cruising the Galapagos Islands
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Our 5 Day Galapagos Cruise With Teens (+Travel Tips!) (2024)

Last Updated on March 13, 2024 by Nicole

Taking a Galapagos Island cruise is a serious investment of time and money. The islands are difficult to reach from most spots in North America and Europe. In addition, a cruise is very expensive. This begs the question whether a Galapagos cruise is worth it. Our family of 5, including 3 teens, took a 5 day cruise of the Galapagos Islands during summer break. We visited four islands; saw countless sea lions (even snorkeled with them), tortoises, and amazing birds; witnessed extraordinary natural beauty, and explored deserted beaches. It was simply astonishing. After visiting 70 countries, including going on over 10 African safaris, I can tell you that the Galapagos Islands are one of the most unique destinations that you will ever visit. Here is a your planning guide and travel tips to choosing and booking your own Galapagos Island vacation with teens and review of our 5 day Galapagos Island cruise.

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At A Glance

I know you are busy. If you only have a couple minutes to spare, here are the key takeaways from this article.

  • The Galapagos Islands are difficult to reach and expensive to visit.
  • A Galapagos Island cruise is better than a tour by land.
  • To have the most authentic experience, avoid itineraries that explore the inhabited islands.
  • Be prepared to enjoy animals in a whole new way, unique to anywhere else in the world. They are not frighted of you and allow you to be mere feet away.

If you can find more time, try to read my full article. It explains my suggestions, gives you details about the experiences that you will have, and provides travel tips.

Background To Our Visit Of The Galapagos Islands

The Galapagos Islands are a province of Ecuador and is approximately 621 miles (1000 km) from its coast. There are 13 major islands and 6 smaller islands that comprise the Galapagos Islands.

My kids were 15, 13, and 11 years old during the cruise. Prior to visiting the Galapagos Islands, we did a 4 Day Adventure In The Amazon and 7 Days In Peru. All of the destinations and experiences that we had on our South American trip were distinctive and offered truly exceptional adventures.

Overall Impressions Of The Galapagos Islands

It is undeniable how spectacularly beautiful everything was. The ocean was a crystal clear turquoise that beckons you in. The beaches and natural terrain felt untouched. I often felt we had stumbled upon a deserted island.

Cruising in the Galapagos Islands
One of many deserted beaches in the Galapagos Islands.

Then, there were the animals. You hear about how fearless they are – how they do not feel danger from humans.

Galapagos Islands
Sea lions sleeping near us on one of the Galapagos Islands.

For me, that seemed hard to believe. I have come across wild animals all over South America and on several safaris in Africa who have had little exposure to humans and yet, they do fear us. It just seems instinctive for wild animals to sense that we can do them harm.

However, the animals on the Galapagos Islands were truly unconcerned by us. The sea lions barked, walked, swam, and sunbathed mere feet from us. Moreover, they seemed ready to push us over if we foolishly became distracted and didn’t step aside as they passed.

The marine iguanas stealthily crept to and from the beaches without a care in the world. The birds mostly ignored us, even when we were so close, we could touch them.

Even the fantastically colourful crabs perched on rocks just above the waves of the ocean seemed indifferent to us as we hopped from rock to rock.

Juliet just feet from the marine Iguanas.
Cruising Galapagos Islands
Even birds were unafraid of us on the Galapagos Islands.
bright red crabs scurry around while cruising the galapagos islands
sea lions ready to play while cruising the Galapagos islands
Sea lions relaxing on the beach mere feet from us.

Life Cruising On the Boat

We booked our cruise with an agent through Galapagos Travel Center.

We were on a small catamaran which had 9 cabins and a capacity for 16 passengers.

It was a very comfortable and spacious boat. The food was delicious and plentiful and the cabins were nice with comfortable beds and a good size bathroom.

There was a nice indoor living room where we socialized with many lovely people from all over the world. and a fantastic upper deck with lounge chairs for sunbathing or watching the sunset.

We had a large crew who were friendly, worked very hard whether we were cruising or not, and gave each of us personal attention when needed. We also had a naturalist guide on board.

delicious food while served on board while cruising Galapagos Islands
Lunch time on board our cruise.
Cruising the galapagos islands
One of the beds after the morning clean.

