Paul Schicke
Written by Paul Schicke Senior Expedition Designer

Updated: March 01, 2024
Published: January 19, 2024

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Family on a Galapagos Beach

Not only are Galapagos cruises good for kids but the Galapagos Islands arguably offer the best family vacation in the world. It’s one of the few vacations where all three generations do the same thing at the same time and have the same amount of fun. That’s primarily because of two things.

First, the way the Galapagos National Park has structured excursions means that everyone does the same thing at the same time. Second, all Galapagos activities are designed for one purpose (no matter if you are on a nature walk, snorkeling, kayaking, or taking a dinghy ride) and that is getting up close to, and even interacting with, the Galapagos Islands’ friendly and exotic creatures.

Children, parents, and grandparents alike are mesmerized by just how unafraid and friendly Galapagos animals are towards human visitors. In fact, you sometimes must watch where you are walking so as not to step on the animals.

I’ve seen baby sea lions come right up to a child with sandals on and lick their toes. Young sea lions know you are watching them during snorkeling outings and will perform underwater acrobatics for your benefit. Don’t be surprised when they sneak up behind you and leap over you to dive right in front of you. Or how about having them swim up to you and blow bubbles in your snorkeling mask. No matter your age, you’re sure to be delighted and that’s not all. Families can snorkel with penguins, sea turtles, marine iguanas, as well as dolphins and even fur seals.

On land there are many more animal delights waiting for the family, such as visiting a herd of giant tortoises, and because the oldest known Galapagos tortoise lived to 175 years old that means you could meet one that hatched just a decade after Charles Darwin visited the archipelago! Frigate birds fill their bright red throat sacks like balloons. Muppet-like puff ball chicks sit in nearby nests, while blue footed boobies perform their comical mating dance. Galapagos hawks perch unconcernedly a few feet away seemingly posing for a selfie. Bright yellow land iguanas set up shop beneath green cactus waiting for the next prickly pear to drop and those same sea lions that were performing for you underwater take a rest on the sandy beaches to warm up in the sun.

Child with a baby Galapagos Sea Lion

You can see why everyone on a Galapagos Family Cruise would be mesmerized by each outing but there’s more. You can frequently watch dolphins surf the bow wake of your boat and even have hundreds of spinner dolphins surround your yacht performing aerial acrobatics. At times your national Park guide might ask you if you are ready to jump in with them. Though it’s less reliable to see whales in Galapagos they are there too including Humpbacks, Melon Headed Whales, and even a pod of Orcas. If you get extremely lucky you might see a Blue Whale or even a pod of Sperm Whales.

The Galapagos offers a floating safari for animal lovers of any age to have peak animal encounters.

What about sharks in Galapagos?

That’s the first question my 6-year-old son asked me when we jumped in the water at Philips Steps at Genovesa Island to go snorkeling. I told him not to worry and handed him a waterproof camera and put him in charge of capturing underwater imagery. He looked into the water and came right back up saying, “Dad, it looks like heaven down there!” There were so many different species of tropical fish, all lit up by the sun against the black volcanic rock backdrop. He immediately forgot about sharks and there was really no reason to worry about them in the first place. Since the 1850s there have only been 8 reported shark incidents and only 3 with tourists. None were fatal. One local fisherman was bitten when he fell in the net with his catch, and another was bitten when decided to clean his catch in waste deep water (also known as chumming).

Child snorkeling in the Galapagos

Fortunately, you have the common sense of your National Park guides who know places to go and avoid, and if the Park becomes concerned about a specific location they will take it offline for snorkeling, which has only happened once.

Most of the sharks in the Galapagos you will see in the Galapagos are white tipped reef sharks that are unconcerned with humans, while species like great whites are absent from the islands. My wife was concerned about seeing a shark underwater on her first trip, but when she finally got to see one, she became mesmerized asking if we would see more. Unfortunately, it’s difficult to see sharks in the Galapagos these days if you are snorkeling due to illegal shark finning just outside the marine reserve and along the Ecuadorian coast. One really is better off doing a dive dedicated trip if you want to see sharks, like the large schools of hammerheads you can experience at the dedicated dive islands Wolf and Darwin Islands, which lie another day sailing from the western islands of Isabela and Fernandina.

