The Galapagos with Kids! – Perfect Land Based Itinerary in 2023

seal lion on the beach at San Cristobal Galapagos Islands

After our near 24 hour journey to the Galapagos Islands with kids, the sun was high and the smell of sea air hit us as we stretched our legs. We were headed to our first destination – the playground.

My kids started to climb the wooden structure, and all of a sudden we heard a small squeal and saw a brown nose poke his head from behind the slide – a baby sea lion. The first of hundreds of animal encounters, and definitely a special one.

child running with a sea lion at the play ground in San Cristobal, Galapagos Islands

Visiting the Galapagos Islands with kids was one of the most special trips we have taken as a family. When planning initially, I was completely overwhelmed with the multiple islands, tours, and activities.

We only had a short time to visit, so I took the leap and planned a week long land based itinerary for our family. This was 100% the right decision for us.

sea lions on a beach in san Cristobal Galapagos Islands

I hope sharing our Galapagos family itinerary can take at least a bit of the stress off. While the planning is hard, its completely worth it, and an amazing destination to bring your kids.

Our Galapagos with Kids Land Based Itinerary

Day 1Arrive in San Cristobal
Day 2Hike to Cerro Tijeretas and Punta Carola
Day 3Visit the Highlands of San Cristobal
Day 4Snorkel at La Loberia
Day 5Interisland Flight to Isla Isabela
Day 6Snorkel at Concha de Perla, Day at the Beach
Day 7Tour of Los Tunneles
Day 8Interisland Flight to Baltra, Travel home

Galapagos with Kids: Land Versus Cruise

The first and hardest decision when visiting the Galapagos with kids is whether to do a land based or cruise based itinerary.

Why do a Galapagos with Kids Land Based Tour ?

father and son walking on a boardwalk at the nature center in San Cristobal Galapagos Islands

When traveling with kids, we go a bit slower than everyone else. Kids need time to refresh, relax, and play, and non stop activities can be overwhelming.

A land-based itinerary allows you to have more control over your daily schedule and activities. You can tailor your excursions and adventures to suit your family’s needs and preferences. With the freedom to explore at your own pace, you can adjust activities to accommodate the energy levels and interests of your children.

Little boy laying on suitcases on Isla Isabela at the airport

Staying on land also provides access to a range of amenities, including restaurants, shops, and local services. This can be particularly beneficial when traveling with kids, as you can easily find child-friendly meals, snacks, and familiar supplies. It also allows you to have a comfortable home base to retreat to after a day of exploration.

A sea lion lying by a restaurant at the Galapagos Islands San Cristobal

One of our main reasons for choosing a land-based Galapagos itinerary with kids was to expose them to local communities. Our kids got to see Ecuadorian schools, play with local children, and even catch a parade. We travel with our kids to helping them gain a deeper understanding of other ways of life. We would have missed much of this on a cruise.

Also, cruises are expensive. Running from $3000 to $6000 person, Galapagos cruises with kids quickly add up in cost, whereas land based itineraries can be much more affordable.

Why Choose a Cruise of the Galapagos with Kids?

4 sea lions playing in the water in the Galapagos Islands

Many families have done cruises and have had a great time. The biggest advantage is you get to see more (many uninhabited islands can only be seen by cruise). Some wildlife can only be found in more remote locations, and a cruise based itinerary can help you spot animals that might not be easy to find on a land based trip.

For instance, we didn’t see a blue footed booby until our last day in the Galapagos – when we took a snorkeling tour. While it was neat to see the animals, it felt artificial as the 14 people with us were trying to take a photo of the same 2 birds – all at the same time. We aren’t used to traveling that way, so for us we didn’t mind missing some things as a trade off for a more natural experience.

A galapagos tortoise

Another advantage to a cruise is there is less to think about when planning. A cruise-based trip provides the convenience of having all meals and accommodations taken care of onboard, allowing you to focus solely on exploring the islands.

Keep in mind that many guests can experience sea sickness on Galapagos cruises. We met a few travelers whose trips were completely ruined by this. The risks can be mitigated by choosing a bigger boat, but if you know someone in your family might be susceptible, a land cruise might be a better choice.

You really need to know your kids and know what’s right for your family. Check out these blog posts if you are considering a Galapagos Cruise with kids:

What Islands Should you Visit in the Galapagos with Kids?

Little boy looking at a Galapagos tortoise

There are four inhabited islands in the Galapagos Islands that families can visit – San Cristobal, Santa Cruz, Isabela, and Floreana.

We only had one week to visit, so we chose San Cristobal and Isla Isabela. We were really happy with our choice.

Santa Cruz is the most populated island in the Galapagos Islands. While this makes for more activities, restaurants, and tours, we had heard from others that Santa Cruz was crowded and lacked the charm of the other islands.

San Cristobal was wonderful to visit with kids. (Click here to read our top ten things to do in San Cristobal!) Sea lions are everywhere on this island from the benches to the restaurants to the playground equipment.

Just visiting the downtown, our kids enjoyed watching the antics of the animals. There were great snorkeling beaches, beautiful hiking, and amazing wildlife. We spent the most time on San Cristobal with our kids, and were glad that we did.

