How to Prep for A Cruise Vacation to the Galapagos Islands

February 11, 2020 10:45

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
  • Itinerary
  • 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?

The Takeaway:

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.

How to Book a Last-Minute Cruise to the Galapagos

February 11, 2020 10:23

Love to Live Spontaneously? Here’s Your Spur of the Moment Booking Guide!

Nothing feels more exhilarating than that split-second decision to leave your responsibilities on land and embark on a spontaneous cruise vacation.

If you’re looking for a last-minute escape the Galapagos Islands may be the perfect destination, whether you’re itching to walk the same path Charles Darwin took when he was inspired to dream up his theory of evolution, sample the unique combination of international and Ecuadorian cuisine, observe the rare and abundant wildlife or simply zone out and take in the sun, sea, sand, and overall sense of place here on this remote volcanic archipelago.

Galapagos cruises are ideal for the last-minute traveller who wants to pack as much into the trip as possible without the stress and added preparation required for the logistics-heavy island-hopping approach.  Unfortunately, convenience comes at a price: cruises are usually more expensive than land vacations.

However, for those with a bit of flexibility, last-minute cruise offers can end up coming in at the same price - or even lower - than a land-based trip. But bargain hunters beware – finding an 11th hour deal on a cruise can be tricky, and last-minute bookings don’t always mean savings.

When and how to book:

Understand the booking window: Last-minute prices are usually offered no earlier than 60-90 days before sailing

Cruises are a little more difficult to book last-minute than a vacation on land. Most cruise lines have policies requiring them to submit their guest roster to the coast guard within a certain timeframe.

However, the general rule of thumb is that guests can cancel their cruise reservations up to 60 days before it sets sail. This gives the cruise line – and last-minute deal hunters – a more concrete look at how many rooms are left with plenty of time to spare. If the 60-day deadline has passed and there are plenty of rooms available, you may be in luck for scoring a great deal!   Of course, the longer you wait, the better the potential deals – but in exchange, you might find that there are no deals left if you wait too long!

Shoulder seasons tend to be cheaper

During the off-seasons in April, May, September and October, and early December there is less tourist traffic in the Galapagos and cruises try to amp up extra clientele by offering deals and cheaper packages. These are the best times to try and snag a last-minute deal. Less traffic means it’s not as likely that the cruise you want has already sold out, and there will be plenty of rooms available at a discounted rate.

Be flexible on your dates

You may want to consider booking closer to 90 days beforehand if you have a specific activity or type of cruise in mind. During peak travel times, Galapagos cruises will usually sell out long before you’ve even had the idea to go! This destination is usually busiest from a few days before Christmas to March/April (northern hemisphere winter) and June/July and into August (northern hemisphere school holidays). The more inflexible your plans are, the earlier you will want to book.

Don't wait too long to book (don't hold out hope for deals)

Though cruise prices may continue to drop as you near the sailing date, availabilities will also become rarer.  It’s a game of chicken to wait and wait for an even better deal, against the risk of ending up with nothing that will suit your needs.  Unless you are totally flexible and unless you don’t mind missing out on a cruise should it come to that, it might be better to book earlier, securing the best cruise for you, rather than risking losing out altogether for the sake of saving $100 or $200.  

Don't forget travel insurance

Going on holiday to distant lands comes with its own risks.  What if you get sick while away?  What if you get sick before you go and find yourself having to cancel?  What if a flight is cancelled and you miss your cruise?  It’s never a bad idea to consider comprehensive travel insurance.   

As soon as you book your ticket, the very next thing you should do is to get some decent travel insurance (unless you’re totally not a risk-averse type of person).  Travel insurance is the security blanket you’ll need in case your spontaneous vacation has any nasty surprises in store.

Haven't had enough? Consider extensions

A Galapagos cruise is an incredible vacation in itself, but while you’re there, why not extend your trip by taking advantage of the luxurious extension tours offered by many cruise lines? You’ll have the opportunity to spend more time at your favourite visitor sites, and some even take you to the most exciting regions of mainland Ecuador. Extension tours can last from 5 to 15 days, allowing you to push real-life to the back of your mind for just a little while longer.

