Galapagos Islands Vacations Tours

Galapagos Islands Vacations Tours

We all know the syndrome: kids glued to their tablets, adults to their cell phones, no one talking to each other, everyone running around like crazy. Someone raises their head from their technology and thinks to themselves that there has to be a better way. They start thinking about their perfect vacation, a moment to wonder at the world and create unforgettable memories. Somewhere unique, peaceful, safe. A place to re-establish their own connections with nature, their families, and themselves. That’s when it hits them: a Galapagos Islands vacation tour is the way to go.

Why visit the Galapagos Islands?



Galapagos fur Seal

Maybe you’re an animal lover (you’ll know that for sure when your kids accuse you of loving your dog more than them…).

Charles Darwin

Maybe you’re a history buff (clear tip-off: you prefer watching a documentary over the Super Bowl or World Cup).

Glass Bottom Boat

Maybe you’re into geology (check out that rock and crystal collection).

Galapagos Snorkeling - Marine Iguana

Maybe you just love beautiful beaches (remember that Spring Break way back when?).

Galapagos Tortoise reserve

Or maybe you just love spending vacations that mix adventure, learning and wonder with time for stunning views, delicious food, and pampering service that lets you fully unwind.

Galapagos Islands vacations tours


What makes a Galapagos Islands vacation special?

Whalers, pirates, scientists and explorers have all found refuge and inspiration in this archipelago, known to many as the Enchanted Isles. Stories of survival abound as do incredible discoveries thanks to the islands’ unique geographic position, their isolation and their highly unusual wildlife, even today practically oblivious to human presence. Once you’ve been to the Galapagos Islands, a trip to the zoo will never feel the same!

One of the most famous visitors was Charles Darwin, whose visit in 1835 opened his eyes to unexpected variations in bird and other species (notably the Galapagos Finch) that led him to believe that they all came from a common ancestor – a truly revolutionary thought at the time and still controversial today.

Since 1969, Metropolitan Touring has been offering its guests the most rewarding Galapagos Islands vacations tours, sharing our love for the archipelago with people who want something out of the ordinary: a place that transforms their conception of their place in the universe while providing a welcome respite from daily life.

Galapagos Islands travel

Galapagos Islands

Tell me more about the archipelago

The Galapagos Islands were claimed by the country of Ecuador in 1832 and today have been named a province (Galapagos), whose capital is Puerto Baquerizo Moreno. The archipelago sits 926 km off the coast of Ecuador and covers an area of almost 8,000 km2 (3,030 mi2), with 19 islands, 13 of which are major. They were declared a National Park in 1959, a year which happened to coincide with the 100th anniversary of Darwin’s “Origin of Species.” With 97% of the islands and waters designated as national park territory, the population of the Galapagos Islands remains rather modest and spread out between 4 of the 13 islands – Santa Cruz, San Cristobal, Isabela, and Floreana. Locals of these islands (galapagueños) live and respectfully coexist with the native flora and fauna of these islands.

The islands are often known as a “living laboratory” in terms of wildlife observation, but few realize that they can also see them as a showcase of land in motion. The entire archipelago has been formed by volcanic eruptions, with the oldest islands located closest to the continent and the youngest on the western side. Some of these relatively young volcanoes are still active and provide a spectacular sight when they continue with the process of island formation. Each island offers another glimpse into the changing colours and textures of the Earth and a home to a variety of unique wildlife that amazingly knows no fear of humans.

Map of Galapagos Islands - Finch Bay Galapagos Hotel

Highlights

While it’s technically not impossible to do, visitors wishing to see and experience the entire archipelago might feel overwhelmed by just how much there is to cover (not to mention how much time and resources it may require). In order to make your Galapagos vacation meet the lofty expectations for a bucket list destination, it’s always important for visitors to ask themselves what it is they wish to see and experience during their visit to the islands.

