10 Reasons to Explore the Galapagos Islands by Cruise

Visiting the Galapagos by cruise is the best way to explore the islands
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Ah, the Galapagos Islands. This archipelago of islands is one of the most untouched places on earth. Choosing to cruise around the Galapagos Islands was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made in my entire life. Yes, it cost me nearly all my savings at the time, but I don’t regret it for a single second.

I spent two weeks on a boat in the Galapagos during September. They were two of the best weeks of my life. I met some of my closest friends and saw the most incredible wildlife.

The Galapagos Islands
The Galapagos Islands

There is nowhere on Earth like the Galapagos. It’s like stepping back in time and seeing how people should live with nature. The Galapagos is where Charles Darwin discovered evolution which gives you an idea of how special these islands are and how close to nature you can be.

Choosing to visit the Galapagos is a big decision, especially for a budget backpacker. It’s a bucket list destination for many but it costs a lot of money. If you’re torn on how to see these wonderful islands, I’m here to help you make your decision.

If you’re considering a trip the Galapagos, you’ll be faced with two options for exploring the islands:

  1. Base yourself in either Santa Cruz or Puerto Ayora within the islands, and do day trips from there.
  2. Opt to do a multi-day boat trip around the islands.

It goes without saying that the first option is cheaper. You can book your flights to the islands and base yourself in one of the towns. It’s a good way to see the islands on a budget, but you’ll be very limited as to what you can see.

Tour group in Galapagos
Tour group in the Galapagos

From my experience, you will see a lot more of this wonderful and unique place if you choose a boat cruise. Seeing the Galapagos by boat is truly the best way to explore these islands. Yes, it’s expensive. But if you are on a budget, there are ways to manage this. Many people fly to the Galapagos and try and book on a last-minute tour from there. When I was in Santa Cruz, I saw 7 day boat trips going for $800 including all your meals (this was September 2021). It’s a lot of money but this is a once in a lifetime destination.

Of course, relying on a last minute deal to book your cruise can be risky. You could arrive and find nothing in your budget range or that everything has sold out. If exploring Galapagos is high on your bucket list, I’d recommend pre-booking a cruise to get the most of your time, money and experience.

I’m working on writing a whole guide on the Galapagos, but in the meantime, I’ve shared 10 reasons below to consider exploring the Galapagos by cruise.

Important note

Despite the Galapagos Islands having strict environmental laws in place to protect the environment, more and more larger cruise ships are entering the area. There are laws in place which limit the number of people on any vessel to 100, but a larger boat is still required to carry this amount of people.

When I refer to cruise ships in this post, I mean smaller group tours with around 12-16 people. No boat is ever going to be ‘good’ for the environment, but the larger cruise ships destroy everything in their path. Laws in the Galapagos also mean that no more than 16 people can be on land at any time in protected areas. If you’re on a bigger cruise ship, you’ll be much more limited as to what you can do.

I’d suggest looking at either G Adventures or Intrepid for your cruise around the Galapagos. Both these companies have a strong focus on sustainability. You’ll be with a small group of like-minded people and your crew will all be locals. You’re visiting in a more sustainable way and also giving back to the local economy despite being on a boat.

Ten Reasons to Explore the Galapagos by Cruise

Explore more islands and go further afield

The Galapagos Islands cover a total of 17,000 square miles (45,000 square km). To put it simply, this is a HUGE area. If you’re based on land, there’s only so much you can see on day trips. In fact, there are rules in place which mean day trips can only visit certain places close-by to the main islands. 

By choosing a boat cruise, you’ll have the opportunity to go to the more remote islands. I opted to do a two week trip which meant we were able to visit some of the more distant and unvisited spots. We would make most of our longer journeys overnight. This meant we could spend the day exploring, go to sleep and wake up near a new island.

Remote islands in the Galapagos
Remote islands in the Galapagos

Discover incredible volcanic landscapes

I’ve seen volcanic landscapes all around the world but nothing quite compares to the Galapagos. Some of these islands are the youngest islands in the world and it feels that way. You can spend an hour walking across land and see nothing but lava fields with the odd lava lizard. It’s truly other-worldly.

One of my favourite islands we visited was Genovesa Island in the north. The landscape was remarkable. This is also where we swam with penguins.

Genovesa Island
Genovesa Island

The best sunsets I’ve ever seen

The sunsets in the Galapagos are by far the most beautiful I’ve ever seen. There’s something about being out at sea watching the sunset on the horizon. As you’re on the Equator, the sunsets really are something else, especially out on the ocean.

I don’t think a day went by when I wasn’t blown away by the sunset. A travel highlight for me was watching the sunset as we crossed the Equator line and saw hundreds of dolphins jumping out of the water with humpback whales in the background. It was a memory I will always hold dear to my heart.

Sunset in the Galapagos Islands
Sunset in the Galapagos Islands

The Galapagos isn’t just famous for its sunsets, the sunrises are also something remarkable. The beauty about being on a cruise is you’ll often travel to your next destination overnight. I’d set my alarm every day for just before sunrise so I could go out onto the deck and watch the sunrise in a new place. It’s so peaceful and quiet.

My favourite sunrise memory was when we watched the sunrise at Kicker Rock. I’ve never experienced a sunrise so magical. The best part was we travelled there overnight so there was minimal effort on my part other than rolling out of bed.

