Pros and Cons of Liveaboards Versus Galapagos Island Hopping Tours
view of sunset from a hotel balcony in san cristobal galapagos

Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About the Pros and Cons of Liveaboards Versus Island Hopping Tours in the Galapagos Islands

How to Maximize Your Trip with the Perfect Hybrid Experience

The Galapagos archipelago is a remote cluster of volcanic islands that lie 1,000 km west of the Ecuadorian continent. Famed for its endemic species and accelerated evolutionary processes, the islands are referred to as a living laboratory. The waters surrounding the islands make up one of the most unique and pristine marine environments on the planet. All of these characteristics make the islands a world-class nature tourism destination, attracting nearly 330,000 visitors in 2023.

The remoteness of the archipelago along with limited tourism operators makes it challenging to plan a trip. We want to make your life easier by taking some of the guesswork out of the logistics and help you navigate your travel options. The following article discusses the pros and cons of the various tourism modalities in Galapagos and how to maximize your experience with a hybridized trip configuration.

There are two major tourism modalities in Galapagos: liveaboard vessel trips and island hopping trips (note: I will not discuss the option of showing up to the islands and “winging it” because this is not recommended for a number of reasons that I can discuss in another article). Liveaboard vessel trips involve navigating to various visitor sites throughout the archipelago aboard a single vessel where you eat and sleep onboard. Their capacities range from 12–100 guests. There are different classes of liveaboard vessels that relate to the level of amenities offered. In contrast, Island Hopping trips involve sleeping in hotels in the island ports and eating in local restaurants. Visitors take daily tours to visitor sites. Both modalities offer advantages and disadvantages. I will discuss the pros and cons of both modalities as they relate to: wildlife observation, cultural experience, group configuration, dining, and price.

Wildlife Observation

Liveaboard Vessel

ProsCons
Liveaboard vessels have access to a larger range of visitor sites. They are able to navigate to the remote sites where certain species such as Galapagos penguins and flightless cormorants live in abundance. Fernandina Island, for instance, has the greatest abundance of endemic species in the entire archipelago; this island is only accessible via liveaboard vessel.There is a schedule that operators must follow. Groups can only spend a certain amount of time observing wildlife at a given site.

 

Island Hopping

ProsCons
There is some flexibility in the sites that you can choose to visit. There is also more flexibility in the amount of time that you can spend observing wildlife at a given site. Access to visitor sites to observe wildlife is more limited than for liveaboard vessels. Some iconic regions of the archipelago, such as western Isabela are inaccessible for a daily tour operator.

 

Cultural Experience

Liveaboard Vessel

ProsCons
Liveaboard vessels usually spend one day in the port of Santa Cruz, where guests can buy souvenirs, visit the fisherman’s pier, or grab a beverage at a local restaurant. Some liveaboard vessels invite local musicians and artists onboard for an evening of entertainment.Guests spend most of their time on the vessel, with relatively little contact with local communities in the ports.

 

Island Hopping

ProsCons
In an island hopping tour, guests spend a substantial amount of time interacting with local communities because visitors eat and sleep in the ports. There are no disadvantages as they relate to cultural experience. 

 

Dining

Liveaboard Vessel

ProsCons
Liveaboard vessels generally offer consistently higher quality food than local restaurants. Most vessels integrate elevated Ecuadorian cuisine. Chefs are typically attentive to special dietary requests. Meals on a liveaboard vessel are typically fixed due to provisions restrictions and planning, thereby reducing the variety of choice for guests.

 

Island Hopping

ProsCons
Guests have a wider variety of options for meals. Furthermore, the opportunity to eat with locals provides visitors with a more authentic experience. There are a few quality restaurants on the islands; however, the island hopping tour operator has less control over food preparation and quality.

 

Price

Liveaboard Vessel

ProsCons
There are “last minute” deals offered occasionally.Liveaboard vessel trips tend to be more expensive, depending on amenities offered.

 

Island Hopping

ProsCons
Island Hopping tours tend to be more economical.There is less uniformity in price for island hopping tours, with some agencies overcharging guests for the products that they offer.

 

With significant pros and cons for both tourism modalities, how does one make the right choice when it comes to planning the perfect trip to the Galapagos Islands? We suggest getting the best of both worlds! With a short cruise and island hopping trip hybrid, you can: visit some of the most remote sites in the archipelago, spend time with local islanders, and observe all of the amazing wildlife that Galapagos has to offer. Here’s what that looks like:

5-Day Cruise in the Central and Western Region of the Archipelago Aboard the Monserrat + 3-Day Island Hopping Tour with Come to Galapagos

Day 1: Bachas Beach
This secluded beach in northern Santa Cruz is home to the largest number of green sea turtle nests in Galapagos. Enjoy an afternoon stroll along the beach and look out for sally light foot crabs, blue footed boobies, frigate birds, and flamingos. Take a refreshing dip and be on the look for baby blacktip reef sharks.