There wasn’t any wifi on board and no other children. This actually worked out really well.

The adults were patient and nicely engaged with our teens and vice versa. A lot of stories and jokes were shared. Most nights, all that was missing was a campfire!  

Quite frankly, I think it would have been too much for the size of the boat if there had been more children on board.

Each night, the naturalist guide gave us a quick run down of the schedule for the following day, including wake-up times. Basically, each day we visited an island. In the morning, we would explore one side of it and in the afternoon, we would explore the other. Most mornings started very early and most cruising between islands happened at night.

How Did We Choose Our Cruise

I found choosing the boat and itinerary to be overwhelming. There were so many classes and sizes of boats all offering different amenities. In some instances, it was hard to determine why one boat with certain amenities cost more or less than another.

In addition, the description of the itineraries provided limited help. Unless you were searching for a certain type of animal or bird while cruising, it was often hard to figure out why one island was better to visit than another.

The booking agent that I dealt with at Galapagos Travel Center told me that “all islands were amazing to visit” and all boats within our class were great. This was reassuring, but it still didn’t help me narrow down which boat and what itinerary we should select! I guess the good news was that an incredible experience would be waiting for us no matter what.

Ultimately, we spent our five days on a boat called the Seaman Journey Catamaran. This was considered a “First Class” boat or a 4* (with 5* as the best) and could host up to 16 guests.

It was advertised to “provide maximum comfort, personal attention, the best naturalist guides on the Islands, and wonderful itineraries”.

This boat also offered itineraries of different lengths. We opted for the 4 night/five day itinerary which picked us up on San Cristobal Island. Other passengers were already on the boat and had opted for the 7 night/8 day cruise. These passengers had already visited a few more islands before we joined them.

In the end, the 5 day/4 night cruise was the perfect length for our family. In addition, the boat was quite lovely. The cabins were nice, the beds were comfortable, and the food was quite good.

Other Cruise Holidays In The Galapagos Islands

There were three other categories of boats above our First Class boat. Those were “Cruise Ships”, “Luxury Catamarans” and “Luxury Cruises”.

Many of the boats in the higher classes were large cruise ships that held up to 100 people. These boats had many more amenities than our smaller catamaran. However, we wanted a smaller boat with better and more flexible access to coves and beaches. 

There were some smaller boats in the higher classes with more luxurious amenities than our boat. For the most part, they were exponentially more expensive per person and not considered.

Of course, there were less expensive, more basic boats in two lower categories, but we wanted a certain comfort level and were pleased with our choice.

Cruising Galapagos Islands
Majestic birds flying nearby.
birds fly over us while Cruising the Galapagos Islands

Cruising vs. Land Tours In the Galapagos Islands With Teenagers

One of the biggest deterrents against booking a cruise of the Galapagos Islands is the cost. A minimum per day per person cost was $500 USD for a First Class boat tour (including return airfare from Quito, entry fees, and the cruise). This did not include alcoholic beverages or gratuities for all the crew members.

In my opinion, this is a phenomenal amount of money (and only the starting point for these Galapagos Islands’ getaways). Our boat was comfortable but not luxurious. Indeed, there were three higher classes of boats than ours, and only two below us.

Because of this, many people turn to staying at a hotel on the few islands that are inhabited. Then, they do day trips from there. Those islands are Santa Cruz, San Cristobal, Isabela, and Floreana. 

We did not take this route so I can’t tell you how best to plan a land trip to the Galapagos Islands to get the most out of your time.

However, we did visit 3 out of the 4 islands that are inhabited – Santa Cruz, San Cristobal, and Floreana. From those experiences, I can tell you that visiting the inhabited parts of inhabited islands were my least favourite part of our cruise.

Once you have experienced the solitude of the boat with its remarkable views, the untouched natural beauty surrounding you, and the easy access to the deserted beaches and hiking trails, it is a stark contrast to being on an island with shops, hotels, and tour companies, however few there are. These markers of civilization take away from the authenticity that you feel when you are away from them on the boat.

beautiful vistas while cruising the Galapagos island

sunset while cruising the Galapagos Islands

Cruising Galapagos island

In addition, a land tour does not give you the same access to all the Galapagos islands like you have on a cruise. The government carefully controls the number of people who can access certain islands and regulates the paths that people must follow.