Sunrise at Kicker Rock
Sunrise at Kicker Rock

Snorkel with marine life including penguins and sea lions

I’ve snorkelled all around the world and nothing compares to snorkelling in the Galapagos Islands. You might not get the pristine reefs of Australia or the warm waters of South East Asia, but it’s an unforgettable experience nonetheless.

During my time in the Galapagos, I snorkelled with penguins, sea lions, manta rays, sharks, turtles, seals and marine iguanas. All of this was a completely natural experience. We simply got in the water and waited to see what happened. We never approached or followed the wildlife but we still saw lots.

A sea lion joining us for a swim
A sea lion joining us for a swim

One of the things I loved the most about the Galapagos is that animals don’t see humans as a threat. This means animals will often come to you, especially marine life. We had no idea we were going to swim with penguins, they swam to us and were swimming all around us. The sea lions were also particularly playful!

Cruising around the Galapagos gives you the opportunity to snorkel multiple times a day in varying locations. Different species are found in different spots, and choosing a boat cruise around the Galapagos allows you to experience everything the area has to offer.

Remember not to get too close to the wildlife. Never chase animals or try to touch them. We found by just floating still in the water that the animals would often come and investigate us.

The wildlife on land (and in the air)

The Galapagos has some of the most diverse and unique wildlife on the entire planet. As you explore the Galapagos on a cruise, you’ll see incredible species of animals that you didn’t know were possible.

It’s also fascinating to see the same species on different islands and learn how they’ve adapted to suit that island. For example, a species of bird will have differently shaped beaks from island to island. The tortoises also differ from island to island depending on their main source of food. Some are able to extend their necks out to reach food higher up on plants. It’s truly fascinating.

A boat cruise takes you to multiple islands and is the best way to learn about this and see it with your own eyes.

Giant tortoise in Galapagos
Giant tortoise in Galapagos

Escape reality and go off-grid 

If it’s not been made clear already, the Galapagos is a huge place and one of the most untouched places on Earth. Choosing to see the Galapagos by boat cruise means you can explore all corners of this magical place. As the area is so remote, there won’t be any phone signal for days on end. In fact, we went a whole seven days with no phone signal whatsoever.

Discovering somewhere so untravelled while being off-grid is an amazing feeling. I was disconnected from my life but I had also never felt so alive. Wow – that was deep but true.

The Galapagos also have very strict laws in place to manage the number of visitors to the protected areas. This helps preserve these spots and protect the wildlife. With these rules in place, we would go days without seeing another boat. It was also such a shock to the system when we arrived on the main islands and saw other people.

If you’re looking to get off-grid and reconnect with nature, I can’t suggest choosing a boat cruise around the Galapagos enough.

Meet new people

One of the many joys of small group tours is getting to know a small group of like-minded people as you discover a new place. As a solo traveller, I love group tours and the Galapagos was no exception to this.

10 Reasons to Explore the Galapagos Islands by Cruise

My cruise had 11 other people on board and getting to know them all was so much fun. I met two of my closest friends on this tour and experiencing the Galapagos with them by my side makes it such a special memory.

I also loved getting to know our crew and guide. They were all locals and had so much passion for the islands. I really enjoyed spending our days and evenings listening to their stories and learning about their lives.

Choosing a small-group cruise really gives you the opportunity to get to know people and make deep connections.

Our crew in the Galapagos
Our crew in the Galapagos

The exploring (kind of) never ends

Well, the trip does end eventually, but the beauty of a cruise is that you always have the option to do something. Even after all the activities had finished for the day, I could go up to the deck and watch the sunset, whale watch or admire the scenery. In the evenings, I could star gaze and get to know my fellow travellers.

There was always something to do. I’m definitely guilty of not relaxing when it comes to exploring exciting new places. I want to be doing something all the time which was my main worry about choosing a cruise. Would there be enough for me to do? The answer is yes. There were plenty of things to do.

The stargazing

I’ve never seen stars like I did in the Galapagos Islands. I’ve stargazed in many Dark Sky reserves around the world but nothing can compare to the Galapagos. The sky was filled with thousands of stars. It almost didn’t look real.

I wish I had a picture of this to show you how beautiful it was. On a boat cruise, you’ll be away from the main towns and artificial light. The Galapagos Islands are so remote that there’s no other light pollution meaning the stargazing is like nowhere else.

We would spend our evenings lying on the deck and stargazing. It was an unforgettable experience.  

Our dining/bar area
Our dining/bar area

The bioluminescence

I had no idea that experiencing the magical bioluminescence would be part of my trip to the Galapagos. I had already seen it in Costa Rica as part of an organised tour, but experiencing it in such a natural way in the Galapagos was a whole other level.

For those who don’t know, bioluminescence is when a living organism emits biological light. In the ocean, this is normally caused by plankton. Put simply, imagine seeing hundreds of blue lights in the ocean. When you put your hand in and move the water, everything lights up. It’s a bucket-list experience to witness this event, but it’s even better when you jump in the water. It’s like swimming in the stars.

Being on a cruise gives you the best chance to see this jaw-dropping phenomenon. I’ve seen it a few times worldwide and it never gets old.

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