What’s the difference between visiting the Galapagos National Park and traveling to the Galapagos Islands?

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Imagine taking a trip to the Louvre and seeing only the Mona Lisa. You’ve only seen a single painting in a veritable ocean of 34,999 other masterpieces, which is fine of course but doesn’t it seem like you’re missing out? Focusing on a sole aspect of an experience forces you to miss the thousands of other breathtaking moments and will narrow your opportunities. When it comes to the Galapagos Islands something similar occurs between “going to the Galapagos” and visiting the Galapagos National Park (GNP), where Nature’s masterpieces await!

When you visit the GNP, you will be amazed from the second you step foot on this isolated volcanic ecosystem, which is home to the most incredible fauna on Earth.  Now, let’s dive right into some questions you may already have!


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Quick Facts:

– The beautiful Galapagos Islands are located 1,325 kilometers (823 miles) to the west of Ecuador’s historic capital city, Quito!

– 3% of the Galapagos Islands are home to all accommodations on the islands.

– The Galapagos National Park Reserve is what makes up the remaining 97% of a pristine natural paradise.

– A USD $100 entrance fee is required for all visitors upon arriving on the islands.

– An official park-certified guide must accompany all visitors to the Galapagos National Park. This is to keep you safe and to protect the wildlife from potential danger!

– Proceeds from the entrance fee help finance conservation projects to maintain and develop the local Galapagos ecosystems.

A Galapagos Penguin Spotted By The Shores.
An Adorable Galapagos Penguin Spotted By The Shores.

What is the Galapagos National Park?

In order to ensure the Galapagos archipelago stays pristine, most of the islands are part of one of the most treasured National Parks in the world. Upon entry to the islands, everyone has to pay a USD $100 fee, which is used to fund the ongoing conservation, management, and protection efforts. This is independent of whether you stay in the populated parts of the island or you visit the Park itself.

Visitors are required to be accompanied by a local tour guide throughout their time in the Galapagos National Park. These are the most knowledgeable people on the islands, so if you are lucky enough to have one nearby, ask away!  This isn’t just a job, it’s their home! Trust the experts.  Remember, every single living species is unique here, and we have to ensure the unspoiled sanctuary of flora and fauna on the island remain as such.

What’s the best way to visit the Galapagos National Park?

Guests Walking In The Shore.
Naturalist Guides Are The Key Requirement For Trips Into The Gnp.

Day Tours

The main islands are comprised of Santa Cruz, San Cristobal, and Isabella. You’ll be calling one of the many hotels and hostels here “home” during your vacation unless you take a cruise (more on them below). Each day you’ll have the opportunity to visit many of the uninhabited islands and explore. Remember to check with your tour company first! Each company varies in price and value in terms of experience. Ask how often will day tour occur, what sort of animals to expect and what activities are in offer.

It is important to know that the Galapagos Islands cover 45,000 square kilometers (17,300 square miles) of total ocean area, so day-tour operators plan every minute carefully. Traveling between each of the three main islands will take between 2 and 4 hours, so early mornings and late evenings may be required if you really wish to take advantage of everything the Galapagos archipelago has to offer. Also, special note to parents: make sure your children meet age restrictions before riding on a speed boat. Although you may feel the need to complain about traveling on speedboats for hours on each day tour, just imagine how much more difficult it was back in Charles Darwin’s day! However, if Darwin had the option, he would have chosen to relax on a cruise.

If you really want to take day tours in style, check out the private yacht belonging to the Finch Bay Galapagos Hotel: the Sea Lion. Apart from a highly trained and experienced crew, the yacht offers a delicious buffet lunch and several lounging areas to make the trips all the more comfortable.

Cruises Have Privileged Access To The Gnp.


Cruise itineraries range from 3 to 7 days with a plethora of options from each tour operator. If you have more of a set-and-forget vacation mentality, scheduling a cruise with a tour operator will be your best option. This will alleviate the need to schedule your own trip and meals every day. There’s a very different feel when you sail on a cruise ship than being jostled around over choppy waters on a speedboat. If you love sea life, you’ll be delighted with the vantage point from the cruise.  Of the sheer number of cruises offered, make sure you check out great vessels such as Yacht Isabella II, Santa Cruz II, and Yacht La Pinta. Again, planning is key for this type of vacation, so make sure you scout out your most sought-after species. Compare levels of service, safety protocols, and prices when making your travel decisions. And if you really want to make the most of your trip, consider doing business with tour companies that are actually located in the country you’re visiting.

Whether you plan the trip yourself or choose to have it planned by a tourism company, make the most of all the islands have to offer by investing the time and money that this once-in-a-lifetime experience deserves. That way, you can leave the Galapagos with no regrets – well, except for the fact that you have to leave at all.

Javier Garcia

Javier Garcia

Eduardo Silva

Carolina Escobar


Javier Garcia

Eduardo Silva

Carolina Escobar

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Updated:January 24, 2024

Published:February 5, 2021

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