The Bottom Line:

When you see a deal that meets your requirements, don’t hesitate. Prices can change in a split second, and last-minute deals don’t like to hang around. If you plan smart and act fast, a killer deal could be just a click away. Now there’s nothing left to do but do some research and get packing!

Contact us to help you book the last-minute trip of a lifetime to the wonderfully unique Galapagos Islands!

The Best Times to Travel to the Galapagos Islands

October 10, 2019 03:09

When to Travel to The Galapagos Islands for Ideal Wildlife Viewing and Outdoor Activities

The Galapagos Islands are one of those year-round destinations with mild weather patterns and gradual changes throughout the year, making it an ideal vacation spot anytime you choose to go.

However, depending on what you are hoping to do and see while visiting the Galapagos Islands, there may be certain times when it is better to go than others.

To give you a better understanding of the Galapagos climate when planning your trip, we’ve broken down the different seasons on the islands and the most ideal times for travel in terms of activities and wildlife viewing.

Seasons – What to Expect

Weather-wise, there isn’t ever a bad season in the Galapagos Islands.  We like to say that the climate there could actually use a good cup of coffee – e.g. there are no storms, and the weather is pretty much the same from one day to the next.   This is all very convenient because there is no “Weather Channel” or connected weather stations that operate in the Galapagos Islands.

However, there are two distinctive seasons, along with two transitional periods that bring about slightly different weather conditions.

Hot Season – Later in December to earlier May (more or less)

The warmer season in the Galapagos begins in December and lasts until May, however, the hottest temperatures are typically experienced during February through till April.

During this hot season, you can expect temperature highs to range from 30to 33 degrees Celsius (? to ? degrees Fahrenheit).  For those who would rather avoid hot temperatures, you may wish to consider the cooler season (see below).

During this season, you can expect warm, humid sunny periods and an occasional, spectacular tropical downpour (maybe once a week?  It varies a lot). The ocean also warms considerably during the hot season, making it the ideal time for snorkelling and swimming.  

The tropical hot season in the Galapagos Islands peaks by mid-March, after which the cool water currents and southeast trade winds slowly bring the islands into their cool, dry season.

Garua Season – Middle of May/early June to November/December (more or less)

Here on the equator, the northern hemisphere summer months mark the start of the cooler season on the Galapagos islands.  This period is also much dryer, particularly in the lower, coastal areas. 

At the beginning of Garua season, temperatures will begin to drop, resulting in warm days and cooler nights. This is a great time to visit for those who don’t have a high tolerance for heat and humidity and prefer cooler temperatures.

This season tends to peak around October, with an average temperature high of 25 degrees Celsius (77 degrees Fahrenheit).

Keep in mind that the ocean is also cooler during this time, and seas can be a bit choppier.

Cusp Seasons – December to January and May to June

Towards the end of both the hot and Garua seasons, we have what’s called cusp seasons that act as transitional periods in between the two seasons.

Between December and January is when Galapagos transitions from Garua into the hot, rainy season and temperatures begin to rise and precipitation increases.

Galapagos then begins to transition back into Garua around the months of May and June, and the weather begins to cool just slightly.

El Niño

El Niño is a complex climate phenomenon that occurs every 2 to 7 years when ocean temperatures in the tropical Pacific Ocean rise to above-normal levels for an extended period of time. 

During an El Niño event, the Galápagos is especially vulnerable as the islands are geographically positioned right in the centre of the warming ocean waters.

In Galapagos, only the more extreme El Nino events have a significant impact.  The last significant El Niño occurred between 1997 and 1998 and resulted in extremely hot and humid weather in the Galapagos Islands for one year, along with lots of rain and very warm waters.

A significant El Niño event can be great for terrestrial species; however, it also has the ability to devastate the islands’ marine life.

In fact, following the 1997/1998 El Niño, the Galapagos Islands experienced a massive 65% decline in the population of Galapagos Penguins.

What About La Niña?

La Niña is the opposite of El Niño and occurs when the ocean waters drop to lower-than-normal temperatures.

During a La Niña event, marine life tends to flourish due to the cooler waters, while terrestrial life struggles due to the lack of rain and reduced vegetation.