The biggest and most common item on everybody’s list? The Galapagos wildlife! After all, the archipelago is one massive zoo without any cages! This is one of the main reasons we’ve created our Galapagos BIG15 group of iconic species, narrowing down the plethora of wildlife to what true experts in the field, including experienced guides, expedition leaders, scientists, and our guests have identified as the must-see emblematic creatures:

Galapagos albatross, Blue-footed booby, Nazca booby, Red-footed booby, Flightless cormorant, American flamingo, Frigatebirds (great and magnificent), Galapagos hawk, Land iguana, Marine iguana, Santa Fe land iguana, Galapagos penguin, Galapagos sea lion, Galapagos fur seal Galapagos giant tortoise.

We recommend that all visitors review this list so that they can pinpoint where in the archipelago they can find the species of wildlife that they’re most interested in seeing on their Galapagos vacation. A properly designed itinerary should make it easy and fun to cover all of these key wildlife picks. Which brings us to our next point…

The islands themselves. Although the wildlife generally draws most visitors to Galapagos, the scenery itself makes a visit worthwhile. Otherworldly landscapes. Geological anomalies. Everywhere you turn there is something else to look at. Some of our top islands to visit are:

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Galapagos Big15
Galapagos Albatross - Española Island

Galapagos Albatross – Española Island

1. Española (located in the south of the archipelago): With an overwhelming diversity of wildlife, a beautiful coastline with epic cliffs and large nesting colonies of blue-footed boobies and Galapagos albatrosses, Española is the Grand Central Station of wildlife in the Galapagos.

Galapagos Island Exploration - Fernandina Island

Galapagos Island Exploration – Fernandina Island

2. Fernandina (on the western edge of the archipelago): Young and fresh, Fernandina Island presents visitors with a volcanic landscape that serves up one of the most surreal and abstract terrains throughout the archipelago. Add to that one of the largest populations of marine iguanas in the whole archipelago, and you just might feel like you’re walking through what feels like a prehistoric age!

Galapagos Nazca Booby - Genovesa Island

Galapagos Nazca Booby – Genovesa Island

3. Genovesa (a key northern island): Offering visitors a vast array of birds and a remarkable circular bay (the only one in the archipelago that cruises can sail into and anchor in!), Genovesa is one of the few islands in the northern region of the archipelago that can be visited. It offers two visitor sites that give visitors the chance to witness a plethora of bird species, including the rarely-observed red-footed booby.

Galapagos Frigatebird - North Seymour Island

Galapagos Frigatebird – North Seymour Island

4. North Seymour (a key central island): Truly spectacular year-round, this is one of our guides’ favourites. Home to half of the Galapagos BIG15 iconic wildlife, no other island offers as much variety in such little space.

Galapagos Santa Fe Land Iguana - Santa Fe Island

Galapagos Santa Fe Land Iguana – Santa Fe Island

5. Santa Fe (on the eastern side of the central islands): A rather unique and special site, it is sure to please visitors with its colony of yellow-coloured Santa Fe land iguanas.… the only place in the world where you can find them.

How do I get there?

Galapagos Island-2-Island Hopping

Galapagos Island-2-Island Hopping

Given how far the archipelago is from the mainland, taking a Galapagos Islands vacation requires a little bit of planning. One thing to always keep in mind is that there are no direct international flights to the Galapagos, which means airlines fly to the Galapagos Islands only from the Ecuadorian cities of Quito and Guayaquil. The airports in each of these cities are:

  • José Joaquin de Olmedo International Airport (Airport code: GYE) in Guayaquil
  • Mariscal Sucre International Airport (Airport code: UIO) in the capital city of Quito

The secondary thing to remember (and this will depend on what island you plan to stay on and/or from which island your Galapagos cruise leaves) is that there are two major airports in Galapagos:

  • Seymour Airport (Airport code: GPS) serves the island of Baltra (and connects to Santa Cruz Island/Puerto Ayora via water taxi and then bus).
  • San Cristobal Airport (Airport code: SCY) is an airport on the island of San Cristobal.

