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What to Expect on a Luxury Cruise in the Galapagos

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While it is possible to island-hop between a few of the inhabited islands, the most common way to visit these magical islands is by cruise, allowing you to go further afield. You’ll start your trip to the Galapagos from either Quito or Guayaquil on mainland Ecuador and fly to either San Cristobal or Baltra in the Galapagos Islands, depending on where your cruise departs from.

The cruise ships used in the Galapagos are small (between 16-100 passenger capacity) and are used predominantly for expedition cruising, meaning that their focus is on exploring the islands and seeing and experiencing as much as possible on land and in the water, as opposed to a focus on the onboard entertainment that you tend to see on large Caribbean or Mediterranean cruise ships. That’s not to say that the expedition ships are uncomfortable or unappealing in any way. In fact, the options that we offer could be described more as large luxury yachts, usually in the form of catamarans or more traditional sailing boats, and the decor & amenities, service and dining options are of excellent quality. While not mandatory (it is a holiday after all!), you should expect to be off-board most of the time during the day, discovering everything the Galapagos is famous for and taking part in activities such as deep water snorkelling, kayaking and flora and fauna walks.

When is best to go on a cruise in the Galapagos?

Located on the equator, the weather in the Galapagos varies little throughout the year. However, there is a noticeable difference in September and October, when the waters are generally at their coolest and choppiest (wetsuit season) and the skies have what is locally known as ‘la garua’, which is a thick grey mist. So, while this tends to be the most affordable time of the year, it’s not the best in terms of the weather.

The best time to visit the Galapagos is between December and June, where you can expect warm weather, sunny skies and generally speaking you don’t need wetsuits for the snorkelling excursions or swimming from beaches. The busiest and most expensive time to visit the Galapagos is during Christmas and New Year.

How much is a cruise in the Galapagos?

There’s no way around it – The Galapagos is an exclusive experience that comes with a price tag. Cruises start from around £7000 pp, which would include a 7 night stay onboard a 4* – 5* vessel, with meals, soft drinks, excursions, guides and transport included. For the most luxurious vessels and cabin types, prices could be in excess of £10,000 pp and may include extras such as wetsuit rental, alcoholic beverages, complimentary minibars, butler/concierge services etc.

It is worth noting that as a bare minimum, we would advise 2 nights accommodation in mainland Ecuador before your cruise, but most people will combine the Galapagos with a more comprehensive tour of Ecuador. On top of your cruise it is important to remember the National Park entrance fees (approx £100 pp) as well as flights to/from mainland Ecuador (approx £500 pp).

What experiences are there on a Galapagos Cruise?

The experiences in the Galapagos revolve around exploring the endemic, indigenous and endangered species of flora and fauna, as well as learning about the essential conservation efforts, the history of the formation of the islands as well as Darwin’s research and discoveries. In practice, this means you’ll be out and about!

Snorkelling

Expect many opportunities to snorkel, consisting of both deep water snorkelling (jumping off the zodiacs) as well as snorkelling from the beach. Snorkelling in the Galapagos islands is a fantastic experience, giving the impression that you are swimming in an aquarium with the quantity and variety of marine life you’ll spot. What’s so amazing is how curious and unafraid the animals are of humans, often approaching you without hesitation. Sea turtles and sea lions will be swimming around you, and you may also spot marine iguanas, hammerhead sharks, colourful fish and Galapagos penguins. Punta Vience Lopez is a particularly good spot, but there will be several locations depending on your individual cruise itinerary where you’ll be able to jump in the water and immerse yourself in the underwater world.

Kayaking

You’ll also have the opportunity to go kayaking or SUP boarding in the mangroves, spot Galapagos penguins fishing and playing in the water, as well as to do land-based activities such as wildlife walks with the Galapagos tortoises, birdwatching, hiking around the volcanoes and craters and spending time on the beautiful pristine beaches. My favourite beach in the Galapagos was on Floreana island, where you have Post Office Bay. This is where, historically, sailors would leave letters for their loved ones with the understanding that they would be picked up by other sailors going to those destinations and be hand delivered.

Wildlife Spotting

There are few places in Latin America that are better for wildlife photography than the Galapagos Islands, so there’s no doubt you’ll be snapping away. My key takeaway was the importance of an underwater go-pro so you can really capture marine life. Note that not all boats offer scuba diving – you’ll need to be PADI certified and choose a cruise which is dedicated to diving.

On board, expect lectures given by expert geologists, ornithologists and historians, where you can hear fascinating stories, learn all about the Galapagos islands and have the opportunity to ask the guides questions. You’ll be able to enjoy delicious lunches and dinners on the outdoor decks and, of course, you’ll have plenty of time to relax on the sundeck, take a dip in the jacuzzi or watch out for dolphins, whales, sea lions or spotted eagle rays from your cabin’s private balcony.

Advice for making the most of a Galapagos Cruise

I’d always recommend staying longer in the Galapagos, if you can. While shorter options do exist, I think a 7 night cruise is ideal and you could even combine it with a 3 night hotel stay on Santa Cruz or San Cristobal islands after the cruise, so you can spend some time on the beach, either relaxing or snorkelling, or exploring the highlands further. If you’re doing an Ecuador & Galapagos combination, I’d always recommend ending the trip in the islands because it will most likely be the highlight of your trip!

With regards to the cruises themselves, it’s important to think about whether you would like to be on a small, medium, or large ship. Small ships have 16-18 passengers, medium have around 30 and large have up to 100 people. Large ships tend to be more stable which may be a consideration if you’re prone to seasickness, and they allow you to have a bit more privacy (i.e. eating at your own table etc.) whereas smaller boats are a much more intimate experience – often all 16 passengers will eat around one big table together along with the guides. Only 100 passengers can visit an island at a time (in group sizes of 16 passengers per guide), so larger boats will find themselves alone in bays, whereas smaller boats will likely have a few other boats with them in the bay.

I’d also always recommend upgrading to a cabin with full windows, or even better, a balcony, as opposed to port-holes. I loved watching sea lions and dolphins from my cabin – an experience which really enhanced my trip overall.

About the Author

About the Author

Evie has lived in Argentina and travelled countless times throughout Central and South America; acquiring a particular love for wildlife, epic scenery and endless outdoors adventures.

SENIOR LATIN AMERICA TRAVEL DESIGNER

Evie

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