Visiting the Galápagos Islands has been on our family bucket list for several years now. With several kids who adore marine animals, it has been one of those destinations that was always in the backs of our minds. As we finally started planning, one of our biggest questions was whether to do a galapagos land tour or cruise when traveling with kids.
Here are a few of our considerations as we decided between the two for our family trip to the Galapagos Islands. I hope it helps you as you plan your own trip to the Galapagos with kids!
Galapagos Land Tour or Cruise with Young Children: Safety Considerations
One of the biggest factors in our decision was the ages of our kids. Our then-10, 8, and 6 year olds are very strong swimmers and I felt comfortable and confident with them following the rules of the ship (no running and climbing, no going out on their own). However, we were also traveling with our 3- and 1-year-olds. I felt significantly less confident in them always staying safe while living on a ship for a week.
Most of the Galapagos cruise ships have a fairly small capacity – between 16 to 96 people. So they’re nothing like the behemoth Caribbean cruise ships built for thousands of people and with tons of activities on board. I knew that on these, there would be much less space for my little ones to safely roam, and fewer activities on board available to them for our Galapagos family travel.
With a smaller ship footprint, I knew it would also be more stressful for me to always make sure my little kids were safe around water.
Transfer Time for Galapagos Land Based Tours
On the other hand, a cruise would also mean there would be fewer transfers and early wakeups for the kids. It would mean we could unpack in one place and not have to repack and move around as much. That’s definitely appealing with little ones!
When doing a land-based Galapagos tour, we knew we would want to visit at least two islands. That meant that we’d need to fly in and then take a boat to at least one other island. It also meant we’d need to make sure to get up and ready for pickups when doing day tours to smaller islands and other spots to explore.
Cost of Galapagos Land Tours vs. Cruises
One of the biggest factors in our decision was the cost of a Galapagos cruise. Even 4-5 day long cruises can often run around $4,000 per person, and that charge is the same for babies. For our family of 7, that would cost around $30,000! While this was definitely an incredible bucket list adventure, that is a very significant amount for a short period of time.
If we did a Galapagos land tour, we had much more flexibility with our budget. Since everything wasn’t included as a single cost, we could decide where we wanted to spend more or less. For a point of reference, hotels over our 5 nights generally cost between $200-250 per night per room (we needed two rooms). Assuming $500 per night, that adds up to about $2500 total for the 5 nights. (We absolutely loved our hotel on Santa Cruz and our hotel on Isabela.)
Here are some other cost estimates for Galapagos Islands land based tours for a family for 5 days:
- Food: $1000 (we typically spend between $100-150 on food for our family per day)
- Boat/ferry rides: $1000 (about $150/person)
- Excursions: $1200 (about $200/person, not including the baby)
- Taxis: $500
Adding up all those costs (which I rounded up generously) would still put us around $6000 for our large family. This is for the same number of days as a Galapagos cruise with kids, at 1/5th of the cost.
(Note: Galapagos cruises as well as Galapagos land based tours require you to purchase your own flights to the islands, pay the National Park fee, etc. Because of this, I didn’t include those costs in the consideration for our Galapagos travel with kids.)
Galapagos Cruise Activities for Kids
A lot of those costs would absolutely be worth it if we could all participate in all of the activities. But I knew my kids would definitely miss out on some. Of course, the food was a consideration. Although they all eat “adult” food, my younger kids don’t eat much and certainly not an adult portion.
More importantly, a lot of the activities were definitely not geared to little ones and often tricky even for my older kids. For instance, some of the cruises include nighttime snorkeling. My youngest two (ages 3 & 1) wouldn’t participate at all, and it would even be tricky for my other kids (ages 10, 8, & 6) to wake up in the middle of the night to snorkel. The ships often have very early wakeup calls and late dinners for many days in a row. And many have daily rafting or kayaking adventures to quietly observe wildlife. This is amazing for older people, but difficult for tiny kids.
For our family with our ages of kids, having the flexibility to eat and sleep on a more kid-friendly schedule was important. We like having the opportunity to stay longer at a beach if we’d like, or sleep in when needed.
Of course, it would be different if our youngest were 6 years old and tagging along with teenage siblings. At that point, it may be much more worthwhile to make it work. But a Galapagos cruise with a baby or toddler seemed like it wasn’t as good of a fit for our family as a Galapagos land based trip.
Galapagos Cruise Vs. Land Tour With Children: Seeing the Sights
One final and important consideration was being able to see different animals and remote and uninhabited islands. It’s much more difficult to get out to further islands while on a land tour of the Galapagos. Many of those remote islands have animals even more in their natural habitats and less accustomed to the hustle and bustle of people in a city.
For us, the advantages of this didn’t outweigh the advantages of a Galapagos land tour. When visiting the Galapagos with kids, the land tour seemed to serve our needs much better. We didn’t see the most remote places, but the Galapagos Islands themselves are pretty far out and incredibly unique. We saw tons of wildlife and were thrilled with all the animals we were able to meet. None of us felt we missed out, although I’m sure the feeling of being on remote islands is also incredible.
Choosing A Land Based Tour of the Galapagos with Kids
We ended up choosing a land-based Galapagos tour with kids and, we were really thrilled with our decision. It fit our family’s style and hopes for the trip very well. It also minimized some of the stress and certainly the cost of a Galapagos cruise with kids. We felt we got an amazing overview of the islands and saw some of the really special and unique characteristics. And doing a land based Galapagos tour with kids allowed us to still have a good bit of flexibility with activities, schedules, and meals. We loved it!
As we put together our itinerary, this tour company was really helpful in arranging everything. We LOVED our hotel on Santa Cruz Island – it was so beautiful and family-friendly. We also really enjoyed our hotel on Isabela island. It was so close to everything and I loved the amenities they had that were so helpful with kids (like laundry and inexpensive wetsuit rental).
How about you? Are the Galapagos Islands with kids on your list? Or have you visited previously? I’d love to hear what you chose!