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The Galapagos Islands

How to plan your Galapagos Trip:

With such a huge array of different Galapagos tour options on offer the planning of your dream trip can be a difficult, confusing and even stressful experience! For most tourists this will be an once-in-a-lifetime experience so above all you want to be sure to make the right choices before you book!!!

This mini-guide aims to simplify and explain the basic differences between the various Galapagos tour options out there, and to clarify the thought process of identifying the most suitable details for your dream trip. We hope it helps!

Some important things to consider when planning your trip to Galapagos:

    There is no one style fits all at Galapagos - broadly speaking there are four trip styles, each with pros and cons, so you can choose the most appropriate one.
Galapagos Sea Lions Galapagos Marine Iguana Blue Footed Booby
Style Pros Cons

Galapagos cruise: live-aboard a yacht that cruises between different islands each day.

  • Reach: gets you to the further away islands.
  • Diversity: visit more islands to see a greater range of wildlife.
  • Choice: large selection of yachts available.
  • Experience: fun of living aboard a yacht.
  • Popularity: most clients choose to cruise.
  • Sea-sickness: you will be aboard a yacht from start to finish so choppy seas can sometimes cause unpleasant moments.
  • Disruption: although uncommon cruises can be susceptible to mechanical issues.

Hotel-package: base yourself in a Santa Cruz hotel with daytours to close-by islands.

  • Ease: a gentle tour for families or land-lovers.
  • Enjoyment: although much more limited than cruises you will of course still visit some incredible places!
  • Limits: you will only visit sites on or close to Santa Cruz thus missing out on far-away islands.
  • Sea-sickness: can still be an issue on the island hops, but at least you sleep on solid ground each night.

Galapagos Island hopping: hop between a combination of the inhabited islands (Santa Cruz, Isabela, San Cristobal, Floreana) with hotel stay and daytours included at each site.

  • Ease: a happy medium, gentler than a cruise, more adventurous than a straight hotel-package.
  • Diversity: visit more islands than the hotel-package (but less than a cruise).
  • Enjoyment: although much more limited than cruises you will of course still visit some incredible places!
  • Limits: you will only visit sites on or close to inhabited islands.

Galapagos dive package: for PADI divers there are specialist tour options which can be hotel or cruise based.

  • Specialty: focused solely on diving – Galapagos is one of the world’s premier dive areas!
  • Flexibility: various options / choices available.
  • Limits: great for underwater life but limited for land visits.


Galapagos Kayaking
    Galapagos Trips range from 4 to 15 days, so what is the optimal amount of time to stay? Well actually there is no correct answer – it all depends on the individual – but we consider 8days to be a suitable amount of time for a very good overview of the Archipelago, or 5days for a quicker visit. The good news too is that as of 2012 the cruise itineraries offer many more itinerary variations than before meaning that 10/11/12/15 day options exist for those who want a more in-depth visit.

    It is always important to remember that the first and last days of your trip are only ½ days due to the flight schedules (i.e. on the first day the flights arrive to Galapagos late morning so the first activity is in the afternoon; similarly on the final day the flights depart mid to late morning so there is only time to include an early morning activity) – for this reason we usually suggest that 5 days is the minimum time to visit; 4day trips are very short.

    Another consideration is the option to stay extra nights in a hotel and explore the principal populated islands by yourselves – by combining this with a Galapagos cruise for example you can see both far-away islands and enjoy more flexible personal time.
Pinnacle Rock

    As of 2011/2012 yacht itineraries are changing a great deal which means it will be even harder to pick out the gems among them. The good news though is that the changes will help to better protect the islands ecosystem by scheduling less-frequent visits to the smaller islands, and there will still be some excellent itinerary choices out there!!!

    So how to best compare different itineraries? Well let’s start by saying that there is no such thing as a “bad” itinerary at Galapagos – each island is unique and offers its own charms so whichever you visit you will see wonderful things and enjoy an unforgettable experience.

    Generally speaking there are 3 groups of islands:
    1. SOUTHERN ISLANDS (San Cristobal, Santa Fe, Española, Floreana) – recommended for diversity of wildlife, especially Española which is the only place to see the waved-Abatross as well as many other delights.

