In this blog Think Galapagos co-founder Rachel Dex shares some of her tips on how to choose the best Galapagos cruise.
A Galapagos cruise is without a doubt one of the most outstanding wildlife experiences on Earth. Choosing the best cruise is a vitally important part of planning your trip and one which can transform a good Galapagos experience into a truly exceptional one.
There are now over 80 cruise vessels in Galapagos and it can be quite overwhelming trying to decipher what is the best cruise for you. Some yachts are very slick at marketing but not so good at delivering, whereas others are not so great with their marketing but actually are wonderful, locally run, conservation minded operations that offer truly outstanding wildlife experiences. Just looking online it would be almost impossible to tell.
Having worked organising Galapagos holidays for over 20 years, I find a quick chat with guests over the phone is invaluable in getting a feel for what Galapagos cruise would work best for them. That way we can cover a lot of ground and lots of questions in a very time effective way and there is nothing like that human to human contact (albeit over the phone or on a video chat) to get a feeling for what people are looking for and need in their Galapagos cruise experience.
That said, I appreciate you didn’t click on this blog post to be told to pick up the phone either to me or another Galapagos specialist! So here to get you started are my top ten tips of things to consider when trying to choose the best Galapagos cruise for you.
1. Quality of Galapagos National Park Guides
This is number one on my list of things that I look for in yachts that we work with for our guests. You could be on the absolute worst yacht in Galapagos with a great guide and you would still have an amazing experience – on the flip side – you could be on the best yacht with a bad guide and you would have a below par experience. The quality of your guide is the single most important ingredient in your Galapagos cruise experience. They are the ones responsible for not only showing you the amazing Galapagos wildlife, but also explaining to you the geology and natural history of the places you are visiting, they are the ones who accompany you on your snorkels, have a huge influence over how long you spend on your visits, they are the main link between you and the crew… the list goes on!
2. Responsible Tourism credentials of the yacht operator
When choosing a Galapagos cruise, another key factor is the responsible tourism credentials of the yacht operator. It goes without saying that the Galapagos Islands are a fragile and unique ecosystem, and so it is essential to minimise impact on the environment.
Look for cruise companies that prioritise sustainable and eco-friendly practices, such as reducing plastic waste, using biodegradable cleaning products, and minimising energy consumption. Some companies also prioritise local sourcing of food and support conservation efforts in the region. Where possible it is good to work with locally owned yachts, to ensure that the local population gets the benefits from tourism.
3. Size of yacht
When choosing the best Galapagos wildlife cruise, small is definitely beautiful. The small yachts for up to a maximum of 16 guests are definitely the best way to experience the islands, giving you a much more intimate experience with the wildlife.
In your small group, you are often the only people on the island when you land and the logistics of getting 16 people onto the island is a lot smoother and less time consuming than a large yacht for up to 100 guests!
Happy to say there is a whole range of different styles of yachts in the small yacht category from very spacious deluxe catamarans to small mono-hull yachts that have been converted from fishing vessels and everything in between! We work with a few 20-passenger yachts, which are also very good, but we don’t usually recommend going any bigger than this unless you have a specific need for a doctor on board, which is the only case where we would suggest going on the larger yacht.
4. Length of Galapagos cruise
How long you would like to spend on your Galapagos cruise is a key consideration. All of the yachts are on a 15-day cycle which is set by the Galapagos National Park, which means they can only stop at each visitor site once in a 15-day cycle. This has proved to be hugely successful in spreading the cruises all across the archipelago.
These 15 day cycles are divided up into different cruise lengths by the yacht operators, some divide into two 8-day itineraries, others into shorter 4,5,6 day itineraries.
Usually we would say the optimum length of cruise is 8 days/7 nights, but you can stay for longer (the longer the better if time and budget allow, up to a maximum of 15 days, which would allow you to visit the entire archipelago) and now the range of shorter itineraries also means that a shorter cruise is also a good option if time or budget is limited.
We would recommend though no shorter than 5 days, as in reality your arrival day and departure day are very short visits – so on a 5 day cruise you get 3 full days essentially.
5. Cruise itinerary
Following on from point 4 – a key consideration in choosing the best Galapagos cruise is which cruise itinerary you would like to take.
Each yacht has permission to visit specific islands and visitor sites from the Galapagos National Park at very specific times, and whilst they are often very similar no two Galapagos cruise itineraries are the same.
As for which is the best itinerary – there is no right answer to this, it really depends on your wildlife interests. If you have a passion for birdlife I would say that an 8-day itinerary that includes the outpost islands for seabirds of Genovesa and Espanola would be the best for you.
