Should I choose a cruise-based or a land-based Galapagos tour?

User Avatar Author: Chris  Klassen
5 months ago
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Both cruise-based and land-based tours in the Galapagos Islands offer promising adventures and beautiful memories waiting to be made, but also provide uniquely different experiences. Galapagos cruises offer more structured itineraries that will allow you to see more of the islands, but land-based vacations allow guests more flexibility with their itinerary, and thus may offer a more relaxing and independent experience.

Tour Options PROS CONS
Cruise-based Tour of Galapagos
  • Greater wildlife coverage.
  • Explore different regions of the archipelago and more remote islands within the National Park.
  • Scheduled and guided activities at each visitor site.
  • All meals are included.
  • All expedition activities (snorkeling, kayaking, paddleboarding, glass-bottom boat) are included, free of charge.
  • More expensive.
  • Operate set departure dates.
  • Limited downtime during the day.
  • Do not offer SCUBA diving
Land-based Tour of Galapagos
  • Less expensive.
  • Flexible scheduling options.
  • Relaxation and exploration activities can be balanced out as you see fit.
  • Offer Day Tours to select islands within the National Park.
  • Expedition Hotels offer SCUBA Diving.
  • Less wildlife exposure.
  • Meals (except for breakfast) are not included.
  • Limited number of National Park Islands can be visited.
  • Expedition activities are not included and cost extra.
Cruise-based Tour of Galapagos
PROS
  • Greater wildlife coverage.
  • Explore different regions of the archipelago and more remote islands within the National Park.
  • Scheduled and guided activities at each visitor site.
  • All meals are included.
  • All expedition activities (snorkeling, kayaking, paddleboarding, glass-bottom boat) are included, free of charge.
CONS
  • More expensive.
  • Operate set departure dates.
  • Limited downtime during the day.
  • Do not offer SCUBA diving
Land-based Tour of Galapagos
PROS
  • Less expensive.
  • Flexible scheduling options.
  • Relaxation and exploration activities can be balanced out as you see fit.
  • Offer Day Tours to select islands within the National Park.
  • Expedition Hotels offer SCUBA Diving.
CONS
  • Less wildlife exposure.
  • Meals (except for breakfast) are not included.
  • Limited number of National Park Islands can be visited.
  • Expedition activities are not included and cost extra.
Galapagos giant tortoise

Imagine the docile Galapagos giant tortoises lumbering around freely throughout their natural environment. Extraordinary, right? This is something you yourself will get to experience in the archipelago, be it through a land-based or cruise-based tour of the Galapagos.

There’s no question that exploring the Galapagos archipelago is an adventure of a lifetime; however, it is important to choose the experience that is right for you. For many years, cruises were the best way to explore the islands, but island hopping and land-based vacations have quickly gained steam thanks to improved island amenities, including luxurious, expedition beach hotels and international restaurants.

A land- versus a cruise-based experience of the Galapagos

When determining whether to plan a land-based or cruise-based experience in the Galapagos archipelago, you’ll first want to think about what vacationing style best suits you and what exactly you hope to see in the islands.

Cruise-based

Galapagos cruises can vary anywhere from just a few days to up to multiple weeks and, oftentimes, many of them pull out all the stops when it comes to offering a comprehensive agenda, stellar service, and are often all-inclusive (all meals, guided tours, activities, and lectures are part of the price tag). Galapagos cruise itineraries are planned out for guests in thoughtful detail in order to best take advantage of their precious time in the islands. Furthermore, cruises generally travel at night so that daylight hours can be spent exploring the islands. This way, guests are able to access more visitor sites, too.

Sierra Negra Volcanic Eruption

The evenings bring surprises! In 2018, during a visit aboard Yacht La Pinta, our guests were able to experience the eruption of La Cumbre Volcano on Fernandina Island.

Land-based

Island hopping programs or land-based Galapagos vacations offer a different experience in that you’re more in control of what you see and where you go, often times allowing you to build your own itinerary as you see fit. The islands of Santa Cruz, Isabela, and San Cristobal offer a wide variety of hotels and restaurants for tourists, both along the coast and in the highlands, as well as tourist agencies that organize half-day or full-day trips. Visitors who choose a land-based vacation additionally, at select Expedition Hotels (such as the Finch Bay Galapagos Hotel), have the option of spending a few nights at one hotel and then hopping over to a different island to spend a few nights there – and such is exactly the case with our Galapagos Island-to-Island Hopping Tour!

This island-hopping option can be a great way to experience daily life on multiple islands in the Galapagos archipelago while putting together an itinerary that best aligns with your interests.

Which option is best for viewing wildlife: A land- or a cruise-based tour of the Galapagos?

