The 5 Best Rated Snorkelling Sites in Galapagos
Get the Most Out of Your Underwater Adventure on These Islands!
Some people will argue that Galapagos under the sea offers even better wildlife observation opportunities that what you can find on land. Recognized as a World Heritage site in 2001, the Galapagos Marine Reserve is one of the largest in the world and covers an area equivalent to the size of Greece.
There are good reasons for this.
Fishing is solely permitted to locals, and only artisanal fishing practices are allowed. The large international tuna fleets are kept out, operating just beyond the limits of the marine reserve, 65 kilometres / 40 miles out from the nearest land point. As a result, you’ll be hard-pressed to find more pristine ocean waters anywhere else. It is worthwhile to perfect your snorkelling skills before starting your Galapagos vacation to ensure you get the most out of your time in the islands.
We asked 12 Galapagos naturalist guides who have worked a combined total of 231 years to evaluate all the snorkelling sites accessible to visitors (39 in all). They rated them from 0 to 100. Here's what they found:
Champion Islet - Score: 96%
Located just off the island of Floreana island in the southern part of the archipelago, this small island’s eastern side is bathed by ocean currents, which bring up rich nutrients from deeper waters. Naturalist guides rate the snorkelling around Champion as the best in Galapagos. Sea lions, sea turtles, white tip sharks, sea horses, schools of tropical fish - and if you're lucky, hammerheads, giant manta rays dolphins and eels can be spotted here.
Score Punta Mejia - Marchena Island: 94%
Located on the northern edge of the main group of islands, this rarely visited snorkelling site is rated as among the top snorkelling sites in Galapagos. Deep, calm and clear waters of the northern archipelago along with jagged topography of the place give the feeling of witnessing the first years of our planet and its underwater world. In addition to a wide variety of fish, snorkelers often see stingrays, sea turtles, reef sharks and from time to time, some marine mammals such as false killer whales and pilot whales.
Devil's Crown - Floreana Island: 91%
Coral formations can be found in this flooded volcanic crater. They attract other marine animals, making it one of the best snorkelling spots in the Galapagos. You can see sea lions, sharks, stingrays, tropical fish, eels and sea turtles or watch a blue-footed booby as it dives into the water to catch their prey. The outer rim of the crater is a paradise for birds, including boobies, pelicans, frigates and red-billed tropical birds.
Score Punta Vicente Roca – Isabela Island: 90%
Located off the northwestern coast of Isabela Island, the waters here are bathed by the nutrient-rich Cromwell current. You’re likely to see mantas, sea turtles, marine iguanas and sea lions. The famous mola mola (ocean sunfish), a very large, unusual fish might be spotted. With some additional luck, you could actually see a whale shark cruising by (more likely between June and November). You’ll almost certainly see penguins. Above the waves, onshore, blue-footed and Nazca boobies preen alongside an occasional flightless cormorant.
North Seymour - 86%
This is the only one of the 5 best snorkelling spots that can be visited by land-based visitors (via a full day trip). North Seymour is located just off Baltra Island (a.k.a. South Seymour) – where the main airport in Galapagos is located. You’re almost certain to swim along with white-tipped reef sharks and with as are a variety of other tropical fish such as angelfish, stingrays, parrotfish and sea lions – who are like underwater puppy dogs.
The waters of the Galapagos are the warmest from January to May and the coolest from August to November. People used to swim in cold waters can do without a wetsuit at any time of the year, but generally, at least one shorty is appreciated from June to December, and most should be able to do without a wetsuit between February and April.
Photography Tips for Travelling to The Galapagos Islands
How to Perfectly Capture the Spectacular Beauty of the Galapagos Islands on Camera
They say that a picture is worth a thousand words, but when photographing the stunning natural beauty of the Galapagos Islands, the photos are truly priceless.
Whether you are a professional photographer or just a hobbyist considering a trip to the Galapagos Islands, there are ways to maximize your experience and improve your chances of capturing the most incredible moments imaginable.
Which is why we’ve gathered the top industry tips for ensuring you get the perfect shot while remaining safe and respectful of the abundant wildlife that habitat the islands.
Cruise Vs Land-Based Tours – Which Will Provide the Best Photography Opportunities
If capturing all the amazing Galapagos wildlife and beautiful landscapes is top of mind when travelling to the islands, then a cruise will provide the best photo opportunities.
A cruise allows you to see the most remote and spectacular uninhabited islands, allowing you to capture a diverse range of impressive wildlife up close.
And because a cruise stops at a new island each day, every day offers something new and exciting to experience and capture forever.