Ideal Times to Travel Based on What Activities You Want to Do

Snorkelling

This one is a double-edged sword. While the warner water temperature experienced during the hot season can make for more a more pleasant snorkelling experience, marine life is less abundant.  You may see fewer large schools of fish – but rest assured, the stars of the show are still there in their usual numbers – sea lions, sea turtles, penguins, rays, sharks and more.  

On the other hand, in the Garua season, water temperatures are cooler.  The nutrient-rich Humboldt current during this time helps to sustain marine life, resulting in great plankton, leading to more fish in general. 

So, if snorkelling amongst a rich diversity of marine life is more important to you than the comfort of warmer waters, consider visiting the Galapagos during the Garua season. Just be sure to put on your wet suit before you dive in!   But at the end of the day, there are great underwater thrills to be had all year long.

Birdwatching

The Galapagos Islands are a birdwatchers paradise. But when is the best time to see all the spectacular birds that habitat the islands?

In general, birds tend to enjoy the dry season, and many bird species, such as the American flamingo, can be seen taking part in elegant mating rituals.

However, January can also be a good time as this is the nesting period for a variety of birds such as the blue-footed booby and white-cheeked pintail duck.

Regardless of when you go, you are bound to see an abundance of birds unique to the Galapagos when you visit any time of year.

Kayaking

Waters tend to be both rougher and cooler during Garua season, so if gliding through the Pacific Ocean in a kayak is at the top of your list, consider visiting the Galapagos Islands during the hot season.

Wildlife You Can Expect to See Based on When You Visit

Typically, the best time to see terrestrial wildlife in the Galapagos Islands is during the hot season when vegetation is flourishing, insects abound and creatures like Darwin’s finches, land iguanas, and tortoises are out in full force.

However, it is in the Garua season that most of the Galapagos’ wildlife tends to mate, giving you the opportunity to spot newborn seabirds, shorebirds, giant tortoises, sea lions, fur seals, marine iguanas and much more.

Therefore, anytime you visit the Galapagos Islands, there will be no shortage of activity from the local wildlife.

However, if you are hoping to get up close and personal with a particular creature when visiting the Galapagos Islands, here is a breakdown of the best times to see different species in their natural habitat.

Humpback Whales

One of the few migratory species that can be found near the Galapagos Islands is the majestic humpback whale.

So, if whale watching is something that interests you, visiting the islands between June and September can help ensure you get a front-row seat to see whales migrating from the south, past Peru and mainland Ecuador.  Besides the humpbacks, other marine mammals such as dolphins, orcas, pilot whales, sperm and even blue whales are around all year long – some are more often spotted than others.

Baby Sea Lions

Who doesn’t love baby sea lions? In order to spot baby sea lions shortly after birth frolicking along the beach, the best time to visit the islands is in August. If swimming with sea lions is something that’s on your to-do list, hold off on visiting the Galapagos Islands until November when playful sea lions pups will be getting their sea legs (or flippers!).

Giant Tortoises

Giant tortoises are considered an icon of the Galapagos Islands, and seeing them up close is understandably a huge draw.

Female tortoises tend to migrate to nesting zones to lay their eggs between June and November.

As these eggs begin to hatch, you will see tiny baby tortoises less than 5cm long scurrying around the islands.   These can be seen at only a handful of visitors sites – please plan accordingly. 

Blue Footed Boobies

By May, the blue-footed booby mating season is in full swing. This means you may just get to see these majestic birds taking part in an adorable mating ritual that consists of a courtship dance.   Depending on the abundance of marine life, the boobies could also mate during other times of the year.

Galapagos Penguins

The cooler weather brought on by the Humboldt Current makes for ideal conditions for Galapagos penguins, making Garua season (September in particular) the best time to spot penguins swimming, fishing, mating, and waddling around the beaches.

At the end of the day, there really is no time that is better than others to experience the stunning beauty and biodiversity of the Galapagos Islands. Therefore, the best time to visit the Galapagos Islands really depends on you, what you’d like to see, and what activities you’d like to take part in.

So, if you are planning a cruise excursion to the Galapagos Islands, carefully plan out what things you want to do and creatures you’d like to see and find an itinerary to match...

