Best Way To See The Galapagos: Land VS Cruise

best way to see the Galapagos

When researching a trip the Galapagos Islands, many people ask us 'what is the best way to see the Galapagos?'. The debate of whether to to take a cruise or a land-based tour has raged for years. 

The bad news is the debate is still raging. The good news is there's still some notable differences between the two options, especially when it comes to access and price. 

Like all travel options, there are advantages and disadvantages to both options. Island-hopping tours or 'land-based tours' are becoming increasingly popular thanks to more options and itineraries that are opening up. None the less, cruises are currently the biggest sellers and the quintessential way to see the islands.

Another factor to note is seasickness. Although the waters here are fairly calm, if you suffer from severe seasickness, then your probably better off taking a land-based trip of the Galapagos. See here for our article on Galapagos seasickness

To help you make an informed decision on the best way too see the Galapagos, we've put together this guide. We discuss the pros and cons of both land-based tours and cruise trips so you have all the information you need to choose your perfect itinerary.  

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Land VS Cruise: Costs

Lets start with costs. The simple fact is that visiting the Galapagos Islands is not cheap, regardless when you visit, or if you take a land-based tour or a cruise. That's just the way it goes here. 

For people trying save as much money as possible, a land-based trip to the Galapagos will always be the cheaper option. Although you can get some pretty decent last minute deals on cruises, a land-based option will allow you to purchase food and accommodation cheaply.

Even the most basic budget cruises start at around $200-300 per day, per person. In contrast, you could get a fairly decent hotel for around $50 per night, per person. If you don't mind hostels, then this amount could be a lot less!

However, cruises not only include accommodation, but food and daily excursions. When you include these into a land-based option, the price begins to increase. Food can be purchased very inexpensively from markets, but a day tour snorkelling or bird watching will cost anywhere from $60-100 depending on the level of boat and operator. For diving trips it will be even more expensive.

However, you won't be taking trips every single day. You'll probably spend two days or more exploring the island you're staying on which will be very cheap. For example, if you're staying on Santa Cruz, a day trip to Tortuga Bay will be a free day out.

In terms of facilities, cruise used to win this category easily. The luxurious cruises employed professional chefs, and offered excellent accommodation. Nowadays though, there are plenty of hotel options and many offer fantastic accommodation and service. It really just depends on how much you have to spend.  

Pros/Cons Cost

  • Land-based tour is cheaper
  • Cruises include accommodation, food, and daily activities 
  • Free options for land-based visitors
  • Better accommodation for your money on land
  • Generally better service on a cruise
Galapagos cruise ships

Land VS Cruise: Access & Guides

Whilst land-based options are cheaper and more cost effective, they become a little unstuck when it comes to access and guides. 

In general, the best Galapagos naturalist guides tend to work on cruises because the tips are better. The absolute best guides will be found on the more luxurious cruise ships as the tips are even higher. 

This is not always the case and some expensive day tours have awesome guides. A good guide will bring the wildlife and history of the landscape to life, whilst a mediocre guide will put you to sleep with their facts. Do not assume that all guides speak english either - they don't. For a full explanation of Galapagos guides, please see our page here.

Access is even more important than a good guide. This is where cruises really trump land-based tours - although not as much as they used to. There are numerous sites that only cruises can land. These sites tend to be more protected and offer rarer species of wildlife. This is not to say there aren't plenty of places you can visit via day tours, but the options are certainly less.

The other good point about cruises is that they make more of the day by moving from island to island during the evening and night period. This means that you'll be at your destination at first light and ready to make the most of the day. Land-based tours leave at around 8am or 9am and take several hours sometimes to reach their destination. You'll also visit a greater variety of sites during a cruise which is great to get a good flavour of the entire archipelago.

The advantage of staying on one island during a land visit of the Galapagos is that you get to explore that island in much more depth than you would on a cruise. This gives you a better 'flavour' of the local people, history and landscape of that island.   

Pros/Cons Access & Guides

  • Cruises employ better guides than day tours
  • Cruises have access to many more sites 
  • Cruises spend more time at one site than day tours
  • Land holidays allow a deeper exploration of your chosen island 
Best things to do in the Galapagos - zodiac

Land VS Cruise: Activities 

When it comes to activities, both cruises and day tours offer very similar things. Snorkelling and diving are the most common, but kayaking and hiking are also very popular. 

Kayaking is included on most cruises and you'll get plenty of opportunities to explore the areas you stop. On land, you can hire kayaks, but you won't be able to go as far. See our page on Galapagos kayaking here.

To go diving on a cruise, you need to take a specialist diving cruise. These are quite expensive, but you get a tone of dives included. The dive locations are also the best ones such as Kicker Rock and Shark Rock. See our page here for best cruises.

There are plenty of diving day tours which cost around $150-250 depending on the level of boat and operator. These are ideal if you don't want to dive every day. However, the best sites are only available from certain islands. For instance, if you want to dive at Kicker Rock, you'll have to take a day trip from San Cristobal

Pros/Cons Activities

  • Cruises include activities like kayaking, snorkelling etc.
  • Day trips allow you to dive once instead of all week 
  • Only specialist, expensive cruises offer diving

Get a Cruise Quote!

Expedition Cruise do not sell tours, we simply provide impartial advice. If you would like an exact quote with our recommended specialist click Get a Quote.


If you have any queries or questions regarding the best way to see the Galapagos, please feel free to contact us or leave a comment below.

Thank you and happy travels!

Expedition Cruise Team

About the Author Expedition Cruise is the web’s most authoritative information portal on adventure and expedition cruising. Our mission is to provide up to date and comprehensive information on traveling to the Arctic, Antarctica and further afield, so that your experience is as fulfilling and safe as possible.

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