Some family travel destinations can feel a bit overwhelming to plan, the Galápagos Islands being one of them. There are just too many questions to answer. What is the best way to visit the Galápagos Islands? By ship or by land? Which are the best Galapagos islands to visit? How many days do you need in the Galapagos? All of these are valid questions, and hopefully this article will help you figure out how to plan your tour of the Galápagos Islands with kids.
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How do you travel to the Galápagos Islands?
The Galapagos archipelago sits 600 miles off the west coast of Ecuador in the Pacific Ocean. It’s easy to access by air from Guayaquil and Quito, and it is not possible to reach the different islands by boat.
It is a two to three hour flight from Quito to one of the Galapagos airports, depending on whether or not the plane stops in Guayaquil on the way. A direct flight from Guayaquil takes around an hour.
There are two airports in the Galapagos, Seymour Airport (GPS) on Baltra island, and San Cristobal airport (SCY) on San Cristobal Island.
Once you arrive at the airport you will be required to pay a Galapagos National Park entrance fee and purchase an INGALA transit control card (this can be purchased on the mainland as well). If you’re traveling from mainland Ecuador with a tour group, these fees are often covered. Otherwise you will need to pay them in cash upon arrival.
Speaking of money, the cost of a Galapagos trip will depend on the number of islands you decide to visit, how you travel (land based or by cruise), and the activities you choose. Obviously, the price when traveling as a family will not be the same when traveling solo or as a couple, but with proper budgeting, it’s definitely possible!
Which Galapagos Islands are best to visit with kids
Now it’s time to consider the best Galápagos islands for your family. Visiting Galapagos is truly a magical experience for all ages. Kids can enjoy the water activities, watching land iguanas, baby sea lions and blue-footed boobies, or simply spending time on the beautiful white sand beaches.
Each of the main islands offers something unique for families. To help choose the right one(s), we’ve put together this brief guide on which islands to visit when traveling with kids. Let’s dive in!
San Cristobal Island
The island of San Cristóbal is the home of the main airport and the capital city of the Galápagos Islands, Puerto Baquerizo Moreno. It’s the 5th largest island in the archipelago and you will find it’s a perfect place to begin your Galapagos vacation.
There are many snorkeling and diving spots on the island, so you can enjoy a couple of days at Las Tijeretas, León Dormido (aka Kicker Rock which was formed by volcanic activity), and/or Ochoa Beach. These are the main areas where you can see the red-footed boobies and the sea lions. There are plenty of locals offering Galapagos tours that you can book for day trips.
Some of the best places to visit with kids on San Cristobal include La Loberia where they can swim with sea lions. They might also enjoy La Galapaguera where they will be surrounded by giant tortoises. A hike at El Junco Lake is perfect for all ages and has beautiful views of the island and the sea.
Other top attractions on the island include the San Cristobal Interpretation Center presenting the history and ecology of the islands, Cerro Brujo for hiking and beach days, and Puerto Baquerizo Moreno the main town with shopping and restaurants.
Isabela Island makes up to 58% of the land area of the Galapagos archipelago and it’s one of the most beautiful islands. Even though it’s not the most populated, it’s the home of several volcanoes, making the island one of the most volcanic places on Earth. All of the volcanoes are active today, except for Ecuador.
Not to be missed activities on Isabela include exploring the Wall of Tears, a stone wall built by the prisoners who used to live on the island.
This is the place to go if your kids love pink flamingos, because they are everywhere on this island. There’s also a Giant Tortoise Breeding Center you’ll want to check out.
If your family loves adventure, they can take a hike to the Sierra Negra volcano. You can reach the rim of the volcano’s crater, but you need to book this experience with a guide. This is not a hike you can do on your own.
If your family just wants to relax at the beach head to Puerto Villamil beach (keep an eye out for the Galápagos penguins), Concha de la Perla, or La Playa de Amor.
For snorkeling, don’t miss Las Tintoreras or Los Túneles. Tintoreras has marine iguanas, blue-footed boobies, and marine turtles. Los Tuneles has tunnels and passages created by lava flow, making for some unique nooks and crannies to explore. Here you will find a variety of marine species including green sea turtles, whitetip reef sharks, sting rays, and possibly Galapagos fur seals.
