By Allie Almario
Having worked with hundreds of Galapagos travelers over the last few years, I can see why it can be difficult to choose between a Galapagos cruise or a land-based itinerary. The most popular choice, of course, is traveling to the different islands by ship after flying into the archipelago. However, in the last few years, upscale hotel choices have begun to pop up on different islands, now offering travelers a variety of accommodations at all categories.
There are certainly pros and cons for either option.
People who choose a cruise tend to feel that they’ll get the most bang-for-buck by spending time on a ship. Sailing itineraries are very efficient, with scheduled movements at night and during meals to maximize time on shore during the day for wildlife viewing, hiking, snorkeling and kayaking. All meals and activities are included, and quite a few ships include snorkeling gear and wetsuits, or will rent them to you at a very reasonable price during your trip. By the time your time on board has ended, the only thing you’ll most likely pay out of pocket will be for personal expenses (such as laundry or alcohol) and tipping.
Travelers who prefer a hotel-based trip are generally prone to seasickness or claustrophobia, so they shy away from spending time on a sailing vessel. They like a less structured daily schedule with more free time on their own. Many divers also choose a land-based option to take advantage of a number of dive shops headquartered on the islands of Santa Cruz and San Cristobal. For those on a budget, staying at a hotel might be a less expensive option as well since they can pick and choose from a number of limited daily boat trips to nearby islands. However, these day trips are not inexpensive – they can cost up to $150 per person or more each day. Also keep in mind that almost all visitor sites registered with the national park require that a licensed naturalist guide accompany you. No guide? No go. And while cruises include all meals, hotels typically only offer breakfast only.
For families, a land-based trip can be optimal if you feel your children would benefit from a more relaxing itinerary, including some days that are geared specifically just for playing on the beach or enjoying pool time at one of the few hotels that do have this amenity.
Finally, a popular reason for choosing a land-based trip is if you prefer a slower pace and a believer that “less is more.” Instead of seeing an island for only a few hours, staying at an island hotel affords you the opportunity to spend a few days exploring the different sites.
Note that all travelers who enter the Galapagos and are overnighting in a hotel must pay the Galapagos National Park Fee in cash upon arrival (currently $100 per person). That rule also applies to anyone staying on land before a Galapagos cruise. If you are staying at a hotel post cruise, then often the cruise company can arrange pre-payment of the park fee and migration card.