What’s a Typical Day Like on a Galapagos Cruise?
Here is the timeline for an average day aboard a Galapagos Islands cruise tour:
- 5:30 AM: Wake up, have breakfast on the ship.
- 6:00 AM to 10:00 AM: Arrive on shore for animal/landscape viewing.
- 10:30 AM to 11:30 AM: Snorkelling or panga ride/kayaking.
- 12:30 PM: Break for lunch. Ship may travel to nearby destinations.
- 2:00 PM to 6:00 PM: Another shore landing and possibly more snorkelling.
- 6:30 PM: Dinner aboard the ship.
- 12:00 PM: Ship begins cruising to tomorrow’s destination.
What Kinds of Things You Will Be Able to Capture
The Galapagos Islands truly are a wildlife photographer’s paradise, as there is such an incredible range of biodiversity that isn’t found anywhere else in the world.
From unique creatures in their natural habitat to volcanic landscapes surrounded by stunning, crystal clear turquoise waters and pristine white sand beaches, there is no limit when it comes to the immense amount of beauty you will be able to capture when visiting Galapagos.
Some highlights of the close-up encounters you can expect with the islands’ wildlife include:
- Marine and land Iguanas sunning themselves
- Majestic birds flying overhead
- Playful sea lions frolicking on the beach
- Courtship displays of the Waved Albatross
- Vibrant red and blue-footed boobies
- Galapagos penguins swimming
- Magnificent giant tortoises
- Rainbow coloured Sally Lightfoot crabs
Types of Shots to Focus On
With so much to do and see during a Galapagos cruise tour, deciding what kind of images to capture can be difficult to narrow down.
Here are some recommendations for shots to focus on to make the most out of this amazing photography opportunity.
Galapagos has some of the most open and expansive landscapes you may ever see in your lifetime, so be sure to capture everything it has to offer by using a wide-angle lens. Make sure to capture the contrast of the vibrant blue waters surrounded by darky, volcanic rock and white sand beach.
Landscape with Focal Foreground Element
Focusing in on some flora or fauna in the foreground, while also featuring the gorgeous landscape in the background makes for another incredible landscape shot.
Landscape with Many Elements
Try to capture what it actually feels like to be in the Galapagos islands without making the landscape or wildlife the sole focus.
Photograph the landscape from a wider angle and feature some animals in the shot, without making them the focal point.
Use a longer lens to capture a portrait of one single animal and use a wide aperture to help blur the background. You should still be able to see enough of the background to get a sense of what is going on in the animal’s surroundings.
You don't need to just focus on portraits of the whole animal. Galapagos has several species with unique characteristics and other interesting details that make for incredible macro shots. Focusing on the vibrant feet of blue or red-footed boobies, in particular, make for great detail shots.
One of the most amazing things about the Galapagos Islands is that animals are typically not fearful of humans, allowing you the opportunity to see them up close in their native habitat, and capture their unique quirks and behaviour.
Take advantage of this opportunity by observing from a bit of a distance and using a longer lens to capture some of this behaviour in real-time.
What Photography Equipment Should I Bring?
When travelling abroad, lugging all of your expensive camera equipment with you can be a challenge, especially when taking part in a cruise.
To avoid having to pack up and lug around a large amount of heave photography equipment each time you leave the ship for an excursion, try and limit your gear as much as you can and only bring the essentials.
Avoid bringing a tripod, as it will only end up being a burden, and you will have limited opportunities to use it. Don’t bring a flash or drone either, as both are against national park regulations.
Do bring, however:
- A telephoto lens
- A wide-angle lens
- Extra memory cards
- Extra batteries
- Padded camera bag
- Extra camera strap
- An underwater camera for snorkelling shots
Photography Tips for Getting Great Wildlife Shots
Do Your Research and Get to Know the Animals’ Behaviour and Patterns
The secret to capturing the best wildlife shots in the Galapagos Islands is to get to know the animals you are photographing.
Do your research and observe them for a bit to find out when they wake and feed, what they eat, and where can they be found.
Get Close to Ground Level
Most animals in the Galapagos are small and reside quite close to the ground, so getting down on their level will help you see the world from their point of view and capture the perfect shot from straight on.
Make Sure Subject Is in Focus
There’s nothing worse than photographing an incredible subject like Galapagos wildlife and having your photo out of focus.
Prevent this by shooting at a higher shutter speed when capturing a moving subject and have your camera set to auto-focus.
