Cruising the Galapagos Islands rates as one of the most magnificent adventures in Latin America. But, when it comes to cruises ships – which ones right for you?
When it comes to cruises ships your options are numerous. From budget to bling, from small to oversized, from those offering 4-day stints at sea to those which take you on a whirlwind 2-week long adventure: the choice of vessel budget, comfort level and size is totally yours. You can see all of Viva's Galapagos cruiseshere.
As with all things in life, there will be pros and cons to whichever vessel you choose for your Galapagos cruise yet if you want to get the most out of your visit then there are a few pivotal questions that need to be answered.
There are essentially only two ways to visit the Galapagos Islands: either on a live-aboard cruise or a land-based vacation.
The first is self-explanatory: you live on a boat for the duration of your stay, visiting islands and sailing in between them in one continuous journey. You’ll certainly step ashore to hike and explore but you won’t sleep on any of the islands. The small cruise ship you choose for your Galapagos vacation will be your home!
The second option is ideal if you aren’t keen on sailing very much or if you wish for a cheaper Galapagos vacation. Land-based vacations can also be subdivided in two options: one where you base yourself on a single island only (taking daily boat trips to nearby islands) and, the other, where you island hop, changing destination every couple of days.
Four out of the dozen or so islands in the Galapagos offer overnight accommodation and some of these options are positively sublime. One of our faves would have to be the Finch Bay Eco Hotel, which offers bothisland-hop 8-day adventuresand 4-day centre-based adventures. Keep in mind that this place is super plush with the kind of services and amenities that gifted it a spot on the National Geographic’s Unique Lodges of the World list. Their activities programme is impressive, offering everything from private yacht tours to guided land hikes, snorkelling and kayaking excursions and even relaxing massages. Like we said: sublime!
Many Galapagos agents will insist that the only reason to choose a land-based vacation, as opposed to a cruise, is if you’re absolutely terrified of boats. We don’t think this is true anymore although it may have been 10 years ago, when Galapagos Islands’ accommodation options were so limited and basic. Nowadays, however, there are some stunning resorts you can enjoy, offering an impressive number of island-visits and an exceptional value-for -money experience. You still won’t get the full immersive Galapagos experience of a live-aboard reaching the remotest islands (and that’s something that will never change) but if it were us and our budget allowed either for a 5-day cruise OR an 8-day land-based stay in a place like the Finch Bay Eco Hotel (the two are comparable in price) then we’d go land-based, hands-down.
There’s no denying that cruising around the Galapagos Islands is the best way to really explore, feel and inhale the true essence of these islands, their pristine condition, the unspoilt wilderness and the sheer array of all its incredible wildlife. The wonderful thing is that Galapagos cruises come in all shapes, sizes and budgets: no matter what you’re after, there IS a boat that’ll fit your bill.
Cruises offer a wider option of islands to visits, a different array of wildlife and a much more immersive experience, especially when you consider that some of the most spectacular and unique islands are also the more remote and no land-based stay will offer options to visit those in just a single day. Normally, you’d be sailing in between islands by night and wake up to a brand-new magnificent place. Then, you’ll have the whole day to explore both on land and in the water. Some daytime sailing will be included, naturally, for islands that are closer together. Moreover, no Galapagos vacationis ever ‘cheap’ – this is still a moderately expensive place to visit, no matter which option you choose – yet stretching the expense a little here can really deliver a much more comprehensive travel experience.
Expedition cruises in the Galapagos range in duration, with most trips lasting between 4 and 10 days. It may seem counterintuitive at first but do know that choosing a longer cruise here doesn’t mean you’ll simply see more wildlife but you’ll see a much wider array of creatures. More AND different. The longer you can stay, the more you’ll get out of this once-in-a-lifetime experience.
When it comes to duration, it’s also important to note that there are actually quite a few options on all the itineraries detailed below: not all 5-day Galapagos cruises, for example, visit the same islands. Read on to get an idea of just what you can see and experience in a set number of cruising days.
