Click here to subscribe to daily news sent to your inbox!
Click here to subscribe to our weekly eNewspaper sent to your inbox!

Expat Life

You don’t have to cruise the Galapagos; stay on the islands and explore at your own pace

I went to the Galapagos for three weeks and didn’t set foot on a cruise ship.

Three weeks? No cruise? Don’t you have to go on a cruise when you go to the Galapagos?Karla logo

With all the advertising for cruises, it’s easy to overlook the fact that it’s possible to explore the Galapagos from a home base. I was an island girl for three weeks, stayed on three different islands and paid a lot less than I would have had I taken a cruise. I spent about $1,300 during my visit and had a great experience.

What did you do? you might ask.

I took day trips, snorkeled, met locals and tourists, spent a lot of time hanging out, visited beaches and wildlife, and taught myself to draw animals I met on each of the islands.

An islander's view of the Galapagos.
An islander’s view of the Galapagos.

My decision to be an islander instead of a cruiser was the result of a conversation I had with an Ecuadorian naturalist in Cuenca. He advised me that I would be freer to pursue my own interests if I was not restricted to a cruise ship routine. He also pointed out that the ships have a destructive impact on the environment. It was easy to take him at his word since he had trained on cruise ships to be a guide. His advice was to stay on the islands.

Following his advice, I did some internet research and found hotels and ideas galore about how to be in the Galapagos without a cruise.

Hanging out with a sea lion.
Hanging out with a sea lion.

Instead of the several-hour island stopovers you get when you take a cruise, I got to know three islands in some depth and could spend as much time as I wanted drawing giant turtles and scruffy iguanas — and just staring off into infinity. As much as I learned as an islander, there’s still much more to explore on Santa Cruz, Isabela, or San Cristobal, and a I look forward to a return visit.

I understand that my approach is not for everyone and that some folks prefer the planned itinerary and comforts of a cruise ship. But for me, island hopping, staying in a hotel, not getting sea sick, and being in places as long as I chose, drawing, and relaxing provided a magical time.

For those considering staying on the islands, you’ll find a large range of lodging options through a Google or TripAdvisor search. There are hostels and hotels for all budgets.

When I go back to the Galapagos, I look forward to a day hanging with sea lions on the beach and a morning watching iguanas cross the road. Or, I might spend money on Spanish lessons. Or, I might spend nothing and volunteer for a nature project. These are options you won’t have onboard a ship.

________________

Karla Freeman, expat, traveler, tango dancer, writer, currently lives in Cuenca and is the author of Creating Magic in Midlife: 101 Questions and Answers to Reinvent Your Work, Relationships and Life! Available on Amazon Kindle and at Carolina bookstore on Calle Hermano Miguel in Cuenca.

 

  • Ernesto

    Having also spent a couple of weeks on the Galapagos Islands actually splitting our time between a 7 day cruise and ” island time ” we found you will have an extremely restricted experience without a cruise. The Galapagos experience of a variety of landscapes, and wildlife experiences is unparalleled with a cruise. While a cruise has a somewhat rigid agenda, it is not luxury comfort, and not without significant discovery. Although this issue is debatable ” ships have much less impact on the environmental footprint ” than landbased accommodations. Can you imagine an additional 3,500 visitors each day ( daily cruise capacity ) and their impact on any of these islands ! For some photos and more information : http://www.pachamama-spectrum-of-treasures.com/2016_01_01_archive.html

  • KR

    Hi Karla, we’re planning a trip like yours in April. Which 3 islands did you choose for your adventure?

  • Jeremiah

    Karla,
    What a wonderful experience! Thank you for sharing-good tips, for sure.

  • nards barley

    I look forward to seeing the poor man’s Galapagos some day. (Isla de la Plata)

  • Ed NineThreeNineFive

    Excellent article. A few years ago a couple we met told us almost the same thing.
    Since Asia has been tour destination focus.
    Maybe we should take a second look at these tips.

  • Juan

    97 % of the Galapagos Islands is National Park – by restricting your visit to the 4 inhabited islands you are restricting your visit to less than 3 % of the Galapagos ! Day trips enable you to access a little more but then you spend 5 – 6 hours on a boat each day. Ironically your photo of ” Pinnacle Rock ” is one of the many Galapagos landscapes you would not have been able to access. For us Galapagos was all about nature – the civilization is interesting as well. In my humble opinion while you may have enjoyed your vacation time there you have yet to see the Galapagos Islands !

    • Edgeof2

      She didn’t ‘ see ‘ the Galápagos Islands then even though she was there for 3 weeks ?? Sounds like she had a nice experience though as an option to a cruise.