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The Galapagos Islands are a bucket list trip for many travelers, and given the remote location off the coast of Ecuador, it makes the most sense to book a tour to the islands for the best chance to enjoy the rich natural landscape. I’ve traveled to the Galapagos Islands twice with G Adventures. Once as a passenger, and once while hosting a photography tour through G. I have a lot of experience not only with G Adventures as a company (I’ve traveled on more than 14 trips with G) but with this itinerary in particular since I hosted one of the G tours and was able to help shape how we explored this gorgeous destination.
Let’s review exactly what to expect G Adventures tour of the Galapagos Islands, as well as review why (or why not) one of the G cruises or camping trips are a good fit for your travel plans.
Overview of G Adventures Galapagos Tours
G currently offers over 40 different tours that either focuses exclusively on the Galapagos, or have the Galapagos as a part of the itinerary—these include the Galapagos folded into larger itineraries, but also many specific cruises through island groups, and camping adventures in the Isabela Highlands.
For that reason, it’s impossible to review every single departure offered, and it’s also unnecessary. Most of the different tours are simply different combinations of islands. This is due to rules enacted by the government of Ecuador, which requires all tour operators to rotate the islands they visit so various islands are not overwhelmed with visitors.
This means that a 10-day trip starting on one date will have a different route and combination of islands than another 10-day tour starting on a different date, even if the length, starting, and ending locations are all the same. This is a result of Ecuadorian law, and every tour company is subject to these same rules.
Why Choose a G Tour? G Adventures tours tend to be smaller and more affordable than other Galapagos tour operators. A G tour in the Galapagos can run half to a third the price of a comparable trip with a high-end company like Lindblad Expeditions. The difference will be the size of the ship, and the quality of the accommodations. The quality of the ship, meals, and the guides on G trips are perfectly acceptable, the company just puts its focus on the trip experience, not on unnecessary luxuries.
Additional G Tour Requirements: Active tours are more challenging and demand a bit more fitness, but every G tour outlines the activity level and any physical requirements. Beyond that, your CEO (Chief Experience Officer AKA tour guide) will ask for proof of travel insurance covering you for the duration of the trip as soon as you arrive in Quito. We highly recommend World Nomads, which has affordable policies that will cover you for snorkeling, cruising, hiking, and all of the common activities included on a Galapagos itinerary.
Starting in Quito
Every G Adventures tour in Ecuador starts and ends in Quito—this holds the largest international airport in Ecuador and it’s the easiest location to book international flights.
You’ll spend at least one night in Quito as part of your trip—check the details of the trip itinerary you’re considering to assess how many nights you’ll spend in Quito. You might want to fly in one or two days early to explore all Quito offers if it isn’t part of your trip—if you’re going to fly all the way to Ecuador, it’s certainly worth your time to spend an extra day or two in Quito, which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and worth at least a day.
Acclimating to the Altitude
Quito is one of the highest altitude major cities in the world, sitting at 2,850 meters (9,350 ft). If you aren’t acclimated to such altitudes, you may experience some amount of altitude sickness after you arrive.
In all my trips to Quito, I’ve often had difficulty sleeping the first night or two. My best advice is to drink plenty of water and try to get as much sleep as possible. If you’re coming from North or South America, you shouldn’t suffer jet lag since the time zone is the same as Central Time in the U.S. and Canada, so just plan some time in your itinerary to acclimatize so that once you head to the Galapagos Islands you’re ready to enjoy every moment.
Things to See in Quito
During your time in Quito, there are several things you should consider seeing if you have extra time. G Adventures does offer tours of Quito as an addon for as low as US$50, or you can book an Upgraded Land Galapagos with Quito tour, which would include all the highlights baked right into your itinerary. Even the add-on tours are run by G Adventures CEOs, so you know it’s going to be well done, small group, and provide enough context and history to enjoy the city. Let’s review a few of the highlights you’ll see in Quito before your Galapagos adventure.
The Equator: Quito is only 25.5 km (15.86 mi) from the equator. The Ciudad Mitad del Mundo is the official monument and was built in the early 80s to commemorate the French Geodesic Mission from the 18th century. However, using modern measurements, the actual equator is about 250 meters north of the monument.
Basilica del Voto Nacional: The Basilica del Voto Nacional is the largest church in Ecuador and was completed in 1909. It’s not the cathedral of Quito, which is a large white building located in the historic city center. Take notice of the gargoyles on the building, which are actually all animals from the Galapagos Islands.
Quito Old Town: The old town of Quito is a UNESCO World Heritage site and was one of the first 12 world heritage sites created at the first World Heritage Convention in 1978. The original Spanish settlement dates back to the late 16th century, and many of the buildings are amongst the oldest in South America.
