Do you dream of visiting the Galapagos? Maybe you’ve read Kurt Vonnegut or maybe you’ve been fascinated by Charles Darwin’s research and want to see the outrageous collection of animals he wrote about. Or maybe a friend came back with photos of themselves smiling next to blue-footed boobies or kneeling down next to a crowd of crazy, dinosaur-ish marine iguanas, and you thought, "I've simply got to see this place for myself!"
Friends will tell you what an amazing family vacation this is for kids. Yet even if you don’t have a family, a visit to the Galapagos is truly the trip of a lifetime. A recent client wrote, “Being in the Galapagos felt like we were in a documentary everyday. The wildlife and the ability to see such beauty in its natural state was inspiring and humbling at the same time. This was the most spectacular vacation we have ever had!”
Let’s say you’re ready to head to the Galapagos. How do you get there and how long should you stay if you go?
The first decision you’ll need to make is whether you want to explore the Galapagos Islands by ship or if you’d prefer to stay on land. If you don’t like ships at all, there are some lovely hotels in the Galapagos, yet if you can see yourself traveling the high seas, I highly recommend you explore the islands by ship.
What fascinated Charles Darwin about the Galapagos and what eventually led to the development of his theory of evolution was that every island in the Galapagos has a different set of animals. He marveled at how similar animals located on separate islands evolved differently from one another. By taking a ship, you are able to travel farther and see more islands than you would if you stayed on land. That means you’ll see more different kinds of animals. And let me tell you, these animals who never run away from humans and who stand there looking up at you like you will be their next best friend, are truly remarkable.
Yet how many days should you spend on a ship? If you choose to travel by ship, do yourself a favor and go with 7 or 8 days onboard. Sometimes people are trying to save money or they don’t have time and want to add 5 days, or, heaven forbid, 4 days in the Galapagos to a trip to Machu Picchu. Don’t do it!
Five days onboard means only three full days in the Galapagos. You came all the way from Europe or Australia or the US. And you’re flying for two hours way out over the Pacific ocean to visit the Galapagos Islands for only three full days? Sure, a 5-day trip will be amazing yet how much more amazing will it be to spend eight days on a ship seeing different sets of beautiful animals on every island and truly soaking in the wonder and beauty of this place? Go for 8 days onboard and you will thank me as the client I quoted above did.
Combining a trip to Machu Picchu with a trip to the Galapagos Islands is probably one of the most spectacular adventures out there. Yet if you do plan to include both destinations, make sure you have 9-10 days set aside specifically to include the Galapagos. You’ll need a minimum of 8 days for the best experience of Machu Picchu yet if you are trying to stuff both of these destinations into a 2-week vacation, neither destination will be able to shine the way it should. If you can’t spare 18 or more days for both places, go ahead and see the Galapagos Islands on one vacation and Machu Picchu and maybe even Lake Titicaca on another.
And how do you get all the way out into the middle of the ocean to board your ship? Flights to the Galapagos form a triangle between Ecuadorian port city, Guayaquil, charming Spanish colonial city, Quito and one of two airports in the Galapagos. This means you can fly from either Quito or Guayaquil and include some fun adventures in either city along the way. Here are some ideas of what’s on offer in these gateway cities:
Quito is a lovely Spanish Colonial city offering lots of history and culture. You might enjoy exploring the churches and cobblestone streets of Old Town, one of the world’s largest craft markets in Otavalo, visiting a working hacienda with flowering trees and fountains, or maybe mountain biking or horseback riding near the Cotopaxi volcano. Quito has many nearby destinations also worth visiting like the Mashpi Cloud Forest, home of Mashpi Lodge and the Ecuadorian Amazon which also hosts some beautiful lodges.
Because Quito is 9000 feet in altitude, some travelers prefer the lower altitude of the industrial port town, Guayaquil as their gateway city. There are fun historical sights in Guayaquil like cobblestone streets and the Santa Ana Fort where you can see the canons that protected the city from pirates. Still, if the altitude is acceptable, Quito is my favorite Galapagos gateway city.
To have a clearer sense of what size ship you might prefer, what time of year to travel, which gateway city to choose, and what kind of experience to expect in the Galapagos, I've created a Galapagos Travel Guide available at this link. Check it out! At Wild Nectar, we also have an outstanding selection of Galapagos ships and itineraries on our website. And when we recommend a series of ships based on your style of travel, we always provide you with slideshows of the ships such as this slideshow of the identical twins, Origin and Theory to help you choose. (We have slideshows of Galapagos hotels too.)
I hope you’ll contact us so we can help you select the ship or hotel that’s just perfect for you and your family. We’re excited to help you experience these extraordinary islands teeming with unbelievable animals and plants!