Galapagos cruises can be one of the best ways to see the largest number of iconic Galapagos species in their natural habitats as they are more time-efficient and are able to travel farther distances. The fact that cruise ships are not required to travel back to the same location every night is extremely beneficial because it means they are able to reach islands located farther from the main population centers and, with that, entirely new ecosystems. Furthermore, the cruise’s naturalist guides carefully plan out each day of the cruise to make sure that their guests see the very best of what the islands have to offer. Quite simply, with a Galapagos cruise you will be able to more thoroughly engage with the archipelago and have the Galapagos Islands revealed to you.

Marine iguana in the Galapagos

The marine iguana is one of the Galapagos’ most intriguing and endemic species. Due to its unique environment, Galapagos marine iguanas evolved such that they are the only species of iguana in the world that can swim and dive underwater!

However, you are bound to see an abundance of unique Galapagos wildlife wherever you go in the islands, and for those who prefer more independence in their vacations, island-based Galapagos experiences can be an excellent idea. The main towns in the Galapagos offer a fantastic selection of both free and easily-accessible visitor sites, including Tortuga Bay and Las Grietas. Additionally, touring agencies offer day tours to a wide range of park sites, and Santa Cruz Island in and of itself actually holds some of the greatest diversity of all of the islands.

It is certainly a good idea to study the agency itineraries carefully before choosing one, however; simply to make sure it includes the wildlife and sites that you want to see. You may want to look into our BIG15 list of Galapagos iconic species to help you with your research.

The 15 most iconic species in the Galapagos

These are the 15 most iconic species in the Galapagos Islands! Amongst this carefully-thought-out selection of animals, you’ll find the adorable Galapagos penguin, blue- and red-footed booby, flightless cormorant, and much more!

What about SCUBA diving options?

Galapagos marine life is some of the most varied and diverse in the world, and it is internationally acclaimed among scuba divers for the sheer number of creatures that you are bound to come across in a single dive. However, determining which diving sites you want to visit and the nature of your SCUBA diving tour will depend largely on your diving background and experience. Also keep in mind: Galapagos cruises do not offer SCUBA diving as part of their expeditions; instead, visitors will either need to opt for a liveaboard cruise or an Expedition Hotel in order to go SCUBA Diving in the Galapagos.

Comparing Costs

Money is certainly an important factor when considering which Galapagos experience is best for you, given the significant variation in prices. Truth be told, Galapagos cruises can be quite expensive, reaching up to several hundreds of dollars per night; however, a good cruise is unquestionably worth it. Cruises offer a comprehensive Galapagos experience with attentive and professional naturalist guides, in which you will have the opportunity to observe much of the most unique and famous life that the Galapagos holds. Last-minute deals can offer significant discounts for future visitors to the islands and are worth keeping an eye out for!

Expedition vessel in the Galapagos with a sea lion in the foreground

Expedition vessels in the Galapagos give you the chance to visit some of the most remote islands in the entire archipelago while getting to know the local inhabitants.

Land-based Galapagos vacations can offer more affordable prices for tourists, and it is easy to find a comfortable hotel room even on a relatively tight budget. The largest towns additionally offer a variety of inexpensive (sometimes even free) visitor sites. If you do your research beforehand, it will be easy to find quality Expedition hotels that will take you on Day Tours of the islands and reveal its wonders to you, thanks to their experienced naturalist guides. As the day comes to a close, enjoy the evening to yourself to watch the sun set across a peaceful and uninterrupted skyline. The Galapagos offers stunning sunsets and spectacular stargazing options due to extremely low air pollution levels.

Exploring Santa Cruz Island in the Galapagos

Expedition hotels in the Galapagos give you the chance to explore the archipelago and your own pace and rhythm!

Land-based and cruise-based Galapagos vacations offer visitors entirely different experiences that are each valuable and rewarding in their own right. When deciding which experience is best for you, it is a good idea to evaluate your traveling style and determine how you want to experience the Galapagos. Land-based options offer visitors a more independent and flexible experience, but require a certain amount of planning beforehand. On the other hand, cruise-based experiences offer a more comprehensive exploration of the islands, allowing visitors to see more in less time; however, they are often more expensive.

Metrojourneys Tip: Still deliberating on which to choose? Why not combine them both! Our Quito and Galapagos Adventure of a Lifetime package does exactly that!

Nevertheless, regardless of the option you choose, the Galapagos Islands offer a view into a world like none other that will leave you with memories that will last a lifetime. The choice is ultimately yours! Experience the crystal-clear waves and sensational wildlife at your own pace and in your own way, today!

Check out all of our Galapagos Tours and Packages by clicking here!

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