Visiting the Galapagos Islands is a bucket-list trip, and like any once-in-a-lifteime adventures that often means costs can be high. But if you're thinking that a cruise in the Galapagos is far too expensive for your budget, think again. While you can certainly splash out on a luxury Galapagos cruise, there are several reasons why seeing the archipelago by ship is the best value -- from easy access to Galapagos animals to not having to worry about expensive food costs and hotel hopping.
Read on for our top 5 reasons why you should choose a cruise to see the Galapagos.
Every island in the Galapagos has different species of birds and wildlife, and you really want to see as many as possible during your trip. That's hard to do if you are staying in a hotel on one of the islands, where you're limited to day trips.
On our 2021 cruise with Metropolitan Touring, we were onboard for only five days and four nights. But we packed five different Galapagos islands -- Santa Cruz, Santa Fe, San Cristobal, Española and Plaza Island -- into that time (and even landed in more than one spot on a few islands). Not having to go back to shore every night kept us closer to the actual bucket-list sights and Galapagos animals that we wanted to see.
Metropolitan Touring has drawn up a list of wildlife that it considers the "Big 15," a play on the Big Five found on African safaris. That list, of course, includes the famous Galapgos tortoises and plenty of penguins. If you're on a cruise and visiting more islands, it's only natural that you will get to see more species of birds and wildlife than you would if you were on land, taking day trips and organzing overland transport.
On my cruise, we saw 11 of the 15 key Galapagos species in only five days. That's because the Metropolitan Touring cruise staff has created itineraries that maximize the amount of different wildlife that you see. Sure, you could try to do this on land. But it would be much more difficult and require a lot of research and consultation.
Hotels in the Galapagos are only found on four islands: Santa Cruz, San Cristobal, Isabela and Floreana. The most options are on Santa Cruz, but you're still dealing with limited inventory and choice when it comes to the quality of accommodations.
There are more than 70 ships that operate in the Galapagos, all under 100 passengers and some much, much smaller. These ships do not run willy nilly. Rather, all are subject to strict regulations throughout Galapagos National Park, with rules on everything from how many guides are allowed per group to what kind of food can be served onboard (there's an emphasis on Ecuadorian and South American provisions and dishes).
No matter what size of ship you choose -- big or small -- you will still experience the same focus on conservation, as well as a more intimate experience (which is always key when embarking on a bucket-list adventure).
Depending on what kind of hotel you choose, you might find it hard to do all of the bucket-list activities that make the Galapagos so special. To have a true Galapagos experience, you'll want to make sure that you have time on land to hike, bird and go on naturalist walks, as well as visit conservation centers, such as the ones that keep the Galapagos giant tortoise alive and flourishing. Plus you'll also want some time on the water, not only for panga (Zodiac) tours, but for other activities such as snorkeling, kayaking, scuba diving and paddleboarding.
You can choose a cruise that offers all these activities in just a few days with a minimum of hassle.
When you travel the Galapagos independently, there are all sorts of fees that can pop up along the way. Restaurant meals can add up, as can Wi-Fi costs, drinks, tours and tips. On a cruise, many of these extras are either included in the fare, or at the very least, you'll have guidance from the line ahead of time (so you'll know how much to budget for your trip).
Updated November 30, 2022