The Virgin of Quito: The Virgin of Quito, aka the Virgin of El Panecillo, is a massive statue located on a hill on the edge of town. It’s taller than the Christ the Redeemer statue in Rio de Janeiro, and the tallest aluminum statue in the world. It also offers one of the best views of the entire city of Quito.
Arriving in the Galapagos Islands
Because all G Adventure tours to the Galapagos start in Quito, all tours include your flight from Quito to the Galapagos. The flight is not long, and most flights usually have a short stop in Guayaquil. You wont’ get off of the plane in Guayaquil, it’s only a stop to pick up passengers, then you’re off again to start the adventure.
You’ll arrive at one of two airports in the Galapagos: Santa Cruz or San Cristobal.
Once you arrive in the Galapagos, you may spend some time before you board your transportation to your ship or hotel. The Galapagos is a very delicate environment, so bags are X-rayed for fruits and other prohibited products.
Ecuador charges a US$100 entrance fee to Galapagos Islands National Park. This is paid at the airport and it is NOT covered in the cost of your tour. This is the only major mandatory fee you will have you pay out of pocket on your trip. This fee is mandatory for all visitors to the Galapagos regardless of the tour company you use.
Cruises vs Shore Tours
As the names imply, land tours are based on the land and usually involve camping or some type of adventure sport, and you can visit more remote areas of the various islands. You will sleep in a hotel or a campground every night instead of on a ship. Every day you’ll venture out on day tours of the island you’re on and you’ll travel between islands on a speedboat. These trips don’t have to include camping, but many of them do, so read carefully to be sure you’re up for whichever type of land tour you’re booking. Also read the reviews travelers leave on the tour page to get a good idea for the style of the trip.
The other option, which is the majority of the Galapagos tours offered by G Adventures, are marine tours. On these tours, you will sleep and eat on a ship.
Personally, I’d recommend one of the marine tours over a land-based tour unless you’re really keen to take advantage of the adventure sports available around the islands. If you’re on a ship, you’ll be able to visit more islands, spend more time on each island, and engage in aquatic-based activities like snorkeling. All of your meals are also covered when you’re on a ship, so it’s easier to accurately budget for the trip.
You can also narrow down your G Galapagos tours based on other features:
- Family-Friendly: These tours offer a range of additional activities fit for children.
- Classic Tours: Classic itineraries are the original style of G tours and include social enterprises and local elements woven into the trip.
- 18-to-Thirtysomethings: These trips offer more basic accommodation, sometimes include camping, and focus on experiences over luxuries on the food and accomodation side.
- Marine Tours: These are trips that specifically include exploring the islands on sleep-aboard boats.
Life on Board the Cruise Ship
There are currently five ships in the G Adventures Galapagos fleet. They all have capacities of 16-20 passengers with eight to 10 cabins. The ships are smaller than expedition class ships, but are not so small that I ever felt cramped. In addition to the cabins, each ship has a dining room and a main lounge area where you will get to know your other tour participants.
If you’re concerned about getting seasick, I wouldn’t worry about it too much. Seas are usually calm around the Galapagos due to its location near the equator. Also, the many surrounding islands usually make for seas that are much calmer than the open ocean. I barely remember even noticing the ship moving for most of my time in the Galapagos.
If you are on a marine trip, there are two ways you will do shore excursions, depending on the island. For more popular and developed islands with a harbor or a dock, our ship just pulled up to the dock and we walked off.
For most of the smaller, undeveloped islands, we did a zodiac landing. Zodiacs are small inflatable boats carried by the ship. You enter the zodiac at the back of the ship and take the zodiac to shore. You then step out of the zodiac onto the beach or rocks on the shore. Most zodiac landings in the Galapagos are very easy as the seas are quite calm. However, you have to be prepared for your feet and legs to possibly get wet. It might be awkward the first time you do it, but after a few attempts, you get the hang of it. It’s for these shore excursions (among others reasons), that you should consider bringing sports sandals on your trip.
Best Time to Visit
Most people say the best time to visit the Galapagos is from December to May. However, both of my trips were in October and I didn’t have an issue with the weather for either trip.
August to November tends to be the coolest time of year, with September usually having the fewest tourists. August to November will probably have the cheapest rates and steepest discount if you’re interested in more budget prices for your G Adventures Galapagos tour.
Best Wildlife Sightings
Wildlife is the main reason people visit to the Galapagos. The fauna is not as big and dramatic as what I found on my African safaris, but it is unique and like nothing else you on Earth.
