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Why should I go on a Galapagos Cruise when I can travel to the Caribbean for half the price?

User Avatar Author: Isabel Espinoza
5 years ago - September 10, 2019

Reading time: 11 mins

If you’ve ever asked yourself, “Why should I go on a Galapagos Cruise when I can travel to the Caribbean for half the price?”, then have a look at this blog. Maybe your holiday experience shouldn’t just focus on the amount of money you’ll spend but also on the adventure and once-in-a-lifetime experience that you’ll get out of it. Travel to the Caribbean or Galapagos? Here are five reasons why Galapagos is the best choice.

1. A Year-round Destination vs. a Seasonal Destination

Couple posing amidst sea lions in Galapagos Islands

Couple posing amidst sea lions in Galapagos Islands

While the Caribbean and the Galapagos only have two seasons and have the same daylight hours lasting for around 12 hours a day, each location’s types of seasons differ enormously.

Weather in the Galapagos

The Galapagos has what is known as the hot and dry seasons. During the hot season, running from January to June, the vegetation becomes greener due to the occasional rain showers, thus initiating the courtship dances of the many endemic species that live on the islands. This is a spectacle that can’t be fully appreciated in any other location in the world. During the dry season, running from July to December, the various sea currents that meet in the archipelago (Cromwell, Humboldt, South Equatorial, and Panama) bring nutrients and cooler water up from the ocean depths, making the marine flora and fauna increase dramatically.

Therefore, in the dry season, marine life becomes dynamic and boisterous. Interestingly, no matter which month you choose to do a Galapagos tour, you will be treated to a suitable climate and many unique experiences because the Galapagos Islands are spectacular year-round.

Weather in the Caribbean

Likewise, the Caribbean has two seasons, but both aren’t as inviting. One is the hot season, and the other is hurricane season. The former offers you beautiful days, but in contrast to the Galapagos, the other may offer slightly terrifying hurricanes that can easily ruin your dream tropical holiday. Don’t be fooled by the radically price-reduced cruises that are offered during this season, as a surprise tropical storm may be mixed in with the beautiful sunny days. The Galapagos Islands have never had to deal with hurricanes. Ever.

Panga ride in the Galapagos Islands

Panga ride in the Galapagos Islands

2. Live the Boat vs. Live the Destination

As a result of the sheer size of the Caribbean, which covers a massive 2.7 million km2 (1.06 million mi2), it isn’t easy to explore the whole area, especially when the inevitable ties of time and budget restrain us. We would have to choose the best places to visit and, unlike on a Galapagos cruise, settle for those few attractions in those circumstances.

A Tour of the Caribbean

Because of the size, many travelers often choose to visit it aboard a cruise ship, which includes most costs, such as comfortable accommodations, food, and entertainment. These vessels are like miniature floating cities with everything you could ever dream of, from restaurants and movie theaters to basketball courts and pools. You almost forget that there is another world outside of the ship. Of course, you will always find something to do, but if you think about it, how different is that from being in a well-known large city? No culture, exploration, nor unique wildlife is included in these trips. And worse yet, there are only a few visits to the islands with minimal time to buy a few souvenirs and zero time to be immersed in the culture. Eighty percent of your time is spent on the ship.

An Experience of the Galapagos Islands

On the flip side, the Galapagos Islands are an expedition destination, meaning that all tourism aims to get an accurate and immersive comprehension of the culture and environment. Every vessel’s objective is centered around stopping at most, if not all, of the iconic spots so that visitors can have up-close and personal experiences with the many endemic species that live wild on the islands. (It’s important to note that most of these animals are very curious of visitors). Each Galapagos cruise only has a maximum capacity of 100 guests, which is barely one-fifth of the minimum number of guests on a Caribbean cruise, allowing each visitor to have one-on-one time with their naturalist guide.

Galapagos cruises also include various activities, from hikes to snorkeling and kayaking, giving guests the freedom to explore with the comfort of a guide close by and answering questions about the wildlife. The entire time you are in the archipelago, you are surrounded by glorious views of the rugged wild terrain and turquoise waters. During these Galapagos tours, you will only spend 20% of your time on the boat, and the rest, you’ll be adventuring throughout the islands.

Did you know?

Even though we often use the word cruise when we talk about our expedition vessels, according to definitions provided by CLIA, Cruise Critic, and the CDC, based on gross tonnage and number of passengers aboard, these are the boats that actually sail in the Galapagos Islands:

Type of vessel (According to definitions used by the CDC and CLIA)

Gross registered tonnage (GRT)

Number of passengers

Super Mega Cruise Ships

(Can’t sail in the Galapagos Islands)

More than 140,000 Approximately 5,000
Large Ships

(Can’t sail in the Galapagos Islands)

More than 60,000 Approximately 3,000
Medium Ships

(Can’t sail in the Galapagos Islands)

Less than 30,000  Approximately 500
Extra Small Ships

(Sail in the Galapagos Islands!)

Less than 3,000  Approximately 100
Intimate Ships

(Sail in the Galapagos Islands!)

Less than 1,000  Approximately 40

The entire Galapagos Marine Reserve covers 133,000 km2/ 51,000mi2, which is about 5% of the size of the Caribbean. Although there is still tons to see, your budget will likely cover most of it, with the best Galapagos cruise itineraries stopping at the iconic sites throughout the islands in a few days. This is managed by expedition vessels traveling at night so that guests can make the most of the activities during the sunlight hours in the glass-bottom boat, paddle boarding, or hiking.

