An Insider Look: Cruising the Galapagos
This month we’re reposting this first-person travel tale from our erstwhile Marketing Manager, Laura Yates. Some things simply don’t grow old. If you’re thinking about going on a Galapagos cruise but don’t know what to expect (or have already booked one but have hundreds of questions to ask) read on…
I have a secret to share: Until last month, I’d never been on a cruise. For someone who’s traveled extensively throughout the Americas and works for a luxury travel company, I felt my cruiselessness was a glaring omission on my wandering resume. So when a work opportunity gave me the chance to sail off into the Galapagos sunset with co-worker Staci Steele, I was not only incredibly excited, I also—I’m sorry to say—became an annoying officemate.
Because, as a clueless cruiser, I wanted to know everything: Would I get seasick? How did meals work? Would my tour guide speak English? What should I pack? And cruising among the Galapagos Islands added a whole other bundle of questions: What animals would I see? Would the water be cold? Was I going to see the best islands, or would I be missing something important?
I peppered my SA Expeditions teammates (many of whom had already been on a Galapagos cruise) with these questions all the way up until my departure date—so I know firsthand how stressful the days leading up to a dream vacation can be. If you’re thinking about committing to a Galapagos cruise, or have already booked one and are now gnawing your fingernails with a stomach-twisting mixture of excitement and anxiety, this blog is for you. Here I detail my own experience and answer all my own questions (which are probably the same as yours!) with the benefit of hindsight.
So, you want to take a Galapagos cruise?
Welcome to the club! The Galapagos Islands make up one of the most interesting collections of wildlife and geologic landforms in the world. And although it is completely possible to visit the islands without taking a cruise, cruises remain the most convenient and popular way to visit this archipelago located 600 miles off the coast of Ecuador.
After you’ve committed to the cruise option, one of your next major decisions is which type of boat to sail on. During my trip I traveled on the Galapagos Legend, one of the largest Galapagos cruise vessels. This particular boat can carry up to 100 passengers and features more social areas than any other boat sailing the region. It includes a pool, hot tub, reading room (with free cookies and tea around the clock), kids’ area, auditorium (one for English, one for Spanish), two bars, and plenty of sunbathing areas.
So which ship should you select? A lot depends on your travel dates. All boats certified to sail the Galapagos have set departure schedules and itineraries, a rule imposed by the Ecuadorian government to protect the islands. And if there is a particular island you’re set on seeing (there are 13 main islands and 6 islets) you can also narrow down your options that way.
Before my trip, I was worried I’d find the Galapagos Legend to be crowded and impersonal and thought I might prefer a smaller yacht-type vessel (many carry no more than 20 passengers). I was completely off base. I loved the Legend. With numerous social areas, there was always somewhere to visit—although in reality most of my time was spent on island excursions, in the dining room, or sleeping. Everyone is assigned to an excursion group of no more than 16 passengers, so most of the time the number of fellow passengers was irrelevant. In fact, being on a larger vessel means more staff and food options. I felt extremely well taken care of.
If you’re prone to seasickness, you should definitely consider a larger vessel. When the boat was moving between islands (usually in the evening) I could feel the motion and took seasickness medication. Half an hour after the pill was popped I felt completely fine.
Cruise Boat Chow Down
I ate very well during my Galapagos trip. Because my ship was larger, meals were a mix of buffet style and a la carte with three options to choose from. Menu meals included an appetizer, main, and dessert. There were tasty vegetarian options, but if you have special dining preferences, you should be sure to specify these ahead of time. I also found the bar to be well stocked and affordable (drinks are added to your cabin’s tab and you pay on the last day). Smaller boats usually serve fixed meals that feature a lot of fish.
Enough about the boat, tell me about the islands!
Even though a lot of my pre-trip thoughts were focused on the boat itself, the islands are of course the main attraction. My cruise was for four days and three nights, and I was surprised by how much diversity I saw in such a short period of time. I saw the islands of Baltra, Santa Cruz, Santiago, Bartolome, and North Seymour. And I was impressed.
The only animal I would have been disappointed if I didn’t see was the Galapagos tortoise, and I saw them on the first day at Santa Cruz Island. I’d go on to see: land iguanas, lava lizards, flamingos, sea lions, starfish, Sally Lightfoot crabs, penguins, cormorants, frigates, blue-footed boobies, a sea turtle, a manta ray, and Galapagos sharks (from the ship, that is). Many of these animals live on multiple islands, but if there is one you’d be upset to miss, flag this with your Destination Expert. (Remember: the Galapagos isn’t a zoo—there is never any guarantee you’ll see a particular animal.)
A lot of the wildlife I saw was underwater. Snorkeling was a highlight of my trip, and although these excursions are optional, I highly recommend everyone take advantage of the opportunity. My trip took place in early July, when the water temperatures were around 70 degrees Fahrenheit. Some people chose to rent a wetsuit, but I found the temperature comfortable enough to snorkel without one. The Galapagos Islands are really a year-round destination but you can learn more about Galapagos weather and the best time to visit the Galapagos here.
All in all, my vacation was amazing. And I think if I had been on a different boat and visited different islands, it would still have been incredible. As a destination, the Galapagos are unique in the world, offering an up-close look at endemic species that makes them a paradise for nature and photography lovers.
My most important piece of advice to those considering a trip to the Galapagos? Go for it. It really is the destination of a lifetime. Check out our Galapagos cruises or speak to a Destination Expert about creating the bespoke Galapagos itinerary of your dreams.
All photos used in this blog are courtesy images of the Galapagos Legend.