The Galapagos Islands are one of the world’s last remaining truly wild places, with very little human habitation and strictly-enforced laws that maintain the delicate and unique ecosystem. Thus, even if you’re a traveler who may be otherwise reluctant to travel with a guided tour company, you’ll want to find a good one, because, for all practical purposes, there’s not really any other way to see this famous archipelago.
Luckily, there are lots of great options available, and you can choose the length of your trip, the type of vessel you travel on (within reason; no vessels carrying more than 100 passengers are allowed to tour the islands, so they’re all quite small) and what sorts of activities you do while touring (snorkeling, biking, kayaking, etc.). To help you plan your perfect trip to this incredibly lush region brimming with remarkable wildlife, read on to see the best tours to book when visiting the Galapagos Islands.
01 of 09
This extensive tour begins at the airport in San Cristobal, where you’ll land after taking a plane from Quito, Ecuador, and begins with a gentle first day at the San Cristobal Interpretation Center, for some history and background of the islands and its animal inhabitants, and then a trip to Playa Man beach. After an overnight in a tourist-class hotel, things really get going. Your next week is filled with once-in-a-lifetime adventures: snorkeling off Kicker Rock and at Los Tuneles, viewing giant tortoises at the Charles Darwin Research Station and on Isabela Island, hiking the Sierra Negra Volcano, viewing the flamingos at Flamingo Lagoon and so much more. Meals are all included, as are hotels, transportation, a guide and snorkeling equipment. Flights can be included if you choose. It’s an extensive trip that is packed with activities but also offers a good deal of relaxed quiet time, where visitors can really stop and breathe in the incredible surroundings.
02 of 09
If you don’t have a full week to spend, consider this quick tour that hits many of the island’s highlights in daily excursions from a Puerto Ayorta hotel (included, as are daily breakfasts). The tour will take you to Tortuga Bay, where you’ll be able to relax on the white sand beach and swim or snorkel near sea lions, an area where you can view reef sharks and marine iguanas, a visit to the Charles Darwin Research Station, as well as a full free day that you can spend doing any number of island activities.
03 of 09
Active travelers who really want to get in the thick of it should consider this action-packed, all-inclusive weeklong tour. It includes multiple hiking excursions (Frigate Hill, the highlands at Cerro Chato Reserve, the Sierra Negra and Chico Volcanos, and the Tintoreras Islet), snorkeling excursions (Punta Carola, Kicker Rock, Concha Perla, and Tintoreras), as well as at least two bike trips, an afternoon of kayaking, and several shorter stops at various natural landmarks. Because the wildlife in Galapagos is so famously unafraid of humans, most of these activities will bring you up close and personal with one critter or another, and allow you to really see them in their natural habitats, which is what brought you to the islands in the first place, right?
04 of 09
Given the nature of the restrictions on tourism in the Galapagos Islands, it’s not like there are any tours that are secretly just party-boat cruises where kids wouldn’t be welcomed, but some make more of a point of welcoming the whole family than others, and this is the best. You (and your kids, if you choose to bring them) will spend four days seeing the amazing flora and fauna that makes Galapagos famous: the flamingos at Flamingo Lagoon, the marine iguanas at Tortuga Bay, the seven species of finch on Isabela Island and, of course, the famous giant tortoises at the Charles Darwin Research Station, plus oodles of others. You’ll also go snorkeling at Concha de Perla and hike up the Sierra Negra Volcano. Hotel rooms and meals (with a vegetarian option) are all included.Continue to 5 of 9 below.
05 of 09
If you’d like to sail your way around and through the Galapagos archipelago, consider this small-group catamaran tour. You’ll stay aboard the Nemo I in a private cabin and enjoy the fabulous sun deck, which provides the perfect vantage point for spotting wildlife both on the shore and in the water, as well as watching the sunsets each night. You’ll choose from one of two itineraries, and because of the size of the boat and number of passengers, you’ll see several places that companies offering larger-group tours can’t or don’t stop, including Pitt Point, where red-footed, blue-footed and Nazca boobies all nest, and Black Turtle Cove, where you’ll take a zodiac boat through a mangrove lagoon where rays and sharks are known to swim. The flexibility of the tour allows for a number of serious adventures, to your ability: scuba dives, sea kayaking, naturalist-guided hikes and plenty of swims and snorkels. Meals are included, served buffet-style on the deck, as are snorkeling equipment and... swim towels.
06 of 09
If you don’t have a friend with a private yacht to hop aboard, the Fragata makes an excellent substitute. You’ll spend your trip (four or eight days long) sleeping in a comfortable private cabin with air conditioning and an ensuite bathroom. The yacht is limited to 10 passengers, and because of that small group size, some flexibility is possible in terms of excursions. The small size of the yacht (compared to larger cruise ships, at any rate) allows for stops that some of the larger companies don’t make: Rábida Island, Isla Lobos, Gardner Islet, and Cormorant Point are all part of the planned itineraries. As with most Galapagos visits, you can expect lots of wildlife sightings both from the boat and on land and water excursions.
07 of 09
Instead of doing heavy island-hopping, this tour focuses primarily on Isabela Island, where you’ll spend a significant amount of time exploring, via boat and on snorkel trips, the lava tunnels called Los Tuneles, one of the most biodiverse areas of the whole archipelago. You’ll go snorkeling in multiple sites, including Concha Perla, Finados, and Tintores, where you’ll swim with everything from sea lions to white-tipped reef sharks. You’ll also stop for a day on Santa Cruz Island to visit the giant tortoises at the Charles Darwin Research Station. Hotels, meals and snorkeling equipment are all included.
08 of 09
If you’re looking to fill just one day and Puerto Ayora is your home base, consider this full-day small-group tour. You’ll be picked up from your hotel early in the morning for your boat ride to sparsely-inhabited but historically-important Floreana Island, where you’ll spend the day with a tour guide and your group (no larger than 10) exploring the Galapagos National Park, seeing a real pirate’s cave, visiting the wildlife on Black Beach and even snorkeling in the crystal-clear waters. You’ll enjoy lunch on the island before heading back to Puerto Ayora by boat for your hotel dropoff.Continue to 9 of 9 below.
09 of 09
If you’ve got a day to fill and Santa Cruz is your home base, consider filling it with this trip to nearby Bartolomé Island, one of the newest islands in the Galapagos chain, known for striking volcanic features which include Pinnacle Rock, the highest point on the island and the one where many iconic photographs of the islands have been taken. The tour includes hikes around the island’s lava fields, tubes and craters, and a chance to go snorkeling in the bay, which is frequented by both sea lions and penguins. Hotel pick-up and drop-off are included, as is lunch and the two-hour boat ride in both directions.
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