A family Galapagos trip to Ecuador’s remote islands is at the very top of many travelers’ bucket lists. However, figuring out the perfect family itinerary that balances an extraordinary experience on an ordinary budget can be tricky. There are so many questions to consider such as:
- Can I travel to the Galapagos independently, or do I have to book a tour?
- How do I get there?
- Are there hotels on the islands, and if so, which ones?
- How do I decide which islands to visit?
- Should I take a cruise? Land tour? Or both?
- Most importantly, how much will a trip to the Galapagos cost? Will I have to sell a kidney to make this dream come true?
Lucky for you, I’ve researched those questions, taken the trip, and created the ultimate DIY family Galapagos vacation, featuring a land and cruise itinerary to the Galapagos Islands and Quito. The best part is that the land based portion is super easy to arrange yourself, saving tons of money!
10-12 Day Itinerary for Family Galapagos Trip
Days 1-2: Quito
Begin your trip with a day or two in Quito. This beautifully preserved city, which sits at an altitude of 9,350′, is not to be missed. Quito holds the distinction of being named the first UNESCO World Cultural Heritage Site in 1978.
We recommend visiting Quito on the front end of your trip because most flights from the U.S. arrive at the Mariscal Airport (Quito) very late at night and you’ll have to spend at least one night anyway. Go ahead and plan to spend two nights so you can check out the city on Day 2. Quito is ~45 minutes from the airport. Take a taxi (~$25-30) and stay in the historic district. Book Your Room In Quito.*
3 Things to Do in Quito
There is plenty to keep you busy in Quito for a day or two. Our recommendations include:
- Community Adventures free walking tour of the historic district including La Ronda, central market, main plazas in Old Town, and colonial churches.
- Climb to the very top of the Basilica del Vote Nacional. It’s the best $2 you’ll spend on the entire trip and it offers an amazing photo op!
Balance an egg on the equator at Mitad del Mundo (Middle of the World). A ~$12 Uber ride will take you to Mitad del Mundo where you can spend an hour or two checking out this quirky monument to the equator.
Days 3-4: Santa Cruz Island
Your journey to Santa Cruz Island begins with a flight from Quito to Baltra Island (GPS), bus ride to canal (~5 mins; free), canal crossing via speedboat to Santa Cruz Island (~5 mins; $1/pp), and bus ($2/pp) or cab (~$18) from canal to Puerto Ayora (~40 mins; ). Don’t be overwhelmed by the number of steps. I promise that this sounds far more complicated than it actually is! Just follow the crowds and you can’t mess up. Book Your Room in Puerto Ayora.*
3 Things to Do on Santa Cruz
- Visit the giant tortoises in the Santa Cruz Highlands. (TIP: consider arranging a stop at the Highlands with your taxi driver on your way from the canal to Puerto Ayora. If you take the Eden cruise, it will be included.)
- Hike to the most beautiful beach in the Galapagos Islands–Tortuga Bay. (Free)
- Hike to the locals’ favorite swimming hole, Las Grietas. ($.80/pp water taxi)
- Book a day trip to Santa Fe or Plaza Sur. (Cost varies)
Days 5-7: Isabela Island
Ferries travel back and forth between Santa Cruz and Isabela twice a day. Buy your tickets at the dock in Puerto Ayora the day before you want to go. (~$30/pp one way; $55/pp round trip). If you’re prone to seasickness, be sure to take Bonine prior to boarding your boat. The seas can be pretty rough.
3 Things to Do on Isabela
- Snorkel Los Tuneles! Besides turtles, you are likely to see white tipped reef sharks and SEAHORSES!!! (BTW…this tour is ONLY available to land-based travelers.) (~$145/pp) PahoehoeGalapagos.com
- Hike to Sierra Negra and Volcan Chica. (~$55/pp) Be sure to bring plenty of water, a hat and sunscreen for this ~9-10 mile hike. There is no shade!
- Snorkel in Concha de Perla. (Free) You’ll have to tiptoe around sleeping sea lions to get to this snorkeling hole.
Days 8-11: MY Eden Cruise from Santa Cruz>Floreana>Espanola>San Cristobal
Take the speedboat ferry back to Santa Cruz and embark on your 4 day cruise to the outer islands of Floreana and Espanola. The MY Eden is a 16 passenger yacht.
We booked our cruise through Happy Gringo and were very pleased with their service. I chose to book through Happy Gringo because they were so helpful in finding a short cruise that spent the majority of the itinerary on the outer islands, rather than spending a lot of time and money on the inner islands that are easy to visit on your own.
Things to Do on Floreana
- Visit Post Office Bay. Be sure to read 5 Tips for visiting Post Office Bay and the follow-up story on the 200-year Galapagos tradition before going.
2. Hike through an underground lava tunnel. Be sure to bring a flashlight or head lamp!
3. Hike, snorkel, view the wildlife. Repeat.
Things to Do on Espanola
- Watched the waved albatross’s courtship ritual.
- Hike, snorkel, view the wildlife. Repeat.
Things to Do on San Cristobal
- Your final day of the cruise should include early morning snorkeling at Kicker Rock. You don’t want to miss this snorkel!
- After you disembark, you will visit the Interpretation Center before heading to the airport. If you have time to spend one more night, then we highly recommend a night at Galeodan Suites in the penthouse. Book Your Room on San Cristobal.
- Spend your last day in the Galapagos Islands sharing your beach towel with the sea lions on Playa Mann, just a few steps away from Galeodan.
DIY Galapagos Land and Cruise Itinerary Offers Best Value
A once-in-a-lifetime family trip to the Galapagos Islands can cost a bundle…but it doesn’t have to. Our suggested 12-day DIY itinerary costs ~$2,760/per person** compared to $6,550/per person** for an 8-day cruise on a similar itinerary. By strategically combining a shorter cruise to the outer islands of Floreana and Espanola with land-based stays on Santa Cruz, Isabela, and San Cristobal, you can drastically slash the total cost of this extraordinary bucket list destination.