Getaway to Galapagos Islands

Travellers have been drawn to the unique islands of the Galapagos since Charles Darwin wrote about them some 175 years ago. More than 500 miles off the west coast of Ecuador, these biologically distinctive islands are still geologically young and, thanks to Darwin, have become famous for their vast number of endemic species.

Many visitors are delightfully amazed to discover how truly interactive a Galapagos experience can be. People are strictly prohibited from touching, feeding or interfering with the animals; however, the animals don’t always abide by the rules. They remain unafraid of people. Indeed, visitors often report that a seal pup tried to rub against their legs, or sea lions were sprawled lazily across the path, or that they ended up face to face with a prehistoric iguana perched on a rock.

If you are thinking about exploring these fascinating islands, you will have several decisions to make to ensure that you have an experience that will meet or exceed your expectations.

Land vs. cruise

Today, there are a variety of touring options available. Consider your personal travel style, length of trip, the age of people travelling with you, any physical limitations (the terrain on the mostly volcanic islands can be challenging) and whether you prefer large groups or small. Of course, first you must decide between a cruise vessel and a land-based program.

The Galapagos Islands are a perfect family vacation, for example, but all vessels have a minimum age requirement of six. If you are travelling with young children, a land-based program is the only option. Fortunately, a handful of luxury properties have opened in recent years on a few of the islands, including one that offers a luxury tented camp safari experience. Some properties offer one of the biggest benefits of a cruise – an all-inclusive plan.

Also, a land-based option may be a good choice for older kids as you are not restricted to a ship between stops, and, in general, excursions will have fewer participants and therefore can be more easily tailored to their interests.

Some older travellers may have limitations in the amount of activity they can do in a day. For them, land-based tours allow for flexibility in the itinerary, and can accommodate special needs more easily. Excursions to surrounding islands enable you to still have the complete Galapagos experience.

Most people, however, still elect to cruise the islands. If you favor a cruise, you will need to decide what manner of cruising best suits you. Small yachts and catamarans offer a more intimate experience and can be privately chartered. The larger 100-passenger ships (still dwarfed when compared to Caribbean cruise ships) are more stable for those prone to seasickness.

All vessels can visit the same sites regardless of ship size since small Zodiac-style boats are used for shore landings. All vessels offer snorkeling but only some offer activities such as kayaking or glass bottom boats. Not all vessels can accommodate triples, so if a triple cabin is needed, that will limit the selection.

In general, cruise itineraries are for three, four or seven nights, but not all vessels have the shorter three- and four-night cruises. Also some vessels offer family departure programs. It is also possible to combine a cruise with a land-based stay, which is catching on with some travelers.

One final consideration: People often overlook mainland Ecuador in their planning. Everyone travelling to and from the islands passes through either Quito or Guayaquil, but many people fail to take advantage of that. Flights from the U.S. arrive in late afternoon or at night, so one night is mandatory, which ensures that if you or your luggage miss a connection into Quito, there is time to make needed adjustments to the itinerary. But two nights are recommended to explore both Quito, a beautiful city with a rich history, colonial architecture and vibrant cultural heritage, and the surrounding countryside.

Proper preparation will ensure that your Galapagos Islands vacation is all that you dreamed it would be.

Happy planning!

Photo © BKK2008

Carlson WagonLit Travel logoBig Five offers the ultimate luxury travel experience with a wide selection of luxury tours to the Galapagos Islands. For more information on these exciting packages, please contact your Carlson Wagonlit Travel office today at 1-800 CARLSON (227-5766) or visit