When planning a Galapagos trip, the first question should always be: Land-based tour or cruise? Although cruises have long been the most popular way to explore the Galapagos Islands, land-based tours are quickly gaining popularity as a great cost-effective alternative. Plus, the growing number of resorts, hotels, and other local businesses in the main towns means that there has never been a better time to plan a land-based Galapagos tour.
What does “island hopping” mean?
Land-based tours are also commonly referred to as “island-hopping tours,” since many travelers choose to spend a few nights on each of the inhabited Galapagos Islands, thus “hopping” from one to the next.
Which of the Galapagos Islands can I stay on?
There are four inhabited islands in the Galapagos, but the main hotels are located on just three: Isabela Island, Santa Cruz, and San Cristobal.
- San Cristobal, home to the provincial capital of Puerto Baquerizo Moreno, is the easternmost of the Galapagos Islands – an ideal base for tours of the southern and eastern attractions.
- Santa Cruz is centrally located and therefore has the largest town – Puerto Ayora. This is where travelers will find the most hotels, restaurants, cafes, and shops. It also offers excellent access to all accessible corners of the Galapagos for land-based tours.
- Isabela Island is the largest and westernmost island. As such, it has the most visitor sites of any island and is a great base for tours of the western part of the archipelago.
How do I get to the Galapagos Islands?
All flights into the Galapagos Islands are domestic flights from the Ecuadorian mainland. Your flight will arrive to either Baltra Island or San Cristobal.
- The airport at Baltra is the busiest of the Galapagos Islands, with shuttle service to Puerto Ayora on nearby Santa Cruz Island. When you arrive, a public bus will shuttle you to the Itabaca Channel, where a 10-minute ferry ride will take you to the northern shores of Santa Cruz. From here, you can either take a bus or a taxi to the other side of the island where you will find the main port city of Puerto Ayora.
- If you fly into San Cristobal, it’s just a few minutes to get into the capital city of Puerto Baquerizo Moreno.
- There is also an airport on Isabela Island that only receives inter-island flights within the Galapagos Islands.
How do I get from one island to another?
The most common way to get from one island to another is by speedboat. These boats depart periodically throughout the morning and afternoon, jetting between Isabela, Santa Cruz, and San Cristobal. If you’re planning your trip independently, make sure to check the schedules in advance so that you don’t miss your departure.
By boat, the journey from one island to another is about two hours. Occasionally, choppy water can make for an exciting ride, so make sure to bring motion sickness pills or bracelets if you are prone to getting seasick.
You can also charter a flight from one island to another on a small propeller plane. This is a much more expensive option than the speedboats, but it offers a much faster way to get between islands and also provides an unforgettable aerial view of the Galapagos, which most people might only get glimpses of on the flight in.
Can I reach all of the visitor sites on a land-based tour?
Unfortunately, not all of the visitor sites can be reached on a land-based tour. To maximize your trip, plan to stay a few nights on San Cristobal, Santa Cruz, and Isabela, and you will be able to visit as many sites as any weeklong cruise.
The more remote sites in the Galapagos can only be reached by cruise, but land-based tours still offer all the staple Galapagos activities, like snorkeling, nature hikes, bird watching, surfing, and more, plus the added benefit of soaking in the sun on the beach whenever you want!
How can I find a good hotel in the Galapagos Islands?
Plan your trip through an agency that has experience working with Galapagos travel. With the growing number of hotels (and hostels) in the Galapagos, it can be tough to figure out which ones will offer the best experience. That’s why we make sure that all of the hotels that we feature here (link to land-based tours page) provide only the best service and highest degree of comfort to their guests.
Are hotels all-inclusive? Are there tour packages available?
Some Galapagos hotels are all-inclusive. Some aren’t. We recommend getting a package deal that includes everything from your accommodations to meals to transportation and daily activities. This guarantees that once you arrive, you can spend all your energy on enjoying a relaxing vacation and not sweating the details of planning every day.
Packages might seem a bit more expensive than if you plan the trip yourself, but the truth is you will probably end up saving money when you consider all of the things that are already included in the price that might otherwise nickel and dime you well beyond your original budget.
What’s the difference between Luxury, First Class, and Tourist Class packages?
Since Galapagos hotels are typically boutique hotels, inns, and resorts, it’s hard to rank them like other hotels. As a rule of thumb, luxury packages might be equated to the five-star resorts, first class could be considered four-stars, and tourist class is on par with three-star hotels. In general, the class refers to what the hotel offers. While all of our featured hotels provide the utmost in comfort and excellent service, consider that:
- Luxury hotels will be more resort style, often including an on-site restaurant and pool, oceanfront rooms, private beaches, and sometimes secluded locations that can only be accessed by the hotel’s private ferries.
- First class hotels will offer many of the same amenities as luxury hotels but may not have as many on-site features, like a pool or restaurant. Of course, each hotel is unique in what it may offer.
- Tourist class hotels still offer top-notch service and comfort, but usually don’t have some of the more extravagant creature comforts, like fruit and champagne baskets in the rooms, bath robes, private restaurants or pools, or secluded locations.
Remember, no matter which hotel you choose, you are guaranteed an excellent experience just by being in the Galapagos Islands!
Why should I choose a land-based tour over a cruise?
There are many reasons people choose land-based tours over Galapagos cruises:
- They are almost always less expensive than their cruise equivalent.
- They’re great for people who tend to get motion sickness and don’t want to be on a cruise ship.
- They allow for much greater flexibility with your itinerary.
- The pace of land-based tours is often more relaxed.
- It allows more time to explore or re-visit the attractions and sites on the big islands.