Galapagos: From the Sea and Beyond

Off the coast of Ecuador, the Galapagos Islands offer phenomenal scenery, unique wildlife, and an array of adventurous activities. One of our Latin America Travel Experts navigates how to get the most out of these exotic islands.

The terrain of the Galapagos Islands is unlike anywhere else in the world. Being here will make you feel as though you are stepping back into a land before time. The Galapagos Archipelago is comprised of 18 main navigable islands, but consists of 128 islands, rocks, and inlets in total. With so much geography to cover, it’s important to find the best way to see and experience as much as possible.

There are two great ways to experience the Galapagos; either by liveaboard vessel, or by land stay in a lodge or hotel. While each has distinct advantages, choosing your experience widely depends on your preferences and expectations including, flow, pace, structure, and overall comfort.

In my opinion, sailing on a liveaboard vessel offers the greatest advantage. What gives this option an edge, is that you’re able to easily travel greater distances to see as many islands included within your vessel’s itinerary. Cruises range between 4 to 7 days on average, with some itineraries offering more in-depth experiences lasting up to 14 days. With this arrangement, you will certainly see more islands, a greater diversity of wildlife and endemic species relative to each island, and gain an appreciation for the varied ecosystems of each island. While there are many advantages to this type of travel, one must know that sailing on a liveaboard vessel poses a regimented schedule from dawn until dusk. Two to three landings are scheduled per day, where a variety of activities are available like hiking, nature walks, snorkeling, bird watching, on-board lectures, and three delicious meals per day to keep your energy up. You must be willing to be “on the go” all day, every day! For those who like a structured vacation filled with activity, then a cruise is definitely the way to go.

Though yachting around the Galapagos is stunning, if you prefer a more relaxed experience where you can decide your own pace and flow, a land-based venture, staying in a lodge or hotel may be the way to go. Settling in at a lodge on one or two of the main islands affords you the flexibility to choose the activities you want to participate in each day. Meals are offered over a wider range of time (or you can choose to have dinner in town) and you’ll have more flexibility in deciding what time you would like your excursions to depart. Day trips via tour boats to neighboring islands are available, and give you the opportunity to experience the vast marine life that the islands offer. A word of advice, if you don’t have your sea legs on, definitely opt for a lodge stay, the motion of the ocean will not appeal to you and your balance.

While both a liveaboard experience and a land-based stay provide you the opportunity to unpack once you settle into your accommodations, I think that a cruise will open your eyes to so much more of the Archipelago, and allows you to wake up in a different region each day. Perhaps most spectacularly, it allows you to soak in the amazing sunrises and sunsets that enhance the distant horizon with amazing hues of pink, blue, and purple. My personal advice is to consider your own level of preferred activity and how structured you want your days to be. If a regimented itinerary is your preference (with some opportunities to relax on deck, or course) then I highly recommend a cruise. If you prefer to sleep in a bit, and get to know one or two main islands more extensively, with a few activities per day, then a lodge-based stay may provide you with the easy going experience you seek.

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