Tailor made safaris across land and sea
What is a Galapagos Land-Based Tour?
On a Galapagos ‘land-based’ or ‘hotel-based’ tour, visitors sleep on land (instead of aboard a boat at sea). Combining the wildlife experience of a cruise with the comforts of a hotel makes land-based tours a popular Galapagos cruise alternative.
A land-based Safari, however, does not mean you are stuck on land the whole time. In addition to exploring some of the lesser-known corners of Santa Cruz by car, bicycle, and foot, our Safaris also include boat trips to uninhabited islands.
At the end of each day, guests return to Galapagos Safari Camp to unwind in the wilderness, with seamless service and with all the comforts that a luxury tented camp brings. Those who have stayed at tented safari camps know how powerful these experiences can be on the psyche. You are sheltered and well looked after, yet exposed to the natural world you have come to see.
Not to be confused with ‘island-hopping tours’, which shuttle visitors between the crowded port towns of the archipelago, our land-based Safaris provide guests with an unforgettable base from which to explore the more authentic and wilder side of the Galapagos. After all, most visitors that come to the islands want to be immersed in nature and to experience wildlife in its natural setting, not to stay in towns. Or, for that matter, on cruise ships.
The Galapagos Cruise Alternative
Many travelers are put off the Galapagos by the mainstream perception of the destination, believing the only way to see the islands is on a cruise, with strict schedules, and alongside 20-100 strangers. The idea of being herded from one site to the next and being confined to communal decks and compact cabins for a week or longer is not their idea of a vacation. Moreover, if you add seasickness, children, and/or honeymoon romance, a cruise will inevitably cause some trepidation.
Fortunately, there is an alternative way to experience the islands. It is the reason we founded Galapagos Safari Camp. There is so much more to the Galapagos than rushing from island to island, ticking off names from a list. It is a place to reconnect with a primordial sense of time and wonder, free from the bosun’s whistle.
Video: Presenting Galapagos Safari Camp
If, like us, you travel to seek meaningful life experiences, to gain a sense of place, and to bond with your loved ones, we warmly welcome you to Galapagos Safari Camp.
Our tailor-made land-based Safaris combine time exploring the wilds and wonders of Santa Cruz Island with day trips to uninhabited islands, returning to Camp at the end of each day.
What makes our Safaris different?
1. Level of Privacy
a) Private tours on inhabited islands
All our tours on the inhabited islands (i.e., Santa Cruz and Isabela Island) are private. You will have your own naturalist guide and chauffeur-driven vehicle at your disposal, allowing for more spontaneity during your day. If, for example, you want to stay a little longer at a particular site, it’s generally not a problem (provided you are observing the visiting hours of the National Park). This tends not to be possible on a cruise or on group tours following strict timetables.
b) Private or Semi-Private tours of uninhabited islands
For the boat excursions to uninhabited islands, we offer three levels of privacy:
- Fully private: on a chartered boat, with your own guide
- Semi-private: sharing a boat and bringing your own guide for the island tour.
- Shared: sharing a boat and a guide (to expect a ratio of up to 16 visitors per guide).
Note: Due to the strict rules of the National Park, everyone gets the same tour of the uninhabited island following marked trails, and the same amount of time on the island, whether they arrive on a cruise ship or a tiny charter boat.
Besides more personal attention, the advantage of having your own guide is that they can better tailor the tour to meet the needs, interests, and pace of individual/s in your private group.
Points to note
- Visitors must be accompanied by an official guide at all times in the National Park (the National Park covers 97% of the islands)
- As tours on the uninhabited islands are capped at 16 visitors per guide, the passenger capacity on cruise ships tends to be in multiples of 16. Therefore, all tours from cruise ships, as well as tours from shared day boats, will likely be in groups of this size. Although the larger cruise ships still have to disembark up to 100 people in one go.
2. Personal Space
We understand that when on vacation, our guests want some personal space, some flexibility in their arrangements, and quality bonding time with their significant others or family, not to always be in a group.
