A gaggle of guides, naturalists, outfitters and other experts tame the Galápagos just enough. In the five years of his voyage on the HMS Beagle, Charles Darwin actually spent more time on land than at sea — albeit not on a deluxe, guided Galápagos vacation. Before reaching the islands, he’d been in Rio, the Falkland Islands, the Andes and four-years’- worth of other ports. But the trip wasn’t about Darwin. He was on board as much to be a companion for the captain as for his naturalist skills.

Today, like Darwin, we spend our time in the Galápagos primarily on land. Cruise ships give us cabin fever. Still, without the ability to spend five weeks exploring, some serious logistical support is in order. Fortunately for Classic Journeys guests, our island-based crew includes a few dozen local pros who make your trip seamless and effortless.

The trip includes four species of naturalist. From island to island, the Galapagos plants and animals are subtly different. Our naturalist guides are too. In addition to the lead local guide who accompanies your group, an island-specific naturalist joins us on each of the three shores we visit. If the wind’s from the west, where are the penguins likeliest to be? What’s happening at the coffee plantation on San Cristóbal? How should you approach the giant land tortoises to get the closest respectful look? These experts have the answers.

Island Hopping

You need some wingspan to move between the islands, too. Believe it or not, the Galápagos has two airlines. The planes may be rarer than frigate birds, but they are just as deft at catching the currents for the shift between islands. Instead of hoisting anchor and cruising from San Cristóbal to Isabela, we save precious time with pilots who handle the island hop. The views are insanely beautiful as you glide over waters so clear that you can see the sea life, even from a few thousand feet up.

Galapagos Habitat hotel

Back down at sea level, ideal kayaking is sometimes just a paddle from a lodge’s dock. But not always. On those days, the captains of private motorboats zip us in to place with kayaks in tow. When it’s time to board our kayak armada in search of sea lions and giant sea turtles, specialized guides are there to coach, look out for everybody’s safety and comfort and lead us to prime territory. And if wielding a paddle isn’t your thing, the captain welcomes you to stay on the canopied deck of the boat.

Those shallow waters are stunningly clear, and the sights below the surface are not to be missed. Even if you’ve never donned a mask and snorkel, our patient and skilled snorkeling guides — one on each island we visit — will get you up and silently “oohing” at the reef fish and marine iguanas. Really, there is no cooler way to see Galápagos penguins than on a swim off the shore of Las Tintoreras. Want to do a little surfing … or give it a try for the first time? Our friend Billabong (that’s really his name) joins us on the best surfing beach in San Cristóbal to make it happen for you.

Pedal Power

Next up — mountain biking. Yes, mountain biking. After all, there’s plenty of amazing terrain away from the beaches. The multisport family edition of our Galápagos trip includes a day when we cover more ground than Darwin ever dreamed of. A dedicated mountain bike guide takes us for a spin on trails that wind through a wild volcanic landscape. And everything is ready at exactly the right moment — you don’t worry about tire pumps or renting a bike. We do it all.

How can we be sure a bike of exactly the right size is waiting for you that day? Our team plans ahead! When you book your trip to the Galápagos, we’ll ask you for heights, sizes and other personal data that we need to be sure right-sized equipment is reserved in advance and ready to go. From small enough snorkel fins to an accurate kayak count, the details are dealt with by us. And our local team of experts has your back every step, paddle and dive of the way … so you can focus on the experience without thinking about logistics for a second.

Two-legged Galapagueños

family around a Galapagos Turtle

Of all the rafts (of penguins), bobs (of sea lions) and lounges (of iguanas), the inhabitants who may surprise you most are the people of the Galápagos.

Our island-based trip is a unique opportunity to meet these people. At sunset, you can stroll with them in the soft sands of their village streets. In the remote countryside, you get to meet and chat with the family that operates a coffee plantation.

At our fine eco-lodges, you’ll appreciate the arms-wide-open hospitality of the people who call the islands home. That’s a level of insight and pleasure that cruise ship visitors miss when they chug back out to sea every day.