contrasting options: via a Galapagos cruise or a land tour.
Because it’s a difficult decision, especially for first goers, this post looks at both options to help you choose the best according to your preferences.
Let’s read on.
According to the general public, the best way — and the most convenient way — to explore and enjoy the Galapagos Islands is by booking a cruise.
After choosing a cruise over a land tour, the next thing is picking the type of ship to sail on. That depends on your travel date, as different vessels certified to cruise this archipelago have set departure schedules.
Alternatively, you can go for the Galapagos’ large cruise vessels, including Legend, Sea Star Journey, and Coral. These vessels are so large that they can host as many as 100 passengers. And despite a large number of passengers, the experience is not compromised as everyone is allocated an excursion group of about 16 members. Though, these large ships can still feel hotel-like.
While some go for the small vessels driven by the urge for privacy, most people prefer the big ships due to a host of benefits, including;
- Pool and hot tubs
- Kids spaces
- Sunbathing spaces
- Reading room with free cookies and tea
But regardless of the type of boat you choose, the best Galapagos cruises boast a formidable combination of adventure, nature, and convenience.
Your vessel becomes your base for your entire duration on the island. It serves as your accommodation and where you will be staying as you move from island to island.
After a thrilling encounter with the magnificent-looking island, enjoying awesome activities such as snorkeling, you return to the ship and get ready for the next trip. The vessel then cruises to another visitor site for the next excursion with other members.
Cruises are the best choice if you want to maximize the Galapagos experience. They give you the best opportunity for wildlife close-encounters, volcanic phenomena, fresh insights into evolutionary biology, and other fantastic experiences.
Galapagos cruises give you the chance to wake up to new places on the island every morning; travel to remote destinations. And spice things with the incredible and all-inclusive treatment from the crew.
With cruises, you can explore every visitor site as some islands are very isolated, and you can only reach them when touring on an overnight ship.
Pros of Galapagos Cruises
- Cruises reach many regions, including remote islands
- The wildlife view on a ship is unmatched
- It includes at least two tours each day, plus awesome activities
- Time-efficient – you can still explore at night while cruising
Cons of Galapagos Cruises
- Cruises are expensive
- Seasickness is common
- You’ve to adhere to set schedules
Galapagos Land Tours
Galapagos land tours, or island-hopping, present you with an alternative way to explore the awe-inspiring archipelago beauty.
With land-based packages, you stay in different hotels or eco-lodges in the port towns of the main islands of Santa Cruz, Isabella, and San Cristobal. The superior accommodations include Iguana Crossing and Finch Bay Eco Hotel with oceanfront lodges.
You visit and explore the wonders of different islands from your hotel in a small group with the help of a naturalist guide, then return to your relaxing hotel in the evening.
There are two popular arrangements with Galapagos land tours. The most common arrangement allows you to spend about 3-4 days in a single lodge. In the second arrangement, you stay in two hotels on the islands of Isabella and Santa Cruz for 2-3 nights each, while onboard, in an island-hopping program.
Galapagos land tours don’t afford you many islands visits, unlike the case when you take a cruise. The plus side is you have a greater depth of viewing and experiencing the few islands this option presents.
And better, you get to immerse yourself in a host of fun activities. For example, you enjoy the luxury of snorkeling multiple times in one site if that’s one of your dream activities during your vacations.
You can also get pleasure from the fresh seafood offered in the family-run eateries. If you are not that much into food, you can opt for a sunset walk on the beaches of Isabella to enjoy a view of iconic lizards dart on the rocks, and observe marine iguanas crawl out of the ocean before resting on lava rocks.
Other activities at your disposal while land-hopping in the Galapagos Islands include sea kayaking, mountain biking, and hiking.
Cruising in this archipelago is deemed the best experience. But land tours offer an unforgettable experience that you can only dream of with Galapagos cruises. It suits travelers who want to enjoy privacy.
Pros of Galapagos Land-based tours
- Spacious common areas, including hotel rooms
- Minimal chances of getting seasick
- Cheaper than cruise tours
- No set time for itineraries
Cons of Galapagos Land-based tours
- Limited to a few visitor sites
- Only one tourist per day
Galapagos Cruise or Land Tours? 5 Questions to Help You Decide
1. What do you want to explore? And how?
If you’re dreaming of exploring the most visited sites on these islands, then a cruise tour is the best option. Usually, a Galapagos cruise visits two sites daily on average, as these tours — due to time efficiency — take advantage of downtimes, such as during evenings and mealtimes.
Also, if you want animals to be the highlight of your trip, a cruise allows you to explore diverse wildlife in unique creatures as it visits more sites.
2. Do you prefer all-inclusive tours?
Go for cruises. This program plans everything, from meals, transportation, activities, and lodging into the journey. All you have to do is choose the itinerary of your choice and leave the rest to the operators. However, remember this may bring inflexibility.
3. What type of hotels do you prefer?
If you’re a fan of big, spacious rooms, land-based tours will serve you right. These lodges also include fantastic amenities such as restaurants and spas. The cruises might have these advantages but cannot match land-based tours.
4. How much are you willing to spend?
Land-based tours are your best bet if you want to explore the Galapagos Islands on a budget.
5. Do you want to do a lot of diving on your trip?
You can snorkel on a land-based tour or a cruise. But most diving tours in Galapagos are organized through day tours or liveaboard cruises in the islands of San Cristobal, Santa Cruz, and Isabella.
No matter what mode you will use to explore the Galapagos Islands, a once-in-a-lifetime experience awaits you.
Each option offers varying experiences and has its advantages and disadvantages. But they all guarantee you a remarkable face-to-face encounter with most, if not all, notable Galapagos species and other unimaginable treasures.
Do not just follow the majority and choose a cruise tour, even though it’s the best way to explore the islands. Choose wisely, taking your preferences into account.