The Galapagos Islands are the ultimate travel destination for anyone who loves nature, animals, or photography. These iconic islands are abundant with unique landscapes and rare species of exotic animals you won’t find anywhere else in the world.
If visiting the Galapagos Islands is on your bucket list, you may be wondering which are the most beautiful islands to visit, where to see the most animals, how many days to spend in the Galapagos Islands, and the best way to visit the Galapagos Islands.
Keep reading below for our guide to the Galapagos Islands and tips for planning your perfect trip!
We visited the Galapagos Islands in late May 2018 on a 5 day / 4 night Northern Islands cruise on board the Santa Cruz II with Metropolitan Touring. We’d heard from other travelers who had visited the islands multiple times that a cruise was the best way to visit the Galapagos, because you get to visit more secluded islands that you can’t visit any other way.
The Galapagos Islands are a national park and entry is highly regulated. The Galapagos National Park Service takes extreme caution to protect the islands. Anyone visiting the islands, no matter if you go on your own, on a tour, or on a cruise, must be with a certified Galapagos Naturalist at all times. You cannot explore the islands on your own.
Ships visiting the islands are only allowed to visit an island once every 2 weeks. Their route and itinerary must be applied for and approved by the Galapagos National Park Service a year in advance.
Watch the video above!
Swimming with penguins, sea lions, sea turtles, sharks, and a giant manta ray in the Galapagos Islands!
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Metropolitan Touring is one of South America’s best known and well respected travel companies. They were one of the pioneers of travel to the Galapagos Islands, and have been leading tours and expeditions to the Galapagos Islands for over 60 years.
If you’re considering a trip to the Galapagos, I highly recommend booking with an established tour company like Metropolitan Touring, because they know best islands to visit, their ships have the best routes, and they have been working closely with the Galapagos National Park Service for decades.
The Santa Cruz II holds a maximum of 90 passengers. In most cases I prefer to travel in a small group, but for visiting the Galapagos Islands, it’s actually better to go on a bigger ship like the Santa Cruz II.
Like I mentioned earlier, you have to be with your official Galapagos Naturalist at all times. Tourists are put in groups of 16 people per Naturalist. On the Santa Cruz II, your cruise director will review your profile and carefully put you in a group with other people with your similar interests, fitness level, and most importantly — who speak your language. If you go on a smaller tour, you may be grouped with people who move more slowly than you, or make you feel rushed, or who don’t speak your language so your Naturalist has to repeat everything in multiple languages.
The Santa Cruz II appeals to all types of travelers — young, active, retired, and those with children, so you’ll be more likely to be grouped with other travelers like you.
Since the Santa Cruz II has more passengers and more guides, they can also offer more activities. Would you rather go snorkeling with sea lions, kayaking, take a glass-bottom boat ride, lay on the beach, or go on a nature hike? On a larger ship you can choose from multiple activities like these, and not just be stuck whatever your small group is doing.
Not only does Metropolitan Touring work close with the Galapagos National Park Service, but they also give back to the local Galapagos community.
Metropolitan Touring has a foundation for the local school children. When they have extra rooms available on their ship, they don’t discount them and try to sell them last minute — they give them to local school children and their teachers who could never afford to experience their own country like this.
When Metropolitan Touring retired the Santa Cruz I ship, they took one final farewell cruise with all local children and teachers. By law, only a Galapagos citizen like these children can hold government office in the Galapagos. These children will be the politicians of the future and will make laws regarding the islands. They need to see them and experience the islands for themselves so they can see what a treasure they are and protect them for years to come. Metropolitan Touring is doing everything they can to protect the future of the islands.
One of the children they brought on a cruise grew up to become a Naturalist and now works on the Santa Cruz II.
We had gorgeous weather in May (no rain) although the water was still a bit cool. We needed wetsuits for snorkeling, which we were able to rent right on our ship. With a half wetsuit the water was perfect!! I never got cold.
This giant manta ray was the size of a queen size mattress!!!!! Look how long that stinger is!!
The Santa Cruz II provides everything you need for snorkeling (masks, snorkels, fins, and wet suits) so you don’t have to worry about bringing your own. The ship is only 2 years old, so everything is nice and new!
One of my favorite afternoons in the Galapagos was at Bartolomé Island.
Bartolomé Island was the only chance we’d get to see the native Galapagos Penguin.
Not only did we see them, we got to SWIM WITH THEM!!! Watch the video at the beginning of this post to see how the penguins zip through the water! They really look like a bird flying underwater.
The Galapagos Penguins are the second-smallest penguin in the world, and the only penguins you can see north of the equator. A Galapagos penguin will pant like a dog when it gets too hot! They sun themselves on the rocky cliffs of Bartolomé Island and jump into the ocean to cool off.
Near the beach on Bartolomé Island is also a sea turtle nesting site, so it’s also common to swim with sea turtles or catch them resting on the sandy beach!
After an afternoon of snorkeling, we were able to hike to the top of the volcanic Bartolomé Island.
Doesn’t it look like Mars??
From here we watched the sunset over the island, with a view of Pinnacle Rock in the background, one of the most iconic views in the Galapagos.