Try to Capture Behaviour
As previously mentioned, spend time observing wildlife and their habits and try to capture some of their unique behaviour, such as:
- Sally Lightfoot crabs cleaning ticks from the skin of marine iguanas
- Male blue-footed boobies strutting in front of females
- Waved Albatrosses taking part in adorable breeding rituals
- Galapagos fur seals splashing around in the water
- Marine iguanas basking in the sun
In order to truly capture the unique characteristics of Galapagos wildlife, you will need to get close using a long lens. Get some tightly cropped close up shots of animals that allow you to see some amazing details.
Pay Attention to The Background
When photographing wildlife, it can be easy to forget about the gorgeous landscape that surrounds you. Keep in mind that the wildlife isn’t the only thing you will want to look back on and remember about the Galapagos Islands when you return home.
So, along with close up shots of wildlife, remember to get some shots with the stunning landscape in the background.
Don’t Get Too Close
While many Galapagos creatures don’t fear humans and may get close to you, National Park rules dictate that visitors must maintain a distance of at least 2 metres from all animals. This is for both your safety and the animals’.
For this reason, having a longer lens will come in handy for getting close up shots.
Take Your Time
To avoid frightening the animals, try not to rush and make sudden movements. Be patient and take your time observing the animals in order to get a few perfect shots, rather than running around trying to get as many photos as possible.
Always Look Behind You
Some critters are shy, but curious and may sneak up on you if you are not careful.
Always be looking around to prevent an unexpected run-in with the creatures you are trying to capture.
The most important thing to remember when visiting the Galapagos Islands is to show respect for the wildlife. After all, you are entering their habitat, not the other way around.
Remember that these are living creatures that are incredibly important to the delicate ecosystem of the Galapagos Islands, which is why the National Park has such strict rules in place.
The Galapagos Islands are one of the most unique travel destinations in the world and should be on the bucket list of every photographer.
However, it’s important to do your research and plan ahead to ensure you are able to get some amazing shots while staying safe and respecting the rules of the Galapagos National Park and the animals that live there.
Why an Expedition Cruise in the Galapagos Islands is Perfect for Your Next Family Vacation
How to Take A Trip to the Galapagos Islands with Children
If you're planning your next big family trip and are unsure of where to go, why not consider the sunny, ecologically diverse Galapagos Islands?
With so much to do and see, the Galapagos Islands can be an incredible destination for both parents and kids of all ages.
From the stunning turquoise blue waters contrasted by rocky, volcanic terrain, to the spectacularly diverse species of animals, both parents and children will fall in love with Galapagos, making the islands a once in a lifetime travel opportunity that you will never forget.
What to Expect When Travelling to the Galapagos Islands Depending on Your Children’s Age
Travelling abroad with children can pose some challenges at any age, but certain age groups may be more difficult to travel with than others.
To help you better prepare for a trip to the Galapagos Islands, here are some tips for planning your vacation based on the age of your kids.
Infants and Toddlers
While it is possible to take an infant or toddler on vacation to the Galapagos, you may encounter some challenges trying to explore the islands and navigate the rocky terrain.
Also, keep in mind that when touring the Galapagos Islands, the uninhabited islands on many itineraries do not have bathroom facilities, which can become a problem if you need to change your infant’s diaper.
To ensure that you as a parent, and your child are able to fully immerse yourself in the Galapagos experience and take in everything that the islands have to offer, it’s recommended that you wait until your child is a bit older to travel with them to the islands.
Ages 5 to 12
Many parents ask themselves, “Is my child old enough for overseas travel?” This is a particularly common question asked by parents considering a trip to the Galapagos Islands.
There really is no simple answer to this, as your child’s readiness all depends on their level of maturity, behaviour, and respect, as they will need to be able to follow the rules of the National Park and respect the Galapagos wildlife.
They will also need to have some patience to sit through long flights with connections and be physically able to hike rocky terrain.
How Long Should I Book My Family Trip?
If you are travelling to the Galapagos Islands with your children, a shorter trip will likely work best for your family. However, this is completely up to you. While 8 days is the standard length for a cruise, it’s possible to find 5- or 6-day cruises for those short on time.
Are the Galapagos Islands Safe for Kids?
When done correctly, a family trip to the Galapagos Islands can be 100 percent safe and beneficial for young kids.
In fact, with knowledgeable guides and proper supervision, one of the only safety risks you’ll need to worry about is the harmful rays from the sun.
What Food Should We Expect?
On the islands themselves, you can expect lots of delicious fresh seafood (ceviche is an especially common dish) along with plenty of exotic fruits.
Galapagos meals are fairly simple, light, and fresh, combining the elements of Ecuadorian cuisine like meat, potatoes, and grains with coastal ingredients like yucca and seafood.
