Looking for the best Galapagos day tours? The Galapagos Islands are a bucket-list destination for many travelers, and for good reason.
Hurtigruten Cruise is a great way to see the animals and its surrounding islands — and unless you’re planning to pay for tours day by day these tours add up quickly.
💡 Note: If you do want to tour Galapagos daily, the best way is to book a tour through Metropolitan Tours because they have the best and most thorough tours in Galapagos.
Below, you’ll find the most popular and the best Galapagos day tours — including Santa Cruz Islands, Isabela Island, North Seymour Island (Isla Seymour Norte), and more.
Galapagos, Ecuador: Know before you go
- ✈️ Airport: Seymour Galapagos Airport, Baltra Island (airport code: GPS)
⏰ Time Zone: GMT -6.
- 💰 Currency: USD
- 🗣 Language: Spanish, though English is quite common
- 🎫 Ecuador Visa: The vast majority of travelers do not need a visa for the Galapagos — this includes Americans, Canadians, Japanese, and most Europeans.
- 🔌 Electricity Socket: You’ll mostly find Type A (two-prong) and Type B (three-prong) — the same as used in the United States. For visitors from other countries, you’ll need this universal travel adaptor.
- 📲 Galapagos SIM Card: Wondering, Do I need a SIM card for Galapagos? The answer is yes, every traveler will need one.
- 🚙 Car Rentals: The Galapagos rental car process can be a bit daunting, and many people are apprehensive about driving in a foreign country. I get it!
Embarking from Santa Cruz, Isabela Island and San Cristobal: What to Expect
A large island, just across the turquoise waters from the airport on Baltra in the center of the archipelago, Santa Cruz is very much the center of tourism in the Galapagos.
Named after the Holy Cross, it has an area of 612 square miles and a maximum altitude of 2,835 feet and hosts the largest human population in the archipelago in the town of Puerto Ayora, where the Charles Darwin Research Station and the headquarters of the Galapagos National Park Services are located.
As a large island, with a variety of geology, wildlife, and vegetation, all of the Galapagos life zones are present on Santa Cruz Island
Santa Cruz Fast Facts
- Santa Cruz is the only island with six different vegetation zones.
- Animals: Giant tortoises, land and marine iguanas, variety of birds
- Area: 380 sq. mi
- Highest Point: 2,834 ft
.A beautiful white sandy beach punctuated by lava formations. The wonderfully soft sand here makes it a favorite site for nesting Sea Turtles.
Here you will also see White Mangroves, one of the four mangrove species found in the Galapagos.
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There is a small coastal lagoon behind the sand dunes where Flamingos, Stilts, Pintail ducks, and other water birds are regularly seen.
- Activities: Walking along the beach, swimming, snorkeling. Difficulty: Easy
- Type of Landing: Wet landing
- Highlights & Animals: World War II remnants, Sally Lightfoot Crabs, Hermit Crabs, Black-necked Stilts, Whimbrels, Flamingos, Sea Turtles
The economic center of the Galapagos Islands. Virtually all the yachts visit Puerto Ayora anchoring in Academy Bay.
Here you will find several gift and souvenir shops, with some art and craft galleries. This also provides a good opportunity to purchase any toiletry items you may have forgotten!
Charles Darwin Research Station
The Charles Darwin Research Station offers a great chance to learn about the work being done to conserve and protect the island’s wildlife.
For some visitors (depending on the time of year) this is the only time to see Giant Tortoises and certainly the closest range opportunity. It is also a great chance to see the Tortoise Rearing Centre.
- Activities: Walking (1.2 mi. / 2km.)
- Difficulty: Easy
- Type of Landing: Dry landing
- Highlights & Animals: Giant Tortoises, Land and Marine Iguanas, Mockingbirds, Darwin Finches.
Highlands of Santa Cruz
The highlands of Santa Cruz are home to fascinating geological features, like lava tubes and the twin sinkhole craters of Los Gemelos, which are home to some 300 different fern species as well as a forest of Scalesias, a relative of sunflowers.
