One of the most epic vacation destinations in the world is the Galápagos Islands in Ecuador. Even though it’s often considered one of the world’s top places for wildlife-viewing, many families don’t feel it’s a trip to do with their young kids.
However, if you have nature, animal loving kids, then visiting the Galapagos Islands with kids should be on your wishlist! From swimming with giant sea turtles to hiking in the forest with land tortoises and basking on the beach with sea lions, this trip is like no other.
The Galapagos Islands are a province in Ecuador, about 1,000km off the coast. Its isolated terrain provides a home for a diversity of plant and animal species, many of which are found nowhere else. Charles Darwin visited in 1835, and his observation of Galápagos’ species later inspired his Theory of Evolution. While this is often a trip families want to wait for, I will say that doing it with your children can be amazing given the right planning and timing.
Visiting the Galápagos Islands has long been a dream of mine, but for several reasons I kept putting it off. One reason was financial. I didn’t think it was possible to visit the Galápagos Islands on a budget and two I thought that my son needed to be older.
After visiting the islands, I am glad that I waited and do recommend waiting for kids to be 8 years old and above. There is plenty for young kids however, so if you are in the area and your budget can manage it, definitely go. You won’t regret it. Below are you top tips on visiting the Galapagos with kids.
If you are looking to wait until the perfect age like I did, I say the age doesn’t matter as much as the ability of your child to snorkel and not be terribly frightened to swim with an array of wildlife. It is said that 70% of the beauty of the islands is actually in the water, which I definitely agree with.
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10 Great Tips on Visiting Galapagos with Kids
Even though most people think of cruises as the best way to explore the Galapagos, for families, we highly recommend skipping the cruises and opting for a land based tour instead.
One, it is much more economical. And two it offers a much more family friendly experience providing flexibility in exploring the islands. Third, opting for a land based trip is a much more sustainable and eco friendly option. More of your money goes into the pockets of islanders rather than international businesses thus helping the local economies and protection of the islands.
The best way to organize a land based tour to the Galapagos Islands with kids is to fly into one island and out of another while also visiting several islands by the local ferries. You can easily visit Santa Cruz, Isabela, and San Cristobal this way. In addition, you can visit several other islands on day trips if your itinerary and budget allows.
2. Take Time to Explore the Local Beaches
While much of the excitement in visiting the Galapagos Islands is under the water, kids will have just as much fun exploring the many beaches throughout the islands. They can play in the sand, watch the wildlife swim right in front of them and splash around in the crystal clear waters.
The beaches vary depending on the island. On Isabela the sand was fine and soft, perfect for kids, while on San Cristobal the beaches were mostly small shells crumbled up. On Santa Cruz, the sand was more like Isabela, soft and fine. Either way, kids will find a way to have fun.
3. Eat Where the Locals Do on the Galapagos Islands with Kids
The cheapest meals you can have on any of the islands is at local establishments. From $5-10 per person, you can eat a huge filling meal. Local places have a daily special that often includes a soup, main (fish or chicken, and even pasta), drink and sometimes a desert too.
If you have a picky eater, you might struggle a bit more as there are not a ton of options on the islands, but in general the food is quite basic. Most children will easily find something to eat if they are willing to try things. We ate shrimp, fish fingers, grilled chicken, pesto pasta and pizza easily.
One of the biggest expenses in the Galapagos is taking day trip to visit nearby islands. This is also one of the best ways to really experience the variation of the different islands. There are so many land based options offered on all the islands, that the biggest decision will be choosing which one to do. From snorkel trips, to hiking trips and even glass bottom boat options, there is something for everyone. Visiting the Galapagos Islands with kids will limit some of the tours you might do based on your children’s ages and swimming abilities.
Good or bad, not every tour operator goes to each day trip every day. This cuts down on the congestion, but also means the most popular tours sell out quickly. If you are on a limited time frame, make sure to book your top tours in advance. To find out what we recommend as the best tours for each island, click here.
5. Visit the Galapagos Islands with Kids at the Right Age
While much of the islands appeal is in the water, it makes sense to wait until you’re children are of an age where they can snorkel or are willing to learn and aren’t terrified of everything in the ocean. I have found through my own experience this is child dependent, but in general a minimum age of 8 and up seems to work well.
I’ve been waiting for years for exactly this reason. My son was too scared of big things in the water, hated cold water and wasn’t always confident snorkeling. Additionally as they get older there are more and more activities for kids to participate in.
Even at 9.5 years old there were moments that he was nervous to go into the water because of the sharks. He soon got over it and was so excited to see everything, but this is an important factor to keep in mind when planning a family trip to the Galápagos.
6. Bring Your Own Gear
While many of the tour operators actually have great gear, if you have any special needs definitely bring your own gear. For example, you will be hard pressed to find long sleeve, long pant wetsuits for children. While the water is relatively warm during the Dec-Feb season (the best time to visit many say!), some kids might still find it cold, especially if it’s an overcast day. In the other times of year the water is much colder and long wetsuits will be needed for kids.
We found that the tour operators have children’s snorkel masks, but we did enjoy having our own for quick snorkel sessions off the beach without having to worry about renting them.
If you plan to island hop like we did when traveling to the Galapagos Islands, it will be much more manageable if you pack light. This means backpacks if at all possible! You will be spending a lot of time getting on/off boats that it makes life much easier if you can carry everything on your back.
I had a suitcase and a backpack, but my son only brought a backpack and it was much easier! If the Galápagos Islands are your main destination, pack beach wear, towels, snorkel gear and casual clothes for the evenings. In the high season it does not cool down very much at night and continues to be quite humid.
Don’t forget the wet bags – you can use them for wet clothes and to keep your camera gear safe in the sand. Trust me you will want your camera all the time!
