One of the most common questions we get is, ‘what is the best way to travel to the Galapagos Islands?’ This is an individual question, but the answer always involves allowing you to have the most ‘once in a lifetime’ experiences while you explore this unbelievable archipelago. Many people go to Galapagos to swim with sea lions or penguins, or because they have seen its stunning beaches – but there is so much more to this landscape. We promise you - as incredible as you think the Galapagos are, your expectations will be exceeded once you arrive and live your dream.

There is no doubt that the best way to travel to the Galapagos Islands should be a way that leaves the least impact possible on the islands. It is crucial to travel responsibly and to be aware of the footprint you leave in each place. The Galapagos is one of the most well preserved places on earth. If we can´t protect this pristine archipelago, how can we protect rest of the world?.

In this article, we are explaining the different options for travelling to the Galapagos Islands. We will explain the difference between these different ways of visiting the Galapagos, and the environmental impact of each one.

How to Travel to the Galapagos Islands:

Naturalist Cruises


Allowed Activities

These cruises do not have a diving permit, so it is not possible to scuba-dive while you are on board. If you want to dive and do a naturalist cruise, it is better to spend some extra days on the islands to take daily diving tours after your journey. The activities that the Natural Park allows during a naturalist cruise are:

  • Hiking Excursions.
  • Snorkeling.
  • Panga Riding.
  • Kayaking.
  • Paddle Boarding.

You can learn more about each activity in the following link.

Experiences you can have on a naturalist cruise.

Remember – most of these activities are not possible with other Galapagos travel options. This is why we truly think that a naturalist cruise is the best way to travel to the Galapagos Islands.

1 Whale Watching.

It is possible to spot orcas, humpback whales, sperm whales, dolphins or manta rays jumping out of the water, especially during long-distance navigations.


2 Put a foot on Mars while still on earth.

It is possible in Rabida Island; a red-colored landscaped inhabited by sea lions and marine iguanas. This place is only accessible by cruise.


3 Swimming with penguins.

If you are lucky, you can see penguins while on daily tour from Isabela Island. The chances are higher to spot them all year-round while on a cruise since they are often seen in the western part of Isabela.


4 Learning to sail.

You can become a master of navigation on board a classic schooner. You can learn the concepts of sailing, hoisting the sails, navigating by the wind-power while dolphins swim alongside your boat. You can live the life of Darwin, as he navigated on a sailing ship called Beagle.


5 Volcanoes and lava fields.

Walking through lava fields while spotting imposing active volcano landscapes is an experience you will have on Punta Moreno (Isabela Island), which is only accessible by cruise.


6 More snorkeling opportunities.

While on a cruise you can snorkel from 1 to 3 times per day (up to you), which means more chances to spot unique acuatic wildlife. Additionally, the more remote you get, the more wildlife you may find.


7 The unique red footed-boobie.

This fantastic bird is mostly viewed on Genovesa Island, in the remote north of the archipelago.


What is the experience like onboard a naturalist Cruise?

Most liveaboard boats offer five- to eight-day itineraries, with set departure dates and set routes. Galápagos National Park officials dictate routes in order to mitigate crowding and environmental stress.

Related: Choosing the right itinerary length

A typical day on board the ship involves at least a couple of opportunities to disembark. Using a special kind of dinghy known as a panga, you’ll have the chance to explore some of the beautiful sites on the islands accompanied by a knowledgeable tour guide.

Each trip off the ship provides around 2-3 hours to look around the location, take some pictures, and take your time discovering the remarkable wildlife that lives on the archipelago.

The ship will be moving from one visitor site to the other while you are eating or sleeping. This means that passengers wake up in a new destination ready for a full day of exploration.