This is an excellent area to look for some elusive endemics like the Woodpecker Finch (one of only a few bird species in the world to use tools), Small Tree Finch, Vegetarian Finch, and Galapagos Rail.
The highlands of Santa Cruz are one of the best places to see Giant Tortoises in the wild.
- Activities: Hike (0.9 mi / 1 ½ km)
- Difficulty: Easy /moderate
- Highlights & Animals: Pit craters, Scalesia Forest, Darwin finches, Warblers, Flycatchers.
Cerro Mesa is a private ecological reserve in the highlands of Santa Cruz with many forest paths filled with endemic Galapagos vegetation, with an impressive and deep sinkhole crater.
The chance to watch White-cheeked Pintail Ducks, rails, stilts, and frigatebirds who are usually present in the lagoon here.
The reserve also offers the opportunity to see mockingbirds, flycatchers, warblers, Galapagos Doves, and Darwin’s finches.
With luck you will also be able to see some of the population of Giant Tortoises that live in the reserve, which are geographically isolated from the main population of Giant Tortoises on Santa Cruz Island.
(This nature reserve is a great example of a private initiative trying to work and protect the fragile Galapagos ecosystem alongside the Galapagos National Park).
- Activities: Short hike (1.2mi / 2km)
- Difficulty: Easy
- Type of Landing: No landing
- Highlights & Animals: Interesting vegetation, Darwin’s Finches, Galapagos Doves and sometimes Giant Tortoises
This visitor site has no trail and no landing. A dinghy tour will give you opportunities to see Sea lions, Blue-footed Boobies, pelicans and frigatebirds.
At Punta Carrion you can snorkel from the boat to see a variety of fish, rays, and possibly the harmless White-tipped Reef Sharks.
- Activities: Boat tour. Kayaking and Snorkelling
- Difficulty: Easy
- Type of Landing: No landing
Highlights & Animals: Galapagos Sea Lions, Brown Pelicans, Boobies. Snorkel: Sea lions, Butterflyfish, Parrotfish, White-tipped Reef Sharks.
Measuring over 1800 square miles, and accounting for over half the land surface area in Galapagos, at about 80 miles in length, the seahorse-shaped Isabela Island is the largest in the Galapagos.
Isabela is formed from six separate volcanoes (Alcedo, Cerro Azul, Darwin, Ecuador, Sierra Negra, and Wolf). Being the largest island, it has many visitor sites, covering a large diversity of ecosystems, from barren lava flows to evergreen lush forests.
Close to Fernandina, it is also on the ‘hotspot’ and is very young and geologically very alive.
As the largest island, it is also home to the largest number of visitor sites:
The walk will take you up the slopes of the Darwin Volcano, along the edge of a saltwater lagoon to a small hill from which you will see spectacular views of the northern lava fields of Isabela.
Most of the fauna will be observed during a dinghy ride along the coast, with dramatic colors and beautiful tuff formations, Blue-footed Boobies, penguins, Marine Iguanas, pelicans and shorebirds.
- Activities: Long uphill hike (1.1mi /1.8km), Snorkelling, dinghy ride, Kayaking.
- Difficulty: Moderate
- Type of Landing: Dry landing
- Highlights & Animals: Darwin Finches, lowland native vegetation, beautiful landscapes, penguins, Flightless Cormorants, Blue-footed Boobies, Darwin Volcano & Lake
In 1954, almost 4 miles of coastal seabed dramatically uplifted about 15 ft exposing the sea floor and killing thousands of fish and turtles.
Since then, vegetation has largely colonized the area but many signs of the uplift can still be observed.
This area is now a nesting site for Land Iguanas and occasionally, giant tortoises coming from the moist uplands. This is a good trail to see Darwin finches and it is not rare to see Galapagos Hawks.
