Best Galapagos itinerary
Itineraries are tightly controlled by the Ecuadorian government and the Galapagos National Park. The government permits landing parties in certain spots, vessels can only moor for the nights in certain locations and deviations can only be made under exceptional circumstances for safety reasons. The government permits two general Galapagos itineraries, creatively called A and B by most operators.
Why does any of this matter? The Galapagos Islands are not uniform. Each island is its own ecology due to the island’s geological formation. The Galapagos Islands stem from a hot spot deep in the earth. As the Nazca Plate deep in the earth moves towards the South American Plate, thin spots or weak spots in the Nazca Plate allow lava to boil up to the surface. As the plate moves, various weak spots pop through the Nazca Plate resulting in the different islands. From a geological standpoint, this means the eastern islands of the Galapagos are older than the western islands. And the eastern islands have had more time to develop vegetation. So the islands in the south and east are generally lusher and the islands in the north and west are rockier. If you have two full weeks, most boats make both itineraries on alternating weeks, so you can see nearly all the islands. However, most visitors are only able to spend one full week in the Galapagos, so they need to choose between the two itineraries.
Galapagos Itinerary A
The eastern Galapagos itinerary generally visits:
- Baltra Island – This is the location of a small harbor and the international airport. It is a former military base and some of the old base can still be seen.
- Santa Cruz Island – This is the main island of the Galapagos, home to the town of Puerto Ayora and also the Charles Darwin Research Station and the forest highlands.
- Floreana Island – Common sites to visit are Punta Cormorant, the Post Office Bay and the Devil’s Crown.
- Espanola Island – Sites of Gardner Bay and Punta Suarez.
- San Cristobal – This island has a large number of sites, including Puerto Baquerizo Moreno, the San Cristobal Interpretation Center, Punta Pitt, and the stunning Leon Dormido rock.
- Santa Fe – Some itineraries can also include the small Santa Fe Island.
Galapagos Itinerary B
The western Galapagos Islands itinerary generally visits:
- Genovesa Island – Genovesa (or Tower Island) is a rocky volcanic caldera that is actually due north of Santa Cruz and home to Darwin Bay and the Prince Phillips Steps.
- Santiago Island – The stop here usually take in vast James Bay.
- Isabela Island – This is the largest island in the Galapagos and most western Galapagos itineraries feature many stops, including Elizabeth Bay, Punta Vicente Roca, Urbina Bay, Tagus Cove and the massive Sierra Negra volcano caldera.
- Fernandina Island – This is a chance to see the lava fields of Puna Espinoza.
Which Galapagos Itinerary is best?
Ideally, visitors would take in two full weeks and do both itineraries. However, for many travelers, that’s not realistic. And it wasn’t possible for us. We only had two weeks for this trip – one week on the mainland of Ecuador exploring the mountains with Kuoda Travel and one week in the Galapagos (however, the different climates presented some packing challenges, so be sure to check What to Pack For Ecuador and the Galapagos). For us, we wanted to see the other-worldly lava landscapes so we chose the western Galapagos trip. However, there’s really no bad choice!