There are numerous areas of interest within walking distance, or a taxi-ride from the hotels, but any excursion into the Protected Zone must be under the direction of a Naturalist Guide, trained and licensed by the Galápagos National Park. Even then, access is limited to designated “Visit-Sites”. Many of the Visit-Sites are accessible only by sea, on a licensed boat, of which there are 3 main categories:
So, the first decision you will make is whether to base your Galápagos vacation on:
Many sightseeing excursions include an opportunity to discover underwater Galápagos. Snorkelling is an integral part of most day-trips, sometimes with the option of diving. You can even take a live-aboard diving cruise.
These are some of the most popular sites on each of the populated islands which are accessible by foot, bus, taxi, or day-trip by boat. Also listed are popular sites on the same islands which can only be visited on a cruise.
San Cristóbal boasts numerous exceptional sites for visit by land or by sea. The emblematic Kicker Rock (aka Leon Dormido) was so popular that is it is now off limits to cruise boats and now can be visited only on a local “Daily Tour” boat, or on a “Vivencial Fishing” boat as part of the very popular “360 Tour”.
Santa Cruz's attractions are also accessible overland or on a day-trip. Some trips depart from the main pier in Puerto Ayora and others (*), north of the island, require a bus ride to embark at Baltra.
Isabela is the largest of the inhabited islands. While there are several excellent overland and day-trips by sea, several of the best sites are only accessible on a cruise.
Floreana is the least developed, and most pristine, of the inhabited islands. Day-trips by sea are only available from operators based in San Cristóbal or Santa Cruz.
Both San Cristóbal and Santa Cruz feature local attractions and multiple day-trips to discover nearby islands. So you can enjoy a major portion of Galápagos attractions from a single home base. Which you choose is largely a question of priorities.
If you particularly want to visit a particular site, that may determine your choice. for example: Santa Cruz for Bartolome, Seymour, and Plazas or San Cristóbal for Kicker Rock, Espanola, Rosa Blanca, and Punta Pitt.
If you want more choice of luxury hotels, restaurants, shops, and galleries, then Santa Cruz would be your choice. If you want fewer tourists, less traffic, clearer water and better scenery, then you will definitely be happier in San Cristóbal.
If you enjoy fishing or surfing, then there is only one choice: San Cristóbal.
A majority of the popular visit-sites are accessible by road, hike, or day-trip from the inhabited islands. So you can still see much of what Galápagos has to offer while saving a considerable amount of money. You also gain the pleasure and insights of immersion in the culture and environment of the islands.
Travel between the islands is accomplished using the regular ferries, island-hopper aircraft, or chartered boats that can take you directly from San Cristóbal to Isabela or San Cristóbal - Floreana - Isabela. For transport options, see Getting Around the Islands , on this site.
You can make your own plans, perhaps with the assistance of an agent, or join a package tour with a group of 6 to 16 (commonly).
Some visit sites are not accessible from the inhabited islands and can only be visited on a liveaboard cruise. The furthermost islands, Darwin and Wolfe can only be visited on a liveaboard dive -cruise.
There is a considerable range of size, quality and cost for cruises in the Galápagos. Sizes range from 16 to 110 passengers and the cost, per-person, from around $1,100, for a 4-day cruise on a budget boat, to over $14,000 for 7 days on a luxury yacht.
When the Galápagos National Park first issued regulations and licences to operate cruises, they set the maximum capacity to 16 passengers, considered to be the maximum that should be on a visit-site at any one time and, correspondingly, the most that can be under the direction of a naturalist guide.
A majority of boats carry 16 passengers. However, a few major operators have ignored the regulations and combined multiple licenses to carry 80 to 110 passengers on a single boat, with multiple guides.
The Park coordinates all the boats and itineraries to minimize stress on the visiting sites and the operators have limited scope to determine their own itineraries as they have to fit in with the overall matrix. Once an itinerary has been assigned, the boat cannot deviate without the Park’s consent. Most cruise boats run a 14 day cycle around the Archipelago: 7 days in one sector and the following covering the remainder.
If you purchase a 4, 5, 6, or 8 day cruise, you will be joining for a portion of the overall itinerary. Note that the first and last days are partial days as the boat unloads and loads passengers, so an “8 day” cruise is 7 full days (7 nights).
Occasionally the Park will set an island or visitor site off-limits to all boats to allow the site time to recover from the impact of the constant procession of tourists. In that event, boats will be given alternate sites to visit that can be incorporated into the scheduled itinerary.
Cruise and Stay
A cruise can take you to locations beyond the reach of day-tours from the inhabited islands, and most travel is overnight so you wake up ready to explore the next visit site. The days are long and the routine is regimented, as it needs to be in order to take in the numerous attractions. But if you fly in, take a cruise and then fly straight back, you are only seeing part of the picture. A few days on one or more of the inhabited islands will give you a more complete and intimate Galápagos experience.
At the Galeodan Suites we have welcomed numerous travellers staying before, after, or before and after their cruise.
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