A family cruise is the ideal way to explore these famed islands during a once-in-a-lifetime adventure.
Remote. Isolated. Pristine. Situated 600 miles off the coast of Ecuador, the Galápagos Islands are more than a tropical getaway. If your family is looking for sand and surf, go elsewhere. This protected archipelago should be reserved for families seeking once-in-a-lifetime wildlife encounters.
Charles Darwin visited the Galápagos Islands in 1835, and his observations became the basis for his theory of evolution. More than a century later, you can see what Darwin saw: species that have adapted to survive, species who have no fear of man, and species that can be found nowhere else on earth. While an African safari offers amazing wildlife viewing, a Galápagos tour promises extraordinary access; but things could be changing. As our naturalist explained on a recent cruise, the Ecuadorean government is considering opening the Galápagos to more development that many fear could impact this delicate ecosystem.
You fly to either Quito or Guayaquil, Ecuador, and then on to the Galápagos. Families may be tempted to base themselves on a major island and book day trips. Don’t. In my opinion, the only way to experience the real Galápagos is on a cruise. Companies operate trips for 16 to 100 passengers. Bigger ships have more amenities and provide smoother sailing. However, these ships aren’t allowed to visit some of the smaller, more interesting islands. And when you disembark, your family is sharing that island with lots of people. A better option? We took a holiday family cruise with Ecoventura on a 90-foot ship that carried just 20 passengers.
The Galápagos archipelago is made up of 13 major islands. Each ship’s itinerary is strictly regulated by the national park service. Companies typically offer a northern or southern route. The difference? Our guide says the wildlife viewing is similar; however in the south, you’ll see Waved albatrosses and in the north, the Galápagos penguins. We voted for penguins! Other companies offer a western or eastern route; in my opinion, the western route is a better option than the eastern one.
When to go?
The Galápagos Islands are a year-round destination. The peak season is from mid-June to early September (winter) and mid-December to mid-January (summer). Summer brings warmer air and water temperatures with short rainy periods. During the winter, the water is colder, but fish are more abundant. (Not to worry, you will see plenty of fish, even in the summer.) Different species mate at different times; you’ll likely see some group in action. If you’re prone to seasickness, seas are calmer in the summer, but you should come prepared for a few queasy days at the start of your cruise.
What to do?
The Galápagos Islands are for wildlife enthusiasts. Period. On a typical cruise, you’ll spend half your time kayaking or snorkeling in the water with sea turtles, sea lions, marine iguanas, and penguins. Click here to swim with penguins. Believe me, it’s incredible enough to impress even teenagers. The other half of your day will be spent on nature walks on land or Zodiac rides through mangroves. The bird life is spectacular; Blue-footed boobies are my favorite. And as you navigate between islands, you’ll likely see pods of dolphins or whales. All the while, your onboard naturalists will be providing you with information about both the wildlife and the islands, themselves.
You get what you pay for in the Galápagos. For a 7-night/8-day cruise in the least expensive cabin category, you’re looking at approximately $18,000-20,000 for a family of four, not including your flight to Quito or Guayaquil plus hotel. However, after taking the cruise, I would recommend a shorter 5-day/6-night option for families instead.
KidTripster Tip: You may be tempted to add an additional tour (“well, we’re already in South America…”). We went on to Machu Picchu in Peru; but in retrospect, it probably was too much travel for two weeks.
KidTripster Tip: One last thing, before going to the Galápagos, make sure your kids read a little something about Charles Darwin. It doesn’t have to be the Origin of Species; just something to get them primed for the truly unique place that they’re about to experience.
Click here for 8 ways to know if your child is ready for a Galápagos cruise.