The overnight cruises follow a proscribed itinerary created months in advance. When we did share the beaches or the paths with others, they were often the same few people from the same boats following the same route. It was rare to see other people.

You can save a lot of money by staying on land and taking tours around the Galapagos Islands. However, it absolutely does impact your experience.

Before you choose this route, make sure that you research which islands you can get access on day tours and which ones you can’t. Then, you want to research what islands and their experiences you are forfeiting by doing a Galapagos holiday by land.

Once you do these two steps, you can make a proper assessment about which experience meets your interests and your budget.

Other Resources

We have had many wonderful adventures in Central And South America. For more information about other destinations and our experiences, please see:

Our 5 Day Galapagos Island Vacation With Teens

In the balance of this article, I highlight our 5 day adventure in the Galapagos Island with our teenagers.

Day 1 – San Cristobal

We flew from Quito, the capital of Ecuador, to San Cristobal Island. This was not a direct flight but flew through Guayaquil, on the coast of Ecuador. Once we arrived at San Cristobal, we were picked up by some members of the crew and transferred to the boat by dingy.

Galapagos Islands
Juliet waiting for our dinghy on San Cristobal Island.

We met the other passengers and had lunch.

After lunch, we went back to the shore and went to the Interpretation Centre. We were led through expositions on natural history, human history, and conservation by our naturalist guide.

Afterwards, we had free time. We were able to walk to a nearby beach where we had our first interaction with sea lions, and then to the small town for drinks. It was a cute town with beautiful views of the water.

However, it was one of the inhabited islands and did not reflect the natural wonders that we would be exposed to in the days ahead.

Day 2 – Galapaguera and Witch Hill

This morning, we got up very early and did a wet landing onto the beach at Galapaguera, a remote part of San Cristobal Island. With our naturalist guide, we did a four hour return hike in search of tortoises in their natural habitat.

We did not see another person on the beach or on our hike, other than the passengers from our boat.

It was a difficult walk because the path was uneven with stones of different sizes scattered throughout. In addition, it was very hot, and there was little to no shade. However, it was worth it when we began to find enormous tortoises tucked away in all sorts of places along the path and saw dozens more on higher ground.

Galapagos Island
The rocky and barren surface of our hike.
Galapagos Islands
One of the tortoises that we found on our hike.
Galapagos Islands

This afternoon, we went to Witch Hill, another deserted spot on San Cristobal Island, and spent a couple of hours:

  • snorkelling off the beach;
  • watching the sea lions playing with each other;
  • avoiding the sea lions who seemed hell bent on making us scramble out of their way;
  • watching birds fearlessly dive head first into the water for fish;
  • searching for marine iguanas both in and out of the water; and
  • counting the crabs who seemed to swarm the rocks around the water.
Galapagos Islands
Juliet hanging out with the sea lions who were everywhere on this beach.
Galapagos Islands
The beautiful and colourful crabs on the rocks on the beach.
Galapagos Islands
Enormous birds diving for fish.
Galapagos Islands
Marine Iguanas sunning themselves on the rocks on the beach.

Day 3 – Espanola Island: Gardner Bay and Suarez Point

This morning, we did a wet landing onto the beach at Gardner Bay. There were three other small boats anchored off the shore, so for the first time, we shared our beach time with around 30 other people.

The naturalist guide left us to wonder around the beach and spend time with the sea lions. It was similar to our afternoon on Witch Hill, but not as warm and with more people around.

Galapagos Island
A wet landing from our boat to the beach.

Later that morning, we took the dinghy from the boat and went snorkelling in a couple of smaller coves inaccessible by land. We wore a wet suit but the water was still too chilly for me and I was only able to stay around 30 minutes in the water.

It was good snorkelling with some interesting sightings. A couple of the passengers stayed longer in the water. They ultimately were able to swim and play with a small sea lion.

Snorkelling in the Galapagos Islands.

