Travel Spotlight

Galápagos Land Tours: The Best Ways to Visit the Islands Without a Cruise

Though many travelers assume that a cruise is the only way to experience the splendor of the Galápagos islands, a land-based journey can offer its own unique advantages in addition to the creature comforts of a traditional hotel stay.

A full-service hotel perched atop a dormant volcano, Pikaia Lodge, with its chic, minimalist design and impressive conservationist focus, is one of our favorite properties to use as your base while exploring the archipelago. Pikaia provides access to a luxury yacht for daily excursions, after which guests can retreat to the hotel to enjoy dinner at Evolution restaurant, where Michelin-starred chefs prepare excellent dishes of Ecuadorian and fusion cuisine and diners don’t have to worry about choppy seas knocking their wine glasses off the table. At Pikaia, travelers can also enjoy consistent and flexible access to amenities that may not be available on even the top private yachts, including a full-service gym, spa, restaurant, satellite television, WiFi and pool.

Pikaia Lodge, Courtesy Sivan Askayo

Pikaia Lodge, Courtesy Sivan Askayo
Related: Perspectives on the Galápagos

For week-long stays at Pikaia, the itinerary is typically structured around an island boat trip in the morning and a return to the lodge in the afternoon, when you can choose from a multitude of land-based activities. Guests can take a bike ride around the property and cycle past giant tortoises, beautiful sea birds and massive sinkholes. Taxi into the town of Puerto Ayora for a stroll on the charming main street, which is lined with restaurants and shops. Other prime options include exploring the fresh fish market and relaxing on one of the world’s best beaches, Tortuga Bay.

On a land-based trip, mornings usually begin with an hour-long, early morning drive to your boat. Guests then enjoy breakfast during the two- to three-hour boat ride to the day’s island adventure. (On a cruise, this transit time often occurs while guests are still asleep.) While a cruise can offer the flexibility to explore a greater number and variety of islands, these daytrips allow you to explore the flora and fauna of the Galápagos without traveling to the outermost islands.

Pikaia Lodge, Courtesy Sivan Askayo

Pikaia Lodge, Courtesy Sivan Askayo
Related: Galápagos: Ten to Know

Ultimately, the particular benefits and challenges of both land- and sea-based itineraries appeal to different types of travelers. A sea-based itinerary is best for anyone who doesn’t mind long trips aboard smaller boats and who craves the opportunity to see numerous islands by sailing through the archipelago, while a hotel-based voyage ensures greater space and more amenities, as well as a chance to see the mainland. You can’t really go wrong with either option, since both itineraries explore some of the most untouched places on earth in this once-in-a-lifetime destination.

- Cameron MacMillan

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