  • You can reach the most remote places in the Islands. You might have a site all to yourself, allowing you to have the most intimate experience with local wildlife.
  • You will get more out of your time. Daily tours give you 2 to 3 hours at visitor sites. Cruises offer you double the time, allowing you to spend 2 to 3 hours at each site in the morning, and then 2-3 hours more in the afternoon. This is because the navigation is done while you are sleeping or having lunch, taking you directly to your destination.
  • If you suffer from seasickness and want to make excursions to uninhabited islands, it is better to do it by cruise than smaller boats.
  • The best guides work on cruises, where they receive better tips. An excellent guide means bilingual skills, knowledge, and a better overall experience. They are a combination of a new friend, superheroes, teachers, patrols, and the entertainment of your cruise.

Traveling and reducing your footprint.

  • Smaller cruises fit up to 16 passengers on board: a smaller group means lower impact. You will reduce your impact on the land and water, and you will increase the quality time you spend with your guide, learning about the issues that the Galapagos is facing.
  • Cruises use ocean friendly products on board, and some of them offer refillable water bottles during your trip.
  • Some boats support ecological initiatives to fight illegal fishing in the Galapagos. Check it out in our Galapagos cruise list.

Is this the best way to Travel to Galapagos Islands?.

Generally speaking, yes. Unless you’re terrified of boats, have a tight budget, or hate the idea of being on a boat for a week, book a cruise. You’ll waste less time running back and forth, and you’ll ensure that you will see as many distinct areas of the Galápagos Islands as possible.


Island Hopping



When you settle for a few days in one of the inhabited islands to travel the Galapagos from there, there are 3 types of excursions that you can do.

  • Bay tours: You will travel on a speedboat to the nearby islands or to the most remote places on the island where you are setting. The navigations to these places takes between one to three hours one way, plus the same time to come back to town.>
    • Price ranges from $60 in shorter tours to $260 on full-day tours to some of the most beautiful places on the islands such as Bartolome, Española, or North Seymour. You can see all our bay tours.
  • Diving tours: These tours take you to diving sites near the inhabited islands, such as Gordon Rocks, Cousins Rock, or Daphne Minor. You can see our diving tours.
    • The duration of these tours is approximately 6-8 hours, in which you must deduct the time you spend in navigation (between 2 and 3 hours to go and as many to return). It includes two dives, and the price is $ 245 per person.
  • Guided excursions on the island: Like the Sierra Negra tour from Puerto Villamil, in which it is necessary to be accompanied by a guide.
    • Other examples are:
      • Bicycle excursions through the wetlands in Isabela.
      • Paddleboard excursions through the Isabela bay.
      • Guided excursions to the highlands in Santa Cruz.
  • Self-Excursions: Done on your own, to the closest places to the inhabited towns. There are not many alternatives available to roam, especially if your goal is to enjoy the Galapagos’ marine life. More sites that you can visit on your own include:
    • Santa Cruz: The Highlands, Las Grietas, Tortuga Bay, Garrapatero beach or Alemanes beach.
    • San Cristobal: El Junco Lagoo, La Galapaguera, Tijeretas Hill, or Puerto Chino.
    • Isabela: The Wetlands and Wall of Tears.

    It is common to rent bicycles, paddleboards, or kayaks for excursions in one of the aforementioned places.

Experiences on an island-hopping itinerary that you won’t have on a cruise

1 Picnic on the beach.

You can request that your operator prepare a romantic picnic on a white-sand beach, surrounded by crystal clear waters.


2 Catch sight of the sunset from the top of the islands on a swimming pool.

You can only have this experience in some of the luxury hotels located in the Highlands of Santa Cruz.


3 Bike rides.

Seeing flamingos in their lagoons or wild turtles while cycling through some areas of the inhabited islands is an experience that you will not have on a cruise.


4 Different restaurants to try.

Puerto Ayora, Puerto Villamil and Puerto Vaquerizo Moreno offer different national and international dining options.


What is the Island Hopping experience like?

An adequate Island-Hopping itinerary should have a minimum duration of 4 days (if you visit only one island) and 7 days if you plan to visit more islands.