On a typical short & sweet cruise like the one aboard the Grand Majestic, you’ll get a lovely taste of what this amazing cluster of isles is all about although your Galapagos vacation won’t be nearly as in-depth as on longer cruises, naturally. Steering close to the springboard island of Santa Cruz, which you’ll tour on your first day, you’ll visit the southern isles of Espanola andFloreana, both rated as two of the most beautiful in the archipelago. Espanola is revered for hosting the largest colony of nesting waves albatross on earth and its western landing spot of Suarez Point is so overrun with marine iguanas, sea lions and birds that it’s voted the most ‘wildlife-enriched corner of the Galapagos’. Floreana, on the other hand, is the oldest inhabited isle in the group so boasts quite a few fascinating historical sites as well as some of the most arresting landscapes of all. There’s plenty of wildlife to spot here too, with Floreana home to pink flamingo, Blue Footed Boobies, Galapagos penguin and plenty more unique species. All in all, a four-day cruise will deliver a glorious overview of three Galapagos gems.
An extra night aboard your boat (in this case, the beautiful SEAMAN) will see you sail a little further east to the easternmost island of San Cristobal. This was the place where Charles Darwin first came to land in the Galapagos and is inarguably the greenest island of all and the second-most populated although feels much more laid-back and definitely quieter than Santa Cruz. Head here in the first five month so the year and you might spot turtles nesting. Renowned as a fantastic snorkelling and diving hub, San Cristobal is now home to a Giant Tortoise Sanctuary where you can see the gentle giants close up and, on its northern coast, you can cast your eyes on one of the most distinctive coral beaches of all, framed by a 123m peak that offers jaw-dropping views.
As the cruise length increases, the itinerary changes dramatically, allowing you the chance to discover the western chain of islands, starting from Santa Cruz, Floreana and Isabella, before sailing on to Fernandina, Santiago and North Seymour Island. Hop aboard the Reina Silvia and you’ll have the priceless chance to experience the Galapagos at their most untouched. Fernandina is considered home to one of the most pristine ecosystems on earth – an island so remote that it’s completely dodged human influence. Of course, seismic activity on its dramatic volcanoes has gone a long way to keeping folks at bay. This is the place to come and witness flightless cormorants nesting, the only such site on our entire planet. Wildlife here is abundant and includes iguanas, boobies, penguins, birds, crabs and an insane number of marinelife. Santiago is equally stunning, boasting superb stretches of coastline which attracts tens of thousands of birds and sea lions every year. Fabulous snorkelling and a most resplendent landscape have helped this island keep its reputation as one of the prettiest in the Galapagos. A last-day hop to North Seymour offers more visual feasting of frigate birds, Blue-footed Boobies and countless iguanas. In our opinion, 8-day Galapagos cruises offer perhaps the best of it all: a wide array of unique wildlife encounters, a myriad of unique landscapes and a feeling of finally being in a remote, untouched and out-of-the-way paradise, something some may not feel on shorter cruises.
If you have enough Galapagos vacation time up your sleeve to squeeze in a 10-day cruise then you’re in luck: you’ll get to have it all. Extended cruises such as the one aboard the Sea Star can venture further north and offer a wide array of itinerary options. The most exciting inclusion would surely be that of Genovesa and Bartolome islands as well as a few smaller and lesser-known gems not many boats get to. This is, perhaps, the most priceless experience of all. Genovesa is often dubbed the bird lover’s mecca, home to literally hundreds of thousands of endemic and oftentimes endangered birds you simply won’t get anywhere else. Many buddying ornithologists will choose this loop for Genovesa alone and there’s no blaming them in the slightest. Bartolome, just off the coast of Santiago, is an absolute beauty and, although quite diminutive, packs an incredible punch in aesthetics alone. Expect to see a large colony of Galapagos penguins swimming about among rays, reef sharks and untold species of tropical fish in the sea, as well as Sally-Lightfoot crabs, iguanas, sea lions and plenty of birds on shore. Bartolome is a true natural paradise.
