The Galapagos Islands have become a relatively recent fixture on many discerning travellers’ bucket-list. The captivating mixture of incredible wildlife, rugged landscapes and lack of human impact gives the region an air of being truly remote and utterly thrilling to explore.
The islands location, situated roughly 880 miles off Ecuador’s western coastline and geography mean the Galapagos is best enjoyed by ship on a marine adventure lasting between 7 to 17 days. Similarities could be drawn to island-hopping in Greece; but a Galapagos Islands cruise is a far cry from the big ships that carry thousands of passengers to Santorini, Mykonos and Corfu during the warm summer months.
As one of the UK’s leading specialist agencies for luxury and expedition-style cruising, we love talking to our clients about their upcoming trips and dream destinations. The Galapagos in particular is one mentioned time and time again.
In an effort to help you learn more about the Galapagos Islands cruises and what they have to offer, I have compiled a collection of our most commonly asked questions about and hope that you find this information helpful should you be considering visiting this spectacular destination.
What size ships offer Galapagos Islands cruises?
There are a range of ships currently operating year-round in the Galapagos; from small boutique-style yachts to larger luxury expedition vessels. As you might expect they all offer different experiences, so your personal preferences will play a large part in helping you choose the right ship for your Galapagos Islands cruise.
At the smaller end of the scale, G Adventures’ Yolita is a great choice if you are seeking a truly intimate experience and with just 8 cabins, she represents everything there is to celebrate about small ship cruising.
The advantages of a ship like Yolita is the high level of personal service you will receive onboard, more fluidity when it comes to the day-to-day itinerary and less time queuing for disembarkation/embarkation for excursions and trips ashore. The main downside is that a yacht of this size is much more susceptible to choppy waters – something well worth considering before booking.
Silversea Expeditions’ 100-capacity Silver Galapagos is perhaps the most reputable of the larger ships in the Galapagos. Combining excellent itineraries and a full programme of excursions led by an expert Expedition Team with elegant accommodations, fantastic dining options and great service, cruising the Galapagos on Silver Galapagos will give you all-inclusive luxury with ample opportunity to explore. However, due to the number of guests onboard, shore excursions will often be split into smaller groups of 8-12, so it might take slightly longer to get ashore. We should also mention that larger ships, like Silver Galapagos, will often dock further away from the shore in order to limit any adverse effects on the environment.
Finally, occupying the middle ground you have ships like the Isabela II. Operated by Aurora Expeditions – and frequently chartered by Noble Caledonia – Isabela II has twenty cabins and is what many travellers would consider the best of both worlds. Being a slightly larger vessel, the chance of sea sickness in inclement weather is reduced due to the ship’s greater stability and although slightly more crowded than a yacht, you will anchor closer to the shore than larger ships.
When is the best time to visit the Galapagos Islands on a cruise?
The truth is there’s never really a bad time to visit the Galapagos Islands on a cruise but it is best to plan your trip around the things you want to see and the experiences you wish to have while you are there.
For calm seas and hotter weather it is better to travel in the earlier part of the year, with the warm season running until May and the temperature averaging out at around 30 degrees. This period is used by many of the land birds, sea lions, turtles and tortoises as their breeding or nesting season and is also when the islands are in full bloom, so it’s perfectly suited for those with interest in wildlife, wild flowers and exotic vegetation. It’s also a great time of year for beach lovers (like me!) because even though there’s every chance of a daily shower, sea and land temperatures are at a yearly high.
In the cool season between June and December, the temperature drops to a very pleasant 25 degrees. This is a fantastic time of year to visit the Galapagos, especially if you have an interest in marine life as the plankton-rich colder waters of the Humboldt Current bring larger numbers of wildlife to the region. It also the mating season for the Blue-footed Boobies, which is sure to be of interest to any budding ornithologists.
It is worth noting that the seas during the cooler season can be rougher so be advised if don’t have great sea legs.
What to expect on a Galapagos Islands cruise?
The Galapagos Islands is one of the few areas of the world that does not have an indigenous population. The first recorded visitors to the islands was in 1535 and currently 25,000 residents inhabit only 5 of them, with the majority remaining uninhabited. Due to conservation efforts in the region, access is to the Galapagos National Park is restricted and any visitors to the protected areas must be accompanied by a certified guide.
One of the main reasons many decide to take a Galapagos Islands cruise is the abundance of wildlife in the region. From giant tortoises, sea lions and marine iguanas to Blue-footed Boobies and Galapagos Penguins, nowhere else in the world can you get this close to wild animals without threatening their habitat. They generally show no fear of humans and will allow you to walk around them and take pictures – rest assured, the photos you take on this trip will probably be amongst the best you will ever take!
How much does a Galapagos Island cruise cost?
As with any style of cruising, costs for sailings in the Galapagos Islands vary enormously between the different styles available.
For example, book a cruise on G Adventures’ Yolita early enough and you can find fares starting from £1,999 per person for a 7-night voyage around the south and east islands. Alternatively, G Adventures have some very affordable late deals available and it’s not uncommon for fares to drop to as low as £1,399 per person. While these voyages do not include flights to Ecuador, they are easily sourced, as are additional hotel stays and tours should you wish to enhance your time in Central America.
G Adventures also offer longer Galapagos cruises. In particularly, a 17-day itinerary which takes in all of the islands is available throughout the year, with fares starting from £4,999 per person. All-encompassing voyages such as this are quite rare, so it is a superb option when you consider the amount you will get to see and do.
If all-inclusive luxury is more your thing, then Silversea Expeditions have voyages on the Silver Galapagos available for approximately £6,999 per person. This does include flights from the UK to Ecuador as well as everything you will require onboard – drinks, dining, gratuities and selected excursions. Silversea also offer 25% single supplements on selected Galapagos Island cruises, which makes them a great choice for solo travellers.