The Galapagos Islands are a kid’s paradise! With tons of wildlife and outdoor activities, the excitement will run high for your entire trip! You’ll encounter sea lions, sea turtles, sharks, flamingos, penguins, and so much more! Even better, there are growing options for accommodations in the Galapagos Islands, so traveling to the Galapagos with kids doesn’t have to break the bank!
Ages: While younger kiddos would certainly love to see all of the wildlife that the Galapagos Islands have to offer, I’d probably wait until kids are a bit older to travel to the Galapagos with kids. Many of the things to see and do here involve a bit of walking, and if you want to enjoy the snorkeling, you’ll want to make sure that your kids are decent swimmers. That age might vary from kid to kid, but you know your child best and can determine when you feel they’re up for this type of adventure.
Where: Sitting right on the equator, the Galapagos Islands are off the coast of Ecuador. The islands were never connected to mainland, so many of the species living on the islands are unique to the Galapagos.
When to go: There isn’t really a wrong time to visit the Galapagos islands, but here are a few things to consider when booking your trip:
- Peak Season: The peak tourist season in the Galapagos is from mid-June through early September. Many people also vacation from mid-December through mid-January. You’re less likely to feel secluded in nature during these times (though it will never be crowded). National parks limit how many people can go on each island at any given time, so more advanced booking/ planning may be necessary.
- Best Prices: You’re likely to find better deals on cruises and accommodation during the low tourist season- April & May, and September & October.
- Best Snorkeling & Diving: While snorkeling and diving are great year-round, you’ll see a greater variety of marine life from June through November. Waters are cooler during this time of year, attracting more fish, but you’ll have to brave the cold waters to get to see them. The presence of more fish brings penguins, pelicans and sea birds as well.
- Wildlife: The breeding and migratory schedule is different for each anima
GETTING TO THE GALAPAGOS
There are two airports in the Galapagos- Baltra and San Cristobal. You can fly into one airport and leave from the other, and this could potentially save you money. You’ve got to fly from Guayaquil or Quito, and tickets aren’t cheap ($350-$430). Flights from Quito will have a layover in Guayaquil, and are usually a bit more expensive. You shouldn’t have trouble booking just a few days in advance. If fact, you might even be able to find a last minute deal! Getting to the Galapagos with kids might be a bit of an investment, but totally worth it once you’re there! When you arrive, you’ll also need to pay the Galapagos National Park fee of $100 per passenger.
Baltra is a tiny island with nothing but an airport. Some cruises leave directly from Baltra, but many leave from Puerto Ayora, on Santa Cruz Island (right next to Baltra). From Baltra, you’ll take a minibus to a ferry, and the ferry over to Santa Cruz Island. You’ll then need to take a bus or cab to your hotel or port.
If you fly in to San Cristobal, you’ll have the option to stay on this island as there are some attractions and activities here (more info on those below).
TO CRUISE OR NOT TO CRUISE?
It used to be that booking a cruise was the only way to see the Galapagos Islands. In 2012, hotels and campsites started popping up on Santa Cruz, San Cristobal, and Isla Isabela. Both cruise-based tours and land-based tours have their pros and cons. Read on to figure out what’s best for your family!
Cruises are said to better preserve the animal habitats of the Galapagos. Most cruises are 5-14 days in length. You’ll cruise around the islands, go on excursions during the day, and sleep on board at night. Cruises also have knowledgeable staff to teach you about the different animal and plant species and the ecosystem of the islands. There are also specific cruises geared towards families, with tailored talks for the kiddos. Tour paces are most suitable for younger passengers and you also won’t have to worry about bugging those without children.
On a cruise, everything is planned and taken care of for you, and sleeping on a boat can be fun! Cruises can also take you to the outer, more remote islands that you wouldn’t be able to reach on a land-based tour. Keep in mind that this is only true of the longer cruises. Shorter cruises will stay near the main island. See our Galapagos cruises!