If you have a passion for reptiles and snorkelling I would say the Western Islands would be best for you.
For most guests who just want the best overall wildlife experience, it depends when you are visiting as to which itinerary would be best. Ultimately, the best itinerary for you will depend on your interests and preferences. It’s essential to do your research and find a cruise that offers the activities and destinations that appeal to you.
One thing we always look for are itineraries that maximise your time in pristine wilderness and minimise the time in the towns of Galapagos.
6. Your Budget
When it comes to selecting a Galapagos cruise, budget is undoubtedly one of the most significant factors to consider. The cost of a cruise can vary greatly, depending on factors such as the duration of the trip and the level of luxury that you are looking for on the trip.
However, contrary to what some blogs say, budget won’t impact the quality of your itinerary or necessarily the quality of guide that you have on your trip (although it is true that generally the more expensive yachts do work with Galapagos National Park guides of a higher qualification level, it isn’t always the case).
Galapagos cruises are expensive, even the more budget friendly ones, so it is often helpful to consider a range of different Galapagos cruise options to see what your budget will get you and consider what your key priorities are before deciding on your budget for the trip. In some cases over the years for example, I have steered guests onto less expensive vessels than they originally had in mind as they were a better fit for what they were looking for.
So more expensive doesn’t always mean better…. though very often it does! This leads me neatly onto my next point…
7. Don’t make your cabin the focus of your cruise decision
Everyone is of course different, and will experience their Galapagos cruise in a slightly different way, but in general over 20 years of visiting Galapagos on board a huge variety of yachts, what I can say is that guests spend relatively little day time hours inside their cabin.
Your days are usually pretty action packed and then any free time you have in the day, you will be up on deck, which gives you the best 360 views of the amazing wildlife and scenery around you.
I often say this to guests who are very keen to have a private balcony in their cabin. Of course your cabin is important, and some yachts have much larger and better appointed cabins than others, there is also bed sizes to be considered. So whilst important, the yacht cabins shouldn’t be the main focus of your quest to find the best Galapagos cruise for you.
8. Movement of the yacht in the water
Despite it being a question that crops up quite often when chatting with guests in the early stages of planning their Galapagos trip, for most guests the movement of the yacht in the water isn’t a problem at all.
Most yachts are very stable and one of the great things about a Galapagos cruise is that most of the travel is done at night, so you sleep through it, and during the day if the yacht is navigating, usually you are up and about on deck looking for whales or dolphins or at the amazing scenery around you.
Usually that first day or so as you get your sea legs is very effectively managed if you need to at all by taking a normal motion sickness tablet before you go to bed.
However for a very small proportion of guests who suffer from motion sickness (I count myself as one of these people and get sick even on trains!) this is an important consideration. Some of the smaller yachts Galapagos yachts do have a smaller hull than others and so would move around more in the water when navigating.
It is very hard to glean from photographs this kind of information, but we understand this is a very important consideration for some guests. The time of year that you travel should also be factored in (for example when travelling in January/February when the sea is at its calmest this is much less of a factor), which brings me nicely onto point 8, the time of year you decide to take your Galapagos cruise.
9. The best time to travel
Galapagos genuinely is a year round destination and the best time of year for a Galapagos cruise really depends on the wildlife you want to see or as I mention above, if there are certain considerations that you want to take into account.
Each month has its own special highlights, As the archipelago straddles the equator it doesn’t really have winter, spring, summer or autumn seasons, instead it has two seasons known as the ‘warm season’ and the ‘dry season’.
The dry season lasts roughly from December to May when temperatures tend to be a bit warmer and the dry season which lasts roughly from June to November time. Find more information on this and the monthly temperatures and wildlife highlights in Galapagos here.
10. Seek out advice and recommendations
Talking to friends and family who may have already done a Galapagos cruise is hugely helpful. Also there are online forums where people exchange their ideas and insights on their Galapagos cruises which are great.
Finally (and I am bringing this now full circle to the point I started writing this blog with), chatting things through with a Galapagos expert who regularly visits the different cruises and knows all the different local operators and the insider info is invaluable.
It doesn’t cost you more booking through an expert, we don’t have any incentives to recommend one yacht above another for you (the yachts themselves give us a commission when guests book through us rather than our guests paying any extra), we can work with any yachts we like for our guests.
I personally also love what I do, and am always happy to offer advice to people trying to wade their way through the maze of information out there, regardless of whether you want to book with us or not.
If you want to get in touch, please do, I would love to help!
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