- Activities: Snorkelling, dinghy ride & hike, 2 trails: short (0.6 mi / 1 km), long (1.9 mi / 3km)
- Difficulty: Easy (short trail) / Difficult (long trail)
- Type of Landing: Wet landing
- Highlights & Animals: Land iguanas (the biggest in Galapagos), hawks, uplifted coral reefs, and Giant Tortoises. Snorkeling: turtles, rays, tropical fish
South Plazas Day Tour: Land Iguanas & Snorkeling
One of the smallest and, depending on the season, most colorful islands. Find sea lion colonies, land and hybrid iguanas, and countless birds soaring by the cliffs.
It is an unpopulated island.
These islands are interesting formations without a volcano resulting from an uplifting from underwater.
Conformed by two islands, one flat and the other inclined, they create very special ecosystem dynamics. North Plaza is visited only for scientific and conservation purposes.
The biggest Land Iguana population that can be visited. There is a big ecosystem formed of Cactus Opuntia that holds a population of Land Iguanas, the smallest ones in the archipelago.
The trip around South Plaza place allows the visitor to see the whole population and to notice how these animals survived in this and other similar environments when they arrived and were established.
Rarely a hybrid of Marine and Land Iguana can be found on the trails.
- Type of Terrain:
- Physical Conditions Required:
- Activities: 2-hour 15 min hike[:es]Caminata de 2 horas15 minutos
- Highlights: Red island due to its vegetation made up of sesuvium, the largest colony of sea lions, the unique landscape of a cactus forest, hybrid iguanas, Nazca, blue-footed boobies, swallow-tailed gulls, and red-billed tropicbirds.
Santa Fe Island
Santa Fe island is always popular with Galapagos visitors and offers something for everyone.
The Santa Fe landscape is picturesque, combining a beautiful turquoise water bay with giant prickly pear cactus forests. Santa Fe island has the largest variety of endemic wildlife species of any Galapagos island.
Santa Fe Island in the Galapagos is a hidden gem awaiting exploration. As you disembark on its shores, be prepared for a unique encounter with the archipelago’s endemic species.
The island’s terrain boasts white sandy beaches and an arid landscape, creating a picturesque setting for your adventure.
While the physical conditions required for exploration are moderate, comfortable walking shoes and a sense of curiosity are your best companions.
Engaging in activities such as guided nature walks allows you to witness the distinctive Santa Fe land iguanas, known for their golden coloration.
Snorkeling in the crystal-clear waters surrounding the island provides a chance to swim with playful sea lions and colorful marine life.
Santa Fe Island, with its diverse ecosystem and captivating scenery, stands as a testament to the natural wonders awaiting discovery in the Galapagos.
Other Must-try Activities in Your Day Tour
In addition to snorkeling, swimming, and hiking, there are plenty of other must-try activities to enjoy on your Galapagos day tour.
These activities will add even more excitement and adventure to your already incredible experience.
One activity that you shouldn’t miss is kayaking.
Paddling through the crystal-clear waters of the Galapagos gives you a unique perspective on the islands and allows you to explore hidden coves and mangrove forests.
You might even encounter some marine life along the way, such as sea turtles or rays. It’s a peaceful and serene way to connect with nature and immerse yourself in the stunning surroundings.
If you’re looking for a more adrenaline-fueled activity, consider taking a zodiac ride.
These high-speed boat rides will take you on a thrilling adventure, zipping across the waves and getting up close to the rocky shores.
You’ll feel the wind in your hair and the spray of the ocean on your face as you explore the coastline and search for wildlife.
For those who are interested in the history and culture of the Galapagos, a visit to the Charles Darwin Research Station is a must.
Here, you can learn about the ongoing conservation efforts and research being conducted on the islands. You’ll also have the opportunity to see the famous giant tortoises up close and learn about their conservation status.
Finally, don’t forget to indulge in some delicious local cuisine during your day tour. From fresh seafood to exotic fruits, the Galapagos offers a unique culinary experience.
