When planning your Galapagos vacation, the first thing to consider is whether it will be a land-based tour or a cruise. There are advantages and disadvantages to both. For example, if you know that you get motion sickness fairly easily, then a cruise probably isn’t a great idea; on the other hand, if you know that you want to do a diving trip, then a liveaboard cruise is your only option. Here are a few things to consider when deciding between a cruise or a hotel-based tour for your Galapagos Islands vacation:
If you want to explore the most visitor sites in the most efficient way possible, then a cruise is your best bet. Cruises tend to visit two sites per day (on average) and take advantage of down time, like meals or evenings, to travel between sites. That means that you won’t waste any time actually getting to the destinations and all of your time will be spent enjoying the activities.
If you want to spend a bit more time in a certain area, then a hotel-based tour might be better for you. Since cruises are designed to keep guests on the move, from one site to the next, they generally don’t allow for repeat visits to any one site, and the daily activities usually last four hours or less. If you know that you want to snorkel in one site multiple times, for example, or if you want to explore the highlands in greater depth, then land-based tours might be your best option.
Many of the visitor sites in the Galapagos Islands are very isolated and can only be reached on a cruise. If you’re hoping to do a land-based tour and there are specific sites you’d like to visit, you should confirm that you will be able to reach them from one of the four inhabited islands (Santa Cruz, Isabela, San Cristobal, or Floreana).
Cruises are the best option if you’re hoping for an all-inclusive experience. All of your meals, transportation, activities, and lodging are planned right into the itinerary, which means that all you have to do is choose the one that best suits your interest and leave the rest to the cruise operators. The disadvantage of this is that there’s not a lot of flexibility with the itinerary.
The alternative is one of the all-inclusive land-based tours. While many hotels don’t offer these, there are a few that do have comprehensive packages, and they generally allow you to design your own itinerary, which gives you much more control of which activities you do, where you eat, and other details.
Now that tourism has spiked in the Galapagos Islands, there are boats and hotels to fit any budget, so the question is - What kind of lodging experience are you hoping for? Some of the catamarans and larger ships have comparably spacious cabins, but if you want a bigger room, then a hotel will almost always offer the most space. Plus, hotels tend to have more amenities like restaurants, pools, or spas. Again, the larger ships might have these, but generally Galapagos yachts are smaller.
Luxury and first class yachts tend to be more expensive than hotel-based journeys, but they also offer the utmost in elegance, gourmet cuisine, and service. These cruises feature the Galapagos National Park’s best multilingual naturalist guides, draw from international and local fare for the menu, and accommodate guests in unparalleled suites, often featuring either floor-to-ceiling windows or perhaps even private balconies in each cabin, in addition to a private bathroom.
Since hotel-based Galapagos tours are still in their infancy, they simply can’t rival the experience that these cruises offer, though there are a growing number of five-star Galapagos boutique hotels and lodges.
If you’re hoping to experience the Galapagos Islands on a budget, there are ways to save when booking a cruise (like traveling during the shoulder seasons or booking a last-minute cruise). You can also choose a budget yacht or hostel in the Galapagos Islands, which will save you a lot of money, but the service, dining, and accommodations are comparably modest.