But if your kids are picky eaters, not to worry, most cruise ships will offer child-friendly meals if requested.
Travelling by Land Vs. Sea – Which Is Better for Families?
Benefits of a Cruise
When it comes to getting the full Galapagos experience, travelling by cruise is by far the most relaxed and efficient way to see everything the islands have to offer, especially if you are travelling as a family.
Since Galapagos is an archipelago made up of a dozen larger volcanic islands and nearly 100 smaller ones located 600 miles/1000 km off the coast of Ecuador, cruises are the most efficient way to visit these islands, especially remote ones without any human habitation.
Many of these islands are not able to be visited in just a day trip if you are staying in a hotel on one of the main islands.
With a cruise, your ship is usually travelling at night or during meals, allowing you to visit many different islands during your trip without having to ever miss out on valuable exploration time.
In fact, most cruises have pre-planned, diverse itineraries, allowing you to visit up to two sites per day where you can enjoy a variety of activities, without the stress of planning.
An added benefit is if you choose to participate in a cruise that is specifically designated as a family cruise, child-friendly activities are likely to be incorporated.
This means that their days will be packed full of fun adventures, tiring them out by the evening and pretty much guaranteeing they’ll be in bed early most nights.
Plus, there are likely to be many other children on board that your kids can play with, giving you as a parent a bit of alone time to take in your surroundings. And of course, this also means there will be other parents for you to chat with and enjoy the company of other adults.
Top Attractions and Activities for Kids
When visiting the Galapagos Islands with your kids, you will never run out of fun activities. Here are some examples of family-friendly activities the whole family can enjoy.
A defining feature of the Galapagos Islands is the vast number of unique species that call the islands home.
And rather than shying away from you, most animals feel comfortable being amongst humans, and may even approach you, allowing you to get close enough to – respectfully – observe them in their natural habitat.
This can be a great learning experience for kids, as they will learn how to respect the wildlife and know that they don’t need to be afraid of exotic animals.
Some cool creatures you can expect to see, and in some cases maybe even interact with include:
- Sea lions
- Marine and Land Iguanas
- Giant tortoises
- Lava Lizards
- Galapagos penguins
- Sea turtles
If your kids are strong swimmers and aren’t afraid of getting up close and personal with marine life, then snorkelling can be a great activity that you, as a parent, will enjoy as well.
The Galapagos Islands are home to hundreds of fascinating species that can only be found in this part of the world, making it one of the top destinations for scuba diving and snorkelling.
So, when taking part in a snorkelling expedition led by an experienced guide, your child will be able to learn all about whitetip reef sharks, sea lions, green sea turtles, exotic fish, and even Galapagos penguins by getting to see them up close in their natural habitat.
If your kids are too young for snorkelling or are simply not interested, relaxing or exploring one of the Galapagos’ many pristine, white, red, or black sand beaches can also be a fun family activity.
Not only will you be able to soak up some sun, build sandcastles, and take a dip in the ocean, but Galapagos beaches are also another great opportunity to take in the incredible wildlife native to the islands, such as penguins, turtles, sea lions, and more.
Perhaps the best way to truly experience everything the Galapagos Islands have to offer is to explore them on foot.
Expedition cruises will take you around to visit several of the islands, exploring them on foot with your naturalist guide.
Hiking the islands is a perfect activity for young explorers, as children will be able to learn all about how volcanic islands are formed as they trek across lava fields, tuff cones, craters, and sunken calderas.
For those who prefer to remain above the water but still want to see various marine life up close, kayaking is the perfect, family-friendly activity.
Kayaking will allow you to still explore the ocean by skimming across the surface, without having to get too close for comfort to all the underwater creatures.
Along with the untouched natural beauty and biodiversity, the Galapagos Islands are known for their rocky, volcanic landscapes, produced by millions of years of ongoing volcanic activity.
A product of this is stunning underground lava tunnels found across the islands.
You can explore these natural cave formations with your children to help them – and yourself! – develop a better understanding of the volcanic nature of the archipelago and feel like a true adventurer.
Charles Darwin Research Station
Named after the famed naturalist who spent time developing his ground-breaking theory on evolution in the Galapagos Islands, the Charles Darwin Research Station is a biological research station operated by the Charles Darwin Foundation.
The centre is home to several exhibits along with a breeding centre where you can see iguanas and giant tortoises in various stages.
Visiting the station can be a great educational opportunity for your children to learn more about the animals living on the islands along with the foundation’s conservation efforts to help preserve these species.
