Galapagos Islands cruises – which itinerary to choose?

by on 6th April, 2017

Galapagos islands cruises

Planning your dream Galapagos cruise can feel daunting when you first start to research Galapagos boats and itineraries.

Here,  Andean Trails  Galapagos holiday expert Tom Shearman gives his top tips to help you decide which trip is best for you.


He writes:

“Galapagos park rules were introduced a few years ago to help reduce visitor numbers to sites and to help protect the fragile Galapagos environment.

This means that most yachts offer two, week long itineraries, running one after the other. Some boats break those weeks in half, and are able offer 4 and 5 day cruises.

But if we focus on those week-long itineraries, we can see that almost all the boats follow two incredibly similar routes.

Whichever you choose, remember that you won’t be missing out on incredible Galapagos wildlife and scenery and it will truly be a holiday of a lifetime.


Two itineraries

Each boat gives the alternate weeks a different name. Week A and B, or North and South and so on.

In reality, what most do is approximately:


Week 1:         Central, Eastern and Southern islands

Week 2:         Central, Northern (Genovesa) and Western islands


Here are some pointers to help you choose.


Week 1 tours – Central, Eastern and Southern islands

These itineraries and perfect for those worried about seasickness because the islands are close together, meaning shorter sailing times, and more time with the boat docked in calmer coves.

Snorkellers have two of the Galapagos’ best with Kicker Rock and Devil’s Crown (Floreana) usually included. Prepare for sharks, rays, sea lions and more.

Blowholes aplenty on Española, also home to sea turtles, marine iguanas and sea birds on this, the oldest island of Galapagos, with a lovely white beach.

If you love volcanic colours, then the beaches, walks and snorkelling around Rabida (red) and Santiago (black) are a must.

For views, Santa Fe and its cactus forests, then Bartolomé with the iconic Pinnacle Rock offer two of the best anywhere in the archipelago.

Santa Cruz, right in the centre of the archipelago, has many attractions from huge volcanic craters to the Charles Darwin Research Centre.

These are just a few of the multitude of highlights that await.


Pelican and Kicker rock Galapagos

Pelican and Kicker Rock, Galapagos


Pros resume:  Shorter sailings, great snorkels, more islands visited, great look out points/vistas



Week 2 tours – Central, Northern (Genovesa) and Western islands

These islands are much further away from each and involve more sailing to get to them, often overnight, so be prepared.

You’ll be far flung from civilisation, often a few days’ sailing away, and visiting sites that few do.

Most, but not all, make the long sail to Genovesa in the north. This is a spectacular island where you will spend all day. Red-footed boobies are only found here among many thousands of birds, great snorkels and short hikes.

The real plus is getting to the north and west of Fernandina and Isabela islands, the youngest in all Galapagos.

Here it is wild. Young volcanoes that can still erupt, crazy lava formations and beautiful sea caves make for impressive views.

Truly wonderful snorkels abound – you may see marine iguanas grazing, penguins swimming, cormorants fishing and turtles bobbing.

There will be a chance to see Giant Tortoises in the wild, walk up volcanoes for views and the feeling you have stepped back a million years is never far away.


Frigate bird Genovesa Galapagos Islands

Frigate bird, Genovesa, Galapagos


Pros resume: Great snorkels, less people, wildness, remoteness, volcanoes


Hotel-based tours

There are four islands on which you can stay and then do a variety of day tours from.

While this may limit the total number of islands you can visit, it is in no way a lesser experience and ideal for families.

Most hotel-based Galapagos trips take in the three main islands:

Santa Cruz, in the centre of the archipelago is the main arrival/departure airport and has the largest population of around 15,000. Diving, tours and a large selection of hotels.

San Cristobal in the east is the capital and also has an arrival/departure airport. Smaller population than Santa Cruz, and with some spectacular snorkels nearby.

Isabela in the west, mainly accessed by a 3-hour ferry from Santa Cruz. Small population, very young island and great for snorkelling, volcanoes and beach.

Isabela Siera Negra volcano trek Galapagos

Siera Negra volcano, Galapagos


Been inspired?

Check our Galapagos cruises page for options, or for more information about the islands, check our Galapagos Islands page.

Don’t want a cruise? We offer hotel-based tours, too.

Contact us for more information.


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