As with any wildlife on any tour you take anywhere on Earth, you are never guaranteed to see anything. Animals are not on a schedule. That said, let’s review a few of the highlights of what you’re likely to see on a Galapagos adventure.
The Galapagos Marine Iguana (Amblyrhynchus cristatus) is the only aquatic lizard in the world. It’s found only in the Galapagos and they can be found on every island in the Galapagos. While no animals can be guaranteed to be seen on any given trip, this is the one animal that is probably going to be seen almost 100% of the time.
Galapagos Land Dragon
The Galapagos Land Dragon, aka Galapagos Land Iguana, is the largest lizard in the Galapagos and one of the largest in the Western Hemisphere. It’s easily identified by its size and yellow color. As they are land-based and cannot migrate, there is a very good chance you will see one.
There’s a good chance you will not see a Galapagos Hawk, and if you do, it will be flying well above you in the sky. Unlike much of the other wildlife in the Galapagos, you can’t walk up to a hawk. They tend to keep their distance and fly very high looking for food. We found two that were eating the afterbirth of a seal, and that was the only way I was able to get close enough to take a photo.
Blue Footed Boobie
Blue Footed Boobies are pretty common in the Galapagos. You should have a pretty good chance of seeing one during your trip, especially if you’re there when they are nesting. You can often see them diving for food, which is an impressive site given how fast they hit the water.
Red Footed Boobie
Red Footed Boobies look very similar to blue footed boobies save for two things: they have red feet instead of blue, and they perch in trees. Blue Footed Boobies are only found on the ground. I only saw a single red footed boobie on both my trips to the Galapagos, so this one is a long shot, but definitely a possibility.
Frigatebirds might be the most impressive birds in the Galapagos. The males have enormous red air sacs on their breasts, which are used to attract mates.
The Galapagos Penguin is the northernmost penguin in the world. They are rather small and can be found on many of the islands. On my first trip to the Galapagos, we saw only a single penguin. On the second trip, I saw dozens and dozens of them.
Darwin Finches are some of the smallest birds in the Galapagos, however, scientifically and historically they are the most important. It was through the study of these birds that Charles Darwin came up the evidence for the Theory of Evolution.
The flamingo population in the Galapagos is small, but very much present. The odds of spotting them will depend on the islands you visit. Islands with inlands lakes or ponds are more likely to have them.
There’s a good chance you will see a Galapagos tortoise, if only in one of the sanctuaries or breeding facilities. You might also be able to see one in the wild, depending on which island you visit on your trip.
Fur Seals and Sea Lions
Fur seals and sea lions can be found all over the Galapagos. They look quite similar and you will probably need your CEO’s help you tell the difference. Sea lions have visible ear flaps whereas fur seals do not. Sea lions also have larger flippers and can walk on land easier.
Galapagos Islands Photography Tips
Many of the animals in the Galapagos have no fear of humans, so you can get somewhat close to them while keeping to the trail. You should never touch a wild animal or go out of your way to get unreasonably close.
You will want to have a camera with some reasonable amount of zoom on it—probably more than what’s offered on a smartphone. Smartphone cameras tend to have wider angle lenses and are not good for photographing wildlife, so buy or rent the right camera gear before your trip.
Best lenses for Galapagos photography? Having a superzoom lens in the 18-200 mm range will probably get the job done. On my last trip, I took a 150-500mm lens with me and used it almost every day. It allowed me to get close-up shots even when I wasn’t that far away from the subject.
If you can’t bring a camera with replaceable lenses, I’d get a camera like the Sony RX100, which has a built-in zoom that is quite good.
Take better photos. Before you leave for you trip, consider booking my online Travel Photography Academy, which shares the best ways to quickly improve your travel photography and get better trip photos no matter where in the world you venture.
Should You Book a G Adventures Galapagos Tour?
Now that we’ve reviewed every key area of a G Adventures Galapagos Tour, it should be a bit clearer if this type of tour is right for you. I can say that after taking two Galapagos tours with the company, I can thoroughly recommend the experience. There are so many companies running trips to this region, that key differentiators with G include:
- guaranteed small groups.
- social enterprise and local community support integrated into most/many itineraries.
- the chance to book active or family-friendly specific tours.
- local guides qualified to guide you through the absolute highlights of the region.
- a trusted company with a long and deep history of delivering memorable experiences to travelers.
There are a lot of different cruises to choose from, so explore the different routes, dates, and options. And if you still need a bit more information, read my thorough review of what it’s like to travel with G Adventures.
Don’t forget to book your travel insurance before your trip! Proof of travel insurance is required on every single G Adventures tour. We highly recommend the flexible and affordable policies offered by World Nomads.