5 Days in The Galapagos Islands Itinerary (On a Cruise)

A man poses alongside a giant Galapagos Tortoise

I enjoyed a busy 5 Days in The Galapagos Islands on a cruise ship after agonising over my best options for several hours.

I am not here to tell you that a cruise is better than doing it all yourself. What I am aiming to do is tell you my exact 5-day Galapagos itinerary so you know what to expect if you are to go down the same route as me.

The Ecuador trip was close to my birthday, compounded with my love for animals and the possibility of seeing them protected on an unprecedented level was a no-brainer.

However, the decision to shell out the whopping $4,500 from my apartment savings was a difficult one to make indeed while I was checking out all the things to do in Guayaquil, Ecuador’s gateway city to the famous islands.

I’ll try and make this Galapagos itinerary as concise and also simple as possible, explaining what to expect in the Galapagos Islands and at the end, I’ll explain whether I think it’s worth going on a cruise or not so you can work out what is best for you.

First of 5 Days in Galapagos Itinerary: Arrive at Bartholomew

A sea lion stands on a wooden platform in the Galapagos Islands

Day one is all about settling into the cruise and having an introduction to the Galapagos Islands. Dipping your toes into the water, so to speak.

With that being said, after lunch and a short induction on what to do (and what not to do) we were geared up for our first fix of the Galapagos Islands.

AM: Bartholomew

A cruise ship rides on the water during a 5 days Galapagos trip

I arrived at Baltra Airport after spending one week in Quito, where the local guide met and transferred me and a few others from the cruise onto our beautiful ship, named Ocean Spray.

Usual group-tour etiquette was carried out where we got to meet each other, fake-laugh at our guide’s recycled cheesy jokes and receive a briefing on what to expect on our five days, four-night Galapagos excursion.

PM: Bartholomew

A tourist takes a photo in the mirror of a Luxury Galapagos Cruise bedroom
A white bed with a photo of a lizard and a sea lion in black and white

Later that afternoon we headed out to Bartholomew to get our first taste of the Galapagos.

Bartholomew is a small island that derives from Santiago Island. It is home to the famous Pinnacle Rock and is named after James Sullivan, a friend of Charles Darwin who was also aboard the HMS Beagle. Of all the islands, this is the most photographed and is also featured in the 2003 movie Master and Commander.

Pinnacle Rock is a volcanic cone formed by magma expelled by an underwater volcano. The sea cooled the hot lava and as it exploded from contact, the pieces formed together this huge rock of many, many layers of basalt.

Galapagos penguins gather here, but I never saw any penguins during my whole trip. Thankfully, they were very much part of the activities in Ushuaia in November and also Antarctica sorted me out later on with my penguin fix!

Highlights: Pinnacle Rock, Galapagos penguins, marine life, panoramic views, climbing a mini volcano.

This island is named after ecologist and a lifelong buddy of Charles Darwin, Sir Bartholomew James Sulivan.

Swimming is an option here, if you are lucky you might get to see some white-tipped sharks and marine turtles amongst some beautiful tropical fish. It is possible to climb the volcano and we did just that, a lovely little meander of 114 metres.

It’s worth noting here that I was the youngest by far and the older parts of the crew had no issues making this hike to the top. The lava formations made a nice solid surface to walk on and the views from the top were a beauty.

This is a perfect intro to the Galapagos Islands for those simply wanting to ease into their Galapagos itinerary.

Day 2: Genovesa Island, Darwin Bay & El Barranco

A cruise ship floats at sunset on El Barranco Island during a 5 days Galapagos Islands cruise

Day two of the 5 days Galapagos itinerary ramps it up a couple of notches with promises of penguins, potential marine life and learning about a lot of majestic, colourful slightly creepy birds and another leisurely hike with a view.

Highlights: Nazca boobies, red-footed Boobies, swallow-tailed gulls, mangroves, coral pebbles beach. Underwater in Darwin Bay, we saw some rays and colourful reef fish and I saw a pod of hammerhead sharks – which went a lot better than the last time I saw one!