Day 2: Tagus Cove / Urbina Bay
After a long navigation to the western region of the archipelago, you will arrive to the largest island in Galapagos. Tagus Cove is a wonderful place to observe our endemic penguins and flightless cormorants. This area is also a favorite site for the Pacific green sea turtle. After snorkeling, we will make our way up to Darwin’s Lake for a beautiful view of the island.
Urbina Bay is the product of a massive volcanic uplift; guests can observe the remnants of organisms that once lived on the sea floor right on the trail. This is one of the only visitor sites in Galapagos where guests can observe Galapagos giant tortoises in the wild. There are a number of Galapagos land iguanas in the area as well. We may get the chance to observe a few Galapagos penguins feeding in the bay!

Day 3: Espinosa Point / Vicente Roca Point
Fernandina Island is the most pristine island of its size in the world. As the youngest island in the archipelago, Fernandina is the most volcanically active. The island is home to the largest abundance of endemic species in Galapagos. Punta Espinosa is a must see visitor site. The amount of wildlife that is observed there is unparalleled. Marine iguanas, penguins, flightless cormorants, Galapagos hawks, and racer snakes make the site their home. Guests will enjoy a nature walk along the coastline, learning about all of the unique creatures and volcanology of the site.
The waters surrounding Punta Vicente Roca are some of the most nutrient rich in the world. Punta Vicente Roca is one of the best places in Galapagos to observe the Pacific green sea turtle. Sunfish also frequent the area. Snorkeling at this site does not disappoint. Guests will enjoy a zodiac cruise around the bay as well for a chance to photograph and observe a variety of marine life including blue footed boobies, flightless cormorants, penguins, and Galapagos fur seals.

Day 4: Egas Port / Buccaneer Cove
Guests will enjoy a morning nature walk along the coast of Egas Port on Santiago Island. This is a wonderful site for observing shorebirds and unique geological structures. We will snorkel right off of the beach at Egas Point, where sharks, sea lions, and sea turtles can be found.
In the afternoon, guests will enjoy a zodiac cruise around Bucaneers’ Cove. This area is full of interesting birds and geological structures.

Day 5: North Seymour + Flight to San Cristobal Island
Seymour Island is an absolute gem. Frigate birds mate year round at this site, so visitors can observe them at all stages of their life cycle. Blue footed boobies carry out their ceremonial mating dance right off of the trail. Sea lion bask in the sun. Galapagos land iguanas nest in the dry forest. This site is a must see.

Day 6: Loberia + Tijeretas + Carola Beach
Spend the day snorkeling at some of the best sites in San Cristobal Island. Loberia is known for its large colony of Galapagos sea lions – if you’re lucky, you might encounter a playful pup in the water! After lunch, guests will make their way to another snorkeling site called Tijeretas. This beautiful bay lies at the end of a paved trail that winds through a fascinating dry forest. This is a great site for encountering sea lions. Afterward, guests continue along the trail to Carola Beach to watch what locals agree is the most beautiful sunset in all of Galapagos.

Day 7: Kicker Rock
Guests board a locally owned and operated vessel to navigate to a satellite islet called Kicker Rock. This fascinating volcanic formation is home to a number of sharks, rays, and sea turtles. The vertical walls that make up the islet are teeming with vibrant invertebrate life. After snorkeling, guests make their way to a beautiful and secluded white sand beach for lunch.

Day 8: Highlands Tour
Experience a completely different microclimate in the highlands of San Cristobal. You will be amazed by the different types of vegetation that live in the region. Visit a family run farm and learn about the different types of plants that they cultivate. Guests have the opportunity to share a lovely meal with the family as well. After lunch, we will make our way to the San Cristobal giant tortoise preserve and breeding center. We will end the day at a beautiful white sand beach, where guests can take a stroll or go for a refreshing dip in the ocean.

Contact us to plan your Galapagos trip today!

About the Writer:
Alexandra is a naturalist guide and marine scientist in the Galapagos Islands. She has spent the past 12+ years working in marine conservation in the islands. Her experience as a naturalist guide runs the gamut, from large liveaboard vessels and yachts to island hopping trips and daily tours. Alexandra has guided groups comprised of various demographics, including children and families, younger couples, and individual travelers. Her perspective on tourism in Galapagos is informed by her passion for conservation and maximizing visitor experience.