The unique wildlife, dramatic landscapes and fascinating human history of the Galapagos islands draw in travellers from around the globe. For most visitors, the trip is a once-in-a-lifetime experience.
So what’s the best way to make the most of that one-time visit?
Not here for a long time? Make it count.
As is the case with life in general, you’ll want to make the most of your time in this remarkable area of the planet.
Visiting a number of sites on several islands within the Galapagos National Park and Marine Reserve is the best way to experience the archipelago. The quality of that experience will depend on a number of factors including how much time you spend in the islands, how you travel around and the quality of the guides.
The longer you can spend in the islands, the better. You’ll have more opportunity to see, do, observe, learn, explore and so on. That’s obvious.
What may be less obvious is how you travel within the archipelago can affect the quality of your experience.
So what’s best?
There are two modes of visiting the islands and a third alternative which is to combine the two.
The first is to sail around the Marine Reserve on a liveaboard motor yacht, catamaran or ship that stops off at different sites within the National Park to explore on foot or from the water i.e. motoring along the shoreline in a dingy, paddling around on a sit-on-top kayak, or snorkelling in the shallows.
Personally, this is my preferred way to explore the Galapagos and the mode I recommend, especially for a one-time visit. Why? Well, for a number of sound reasons:
– Many of the 70 land and 79 marine sites designated for tourism within the Galapagos National Park and Marine Reserve are only accessible on a cruise. It’s worth noting here that the smaller yachts and catamarans for 16 passengers are permitted to visit sites the larger – up to 100 passenger – ships are not. So the range of possible experiences is even greater aboard a smaller vessel.
– You make better use of your limited time in the islands sailing progressively around the archipelago rather than back and forth each day from a land base.
– There is strong competition for the limited number of guides that are trained and certified by the Galapagos National Park so you will find most of the best guides on the cruises because in general they offer more consistent work and pay better. Not surprisingly, the higher end cruises have the advantage that they are able to bid more for guides and offer the possibility of better tips from their passengers.
The alternative way of visiting the islands is to stay in one or more of the port towns and take day tours into the National Park and Marine Reserve. You won’t get to see and experience as much of Galapagos as on a cruise but any time spent in the islands is better than no time at all.
MYTHBUSTER WARNING One of the benefits most often touted for doing a land-based or island hopping tour is that it’s a better option if you get sea sick. Well, it ain’t necessarily so! Yes, you stay on terra firma each night but travel on day tours and between the islands is generally on small speed boats. If seas are rough it doesn’t take long to find out who gets sea sick.
Accommodation ranging from basic to comfortable is found on four islands with the greatest concentration in the port towns of Puerto Ayora (Santa Cruz island), Puerto Baquerizo Moreno (San Cristobal island), Puerto Villamil (Isabela island) and Puerto Velasco Ibarra (Floreana island).
Day tours run from the first three towns into the interior of the respective island, to sites along the coast and out to other islands and back.
Combined cruise and land-based
If you’d like to experience the natural wonders of Galapagos as well as experience island life then combining a cruise with some extra time ashore is the way to go.
A combined trip is a great option for novice and less experienced divers that would like to dive Galapagos but don’t have the experience required for a speciality diving cruise. Dive schools and diving day tours run from Puerto Ayora, Puerto Baquerizo Moreno and Puerto Villamil.