South America

Exploring the Galapagos Islands with Kids

Laura Pattara

Laura Pattara  |  12 March 2024

Remote, isolated, and brimming with exotic and unique wildlife, the Galapagos are among the most coveted bucket-list destinations on earth. But are the Galapagos suitable for a family holiday? That's a popular question we field here at Viva Expeditions, so for the sake of (ahem) research, our company’s head honchos decided to pack up the kids, hop on a plane, and go find out!


Kids and parents in Galapagos Islands

Rachel and her family in the Galapagos Islands in 2023


Given the Galapagos are a far-flung travel destination renowned for a distinct lack of infrastructure, it’s reasonable for families to wonder just how safe, feasible and enjoyable it would be to visit on a family vacation.

We've gathered the most valuable info you'll need to help you plan your family holiday to the Galapagos. Here are the answers to the most common questions our South America specialists get asked.


Exploring the Galapagos Islands with Kids

Introduction to the Galapagos Islands

Is the Galapagos suitable for children?

What should children be able to do to visit the Galapagos?

Is there a minimum age limit for Galapagos cruises, and why?

How long should you visit the Galapagos when travelling with kids?

What’s the best time to visit the Galapagos with kids?

Tips for finding the best family-friendly Galapagos cruises

The best family-friendly Galapagos cruises

What else can you do before/after a Galapagos family holiday?


Introduction to the Galapagos Islands

To better understand the unique challenges of a family holiday in the Galapagos, it helps to know more about this fantastic destination. You probably know these are considered among the most biodiverse islands on earth – a veritable treasure trove of unique animals and landscapes.

Charles Darwin based his Theory of Evolution by Natural Selection on his discoveries when he visited the Galapagos in the early 19th century. Everything about the Galapagos is incredibly unique and captivating.


Child in Galapagos photographing a marine iguana on the beach

Sure beats the city life!


Almost 98% of the archipelago is designated a national park fiercely protected by Ecuador. Visitor numbers are restricted; only about 70 passenger yachts and boats are licensed to cruise its waters yearly.

Development here is minimal; most is centred on Santa Cruz Island, the 'capital' of the Galapagos and the springboard of all visits.

The history of these islands is as fascinating as their animal inhabitants – and you can learn more about them from our Guide to Getting the Most of Your Galapagos Visits. The guide was created a few years back, but the info remains current and valid. From the above, you will gather that the best way to visit the Galapagos is on a multi-day, liveaboard cruise. Islands are spaced far apart, and visiting them requires considerable sailing time.


Need to Know:

On a Galapagos cruise, sailing is usually done at night, so you wake up anchored near a new island every morning. Days are spent hiking on land and snorkelling, swimming, and kayaking in the sea. Most Galapagos boats carry kayaks, paddleboards and some even glass-bottom boats, which are outstanding kid-friendly additions.


The Galapagos is an extraordinary place for anyone to visit, of any age. For nature-loving children, it can be a life-changing experience. 


Two flightless cormorants and a marine iguana on the coastline in the Galapagos

The cormorants of the Galapagos have literally ‘forgotten’ how to fly because they have no predators. One of the many unique wildlife traits found here.


Is the Galapagos suitable for children?

Aside from the safety aspect of cruising, many parents wonder if their kids will get bored in the Galapagos. Are there enough kid-friendly activities and fun things for them to do?

The short answer is a resounding YES. There are loads for curious kids to do, although their age and interests will play a massive role in their engagement. For this reason, you’ll want to consider taking kids to the Galapagos when they are old enough to appreciate and remember the trip. This is about 6 years and over for most children, which is the recommended minimum age limit on Galapagos cruises.

“The abundance of nature’s wonders actually makes the Galapagos THE ideal family-friendly destination in my view.

Our kids LOVED the being immersed in pristine nature and meeting many unique creatures, they could not believe how close they were to wildlife and how much interaction there was. They swam with giant tortoises, snorkelled with sea lions, and walked among marine iguanas and colourful Sally Lightfoot crabs. Every day was different.

These are experiences children don’t get easily, especially if they live in big, bustling cities“

– Rachel, Viva’s founder and CEO


Child in Galapagos waters with sea lion

Sharing the waves with curious sea lions


What should children be able to do to visit the Galapagos?