3. Exclusive vs. Massive

Couple hiking in the Galapagos National Park during sunset

Couple hiking in the Galapagos National Park during sunset

Tourism in the Galapagos

The Galapagos Islands first became famous after the visit of Charles Darwin, the founder of the theories on natural selection and evolution. Since then, the islands have steadily become known as a National Park filled with exotic and endemic species. Therefore, a restricted annual number of only 75,000 visitors are allowed on the islands. This means that the most iconic sites aren’t congested with thousands of visitors, so the fauna is always willing to come out and show off to those on a Galapagos cruise. In contrast, the Caribbean can receive more than 25 million visitors in any given year. With most visiting in the hot season to avoid hurricanes, you can imagine the constant hustle and bustle of the main tourist attractions!

In addition, both locations have inhabitants, but the number varies greatly between the two. The Caribbean has 43.6 million inhabitants in comparison to the Galapagos‘ only 25,000 inhabitants. In the latter, the locals only live on the main islands and are concentrated in only 3% of the entire island space. The rest of the archipelago is a National Park, where friendly and curious penguins, sea lions, blue-footed boobies, and other iconic species are the only greeters during a Galapagos tour.

Tourism in the Caribbean

Meanwhile, the main greeters in the Caribbean are the thousands of inhabitants on each island. Instead of seashore drop-offs, Caribbean visitors are let off at major ports and received into sterile restaurants, stores, and buses that have been specifically designed for tourists. It may include a short visit to the beach or a brief drive by the village, but very little interaction with the locals takes place.

In the Galapagos, most adventures happen on foot. The only exceptions are San Cristobal and Santa Cruz islands, which have bus transfers to the airport, the research centers, and for traveling further into the highlands. All efforts are made to keep the islands as natural as possible without affecting the comfort or safety of visitors enjoying a Galapagos cruise.

In the Caribbean, no luxury is spared, even if it affects wildlife. Cruise ships share the port with many other vessels. So, instead of just the 1,000 guests from your ship disembarking, there could be many thousands of guests milling around the tourist attractions and port. In contrast, the Galapagos National Park rules restrict the number of people at each visitor site. If you are on one of the larger vessels with 100 guests, you’ll have the visitor site to yourself!

4. Social & Environmental Responsibility

Sightseeing Isabela Island with Naturalist guides

Sightseeing Isabela Island with Naturalist guides

When we travel, we want to make sure that we are positively impacting the area that we are visiting. In the Galapagos, the rules for expedition vessel operations are stringent. For example, each of the 69 vessels approved to provide cruise itineraries must operate within the Marine Reserve and, therefore, must follow the Park’s rules and regulations. It’s also necessary to point out that no visitor is allowed to explore without the supervision of a certified Naturalist Guide, which ensures that everyone follows the strictest of rules, even if it’s subconsciously. In the Caribbean, cruise ships mostly spend their time in international waters where rules and regulations are liberal and flexible, especially in relation to the environment. This leads to each company following its own interpretation of those laws.

As well as strictly following the rules within the Galapagos National Park, the majority of Galapagos expedition vessel staff are local inhabitants, making cruises a local operation. Every cruise is giving back to the local community and the National Park. In contrast, giant Caribbean cruises ships employ international crew and only contribute to the local community if a guest buys a small trinket from one of the local stores.

5. Comparing Costs: Affordable vs. Expensive

Galapagos coastline view

Galapagos coastline view

We often compare multiple tropical destinations and choose to travel to the cheapest. We understand that your budget often comes into play when you are deciding where you’ll spend the holidays. We also appreciate that Galapagos isn’t the cheapest location to visit because of its distance from the mainland. But remember that comparing the Enchanted Isles to other tropical islands, like the Caribbean, is like comparing apples to oranges.

While the Caribbean only has beautiful beaches, deep blue waters, and what can be described as the perfect tropical island climate, the Galapagos has this in addition to being an expedition destination like Alaska or the Maldives. This is because it is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, chosen for its unique species and spectacular terrain. You could say you’re getting the best of both worlds!

All in all, it is very easy to focus on the cost and the appearance of the islands and decide that you could get more out of your trip to the Caribbean. You could be forgiven for reaching that conclusion because the accommodation, food, entertainment, and shops are all included on a big cruise liner. Also, an occasional visit to a tropical beach is put into the program for a change in scenery. It seems that you get everything in the deal! But what about the value of the experience?

On the Galapagos, you can have many close encounters with animals that can’t happen anywhere else in the world. Sure, there are extra fees for visiting the National Park and islands that require a flight to get there but think about the uniqueness and life-changing experience you can have. Also, due to the islands’ remoteness, remember that food needs to be imported to the islands given the strict rules on agricultural practices and produce. Only the freshest ingredients make it to your plate on all of our Galapagos tours.

Additionally, everything we do and the equipment we make available for our guests are meant to offer you the very best experience possible. We have the best dinghies, the most delicious food, and the best vessels to ensure that your trip doesn’t affect the environment, is safe, and has the most enjoyable time.

Cruises allowed on a Galapagos Expedition

Cruises allowed on a Galapagos Expedition

So, what is the difference between the Galapagos Islands and the Caribbean? If you only look at cost and the fact that they are both a group of islands, the Caribbean will come out on top. But how valuable is a life-changing experience? What about the culture and being welcomed into the community and the National Park? Nothing can compare to that feeling when a sea lion wants to play with you in the water or a curious iguana stares you down from a meter away.

Millions of people all over the world have photos inside a cruise ship or on some tropical beach. But how many people do you know who go on cruises that actually give back to the community and the environment while having intimate, unforgettable encounters with endemic species? Choose to impact the world and choose an expedition destination. Choose the Galapagos Islands. You won’t regret it.

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