Discover how to make the most out of your Galapagos adventure
Without a doubt, your first cruise through the Galapagos Islands will be one that you’ll never forget. It’s one of those bucket-list destinations where you can’t help but be completely immersed in every beautiful detail around you. The best Galapagos cruise will deliver every single opportunity to experience what this one-of-a-kind archipelago has to offer.
Think about it. You’re going on an adventure of a lifetime, so you want to travel on a ship that helps you make the most out of it. You will get within arms reach of the exotic wildlife. The islands are a place to explore every inch of the unbelievable tropical environment. It’s truly a place for any world traveler to experience adventure like never before. It’s one of my all-time favorite places to go.
To guarantee you’ll get the life-enriching experience you desire, here are a few things I’ve learned from my own experiences that truly have the power to transform a good Galapagos journey into an exceptional one.
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Tip #1: Steer Clear of Larger Cruise Lines
An immersive cruise in the Galapagos Islands is the way to go, which is why you’re here. Make no mistake, there are quite a few cruise lines out there that make their way to the Galapagos. I’ll be the first to tell you that they’re not all created equal, and that truly matters.
Prior to boarding my latest Galapagos cruise with Quasar Expeditions in 2021, I did my due diligence when it came to key players in the Galapagos. I wanted to understand what my vessel options were for this kind of adventure and what factors I should take into consideration when choosing the best Galapagos cruise for me.
One of the most important things I came across, and now fully understand having returned from my amazing Galapagos excursion, is that large cruise lines may not be the best option for those that desire true adventure. Cruise ships are not all about the Galapagos, they are about maximizing passengers to generate more revenue.
In the Galapagos especially, being on a ship with 100 other passengers undermines the reason for going in the first place, which is to have up-close animal encounters that are unforgettable. Here are a few things to consider when it comes to the well-known cruise ship approach.
Larger Crowds of People
You won’t experience a crowd in the Galapagos unless you bring one with you on a large cruise ship of 50-100 passengers. That may not seem like a lot, until you’re spending way too much time in line for pictures with the most exotic animals you’ve ever seen in your life.
You won’t want to endure crowded beaches and long lines for single file trails once you arrive in the islands. Thankfully, that’s not something that I had to deal with either. The ship I was on only had 32 passengers, and it was perfect.
The minute I stepped off the boat from our wet landing onto the island, my eyes were glued to the Galapagos Fur Seals. I was able to walk right up to them and get my pictures without a hassle. No line, no problem. I’m honestly not sure what my experience would’ve been like if there were 100 passengers on board our ship versus 32.
More Time Wasted on Logistics
Something else to keep in mind when you have larger crowds is all the time it takes logistically to bounce from one activity to the next. The more people you have in your group, the longer it takes to seamlessly transition between adventures.
To give you an example, on my Galapagos journey, we had to get changed into our wet suits to go for our first snorkel at Punta Carrion. With as small of a group as we had, everyone was suited up and ready to explore the incredible Galapagos ocean life within 15 minutes time.
Imagine how long it would’ve taken for three times that amount of passengers to put their wet suits on. Not only that, but waiting your turn for a dinghy to pick you and 99 other people up can get lengthy. All of that time spent waiting around could be time spent exploring more of the islands.
Large Ship Designs are Restricting
The best Galapagos cruise ships won’t restrict your accessibility to the unique environment around you. Well-known, commercial cruise ships typically aren’t designed in this way. Most times, they prevent you from walking the perimeter of the vessel entirely.
What you’ll find in common with these kinds of ships are smoked glass and postage stamp balconies. What’s so bad about ship design like this? They restrict you from experiencing the habitat and wildlife as it’s meant to be – authentically.
Expedition yachts, like the ones you’ll find on a Galapagos Cruise with Quasar Expeditions, are designed to get you up close and personal with the islands; it’s what you came here for!
Quality of Guides
When you cruise to the Galapagos Islands, your guides will play an essential role in your overall enjoyment. There’s no doubt about it. Our Naturalist Guides for the week were Boli and Loulou, and they’re some of the most passionate and friendly people I’ve ever met in my life. I can say without a doubt that without their expertise and local wisdom, our adventure to the Galapagos wouldn’t have been a fraction of what we gained from it.
Because our group was only 32 people, we all had the pleasure of being guided by Boli and Loulou. When you have a cruise ship of 100 people, a large quantity of guides are needed to serve all the passengers. There’s a chance you’ll notice other passengers staking out the best guides, while you compete to be in their group. Quantity isn’t always better.
Anything can happen when you enter the exotic world of the Galapagos. This is why having some flexibility onboard is always a win when choosing the best Galapagos cruise for yourself.
Again, that flexibility boils down to how many passengers are on your cruise. The more people there are, the more challenging it is to experience unexpected wildlife encounters, which is what the Galapagos is famous for.
On the 5th day of our cruise, we were notified by crew members early in the morning that a pod of orcas were nearby and that we could follow them, if we desired. Right on the spot, we made the necessary adjustments to do just that and spent an hour experiencing these beautiful creatures outside of the planned itinerary.
Too many guests aboard a larger cruise ship makes that near impossible to do.
Tip #2: Shy Away from Catamarans
While we’re still on the topic of ship designs, one of the most common types of ships you’ll come across in the Galapagos are catamarans. You’ve likely heard that catamarans are one of the most stable vessels out there because of their double hulls. The reality may surprise you.