Try the ceviche, a popular dish made with marinated seafood, or sample the delicious empanadas filled with cheese or meat. The flavors of the Galapagos are sure to delight your taste buds and leave you wanting more.
Galapagos Packing List
A Hurtigruten Expedition to the Galapagos is without a doubt the trip of a lifetime. But as departure day draws near and your excitement grows, it’s important to pay attention to your packing.
Being properly prepared matters, not just because of the terrain you’ll be visiting but because you’ve only got one chance to get your packing right.
Most of the islands in the Galapagos are uninhabited and located miles from civilization—needless to say, there are no stores in these pristine spots.
It’s smart to plan carefully in advance and pack with care, which is all part of the fun! Here’s our essential Hurtigruten Expedition packing list for the Galapagos Islands.
You’ll be scrambling over spiky lava and along rocky trails in the Galapagos, therefore flip-flops should stay at home. It’s too hot for heavy-duty mountaineering boots and in any case, you can’t leave the marked trails so they’re not necessary. Opt for sturdy, lightweight hiking shoes, and add some thin, wicking hiking socks in there, too.
2. Water Shoes
A pair of lightweight water shoes is a helpful addition to your packing; you can also use these for walks on some of the gentler hikes. Again, don’t bank on stepping off the Zodiac in flip-flops. Chances are, they’ll get washed away or you’ll topple gently into the shallows.
If you can, dress in plain khakis and beiges and save your more creative dressing for evenings. Avoid anything white for daywear, too, as there’s a lot of dust from the volcanic rocks and soil. Don’t pack too much black as you may overheat under the intense sun.
Choose lightweight hiking pants and shorts or pants with zip-off legs. The Galapagos is on the equator so it’s always warm and often hot and humid. On hikes, you’ll most likely be more comfortable in shorts, but for activities like a sunset Zodiac ride through the mangroves, long pants will protect you against mosquitoes.
A T-shirt or lightweight shirt that covers your shoulders offers better protection than a tank top. Cover kids as much as you can, too, as nobody wants to be dealing with sunburns when they should be out enjoying the adventure.
While it does rain in the Galapagos, it’s almost always warm; temperatures range from around 75F to a balmy 86F. January through June are the wetter months, particularly March and April, so pack something light and waterproof to keep yourself dry on hikes, especially if you’re visiting the highlands of Santa Cruz Island, where a cool mist can hang in the air.
If you’ve got space, pack more than one swimsuit. You could be in the water in the morning and again in the afternoon and it’s always nice not to have to pull on soggy swimwear as you prepare for the afternoon activity.
Insects aren’t a problem in the Galapagos. Mosquitoes are rare in a marine desert environment like this and even rarer when you’re at sea. If you’re concerned, though, or if you plan to travel further on mainland South America, pack a small roll-on of bug repellant.
You’ll need a strong sunblock for the equatorial sun, even on cloudy days. Consider a mineral-based, ocean-friendly brand and never assume that sunscreen is 100% waterproof. Should you be prone to burning, aloe vera gel is a wonderful, natural after-sun remedy, while pure lavender essential oil is great for a particularly sore sunburn.
Quality snorkel gear is provided on Galapagos vacations, so there’s no need to bring your own. But if you normally wear contacts and are worried about putting your face in the water, or if you use glasses and have a strong prescription, consider investing in a prescription mask.
Sun protection for your head is essential on the equator. The Galapagos can get pretty windy and if you’re riding around on a Zodiac, there will always be a breeze. Therefore, choose a hat that won’t blow away. A wide brim or visor will help protect your face against the sun and children need decent sun hats, too. If your neck is prone to burning, add a bandana to your luggage.
You’ll certainly need sunglasses in the bright light of the islands. If you’re buying a new pair, go for polarized glass as it’s easier to spot sea turtles and rays in the water that way. Invest in a neoprene strap to hold onto your glasses; it’s all too easy to lose them when you’re jumping off a Zodiac or not paying attention during a hike.
