There are many ways to experience the Galapagos Islands, including a land-based trip that just makes short jaunts up to a two-week cruise with scuba diving way up north. The archipelago is made up of 19 islands and scores of islets, most of which are home to unique species and habitats. It takes a while to get between the various points where certain animals live and breed, so a longer trip will ensure you experience more wildlife and wild landscapes.
For those who want to have the full range of experiences these remarkable islands have to offer, taking a dedicated cruise boat is the best solution. But then the real decisions begin.
Galapagos cruise boats range from traditional and intimate sailing yachts, through purpose-built luxury cruisers, to some larger adventure ships holding more than 100.
Because of the limited size of the Galapagos cruise fleet, finding the perfect boat and itinerary can be a somewhat complicated business. We recommend going with an experienced operator with many ships to choose from and insider knowledge about which ones are best for which visitors. For the past year, specialist Galapagos cruise company galapatours.com has been working hard hard to build a portfolio of vessels that can cater for every budget and taste and a website that makes the whole process simple.
With so many options, and so many reviews of Galapagos cruises to wade through, a travel planner can guide your decision by diving into the answers to these four questions:
1) How long would you like your cruise to last?
Because the Galapagos Islands are part of a large Marine National Park, the movements of tourist vessels are strictly regulated and so most boats offer 4,5 or 8-day itineraries. Because there is so much to see and do, we strongly recommend the longest option. You will travel further from the airport and will be able to see the best the islands have to offer. If time is limited though, they can make the most of what you have.
2) Would you prefer a larger or smaller ship?
National Park regulations mean that visitors must always be accompanied by a naturalist guide, and each guide can only have a maximum of 16 people they are responsible for. Because of this, most of the boats offering a Galapagos cruise are deliberately designed (or modified) to take a maximum of 16 guests.
This self-imposed limit means that many Galapagos cruise boats can offer a really intimate experience in superb surroundings.You can share stunning meals, exciting excursions and wonderful evenings under the stars getting to know a small group of like-minded people. For those traveling as a family or in larger groups there are also a small number of larger ships available that might better suit your needs, but at the expense of some of that intimacy (and more waits for the other zodiacs to get their turn on land).
3) First Class or True Luxury?
There are some simply stunning luxury yachts and catamarans available plying the Galapagos Islands waters of Ecuador. Huge staterooms, private balconies, and some of the finest chefs and wine lists in Ecuador can be yours to enjoy after a day spent seeing some of the world’s most unique wildlife.
First class vessels are often equally sumptuous, but may compromise on the size of your cabin or the range of itinerary choice. Remember that during a Galapagos cruise you’ll only spend about 20% of your waking time actually on your boat, the rest of your time will be filled with excursions and activities, so pick the balance that fits your needs and pick the boats that give you exactly what you want. Having said that, your boat and your meals are what you are really comparing prices for: the itineraries and certified guides are regulated and not “upgraded” for any specific company.
4) What time of year will you travel?
Being on the equator, the Galapagos is a year-round destination. There’s no best time to visit the islands. The downside of that is that there isn’t really a “low season.” Some boats do reduce prices at certain times, and it’s really worth checking a variety of vessels for the dates you want to see if any have offers. Sites like www.galapatours.com will list all available cruises filtered by your dates, making it easy to find the ships and itineraries that have availability, as well as showing any offers that may be available.
All that really changes during the year though is slightly more moisture at some times, slightly warmer waters for snorkeling due to tide currents in other months. The best time to go is when you can spare the most time to make it happen.
Given the cost of a Galapagos Islands cruise it’s really worth taking the time to find the perfect one for you. You can find multiple first-person articles in our Galapagos luxury travel section giving you an idea of what those cruises were like. Read those, then we would highly recommend speaking to a specialist Galapagos tourism company. Given the remoteness of the islands and the logistics involved in getting there, letting knowledgeable professionals help you build the perfect luxury adventure is the smart move.