The downside of cruising is that schedules can be jam-packed with activities leaving less time for relaxation. Cruise schedules sometimes include early morning departures or later evenings, which may be challenging with children. On tours, you’ve got to stick with the herd, which means everyone will be clamoring to see the same sea lion!
If you choose a land-based tour, you are in charge of your own schedule! If you need a break from touring and want to spend time playing on the beach, it’s no problem! You also don’t need to worry about sticking to a strict timetable with early morning departures and late nights.
There are growing accommodation options on the islands (in towns and at campsites), making it easier to plan a land-based tour of the Galapagos Islands. Puerto Ayora is home to beautiful black and white sand beaches, and numerous bays. Once cruise ships leave, the area is all yours! Because cruises have limited space and high demand, they tend to be a bit more expensive. Staying on land could potentially cut the cost of your trip in half!
There is a ton to do in the Galapagos with kids! Depending on which islands you visit, and the time of year, you will see different birds, reptiles, mammals and marine animals. The bigger islands will also have highlands tours that takes you to see attractions that are on the inner parts of the island. If you really like warm water for snorkeling, choose a cruise that goes to the northern islands; around the southern islands, the water is much colder. Scuba diving and snorkeling excursions can be booked on any island, or you can rent snorkeling equipment to bring with you to local beaches. I’ll note a few exceptional spots below. Don’t be surprised if you see rays and hammerhead sharks!
Santa Cruz Island, and more specifically, Puerto Ayora, is where many visitors will begin their Galapagos vacation. Puerto Ayora is home to about 18,000 people. Several other islands are an easy day excursion from here as well. Shop around when you’re looking to book excursions, as prices can really vary from company to company.
Charles Darwin Research Center
The Charles Darwin Research Center tops most lists of places to go while in the Galapagos with kids. This research center is home to giant tortoises (and their baby hatchlings!) and iguanas, has a turtle breeding center, and an information center to learn all about the wildlife in the area. Animals here are in captivity, so if you’ve seen plenty of tortoises and iguanas in the wild, this could be a bit anticlimactic. Recent reviews (as of April 2016) say that their facility is under renovations, so there may not be as much to see. Check their website or recent reviews to check on the status!
This beautiful beach is a 30-40 minutes walk to get to, but is definitely worth your effort. The beach has plenty of wildlife viewing opportunities, and you might see sea turtle nests, flamingos, pelicans, or iguanas (among others) . Rent surfboards or boogie boards and play in the waves, or rent a kayak to search for marine wildlife! The sun can be rather hot and shade is limited on the walk to the bay. Be sure to bring your own water and snacks as there aren’t vendors on the beach.
Las Grietas is a great place to go exploring and take a swim in the cool ocean water between two tall cliffs. From Puerto Ayora, you’ll take a water taxi to the other side of the island, and then hike about 15 minutes to get to Las Grietas. The water is really clear, though if you snorkel, you won’t see much aside from a few fish. You’ll see people diving off the shorter cliffs into the water, but this activity isn’t really recommended as there are lots of rocks under the surface of the water. If you’re feeling adventurous, try to find the underwater tunnels or secret cove!
El Chato Tortoise Reserve
At El Chato Tortoise Reserve, you’ll get to see tortoises roaming free in their natural habitat. This reserve is part of Galapagos National Park, and includes two main areas- La Caseta and Cerro Chato. While guides aren’t required, they are recommended as terrain can be tough and it’s easy to get lost. You can walk to the reserve from the village of Santa Rosa. The reserve is also home to many more animals, including some rare bird species.
Rancho Primicias is another great option if you’re wanting to see giant tortoises in the wild. This is a private reserve next to El Chato Reserve. There’s also a small cafe if you’re looking for a snack. During your visit, be sure walk through the giant lava tunnel that is about 300 meters long!
The capital town of this archipelago is Puerto Baquerizo Moreno, and likely is where you’ll find accommodation. This town is dominated by sea lions, so you’re likely to get up close and personal with a few during your stay. It’s wise to book snorkeling and diving excursions as soon as you arrive on San Cristobal, as some might not run every day. Excursions on San Cristobal can also be booked while on Santa Cruz.