You obviously won’t find a boat that’ll reach the northernmost islands on a 4-day itinerary but there is still quite a bit of room to play with nonetheless, within any of the time-lots. Many people who research the Galapagos will eventually come to us with a list of a few islands they absolutely do not want to miss and we do our best to find a suitable cruise – within their time and budget allowances.
Large ship cruising comes with some great pros: large ships usually offer much cheaper fares and have a greater choice of comfort level and availability. They’re a wonderful choice for social butterflies who want to meet a bunch of folks from all over the world and want to have more options (such as dining and entertainment) during their cruise. The downsides of large ship cruising, however, are considerable, most especially in the fervently protected Galapagos Islands.
To prevent overcrowding, the Ecuadorian Government has set quite a strict visitor number restrictions which means that very large cruise liners aren’t even allowed to dock on some of the islands and, when they do, their guests must take on-land excursions in turn. That’s a heck of a lot of time wasted waiting in turn or, heaven forbid, having to enjoy the Galapagos from your cabin balcony. It’s a long way to come (and money to spend) to not actually set foot on the Galapagos! What’s more, this ain’t the Caribbean: cruising here is not like cruising Jamaica. Spend just a day in the Galapagos and you won’t care one bit about the nightly entertainment or the glamorous dinner: you’ll crave more time on land to meet the exotic wildlife, more time to discover the islands on foot and more time to snorkel and dive with hammerhead sharks and a flurry of other incredible marine life. Your days should be full of exciting adventures, instead of waiting around. A Galapagos cruise adventure is, in fact, all about the destination.
Small ship cruising, on the other hand, offers the best pros of all. On a much smaller vessel, you don’t have to deal with overcrowding and waiting in line, you’re not part of a colossal group besieging a small islet (and its colony of seals, or birds or turtles) and can explore the remotest coves and bays of every island, something large ships simply can’t do. You’ll enjoy a more personalised service and, usually, a much higher degree of luxury. You’ll pay more for all this, naturally, yet do note that even small ship cruising offers plenty of budget and comfort choices.
More time for on-land excursions and activities, a more intense experience and much more dedicated guiding: this is a natural consequence of travelling with 12 or 50 people, rather than 200.
Our favourite Galapagos cruise ships offer a bevvy of options: 4, 5 and 8-day cruises ranging from as little as 3,380 NZD (aboard the Legend for 5-days) to 10,000 NZD, on the super luxurious Endemic for 8 days.
By and large, note that smaller and more luxurious Galapagos cruise vessels demand higher costs although, at times, a wonderful compromise can mean that a 5* large vessel with 100 pax costs the same as a 3* vessel for 20 pax. A good idea is to work out your budget first and then book the smallest vessel – in your comfort range – for that price.
This ultra-luxurious catamaran caters for only 16 guests in superb style and comfort. This super sleek beauty is the kind of vessel that makes grown sailors weak at the knees, comes with its own on-deck jacuzzi and amazeballs skylounge not to mention suites with panoramic windows, full-sized ensuite and private balconies for added exclusivity. The Endemic has literally just come off the boatyard and is simply itching to explore the Galapagos. If so are you, then you’re a match made in heaven! See where the Endemic can take on an 8-day Galapagos expedition.
This elegant vessel is undoubtedly one of the most striking to grace the seas of the Galapagos. A world-class sailing dame, also catering to just 16 guests, offers air-conditioned suites decked out in dark timber, a wonderful outdoor dining deck that’s ideal for wildlife spotting (and, maybe, a little bit of siesta-making) onboard kayaks and over 1000 square metres of spectacular ails. For old-world explorers – or those who wish they could’ve been – the Mary-Anne is spot on. See which side of the Galapagos archipelago the Mary-Anne can take you, on an 8-day cruise.
The Golondrina is a fab choice if you wish to sail the Galapagos for 8 days but wish to spend as much on your cruise. As one of the most budget-friendly vessels in our collection, the Golondrina is better suited to a younger clientele who’s willing to sleep in bunk beds and make do with fewer comforts and a much lower level of luxury to have the opportunity to experience the Galapagos. The boat is quite small and limited in what it offers, yet its still takes you around these incredible islands for 8 days and still, despite the lack of bling, delivers an unforgettable Galapagos island vacation.