The secret you may not have heard about is when catamarans navigate into an opposing sea, waves rise up and hit the raised underside of the boat like a beating drum. In certain conditions, such as crossings, this can result in constant pounding. This is why in all of my voyages aboard cruise ships, the only time I’ve ever gotten seasick was aboard a catamaran.
Right now, there are more catamarans in the Galapagos than ever and that’s simply because they are cheaper to build in Ecuador. Most of them are made of fiberglass, which makes for louder drum-like reverberations when waves hit the raised underside.
Waves that come from the sides of a catamaran affect the stability as well. Because of its multihull design, these waves cause the vessel to turn into a sideways seesaw. Monohull yachts, like the one I journeyed on, will never sway like a seesaw.
Tip #3: Choose a Cruise Ship with 360° Unrestricted Views
In your quest for the best Galapagos cruise, another factor that you’ll want to consider is accessibility aboard the ship and the views you’re able to take in as a result. Think about it like this, if you’re an avid photographer, where will you want to stand to take photos? Likely, on an outdoor deck with unobstructed views.
Some of the most amazing moments in the Galapagos are when you spot large pods of dolphins or whales, watch giant manta rays leaping from the ocean, witness passing sea turtles, or encounter the rare sight of blue whales migrating to the Galapagos from Southern Chile.
To capture these unique moments in the most pristine way, you’ll want to avoid a cruise ship where there’s no way to walk around its entire perimeter. You’ll actually find that on some cruises, you’re met with a fortress of smoked glass and steel that completely closes off either side of the ship. A deck that allows you to walk all the way around your vessel will provide the best views when these rare and special moments happen.
You don’t have to be a photographer to appreciate Galapagos views and the exhilarating sense of freedom that comes with them. I’m proof of that. Make sure to look for a vessel with optimal outside access to see all the majestic wonders of the waters.
Tip #4: Travel With No More Than 36 Passengers
The best Galapagos cruises take the same approach as an African safari camp by capping the passengers aboard at 36 guests. Why is that? Because an intimate island experience with a smaller group makes for deeper discovery—and fonder memories.
These smaller, safari-style cruises truly allow for more time up-close with wildlife. You’ll have the islands and animals more to yourself, making it easier to see, photograph, and interact with all the unique species you discover. Not only that, but you’ll have more of an opportunity to create meaningful relationships with fellow passengers, guides, and the crew.
Experience More Flexibility and High-Quality Guides
Fewer guests means more flexibility too, which is something I mentioned earlier. When you see a pod of dolphins, or orcas like I did on my cruise, the Captain can change course and you can jump right in. You’d be surprised how often things like this can happen in the Galapagos—and you won’t want to miss out on these once-in-a-lifetime sightings.
With fewer guests aboard your cruise, vessels can also have more of a focus on the quality of their guides. The best guides often opt for smaller, higher-end vessels as they are not only more intimate, but more manageable and fun.
Traveling in an intimate group typically equates to having access to top-notch guides that are consummate hosts, who often have advanced degrees in environmental science or natural history, and are entertaining, passionate educators.
Our phenomenal Naturalist Guide Boli has been guiding in the Galapagos for over 27 years, and you can tell. He’s got a deep-rooted passion and love for these beautiful islands, and all the wildlife that inhabit them. High-quality guides like Boli are hard to come by when you cruise on vessels with high quantities of passengers.
Tip #5: Take Your Crew & Onboard Features Into Consideration
The Galapagos on its own is an experience of a lifetime, but the crew and onboard features of your cruise also play a role. I highly recommend that you investigate these items prior to making your choice of vessel.
Do Your Research on the Crew
Your onboard crew is the beating heart of your vessel. Remember that your crew lives aboard the ship as well, so it only makes sense that they’ll want to live and work in an environment that they are proud of and passionate about.
In your search of the best Galapagos cruises for you, research online or ask companies to provide reviews of their crew. You’ll want to look for these 3 important features:
- An outstanding level of service and attentiveness
- A welcoming atmosphere that treats travelers like family
- A knowledgeable crew that loves to share their passion and expertise on the Galapagos Islands
I can honestly say that every single crew member aboard our vessel had this warmth to them, and it was incredibly inviting. Any time I interacted with a crew member, they were happy, always smiling, and friendly. You could just tell they love what they do, and that goes a long way.
Prioritize Experiences Over Cabin Amenities
Of course it’s important that you choose a cabin best suited to your requirements; you want to be comfortable. The truth is though, when you return from the Galapagos, your memories are about your experience and not so much about your cabin.
Take it from me, you won’t spend much time in your cabin other than to change, shower, and sleep. The Galapagos Islands are about what lies beyond your stateroom, so be sure to prioritize your outdoor experience rather than your sleeping area.
A Quick Note on Jacuzzis
While the amenities of a vessel don’t play a large role in the enjoyment of your Galapagos journey, one thing to note are the jacuzzis. After a snorkeling outing, jacuzzis are ideal for warming up.
But, a jacuzzi that only holds 3 or 4 guests is of little use on larger vessels of 48 passengers or more. You’ll want to look for a cruise that has oversized jacuzzis suitable for more than 6 guests at a time.
Choose Wisely for an Unforgettable Galapagos Adventure
If you’re looking to have the best Galapagos cruise experience, choosing the perfect expedition vessel makes all the difference in the world. Do you want to have a mediocre experience, or the trip of a lifetime? If it’s the latter, be sure to select a vessel that completely immerses you in what matters most: peak animal encounters.
The best Galapagos cruises are the ones that offer an intimate experience, 360° unrestricted outdoor views, and high-quality guides who are passionate about sharing their local knowledge and love for the islands.