In contrast to numerous hotels and cruise ships in the Galapagos which have been built with rooms adjacent to, and on top of each other, our nine Luxury Safari Tents and one Family Suite are spread across 200m of land, offering significantly more personal space and privacy.
The Camp itself is set with 55 hectares of private land, providing guests with the space and freedom to connect with nature and each other. After a day of adventures, guests can enjoy a dip in our pool, a nap in their hammocks, or a bike ride around the property. At sunset, guests can gather for cocktails on our secluded viewpoint, where they can swap stories with others or quietly contemplate the setting sun.
Aboard a ship, everything is arranged collectively. There are set wake-up times, set excursion schedules, and set dining hours. On a cruise, the dining rooms are mostly arranged without “two-top” tables. Instead, guests gather collectively to discuss the day’s events together.
At Galapagos Safari Camp, we can arrange tables for each group size, from solo travelers and couples to large families and groups. You choose who to dine with.
We also welcome many honeymooners whose least romantic thought is to share every waking moment with a group of strangers. We understand they want a magical wildlife experience but also plenty of personal space.
There is space and time to call your own when staying with us.
3. Flexible dates
As our Safaris are fully customized, they do not have set departure dates and fixed itineraries. We generally recommend 4 to 5 nights on Santa Cruz Island and a minimum of 2 nights for our Isabela Island Extension. We can also arrange all transfers from/to the mainland, as well as any Safari extension tours in Ecuador.
4. Personalized Itineraries
We have guests who want to see the Galapagos wildlife but also have specific special interests they’d like woven into their itineraries. Eg, scuba-diving, surfing, avoiding seasickness, bird watching, conservation initiatives, photography, painting, and botany. Or, they may want to include some downtime to relax and soak up their surroundings.
We also get many multi-generational families with varying needs and interests. While it’s agreed they all want to spend quality time together, some family members may want to be more active or adventurous than others. E.g. a keen scuba-diver may like to include a couple of dives, while their other half may prefer to relax by the pool with their book.
Our Safaris are designed and tailored to accommodate the needs of all our guests. Ultimately, it’s not about guests fitting around our schedules but about us creating an experience that is life-changing for them.
5. Creative and Original Experiences
Our aim is to craft experiences that are enriching and transformational, but in such a fragile and fervently protected destination like the Galapagos, this often requires a healthy dose of creativity. Some of the experiences we are particularly proud of include artisanal fishing (included in our Family Safari), gourmet chocolate tasting (read the story behind the first Galapagos chocolate bar), surprise tea parties in lava tunnels, romantic picnics in the wilds of Santa Cruz and family celebrations.
6. Authentic. Appropriate. Sustainable.
At Galapagos Safari Camp, you’ll wake up in the wilderness to birdsong and not to piped music as is often how the day commences on a cruise ship. At night, you’ll be lulled to sleep by the breeze in the Scalesia trees, and the distant hoot of barn owls, as opposed to the hum of a diesel engine.
We want our guests to experience the islands as we experienced them during the years we lived and raised our own children here so that they too may discover the freedom and joy that comes from awakening our senses and being at one with nature.
We believe strongly in what we have termed ‘Appropriate Luxury’, and its importance in the Galapagos Islands. We strive to offer our guests the highest levels of comfort and service, but without taxing the environment in the process.
7. Central Location
Galapagos Safari Camp is ideally located in the center of the Galapagos archipelago, and between the two main ports on Santa Cruz Island – Puerto Ayora in the south and Itabaca Channel in the north. (Note: No matter where you stay on Santa Cruz, you will likely use both ports for day trips to uninhabited islands and dive sites).
Nestled in the highlands of Santa Cruz, and on the border of the National Park, our camp is also within easy reach of all of the islands’ major sites and attractions, yet far enough from the coast to escape the crowds and higher levels of heat and humidity found at sea level.
Read more: Our Location
Immersed in nature
Our camp overlooks miles of pristine National Park and the Pacific Ocean with no other hotels, buildings, cruise ships or homosapiens in sight. It is about as far from the tourist crowds as you can get in the Galapagos.
