No matter what time of year you travel to the Galapagos, seeing wildlife is guaranteed. Something is always mating, nesting or giving birth, so there’s action 24/7. And regardless of which islands in the archipelago your ship takes you, you’ll be in nature’s zoo. All the islands are good for wildlife viewing.
Which ship you choose to go island hopping, though, deserves some thought and planning. Whether you’re going for five days or two weeks, think about it how you’d like to cruise, and choose a ship that suits your traveling style and budget.
After all, your comfort level — physically and financially–is unique to you. So let us at Myths and Mountains know your preferences. Keep in mind that the sooner you begin planning your trip, the more options you are likely to have.
Planning Your Galapagos Cruise
When helping travelers plan their Galapagos adventure, I always ask these three questions:
1. What time of the year do you want to go to the islands?
If your dates are not flexible, say, after April 5 but no later than April 16, we can focus on the kind of ship you prefer that cruises during that time. Each ship departs on specific days, so we look carefully at availability. (September and October may pose some booking difficulty because that’s when more ships are in dry dock or undergoing renovations.) Read my blog The Best Time to Go to the Galapagos is Now for more info.
2. What is your travel budget?
There are about 70 ships cruising the Galapagos, ranging from tourist class to private charters, small yachts to luxury catamarans. You can go tourist class for about $350 a day or cruise in your own 5-cabin charter for $150,000 a week. There are many ships that fall in between these two extremes. In addition to cruise costs, don’t forget the local airfare from mainland Ecuador, the Galapagos National Park fee, migration card, and fuel surcharges and service fees. These “hidden” costs may add anywhere from $700 to $1100 per person, depending on the length of your cruise.
Myths and Mountains does not book “budget” or “tourist” class boats. Along with small cabins, lack of air conditioning, bunk beds, and shared bathrooms, these ships may hire the least experienced guides who may not speak English well. We typically book clients on one of three classes of boats: superior tourist, first class, or luxury.
3. Do you want to cruise on a large ship or a small one?
This is where your travel style comes in. I always explain the pros and cons of both types of ships and then help clients choose according to their preferences and needs. Almost always I can give clients a few different options, provided they book well in advance and have a bit of flexibility with dates and budget.
Most of the ships are classified as small, transporting 16-40 passengers, or large, carrying up to 100 passengers.
Large Ships Pros
- A variety of spacious cabins, ranging from inexpensive interior cabins to expensive ocean view suites with private balconies.
- Likely to have an option for adjoining cabins which works well for families
- Can offer several amenities: a play zone for kids, salt water pool, limited and expensive Wi-Fi, Jacuzzi, library, glass bottom boats, small gyms
- Medical personnel on board
- Outdoor barbecue dinners, wine with dinners
- More options for comfortable common outdoor spaces
- Smoother cruising (Caution: If you are especially prone to seasickness, the size of the ship won’t make much difference. Always bring anti-nausea medication with you.)
- Large number of passengers makes for socializing with a variety of travelers
Large Ships Cons
- Typically more expensive than small ships
- Your fare includes amenities that you may not need or plan to use.
- Must anchor in deeper water, so the small shuttle boats, called Zodiacs or pangas, may take a few minutes longer to take you to shore.
- Regimented activities. Multiple shore excursion tours occur at assigned times, since by law no more than 16 people can be in a tour group.
- Intimate environment allows you to get to know the crew, guides, and other passengers
- By law, groups are limited to no more than 16 passengers at a time when stepping foot on the islands. That means that on ships with a capacity of 18 to 20 passengers the ratio of guide to passengers is a nice one guide for 8 or 10 guests.
- Ships are able to anchor closer to shore for faster access.
- Less regimented shore excursions than those of a large ship
Small Ships Cons
- Cabin sizes are small and few, if any, have private balconies.
- Limited common areas
- Vibration and motor noise may be disturbing if your cabin is close to the engine area
- Usually slower than a large ship so requires more cruising time to get to different islands so itineraries are more compact.
- No escape if you find another passenger or couple is annoying
When making your decision on a cruise ship, keep in mind a choice I often offer travelers: You can take a less expensive cabin on a large, upscale boat or the best available cabin on a less pricey boat. It all depends on your personal preferences. For instance, most people touring the Galapagos don’t spend much of the day in their cabin, so think about whether cabin size is important to you.
Finally, allow our 25+ years of experience and insider’s knowledge (with over a dozen trips to the Galapagos) help you make the right cruise ship decision. With our connections, we can even sometimes score a great deal for you! Most recently, one of the ships offered a fantastic child promotion that gave a family of five a free cruise for their 10-year-old.