The Best Galapagos Islands Cruises


Galapagos Cruise vs Land Tours

How to choose your flavour of Galapagos tour

Jon Jared
By Jon Jared

The Galapagos Islands present an important choice when planning a trip; do you take a land-based tour or cruise?

Both styles of travel have their respective advantages and drawbacks.

Galapagos cruise vs land-based tours

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010 Galapagos Charles Darwin Research Station

The Charles Darwin Research Station on Santa Cruz Island


Fixed schedule: Cruises take the guesswork out of the equation with set itineraries. Small motorboats (called ‘pangas’) shuttle small groups of passengers ashore at set intervals, with an expert guide in the boat to point out the creatures of the region while making sure that the trips go smoothly.

Cover more ground: Boats travel at night, and drop anchor at a new destination each day. This gives passengers a broader view of the islands and a greater sense of their geology and evolutionary history

Fine facilities: Luxury cruises have opulent amenities and attentive, top-notch services but no matter how exclusive, space will always be more limited than on land.

Caution – wet landings: Inflatable motor boats ferry you from ship to shore and sites have both dry and wet landings; wet requiring wading through knee high water to disembark—not always ideal for the less mobile.

Land tours

Flexibility and freedom: When staying in the hotels on Santa Cruz, Floreana, San Cristobal and Isabela, you’ll dictate your own schedule. Day trips are arranged to the nearby islands by boat in the morning, leaving the afternoon and evening free for doing your own thing.

Zoom in: Land-based trips put you side by side with the local communities and you can explore the towns and daily life on the Galapagos.

More space: Plenty more room to stretch your legs at the end of the day!

Caution – small speedboats: Shuttle-style boats ferry passengers between the islands, the journey is often choppy and it’s wise to come prepared with Dramamine. Transfer days are typically spent in-transit for either the morning or the afternoon and exploring new destinations with the time left.

Also consider

A final consideration when choosing between a Galapagos land tour or cruise is the environmental footprint. Cruises, perhaps paradoxically, tend to be lighter on the local environment than land-based tourism. Look for Smart Voyager certification for cruise operators, and check environmental credentials for hotels and lodges before you book.

Cruise-land combinations

Of course there’s no reason that you must stick exclusively to either a Galapagos cruise or a land tour. If you have the time (and budget) you can combine both, for example a five day cruise of the western islands with three or four days based on Santa Cruz in the east.

About the author

Galapagos Cruise vs Land Tours

Jon Jared

Jon is a travel writer and guidebook researcher based in Quito, Ecuador. He has authored the Moon guides to Ecuador and the Galapagos Islands and contributes to Delta Sky Magazine and the Happy Gringo Travel website.

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