Genovesa Island is a horseshoe-shaped island which was formed by the eruption of a shield volcano with large slopes formed by gradual lava flows. It is known as ‘Bird Island’ due to the wide variety of birds that can be seen. The only reptile on the entire island is the marine iguana and it is one of the very few places red-footed boobies gather in one large mass.

After being introduced to the birds we set off to Darwin Bay for some snorkelling.

Snorkelling can often be very anticlimactic, but I knew that there was no chance of that over there. Also, the sea is bloody cold – so make sure you reserve the best gear! This is one of the places in the Galapagos where red-footed boobies can be guaranteed to be seen. Over 200,000 red-footed boobies are estimated to be living in the trees and bushes of Genovesa.

Birds can sometimes become boring very fast (sorry, birdies) – at least at face value. But if you really listen to the extremely complex life cycle of Galapagos birds, which have survived for so long in an intense predator/prey environment, you should find a newfound respect for them.

For example, if you’re a land bird you can’t even trust your own sibling in the nest. If it’s bigger and times are tough and s/he feels you’re going to be a burden on their hunger, they will kill you while you sleep. Ruthless!

El Barranco, better known as Prince Phillip’s Steps (after he visited there in 1964), is a steep and rocky path that leads up to a cliff with an epic view after walking past a species of funk-coloured cactus.

Although iguanas are on this island you won’t see them scuttling about like usual on land, there are only marine iguanas on El Barranco. In terms of animal highlights here; the Galapagos fur seals make an appearance, albeit from afar, but don’t worry; tomorrow you’ll… seal the deal.

Day 3: Buccaneer Cove, Espumilla Beach & Egas Port

Sea lions sleep on the sand in the Galapagos Islands

If you are birdied out and have hit your upper tolerable limit of hearing about the history and want to see the cool wildlife that Galapagos has to offer, day three is ready for you with open arms.

Check out this incredibly cute baby sea lion on my Instagram vid:

Highlights: Buccaneer Cove is better known for excellent snorkelling opportunities and was once known as a refuge for British buccaneers or pirates. The underwater formations are amazing and many different species of fish gather here.

On Espuimilla you will potentially witness nesting turtles and flamingos gathering while majestic Galapagos Hawks stalk from up above the beach.

The American oystercatchers are the star of the show amongst the array of wildlife on Egas Port. White-chested, with red eyes and a long orange beak, they work in pairs and sustain solely on shellfish.

This was the best day on the Galapagos Islands cruise by a country mile. I deep-sea snorkelled and played underwater with a gorgeous, mischievous baby sea lion.

It stared at me with curiosity, came real close, look at me upside down and swam around me. This was for about 10 minutes and was one of my favourite travel moments of all time, making the whole trip worth it in this short period.

On the same day, I saw three massive sea turtles too underwater, they just went about doing their own thing. It was the first time I had ever seen this species in its own habitat. In all honesty, I couldn’t confidently explain the difference between a tortoise and a turtle at this point, but luckily the next day was going to be a tortoise-centric day of extremes…

Day 4: North Seymour & Charles Darwin Research Station

multiple tortoise shells in water
A tortoise walks with a white bird sitting on its nose

The Charles Darwin Research Station in Galapagos is an ecological centre for the study and conservation of numerous species of Galapagos plants and animals, with the stars of the show undoubtedly being the giant Galapagos Tortoises.

We pretty much spent half a day with the iconic species of the Galapagos Islands; The Galapagos tortoises!

With a lifespan of over 100 years for turtles, Galapagos Islands can live well into their 170s. Shortly after this trip, I sized the Galapagos Tortoises up vs the Aldabra tortoises as seeing them is one of the top things to do in Zanzibar and it turns out the Galapagos species are the king in terms of size.

We didn’t only get to see huge tortoises, there is also a baby-tortoise house with special incubators. The breeding programme repatriates them to the Galapagos Islands when they are around 4 years old.

