How to Visit the Galápagos Islands Without a Cruise

October 28, 2023

With clear crystal waters, sumptuous sands, and weird and wonderful wildlife, a trip to the Galápagos is truly a once-in-a-lifetime adventure! It’s no wonder then, that a visit to these idyllic islands is top of many a traveler’s bucket list.

While cruises have traditionally been the go-to way to experience the Galápagos, here at Academy Bay Diving we’re seeing more and more people choosing to stay on one of the islands instead. And given all the benefits, we’re not surprised!

Sleeping on solid ground gives you the freedom to pick and choose exactly where you want to go and what you want to see and do. It’s also a better choice if you suffer with seasickness, and it’s cheaper to boot.

So, whether you’re on a budget, or just want to experience the wonder of the islands at your own pace – keep reading to find out exactly how to visit the islands without a cruise, and why a land-based stay makes for a great Galápagos vacay! And if we inspire you to explore the Galápagos with us, check out our Daily Galapagos Land Tours.

Transport Tips and Tricks

If you’re planning a DIY trip to this dream destination, the first thing you’ll need to know is how to actually get here.

The only way to reach the Galápagos is to fly in from Ecuador, as there aren’t any international flights to the islands. So, you’ll need to book a flight into Quito or Guayaquil in Ecuador first, then another flight to and from one of the two airports in the Galápagos.

If you’re staying on Santa Cruz Island, Baltra Airport is your best bet. It’s the closest, and from the airport you can get a free shuttle to the ferry that’ll take you to Santa Cruz, then a bus or taxi onwards to Puerto Ayora.

Are your sights on staying in San Cristóbal? Just fly into San Cristóbal Airport on the south-west edge of the island.

And if island-hopping sounds ideal, book a flight into Baltra and out of San Cristóbal (or vice versa) – that way you get to experience both of these beautiful islands.

People diving into blue and green water between two rocky cliffs.

Photo: Kiyoshi

Where to Stay in the Galápagos

The first question we often get asked by visitors considering a land-based stay in the Galápagos is: ‘Which island should I choose?’
And the good news is, picking where to stay isn’t as difficult as you might think. Of the 13 major islands that make up the Galápagos, there are only a few you can actually sleep on overnight – the most popular of which are Santa Cruz, Isabela, and San Cristóbal.

While you’ll get to experience the magic of the Galápagos by staying on any of these islands, we recommend opting for Santa Cruz. As well as being a tourist hotspot with plenty of things to see and do, its main town, Puerto Ayora, is a prime departure point for popular day tours to other nearby islands. For example, you could stay in Santa Cruz but take our Isabella Island Day Tour.

One huge plus of going for a land-based stay is that you can tailor your trip to your preferences. So, whether you want to explore endless dive sites, see the awesome animals that live on the Galápagos’ varied terrain, or both, a combination of guided day tours to other islands and self-guided tours in and around Santa Cruz is the way to go.

A person walking on a wooden bridge through a green forest.

Photo: Kiyoshi

Guided Tours in the Galápagos Islands

With numerous day trips and tours departing from Puerto Ayora daily, the wondrous world of the Galápagos is your oyster!

Although you can book most trips in person when you arrive, booking in advance can save you time and hassle, and make sure you get to visit the places that are top of your must-see list.

One of the dreamiest diving destinations in the archipelago, you’ll find lots of daily snorkeling and scuba diving tours on offer in Santa Cruz, like the chance to splash in the surf with sea lion pups on our Academy Bay Day Tour, or dive with white tip reef and hammerhead sharks on our Floreana Day Tour.

Prefer to stay on solid ground? From swimming with green sea turtles at Tortuga Bay, to ogling marine iguanas on Santa Fe – our daily Galápagos land tours are every bit as good as our diving excursions.

If planning daily trips sounds like too much of a hassle, you can opt for a multi-day trip instead, like one of our multi-day Galápagos diving packages or Galápagos land tour packages. Ranging from a few days to an extensive two-week extravaganza, these tours often include accommodation, food, and travel between sites – so you can sit back, relax, and enjoy the Galápagos getaway of your dreams!

Four brown tortoises on rocky ground.

Photo: Deb Dowd

Self-Guided Tours

As if being home to some of the best dive sites in the islands wasn’t enough, there are also loads of things to see and do on Santa Cruz without needing to book a tour.

From getting up close and personal with iconic Galápagos giant tortoises at the El Chato Reserve, to learning all about the ecosystem and endemic species of the Galápagos at the Charles Darwin Research Station, exploring on your own allows you to be more flexible and go at your own pace.

See some of our favorite places to explore without a guide, here.

No Cruise? No Problem!

As you can see, visiting the Galápagos without a cruise isn’t as tricky as you might think!

If you’re ready to start planning your dream stay, why not have a look at our daily Galápagos diving tours? Departing from our dive shop in Santa Cruz daily, we’ve handpicked the best spots for swimming among the islands’ enigmatic sea life.

And if you’ve got a bit more time on your hands and want to elevate your Galápagos experience, check out our multi-day Galápagos diving packages.

Wherever you decide to visit, be sure to follow any guidelines to help preserve and protect the natural environments, ecosystems, and wildlife that make these wonder-filled islands so special.

If you have any questions about our tours, or anything else, just get in touch and we’ll be happy to help.

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