Rachel emphasises that children should be confident swimmers and able to follow the guide’s instructions. Mostly, it’s about staying still and quiet when in the presence of wildlife, especially if they are nesting.

It's hard to resist the urge to hug a baby sea lion who's shuffled over for a closer look – but resist they must!

The naturalist guides onboard are an endless source of knowledge, and curious kids who love asking a ton of questions can be engrossed the entire time on vacation. A Galapagos experience is an incredible gift for young, outgoing and intrepid souls.


Sea Lion mother and pup at Genovesa Island in the Galapagos

The wildlife of the Galapagos has not been hunted for a century and is now unafraid of humans. It makes for wonderfully close encounters.


Is there a minimum age limit for Galapagos cruises, and why?

As mentioned above – for both safety and enjoyment purposes – children should be 6 and above to join a cruise of the Galapagos. Most cruise yachts adhere to the recommendation and will not allow bookings for younger children. We agree. Younger kids are unlikely to get the most out of this once-in-a-lifetime experience.

Galapagos cruises are bonafide expeditions, and excursions can be arduous on little ones. There's lots of hiking on land daily, sometimes under harsh sunshine. There are no bathrooms on the islands; everyone must stay on walkways and stick close to the naturalist guide. You can be onshore for up to 3 or 4 hours.

When in the water, snorkelling and swimming are done in mostly calm waters, but not always. The islands are isolated and exposed to the elements.

Contrary to how it may seem, the environment of the Galapagos is, overall, considerably harsh.


Mother and daughter hiking at North Seymour, Galapagos islands, Ecuador

The heat and sunshine in the Galapagos can be a little intense


How long should you visit the Galapagos when travelling with kids?

The 5-7-night cruise itineraries are the most popular among families – we recommend a 7-night cruise for a more comprehensive experience.

You should factor in the travel time from the mainland and the fact that Santa Cruz offers a few notable highlights. Adding a few pre- and post-cruise days is an excellent idea – no one has ever regretted an extra day on the Galapagos Islands.


What’s the best time to visit the Galapagos with kids?

The dry season, which runs from June to December, is the most popular travel time in the Galapagos, especially for families. These months offer slightly cooler temperatures, clearer skies, drier days and calmer and clearer seas (ideal for snorkelling). Of course, everyone prefers sailing in better weather so these are the busiest months all-round.

If you want to visit in high season, book your cruise well in advance, especially if your heart is set on a specific boat. Remember that visitor numbers to the Galapagos are restricted, and cabins on the most popular boats sell out fast.


Young girl in Galapagos Islands

Kids have an absolute ball on the Galapagos


Tips for finding the best family-friendly Galapagos cruises

Family holidays to the Galapagos are becoming increasingly popular, so many liveaboard boats gear their itineraries and include activities to be more kid-friendly. Although the islands can be a child's ultimate playground, finding a child-friendly cruise means there's a lot more for them to do and a lot more for you to enjoy:

Kid-friendly features – Firstly, look for boats offering interconnected rooms. It makes children (and parents) feel more comfortable if doors can be opened and larger spaces shared. Some boats also provide a heightened level of safety when it comes to railings. It means your kids are more unrestrained to run around, and you don't have to worry about them going overboard.

Larger boats are best – If you've ever been on a 12-guest yacht, you will know that space is limited. On a smaller yacht, children can feel caged in, and you can easily get stressed that your kids are getting in everyone’s way. Choose a larger boat.

Opt for a higher crew-guest ratio – Galapagos cruise crew don't include child-minding, but more eyes and hands to look after everyone still translates to a more relaxed and enjoyable time for parents. The more personalised service that typically comes from a higher crew-to-guest ratio is a godsend for families.

Search for boats offering kids menus – The food aboard Galapagos cruises is out of this world, and chefs go to a lot of trouble preparing exquisite meals made from locally sourced ingredients. Yet, sometimes, kids only want chicken nuggets and chips. Look for a boat that offers a tried-and-tested kids' menu that will satisfy the pickiest eater – this also points to a more kid-friendly vessel overall.