You’ll be ashore for hikes most days, therefore a small day pack in which to stash your camera, sunscreen, and water bottle will come in handy. On some of the more challenging hikes, a backpack will be more useful than a shoulder bag as you’ll want your hands free.
You’ll need extra storage capacity for images and video. You’ll always take more photographs than you expected to and nobody wants to run out of storage space in the middle of an epic trip.
Perhaps the single most important item to bring to the Galapagos is your camera. Nowhere else in the world has such incredible opportunities for photographing wildlife that is completely unafraid of you and will pose obligingly, if unwittingly, for photos.
A zoom lens can make pictures all the more dazzling. A GoPro, too, is great for snorkeling in the Galapagos or action shots like zooming along in a Zodiac or recording sea lions frolicking in the water
Also, click here if you need my Travel packing List. You can find everything from drones, Snorkeling Gear, Hiking, Back packs, Cargo Pants, and more for your Next Trip.
Tips for Making the Most out of Your Galapagos Day Tour
- Be prepared: Before embarking on your Galapagos day tour, make sure you pack everything you’ll need for a day of adventure. Bring a swimsuit, comfortable clothes and shoes for hiking, sunscreen, a hat, sunglasses, and a waterproof camera or phone case. It’s also a good idea to bring a reusable water bottle and snacks to keep you energized throughout the day.
- Listen to your guides: The guides on your Galapagos day tour are experts in the islands’ biodiversity and history. Pay attention to their instructions and information, as they will enhance your understanding and appreciation of the unique ecosystem. They will also ensure your safety during activities such as snorkeling and hiking, so be sure to follow their guidance.
- Take your time: The Galapagos Islands are a place to slow down and immerse yourself in nature. Take your time to observe the wildlife, enjoy the stunning landscapes, and soak in the serenity of the islands. Don’t rush through the activities; instead, take the opportunity to fully experience the beauty and wonder of this extraordinary destination.
- Respect the environment: As you explore the Galapagos Islands, it’s important to remember that you are a guest in this delicate ecosystem. Follow the principles of responsible tourism by not disturbing or touching wildlife, not leaving any trash behind, and staying on designated paths during hikes. By respecting the environment, you are helping to preserve the Galapagos Islands for future generations.
- Be flexible: The weather and wildlife sightings can be unpredictable in the Galapagos Islands. Embrace the unexpected and be flexible with your itinerary. Sometimes the best experiences happen when you least expect them, so be open to new opportunities and go with the flow.
- Stay hydrated and protected: The Galapagos Islands can be hot and sunny, so it’s important to stay hydrated and protected from the sun. Drink plenty of water throughout the day and reapply sunscreen regularly. It’s also a good idea to wear a hat and lightweight, breathable clothing to stay cool.
Last but definitely not least – travel insurance. It’s not just a safety net; it’s a smart move.
From unexpected flight changes to unforeseen medical issues, having that extra layer of protection ensures you can focus on soaking in Ecuador’s wonders worry-free.
So, pack your bags, grab your passport, and get ready for an unforgettable journey in this South American gem!
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Conclusion: Best Galapagos Day Tours
In conclusion, exploring the Galapagos Islands with Hurtigruten Expedition Cruises is an unparalleled journey into the heart of natural wonders.
Their carefully crafted tours offer a perfect blend of luxury, adventure, and environmental consciousness, ensuring an experience that transcends traditional travel.
From encountering iconic wildlife to cruising through pristine waters, each moment with Hurtigruten is an opportunity to discover the extraordinary.
Elevate your travel game, redefine exploration, and embark on a Galapagos adventure with a cruise that goes beyond expectations.
Ready to set sail with Hurtigruten and create your own Galapagos story?
Book your expedition now and immerse yourself in the enchanting landscapes and captivating wildlife of this unique archipelago.
Ready to plan your trip, grab my FREE Vacation Planner to help you plan your trip in the time it takes to watch your favorite TV show!
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