What places can you see without a cruise in the Galapagos?

A land-based tour to the Galapagos allows the traveler to explore the enchanted islands while staying at a hotel or lodge on one of the three main inhabited islands: Santa Cruz, San Cristobal, or Isabela. Visitors can chose one island to serve as their home base, or island-hop between the three. The flexibility of a land-based tour allows you to choose your own schedule and explore the islands at your own pace. Day-trips on land or to surrounding areas allow you to become acquainted with the unique flora, fauna, and geological features of each island.

There are many options for activities around the port towns or for day-trips and excursions from each of the three main inhabited islands.

Santa Cruz is the most populated island in the Galapagos. From the main town, Puerto Ayora, there are multiple nearby activities. Las Grietas are large fissures that provide an incredible snorkeling opportunity, with fish visible in the crystal clear water as steep walls surround you on both sides. The Charles Darwin Research Station is the largest tortoise breeding area of the Galapagos, and host tortoises from all the islands, ranging from tiny hatchlings to lumbering giants. It is also the final resting place of Lonesome George, the last of the Pinta Island tortoises, who serves as an homage to the importance of conservation. Tortuga Bay is a beautiful white-sand beach an hour’s walk from town on a cobblestone trail lined by the distinctive Opuntia cacti. Excursions on the island include a visit to the El Chato Tortoise Reserve, to see the iconic creatures in their natural habitat, the Los Gemelos twin craters, and the lava tunnels, which allow you to walk through the extensive underground tunnels carved by ancient lava flow.

From Santa Cruz, there are a variety of available day trips. North Seymour Island is a haven for nesting blue-footed boobies and frigate birds. Bartolomé Island boasts the iconic Pinnacle Rock. Excursions to Pinzón, Plazas, or Santa Fé Island provide incredible snorkeling opportunities, and divers will love the famous Gordon Rocks and Daphne Major/Minor. From Santa Cruz, you can also take a day trip to Floreana Island, which is famous for Post Office Bay. Here, travelers continue the centuries-old method begun by sailors in the 1700s of leaving correspondence in an old barrel to be hand-delivered throughout the world.

San Cristobal is the furthest east of the three main inhabited islands. From the town of Puerto Baquerizo Moreno, you can hike to take in the stunning view at Cerro Tijeretas and snorkel in the teeming water of Darwin Bay. Punta Carola, Playa Mann, and Playa Loberia are all accessible by foot from the town, and all host colonies of sea lions. Day trips from San Crisobal include diving and snorkeling at the iconic Kicker Rock/Leon Dormido, or bird watching on the remote Española Island, located at the most southeastern corner of the archipelago.

Isabela Island is famous for the abundant white sand beaches that cradle the town of Puerto Villamil. From the town, you can easily walk to visit the flamingos at the Villamil Lagoon, or the tortoises at the Arnaldo Tupiza Breeding Center. There is excellent snorkeling at Concha Perla, and an abundance of marine iguanas at Playa del Amor. Adventurous visitors can hike or bike to the Wall of Tears, a memorial to the period during which Isabella served as a penal colony.

Day trips from Isabela Island include snorkeling at Los Tuneles, an area formed by lava tunnels that collapsed into the ocean, or a visit to Las Tintoreras to see an abundance of sharks. You can also hike up the Sierra Negra Volcano, one of the most active volcanoes in the archipelago.

It is important to note that not all islands and excursions in the Galapagos are accessible on a land-based tour. Some experiences are only available via cruise. These include bird watching at Genovesa Island and Fernandina Island with its famous Tagus Cove, a harbor that hosted whalers and pirates, who painted and carved the names of their ship into the rock-face. Diving sites exclusive to cruise-goers are Darwin and Wolf Islands, which offer the chance to see otherwise inaccessible mega species.

Land-based traveler should keep transit times in mind when planning their Galapagos adventure. Though a wealth of experiences are available on a land-based tour, it is often possible to only do one excursion per day. The more remote sites, such as Floreana or Española Islands are only accessible with speedboat rides that are often longer than five hours.

Contact your trusted tour agency for more information on excursions and activities available on a land tour and book the adventure of your dreams!

Carlos Beate is the Commercial Manager at Andando Tours. Andando Tours offers exclusive traveling experiences, specializing in sailing around the Galapagos Islands and overland along the magnificent Avenue of Volcanoes on the Ecuadorian Andes.

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Comments (6)

  1. Dave says:

    This is perfect. Both my wife and I are keen to explore the Galapagos. However, my wife is the world’s worst sailor. So, she could have some land-based exploration whilst I take to the waves. Your piece convinced me that we could make the Galapagos work for us.

  2. Maggie says:

    All that I have ever heard of the Galápagos Islands is cruise, cruise, cruise. My husband and I are quite independent so reading about land-based trips is a real eye-opener for us. I’m not asocial but I don’t like being trapped on a boat. The beaches look absolutely idyllic and I’d probably want to spend more time walking and relaxing than the usual tight itineraries allow.

    • Carlos Beate says:

      There are a plenty of activities in the islands too. Some travelers just need a vacation at their own pace and now Galapagos has opened its doors for that type of activities.

  3. Ria A. says:

    Exploring the islands without a cruise is definitely a better idea! Usually, my family stays in a cruise ship all day when going on vacations but I think that exploring what’s in the island in a land-based tour is much more exciting because you wouldn’t really appreciate the sceneries when you’re just seeing it from afar. Experiencing the island’s amenities firsthand is very fun and you get to appreciate the island’s flora and fauna.

  4. Marc Patry says:

    Having been on both a cruise (most ships are 16-20 passengers in size) and on land in Galapagos, I think it’s important that you research in full the advantages and disadvantages of both before making a decision. Galapagos is a once in a lifetime destination, and you want to be sure you will be maximizing your exposure to the best of what Galapagos, as a wildlife destination, has to offer, while keeping in my your personal preferences.

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