This past August, I visited the Galapagos with my son for the first time in many years. I first visited the Galapagos twenty years ago, and then again ten years ago, so I was due for another visit. My son is 16, and the last time he visited the Galapagos was ten years ago. He was just six years old, and though he loved every minute of it back then, he certainly didn’t remember the trip! We were both excited to create new memories around experiences in the Galapagos this time around.
The Galapagos islands are maintained and managed in a sustainable way, but there are certainly more environmental pressures on the islands these days than ten years ago. The islands are facing an influx of visitors, so there is more focus than ever on making sure that the destination’s delicate ecosystem is treated with care.
What To Know About The Galapagos
The Galapagos Islands sit high at the top of most people’s bucket lists, and for good reason: they’re the ultimate immersive travel experience. This archipelago of volcanic islands sit more than 550 miles off the western coast of Ecuador, and is known for its high concentration of species that can only be found on the islands. The wildlife of the Galapagos is so extraordinary that Charles Darwin studied there while compiling his theory of evolution.
The subtropical climate of the islands makes for consistently warm temperatures and soothing waters. The warmest months are December through May, when you’ll mostly find high-temp forecasts and afternoon rains. The rest of the year, from June to November, is cloudier and slightly less warm.
As if the warm weather weren’t calming enough, the islands look like a scene from a postcard. Bright blue waters, high peaks, and stunning snapshots of the natural world make the scenery a dream come true. You’ll spot giant tortoises, Galapagos land iguanas, blue-footed boobies, flamingoes, and countless other beautiful creatures.
Cruising The High Seas
Each of my three visits to the Galapagos were via cruise, and I recommend that option for most travelers. You’ll want to make sure your cruise is long enough to really get a feel for the islands. At least 6-8 days is key. While 3-4 day cruises are available, they don’t offer time to experience the full scope of the islands. These shorter cruises don’t explore the Western Galapagos Islands, a lesser-known region you won’t want to miss. Be sure that your cruise offers the ability to take in islands like Fernandina, Isabela, and Genovesa.
You’ll notice during your experiences in the Galapagos that trips to the islands are very structured. You’ll travel along pre-established routes and park staff will decide how long visitors are allowed to stay in each location. You’ll generally visit each spot on a zodiac boat in a group of 10-12 people, led by your guide. This can allow for more of a feeling of exploration than arriving in a larger boat. Galapagos guides are well-versed naturalists and experts. They can bring all kinds of experience and insight to your journey, so don’t be afraid to ask questions!
When choosing which type of cruise to take to the Galapagos, you’ll be sorting through several options. Some boats like the Silversea, Santa Cruz II, or National Geographic expedition boat can house larger groups of people. On a smaller boat, like the sleek 8-cabin yachts now available, you’ll likely feel more like you’re on a true adventure. I travelled on the Endemic, one of the best two small boats in the Galapagos (the other is the Origin.)
Hotel Experiences In The Galapagos
At one time, there were no hotels on the islands, but things have changed. These days, Galapagos visitors can choose whether to stay in a hotel or sleep onboard a ship as part of a cruise. I visited three hotels on Santa Cruz Island – one near the water and two up in the hills. Finch Bay, the hotel by the sea, has a great pool and nice ambiance. It’s worth noting that it’s not central in the port town of Puerto Ayora. My favourite of the two hotels in the hills is the Galapagos Safari Camp. You’ll want to avoid the hills hotels during the cloudy season, when the area will be covered in rain and mist.
Another hotel stand-out is Pikaia Lodge Galapagos, the most luxurious accommodation in the Galapagos and the only one with its own exclusive yacht. The yacht is very important because when you choose to stay in a hotel instead of on a cruise, you’ll board a medium-sized boat each day to travel to neighboring islands and return to the hotel each night. You’ll visit islands like Santa Fe, Plazas, Bartolomé and sometimes Espaniola on these excursions.
Staying in a hotel can be a more flexible option if you’re traveling with young children, but otherwise you might want to opt for a cruise experience. Most hotel dwellers spend at least a day or two exploring the area surrounding the hotel, but you’ll mostly just find tortoises. Seeing tortoises is lovely, to be sure, but it’s more of a one-day experience rather than an activity that can fill several days of exploring.
On a cruise, you’re able to take in a wide variety of geography and wildlife, and really soak in what the Galapagos has to offer. On a cruise, you’ll also have the ability to go further afield than smaller boats might, so you’ll experience quieter areas with fewer travelers around you. The best part? You won’t feel the need to rush on and off a different boat each day. You’ll be able to just kick back, relax, and enjoy your leisurely cruise.
For more information about experiences in the Galapagos, contact us for further details!