Paul Schicke
Written by Paul Schicke Senior Expedition Designer

Updated: January 22, 2024
Published: December 20, 2023

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Galapagos Grace Yacht


When considering a trip to the Galapagos Islands you’ll be faced with deciding between staying on a live-aboard vessel and cruising through the archipelago, versus a land-based hotel stay. But which will give you better access to the things you want to see and do, and what about concerns like sea sickness? What’s the difference between the two options? Is one better for one type of visit as opposed to another? In this article we will dive into the pros and cons of each type of experience so you can decide for yourself which one is best suited to you.


The best way to begin to approach the hotel vs cruises question is to ask, “Why visit the Galapagos Islands in the first place?” The answer is that the Galapagos is the best place on the planet to safely get close to animals in the wild and possibly even interact. The islands are all about legendary wildlife encounters like having playful young sea lions perform underwater tricks for you, blow bubbles at your snorkeling mask, leap over you, and even lick your toes. And that’s just one species. There are Galapagos penguins, blue-footed boobies, giant tortoises, land and marine iguanas, orcas, dolphins, a rainbow array of tropical fish and many more animals waiting to provide you with personal peak interactions. It’s literally a safari where the Galapagos animals live in and around islands and has little or no fear of humans, allowing you to approach within just feet and, as mentioned, they sometimes lick your feet.

Traveler sitting next to Galapagos Sea Lion


✔ One way or another, to maximize your amazing animal experiences, you will have to set foot on an ocean-going vessel. Here are some things to consider in that regard…

✔ 97% of the land area and 100% of the maritime area of the Galapagos Islands is within the Galapagos National Park.

✔ The 3% of the islands not within the park are the population centers, and that is where you will find the hotels.

✔ If you do a land-based tour and stay in a hotel you will be faced with the challenge of how to get into the park where the real animal action is.

✔ If you stay on a liveaboard vessel you will spend your entire time within the park.

Galapagos Map with National Park visitor limits

There are 70-plus terrestrial visitor sites and 70-plus marine visitor sites throughout the national park where travelers are permitted to go ashore or go snorkeling to see animals in their natural habitat, always in the required presence of a national park guide. Only a handful of these sites are accessible from hotels, and to get to them you will have to travel by day boat.


If you are trying to avoid seasickness in the Galapagos by staying in a hotel, think again. Day boats are smaller, less stable vessels than liveaboard yachts and cruise ships. A day boat can take up to 2 ½ hours just to get to a visitor site, so while going out to explore a nearby island, you can end up spending 5 hours in one day just navigating. Also, depending on the hotel you stay at, the tours on day boats may or may not be included as part of your stay. Higher-end hotels do offer private day tour boats that are exclusively for guests of the hotel, but this is not the case for most hotels in the Galapagos. Today, there are now more hotel spaces than day boats, so on some days, you may find you are out of luck getting into the park unless you plan well in advance. But even if you do so, you will spend about half the time you would seeing and interacting with animals compared to a voyage through the archipelago on a liveaboard vessel.

Galapagos Sea Lion in front of Kicker Rock

In contrast, the permitted liveaboard yachts in the Galapagos navigate mainly at night while you are asleep, so you won’t waste time getting from point A to B during the day. Instead, you will awake to a front row seat to the day’s first landing site. You’ll typically visit two different terrestrial sites each day along with two snorkeling sites, with additional opportunities to go kayaking, paddle boarding, and enjoy dinghy (zodiac) rides. Not only will this maximize your animal adventures, but because liveaboard vessels can access all the park’s islands and spend the entire time in the park, the odds will be in your favor for chance animal encounters like following a resident pod of orcas or jumping in with dolphins. You may even have the rare opportunity to approach a glowing volcanic river at night as it reaches the sea. These and other experiences are what make the Galapagos so magical, and a cruise is by far the best way to set yourself up to enjoy these once-in-a-lifetime experiences.

Paddleboarding in the Galapagos Islands


These days the bar has been raised when it comes to the level of hospitality offered by liveaboard vessels. Like Quasar’s yachts, many Galapagos luxury cruise companies offer cabins that are as good as, if not better than, staying in a Galapagos hotel, with the benefit of having the park literally at your doorstep. You’ll find all the amenities, including welcoming outdoor spaces to relax in under the shade, well stocked bars with friendly bartenders, exceptional dining that addresses all types of dietary requirements, jacuzzis, and friendly crew there to cater to your every need. Today, the liveaboard vessels are a bit like floating safari adventure lodges with all the equipment and hospitality you’d desire.