The sign for Isla Isabela on the beach

Isla Isabela is beautiful, and less populated than San Cristobal and Santa Cruz with a population of about only 2000 people. It’s Sierra Negra volcano is the second biggest active crater in the world. This gives the island beautiful topography. It is relaxing, and perfect for families looking to kick back and spend some time enjoying the beach.

A little boy in the waves at Isla Isabela in the Galapagos Islands

We spent three days on Isla Isabela. Our kids loved the beach, and our oldest son took his first surfing lesson there. We took a snorkeling tour, but didn’t explore the volcano. The hike out and back to the volcano is upwards of 10 miles. I don’t think our five year old’s little legs could have taken that. Even without the volcano trip, we were really happy we stayed on Isla Isabela.

How to Get Around the Galapagos with Kids?

A boy in the front seat of a plane with headphones on

The most common way to get between the islands in the Galapagos is by ferry. However, after a bit of research and reading, I was nervous to do this with kids.

First, the safety of these ferries is in question. In 2022, one of these ferries sank killing 4 people! The more I read about these ferries, guests often describe rough waters, sea sickness, and long travel times of over 3 hours between islands. That sounds like parent torture.

A family of four in front of an Emetebe small plane

We also were on limited time, and really wanted to visit Isabela (because we had heard Santa Cruz is more touristy). There is no ferry between San Cristobal and Isabela, so we would have had to take ferry from San Cristobal to Santa Cruz (3 hours), and then another from Santa Cruz to Isabela (3 more hours). That sounded miserable.

Ultimately, we opted to do inter-island flights. While this was more expensive, it was an awesome experience and definitely what we would recommend with kids. The views were incredible, and our kids loved the experience of being on a small plane.

the view of Isla Isabela from the plane

We flew Emetebe Airlines from San Cristobal to Isabela, and then from Isabela to Baltra on our last day. This worked out perfectly because we arrived right at the airport and easily transferred back to Guayaquil.

Some things to know about inter-island flights:

  • One hour pre-arrival is plenty of time. Don’t show up too early, they won’t be there! 🙂
  • There is a baggage allowance of 25 pounds per person. You can purchase more, but keep this in mind as it is much less than a standard commercial flight.
  • San Cristobal evidently gets quite foggy and sometimes these flights get cancelled or rescheduled. We had mentally prepared for that, and figured we would do the ferry as a back up plan if things didn’t work out.
  • You can do these with really little ones, don’t worry! We ran into a family with a 2 year old and she did just fine.

Where to Stay in the Galapagos with Kids?

It is important to remember that the Galapagos Islands are remote. Santa Cruz, the most populated island has a population of 18,000 people. Isla Isabela has a population of under 2,000.

You won’t find Marriotts and Hiltons here. For the most part, hotels and accommodations in the Galapagos are simple and no frills. That doesn’t mean you can’t have an amazing stay.

Where to Stay in San Cristobal with Kids?

Glass of red wine in front of the sun set on San Cristobal Galapagos Islands

When deciding where to stay in San Cristobal, we recommend staying on the northern side of town. This area is quiet, while still close to the downtown. It is also easy access to some of the prettiest beaches on the island (read our San Cristobal recommendations here).

When in San Cristobal, we stayed at the Galeodan Suites. This was basically an airbnb, hosted by a really nice family. We had an incredible view of the marina from our fully equipped two bedroom apartment.

Two kids looking at a sea lion on the ground next to a restaurant at the Galapagos Islands

Every morning, we enjoyed our coffee on the balcony with the sounds of birds and seals in the distance. We ended our day with unbelievable sunsets.

Galeodan Suites had a two bedroom apartment which was perfect for our family. We had a full kitchen, and the host provided us with fresh bread, eggs, and water every day.

A boy looking over at a sea lion on a rock at the San Cristobal marina on the Galapagos Islands

The location was great, a short walk to town but removed from the hustle and bustle of the marina.

Some other good hotels for families in this area are:

If in San Cristobal with kids, my only advice is to avoid The Wooden House Lodge and Chez Manany Ecolodge. While both of these look like nice hotels, they are really far from the downtown, and you need to bike to get to town. Stick to hotels close to the marina to be able to walk to the playground, restaurants, etc.

Where to Stay in Isla Isabela with Kids?

Isla Isabela is pretty remote, so expect simple accommodations. We stayed at the Hotel Volcano, and it was good enough for us. The room was clean, breakfast was basic, and location was great just across the street from the beach.

We got the impression that several of these hotels were owned by the same company and operated by the same people. At the end of the day, they provided all of the basics, and we had a great time.

Some other good hotels for families in Isabela are:

Why We Skipped Santa Cruz?

While Santa Cruz is a popular destination in the Galapagos Islands, with only one week to visit we decided to skip it.

Santa Cruz is known for its crowds and is the most heavily visited island in the Galapagos. Due to its popularity, Santa Cruz has undergone significant commercial development. There are more hotels, restaurants, and tourist-oriented facilities here compared to other islands. While this may have advantages, after traveling so far, we wanted to experience the natural beauty of the Galapagos.

Read Our Other Galapagos Islands Articles for more Ideas on Travel with your Kids!

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