It is always important that you arrange your flight times conservatively and in accordance with your Galapagos cruise departure days or other logistics. It is important to remember that flights are limited. A responsible operator prefers for guests to purchase these flights in conjunction with their overall programme in order to provide top service. Specifically, this gives guests the best guarantee that they will not have any problems making their cruise or arriving on time to their hotel on the way in and that they will make their flight home on the way out. Ask your destination expert for more information.

What is the best way to visit the Galapagos Islands?

There are so many wonderful ways to take a Galapagos Islands vacation tour. Some key factors to take into consideration are the travel time you have available, your interests, your budget, and the group size. Let’s analyse them together:

Travel Time:

We’re all so busy all the time. It’s hard to get away… from the office, from school, from all of the obligations we have at home. Vacations have always been a luxury, but now they have become absolutely essential. So how to pack the most into the few days we can get away? This is why we’ve always been partial to Galapagos Islands cruises. When we first pioneered tourism in the archipelago, we started with 1 expedition cruise ship. Now we have 3. Why? Because on an expedition vessel or yacht, the journey is part of the fun! And long stretches of travel to more distant islands happen at night, while we sleep, which means that we wake up rested and fresh in the new area we are set to explore.

Each expedition vessel or yacht offers varied itineraries, in terms of both length and the islands you visit. You can choose from 4-, 6- or 8-night single cruises, or hop on the latest trend by combining itineraries for longer voyages that let you really make the most of this equatorial Galapagos vacation paradise. The great news is that it’s always a good time to visit Galapagos, so whenever the urge hits you, it’s the right moment for your journey.

Santa Cruz II

Santa Cruz II

Yacht La Pinta

Yacht La Pinta

Yacht Isabela II

Yacht Isabela II

Interests:

Everyone goes to Galapagos expecting something that truly excites them. If you have a special hobby, like photography or SCUBA, there are options available that will allow you to maximize your journey.

Fabulous opportunities to photograph amazing Galapagos BIG15 wildlife await around every itinerary, but to capture some of the most unusual shots you probably will want to travel to some of the more distant islands of the archipelago like Genovesa, Española, Floreana or perhaps Fernandina to see the famous flightless cormorants. So if showing off your pictures to your grandkids or fellow photography enthusiasts after you get home is your idea of a successful vacation tour, you probably want to consider visiting the archipelago on an expedition vessel. Some of them, like the Santa Cruz II, even have a resident photographer on board who is available to help you make the most of your equipment (whether it be a cellular phone or the latest, greatest photography gear) and find the golden hour for memorable takes.

Galapagos SCUBA diving
If you love to dive deep, you probably already know that experts consider Galapagos one of the world’s top SCUBA destinations, offering an incredible quantity of varied aquatic life thanks to marine reserves and sanctuaries that protect these waters. Due to Galapagos National Park rules, only certain vessels can provide SCUBA activities and these same vessels do not have permission to visit land-based visitor sites. So if SCUBA’s your thing, you might want to consider staying at a great land-based option, like the Finch Bay Galapagos Hotel, and hiring a special SCUBA day tour. The added benefit is that if other members of your party don’t feel like donning a tank, they can stay back and do other day tours into the highlands of Santa Cruz (the natural habitat of the giant Galapagos tortoises) or set out for day cruises to National Park visitor sites. This is a great option for groups with varied interests, ages or physical capabilities, and can easily be combined with a regular expedition cruise.

Galapagos Kayaking
Of course, even if you don’t have a specific interest, you want to make sure that the activities on hand are available to you when you want to pursue them. It goes without saying that the activities themselves must fall within the rules of the National Park, but this is just one of various potential restrictions within the National Park. For example, National Park rules require all activities to be accompanied by a certified guide. On multi-guided expedition vessels and yachts, there are sufficient guides available to allow guests to simultaneously pursue various activities. This means that if you like to kayak, but your wife prefers to snorkel and the guy in the next cabin wants to go out in the glass-bottom boat, there will be enough naturalists available to ensure that you can all find your personal heaven while meeting the National Park requirement of having no less than 1 guide per 16 guests. Single-guided boats generally have only one guide on board, which means that everyone has to do the same thing at any given time.