In the afternoon, we went to Suarez Point. This was by far my favourite place in the Galapagos islands. We arrived mid afternoon and spent a couple of hours exploring it with the naturalist guide. There were a couple of other small groups on the island at the same time, but there was a lot to explore and we never felt crowded.

Galapagos Island
Marine iguanas were piled on top of each other all over this Island.
Galapagos Islands
Albatrosses engaging in mating rituals a few feet from us.
Galapagos Islands
A blue footed booby.
Galapagos Islands

We spent time with many animals and birds, including blue-footed boobies and albatrosses. We easily hiked to the top of cliffs with unbelievable views of the water. We watched water explode out of a blowhole, which was hard to take your eyes off, especially as the sun was setting behind it.

Galapagos Islands
Birds were everywhere, nesting and interacting, on this island.
Galapagos Islands
The blow hole at sunset.

Day 4 – Floreana Island: Cormorant Point and Post Office Bay

This morning we did a wet landing on the beach on Floreana Island. With our guide, we did a short hike inland to a lagoon with a large flamingo population. We spent a lot of time watching these magnificent birds.

Afterwards, we did a 20 minute hike to another beach where dozens and dozens of rays were swimming in the waves near the shore, and frigate birds dove endlessly into the ocean around us.

Galapagos Island

In the afternoon, we did a wet landing at Post Office Bay and did a short walk inland with our guide.

In the 18th century, whalers passing through the islands placed a wooden barrel there as a mail box. When people came through, they picked up a letter going to the destination to which they were heading and delivered it once there.

The tradition continues today as visitors leave addressed postcards in the barrel and sort through other postcards that have been left behind for delivery in their home country.

Galapagos Island
Dropping off a postcard at Post Office Bay.

Later that afternoon, another snorkelling trip was offered, after a quick dingy ride from the boat, to an isolated rocky outcrop. My husband and youngest daughter got to swim with a sea lion and loved it.

Day 5 – Santa Cruz Island

We packed our suitcases and all passengers left the boat very early in the morning. After a one hour bus ride, we visited the Charles Darwin Station where large land tortoises are found. We then headed to the airport.

Impressions And Recommendations Of Our Galapagos Islands Holiday With Teens

We loved our getaway to the Galapagos Islands with our kids. If you can afford it, try to take a cruise to fully experience the nature, wildlife, natural beauty and sea, away from civilization.

In terms of our itinerary, I would choose another one that keeps you mostly away from the inhabited islands as they do not feel as authentic as the other islands that are uninhabited.

Now, the big question – was it worth the cost? I think the answer depends on where else you have been or hope to travel to; your yearly travel budget; and how important it is for you to have these experiences. Personally, we loved it. I want to go back and explore by boat the rest of the Galapagos islands.

Last Word

It was remarkably beautiful on the Galapagos islands. I loved cruising on the ocean, anchoring at sea and waking up to the sound of the waves. It was special to walk along deserted beaches and paths to discover animals and birds in their own habitat, completely unconcerned about your presence.

It was an amazing holiday with my teens. My two fundamental goals – reconnecting with my kids and creating lasting memories – were easily met. There was no wifi on board the ship so time was spent talking, playing games, and watching the world go by.

Each day, we hiked and swam, and were often dumbfounded by how close we got to the animals. Having these types of moments with older children and teenagers are not easily accomplished. To have five days of them was amazing!

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Our family took a five day small ship cruise in the Galapagos Islands in Ecuador. It was a remarkable experience and one that I highly recommend that you take with your teens. | beach, birds, catamaran, child, cruise, cruise the Galapagos Islands, cruising the Galapagos Islands, Ecuador, Galapagos Islands, Galapaguera, Gardner Bay, marine iguanas, older child, sea lions, Seaman Journey, seaman journey catamaran, snorkelling, Suarez Point, Witch Hill
We took a five day small ship cruise in the Galapagos Islands in Ecuador. It was a remarkable experience and one that I highly recommend that you take. | beach, birds, catamaran, child, cruise, cruise the Galapagos Islands, cruising the Galapagos Islands, Ecuador, Galapagos Islands, Galapaguera, Gardner Bay, marine iguanas, older child, sea lions, Seaman Journey, seaman journey catamaran, snorkelling, Suarez Point, Witch Hill

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