Travelers planning an island-hopping adventure are likely to put the Caribbean at the top of the list—and with good reason. After all, all-stars of the Caribbean like the U.S. Virgin Islands, the Dominican Republic, and St. Vincent and the Grenadines (to name a few), are known for their vacation-friendly resorts; stunning tropical scenery; and a plethora of fun things to do for people looking for adventure on both land and sea.

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And while the Caribbean undoubtedly is one of the best spots for tropical getaways, there are a number of other islands worth checking out that often fall under the radar though they are equally as beautiful and inviting—and the Galápagos Islands is at the top of the list. A unique and isolated place filled with a stunning array of flora, fauna, and singular natural beauty, the Galápagos Islands are also an amazing place to visit for travelers looking for a one-of-a-kind island adventure.

About The Galápagos Islands

Situated about 600 miles off the coast of Ecuador, the Galápagos Islands remained virtually untouched by human intervention until the 19th century—and that, combined with its relative isolation and geological location, is what has made it a hotbed of ecological diversity. Made famous by a young Charles Darwin after an early visit in 1835 and subsequently, in his work On the Origin of Species, the island group has risen in popularity as a destination for those who wish to experience its stunning biodiversity for themselves.

A UNESCO World Heritage Site and Ecuador’s first national park, the Galápagos Islands consist of about 127 islands, islets, and rock groups—only four of which are inhabited. Surrounded by the Galápagos Marine Reserve (one of the largest in the world), the islands’ diversity is evident on both land and sea—and visits to this stunning spot are highly regulated to ensure there is minimal disruption to the existing ecosystem.

But this doesn’t mean that booking an unforgettable trip to the islands is difficult—it just requires a bit of planning. Below are some of the best ways to island-hop and create a customizable vacation to this amazing archipelago.

By Land Or By Sea

Visitors to the Galápagos must first decide where to set up camp; as this can often dictate both how and when they will be able to explore the islands. Land-based vacations involve a stay on one of the inhabited islands and exploring via day-trip boat rides, while boat-based excursions include both accommodations and travel—a way to island-hop without taking the time to factor in daily transportation to and from the boat. While both options have their pros and cons, most experts recommend booking a cruise over a land-based stay for several reasons, including cost. Boat-based vacations also offer vacationers to spend more time traveling the islands and less time arranging daily transportation to and from their hotel.

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Where To Stay On Land

There are several places to stay on the inhabited islands of the Galápagos, and the best island-hopping strategy is to book one that’s close to a harbor (aka close to boat departures for day trips). Both Santa Cruz Island and San Cristóbal Island have an array of accommodation options for those looking for a more land-based vacation—and some even have their own boats available to allow a seamless transition from land to sea.

  • The Finch Bay Galápagos Hotel is the complete package for those looking for a land-based Galápagos experience—beachside location, luxe accommodations, and a private yacht for island hopping
  • Oceanfront views, five-star accommodations, and access to both land and sea transport make San Cristobal’s Golden Bay Galápagos one of the best spots to stay on the islands
  • Pikaia Lodge is eco-tourism at its finest—a beautiful spot where guests can enjoy a plethora of both land and sea-based activities by day, and comfy, scenic lodging by night

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Sea-Based Itineraries

The best way to make the most out of a trip to the Galápagos Islands is by booking a multi-day cruise—most tourist boats offer all-inclusive itineraries, and there are plenty of options; from smaller crafts and catamarans to live-aboard dive boats, mid-sized marvels to luxe, larger ships.

  • Ecoventura offers the best of both worlds—small, 20-person yachts that are stately, elegant, and intimate paired with one of the best seven-night itineraries available
  • The National Geographic Islander is one of the best options for sea-based Galápagos tours—mid-sized, yet still intimate, this iconic boat features ocean views and multiple packages for easy vacation customization
  • Maxing out at 100 passengers, the largest ships have more space to spread out—but guests should note that they can’t always access certain spots in the Galápagos. However, for a core cruise ship-esque experience, the Silversea Silver Origin is the ultimate splurge for its luxury accommodations and ultimate expedition experiences
  • Experienced divers can choose boats with trips geared toward the best dive spots, and Explorer Ventures offers two separate itineraries with unforgettable underwater tours that include diving at both Wolf and Darwin Islands

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Top Sights On The Archipelago

Availability to the islands is often contingent upon where visitors set up their home base and which tours they choose to plan while exploring. However, the following are some of the islands’ top sights for travelers to keep in mind when visiting the gorgeous Galápagos Islands.

  • Isabela Island is the Galápagos’ largest, and there’s plenty here to keep visitors busy—including the quiet town of Puerto Villamil. Join a tour or simply choose your own adventure; the area’s white-sand beaches, numerous restaurants, and tourist attractions like the Sierra Negra Volcano and the Wall of Tears make it a great place to spend a day (or two)
  • Santa Cruz island has plenty of great spots to explore, including Tortuga Bay and El Chato Tortoise Reserve, where visitors can scope one of the islands’ most famous animals—the giant tortoise. Also located here is the popular Puerto Ayora, where travelers can grab a bite to eat, shop, and enjoy the town’s nightlife
  • With its tranquil, quiet vibes, San Cristobal is one of the most laidback spots in the Galápagos—but there’s still plenty to do here, too. Take a hike to the top of Frigate Bird Hill then visit Charles Darwin’s commemorative statue; book a snorkeling tour to Kicker Rock; visit the scenic Lagoon El Junto for some prime birdwatching, or swim with the sea lions at Puerto Chino Beach

A trip to the Galápagos Islands is an unforgettable adventure for anyone looking for one of the most distinctive island experiences around. And while a trip to the Galápagos may require slightly more planning than a typical Caribbean getaway, it’s well worth it to experience one of the planet’s most beautiful and unique places. Full of fun by both land and sea, the islands’ distinctive biodiversity; jaw-dropping scenery; and abundance of adventurous activities make for a once-in-a-lifetime vacation destination for any traveler.

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