A Traveler’s Guide to the Galapagos Islands

August 7, 2019 09:18

Tips for Travel to the Galapagos Islands

Whether this is the “bucket list” trip of a lifetime for you or a return visit, travelling to the Galapagos Islands is a special experience that will create lasting memories, either as a solo traveller, a couple or as a family adventure travel holiday. The quirky and tame wildlife and the awe-inspiring landscapes are sure to reawaken your sense of wonder.

To make sure you’re prepared so you can make the most of your vacation, here’s a short guide on how to travel around the Galapagos Islands, including what you need to know about the islands, culture, customs, norms, cruise-life, and more.

Location

You may be wondering: Where are the Galapagos Islands and how many islands are there?

The Galapagos is a volcanic archipelago comprised of a dozen larger and nearly one hundred smaller islands and islets. The archipelago is spread over a wide expanse of the Pacific Ocean, right on the Equator, 600 miles (1,000 kilometres) off the coast of Ecuador. Three of the islands have a substantial human population (between, 1,500 and 15,000 people) while a fourth is home to just 100 long-time residents.

How to Visit the Galapagos Islands

The only way to travel to the Galapagos Islands is by taking a commercial flight from the Ecuadorian mainland - either through the coastal city of Guayaquil (1.5 hours one way) or through the capital city in the Andes, Quito (2.5 hours one way, usually with a stopover in Guayaquil). On arrival in Galapagos, you have a choice of either embarking on an expedition cruise ship (widely considered as the most effective way to get the most out of what the islands are all about), or by a land-based visit (usually less costly, but requiring more time and logistics and limited to sites nearest to human settlements). Since 97% of the islands are protected as a national park and UNESCO World Heritage site, you will be required to be accompanied by a Park certified naturalist guide to access most of the visitor sites.

What Species Live There?

The Galapagos is home to rare, protected wildlife, with several species you won’t find anywhere else in the world. These include the iconic giant tortoise, the marine iguana (the only iguana that feeds underwater), the flightless cormorants, the diminutive Galapagos penguin, playful sea lions, land iguana and more.

On a good trip to the Galapagos Islands, you are likely to see the following species: 

  • Waved albatross
  • Flamingos
  • Flightless cormorants
  • Darwin’s finches (several species)
  • Green Sea Turtles
  • Giant Tortoises
  • Red- and blue-footed boobies
  • Galapagos penguin
  • Sea Lions
  • Octopus
  • Sea horses
  • A variety of non-dangerous sharks (white-tipped reef sharks, hammerheads) and rays
  • Whales (possibly orcas, humpbacks, blue, sperm)
  • Dolphins
  • Lava lizards
  • Many unique birds and plants

In many cases, these animals will have no fear of you and you’ll be able to get very close to them… or they will come very close to you. 

People

The Galapagos islands were uninhabited until the 18th century. As recently as the 1950’s fewer than 1,000 people lived there. In the past 40 years, there has been increased migration from various parts of mainland Ecuador – you’ll encounter people from the mainland coast, from the Andes, along with various indigenous groups. As a result, the local Galapagos culture is a mix of what you’ll find on the continent. Gradually, a distinct island culture is forming, but the process is still in the early stages. 

What is the Food Like?

The food in the Galapagos is a mix of international and Ecuadorian cuisine. So you will be able to try all types of foods on the islands, and will likely find a variety of foods you’ll enjoy and are familiar with. Ships will serve a variety of dishes, and depending on the comfort level of your ship, meals will be more or less elaborate. In town, a variety of mom & pop restaurants will serve basic rice & beans with a piece of chicken, while around the corner, you’ll find sushi, pizza and craft beers. 

Galapagos National Park Regulations

There is a long list of regulations to keep in mind when entering the Galapagos. One of the main conservation concerns is the prevention of the arrival of non-native species. You’ll be checked for any fresh fruits and vegetables before embarking on your flight to the island – please don’t try to bring any with you.

On arrival, you’ll need to pay the $100 park entrance fee (subject to change) – giving you access to the park, which covers 97% of the land area of the islands. You’ll need to be accompanied by a naturalist guide for most of the places you can visit in the park. Guides will ensure that you follow all additional regulations while in the park (e.g. keeping a minimum distance of 6 feet / 2 meters from the animals, no food).