Budget:

The Galapagos Islands top many people’s bucket lists. And with good reason! A journey to the archipelago is an investment in a life-changing experience. So this is not the time to skimp. Providing top service and maintaining high quality standards in food and accommodations is a true challenge in such a remote region. More importantly, the best operators invest large sums of money, time and effort to make sure that their operation has the smallest possible impact on such a delicate ecosystem. That’s why it is crucial to identify the best operators, with the highest satisfaction ratings and recognition from both their peers in the industry and the general public.

An average 5-day/4-night expedition cruise with a top operator runs around USD 3,600. This amount is all-inclusive*, covering:

  • High quality hotel services (accommodations, gastronomy, hotel manager/concierge)
  • The best interpretation experience (expedition leaders and National Park-certified guides)
  • A wide variety of land- and water-based activities (hiking, wildlife observation, kayaking, snorkelling, coastal exploration and even a true glass-bottom boat)
  • Safety and compliance with key environmental standards (doctor on board, full local and international certifications, modern equipment for energy efficiency, and many other significant investments in your safety and the archipelago’s care).

Medical Officer on board

Group size:

Sometimes you want to travel with the whole family. Other times you want to go by yourself. Or perhaps it’s time for a little honeymoon. Whatever your group size, there are ideal options available to you for your Galapagos Islands vacation tour. Many groups love to charter the entire Isabela II expedition yacht for a company incentive outing. Or take advantage of the Santa Cruz II’s special for solo travellers. Most Galapagos cruise ships charge a 100% supplement for people using double cabins for single use. On Santa Cruz II, we encourage our guests to explore the world on their own with a mere 15% surcharge, making it much more affordable.

Honey moon in Finch Bay Galapagos Hotel

Honey moon in Finch Bay Galapagos Hotel

If it’s a honeymoon you’re after, try a cruise or choose to stay at the romantic Finch Bay Galapagos Hotel, right across the bay from Puerto Ayora, where honeymoon amenities include special candlelight dinners on the beach right in front of the hotel. Or perhaps even better: try out the luxury Island-2-Island hopping programme between the Finch Bay Galapagos Hotel on Santa Cruz and Scalesia Lodge to add a little variety into a land-based vacation.

Expert advice:

There are so many things to do and see in the archipelago that it can be hard to sort it all out. Experts offer numerous useful online tools to plan your trip, including the Galapagos BIG15, a guide designed to teach guests more about the wildlife on the islands and the best places to find it. You can also pursue your interest in Galapagos related subjects by checking out the following great Galapagos reads.

  • The Galapagos: A Natural History by Herny Nicholls (Genre: Natural history)
  • Volcanic Galapagos Volcanico by Theofilos Toulkeridis (Genre: Field guide)
  • The Beak of the Finch: A Story of Evolution in Our Time by Jonathan Weiner (Genre: Science conservation and history)
  • Flowering Plants of the Galapagos by Conley K. McMullen (Genre: Field guide)
  • Reef Fish Identification: Galapagos by Paul Humann (Genre: Field guide)

Other online resources include helpful information on money, travel, health, and safety.

Galapagos - Punta Espinoza - Fernandina Island
But of course, the most effective way to create an exceptional journey is with the help of a destination expert, backed by a company that has in-depth and extensive knowledge of the top places to go and ways to get there in the archipelago.
*Some restrictions apply. Ask your destination expert for more information.

Need help planning your trip? Get in touch with our experts

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A multi-faceted artist who weaves words and notes, languages and cultures, she is a dedicated mother and a world citizen, committed to leaving the world she touches a slightly better place every day.