Child-friendly activities – From double kayaks so parents and kids can paddle together to activity packs and onboard games, some Galapagos boats mention their child-friendly extras. Take notice because they likewise point to a more child-friendly crew and experience.

Onboard doctor – Some boats offer an onboard medical service with a doctor who's on call 24/7. This is priceless peace of mind when travelling with kids to more remote destinations. Truth be told, they mainly deal with cuts, bruises and the odd belly bug – but it's lovely to know that medical help is there if needed.

Look for a glass-bottom boat – Not every child will happily snorkel in the Galapagos’ deep waters. A glass-bottom boat tour is the ideal compromise and offers everyone the chance to enjoy the underwater marvels of the islands. Look for a boat that has it in their arsenal of toys.

Find friends to share the trip – You know how much easier it is when your kids have friends to muck around with, and you have other parents with whom to share the child-minding. The same applies to a Galapagos cruise: it is SO much more fun to share it with another family. Get a few of you together, and you can also consider chartering a smaller boat for your travel group alone.

Ask lots of questions – Don't hold back on coming forward! A family trip to the Galapagos is something most families only do once – make sure you find the suitable vessel, crew and itinerary to suit you and your children's needs and desires. At Viva, we strive to ensure every family is matched to the right boat and crew. If in doubt or simply wish to know more, just ask us!

Include at least two days in Santa Cruz before and after your cruise – The main island is home to the Charles Darwin Research Station, where you can come nose-to-nose with giant tortoises and learn more about their fascinating history. There are empty giant shells the kids can crawl into for a photo op. Some cruises include visiting the centre, so if yours doesn't, carve out an extra day to visit. You can also enjoy a relaxing beach day on Tortuga Bay, where kids can splash and frolic in shallow water without needing to stick to a strict schedule.


Galapagos turtle, Santa Cruz Island

The islands were named after their most famous animal residents. Galapagos means turtle in pre-Roman Spanish and retains the meaning in several Spanish dialects.


The best family-friendly Galapagos cruises

We offer many Galapagos cruises, some aboard yachts carrying only 16 guests and much larger ships, which provide more space, comfort and entertainment. Overall, we think the larger ships are particularly well-suited to families – here is our top pick:


The Isabella II

7-day southern islands cruise on Isabella II

The Isabella is a larger boat catering to 40 guests, offering onboard medical assistance. It carries kayaks, dinghies and a glass-bottom boat.

Isabela yacht in the Galapagos Islands


The Galapagos Legend

5-day cruise on Legend

Carrying 100 guests and offering ample outdoor and indoor space, the Galapagos Legend is a very comfortable ship for families. The Legend has snorkel gear, dinghies, kayaks, and a glass-bottom boat.

Galapagos Ship Legend Sun deck pool and bar


The Santa Cruz II

5-day cruise on Santa Cruz II

The well-appointed, fully-equipped Santa Cruz caters beautifully to a larger crowd with kayaks, snorkel gear, dinghies and a glass-bottom boat. You’ll also find a doctor onboard.

Passengers on a glass bottom boat, Galapagos Islands


What else can you do before/after a Galapagos family holiday?

Ecuador is an underrated travel destination in Latin America, Galapagos Islands notwithstanding. Besides the world-renowned marine haven, the small and compact country has a lot to offer.

The capital city, Quito, is in the heart of the high Andes Mountains range, close to the eye-popping Avenue of the Volcanoes - a spectacular 300km-long winding road that passes nearly 40 peaks sitting above 4,500masl.

Explore Quito and its surroundings on a 4-day Quito and the Centre of the Earth Tour.


Cotopaxi Volcano, Ecuador

Iconic snapshot of Ecuador’s Cotopaxi, the world’s highest active volcano


If you have even more time on your South America trip, you can combine your Galapagos cruise with a visit to the Amazon Rainforest in Ecuador.

See our 4-day Napo Wildlife Centre in the Amazon Jungle experience.


Ready to start planning your own family adventure to the Galapagos?

It should go without saying that every family is different – their likes, dislikes, needs and desires. Check out Viva’s complete list of Galapagos Cruises, and if you see a boat that catches your eye, simply contact one of our Destination Specialists. They can help you plan the tailor-made family adventure of a lifetime.


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