Prior to leaving for Ecuador Lisa and I did a lot of research on the Galapagos Islands. Most of the information that exists about trips to Galapagos talks about cruises. Traditionally, most people who visit the area fly into Baltra Airport (GPS), and from there they’re shuttled to their cruise boat (they’re usually 14-20 person boats). They will live aboard the boat and cruise to different islands over the course of their trip. When their cruise is completed they will be shuttled back to Baltra to fly back to mainland Ecuador. This was certainly an option for us, but it wasn’t what we ended up doing.
For our trip we decided to do a land based tour. We spent most of our time on Santa Cruz, and did day trips from there. We also spent a night on Isabela, and a night on San Cristobal, doing day trips from each of those locations as well. Speak to other travellers, as well as travel agencies on the islands, we decided which day trips we would do. Finally, we flew into Baltra, and flew out of San Cristobal.
Land based tour pros:
- Flexibility to set your own itinerary – you get to pick the islands you visit based on the activities you want to do and what you want to see
- Move at your own pace – do as much or as little as you like
- Experience the islands that come alive at night with restaurants and shops
- Sleep on a bed on firm land
- More economical (at least in our experience)
Land based tour cons:
- There is always travel time to get to your destination (it took us a 40 minute shuttle, and a 2 hour boat to get to Bartolome, which is as far as you can go on a day trip)
- It can be overwhelming to plan because there’s so many tour operators and trips
- Some islands are too far to visit with a day trip
- You save travel time because the boat will go to the next day’s destination through the night (could be a con if you’re prone to sea sickness)
- No need to think, all of your activities are organized for you
- You’re able to get to some destinations not reachable by day trips
- You’re stuck on a small boat for at least 20 hours a day
- You are with the same people for the duration of your cruise (this isn’t just about getting along, if someone is a particularly slow swimmer or walker it will slow down what you can see snorkelling and on hikes)
- Very expensive, event last minute deals are usually over $250/day per person
- Itineraries are often very poor and have no flexibility, I was offered a 4 days cruise where 3 of 4 days were spent on Santa Cruz, the main island where tourists begin their trip doing activities that for the most part we could do on our own
Lisa and I paid just under $1900USD for 8 days in the Galapagos (that’s together, not each) doing our own land based tour. You will not find an 8 day cruise for $950 each. We visited 5 islands (Santa Cruz, Pinzon, Isabela, Bartolome, and San Cristobal). We got to see a lot of the Galapagos, and we were able to cherry pick the sites that we wanted to see. We had a list of a dozen animals we hoped to see in the Galapagos and we got to see all of them. It was a good decision for us to fly into Baltra (Santa Cruz) and out of San Cristobal, as it saved us time and money – we didn’t have to ferry back to Santa Cruz from San Cristobal. Knowing what I know now I would absolutely do the trip the same way if I had a do-over.
This post is not an unbiased comparison of land vs. cruise, it is very biased because it is my opinion of the two.