When taking a family vacation to the Galapagos Islands, your children will gain incredible experiences and develop precious memories that will last a lifetime.
From days filled with exploration and adventure to days spent taking in the diverse wildlife and stunning views, visiting the Galapagos Islands will help kids to discover the beauty of nature and the magic of animals running free without fear of humans.
So, when planning your next big family vacation, consider the Galapagos Islands for a trip of a lifetime that both you as a parent and your children will remember forever.
What’s the best way to visit the Galapagos – Expedition cruise or Land based tours?
Galapagos Cruise or Island Hopping—A Look at the Pros and Cons of Each Tour Option
Now that you’ve established your motivations for going to the Galapagos Islands, it’s time to start planning your trip there. For most people, this is a one-shot deal – they’ll go once and never come back. It’s critically important that you take the time to consider your options and ensure you experience Galapagos in the way best suited to your needs and interests.
There are two main ways to discover the islands—by expedition cruise, where you have your private cabin on a ship and have meals on-board, or by land-based island-hopping, where you sleep in hotels and eat in restaurants.
To help you figure out which option is best for you, here’s a look at the pros and cons of each tour method.
Pros of Island-Hopping
Usually Costs Less Than a Cruise, particularly if you are OK with lower-end services
Hotel-based tours allow visitors to choose their accommodations from a range of prices—budget, mid-range, first-class, and luxury. With the most basic of accommodations going at what you might expect to leave as a daily tip on a first-class ship, you can clearly spend time in Galapagos at a much lower cost by staying on land. But if you like more comfortable hotels, the price differences can quickly disappear.
Similarly, you can spend very little on a back alley meal of rice and beans with a piece of chicken, but if you like nicer places, prices go up as well.
Finally, to get out and about the islands and to visit the wild places where Galapagos shows off its best attributes, you need to book day trips. These vary in price but can add up to be close to the price of what you’d pay onboard a ship, depending on the comfort class.
At the end of the day, unless you’re into low-end accommodations and meals, the price of a land-based based trip is not necessarily much lower than that of a decent mid-range cruise ship experience.
Leisurely and Flexible, Go at Your Own Pace
There is a wide range of activities for those staying at hotels – many can be organized for free, or don’t require advance bookings. Visiting the local beach, local swimming holes, or a highlands farm where giant tortoises roam, for example. Land-based visitors can build their own schedules, making this a more flexible option compared to following a cruise’s set itinerary. Having said this, spaces on day trips to remote visitor sites are limited and unless these are booked in advanced (e.g. up to several months if during the high season), there may be no space left for you.
Arguably better for People with Seasickness
If you are very prone to seasickness, you can choose a land-based visit – but unless you have no intention of visiting sites off the island on which you’re staying, you’ll invariably have to spend a good deal of time on a boat. Day trip boats are smaller and faster – and trips on these have been qualified as “bone-jarring”. You can spend up to two hours each way on such ships while visiting remote sites.
Cell-phone Reception Almost Wherever You Go
If you must have cell reception because you can’t live without being connected with your phone, then land-based tours are probably better for you (though Galapagos mobile data and internet is 15 years behind the times). Typically on a ship, you’ll be out of cell-phone range 50% of the time.
More Time Spent On Land
Those staying at hotels will spend more time on land, browsing shops and eating at local restaurants. So they will get to know the local communities better. However, as we note above, if that’s your main interest in a tropical island holiday, Galapagos is not the ideal place to go.
Cons of Island Hopping
Inconvenient to Go from Island to Island
The ferries taking you between the main inhabited islands consist of uncomfortable speedboats. People regularly report that passengers are often sick and that the ride (2.5 hours typically) can be “bone-jarringly rough”. Though the journey is relatively short at 2.5 hours, moving from one inhabited island to another typically will take up a big part of a day. By the time you pack, check-out of your hotel, get to the docks, wait around for the other passengers, travel, arrive, find your new hotel and check-in, you’ll have little left of the day to enjoy. For those who have only a limited time in the islands, this is a consideration.
More Time Spent in Transit on Day Trips
Day trips will have you get up early, find your way to the town docks, wait around for other passengers and then head off on a fast, possibly bumpy boat ride to your destination. At the end of your visit, you’ll have to go home again. In all, you might end up spending 6 of the 12 daylight hours in transit.
Though at the end of the day, you might be spending less money, you are also spending less time enjoying what the islands have to offer.
Miss Out On Several Sites, Won't See as Much of the Islands
Since only three of the main islands can easily accommodate visitors, your itineraries and site visiting options will be limited to sites within easy reach of these islands. You will be visiting the most visited sites, where wildlife is most disturbed by tourists.