The Interpretation Center is a great (free!) place to learn about the history of the Galapagos Islands. You’ll find lots of exhibits that highlight the natural history of the islands and some about the current problems that the islands are facing. There are a few hiking trails that start from here as well. One of the trails near here will take you to Punta Carola Beach, a small beach with sea lions and great snorkeling!
Another popular excursion from San Cristobal is to Isla Lobos. About a 40-minute boat ride from Puerto Baquerizo Moreno, this small island is packed full of sea lions, iguanas, and blue footed boobies. A protected channel off of Isla Lobos is a perfect place to snorkel with sea lions. Some trips will stop here on the way to Kicker Rock.
Isabela is the place to go if you’re looking for that laid-back, beachy atmosphere. This is the biggest island in the archipelago, and it will be less crowded, as cruises don’t stop here. The biggest town here is Puerto Villamil, and likely where you’ll find a hostel to stay. There are plenty of beaches and surf spots to enjoy, or rent a bike and ride around to create your own adventure. When you get to Isabella, there is a $5 arrival tax per person.
The Sierra Negra Volcano rises almost 4,500 feet above the island. The volcano is a 45-minute drive from Villamil, and you can easily spend hours at the crater, which is 6 miles in diameter (the second largest in the world!). You can hike or take a horse trek around the crater. Either way, you’re in for some spectacular views!
Las Tintoreras is a small group of islands off of Puerto Villamil with tons of wildlife. This is a great snorkeling spot, and you may have the chance to swim with sea turtles, sea lions, rays, and reef sharks. Penguins and iguanas are known to live on the islands as well. It is not recommended to snorkel here is you are not a confident swimmer. Kayaks are available to rent and may be a better option for those with less swimming skill.
Concha de Perla
Concha de Perla is another great snorkeling spot that is very close to the pier. It’s a little bit busier with locals, but it’s an easy walk (and no boat is required!). You’ll see more marine life if you go when the tide is low.
About an hour’s boat ride from Isabela lies naturally-occurring underwater stone tunnels that are the remains of lava tubes. The scenery is truly out-of-this-world! You boat will navigate through a maze of lava tunnels, and you may have the opportunity to get out and walk across one (a “natural bridge”). There is also some fantastic snorkeling here!
A Few Miscellaneous Spots
Many visitors will rent bikes or book a taxi to take them around to a few of Isabela’s random attractions. Here are a few you may want to check out:
- Cueva de Sucre: A short trail passes through vegetation and take you to a lava tunnel that you can explore. There is also a tree nursery on-site that is interesting to check out.
- Tortoise Breeding Center: This center breeds tortoises in captivity. Tour guides are really knowledgeable about the tortoises, but the tortoises are not roaming free as they are at facilities on other islands.
- Wall of Tears: An interesting historical site, the Wall of Tears was built by prisoners from 1946-1959. Prisoners had to cut out large volcanic rock, carry them long distances, and build this wall by hand, stone by stone.
What to Bring
Aside from clothing and the other regular items that you would pack, here are a few other things to consider bringing:
- Sunscreen- bring lots of sunscreen! The sun is intense in the Galapagos!
- Binoculars- great for viewing wildlife from a distance.
- Snorkeling gear- while not mandatory as snorkel gear can be rented, it might be nice to have snorkels and fins with you, especially in kid’s sizes. You might also want to consider wetsuits for snorkeling in chilly water.
- Water shoes- you might want some extra traction while walking along the beaches. Some beaches are a bit rocky, so proper footwear can help protect your feet.
- Something to combat seasickness- whether you use a pill, bracelet, or something else, you’ll want to have something handy for seasickness on the choppy ocean waters.
- Underwater camera- to capture your underwater adventures!
- Flashlights- if you want to explore in the lava tubes, this can help guide the way.
Has you been to the Galapagos with kids? If you have additional tip or a favorite location that you’d like to share, I’d love to hear about it! Feel free to leave a comment below!
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Written by: Sarah Lawrence