The stunning and sleek Sea Star Journey – a 16-guest cruiser – is a spacious, comfortable and experienced Galapagos ‘resident’ that’s been cruising these seas since 2011. We love her fresh and uncluttered décor, the use of light-coloured wood, plush furnishings and overall ‘beach house’ feel of this vessel whilst families will love the interconnected suites. The sundeck is a spectacular place to enjoy some wildlife spotting and the jacuzzi a fabulous way to relax and unwind after an eventful day on land. The Sea Star Journey may not as glam as the Endemic but she is gorgeous and at almost half the price for a slightly shorter, 5-day cruise, also offers excellent value for money. We’re keen to show you how you can play with ‘luxury levels’ and cruise duration to fit within your budget and still keep to a small ship cruising experience. See where the Sea Star Journey sails to on her 5-day Galapagos expedition.
This magnificent vessel has a capacity of 100 passengers. Three different decks offer a great variety of spacious and comfortable social areas such as a bar, a library, a lounge and a sundeck with Jacuzzi. An auditorium is available for conferences. Although, if you want to go with a large group of friends and family it is still small enough for an intimate experience. There are 52 cabins in total with different levels of comfort; from the balcony suite to standard cabins with small portholes. Activities onboard include zodiac expeditions with a naturalist, snorkelling, kayaking and scuba diving. There will be 5 day Galapagos Cruise aboard the Legend.
This gorgeous small-sized yacht hosts 32 guests in great comfort with a jacuzzi, sunbathing deck, bar and library offering plenty of entertainment in between excursions. The boat is spacious and comfortable with plenty of indoor and outdoor space and lovely cabins that’ll make you feel right at home. The Evolution offers 8-day cruises that really pack in a lot of action, visiting Isabela, Fernandina, Bartolome, Santiago, Espanola and San Cristobal islands, as well as a couple of islets along the way. Snorkelling, diving and kayaking are offered, as well as the usual land-based guides hikes and excursions.
This sleek number is the kind that turns heads at sea: she is an absolute beauty of a vessel and is not just the most modern yacht in the Galapagos but also the fastest. Accommodating only 16 guests in superb luxury, the Grand Majestic really lives up to its name and is ideal for those who wish nothing but the best. The 4-day cruise mentioned in the section above, taken aboard the Grand Majestic, is indicative of the boat’s itinerary.
Another 8-day cruise option is aboard the breathtaking Grace, regal by name and history. The honeymoon yacht gifted by Greek shipping magnate Aristotle Onassis to Prince Grace of Monaco, this historic vessel is one of the most exquisite in the world and experiencing the Galapagos aboard a vessel of this calibre and history (she even had a stint as a wartime vessel) is really a unique experience. The Grace is a magnificent vessel and, on her 8-day Galapagos cruise you’ll get the priceless chance to experience her, first-hand.
A larger boat offering more space and a wonderful itinerary cruising the eastern islands for 5 days, the Santa Cruz II boats ample space to accommodate its 90 guests with ease. This vessel is very luxurious and exemplifies the value-for-money attributes of larger vessels: when you share your Galapagos cruise with more [people, you can all enjoy a much-heightened level of luxury and comfort. The Santa Cruz II is one of the few Galapagos vessel with medical care on board and offers a wide array of activities to suit everyone. Hot tubs, a lovely gym and plenty of sitting, dining and relaxing spaces make this one of the most comfortable choices of all.
We hope to have given you a great overview of what you can expect – in regards to Galapagos cruise ships – when it comes to size and budget. Our full range of Galapagos cruise ships is quite extensive, so take a look at the NEW Galapagos cruises added to our fleet and discover our full range of Galapagos Island experiences.
As always, call us here at Viva Expeditions for more personalised advice on the right Galapagos cruise ship to suit your needs, desires and budget.
If you need help picking the right Galapagos cruise ship, Viva Expeditions works with over 45 that sail the Galapagos. Contact us for help picking the right cruise.