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Travel bucket list idea:

Last updated: 06 February, 2024
Expert travel writer: Sue Bryant

A visit to the Galapagos is a life-changing experience. You’ll see wildlife that exists nowhere else on earth, from prehistoric-looking iguanas to Galapagos penguins, as well as sea lions, blue-footed boobies, giant tortoises and sharks.

What’s incredible is that because the animals have no predators, they have no fear of man. Marine life abounds in the clear, deep water and graceful sea turtles will glide right past you. Penguins may pop up as you’re snorkelling.

These extraordinary wildlife encounters take place against a backdrop of ancient volcanoes, jagged lava rocks, cacti and beaches ranging from powdery white to glittering olive. Visit by ship and you’ll see a real contrast of settings, as a week-long voyage typically stops at around 12 different spots.

Cruises depart from Baltra, Puerto Ayora or Puerto Baquerizo Moreno and follow set ‘loops’, each one taking in different anchorages and all including incredible wildlife encounters.

You’ll spend the whole week out in the wild, usually with just one day in port. Days are spent hiking, kayaking, exploring by skiff and snorkelling, led by highly qualified Ecuadorian guides.

Logistics

Price from: £Varies
Minimum age: Any
Age suitable: 13+
When: All year around
Duration: Min 7 days

Getting there & doing it

There are no direct international flights to/from the Galapagos, so you must fly first to the Ecuadorian cities of either Quito or Guayaquil. You then catch a domestic flight to Seymour Airport on Baltra (the same airport also serves Puerto Ayora and Puerto Baquerizo Moreno). These flights depart in the morning so you’ll need to spend the night in Quito or Guayaquil.

You can join your ship at the departure port but a lot of companies package the Galapagos with a night or two in Quito, charter flights to the islands and park entrance fees.

Galapagos cruise operators have to follow strict regulations regarding where they go, when, and for how long, in order to protect the wildlife. Ships, all of which carry under 100 passengers, range from the more basic to luxurious, all-suite vessels with gourmet food and included drinks.

When to do it

As it’s on the equator, the Galapagos is a year-round destination. December to June is warmer and wetter, with the best underwater visibility. Iguanas are breeding and birds perform courtship displays. On the other hand, the cool season is better for spotting whales.

Who to go with: tour operators

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Our writer’s recommended tour operators to book with

Celebrity Cruises [Galapagos]

Celebrity Cruises [Galapagos]

Miami, Florida, Ecuador

Global cruise operator with 14 cruise boats, including 3 specialist, award-winning small ships for the Galapagos Islands. Their two smaller ships and the ultra-luxury Celebrity Flora sail from Baltra on four different loops.

G Adventures [Galapagos]

G Adventures [Galapagos]

Ecuador

Experienced, small group adventure travel specialists who operate a number of very good expedition cruises to more remote, wilderness destinations. They offer small group tours to the islands, aimed at all age groups.

Intrepid Travel [Galapagos]

Intrepid Travel [Galapagos]

Melbourne, Victoria, Ecuador

The largest small group adventure travel company in the world, offering ‘adventure’ cruising with activity-packed itineraries. Their affordable, small ship Galapagos cruises on the 16-passenger Le Grande Daphne include two nights in Quito and options to add on Machu Picchu.

Silversea Cruises [Galapagos]

Silversea Cruises [Galapagos]

Monaco, Cote d'Azur, Ecuador

Operates some of the most luxurious small ships at sea. The new Silver Origin offers the last word in expedition luxury, with all-suites accommodation, all-inclusive onboard and a low ratio of guides to guests. This is the way to see the Galapagos in style.

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