- Nature cruise,
- “Liveaboard” cruise specifically for scuba diving, and
- Do-it-yourself, land-based day-trips & island hopping.
This post reviews each option generally and compares and contrasts the dis/advantages. Other posts go into greater detail about When to Visit the Galápagos, Nature Cruises, and Land-Based Day Trips. (I mention liveaboards for completeness but won’t address them in detail at this time because (i) I haven’t been on one (yet – fingers crossed) and (ii) they are covered at length on scuba-specific sites.)
How to Visit the Galapagos: Overview
- Nature cruises may take tourists snorkeling and hiking on certain islands but cannot offer scuba diving. (Photography cruises are a subset of – and for our purposes are essentially the same as – nature cruises.)
- “Liveaboards” may offer scuba diving but cannot, by law, make landfall on any island. They are the only way tourists can visit Darwin and Wolf Islands, which are the most remote of the Galápagos islands and where you have the chance to see hundreds of hammerhead sharks.
- Land-based / island-hopping is the most flexible and least expensive option but may limit your experience. Many sites/islands are restricted to nature cruises only, so day-trip operators cannot visit them. Certain islands overlap and are visited by both day trips and nature cruises, but even then, the sites visited are not always identical. Although this official Galapagos National Park site does not appear to have been updated much since 2012, the map is a fairly thorough guide to the various sites of the Galápagos and their restrictions.
- Liveaboards are spendy, from $580 per person per day and up. (I haven’t seen any less than that.)
- Nature cruises have a wider range of prices – from as little as $240 pp/day to upwards of $1200 pp/day.
- Land-based travel is the most flexible and economical because you can stay in hostels of your own choosing and piece together: (a) day-trips, (b) DIY attractions that you can visit without a guide, and (c) island-to-island transfers. The lowest average cost I’ve read or heard of anyone managing this way is about $215 pp/day, excluding international airfare and airport taxes.
Galapagos Travel Options: Pro’s and Con’s