Galapagos tortoises have a huge appetite, eating around 80 pounds of food a day, they pretty much munch on the grass and vegetation all day long. The males can weigh more than 500 pounds (227 kilograms), and the females average about 250 pounds (113 kilograms).

The main highlight of my 5 days in the Galapagos itinerary was either the day frolicking with the baby sea lions or this day with the massive Galapagos Tortoises.

The rest of the day on North Seymour Island was similar to what we were already used to; watching the sea lions, crabs, and funky-coloured birds and reptiles living in unison (and sometimes in battle) on the craggy rock formations of the Galapagos Islands.

Final Day of 5 Days in Galapagos Itinerary: Mosquera Islet & Transfer to Airport

A blue-footed booby standing on a rock in Seymour Norte

Mosquera may be one of the smallest islands in this rightly famous archipelago, but it’s also home to one of the largest sea colonies of sea lions and occasionally orca whales that have been known to make a (majestic as always) appearance to unexpected crowds visiting the island.

With one more chance to watch the wildlife of the Galapagos Islands before our cruise ended, I barely took any photos as I wanted to breathe it all in – feeling very lucky to have experienced one of the most famous and protected places on earth.

We said goodbye to these famous Islands on the swansong of our 5 days on the Galapagos Islands cruise, not before snapping a photo of the elusive blue-footed boobie.

I was fortunate to snap a pic considering he disappeared almost as fast as he appeared, thanks to the only predator in that area for a blue-footed boobie; The Galapagos Hawk, making an unsuccessful attempt to make it dinner!

Is A Luxury Galapagos Islands Cruise Worth it?

A cruise ship floats on the water in the Galapagos Islands
My daily dose of zen views from my balcony.

Now it’s time to answer the million $4,500 dollar question.

To answer this question, I need to dissect it into two questions:

  1. Are the Galapagos Islands worth visiting?
  2. Is it worth spending the extra money and going on a cruise?

The answer to the first question isn’t hard at all. Hell yes, make sure you get to see the Galapagos Islands before you snuff it. I am not torn at all on this one. Other than Antarctica, I haven’t seen a place where animals are left alone to flourish and live in their own habitat as much as this.

I’m beyond happy that I got to do this and treat myself with an early birthday present.

The answer to number two about going on a cruise, or even the next extreme like me, a luxury Galapagos cruise – I’m not too convinced. I’m not saying that born-rich people are boring, but…ok, I am, born-rich people are usually dreadfully boring.

This is quite an ironic statement to be made by someone who has always wanted to be rich and is working on making that happen and it always has been since the inception of this blog. In my experience, people who are born into money are nowhere near as interesting, or as people who have made their own money and have a story to tell.

As much as I like old-fashioned politeness, I also like to be around people with a little bit of edge and character. A lot of the people on the ship were a little too prim and proper for my liking and a bit snobby (irony again as I am essentially being snobby myself) and it was clear that if it was the Big Brother TV show, I would have been voted out first.

Also, I was the only single on a cruise full of couples, so I felt like a bit of a weirdo. 😛

I guess I need to research my demographics better before making such grandiose purchases.

Deck chairs overlooking the sea in the Galapagos Islands.

My personal insecurities aside, I have spoken to many people who have experienced budget and medium-range Galapagos Island cruises, and they saw the same amazing things as me at half (and more) the price.

I also know people who have gone DIY in the Galapagos and got it a lot cheaper, alongside more hassle with logistics too, of course, it’s all about priorities and personal preferences at the end of the day.

I don’t think the extra expenditure of going luxury or even on a cruise is necessary for your Galapagos itinerary (unless you want to, of course), but still, I am beyond happy that I can say I spent 5 days in the Galapagos Islands so everything else is just semantics!

Anthony Middleton

A former loser who took a risk. I now live in Chiang Mai, Thailand after visiting over 100 countries. Stay tuned for the next challenge against that clock!
Ultra runner walking in desert

Hi, I'm Anthony!

In November of 2010, I took on a mammoth challenge against the clock in a quest to upgrade my miserable life. I went out of my comfort zone and turned it all around. Ten years later, I’m completely location independent…

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