Galapagos Cruise Luxury Suite


One of the most important aspects of any adventure in the “enchanted archipelago” is your Galapagos National Park Guide. All visitors must be in the presence of a certified guide whenever visiting the national park. The best guides speak excellent English, have degrees in natural sciences, and are fun and entertaining leaders. A top-notch guide will literally make your trip as they show you their home in a way that brings it alive. On a liveaboard you will spend your entire itinerary with the same guide(s). On day trips they can change daily. The best guides in the Galapagos work on the best liveaboards because they can. It’s where they spend a good portion of their life. Be sure to check guide reviews before you book any Galapagos trip. As we like to say at Quasar, the Galapagos are always putting on a show. But only the best guides give you access to the front row seats thanks to their professionalism and expertise.

Galapagos National Park Guides


There are times when it makes sense to stay in a hotel. If you have a family with very young children under 5 years of age you will likely find you can’t go on a permitted park vessel unless you charter the entire yacht, in which case a hotel-based stay is the alternative. Also, if you want to do quite a bit of diving while in the Galapagos but prefer (or you simply cannot) travel on a week long dive-dedicated trip, an alternative is to stay in a hotel and take part in day dives with a land-based dive outfitter. Also, if your intention is to focus your stay more in the port towns than in the park, staying in a hotel may be a good alternative.

Finally, at Quasar we have quite a few guests that extend their Galapagos cruise trip with a few days at a hotel in one of the port towns. This is a great alternative for anyone who has the time and budget to do so as it allows you to experience the best of both options.

Galapagos Hiking in front of Kicker Rock


A variation on the hotel-stay theme are the island-hopping or port-to-port tours. These tours give you the opportunity to enjoy your vacation in the Galapagos while staying in the port towns of up to three different islands (Santa Cruz, San Cristobal and Isabela). On each Island you can choose a hotel category that fits your budget and you can opt for different daily tours, which take you to different sites and are accompanied by various activities.

Port to Port Galapagos Tours

While the port towns offer restaurants and shops, other than taking day boats they provide very little in terms of tour excursions, especially when it comes to seeing wildlife. For the most part, you can experience what they have to offer in the way of excursions in little more than one day. Most cruise companies include one day in Puerto Ayora so you can visit Charles Darwin Research Station and go into the Santa Cruz highlands above the town to see the giant tortoises. You may notice that on an island like Santa Cruz there are multiple visitor sites, but because these are within the park, the only way to access them is by a permitted vessel. You can’t walk to them or drive to them by car.

If your aim is to visit population centers, then hotel stays are a good option. But if your aim is to experience the fabled animal adventure that put the islands on the map as one of the world’s premier destinations, then consider staying aboard a vessel.


The Galapagos Islands offer an otherworldly experience—a sensation of reaching the farthest ends of Earth. Journeying through this archipelago can feel like traveling back in time, a step away from our daily routines of life and towards a real adventure. Because of this (and we hate to be so blunt) the only way to experience the magic of the Galapagos is on a cruise.

Being on a boat for a few days is the way to experience Galapagos to its fullest. You won't have to deal with city lights or traffic. Instead, you'll see beautiful sunsets and sunrises over the ocean, and at night, you might see the water glowing with tiny lights from sea creatures.

The lesson here is that when you see a hotel package that seems too good to be true… it is, because you will likely spend very little time within the Galapagos National Park seeing its animals. The hotels give you access to the port towns, which are small and can be fun, but they are not the key reason the Galapagos has become a premier destination. Only on a cruise will you get to see the amazing islands and experience the magical wildlife encounters that have made Darwin’s archipelago so famous.

Taking photographs on a Galapagos cruise with Quasar Expeditions


✔ It is impossible to have a meaningful visit to the Galapagos without taking a boat.
✔ The best way to experience the animals up close and view the natural attractions of the Galapagos is on a liveaboard yacht tour.
✔ The top guides are on liveaboard yachts, and you will be sure to see the very best of the Galapagos traveling this way while enjoying a luxurious lifestyle.
✔ The Galapagos is an island chain, and you will definitely want to sail between islands to enjoy as many of its natural wonders as you can.
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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