For most it's a once in a lifetime trip, which promises endless opportunities for intimate wildlife encounters. But you may be wondering exactly what should you expect when visiting the Galapagos Islands? What are the practicalities involved and how do the cruises work? Read on below for an introduction to life in the archipelago.
Travel in Style
If getting up close to fascinating and photogenic creatures, strolling along idyllic beaches in the company of lazy sea lions and snorkeling crystal-clear waters packed with eye-popping marine life sounds like your idea of a good holiday, then a Galapagos cruise is for you. In fact a cruise through the archipelago is suitable for all types of travellers, with boats in a variety of sizes and styles, many tailored for luxury or family travel. Whichever of our selection of vessels you chose, you'll be guaranteed warm hospitality, complete comfort, excellent food and expert guidance.
Choosing Your Cruise
Size & space: You feel the movement of the sea more on small yachts than on large ones, an important factor for you to consider when choosing a boat to cruise the Galapagos archipelago, where the islands are quite far apart. Other factors are the size of the cabins and bathrooms, the amount of space in the public areas when you have a full complement of passengers and crew and the availability of water for several showers per day.
Noise: You must consider also that there is considerable noise from the water lapping against the hull, the engines, desalination plant and electricity generators; the size of the vessel and location of the cabins and decks determines how far the cabins are for the noise to dissipate. Bear in mind that the main engines are usually in the centre of the ship, for stability.
Group sizes: When disembarking, groups are limited to 16 visitors. Therefore the number of passengers on board will dictate how many travellers are able to disembark within a given time frame. Larger expedition boats often have a larger number of guides, allowing for slightly smaller groups and simultaneous activities and sometimes for exclusively English speaking groups.
Itineraries: Given that the archipelago covers a size roughly half that of Great Britain, it isn't possible to see it all in one go and boats usually offer at least two or three set routes, each covering a different part of the region. Two of these could potentially be combined to offer a more in-depth experience and afford encounters with more wildlife varieties. For those on a more fixed schedule, or trying to keep the entire Ecuador trip to a certain length, the departure date of the trip and the length of the itinerary may be determining factors.
Life on board the Santa Cruz II
All the yachts in the Galapagos Islands are licensed by the authorities and have permits for a specific pre-determined itinerary. This means that the stops on the islands are staggered and there are not too many vessels and visitors in the same place at the same time. Limiting the number of boats also limits the number of people that can visit the Galapagos Islands archipelago, so as to keep the islands pristine for the wildlife. There are strict rules to follow when alighting in the national park area, in place to protect the wildlife and maintain the environment for future generations.
Your days here will tend to follow a fairly set pattern, starting with an early breakfast and then the first disembarkation. A group of no more than 16 will transfer to a smaller panga boat and make either a dry or wet landing (which involves wading ashore). You will then follow trails designed to take you up close to the wildlife, without disturbing them, always led by experienced nature guides. The guides are licensed and trained by the Galapagos authorities in three grades, with grade three being the best and most experienced.
You will generally go ashore again in the afternoon, either on a different island, or another part of the same island if it is one of the larger ones. There will also be plenty of opportunities for snorkeling and kayaking.
Itineraries are carefully planned to offer the best experience possible for you, taking into account the season and activity levels of the birds, reptiles and sea life which reside in the Galapagos. The islands go through a yearly 'cycle of nature', with each month bringing something different to see. One of our undoubted highlights is the extraordinary mating dance of the waved albatross, which usually starts in April.
Excursions and activities on the Isabela II
Fabulous Marine Life
The nutrient-rich waters here create a colourful spectacle below the surface, with astonishing marine life flourishing throughout the archipelago. Most itineraries offer regular snorkeling opportunities to experience a very different side to the Galapagos, often encountering playful sea lion pups, Green Sea turtles, penguins or the world's only sea-going iguanas as you do so. The cruises also afford ample chances to observe the rugged coastlines of the islands in smaller panga boats and kayaks and, during certain times of the year, it is possible to watch a variety of whales and dolphins passing through on their migrations.
The Perfect Combination
A trip to the Galapagos Islands can be combined with visits to some of Ecuador's other world-renowned destinations, including Quito's world heritage centre, the cinematic Avenue of the Volcanoes and the mysterious Amazon rainforest, with its towering trees, astonishing biodiversity and fascinating indigenous communities.
See our range of Galapagos holidays below, or get in touch to discuss your perfect tailor-made trip to Ecuador and the famous islands.
Suggested Itineraries View All
The Pichincha Tour
14 Nights from £8,969
This tour includes the Amazon rainforest, a Galapagos cruise and an insight into the colonial charm of Quito, high in the mountains
The Ninos Galapagos Family Tour
11 Nights from £4,994
Close encounters with tame wildlife are a unique experience that inspire youngsters to develop an appreciation of the natural world. Doing so with your family builds a bond an…
The Bellavista Tour
14 Nights from £6,330
Visit mountain villages with local markets, admire spectacular volcanoes in the Andes and enjoy a cruise in the Galapagos Islands observing the abundant wildlife
The Encantada Tour
17 Nights from £5,760
Cruise the Galapagos Islands and explore the culture and Inca heritage of the Andean region.
The Libertador Tour
18 Nights from £7,997
Cruise the Galapagos Islands for close encounters with friendly wildlife and be inspired by Andean landscapes, colonial heritage and ancient Inca civilisation