How to Plan a Trip to the Galapagos

How to plan a trip to the Galapagos

The Galapagos is a special place full of birds, iguanas, sea lions and tons of water creatures. When you go to the Galapagos, you are going to be exploring the various islands geology and alcoves each day often observing the unique animals that live on each island and diving into the ocean to spend time among the fish, sharks and sea lions.

What makes the Galapagos feel special is that the animals are not used to being hunted or hurt by man. So you can find yourself mingling with birds, greeting giant tortoises and getting close to sea lions.

When you first start planning your trip to the Galapagos it is overwhelming. Here are the facts as I see them.

Don’t Stay on a Galapagos Island

From what I’ve learned by talking to people who have been to the Galapagos, if you only stay on the islands then your trip is epically worse than if you spent your time on a boat. This is not a beach vacation where you should expect to layout on the beach. In fact the beach areas of the Galapagos are filled with sea lions. If you don’t know, sea lions are cute, loud and sometimes stinky creatures and if there are 100 of them on a beach you would not be comfortable laying out there.

Spending every evening on an island also means that if you are exploring the Galapagos you will need to wake up before dawn to get to a boat. That boat will spend.hours getting you to a different island for you to explore for the day and they will return you before the sun sets. These are hard days of travel as you are going hundreds of nautical miles each day by boat and coming back pretty exhausted.

Finally, staying on the islands themselves are not very exciting as there are few restaurants and little going on at night. Also in terms of cost you can most likely pay roughly the same amount going on a cheaper multi-night boat.

Why Take a Galapagos “Cruise”

Now that we’ve established that staying on the islands overnight isn’t a good experience let’s talk about why taking a Galapagos cruise is worthwhile.

You are woken up by the captain to have breakfast

Each morning you are woken up by the captain via loudspeaker. This is valuable as you are woken up at a set time to eat breakfast with just a bit of time to prepare for the first stop in the morning and the breakfast is very good. Fresh fruit from the islands and a whole lot of options of what else you can eat.

On wake, you are at your first destination

When you are eating breakfast you can already see the island that you will be visiting. This means that the boat traveled overnight and anchored there essentially optimizing your time on the boat to maximize what you can see in the Galapagos.

There is a set schedule

Typically I don’t like set schedules. However in the Galapagos, set schedules mean that you know what you’re going to see or do and it means that you know when you are going to do them. It also makes your days on the boat very full with perhaps 15 minutes to 45 minutes between activities. It’s a pace that can be hard to keep up so each activity is entirely your option as to whether or not you do it.

How to choose the best Galapagos Cruise for you

Simply put, the most important thing to choose for the Galapagos boat is your activities and the islands that you will visit. Some boats focus on scuba diving activities, others highlight snorkeling and hiking for example so evaluating what you’re looking for on your trip is going to help you focus.


First things first. The best thing about being on a cruise is what you get to see when you’re off the boat. That means that whether you’re on a super rich charter boat or a low budget boat you are all going to see the same things. The choice of the boat impacts your meals, your on-board naturalist and your sleeping quality.

The cost of boats vary significantly. From what I have seen, the same activity itinerary exists for.multiple boats of different quality.

What do you want to do in the Galapagos?

As we’ve said, your Galapagos itinerary is the most important thing to choose. The itinerary is fully dependent on you. What do you imagine your vacation to be like? What do you want to see most? What do you want to experience most?

Knowing what you want to experience most will help you to eliminate boats that don’t do those things.

View the activities for each Galapagos island

For us, our “don’t miss” list contained the following:

  1. Sea Lions – Specifically snorkeling with them
  2. Hammer Head Sharks
  3. Blue footed boobies (bird) / Nazca boobies (bird)
  4. Albatross (bird)
  5. Iguanas – the big ones
  6. Giant Turtles
  7. Lava formations and varied geology

How to narrow down a Galapagos Itinerary

Despite the hundreds of boats, the places that these boats go are limited and the activities are bit different per boat. With that in mind the best way to start researching what islands are most important to you in the Galapagos is to understand the activities that you want to do

Now I look at the more rare activities that are at the top of my list and I try to use that as a focal point to reduce my options.

Galapagos map

For me, the most important part of my itinerary was snorkeling with the sea lions. The place to snorkel with sea lions In the Galapagos is “Lobos Island”. Which is in the south-east.

This is the most important thing for me, so I only look at itineraries that include a snorkeling visit to “Los Lobos”.

Now, I also wanted to see hammerhead sharks. I learned that I there is a chance to see hammerhead sharks snorkeling at “Devil’s Crown” in Floreana Island. Alternatively I learned that if I scuba dived I could see an amazing set of hammerhead sharks at the island of Darwin in the north-western most point.

In terms of seeing hammerhead sharks in the Galapagos, I knew that learning to scuba dive and going to Darwin island was likely not going to be part of an itinerary for an 8 day trip. Itineraries tend to focus on a region of the Galapagos. However the ability to see hammerheads in Floreana island could work with also snorkeling with sea lions in los lobos.

So with just the top two more unique things that I want to see I can already tell that an ideal itinerary would likely focus on the south eastern area of the Galapagos.

Choosing my Galapagos Itinerary

Returning to the site you can reduce the boats that you are viewing by class (cost) and by tour length. Unfortunately you cannot limit the results by the islands that they visit. But now that you have a better idea as to what you want, you can more easily eliminate the boats that don’t go there.

Once you find the boats that go to your more unique itinerary goals, then you have the criteria for evaluating the boats other parts of their itinerary. It takes some work or you can just choose a boat that seems good enough and go with it.