    2. NORTHERN ISLANDS (Santiago, Bartolome, Rabida, North Seymour, Genovesa) – recommended for volcanic landscapes such as the classic pinnacle of Bartolome and the vast lava fields on Santiago. Wildlife is also interesting such as the red-footed boobies on Genovesa or penguins at Bartolome.

    3. WESTERN ISLANDS (Isabela, Fernandina) – Fernandina and the western side of Isabela are the youngest and most volcanically-active islands, they offer a great combination of interesting wildlife (such as the flightless cormorant, Galapagos penguin, and possible whale spotting) and a memorable landscape.

    Many of the favourite creatures such as blue-footed boobies, sealions, Frigate birds can be seen on many different islands.
    All trips will also start at either Santa Cruz or San Cristobal where you will usually get to see giant tortoises either in their natural habitat or in a research / interpretation centre.

    So the best itinerary very much depends on your own interests / trip goals!

    We recommend checking our Galapagos Map page to get a more detailed idea of what you can expect to see on each island. Above all ask our staff for help – if you really want to see a specific animal or island then let us know and we can direct you to the most suitable Galapagos cruise options.
Panga Ride
    Yachts of all sizes and styles are in operation at the Galapagos Islands which means you have plenty of choice.

    SIZE: standard small yachts carry 16 passengers aboard, mid-sized vessels between 20 and 40, and cruise ships up to 120. Generally the smaller the yacht the more intimate and adventurous the experience, while the larger ships offer greater stability in potentially rough seas and more space, so it is a trade-off.

    TYPE: the choice is between motor-yacht (regular style yacht), motor-sailor (designed like a sailing yacht but motor-operated as opposed to sailing, romantic design), catamaran (stable sailing and sleek, modern design), cruise ship (large vessel for traditional cruising).

    The smaller yachts and catamarans are generally more popular with our clients, but we offer the very best of each yacht type. 
Galapagos Tortoise
    Galapagos is certainly not a cheap destination but the good news is that there are options for all budgets – from backpackers to first-class travellers.

    A common question we receive is whether it is worthwhile paying extra on a cruise, and what exactly do you get for the difference paid?

    The obvious differences are in creature comforts, physical space (especially cabin space), onboard facilities (e.g. Jacuzzi, balcony etc), and service level – in all of these aspects you really do get what you pay for!

    In terms of itinerary there are now few differences between the Standard and the Luxury / Super deluxe yachts so you won’t necessarily have to pay more to see better sights.

    Another difference between Galapagos yachts is expertise and English-level of your naturalist guide – this can really make a big difference to your trip! It is true that the more costly yachts do often have more experienced guides, but at the same time guides work freelance between yachts so it is often something of a lottery as to which guide you will have aboard – so there is never a guarantee!
Galapagos Wildlife
    We believe that the very best recommendations that you can receive when choosing between Galapagos yachts actually come from our own past passengers who have been aboard the yachts themselves! So our website provides two tools to help: first-hand feedback comments about each yacht, as well as a thumbs-up scoring system (1 thumb = occasionally recommended by clients; 2thumbs = often recommended; 3thumbs = almost always recommended).
    Again this is a very common question : is it best to book in advance to get the trip you really want, or to wait and try to get a cheaper last minute deal? The answer is that it depends on your flexibility …

    If there is a Galapagos tour (for example a specific yacht / cruise dates) that you know is your dream trip then we highly recommend booking as far ahead as possible – the biggest constraint to your trip is available space on the yachts which frequently sell-out, so why risk losing out?

    If your aim is simply to get out to the islands – i.e. you’re not really fussed about which Galapagos yacht you travel on, and you have lots of time to play with - then you can shop for last minute deals in Quito the week before your trip. This can work out well if you are very flexible and don’t mind waiting around until a suitable deal comes along. The risk is that you could miss out on your trip altogether if there are no good spaces available at short notice, or that you find yourself on a worse yacht than you were hoping for; the potential reward is cheaper pricing.

    Galapagos AlbatrosHappy Gringo can help you with both advance and last minute Galapagos bookings, but we usually recommend booking ahead of time in order to avoid disappointment.
    Finally, and most importantly, you also have at your disposal our Happy Gringo Galapagos sales staff all of whom are destination experts and trained to help you safely through the mine-field of choices. So please do take advantage of the opportunity to pick their brains - the more information you can give to us about the type of trip you seek, the greater the help that we in turn can provide.