When it comes to Latin America, our partners in everything from scoring the right guide to getting the up-to-date intel are John and Erynn Montgomery, the founders of Mosaico Travel and the brains behind Tropic of Candycorn. They recently shared their insider take on what to do in the Galapagos with kids, and we listened up. As parents of four daughters, ages 2, 5, 9, and 11, they really know how to travel with tots and what activities are best for the whole fam. Read on for their tips, and contact our bookings team to get going on planning your own trip with John.
BEST AGE TO TRAVEL
You can totally take a 2-year-old, and while they might not remember every part of the trip, it would still be something special to them and to the family. When we take our kids on these early trips that they may not entirely remember, we believe that there’s something that happens that it becomes part of their soul. But if you really want for your child to remember, wait until they’re five years old.
BEST TIME OF YEAR
Because the Galapagos are on the equator, there is no bad time to go. You have a little bit of flux in wet versus dry season, but it’s not major. When it’s the wet season, you have increased activity with the animals and fewer tourists (June to November). Every season has its own pluses and minuses: if you go during high season, you’re baking with no cloud cover, but there’s no rain and your water temps near the surface are around 80 degrees. Cool season is more in the 70s. There are no trees on the islands, so don't forget a sunhat and SPF 30+. This is an unshaded volcanic landscape, so the sun is really high and really hot. If you go during the cool season, it’s the height of the breeding season. Christmas and Spring Break are the most popular, but if you want to travel them, book a year in advance to get the best boats or the best lodges. Another important thing is that if you’re looking for interconnected rooms—those are really rare. You can get them, but if you’re on a boat and interconnected, it’s likely to be near the engine, so really think about whether you need that.
Our favorite hotels for kids is Galapagos Safari Camp, and there are not a lot of cons about doing a land-based trip. When you're a family, it’s so nice to be able to have private guided tour so you have flexibility. If somebody doesn’t feel well, or there’s a really young child, they can always make it work. If you’re on a cruise, you’re doing what everyone else is doing. So if you’re seasick, there’s no way out, while on a land-based option, you can skip the tour and do something else.
At the hotel, we’d recommend the three-bedroom suite. With four nights there, you'll have time to do all the activities. On the first day, you’ll visit a tortoise reserve, and the next day you can do a shared guide to two nearby islands where you can snorkel with sea lions and have lunch. On the third day, hang out on the island at one of the beaches or explore the mountains and volcanic features. There is also sea kayaking, snorkeling, mountain biking, and even surfing. For a more cultural experience, check out the cacao plantation near the property. They can also bring artists in for classes for kids. On your last full day, explore two more nearby locations on a tour by charter.
If you want to do a cruise, there are thirteen boats we like, but it all depends on your budget. For kids, our top choices are La Pinta, Eclipse, and Galapagos Grand Odyssey. They are not the largest boats, but they are big enough that kids don’t feel cramped. The guides are particularly good with children, and they have flexible menus and comfortable rooms. As for the big boats, I wouldn’t recommend them as much; there is lots of waiting in line, massive buffet food, and customization is tough.
ADD ONS: ECUADOR
Most Americans will visit for seven-to-ten days, and usually that means you have two nights in Quito, which is great for families, then your Galapagos portion of the trip is probably four nights. You'll end with an overnight in Guayaquil. From experience, I know flights are probably going to be running late, so you need the buffer on either side to be sure you don’t miss your boat. If you like riding, three nights in the Andes before or after your cruise can be terrific. Mashpi, a lodge in the jungle, also has a lot of good things about it that kids can enjoy.
Don't miss swimming with sea lions, seeing tortoises in their native habitat, and on the mainland, going to the Casa del Alabado Museum and doing the museum scavenger hunt. It’s such a cool museum with artifacts that date back 6,000 years. Don’t skip the first floor restaurant at the Plaza Grande Hotel in Quito. Ordering ice cream at lunch, and it will be delivered in a smoking bowl with dry ice while a bell gongs through the restaurant. There is no explanation for any of this, but the kids love it!
The Darwin Center, which has a depressing feel of a lackluster zoo; in Quito, it’s arguable whether or not you should go to the Equator Monument or not. It’s very touristy. If you’re so compelled to take that photo with one leg in one hemisphere and one leg in another, then go for it.
Bring sunscreen and insect repellent because it’s more difficult to find here than you might expect. If you want to snorkel, especially with kids, the quality of their experience is 100% tied to how well their mask fits, so if you have your own gear, bring it. You can rent the wetsuits.
When you go to the Galapagos, you are walking around with the animals and interacting with them, whether you like it or not. Sea lions are playing with you like golden retrievers, land iguanas are walking over your feet because they don’t want to walk around you. These animals have no natural predators, so the interaction is unparalleled.