The camp’s 55 hectares of land also serve as a refuge for giant tortoises and a variety of birds. At Galapagos Safari Camp you are immersed in nature 24/7.
8. Family Friendly
Our land-based safaris are a popular choice for families who appreciate personalized service, flexible schedules, and the freedom to explore the Galapagos Islands at their own pace.
“Would we, like most visitors to the famous islands off of Ecuador’s coast, explore by cruise ship? The see-sawing surf keeping us awake at night, a cabin too minuscule in which to cartwheel, a father constantly on edge as his daughter careers towards the precipice of the deck… Hmmm. There had to be something more soothing, more expansive. Enter Galápagos Safari Camp.” – Nick Howells, Evening Standard UK.
9. Rich in Wildlife
Wildlife encounters are a top priority, if not the top priority for most people planning a Galapagos vacation. A question we often get asked is, ‘What wildlife am I missing by not going on a cruise?’ The answer is very little, if anything. While you may see more islands on a cruise, you won’t necessarily see more wildlife.
Your chances of encountering the iconic species of the Galapagos will be the same, whether you’re on a cruise or on one of our Land-Based Safaris.
Species frequently sighted on our Safaris include the:
- American flamingo
- American oystercatcher
- American yellow warbler
- Blue-footed booby
- Bottlenose dolphin
- Brown pelican
- Frigatebird (Great & Magnificent)
- Galapagos barn owl
- Galapagos dove
- Galapagos finch
- Galapagos flycatcher
- Galapagos fur seal
- Galapagos giant tortoise
- Galapagos hawk
- Galapagos land iguana
- Galapagos lava lizard
- Galapagos marine iguana
- Galapagos mockingbird
- Galapagos penguin
- Galapagos sea lion
- Green sea turtle
- Nazca booby
- Rays (various species)
- Sally lightfoot crab
- Santa Fe Iguana
- Shark (various species)
- Tropical fish (various species)
There are a few island-specific animals on the outermost parts of the archipelago that can only be seen on a cruise (to bear in mind that visiting the outermost islands will likely increase the length of your cruise due to the distance covered). These include the:
- Waved Albatross on Española Island
- Flightless Cormorant on Fernandina
- Red-footed booby on Genovesa and San Cristobal (although sometimes they are seen on North Seymour Island, which our safaris can include)
- Sub-species of giant tortoises, finches, and mockingbirds.
To keep in mind, you’d need to go to every island, every month of the year, to see all that the Galapagos has to offer!
Disclaimer: As with any wildlife vacation, it is not possible for us to guarantee sightings of specific species but we do work with the islands’ top naturalists who have many years of experience in guiding wildlife tours in the Galapagos, and who can spot a well camouflaged creature better than anyone.
Wildlife viewing opportunities will also be determined by the itinerary you choose and the islands you visit. For more information and advice, please contact one of our expert Galapagos Safari Designers.
10. The Best Naturalist Guides
Why guides choose to work with us
One advantage of our land-based Galapagos Safaris is that our guides are able to return home to their families at the end of each day (unlike those on cruise ships who can be at sea for weeks at a time). This arrangement creates a win-win situation. Guides want to work with us so that they can spend more time with their families, and we are able to be very selective in our partnerships and work with only the best.
Since our opening in 2007, we have curated a network of naturalist guides that we consider the best in their field. Not only are they deeply knowledgeable and passionate about the Galapagos Islands, but they are also sensitive to individual needs. They understand that for most of our guests, this is a once-in-a-lifetime vacation, and are more than willing to go the extra mile to create an unforgettable Safari experience for them.
All guides are certified by Galapagos National Park and speak English. Upon request, and at additional cost, we can also provide guides who speak other languages.
Finding the perfect match
We put a lot of thought into matching our guests with the right guide. For example, some guides are better at engaging young children, while others are more comfortable with large, multi-generational groups. As your Safari Designer learns more about your needs and goals, he or she will know the right guide for you.
Same naturalist guide throughout.
You will have the same guide for the duration of your safari, including any extensions to Isabela Island, and will be accompanied by the same guide, ensuring continuity and personal attention.