Galapagos Planning tips

Land vs Cruise:

What is the best way to see the Galapagos?

Galapagos cruise or land-based tour?

“Should I take a Galapagos cruise or a land-based tour’ is usually one of the first questions travelers face when planning a Galapagos vacation. As with, When is the best time to visit the Galapagos?, the answer very much depends on the individual, and their needs and preferences.

To help you find the right experience, our travel consultants may ask you the following questions:

  • Are you visiting the Galapagos with kids, as a couple or as a solo traveler?
  • Do you like meeting new people on holiday or do you prefer a more private, intimate experience?
  • Do you want to see the flagship species of the Galapagos or is there a particular animal or plant species you want to see that can only be found on one of the remote outer islands?
  • Do you like tight, full schedules or do you prefer greater flexibility on your Galapagos tour?
  • Do you want to fully immerse yourself in nature 24/7?
  • Are you prone to seasickness?

If you would like to talk to an expert about the pros and cons of land-based tours and cruises, please do not hesitate to contact one of our travel consultants. We offer both luxury land-based Galapagos tours as well as luxury Galapagos cruises, and can also create itineraries that incorporate both experiences.

PLAN YOUR SAFARI

POINTS TO CONSIDER

Galapagos Cruises

What to consider / Galapagos Cruises

  • Cruises are great for exploring the remote landscapes on the outermost edges of the archipelago; islands that can’t be reached by any other means.
  • Cruises have fixed departure dates.
  • Cruises have fixed itineraries.
  • Although excursions on uninhabited islands are in groups of max. 16 passengers per guide, larger boats still have to disembark up to 100 people in one go, and get them back on board after that. Some medium (30-passenger) and small (around 16 or 20) vessels offer better passenger-to-guide ratios.
  • Wildlife – Depending on your cruise itinerary, you will likely see many of the flagship species, and possibly a few island-specific species on the outermost islands, such as the waved albatross.
  • The choice of boats can be overwhelming. At Galapagos Safari Camp we only work with a very small selection of cruise ships we deem reliable and responsible.
  • Due to the rules of the National Park and the boat’s operating schedules, the routine on-board is pretty rigid. You’ll be woken up early by piped music; have breakfast and disembark, visit an island, embark, etc. with no room for flexibility or personalization.
  • If you suffer from seasickness, you probably won’t enjoy the experience much!
  • Unless there’s a doctor on-board your vessel, you can be a long way from the nearest medical treatment.

POINTS TO CONSIDER

Land-based Safari at Galapagos Safari Camp

Land-based safari at GSC

  • Departure dates are flexible. Our safaris can be tailored around your dates.
  • Itineraries are flexible and are fully customized according to your needs and interests.
  • Excursions can be Fully-Private (chartered boat, private land excursions and private guide throughout) or Semi-Private (your guide accompanies you on the shared boat excursions).
  • Wildlife – Depending on your itinerary, you will likely see many of the flagship species.
  • You will wake up in the wilderness, with birdsong.
  • Your Safari will include excursions by sea to neighbouring uninhabited islands. These voyages are short (1-2 hours, each way) and you’ll be back on dry land at the end of the day.
Cruises
Land-based Safari at GSC
Islands
Can include remote islands on the outermost edges of the archipelago that can't be reached by any other means
Based on Santa Cruz. Islands visited include Bartolomé, North Seymour, South Plaza, Santa Fe, Isabela.
Dates
Fixed
Flexible
Guided Excursions
Can imply quite a bit of logistics on larger boats.
Can be Private or Semi-Private
Wildlife
Flagship species + a few extra species on outermost islands.
Flagship species
Accommodation
Boat cabins
Luxury Safari tents
Sea sickness
Constant
Only for days at sea.
Wifi
Many boats charge extra for WiFi.
Wifi is included and available in the main lodge.
Wifi
Whether on sea or land, WiFi is considered weak, slow and unpredictable in the Galapagos Islands (e.g. strong enough for social media but not for streaming video).
Whether on sea or land, WiFi is considered weak, slow and unpredictable in the Galapagos Islands (e.g. strong enough for social media but not for streaming video).
Doctor
Only on larger boats
Available 24/7

Land vs Cruise: FAQ

Rabida

While it is true that you may see more islands on a cruise, you won’t necessarily see more wildlife. Providing the aim of your Galapagos vacation is to see the flagship species, your chances of encountering these animals will likely be the same whether you’re on a cruise or a land-based tour. If, however, you want to see the Waved Albatross on Española Island or another island-specific animal or plant species on the outermost parts of the archipelago, then a cruise is the way to go!

Does a cruise ship offer a more intimate experience

A journalist recently described one cruise experience as ‘very intimate, with only 100 guests onboard’. If this is not your idea of intimacy, rest assured that there are both cruise and land-based options in the Galapagos that feel considerably more intimate than this. As island excursions are capped at 16 people per guide, the passenger capacity on cruise ships tends to be in multiples of 16.

 

Does a cruise ship offer a more intimate experience

At Galapagos Safari Camp we pride ourselves on having only nine Safari Tents and one Family Suite, and our Land-Based Safaris can be either fully private or semi-private (for island excursions).