Each day of your itinerary is completed with either a bay tour or other excursions.

It is complicated to take a tour on the first day of your itinerary. You will be arriving to the islands by plane in the morning, and it takes a few hours to get to your hotel and settle in. Every bay tour starts early in the morning, so your first day will be a quiet day to settle on the islands, explore the town, or take a self-guided excursion.

To move from one inhabited island to another, you must respect the schedules of the public ferry, which makes difficult for you to take a bay tour on your travel days.

You won´t have time for activities on the last day, since every flight departs early in the morning.


  • Flexibility on your itinerary. Cruises have inflexible itineraries settled upon by the Galapagos National Park. If you travel on an Island-Hopping itinerary, you can choose the tours you do every day (always depending on availability).
  • Price: Generally speaking, a cruise will always be more costly. However, there are some hotels that are more expensive than luxury cruises.

Lower Footprint

These tours are not strictly regulated yet, so try to check into local hotels that work hard to lower the environmental impact of their operation.

Make sure that your hotel has proper waste management, uses biodegradable products, and avoids single use plastic. Also, avoid activities like fishing.

Is this the best way to Travel to Galapagos Islands?

Generally speaking, no. Unless you are afraid to spend a week on a cruise, or you are travelling with young children (cruise ships do not allow children under 6), our advice is to travel by cruise. You'll have more time on the islands, and your experience will be more complete and memorable.

If budget is a real concern for you, you can find seasons with discounted rates so that you can travel on cruises offering below average rates.

Our recommendation: the extra expense of traveling by cruise is very much worth it.


Diving Cruises



Dive safaris are allowed to include just one land visit (to the Santa Cruz Highlands, Santa Cruz's Puerto Ayora or San Cristobal Island). The rest of the itinerary is filled with diving in some of the most wonderful sites of the world.

These cruises offer you the opportunity to have 4 daily dives across 17 different varieties of dives to best meet your desires.

Experiences you can have on a diving cruise that you won’t have with the other ways of visiting the islands

  • Darwin and Wolf Islands: Considered to be two of the best diving sites in the world, the islands of Wolf and Darwin can be reached only by liveaboard cruises.
  • Swimming with whale sharks: These majestic creatures are only visible on the remotest islands, allowing you to dive with them in the middle of the ocean.
  • Diving with dolphins and Manta Rays: you can see them in specific visitor sites only accessible for divers, such as Darwin, Wolf, Marchena Island or Cape Douglas in Fernandina.
  • You can dive on daily tours departing from some of the inhabited islands. The difference is 1) You can do 4 daily dives on a cruise vs 1-2 dives on daily tours, and 2) you will reach the most remote places that very few people access throughout the year, encountering certain species that daily tours cannot guarantee.
  • Naturalist cruises also offer you great experiences underwater thanks to their abundant snorkeling activities. However, the encounters are not as close, and the opportunities to enjoy marine life are not the same. You simply cannot compare 4 daily dives with 1 or 2 daily snorkeling excursions.

What is the experience like on a diving cruise?

The dynamic is very similar to the one you can have on a naturalist cruise. The difference is in the itineraries: it takes longer sailings to reach farther destinations. And, of course, the daily excursions are all underwater.

Is it the best way to Travel to Galapagos Islands?

If you are passionate about diving and have at least 50 dives on your record, we recommend this option for you. The Galapagos Islands are one of the best destinations in the world for divers, and you can only discover these amazing undersea landscapes aboard a live-aboard cruise.

We recommend connecting your cruise with an extension in the inhabited islands, or with another naturalist cruise.


Excursions taken as a part of a land-based holiday can be shorter than those on a cruise, meaning that your experiences are less magical and rewarding. It is clear that the overall experience is better on a cruise at every level.

We recommend diving cruises if you are passionate about this activity. Combining your diving cruise with a few days on the islands or with a naturalist cruise is the best way to experience everything that the Galapagos Islands have to offer.