Child Safety in Galapagos

There are, of course, things one can do to ensure your child has a very safe and enjoyable adventure in the Galapagos. Here are some of them:

  • Some of the basics are to be sure that you and your children have adequate sun protection along the equator such as plenty of sunblock, and hats. While you will be mostly walking on hard back sand, beaches and boulders be on the lookout for the hidden rocks in the trail that can injure little toes.
  • At the beginning of every cruise, the captain and crew, with the help of your guides, will carry out safety drills and instructions. The first priority of any Galapagos outfitter is to ensure the safety of guests. Do your part by paying attention. This isn’t the same old safety briefing you are used to flying on jets. You are on a vessel in the ocean so pay attention and familiarize yourself with what you are shown. Incidents in the Galapagos are very few and very far between and you can do your part to keep it that way simply by taking these instructions seriously.
Family on a Galapagos cruise looking through binoculars
  • The first thing to remember when you go on a liveaboard trip in the Galapagos, is that you are on a vessel in the ocean. Just as it is critical for an adult to be accountable for watching a child near a swimming pool, or any body of water, the same thing applies for being on a yacht. Parents and grandparents should clearly agree between them on who is watching which child when. Never assume that another adult is watching a child, instead be sure. Nor should adults assume that guides or crew members will watch children. While you will find them very good and helpful with children, that is not their responsibility. Accounting for children’s whereabouts 24/7 is the most important safety precaution a parent should take in the Galapagos.
  • The more comfortable your child is in the water the better time they will have. So, make sure they spend plenty of time learning to swim before you arrive in the Galapagos.
  • Some children may find it difficult to manage a snorkel and mask, as my son did when he was 6. Instead, he wore his swimming goggles and held his breath, which was far easier for him.
  • When snorkeling in the Galapagos you will typically wear a wetsuit. Wetsuits will give you buoyancy. However sometimes young children may raft on to their parents, which can pull you below the surface. In this case it’s a good idea for parent and child alike to wear a floatation device that will keep you both on the surface.
  • As with any snorkeling outing you will be asked to stay with your group. Your guide will usually snorkel with you, and your dinghy driver will be nearby keeping an eye out for anyone who needs help.
  • Listen to your guide and follow their instructions. No one can set foot or fin in the Galapagos National Park unless they are in the presence of a certified National Park guide. When your guide tells you not to approach a certain animal, like a large beachmaster sea lion guarding his harem, do as they say. There are also rules regarding how close you can approach animals for their protection so please be sure you and your children follow what your guide tells you. This will help keep everyone safe.

Why a Galapagos Island Adventure Is Great for Parents and Grandparents As Well As Kids

Parents and grandparents love the Galapagos, not just because of getting to experience the animals and activities with their kids, but because it’s a true vacation break for them as well. Here is some of what you can expect aboard the yachts of the best operators in the Galapagos:

  • No need to worry about cleaning staterooms, including kids’ cabins. While you are ashore visiting landing sites with your guides, your crew will straighten and clean your cabin…twice daily!
Family posing in front of Kicker Rock in Galapagos
  • No need to be concerned about meals. These are included as well as snacks and soft drinks. Top Galapagos outfitters not only feature attractive menus prepared and served by competent galley staff, but these companies will ask you what your various dietary requirements and preferences, including food allergies, are so they can best meet your dietary needs.
  • Adults can expect well stocked bars with happy hours and other times to relax and toast the Enchanted Archipelago, while children enjoy mocktails made with tasty local fruits.
  • You can relax and let your guide take over your daily program. In fact, daily planning is done well in advance and is based on the National Park’s permitted itinerary. Your guides oversee implementing your daily program. You won’t have to figure out what to do or hear comments like “I’m bored”, or “There's nothing to do?”. The only real downtime is after lunch, but not much, when kids can play board games typically carried onboard.
  • The Galapagos offers lots of fun and surprises for the whole family. I work with Quasar Expeditions, and we try to maximize animal encounters. It’s not unusual to get an early wake up call announcement to come on deck so that you can jump in the dinghies to follow the local pod of Orcas or follow a pod of 1,000 spinner dolphins. Our crew is known for leaving little surprises in your cabin when they straighten up but I won’t give that one away here.

Once in a while I talk with a parent or grandparent who is having trouble convincing their kids to visit the Galapagos. While this is a bit comical from the, "who’s in charge here" point of view… if I asked my kids if they would consider visiting the Galapagos again the answer would be, “My bags are packed. When do we leave?” And the majority of families who have traveled with us would give similar answers.

Kid with a Galapagos Giant Tortoise
Paul Schicke
By Paul Schicke
Senior Expedition Designer

Hello! My name is Paul. I am a photographer, traveler, teacher and writer. I have extensive experience in travel to Galapagos, Peru, Patagonia and the western seaboard of South America specializing in ways travelers can experience these once-in-a-life destinations like locals on the road. Lover of wine, chocolate, travel, coffee, and helping others plan vacations of a lifetime!

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