Precautions

While the Galapagos Islands are generally very safe for visitors, be aware that the animals can respond aggressively if provoked. So respect the wildlife, and they will respect you. It’s against the regulations to touch any animal. Marine wildlife (sharks, rays, sea lions) can be the most impressive. While shark bites have happened in the past (4 recorded shark bites in the past 40 years), this is extremely rare. 

Things to Do

Galapagos is world-famous for the unique diversity of wildlife, both above and below the sea. Your primary motivation for going to Galapagos should be to get to see and experience as much as the wildlife as possible, as close as possible. Otherwise, it would be like going all the way to Paris and spending your time there bowling.  

Galapagos is also famous as the place where Charles Darwin first started wondering about the origin of species. It’s here, in 1835, that he started asking questions about how species came to be in different parts of the world. Going to Galapagos is an opportunity to better understand how groundbreaking Darwin’s thinking was at the time.

On a typical expedition cruise, you’ll have the chance to do some:

  • Snorkelling
  • Hiking
  • Kayaking, paddleboarding
  • Sunbathing on the beach
  • Swimming

For those keen on scuba diving and sports-fishing, you would need to stay on in the islands after your cruise and make specific arrangements. Your cruise representative can help you with that. 

If you’re thinking of going to Galapagos to relax on the beach and enjoy the local culture and nightlife – you should reconsider and choose another destination. You’ll save a lot of money – as Galapagos is much more expensive than mainland Ecuador (and many other places). Going to Galapagos for such reasons would be like going all the way to Paris and spending your time there bowling. Sure, they have nice bowling alleys in Paris – but you can likely find nice ones much closer to home. 

Booking Your Cruise and Travelling

When booking your trip to the Galapagos, consider the following tips.

Budgeting Tips

To save money on your trip, consider travelling during the off-season (September to early November / early December). Also, keep these estimates in mind when planning your budget for your cruise (prices are subject to change):

  • $20 for the transit control fee
  • $100 for the National Park entrance fee
  • $500 (approximately) for a return flight to the Galapagos Islands (if not taking a boat from the mainland)
  • $10 to $20 per day for tips to i) your tour guide and ii) crew
  • $300-$1,300 per day for an expedition cruise, depending on comfort level, season, and notwithstanding possible last-minute prices 

Land-based or expedition cruise

An expedition cruise is a superior way of getting the most out of your time in Galapagos. Your ship will travel at night, and you wake up at dawn, anchored next to a pristine island, watching the sunrise while perhaps a pod of dolphins slowly swims by. You disembark on a remote visitor site early in the morning, when the sun is not yet unbearably hot, and when the animals are most active. You’ll enjoy a nice hike through various ecosystems – observing a variety of wildlife – a Galapagos tortoise, land iguanas, Darwin’s finches coming right up to you, and more. By the time the sun starts getting too warm, it’s time for a swim, a snorkel, kayak or paddleboard. You’ll swim with playful sea lions (underwater puppies), see penguins daring about you chasing little fish, spot some disinterested sharks and rays. The ship will sail to another visitor site while you have lunch and maybe a little siesta, and you’ll repeat the kinds of activities you did in the morning. Happy hour is at sea, watching the sunset behind a volcano in a remote part of the archipelago, far from the noise and lights of Galapagos towns.

A land-based trip is usually more budget-friendly – but is also more logistically taxing. You’ll need to check out of/into hotels as you move around, taking taxis/water taxis. You’ll have to meet a group for your daily excursions, often waiting around impatiently for stragglers (unless you’re the straggler…). You’ll spend up to 2 or more hours travelling to your designated visitor site, often arriving later in the morning, when the sun is high and hot and animals have sought shade. You’ll need to head back to town by mid-afternoon, finding that you spend most of your day just getting to and back from your visitor site.

We recommend that if you think an expedition cruise is too expensive, then you should hold back and take the time to save so that you can enjoy Galapagos in the best possible way when you’re ready to do so. 

How long should I go?

The typical expedition cruise is 7 nights / 8 days. Please be aware that the first and last day of a trip to the Galapagos islands includes the travel time from and to the continent – resulting in only short days on the ship. If you’re short on time, several ships offer shorter cruises – but remember, a 5-day cruise will give you only 3 full days on the ship. 

