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Galapagos

Galapagos

The Galápagos Islands, located roughly 600 miles off the coast of Ecuador, remained a closely-guarded natural secret for millions of years. Over that time, the archipelago evolved into a home for an all-star cast of plants and animals. Sometime in the 1800s, some swashbuckling pirates and intrepid explorers started arriving in the Galápagos Islands. The most famous early visitor was Charles Darwin, a young naturalist who spent 19 days studying the islands’ flora and fauna in 1835. In 1859, Darwin published On the Origin of Species, which introduced his theory of evolution — and the Galápagos Islands — to the world.

Since then, word of these islands and their magnificent beauty has steadily grown. In 1959, the Galápagos became Ecuador’s first national park, and in 1978, it was named a UNESCO World Heritage site. Today, more than 275,000 people visit the Galápagos every year to see those incredible animals and landscapes for themselves.

The first decision you have to make about visiting the Galápagos Islands is also the most difficult. Do you want to stay in a hotel on one of the three inhabited islands, exploring other islands and areas via day-trip boat rides? Or, do you want to be based on a live-aboard boat, which provides accommodations and transportation from island to island?

There are three main factors to consider when choosing between land and sea.

Cost

A trip to the Galápagos Islands can be pricey. However, it’s easier to craft a less expensive experience if you choose to be land-based. These days, there are hotels and restaurants at many price points on San Cristóbal Island, Santa Cruz Island, and, to a much lesser extent, Isabela and Floreana islands. Live-aboard boats come in a range of price points, too. However, all but the most bare-bones boats still add up to more than a land-based vacation.

Time Management

If you choose a land-based vacation, expect to spend a lot of time getting from your hotel, onto a boat, out to the day’s destination, then back to your property. On the other hand, live-aboard boats do most of their navigating during the night when travelers are asleep in cabins on board. This means passengers wake up in a new destination ready for a full day of exploration.

Access

Because land-based explorations are limited to the five islands that can be reached in one day, travelers won’t be able to visit the more distant islands that boat-based itineraries include.

Bottom Line

Unless you’re terrified of sailing, suffer from seasickness or hate the idea of being on a boat for a week, book a cruise.  You’ll waste less time running back and forth, plus you’ll see as many distinct areas of the Galápagos Islands as possible.

Heaven on Earth

Traveling to the Galápagos Islands

Flights to the Galápagos Islands depart multiple times each day from Quito or Guayaquil on mainland Ecuador. Flights from the U.S. are plentiful to both cities. Hotel options are better in Quito and, in general, this city is more compelling with a stunning colonial center, which was made a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1978. It’s also home to ample museums, shopping, and restaurants to easily fill a few days. However, Quito is located over 9,000 feet, so altitude can be a problem for travelers arriving from lower elevations. Steamy Guayaquil, Ecuador’s largest city, is at sea level, so altitude is not an issue. However, the hotel and restaurant selection is much more limited in Guayaquil.

On our Galápagos cruise tours, you’ll be snorkeling, hiking, paddleboarding, and cruising by Zodiac. You’ll encounter animals unafraid of you.

Join us to get everything our more than 50 years’ experience in Galápagos Islands cruise has to offer, aboard the 96-guest National Geographic Endeavour II or the yacht-scaled 48-guest National Geographic Islander. Since the first international tourist expedition cruise to the Galápagos Islands in July 1967 with Lars-Eric Lindblad, we’ve introduced generations of guests to these strange and wonderful islands, the world’s first UNESCO World Heritage Site. Sailing twice weekly, all year round.

Explore the undersea on our Galápagos cruise tours. In the 50+ years we’ve been exploring here, we’ve introduced generations of guests to the magic and mystery of a cruise to the Galápagos Islands— the best islands in the world.

Like a floating safari camp, the ship will be your base for an unforgettable Galápagos travel expedition—immersing you in a movable feast, a panoramic experience of exploring the Galápagos Islands. The ship will feel like home in no time, as you discover all the nooks and crannies—and very welcoming, as the community camaraderie kindles. Crossing between islands most often takes place overnight to maximize time exploring. So you’ll wake to fresh vistas outside your cabin window, and daily discoveries.

Choice of daily activities
Walk, kayaksnorkel, and stand-up paddleboard. Head off on a scenic cruise aboard our Zodiac landing craft, or in the glass-bottom boat (aboard National Geographic Endeavour II). Take a long hike or choose a short slower walk, with time for your naturalist to share the unique wonders of a particular island.

