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Royal Palm Hotel Galapagos 4.0

Santa Cruz, Galapagos Islands, Ecuador

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Review Summary

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Pros

  • Upscale hotel located in the Santa Cruz highlands 
  • Beautiful, spacious rooms, many with magnificent views 
  • Large pool surrounded by cushioned lounge chairs 
  • Gorgeous restaurant serves breakfast, lunch, and dinner 
  • Home to the largest private wine collection in the Galapagos 
  • On-site lava tunnels, with personalized tours available 
  • Small fitness center, sauna, and massage room  
  • Two tennis courts 
  • Breakfast included in all room rates
  • Free Wi-Fi 

Cons

  • Not in Puerto Ayora, far from shops and restaurants 
  • Not on or near the beach (a pro for some) 
  • Nothing within walking distance of the hotel 
  • The highlands tend to be cooler and rainier than the rest of the island (pro for some)
  • Some guests feel nightly room rates are high for what's offered

Bottom Line

Located in the Santa Cruz highlands, the upscale Royal Palm Hotel Galapagos offers travelers a different perspective of the Galapagos islands. Typically cooler and raininer than the coastal towns, the highlands feel worlds away from the beaches of Puerto Ayora. With polished decor, top-notch amenities, excellent on-site dining, and an estate-like atmosphere, the Royal Palm is an ideal pick for travelers seeking upscale lodging in the Galapagos. However, rooms lacks wow factor and high-end amenities, the fitness center is dated, and the sauna and adjacent massage room don’t really pass as a spa. Still, the Royal Palm has more amenities than most Galapagos hotels, and has established itself as one of the islands’ preeminent properties. Travelers looking for something equally upscale but closer to all the action in Puerto Ayora might prefer Finch Bay Eco Hotel. 

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Scene

An upscale property in the Santa Cruz highlands 

Sprawled across a 150-hectare estate in the midst of the lush Santa Cruz highlands, the Royal Palm feels much different from most Galapagos hotels. For starters, it’s nowhere near the beach, and its mountaintop location typically provides misty cloud covered skies and cooler temperatures than its lower-lying neighbors. The property has an upscale lodge feel, with dozens of whitewashed buildings dotting the magnificently landscaped grounds. The round lobby makes a bold first impression, with pitched wood beam ceilings and a magenta accent wall. Upon arrival, guests are greeted with the hotel’s signature welcome drink, the Highland Mist. Consisting of locally grown ginger, lemongrass, cinnamon, and pineapple juice — among other secret ingredients — the unique beverage helps set the Royal Palm apart from its competitors, and alludes to the property’s preeminent position in the world of Galapagos tourism. 

Guests at the Royal Palm are mostly older, well-heeled travelers. While we saw plenty of older couples, we did spot a few families with children during our visit. It doesn’t see many backpackers or budget travelers. In fact, the Royal Palm is somewhat of a celebrity hotspot — the Prince of Wales and the Jolie-Pitt clan have all been guests here. 

Location

A secluded, estate-like property in the Santa Cruz highlands, 25 minutes from the airport and downtown Puerto Ayora 

Located in the Santa Cruz highlands, the Royal Palm Hotel offers guests a different perspective of Galapagos travel. The lush region sits roughly 2,800 feet above sea level, and tends to be cooler, cloudier, and rainier than its coastal counterparts. The serene atmosphere around the highlands is a far cry from the bustling city of Puerto Ayora. Some guests may relish in its tranquility, while others may find it boring. The Royal Palm is about a 25-minute drive in either direction towards Puerto Ayora or the airport on Baltra Island. Travelers should keep in mind that most of Santa Cruz’s tourist attractions, restaurants, and local services are located in or around Puerto Ayora. 

Santa Cruz is one of the Galapagos’ most accessible destinations. Daily flights from mainland Ecuador land on Baltra Island (GPS), a small land mass across the channel from Santa Cruz; from there, it's a five-minute free airport bus ride to the ferry, and a 10-minute ferry ride, before reaching the the island of Santa Cruz. Many travelers choose to start or end their trips on Santa Cruz, due to the island’s accessibility. Some can’t-miss sights include the Charles Darwin Research Station, Tortuga Bay, Las Grietas, and the island’s many lava tunnels (some of which can be found on the Royal Palm property).  

Rooms

Spacious and nicely decorated, but not deluxe enough for this price point 

Here’s the thing about rooms at the Royal Palm -- they’re some of the nicest you’ll find in the Galapagos, but they’re not luxurious enough to validate their price tags. Multiple room types are scattered across the property, and offer different views and levels of seclusion. The hotel’s highest category, the two-bedroom Prince of Wales Villa, sits perched atop the hilly estate. If you hadn’t already guessed, this massive 1,000-square-foot suite is where Prince Charles and Duchess Camilla stayed during their visit to the Galapagos in 2009. Not surprisingly, nightly rates for this exclusive room often hover in quadruple digits. Though remaining rooms are not quite as pricey, they’re still not cheap, and many guests feel that room decor and amenities don’t match their steep nightly rates. 