The only shoes you will need for the islands are rugged water shoes like Keens and flip flops. For the amount of hiking possible, for the most part you don’t need hiking boots.
For more on our favorite items to pack, check out our Southeast Asia packing list which doubles as our basic packing list for any trip!
Bring Lots of Sun Gear
The Galapagos are close to the equator which means the sun is strong! Sunscreen, sun hats, and long sleeve rad guards are ideal is a must.
If you visit during the rainy season, don’t forget light weights ponchos and lots of bug spray. The mosquitos are insane!
And don’t forget your cameras. We recommend this one for kids – it can be used under water and is rugged enough for being bounced around like kids will do!
8. Bring Lots of Cash
Cash is king in the Galapagos. ATMs are available on the 3 islands but they don’t always work and your daily withdrawal maximum is typically $200, which won’t go far especially if you do day tours. Even just as you arrive to the Galapagos National Park (the islands), you will need to pay $100 entry fee in cash per adult and $50 per child.
For a 7 day visit to the Galapagos Islands, we brought $1000 and spent every penny. A few hotels will take credit cards, but all tours, most restaurants, shops and taxis will require small bills or cash. Do not take anything bigger than $20s.
9. Reusable Water Bottle
While there are signs before you arrive to the Galapagos saying water bottles are illegal, you will still see them everywhere. To help reduce single use plastics however please bring your own water bottles – maybe more than one (I lost mine on day 1 and was sad without it the rest of the trip!) Most hotels offer free or very cheap cold water refill stations for your water bottles. These are great to save money and to help the environment.
Also note that other than Coke, there are very few drink options on the islands. If your kids get sick of water, bring flavor sachets or electrolyte packets for variety.
10. Book Must Do Activities in Advance
As I mentioned previously, tours operate on specific days so there are limited numbers of boats going to the various islands each day. If you have any specific Galapagos trips you *must* do, book it in advance of your arrival. For example, I really wanted to visit Santa Fe, but the only tour operating on the day we were there was fully booked.
Additionally if you know what days you want to take a ferry to another island, book it in advance with a local tour operator. We recommend Victor at Galapagos Living. We also enjoyed our time on the ferry Gaviota to San Cristobal. It was fast, and each person had their own seat!
Itinerary Ideas for Visiting the Galápagos with Kids
The ideal scenario in visiting the Galápagos Islands with kids or without is at least 2 weeks, but we know this isn’t exactly feasible for everyone. While we were able to a squeeze a ton in our tightly packed schedule, it is always nice to have a few more days to breathe. For those with less time, I would suggest at least 10 days for the best experience.
While it doesn’t matter which island you start or end with, you can only fly into San Cristobal and Santa Cruz. My suggestion is to do whatever flight works into your schedule best as flights do not go to each island daily. Make sure to purchase your tickets to the Galapagos ONLY through the airline websites themselves not through a 3rd party to ensure you are not accidentally purchasing resident tickets which are greatly reduced and not valid for foreigners.
Santa Cruz Island – 3 Days
- Arrival, explore the town of Puerto Ayora, visit the Darwin research center, organize day trips and ferries
- Take a day trip (this will depend on what day of the week it is, and availability if you haven’t booked in advance)
- Visit the highlands to see the giant tortoise reserves and lava tunnels
- Explore Tortuga Bay and the many marine iguanas, Playa de Estation and Las Greitas
Isabela – 3 Days
- Explore the town, snorkel for free at Concha de la Perla
- Ride bikes to the Tortoise Breeding Center, see the flamingos and play on the beach.
- Take a day tour to Los Tuneles
San Cristobal – 3 days
- Explore the town, visit the Center for Interpretation, hike to Cerro Tijeretas, play at the beach
- Visit Lo Loberia beach
- Day trip to highlands or to Punta Pitt or Kicker Rock
The longer you have on each island, the better as you will have more opportunities to explore. There are a ton of things to in the Galapagos Islands with kids especially, that if you have the money to stay longer, stay longer. From kayak tours, to hiking volcanoes to day trips out on the boats. If you have time however, we highly recommend also making time for another bucket list trip to the Ecuadorian Amazon jungle!
Accommodation Options in the Galapagos Islands
For a variety of factors while visiting the Galapagos Islands with kids, we opted to stay in the town center for almost all islands rather than the more luxury options located in the highland areas. Had we had more time, we would have loved to split our time between the two.
On each island there is a range of accommodation options from budget hostels to luxury hotels. However overall, most options lie on the middle range.
We stayed at the Hotel Coloma on Santa Cruz which was only a few minutes walk from the dock and main center of town. The staff are lively, it includes breakfast and is often less than $100 a night.
On Isabela we opted to stay in a little more expensive place near to the dock due to our 5:30 am departure. The Wooden House Lodge was beautiful and perfect for our stay.
Lastly, on San Cristobal we stayed at the Dolphin House which was basic, but provided all that we needed for our last few days.
For more information on each island, see these posts for each island.
- Santa Cruz
- San Cristobal
- Best day trips in the Galapagos
Don’t Forget Your Travel Insurance
Ecuador is an amazing country for travelers, but it is also expensive, therefore you should make sure to have international insurance in place before you go. This is the one non-negotiable item I make sure to book for any trip abroad. For me personally, I have a year long plan with Allianz. However, for a bit more of a comprehensive insurance with higher allowances for things like dental, repatriation of remains, etc, I recommend World Nomads. World Nomads can be a bit more expensive for frequent travelers, but their coverage is much more comprehensive. Check their rates here. And as always, read the fine print to know exactly what is and is not covered!
My choice in insurance often is dependent on the location I am traveling too (the political stability, chance for great misfortune, etc) or if I am taking a tour that requires specific coverage.
I have used both companies myself as they are both known as responsive to claims and are reputable.
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