Best Time to Book

Wildlife in Galapagos offers a regular variety of spectacles all year long. There is not an ideal time to go in that regard. For those who don’t like very warm weather, the months of June to December will offer relief from the tropical heat you’ll feel from January to May. The sea during the cooler months can on average be choppier and waters cooler – though there are never any storms in Galapagos.

Christmas and Easter periods are the busiest – it can be harder to find a last-minute Galapagos cruise during that time – when many ships can be fully booked months in advance. The lowest season is from September to mid-December – though the U.S. Thanksgiving week (end November) can also be booked up.

Vaccinations

The Galapagos environment is surprisingly benign. The chances of getting anything serious are minuscule. But it’s always better to be safe than sorry, and as most of you will be spending a bit of time on the mainland, where there is more going on (particularly in the coastal areas and in the Amazon) – it’s recommended to visit your doctor for traveller’s vaccinations at least six months before your trip.

What to Pack

Ideally, you will only pack the essentials since many boats have limited storage space and baggage restrictions.

Here’s a list of must-pack items for your trip:

  • Camera with a zoom lens and an underwater camera
  • Binoculars
  • Sunscreen
  • Insect repellant
  • Sunglasses
  • Hat (light, wide-brimmed)
  • Towel
  • Swimwear
  • A light sweater (particularly for the June – December period)
  • Pants and shorts – the kind that dries easily
  • Light shirts – short and long-sleeved (protection from the sun)
  • Windbreaker rain jacket
  • Sturdy waterproof sandals
  • Light hiking boots/shoes
  • Medication to prevent seasickness (motion sickness)
  • Reusable water bottle
  • Waterproof bag in which to transport your camera while going ashore
  • First Aid kit with ibuprofen, Pepto Bismol, and diarrhea medicine

Currency

The U.S. Dollar is the official currency in Ecuador. Not many places in the Galapagos take credit cards or $100 bills, so be sure to bring enough cash before travelling. You will need it when buying food and drinks and tipping.

Things to Ask Your Travel Agent or Cruise Representative

  • What's the itinerary? A good itinerary will have you spending less time visiting towns.
  • How many passengers are on board?
  • What's included/not included in the trip?
  • Are there any additional costs? What are they?
  • Is the equipment included? (eg. snorkelling, wet suit)
  • Do you have solo pricing? What if I’m willing to share?
  • Can you accommodate my particular dietary restrictions? 

Going Through Customs/Immigration

Make sure your passport is valid for at least six months after your departure date from Ecuador.

Visitors are given a 12-x tourist visa upon being granted permission to enter the country, which is valid for 90 days. You cannot have a flight that leaves Ecuador later than 90 days after your arrival. 

When arriving at the mainland airport for your flight to Galapagos, you will need to present a domestic round-trip air ticket. Though current regulations require that you have cruise reservation prior to flying to the islands, at the time of publishing, it is not being enforced and never has been. Technically, if you cannot show these, there is a chance that you will not be allowed to visit the Galapagos Islands.

Health/Travel Insurance

If you get sick or injured during your trip, you will need travel insurance to avoid spending potentially thousands of dollars on health care. Travel insurance isn’t expensive, so it’s worth buying before you travel. Just make sure you understand what it covers, including the activities you might be taking part in.

Life on an Expedition Cruise Ship

Ships in the Galapagos carry between 12 and 98 people. The vast majority of the approximately 65 expedition cruise ships carry 20 or fewer passengers, with perhaps 4-5 carrying more than 48. The size of ship you opt for will depend on your personal preferences. Smaller ships provide for a more intimate experience with the islands – allowing you to observer dolphins riding the bow-wave, for example, or making it easier for the captain to alter course to get close to sperm whales. Larger ships will ride the chop more easily (though you will still feel the swell) and have more deck space. Luxury ships can be found in both the small and large category, budget / mid-range ships can only be found in the smaller ship category. 

Seasickness

Most people express concerns about seasickness. It has been our experience, after surveying retuning visitors for several years, that fewer than 3% of visitors felt that seasickness affected the enjoyment of their trip. In most cases, the feeling will be short-lived as your body grows accustomed to the motion. Also, the use of modern medications and patches can make a big difference.