Casitas are the entry-level category at the Royal Palm. They’re equipped with one king-size or two queen-size beds, and some have adjoining doors — ideal for families or groups traveling together. Polished cherry wood floors, furniture, and beamed ceilings create a warm, cozy space, but bare white walls and plain bedding feel sort of dull. Amenities include flat-screen TVs, mini-fridges, electric kettles, and French presses, but lack high-tech features like iPod docks or USB ports that many travelers have come to expect at this price point. Bathrooms feel a tad dated with ’80s-style frosted glass windows, but are otherwise nicely equipped with massive whirlpool tubs (and rainfall showerheads above), spacious mirrored vanities, and large closets. Most Casitas have front porches with small benches or seating areas. 

For travelers seeking a bit more space, the Highland Villas have separate living rooms and either one or two bedrooms. Their decor is similar to the Casitas’, but features a few more upscale touches, like wood-burning fireplaces and four-poster beds. Bathrooms are massive, with large whirlpool tubs, separate showers, toilet rooms, and massive closets. On clear days, it’s possible to see the ocean from many of the Highland Villas, though they lack outdoor balconies or patios. Travelers who absolutely must have private outdoor space can upgrade to either the Presidential or Royal Villas. These categories are large (600 to 800 square feet), but are better suited to couples than families due to open floor plans that lack privacy. 

Room keys at the Royal Palm are unique, and worth noting. Each room has an ornate lock and knocker system that can only be opened with an original, medieval-looking key. The massive palm-sized keys are a distinctive Royal Palm feature; they stand apart from the typical hotel key card, but they’re heavy, and can be tedious to carry around. 

Features

More amenities than most Galapagos hotels, including a pool, two tennis courts, a restaurant, fitness center, and on-site lava tunnels 

The Royal Palm has the most on-site features of any Galapagos hotel. Its pool and restaurant continually earn high marks from guests, and it is one of the only properties in the Galapagos to have tennis courts, a fitness center, and a spa. The Royal Palm property is also home to a few naturally occurring lava tunnels that formed millions of years ago when several volcanic eruptions created the Galapagos archipelago.  

The freeform pool is located in the center of the property, wedged between the lobby and the restaurant, and surrounded by a large patio with lounge chairs and outdoor dining tables. Because the weather tends to be cooler and cloudier in the highlands, the pool doesn’t get too much use. On clear days, however, the pool area offers stunning views of the property, and sometimes the ocean is visible in the distance.  

The fitness center is a small room with alarming red floors and dated equipment. There are a few cardio and weight machines, as well as a few free weights, but the gym is really nothing to write home about. On the plus side, the Royal Palm is one of the only Galapagos hotels to have a fitness center, so guests should keep that context in mind. Guests who’d prefer an outdoor workout can head over to the two on-site tennis courts. Adjacent to the fitness center is the hotel’s sauna, as well as a small room where guests can request massages. It’s not exactly a full-on spa, but again, most Galapagos hotels don’t even offer a similar service. 

When a series of volcanic eruptions created the Galapagos islands millions of years ago, the spewing molten lava that formed their land masses left underground tunnels in its wake. These were formed when cooler, outer lava hardened to insulate hotter, inner lava. The inner lava would flow through the outer lava’s hardened exterior walls, creating massive, tunnel-like openings in the ground. Today, travelers can walk through these tunnels all over Santa Cruz island. Luckily for Royal Palm guests, the property has a few of its own lava tunnels on-site. The hotel offers several kinds of tours through the tunnels, but they incur an extra charge. 

Wi-Fi is free for all guests, and works in all rooms across the property. 

Food

On-site restaurant serves breakfast, lunch, and dinner; bar is home to largest private wine collection in the Galapagos 

The Royal Palm’s on-site restaurant and bar serves breakfast, lunch, and dinner, as well as speciality cocktails, beer, and wine throughout the day. The grand mahogany dining room is a bright, airy space thanks to its pitched ceilings and large wall of windows. The bar is a warm, richly textured space with a cozy seating area and baby grand piano in the corner.  

Breakfast is included in the room rates, and is served either buffet style or a la carte depending on the hotel’s capacity. High occupancy rates will bring the buffet, while lower capacities allow for a more personalized a la carte service. Both lunch and dinner menus feature lots of local specialities like ceviche, pollo encocado, and empanadas. International dishes like fried calamari, beef tenderloin, and risotto are also available. The bar also has a daily happy hour menu with specially priced drinks and snacks. Wine connoisseurs will surely appreciate the Royal Palm’s collection of red and white wine — the largest in the Galapagos. 

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Address

Km. 18 Via Puerto Ayora, Baltra Isla Santa Cruz, Ecuador

Also Known As

  • Royal Palm Resort Hotel

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