If you’re going to spend the money and time it takes to get to the Galapagos Islands – you probably want to spend some effort finding the right tour for you. Having just spent two weeks in the Galapagos I got to explore firsthand the differences between the classic Galapagos yacht-based cruise tour and the increasingly popular Galapagos island-hopping tours. Land-based multisport trips are yet another option, but I’m not discussing those now as that isn’t what I did in the Galapagos.
And while, yes, they share the same destination – the experience of the islands was quite different.
Oddly enough, the perks of one tend to be the pitfalls of the other. For instance, a cruise allows you to cover a lot of distance. Therefore, you have the opportunity to see more wildlife, more islands, and more sea-life. This makes for an amazing wildlife experience, but is not the same as total relaxation at a beach hotel. I felt queasy at times on the boat. Land-based tours, on the other hand, are very relaxing and comfortable, at the expense of seeing some of the wildlife.
On my cruise aboard the Letty (one of the sister ships Eric, Letty, Flamingo I), we saw tons of frigate birds, fields of males all puffed red ogling the females flying by and lots of Boobies – footed red and blue – mating, showing each other sticks, fighting… All within arms reach! On the boat we came across a pod of 30-50 dolphins, saw whales off in the distance, and (though extremely rare) had a whale shark swim right underneath us! The experience was one I’ll never forget…But being on a boat isn’t easy. The National Park has set strict time-lines that the boats – all boats – must follow. You’re going nonstop and, at times, it can feel a bit like being on a high school field trip (a very awesome field trip) with the constant activity, lines, and lots of people in limited space (the boat). And while space wasn’t really that big of an issue, you are forced to be social at meals every day, along with sharing close quarters with your travel mates.
A land-based tour, like my Red Mangrove Darwin’s Triangle trip, allows for tons of sprawl space, privacy, and relaxation. You can choose to dine “just the two of us” or with your tour group. You have the opportunity to experience more of the cultural-side of the Galapagos. You can check out a local restaurant for lunch and you have the option for a little nightlife if you so please. There’s no dealing with feeling a bit queasy due to seasickness, and, in general, you’re more comfortable. These tours feel more like a vacation, and you can plan some relaxation days around your excursion days.
On the flip-side, while you still get to see wildlife it is not quite to the same extent. You’ll for sure see sea lions and piles of marine iguanas and the giant tortoises, but no fields of frigates. And the boobies fly by, but they don’t stop by. A lot of the crazy wildlife we’ve come to think of as the Galapagos happens on some of the further out islands. Islands that you’re only going to get to if you go with a yacht-based tour.
Choosing the right trip really means thinking about why you want to go to the Galapagos. If you’re going for the wildlife, and to see the variation within species on the different islands, I’d choose a yacht trip. But if your idea of vacation is a mix of seeing some wildlife and relaxing in a beach hotel, you might prefer a land-based trip. Either way, it’s hard not to enjoy yourself, and you’ll be glad you visited the Galapagos Islands!