Why should I travel to the Galapagos when I can go to the Caribbean for half the price?
This is a question our Travel Experts get asked every once in a while, and it seems like a pretty logical one, as both of these places are tropical destinations with white-sand beaches and turquoise waters. However, no matter how similar they might look in photos, comparing Galapagos to Caribbean is like comparing apples to oranges. The Caribbean is a popular yet very, very commercial destination. The Galapagos, on the other hand, are a more exclusive and excursion-oriented destination.
And we mean this in every sense of the word.
A Year-round Destination vs. a Seasonal Destination
Even though, light-wise, day and night have the same duration all year long both in the Caribbean and the Galapagos, when it comes to seasons, they are both quite different from each other.
Even though both the Caribbean and the Galapagos experience the same amount of daylight (12 hours), the two destinations are noticeably distinct when it comes to the seasons they experience. The Galapagos has two seasons, both of which are optimal for visitors: the hot season and the dry season. Thanks to its highly unique location on the equator, the Galapagos is the point of convergence for the Cromwell, Humboldt, South Equatorial and Panama currents. Consequently, visitors in Galapagos will get to experience both wildlife and moderate temperatures 365 days a year.
In the Caribbean you also have two seasons, except these are the hot and hurricane seasons. Not surprisingly, many cruises offer substantial discounts or their lowest rates during the latter season. While visitors to the Caribbean might get some nice and sunny days during hurricane season, there is always a considerable chance that they will also get caught in the throes of a tropical storm or hurricane. The Galapagos, on the other hand, don’t even know what hurricanes are, because they never experience them. Ever.
Live the Destination vs. Live the Boat
Even though we all wish that our vacations could last forever, sooner or later they always come to an end. As a result, we often have to adjust ourselves to a set schedule and budget, all while trying to get the most out of the place we’re visiting.
The Caribbean is a huge region. It’s so large that travelers who wish to visit it often have to decide on the most important things they wish to see within its 2.7 million km2 (1.06 million mi2) area. Just think about how hard it would be to visit and truly experience an area that large!
In the case of Galapagos, being the expedition destination that it is, tourism focuses almost entirely on making sure visitors get an authentic and comprehensive sense of place. It’s the reason for why expedition vessels in the Galapagos stop at most, if not all, of the archipelago’s iconic spots. They also have a maximum capacity of 100 guests (as opposed to the 500 – 5,000 passengers on Caribbean ships) so as to have a reasonable ratio of naturalist guides to guests. Various activities aboard these expedition vessels allow visitors to get up close to the rare wildlife that inhabits the islands, all while soaking in the amazing landscapes and pristine waters. When it comes down to numbers, guests in Galapagos spend approximately 20% of the time on the boat and the rest of the time exploring!
Because the entire Galapagos Marine Reserve covers an area of 133,000 km2/51,000 mi2 (which is approximately 5% of the size of the Caribbean!), the best-designed itineraries are able to cover the most iconic islands in just a matter of days. Also, most navigations only take place at night, meaning that a greater part of the day sees the boat anchored while visitors go out for hikes, snorkeling, kayaking or other activities.
Exclusive vs. Massive
Because of the limited number of visitors that are allowed in the Galapagos Islands – a modest 75 thousand visitors a year vs. the 25 million that travel to the Caribbean – it’s practically guaranteed that you will feel like you have the entire archipelago to yourself.
The Caribbean is another experience entirely, better suited for those who are after a more metropolitan-focused style of travel. Visitors in the Caribbean mostly disembark at big ports and are often received by stores, restaurants and hotels before being picked up by a tour bus that will take them on a brief exploration of the place before heading to the beach.
In the Galapagos, visitors do most of the exploration by foot, except for when they visit the islands of San Cristobal or Santa Cruz – 2 of the 5 inhabited islands. It is on these islands that the only bus guests will take is the one included as part of their itinerary and exploration of the highlands, research centers or transfer to the airport.
In the Caribbean, when anchoring at visitor sites, cruises share the port with many other ships, meaning thousands of guests disembark at the same time. In the Galapagos, the biggest ships (100 guests maximum) usually have the visitor site all to themselves, as per the Galapagos National Park rules.
Community and Giving BackIn the Galapagos National Park, there really is no other way to do things without the supervision of certified Naturalist Guides that help enforce the Galapagos National Park’s strict rules. In the Galapagos archipelago, all 69 boats that have been approved for cruising must operate entirely within the area of the Marine Reserve, which means they are under a legal and moral obligation to abide by the Park’s rules and regulations. In the Caribbean, cruise ships mostly navigate within international waters – a space where laws are interpreted with more flexibility and both the environment and the crews abide by each company’s own way of following said laws.
The greater majority of people that work aboard vessels in Galapagos are entirely local. This fosters a greater sense of community and “giving back.” Big cruise ships in the Caribbean, on the other hand, offer a more international working environment, with a crew that consists of people from all over the world. And when it comes to contributing to the communities that they visit, very little is often done to help them, particularly with respect to the local economies (employment and commerce) and local taxes.
Galapagos vs Caribbean Price: Why the Galapagos aren’t as cheap as the Caribbean
It’s true, the Galapagos Islands are not the cheapest destination in the world. Nor are they close to the mainland. Due to its natural characteristics and status as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Galapagos Islands are more akin to expedition destinations such as Alaska or the Maldives rather than the Caribbean.
Future travelers deliberating on where to go
But keep in mind that the Galapagos by no means includes less and that it is due to the remoteness of the archipelago that a lot of organization and foresight is required in order to get the freshest ingredients to the dishes of guests. Don’t forget that the archipelago has very harsh and arid lands where it’s hard to grow things, and farmlands are strictly controlled by the Galapagos National Park. That’s why everything in the Galapagos comes from the continent and costs a little more because of that. Also take into account everything that goes into giving visitors the experience of a lifetime: attention to detail, respect for the environment, expertise, safety and consideration for the people that are directly affected by tourism. You might think I’m trying to sell you the Galapagos, but I actually really am! And for a good reason, too! It’s simple: the Galapagos Island are simply worth it! It’s a place where you will find yourself through the close contact to the most docile wildlife and sites that take you back to the origin of time!
When you choose a Caribbean cruise ship, travelers are often greeted with a more urban experience, which implies you’re leaving a larger environmental footprint. This is why you should always stop to consider how your vacation would or could affect the place you are visiting.
In the case of the Galapagos, we make sure that it is only our footprints that we leave behind, constantly taking all measures necessary to protect the environment. In the case of the Galapagos, what you end up taking home is a bucket full of memories and an overwhelmingly happy feeling of having lived the adventure of a lifetime. Of getting to know this amazing place a little more intimately. Of having a true sense of what the natural world would be like if we were to leave it undisturbed for a while. It’s not just the amazing service, gourmet food and knowledge from real experts that make your trip to the Galapagos something unforgettable. Rather, it’s knowing that your visit has had a positive impact and that when someone back home asks about your vacation, you’ll be able to tell them about an unbelievable place aboard an amazing destination and expedition vessel, rather than just an unbelievable boat. Period.
Nathalie Moeller is of Ecuadorian and German descent. As a child she spent her summers in the Galapagos Islands, where her mother grew up, and from a very young age learned to love the beauty and uniqueness of the archipelago. She studied Journalism and Humanities in Barcelona, after living in Madrid and Germany for a couple of years. This gave her a culturally broader view of the world, which is reflected in everything she does. Blogging gives her the opportunity to combine her passion for travelling and writing.