Timing is poor for wildlife observation
Land-based tours will have you arrive at visitors sites after 10 AM (as per park regulations). By then, the equatorial sun has risen quite high and has become quite hot. Most wildlife species are active at sunrise when things are cooler. This is when you’ll see the best displays of various behaviours, such as feeding, courting, mating, fighting. By the time things get hot, most animals find shade and rest until later in the afternoon – by which time a land-based tour is required to have left the visitor site.
Pros of Cruise Tours
More Efficient Itinerary, See More In the Same Amount of Time
Most cruises have diverse itineraries, visiting two sites per day, at which you can expect to go on a hike, snorkel, kayak and more. Ships do most of their travelling during meals and downtime (e.g. overnight) so you can spend more time visiting the islands during the day. Typically, on waking up early in the morning, the ship is already anchored at a remote visitor site. Some ships will even have you disembarking at sun-rise, a full 4 hours before any land-based visitor is allowed to do so, just when conditions are ideal.
Much Better for Photographers
A lot of visitors to the Galapgos are keen photographers. These people will know that lighting is a big part of taking good pictures. Under a bright sun there are big contrasts between shaded and non-shaded areas, making it very difficult to obtain well balanced pictures. On a cruise, you will be among the wildlife much ealier in the day, when the lighting is much softer (and when animals are at their most active). Similarly, you'll be at visitor sites much later in the afternoon. In both cases, with the early or late sun, the light is much more amenable to taking great shots.
See More Islands & Experience More of the Galapagos
A typical 8-day cruise will have you visit 20 or more visitor sites. A land-based visit would require nearly 3 weeks to do the same but necessarily limited to sites near inhabited islands.
Logistically much simpler
The only challenge in organizing a ship-based visit to Galapagos is finding a ship most suited to your needs and interests. Once that is done, there are no more concerns. Unless you purchase a package organized by a tour operator, you’ll have to deal with the daily logistics of organizing your Galapagos visit while on a land-based tour. Which hotel to choose, which restaurant, what day trip to book, how to catch the ferry to another island. All this can be quite time consuming and can distract you from enjoying what Galapagos is all about.
Only Unpack/Pack Once
If you’re like most people, you probably don’t enjoy packing and unpacking or checking into and out of hotels at all. With island-hopping, you’ll have to unpack and pack your luggage at every hotel you visit. But with a cruise, you will only need to unpack once and pack once for the duration of your stay. Something to consider if you’re travelling with children as well.
Quick Access to Guides and Specialists
A naturalist guide will lead all of your tours with a cruise booking. And you’ll also have experienced crew members on board to take care of your needs, including medical needs in case of an illness or injury.
Zero Hassle, Worry-Free Experience
Having everything taken care of for you during a cruise makes for a stress-free vacation. You don’t need to worry about a thing, freeing you to focus on what you travelled so far to enjoy.
Stars and bio-luminescence
Galapagos is on the Equator, in the Pacific Ocean. The stars there are brilliant – far from any light pollution. For visitors from the northern hemisphere, it’s the first time they ever see the Southern Cross, while those from the south get to see the Big Dipper for the first time.
The sea is also full of bioluminescent plankton. On a ship, out at sea, you’ll have the chance to marvel at these “underwater fireflies”. The brightly lit towns in Galapagos prevent you from enjoying such spectacles of nature.
Cons of Cruise Tours
Though there are land-based trips that will be pricier than a ships based trip of equal length, typically, an expedition cruise is more costly. While a decent tourist superior range cruise my cost about $500-$550/person/day, a well-organized land-based trip (not counting all the time invested in organizing it) using decent accommodations and eating out at similarly rated places could go for about $350 - $400 /person/day.
For those with a bit of flexibility, last-minute cruise offers can result in savings from 10% to as much as 40%, or even 50% (rare). Under such circumstances, the ship-based experience can come in at the same price, or even lower than an equivalent land-based trip.
If you need to work (which we don’t recommend during such a beautiful vacation!), you can expect to have cell-phone reception about 50% of your time at sea – and don’t expect top service. More and more ships offer internet connectivity - speeds are variable.
Can Cause Seasickness for Those Who Are Prone
Though many people are concerned about seasickness, surveys of returning passengers have shown that fewer than 3% reported it having serioulsy affected the enjoyment of their trip. Typically, you might feel it a bit during one particular crossing. Or you might feel it a bit on the first day, then you get your sea legs and are fine for the rest of the trip. There are excellent medications that are commonly used to control it.