Santa Cruz Island
Santa Cruz is another one of the best Galapagos Islands. It’s on our list due to its mesmerizing landscapes and beautiful highland cloud forests. Puerto Ayora is the main town, and one of the most developed places on the island. It is a common starting point for a Galapagos cruise.
If you’re looking for the best islands in Galapagos to visit with kids, Santa Cruz should be on your list. It’s home to the Charles Darwin Research Station, which serves as the islands main research and educational facility. There’s also El Chato Ranch, where massive giant tortoises roam freely in their natural habitat. Kids love wandering the grounds and see turtles of all sizes!
Families who love adventure won’t want to miss an opportunity to hike in the Lava Tunnels, snorkel or kayak in Tortuga Bay (one of the most beautiful beaches in the Galapagos), or swim between the cliffs at Las Grietas. Tortuga Bay is about an hour walking from Puerto Ayora. It is perfect for snorkeling and swimming and you’re sure to see marine iguanas, pelicans, and occasionally sharks.
Other Santa Cruz beaches that shouldn’t be missed are Las Bachas (there are green turtles here) and Playa El Garrapatero. We would also recommend a stop at the local fish market where the sea lions always put on a show!
Santa Fe Island
Santa Fe is a small island located southeast of Santa Cruz. It’s the perfect getaway for a day trip, as it’s a 40 minute boat ride from Santa Cruz. The island is uninhabited, so there are no restaurants or services.
You will have to book a tour to visit the island, and that will typically include a day of hiking, snorkeling, and lunch. Families can observe the endemic rice rat, sea lion colonies, and marine iguanas.
Baltra Island is also known as South Seymour Island, and it’s the starting point for many tours. The airport at Baltra was constructed during World War II by the US military to protect the Panama Canal. Today it’s the arrival point for travelers from mainland Ecuador who use it as the first island they experience on their Galapagos journey.
Baltra has restaurants and accommodations, but there aren’t a lot of attractions. If you haven’t already organized any day trips or tours, this is a good place to start.
Bird lovers will definitely want to make a day trip from Baltra to North Seymour island. Here you will find swallow-tailed gulls, frigate birds, finches, and even a Galapagos mockingbird.
Bartolome Island is one of the uninhabited islands, with sea lions, penguins, and marine iguanas. The main attraction on the island is Pinnacle Rock, a giant volcanic cone that juts out of the water like a shark’s tooth.
Most visitors will hike the island’s 1/3 mile trail and take steep wooden stairs to climb the island’s summit. Here they are rewarded with jaw-dropping views of Pinnacle Rock, Sullivan Bay, and Santiago island.
Families love exploring Playa Dorada “Golden Beach” where they can watch penguins, white-tipped sharks, and exotic marine life.
Visiting this island is possible via a cruise ship, or a day trip from Santa Cruz.
Common Questions about visiting Galapagos with kids
Can children visit the Galapagos?
Of course they can! While many families prefer to visit far off lands when their children can appreciate it, you can bring kids of all ages to the islands. If you really want them to get the most from the experience, it’s probably best for kids to be at least 6 years of age.
If you travel to Galapagos with teens, we promise this will be the trip of a lifetime that they will never forget!
What is the best time to visit the Galápagos Islands?
Most families try to visit the Galapagos on school breaks since it is a major trip that can have a lot of moving pieces. We think you need at least 10 days to do the islands justice, and a week is not nearly enough time to see the islands’ beauty.
The hottest season is between January and June when you can see more wildlife and enjoy the warm weather. If you visit the islands during spring break, you can catch a glimpse of the sea turtles and the marine iguanas.
The dry season begins in June and ends in December, and it’s the period when the islands become colder. However, it’s still a good choice to visit it during this period if you want to see the dolphins or spot whales.
How far in advance should you book a trip to the Galapagos?
Hopefully this helped you narrow down the best Galapagos Islands for your family vacation. A Galapagos trip is considered one of the most epic bucket list trips and one that certainly requires advance planning. The sooner you can book a trip, the better your availability will be and that’s when you will find the best deals. We recommend planning this trip at least 4 to 6 months in advance if possible.