The Galapagos Islands are one of, if not the most, popular travel destinations in South America. With numerous protected islands, each with a unique microcosm of flora and fauna, and home to a wide variety of migratory animals, the Galapagos Islands are a must-see destination for wildlife and adventure enthusiasts. In fact, when the UNESCO World Heritage Organization began in the 1970s, the first place they chose to name a UNESCO World Heritage Site was . . . you guessed it – the Galapagos Islands. Learn how to choose a Galapagos cruise in this article with advice from an Ecuador travel expert.
The best way to visit and explore the Galapagos Islands is by cruise ship. Although there are numerous cruise excursions in the Galapagos Islands, it can be daunting to choose the right cruise for your trip. The following tips will help guide you in how to choose your next Galapagos cruise:
Perhaps the single-most important factor in choosing the right Galapagos Cruise is to determine the length of your visit. There are 3, 4 and 7-night cruising options available; the longer the cruise length, the more islands you will be able to visit. A 3-night cruise will give you a taste of the Galapagos Islands; however we recommend at least a 4-night cruise, as you will be able to see the main highlights of the Islands without feeling rushed. Longer cruises explore the outer islands, which are more remote, and offer some of the best scuba diving in the area.
Once you’ve settled on your cruise trip length, you will need to choose an appropriate ship. Galapagos Cruise ships run the gamut of luxury motor yachts to large cruise ships, with nearly everything in between. Your Galapagos Islands experience can be enhanced by choosing a ship which best suits your needs. Some considerations to take into account when choosing a cruise ship in the Galapagos Islands:
- Sea Sickness: Those who have not yet developed their “sea legs” may want to consider a larger ship or multi-hulled ship. Nearly all the cruise ships have modern propulsion and balance systems to help minimize swells and/or rough seas; however a larger ship tends to be less affected by ocean swells and thus tends to be a smoother voyage. For those who want a more intimate cruise ship setting, yet are still concerned about wave action, a multi-hulled (bi- or tri-catamaran hull) will also help reduce the ocean’s movement.
- Amenities: Larger cruise ships typically offer more amenities than a smaller ship; however this is not to say smaller ships are more basic. Indeed, there are several luxury yachts with full amenities, just as there are larger cruise ships with more basic amenities. We recommend you identify any “must-have” amenities and look for ships that offer them.
The Galapagos Islands are very strictly regulated by the Ecuadorian National Park service, such that all ships are limited to visiting only those islands permitted by authorities. Even though the ships visit the same islands, their programs may differ between ships. Some ships focus on the ecology or science of the islands and are staffed with scientists, wildlife biologists and certified natural guides. Other ships focus more on adventure tourism and offer more opportunities for kayaking, snorkeling and other activities. There are scuba-diving oriented cruises, with an itinerary which focuses on prime diving sites and luxury cruise options aboard yachts or schooners.
You’ve now decided how long you will cruise and what type of ship and program you wish to experience; now you need to select a cabin. As with hotels on land, cabins span the gamut from small and economical to luxurious suites, with everything in between. Although cabin amenities and sizes may vary greatly between ships, there are a few tips to look for in every cabin to make your cruise a little more enjoyable:
- Location – top deck or bottom deck? Front of the ship or the back? Landlubbers may want to consider lower decks and mid-ship cabins if they are at all worried about seasickness.
- Windows – look for cabins with large view windows; avoid those with small “porthole” windows.
- Exterior cabins – most ships offer all exterior cabins; just be aware of the cabin location when making your cabin selection (does it offer a view to the sea or an interior view?).
The Galapagos Islands are a year-round destination; however some times of the year are better to visit than others. Avoid cruising the Galapagos Islands around August when the current and winds make the water a bit colder and choppier. You also want to avoid holiday seasons and school breaks as prices increase and cabin availability decreases. Lastly, for those who are very interested in wildlife, you will want to coordinate your visit with the migratory patterns of some of the Galapagos Islands’ residents as whales, penguins and the hundreds of other species which call the Galapagos Islands home visit, breed and/or nest at different times of the year.
Do you want to plan a trip to Machu Picchu as well? Or the Amazon Rainforest? Or mainland Ecuador? If you travel to South America to see the Galapagos Islands, you can get the most value out of your trip if you also visit other nearby destinations, and there are several amazing South American highlights just a short flight away from the Galapagos Islands. Consider adding on or combining tours with your Galapagos Cruise, such as with our Quito & the Galapagos Tour.
These basic tips will go far in helping you select a memorable Galapagos Islands cruise without blowing your budget. Of course, it can still be difficult trying to choose a Galapagos cruise that will be perfect for you and your family. Our expert travel consultants are happy to help guide you in making your selection; just give us a call to start planning your Galapagos Islands cruise and we’ll take care of all the details. Or get a free quote below for a custom Galapagos & Ecuador Tour!