While land-based Galapagos vacations are more suited to some (particularly if traveling on a budget), if you cruise around the Galapagos Islands, you’ll truly get the most out of what this iconic archipelago as to offer in your limited time there. The places you’ll visit, the time you’ll save, and the hassle-free living makes a Galapagos Islands cruise tour an exceptional experience.
How to Prep for A Cruise Vacation to the Galapagos Islands
Tips and Tricks to Help You Make the Most of Your Trip
Whether you’re a newbie or a weathered cruise veteran, preparing to embark on a cruise thousands of miles from home can be overwhelming. What to wear? What to pack? Is there anything I shouldn’t bring?
Thanks to their mild weather patterns and unrivalled wildlife, the Galapagos Islands are becoming hugely popular as a year-round travel destination. The Galapagos is also known as the cradle of evolution; famed explorer Charles Darwin came up with his theory of natural selection in part thanks to his observations there back in 1835. And what better way to experience this iconic site than on a cruise tour?
Cruises are the most efficient, convenient and, of course, the most Instagrammable way to tour the Galapagos Islands. A cruise allows you to see more of the islands with the least amount of hassle, and they often provide on-site guides and specialists to help you make the most out of your trip.
Great! Now that it’s been decided, it’s time to move onto the part that so many people dread the most: Prep time. Whether this is your first cruise to the Galapagos, or your first cruise ever, we’ve got the best tips and tricks to help you prepare for your trip off dry land.
Make sure all your travel docs are in order
Your travel documents and tickets should arrive a couple of weeks before the big day. If you bought them online, you might be able to print your tickets from home. Make sure you get these documents sorted out well ahead of time, so you won’t have to stress about them on the day you leave.
Before you do anything, do a thorough check to ensure the information is correct. Mistakes aren’t common, but they do happen, and it’s better to sort that out with plenty of time to spare. Make sure your passport is up-to-date and ready to go (it needs to be valid to 6 months beyond your date of arrival in Ecuador), then plan a safe place to keep it for the duration of your cruise. Remember to print out your:
- Boarding pass
- Luggage tags
- Cruise paperwork
Keep these important documents in a safe place with your passport until it’s time to leave. Pack them in your carry-on so you can keep them handy. Before you head out, do a last-minute check that you're ticketed for the right dates, from the right airport, and to the right destination.
Notify your bank and credit card company of your trip
Nothing ruins a vacation like a credit card mishap. If you don’t let your bank and credit card company know you’ll be travelling and they notice your card being used half-way around the world, they’ll flag it as theft or fraud. Many cruise destinations are on fraud lists and are more likely to be flagged than others. Your bank will immediately put a hold on your account, leaving you stranded at sea with no cashflow. A quick phone call a week or so before your departure will keep this cruise disaster at bay.
Make any special requests to your cruise (allergies, etc.)
If you have allergies, medical conditions or disabilities your cruise staff should know about, it’s best to call in, or send an email to let them know at least 30 days ahead of time. You can also bring it up again with staff once you arrive – especially relating to dangerous food allergies. Most cruise lines are happy to make the appropriate accommodations with a little notice.
Plan your trip to the airport/coming home (car drop off, car service, uber, bus schedule, hotels, etc.)
Remembering to plan a ride to and from the airport often slips through the cracks when there are so many other things to remember during your vacation prep. This little ‘oops’ may seem like no biggie. But when you’re stuck outside the airport in your swimsuit, in the middle of the night, in freezing weather with no ride home, you’ll definitely be kicking yourself! Plan for a car drop off, contact a car service, consult the local bus schedules, plan to take an Uber or taxi, or look into booking a nearby hotel.
Get to know the ship - ask for information, research, reviews, etc.
Since you’ll be spending quite a bit of time there when it’s not docked for an excursion, you may want to learn a little bit more about your ship. Read reviews, browse passenger chat boards and social media reviews and take a peek at the ship’s deck plans and cabin layouts. This is also a great opportunity to go over the ship’s safety features, electrical specifications (will you need an adapter for your phone charger?) amenities and menu. Thankfully in Galapagos, ships don’t have much of a dress code. On higher-end ships, you might feel out of place if you go to dinner in an old t-shirt and shorts, but generally, as long as you show respect for your other travellers, a clean t-shirt and shorts are just fine.
Be realistic about your Wi-Fi and cellphone expectations
Only higher-end ships have wi-fi, and even there, it’s quite spotty. Cell-phone service is available only when the ship is within range of towers – meaning typically, about 30% of the time. Be ready for a screen-free holiday!
