Land based tours of the Galápagos

Think ‘Galápagos holidays’ and what springs to mind: island hopping on cruise ships? Sailing schedules? Nights at sea, at the mercy of the waves? In the past this was certainly the case, but these days, land based tours of the Galápagos offer travellers a much more affordable opportunity to go beyond the boats and into the landscapes of one of the world’s most exciting, animal-filled archipelagos.

These Galápagos tours put tourist funds where they’re needed most: into the pockets of local people, the Galapagueños. Staying on land gives visitors a fuller understanding of the islands’ natural habitats as well as delving deeper into the cultural history and the day to day lives of around 30,000 human inhabitants. Land based tours encourage travellers to make the most of the inhabited islands of San Cristóbal, Floreana, Isabela and Santa Cruz, staying in locally owned hotels and guesthouses where you’ll experience the marketplaces, cafes and coastal village restaurants.
Although you're based on dry land there are still plenty of opportunities to sail to uninhabited islands, such as North Seymour and Bartolomé, where you can seek out spots for snorkelling, sea kayaking or swimming with sea lions and turtles. You might not get as far from the main islands as you would on a liveaboard boat; however, you will experience local Galapagueño culture as well as having the freedom to explore with a guide long after the cruise ship tourists have packed up and headed back to sea.
Daniel Pawlyn, from our Galápagos land based holiday supplier, Intrepid Travel:
“Being land based, we got a good chance to absorb the different atmosphere and observe the way of life on the islands. We visited Santa Cruz’s fish market early in the morning, watched pelicans beg for scraps, ate wonderful seafood in local restaurants and bumped into sea lions on the way home from the pub… experiences that you might not get on a liveaboard. All the islands we stayed on were inhabited and we stayed in the ‘main towns’, often with sandy streets and a sleepy feel.”

What are the benefits of a Galápagos land based holiday?

If you're not keen on spending too much time at sea, the benefits of a land based tour are quite apparent. For instance, you don't have to worry as much about sea conditions – which tend to be rougher from June to November. Land based tours are also highly recommended for families, as they alleviate the pressure of being cooped up on a boat. There are also no rigid sailing itineraries, and plenty more freedom for children to run around and explore in their own time. Staying on dry land, as a family, can also make things feel a whole lot more familiar too and settle children, and parents, who may feel they have to keep an eye on younger kids while they are up on deck.
Tim Winkworth, father of three boys as well as a specialist for our supplier, the Family Adventure Company: “Most families anticipate that the Galápagos would be out of their price range, but by staying in a hotel you can cut the cost virtually in half. The boats are fine for children, but in my opinion you can actually improve the experience by giving them space – and the parents have more space too. It's just a bit more relaxing, and definitely better to let the kids go a bit wild and still see all the wonderful wildlife. Traditionally it's one of those places that people have believed are out of their reach. And that’s why I'm delighted that there are now tours that they can do.”
One more perk: although there are plenty of Ecuadorian-owned boats and local crews, there's nothing like staying at a locally owned guesthouse or eating out at a neighbourhood restaurant to ensure your hard-earned holiday funds go directly into the pockets of those who should benefit the most.

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When is the best time to go on a Galápagos land based tour?

Seasons are split into cool and dry (June – November) and warm and wet (December – June). Wildlife in the Galápagos doesn't actually disappear at any point during the year; however, warmer sea temperatures and clearer underwater visibility make any time between December and June the best time to go on a land based holiday, despite the threat of rain.

The majority of animals breed and nest during February, March and April, to coincide with spring flowers and insects, perfect for hiking trips, whereas giant tortoises hatch during November and December. Rougher sea conditions, including strong currents, from June to November, often cause sailing ships to batten down their hatches however, for land based travellers, cooler temperatures and a lack of rain signal a good time to go to the Galápagos without the crowds and without the humidity.
Fausto Sarango, Intrepid Travel's General Manager for Ecuador and the Galápagos:
“Land based trips on the Galápagos are run throughout the year however, I'd advise avoiding July and August if you're not good with rougher and colder seas. Although it's a land based trip we travel between islands on speed boats which can bump around on heavy seas. There is no 'best time' for wildlife – you can see everything throughout the year.”
Written by Chris Owen
Photo credits: [Page banner: Ian Masias] [Intro: John Haxby] [Daniel Pawlyn advice: Mark Rowland] [Food: David Berkowitz] [Best time to go : Jeremy T. Hetzel]