Galapagos animals: what to see & where
From sea-going lizards to the dancing birds, get to know the extraordinary range of Galapagos animals and discover which …Learn More
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
14 Nights from £8,532 €9,338 $10,091
This tour includes the Amazon rainforest, a Galapagos cruise to experience the stunning friendly wildlife and an insight into the colonial charm of Quito, high in the mountain…
14 Nights from £8,532 €9,338 $10,091Full Itinerary Contact Specialist
Day 1 - Flight from London to Quito
Day 2 - Tour to Otavalo Market
Day 3 - Transfer to Amazon Lodge
Day 4-5 - Guided excursions & activities at the Amazon Lodge
Day 6 - Transfer to Quito
Day 7 - Tour of Quito
Day 8 - Flight to Galapagos Islands and board yacht
Day 9-14 - Guided excursions & activities at the Galapagos Islands
Day 15 - Flight back to the mainland. Return flight home
Day 16 - Arrive back home
Ninos Galapagos Tour
13 Nights from £4,799 €4,858 $5,238
Close encounters with tame wildlife are a unique experience for youngsters to develop an appreciation of the natural world. Doing so with family builds a bond for life.
9 Nights from £4,692 €4,730 $5,099
The essential tour of the Galapagos, and the quickest way to get to the islands to discover the wildlife.
14 Nights from £5,927 €6,212 $6,705
Visit the mountain villages with local markets, along the Avenue of Volcanoes, high in the Andes. Take a cruise in the Galapagos Islands to observe the abundant friendly wildl…
14 Nights from £5,927 €6,212 $6,705Full Itinerary Contact Specialist
Day 1 - Flight London to Quito
Day 2 - City tour of Quito
Day 3 - Tour to Otavalo
Day 4 - Travel through the Andean mountains to Riobamba
Day 5 - Devil's Nose Train Journey
Day 6 - City tour Cuenca
Day 7 - Cajas National Park
Days 8-14 - Galapagos cruise with daily guided excursions
Day 15 - Departure
17 Nights from £5,394 €5,572 $6,012
Cruise the Galapagos Islands and experience the culture and Inca heritage of the Andean region. Option to continue to Lake Titicaca, La Paz and the stunning setting of Rio de …
17 Nights from £5,394 €5,572 $6,012Full Itinerary Contact Specialist
Day 1 - Departure
Day 2 - Quito City Tour
Day 3 - Otavala market
Days 4 - 10 - Cruise the Galapagos Islands
Day 11 - Flight to Lima
Day 12 - Lima City Tour
Day 13 - Flight to Cusco
Day 14 - Cusco city tour
Day 15 - Sacred Valley of the Incas Tour
Day 16 - Machu Picchu by Vistadome Train
Day 17 - Machu Picchu at Leisure
Day 18 - Departure or Extension (see options below)
Day 18 - Cusco at Leisure
Day 19 - Andean Explorer Train to Lake Titicaca
Day 20 - Uros Islands
Day 21 - Sun Island & Transfer to La Paz
Day 22 - La Paz City Tour
Day 23 - Flight to Rio de Janeiro
Day 24 - Christ the Redeemer Excursion
Days 25 - 26 - Rio de Janeiro at Leisure
Day 26 - Flight back to UK
Day 27 - Arrive home
17 Nights from £7,597 €8,216 $8,876
Cruise the Galapagos Islands for close encounters with friendly wildlife, combined with the landscapes of the Andean mountains, colonial heritage and ancient Inca civilisation…
17 Nights from £7,597 €8,216 $8,876Full Itinerary Contact Specialist
Day 1 - Departure from the UK
Day 2 - Tour of Lima & museums
Day 3 - Puno & Uros Islands
Day 4 - Island communities of Lake Titicaca
Day 5 - Train to Cusco
Day 6 - Sacred Valley of the Incas
Day 7 - Cusco & Inca Ruins Tour
Day 8 - Machu Picchu by Vistadome Train
Day 9 - Machu Picchu at Leisure
Day 10 - Cusco
Day 11 - Flight to Quito
Days 12 - 18 - Cruise the Galapagos Islands
Day 19 - Departure