Nestled in the pristine highlands of Santa Cruz Island, and far from the coastal crowds, our camp is spread out over acres of forested land, giving our guests plenty of space to connect with nature, with their loved ones, and with themselves.

Are land-based tours environmentally friendly

While it’s true that the main towns in the Galapagos — Puerto Ayora on Santa Cruz Island, Puerto Baquerizo Moreno on San Cristóbal Island, Puerto Villamil on Isabela Island and Puerto Velazco Ibarra on Floreana Island — have grown significantly over the last decade, Galapagos Safari Camp has always, since its inception, concentrated on generating the least impact possible on the environment and focusing on the positive transformative power of the islands. Read more about our measures towards sustainability.

We are confident the authorities will direct development in the towns towards a more sustainable future, with more alternative energy, greater control of migration, and restrictions on expansion. It’s worth noting that only 3% of the archipelago’s land is outside the Galapagos National Park’s jurisdiction.

In terms of carbon footprint in the islands, the Galapagos Safari Camp is committed to reducing its water and energy consumption with its cutting-edge water treatment systems, solar panel installations and responsible use of electricity (our tents do not require air-conditioning due to their elevated positions which take advantage of the cooler, highland air currents).

Many cruise ships and boats in the islands unfortunately still use bunker fuel which is shipped to the islands aboard cargo ships that, in turn, burn bunker fuel. If you are keen on exploring the Galapagos on a cruise, it’s worth enquiring about the age of the engines and their fuel efficiency: the newer the engine, the more efficient it will be.

Which experience offers more luxury, a hotel or a cruise

Historically, tourism in the Galapagos developed aboard ships that began navigating its waters commercially in the 1970s. Over the years, the standards of these ships improved, to the extent that there are now several Ecuadorian- and internationally-owned luxury vessels plying their waters. Hotel infrastructure at the luxury level has been slower to develop, but is today very much at the same level as ship-based experiences, particularly on Santa Cruz Island.

 

Which experience offers more luxury, a hotel or a cruise

At Galapagos Safari Camp, we strongly believe in the concept of Appropriate Luxury. We strive to offer our guests the highest levels of comfort and service, but without taxing the environment in the process. Read more about Appropriate Luxury and its importance in the Galapagos Islands.

Which experience offers more luxury, a hotel or a cruise

Many people are put off land-based tours because they believe the inhabited islands are over-crowded and lacking in privacy. The main ports such as Puerto Ayora on Santa Cruz can certainly feel crowded during the high season. But Galapagos Safari Camp is located up in the highlands, far away from the coastal crowds. Our camp overlooks miles of pristine national park, without any other hotels, buildings, or Homo sapiens in sight. It is about as far from the tourist crowds as you can get in the Galapagos.

Which is better for kids – a cruise or a land-based tour

Many families feel more comfortable on land-based tours, but there are pros and cons to both. We weigh up the options in our blog post, ‘Galapagos With Kids: Family Cruise vs Family-Friendly Hotel’.

QUOTE

“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

Will I need air-conditioning in the Galapagos

If you are based on the coast or on a boat, you will likely benefit from having air-conditioning. Galapagos Safari Camp, however, is based in the highlands of Santa Cruz where air-conditioning is not necessary. All our Safari Tents are carefully positioned to take advantage of the natural cool breezes. Our three-bedroom Family Suite is the only exception and comes with the option of air-conditioning. However, most families find they don’t need it.

LAND VS CRUISE

What Others Say

  • Nick Howells
    After cruising the blisteringly hot coastline, the camp’s altitude was a cooling tonic.
    Nick Howells
    Evening Standard
  • Isabelle Champaney
    I, once a fervent supporter of the natural cruises to explore the Galapagos Islands, changed my mind and I recommend Galapagos Safari Camp with all my heart. This wonderful accommodation is an oasis of silence and serenity in the middle one of the world’s most unique place.
    Isabelle Champaney
  • Kevin Marshall
    Galapagos Safari Camp is a fantastic option to complement any cruise itinerary in the archipelago. The only question is whether to tack it on before or after your time aboard a ship. If I hadn’t done this stay on land, I would not have had the opportunity to visit with a local farmer, or enjoy a meal at a local restaurant, since my cruise itinerary was very much focused on exploration of the remote natural wonders of the Galapagos. Not to mention such close encounters with giant tortoises right outside my tent! After my experience, I would recommend doing this trip as pre-cruise option. Upon arrival, I was excited and energized plus everything was new, which I think lends itself nicely to doing this before your Galapagos cruise. This time on land also gave me time to decompress from my long international flights and ready myself for the active water-based adventures to come. I left with an incredible sense of place.
    Kevin Marshall
  • Elizabeth Gordon
    It is a land-based Galapagos experience and a way to explore this amazing area that is not a cruise. Don’t get me wrong, I saw some stunning boats on this trip, but if you are claustrophobic or easily sea sick, being on land is quite nice. It also means that you are also free to stay in the Galapagos as long as you like and arrive on any date you want versus the more rigid schedulig of many cruises. Finding Galapagos Safari Camp left me so excited for the kind of Galapagos experience a non-cruise-lover could have.
    Elizabeth Gordon