Pack your essentials in your carry-on
Aside from your passport and travel documents, there are some other essentials you should probably keep handy in your carry-on. Your phone charger, daily medications, a toothbrush, facial wipes and other toiletries, a weather-appropriate change of clothes (and underwear) for when you arrive, plus any valuables that you don’t want to leave with your checked baggage should be in there. It also helps to bring a collapsible water bottle in your carry-on, which can be filled after you’ve gone through customs.
Only the higher-end cruise ships have a luggage service that brings your suitcase from the airport to your room onboard the ship. This means you likely won’t see your luggage – or anything in it – until the evening. This is why it’s also important to include everything you might need for the first day of your cruise in your carry-on.
Pack your own pharmacy
If this is your first cruise (or your tenth, for those of us who just never found our sea legs), you’ll quickly find out that seasickness and sunburns are sometimes occupational hazards of taking a cruise. Medications for constipation/diarrhea, motion sickness, allergies, bug spray and sunscreen should all be brought from home because they can cost quite a bit more at the ship’s shop.
Pack laundry soap
Depending on how many outfits you plan on packing, you may need to do some laundry over the course of your cruise. Some cruise lines offer free detergent, but in some cases, it can be expensive. Since there are no liquid restrictions on cruise ships, you can bring your own detergent and hand-wash your clothes in your cabin’s sink. Most in-cabin showers even include retractable clotheslines so you can hang your laundry to dry. This allows you to pack lighter and leaves more room for souvenirs!
Pack the right clothes and shoes
On many visitor sites in the Galapagos, expect to be walking on sandy, rocky and uneven terrain and be sure to pick the right footwear. A decent pair of running shoes will work, as will a sturdy pair of closed-toe sandals if you’re sure-footed. Some guides just walk about in flip-flops, but we don’t recommend that for first timers. You may also consider water shoes – as you will be disembarking from zodiacs onto a wet beach from time to time. Many ships suggest that you go barefoot while on board.
Protection from the sun is another consideration. Light long-sleeved shirts and trousers might be a good idea, particularly if you are prone to sunburn. Wide-brimmed hats are also useful (or even a parasol that can double up as a walking stick). Between about June and December, evenings can be fresh and warrant a sweater/fleece jacket.
Pack for your hikes
You’ll be going on two hikes a day. These are generally short, but because you’re taking your time, you may be on the trail for up to 2 hours. A day pack with a water bottle, sunscreen, bug spray and other handy items will be useful.
Save some room in your luggage for souvenirs
For those who love to shop, the Galapagos Islands offer a variety of local shops that sell one-of-a-kind souvenirs to bring home for family and friends. To avoid getting caught up in astronomical overweight baggage fees on your way home, remember to pack lightly!
Be smart about your wardrobe – only pack what you need, and roll your clothes instead of folding them to save space. Shoes and electronics are some of the heaviest things you can pack, so be strategic about what you really need to bring with you. Most cruises offer soap, shampoo and conditioner, so you can generally leave those behind, too!
Weigh your suitcase multiple times before you leave for the cruise, so you know exactly what you’re starting with. When buying souvenirs, keep their weight in mind. If possible, weigh your suitcase periodically during your cruise as you add items, to avoid any nasty surprises.
Get travel insurance taken care of!
As much as we wish everything always went exactly as we want it to, there are always things that can go wrong. For the most part, you’re out at sea, which comes with its own limitations.
If, for any reason, you miss the boat, need to leave the ship early or be medically evacuated, or if your cruise is unexpectedly cancelled, it helps to have travel insurance to help get you out of tight spots. Not to mention, it provides that added peace of mind to help you fully relax and have a blissful time.
Checklist: The Essentials
- Are your passport, boarding pass, cruise tickets and other travel documents accounted for and easily accessible?
- Did you purchase travel insurance?
- Did you notify your bank where and when you will be travelling?
- Did you plan a ride to and from the airport?
- Have you packed your medications, sunscreen, bug spray, etc.?
- Did you pack your phone charger and, if necessary, an adapter?
- Did you pack a lightweight and breathable hiking outfit with the appropriate footwear?
- Will you need snorkelling equipment, a swimsuit, water shoes and a towel?
- Do you have laundry soap and all the toiletries you’ll need?
- Did you pack a backpack and a water bottle for your excursion?
No matter how thoroughly you prepare, the best way to make the most of your trip is to get to know the Galapagos Islands before you go. We all love the idea of going on a cruise, but it definitely helps to be well-prepared. We guarantee you’ll also fall in love with the Islands themselves, their rich histories and their unlimited potential for an unforgettable cruise experience.