So you’ve decided to take the plunge and book a vacation to the Galapagos Islands. Your next challenge is: How to choose the best Galapagos cruise?
Keep reading to learn all of the next questions you need to be asking yourself, as well as help and tips to find the all the right answers for your key Galapagos cruise decisions.
95% of cruises at the Galapagos Islands are operated by local cruise companies, rather than well know cruise ship names like Carnival or Royal Caribbean.
Galapagos is fortunately not a mass tourist destination on this scale, tourism is controlled to protect the fragile ecosystem for the wonderful wildlife that you lives here. Galapagos cruises are a more intimate affair, with smaller 16 passenger yachts being the norm, or cruise ships of up to 120 passengers the maximum. This also brings you much closer to the wildlife, making for a more enjoyable cruise experience.
So your starting point to choose the best Galapagos Cruise should be to get in touch with local agencies in Ecuador. Happy Gringo Travel is one of the leaders among local agencies, highly recommended by over 500 past clients on Trip Advisor, and with over 15 years of successful operation.
Galapagos cruises run from a short 4 or 5 days, to a more popular 7 or 8 days, right up to a comprehensive 12 or 15 day circuit of the archipelago.
An important consideration is that the first day of a cruise is an arrival day, so you’ll fly out to Galapagos, be picked up by your guide, and transfered to your ship for lunch. You make your first visit in the afternoon. Similarly on the final day, you have time for breakfast and a quick, early visit, before heading to the airport for your morning flight out. So, for example, a 4 day trip really consists of 2 full days, and 2 short half day visits.
For this reason we usually recommend a 5 day cruise for a bare minimum visit, or 8 days as optimal to give you the perfect amount of time to enjoy the islands, to see a good mix of diversity of wildlife and landscapes, and many of the highlights of the islands.
To get a bigger picture, maybe consider the longer 10+ day trips, or combine a cruise together with a Galapagos Land Tour, or some free days at a hotel by yourself to relax before or after your cruise.
Happy Gringo consider this to be your key decision: what is the best Galapagos itinerary? Simply put, there are many great yachts and ships to choose between, but not all Galapagos itineraries are created equal.
So, what should you look for in a good Galapagos itinerary? A good place to start is by checking out our Interactive Galapagos Map. Just click on each different visitor site to learn about which animals and activities you can do at each.Any visit to the islands will include some time on central Santa Cruz Island, and/or San Cristobal in the south east. These are inhabited islands with airports linked to mainland Ecuador, so will be your arrival and departure points. These islands also have popular visitor sites, so cruises often include some visits here.
The other islands can be broadly divided into 3 main groups:Western islands: including Isabela & Fernandina. These islands combine excellent wildlife (including Galapagos Penguins, Fur Seals, Flightless Cormorants and a huge colony of Fernandina Marine Iguanas) with wonderful volcanic crater landscapes.
Southern islands: including Española, Floreana, Santa Fe & South Plazas. The wildlife is the main highlight here, especially Española which has a large colony of Boobies and Sealions, and is the only island to the Waved Albatross.
As you can see there is no one-size-fits-all answer, it really depends on personal taste. Our team of Galapagos experts is well-versed in the ins and outs of itineraries, and have a wealth of knowledge to help you find the right fit for your trip. Just contact us, for a FREE CRUISE QUOTE, with no obligation to buy. Tell us as much as you can about your trip goals or highlights that are important to you, and we’ll send you various cruise options and itinerary recommendations to get you started 🙂
As an example of a great itinerary, check out the Ocean Spray Catamaran Itinerary A (8 days). This itinerary is one of the only yachts to combine the Western islands of Isabela & Fernandina, with Española Island in the South, in a single 8 day itinerary. All yachts rotate between different 8-day itineraries each week, so be sure to ask for Itinerary A on your dates of travel.
The size of the boat is also a major part of an experience in the islands. Larger boats like the Legend Cruise Ship carry up to 100 passengers on luxury Galapagos cruises, have outdoor space for relaxing after days of exploring, and have amenities including a pool and gym.
The majority of Galapagos yachts are much smaller, like the Nemo II Catamaran which carries 14 passengers, giving a much more intimate feel, and bringing guests closer together during the journey.
Among the smaller 16 person yachts you can find a variety of vessel types, from Catamarans, to motor yachts or motor sailors.
Like any open water, the Galapagos seas can at times become rough. Most tourists become accustomed to the gentle rocking motion, but the occasional few might suffer during a long cruise. Of course anti-seasick medications go a long way to helping, but there are other considerations that can help too.
Larger Ships and Catamarans ensure less motion on the open sea for those most vulnerable to sickness. Since 2019 there is even a Trimaran operating at the islands, for optimal stability. As a general guideline, seas are a little rougher in August and September and generally calmer from January to April.
Another consideration is the top speed of a boat. Even a difference of 2 knots can make a noticeable difference in the time spent navigating an island’s coastline, or traveling from one island to another. In the latter case, this is open seafaring, usually at night.
Galapagos cruises fit into four categories, with options for different budget ranges: Standard, Comfortable, Luxury & Super Deluxe. The principal differences between each class are the size of cabin, the amount of comfort and luxury you seek, the range of amenities, and of course the price.
Itineraries are often similar across each class, so even paying a cheaper price, you can get to see all of the amazing highlights that are on your Galapagos bucket list.
For a budget cruise, yachts like the Golondrina are a great place to start. A great value choice, with good service, attractive itineraries, and many years of experience cruising at Galapagos. For the cheaper price you get small bunk bed cabins, but given how little time you spend in your cabin this need not be a big concern.
At the opposite range of the spectrum, for those who want to splurge and make a splash with Galapagos luxury cruises, there are elegant yachts like the Grace Motor Yacht, offering high-end amenities, expert naturalist guides, spacious cabins and social areas, and gourmet cuisine.
So, there you have it, everything you need to know about: How to choose the best Galapagos cruise?