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Tips for Choosing a Galapagos Cruise

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I lived in Galapagos from 1998-2002 (my son spent the 1st three years of his life there!) and have since helped about 250 people find cruises there. Here are my tips:

1) Ask for the name of ship, do a bit of an internet search. A decent 16 passenger ship has 2 pangas (skiffs) as opposed to just one (so that they can ferry passengers to the islands more quickly, or offer more versatility in the activities they provide), may have at least one, maybe more free kayaks on board (or maybe they are rented out), should have decent outside deck space to sit and relax comfortably while cruising, should have decent food that won't give you any gastro-intestinal problems, should have a crew that won't chase the women passengers around... These are all real issues on the smaller economy ships in particular.

2) If you’re not booking too much ahead of time (e.g. 2-3 months), ask for the guide's name or at least his/her credentials (e.g. level 1, 2 or 3). A good guide should have a university/college degree, be very much at ease in the language you need him/her to speak to you, should have a couple of years experience at least. Level 3 guides are the most qualified, but there are a lot of good level 2 guides out there too. A tour operator should be able to get you that info.

3) Length of cruise: The most common cruise lengths are 7 nights/8 days (e.g. day 1 = fly to Galapagos and embark at about noon, and day 8 = disembark at about 9AM, meaning in reality 6 full days at sea). Some ships offer a 3 night/4 day tour or a 4 night/5 day tour. Remember, no matter how you do it, there are some overhead costs that don’t change: Return flight continent-Galapagos-continent (apx. $400), and the $100 park entrance fee. We feel that the 7 night cruise is the best, as it gives you the time to experience the wide range of things the islands have to offer.

4) Top visitor sites: Everybody has their favourites, but ideally your itinerary should take you to at least 2 of the following: Genovesa, Punta Espinosa, and Punta Suarez. These are considered to be the 3 top sites by many local guides. The more remote western shores of Isabela Island, nice for their dramatic landscapes, and rich sea life are also recommended.

5) Snorkeling: The Galapagos Marine Reserve was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in November 2001 (the land portion was the FIRST ever site to be declared World Heritage, in 1978), because it harbors a rich and diverse marine life. Make sure your cruise will provide you with as much snorkeling as possible. A few “non scuba” ships may offer up to 4 scuba dives during the itinerary (for about $60 per dive).

6) Small vs. Large ship: The larger ships (e.g. 36-100 passengers) are usually more expensive and attract a more sedate crowd. They are more comfortable, spacious, but usually less versatile in taking advantage of special opportunities (e.g. stopping to watch killer whales, doing a mid-night snorkel, walking the trail to its very end...). Smaller ships (12-20 passengers) may rock a little more - for those who get seasick, and be a little noisier, as you can’t get that far away from the engine. They usually offer a more intimate experience, and are more flexible in what can be done.

7) Ship categories: A real mess, there is no standard process by which ships are categorized (beyond the antique Galapagos National Park system); for a full discussion, please consult

8) Climate: Late June to mid November = cool season. Seas are rougher, skies mistier, air and water cooler. Considered the “dry” season, as precipitation, though common, is very slight, coming as very fine mists. December to April = hot season, with calmer seas, warmer waters, clearer skies. Considered the wet season, as the occasional tropical downpours occur during this time, but generally skies are much sunnier and cheerier.

Heather Blenkiron

51 avenue du 11 novembre 1918
Meudon 92120

Cultural and Natural Heritage Tours is a member of the International Galapagos Tour Operators Association