There’s no doubt about it: a trip to the Galapagos Islands is a bucket list vacation most travelers hope to cross off one day. Offering gorgeous waters and shores covered in some of the world’s rarest flora and fauna, its tourism industry has thankfully become developed enough to offer a range of experiences for every type of traveler but has not veered towards over-development as conservation is of the utmost priority.
Two of the most popular ways to explore this famed archipelago is either by Galapagos cruise or by booking a stay in a Galapagos hotel or lodge on one of the inhabited islands and doing island hopping excursions to nearby islands. Historically prices may have deterred travelers from considering a cruise, but today with more upscale lodgings on the islands offering luxurious island-hopping opportunities and plenty of Galapagos cruise deals available, the price differential can be somewhat negligible. With price factored out of the equation, here are the pros and cons of a Galapagos cruise versus island hopping to help you decide which is the best way to explore the islands for you.
Sailing on a Galapagos cruise means your boat will be your base. Your itinerary will include as many islands as you hope to see, and you will make your way through the archipelago, returning to the boat in between. The cruise will be your home for your Galapagos journey. Here are the pros and cons from a traveler who has recently done a cruise.
You’ll be able to get a bigger picture understanding of the islands. Itineraries for weeklong cruises include enough time to sail to more remote islands that can only be reached by cruise, such as Fernandina, in addition to stops on the more popular islands.
You’ll be able to see much more in the same amount of time. For those wanting to maximize their time in the Galapagos, cruises do the trick. Because many navigate at night, you’ll be able to fall asleep at one destination and awake the next morning, having already arrived at the next. Few daylight hours are spent in transit, so you can use your time more efficiently.
It’s easy sailing. Part of the cruising experience, in the Galapagos or elsewhere, is that you get to simply sit back, relax, and enjoy the views. The itinerary is set, meals are planned out, and everything you need is on the ship. The crew is there to handle everything for you, so your work is done as soon as the cruise is booked.
It’s the quintessential experience. What better way to explore a string of islands than by boat? In Nepal you trek, along the California coast you road trip, and in the Galapagos you sail. Cruising certainly makes for a more unique experience that you won’t be able to get in many destinations.
Make sure you’re comfortable on a boat. Hardly an issue for larger ships or catamarans, but those on smaller boats may feel the sea a bit more. If you’ve never cruised and aren’t sure if the sea’s motion will bother you, you’ll want to book on a larger vessel to feel more stabilized throughout the journey. This is also important to keep in mind if bringing along children- a larger boat with more space will lead to a much more enjoyable experience.
Part of the cruising experience is disconnecting, but it’s important that travelers know this beforehand. Unlike a lodge, you won’t have Wifi on a boat. For some wanting to unplug and unwind this is certainly a pro, but for those who need to be connected, it’s important to be aware of this in advance so you can plan accordingly. If you need to be able to check emails or attend to other businesses, then consider getting a cell phone plan that you can utilize when you’re close to (or on) shore each day.
Island hopping involves booking a stay in a Galapagos hotel or lodge on an island (or various stays on multiple islands), and hopping back and forth between the different islands each day.
More flexibility. While many appreciate cruises for the planned out itinerary, some travelers simply need to be able to change their plans up until the last minute. Cruises have fixed dates, whereas hotels are usually available for any time frame, and the same goes for daily life once in the Galapagos. If staying in a hotel, you decide your plans each day, whereas they will be previously set with a cruise.
More time on land. For those who want to wander around the islands when not doing activities, a hotel stay will guarantee that you can explore during unscheduled time. On a cruise, you’ll be spending most downtime on the ship, whereas hotel-stayers will be on land, giving you time to walk around, bicycle, or even hike. For those who aren’t fans of the sea, you can base fewer of your activities there.
Getting from island to island will be much less convenient and/or comfortable. If you’re staying on land, the most common way to get from island to island is by speedboat. For those who were discouraged by the motion of a cruise ship, this will be a faster yet much bumpier ride. Alternatively, you can fly from island to island (an increasingly popular option), but it counteracts the flexibility pro of hotel-based island hopping.
More time in transit. While cruise ships travel at night, those staying on land will need to use daylight hours to get from island to island. If you’re planning on staying on only one island for the duration of the trip, then you can count on a lot of travel time spent going back and forth. If you’re planning on hotel-hopping as you move through the islands rather than returning to the same hotel, you’ll need to allow time for packing, checking out, and checking in again each time you move. Whether it’s by plane or speedboat, getting around will consume more of your time.
You’ll miss out on several sites: some because you’ll spend more time in transit and less at destinations, and others that can only be accessed by cruise ships. As pointed out above, the further and lesser-touched islands can only be reached by cruise ship (no speed boats or planes access them). For many visitors, these are a highlight as they offer unique landscapes and wildlife not found on the other islands, and are much more exclusive to visit, so by staying on land you’ll have to know that you won’t have many options for accessing them.
Galapagos cruise or island hopping, either way, you are going to have an incredible time on the islands and an unforgettable vacation. For those who really can’t decide, why not combine a cruise with a few nights on one of the islands at the end of your trip? This way you get the best of both worlds and give yourself the chance to spend the last couple of days simply relaxing without cruising or hopping about.
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