Stay aboard and read if you prefer. Or enjoy a wellness treatment on board from our talented wellness specialist. There’s no one-size-fits-all scheduling here: you can choose your activities, activity levels, and staff members to join every day.

See the islands’ diverse habitats & wildlife
Our ship-based Galápagos wildlife travel lets you experience all the endless magic of Galápagos’ diverse habitats: from lush green highlands to stark volcanic landscapes; pristine beaches to mangrove thickets; from arid terrain to black lava beaches adorned with emerald seagrasses.

New! Scuba option
Diving in Galápagos is outstanding with abundant and exceptionally diverse marine life, fascinating underwater volcanic topography—and highly recommended for advanced divers with experience in drift diving, cold water, and strong currents. Straddling the equator, 600 miles west of the South American coast, the Galápagos Islands lie at the crossroads of many East Pacific Equatorial Currents, where tropical and subtropical waters meet, allowing diverse species from all over the Pacific, and some parts of the Indo-Pacific to arrive. This new dive option is at additional cost, by advance reservation only, available on select National Geographic Endeavour II departures and limited to intermediate and advanced divers only—30+ dives are recommended for the Gordon Rocks dive at Santa Cruz. Operated with an experienced local dive shop licensed by the park, our scuba colleagues provide equipment, transportation by dive boat, and experienced divemasters with the program coordinated by your expedition leader aboard. Whether you are an experienced diver or a novice snorkeler, you can look forward to opportunities for underwater adventure on your Galápagos expedition!

Kayak, stand-up paddleboard & Zodiac cruise scenic shorelines
Our ships are outfitted with tandem and single kayaks that allow for personal, water-level exploration of the scenic coastlines. And a fleet of stand-up paddleboards––added in 2017––offers a new, fun way to explore quiet bays and paddle along idyllic beaches. Shoreline cruises aboard Zodiacs are perfect for relaxed exploration with a naturalist’s narration, and the ideal platform for Galápagos photography.

Enjoy the daily ritual
Each evening at cocktail hour the entire expedition community gathers in the lounge for an expedition ritual we call “Recap.” As you enjoy cocktails and hors d’oeuvres, various naturalists give talks, the undersea specialist may show video, and your expedition leader will outline the following day’s schedule. Guests often tell us in comment cards that Recap remains one of the fondest memories of their expedition experience.

Savor time aboard ship
Talks by our naturalists will be offered on some afternoons as well. And when the ship is underway, it’s a wonderful time to stand on the bow with a naturalist or photo instructor and scan the horizon for whale spouts, visit the bridge, or go to the upper deck at night for a bit of stargazing.

Good to know

Country

Equador

Visa requirements

Do US Citizens Need a Visa for Ecuador? No, as a US citizen, if you only want to stay in Ecuador for up to 90 days, you do not need a visa. If you want to stay for longer than 90 days, you must apply for a temporary residence visa or extended tourist visa from one of the Embassies or Consulates of Ecuador in the US.

Languages spoken

Spanish is Ecuador's official language of business and government, although there are dialectal differences between Sierra and Costa Spanish; Sierra Spanish has been influenced by Quichua.

Curency used

You may be surprised to learn that Ecuador uses the U.S. dollar as their currency. This came about in the year 2000 when their own currency, the “sucre,” took a nosedive due to a financial crisis. The local population started using dollars and it wasn’t long before the government acknowledged USD as the official currency.

Area (km2)

3,093 mi²

When to travel

There’s no bad time to visit the Galápagos Islands. No matter when you go, the adventure is sure to be unique and wonderful.

June through December are the cooler and drier months. Even though this is the dry season, a garúa (or light, misty rain) is still possible, particularly in December. Skies can be cloudy and gray.

January through May are the warmer and wetter months, but the rain creates brilliantly clear blue skies between showers — great for photography.

March and April tend to be the hottest and wettest months, while August tends to be the coolest time.

Meanwhile, water temperatures vary throughout the year because of the powerful ocean currents in the archipelago. In the cool and dry season (June through December), the colder currents dominate and the water temperature dips low. A wet suit (likely provided by your boat or hotel) may be required while snorkeling during these months. However, the upside is that the cold current brings in huge quantities of plankton, which attract hungry marine life.

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