The Galapagos Islands offer something for everyone , so whether you are ready to start tackling your bucket list or are simply a wildlife enthusiast, you can be sure to find adventure and beauty waiting for you in the Galapagos Islands.
The islands are located just off the coast of Ecuador and are a sight to see. Loaded with scenic areas of past volcanic eruptions to alien cactus trees, iguanas that can swim and gigantic tortoises, the wildlife in the Islands will leave you both baffled and enthralled. And that is precisely why Galapagos island cruises are one of the best ways to see the beauty, of which so much has been written about . Cruises allow the visitor to take in all of the infamous variations of the evolutionary process of which greatly vary between each of the island's’ first-hand in an incredibly immersive manner.
The Galapagos National Park does have in place a "sunrise to sunset" rule, which means that any cruise line that you select is going to be super structured. Though you can certainly feel free to opt out of any of the activities, you more than likely will want to keep pushing through in order to be able to take everything in. For the most part, Galapagos cruises will offer about two adventure filled excursions each day, for instance, hiking and then snorkeling. There is limited down time in between activities so be ready to make the sacrifice as it is well worth it!
While the Galapagos Islands are of course a year-round destination, there are two seasons in particular that have their own drawbacks and their own highlights. High season, as reflected in the cruise prices , kicks off in mid-June and lasts until early September and takes place again in mid-December and extends into mid-January. Between June and November, colder and more nutrient rich water, along with some cooler temperatures is brought on by the Humboldt Current. While average temperatures are usually upwards of 80 degrees Fahrenheit, seasonal winds mean that the seas are a bit rougher than usual and skies are generally overcast. This is an awesome time to be in Galapagos and take in some snorkeling due to the fact that the nutrient rich water attracts seabirds and stunning varieties of fish, it is also the mating season for waved albatrosses and blue-footed boobies. Keep in mind that the water temperatures on average are typically only in the low 60’s so pack a wetsuit just in case.
A Galapagos cruise boat in the waters off Ecuador
Between December and May, water and air temperatures are generally more warm, on average they stay in the high 80's, and the seas are significantly more calm. Light rains tend to fall briefly time each day, however, the standard light mist is generally well-balanced with the warm sun. Take note that the equatorial heat scorches the volcanic lava on the islands throughout February and March. At this time you will also be able to take in the stunning views of the vegetation on land simply exploding as the wide array of limitless colored flowers begin to take over. Various different species of birds additionally mate at this time and it is also when the sea turtles begin nesting! Another thing to consider before booking your Galapagos cruise is that, El Niño (a climate cycle that occurs in the Pacific Ocean and has been noted to have a global impact on the planet’s weather patterns) occurs during these month, so be wary that of any and all unexpected weather related issues that may arise and set back your plans.
You may feel a bit overwhelmed as to the seemingly limitless Galapagos cruise lines that are available. While charters and smaller, privately owned boats are quite common to take, some of the more big names of the region are the following:
While pretty much any cruise line or private charter is going to permit you with an incredible experience, you should always take into consideration the fact that nature is always in charge and that can play a huge role in terms of your comfort and enjoyment if you end up hitting a rough patch of seas or uncomfortable weather. Higher end cruise ships also offer Level 3 guides, which are noted to be the highest designation that is given by the Galapagos National Park. Level 3 guides have university level degrees in tourism, biology or of related fields, along with at least 6 years of experience as a tour guide in the Galapagos, are fluent in English and pass the Galapagos National Park’s Level 3 training course.
As previously stated, you are sure to have super busy days that are jam-packed with adventure. All of the licensed vessels that sail throughout the Galapagos follow an established 15-day route that is approved by the Galapagos National Park. It is during this period of time that states that boats can’t visit any site twice, the Charles Darwin Research Station, located on Santa Cruz, however, is exempt from this policy. Different lines have different regulations to meet these 15-day routes and the main options consist of tours that vary from between 4-8 day cruises and passengers can even opt to combine segments into upwards of 11-15 day cruises if they desire.
A common sight on a Galapagos cruise. Photo Credit
Due to the fact that approaches to cruises have become incredibly standardized, it is very important to choose the best cruise that is going to fit your “must see” list. Depending on just how big you want to take your adventure, there are even Galapagos cruises that can be paired with certain land-based hot spots like Machu Picchu in Peru, visiting the Ecuadorian rain forest and a ton of other South American attractions.
All of the official visitor sites at the Galapagos islands have something unique to offer, however here are some of the top rated visitor attractions that you may want to consider taking in:
Santa Cruz is the Galapagos' most populated island and Puerto Ayora, is the main tourist spot. Puerto Ayora allows visitors the opportunity to be able to fully take in all of the Galapagos islands interior highlands, which is one very few places that you can actually be able to check out giant tortoises in their own natural habitats. The Charles Darwin research center is also located there and is included in the itinerary of all of the cruises.
The waters of Champion Islet's begin to teem with aquatic life throughout September and October when the temperatures of the water start to drop. Sea plants begin thriving and this draws in countless marine species and sea birds.
The youngest Galapagos’ island, Fernandina, is also the westernmost island and is famous for its frequent volcanic eruptions, with 2009 being the most recent. Fernandina is located at the locus of the main area of which not only created but also continues to create and shape the Galapagos islands. Here, you can check out all of the incredible lava flows, and land iguanas as you come to learn first hand the astounding geological roots of the islands themselves.
South Plaza is one of the smallest places to visit and it encompasses no more than 1/10 of a mile. This incredibly small expanse of land was formed by a volcanic uplift, and it creates quite a spectacular impression with the changing of the color of the island’s ground vegetation, along with stunning sea birds and the awe-inspiring Galapagos land iguanas.
An iguana seen on a Galapagos cruise. Photo Credit
The southernmost island of Espanola is the home of the waved albatross, a huge bird with an impressive eight-foot wingspan. Interestingly, each year the whole world’s populations of the adult Waved Albatrosses returns to their Espanola home during nesting season (April to December).
Rabida is a stunningly bold island with its incredible iron-rich red beach. At the inland of the island, you will find a lagoon that is home to gorgeous flamingos!
Finally, the island of Floreana is the home to the Galapagos islands infamous barrel-turned-mailbox at Post Office Bay. For decades, visitors to the Ecuadorian isles actually relied on an unspoken agreement of fellow whalers and pirates to transport letters to intended destinations. The mariner would simply leave a dispatch, and then pick and select letters that they could personally deliver if their travel schedule allowed for it. The cool thing is that this tradition still to this day where visitors to the island can pick through postcards and leave their own.
Regardless of when and where you go with regards to your Galapagos islands cruise, are of course things that you are going to want to pack to ensure that you are ready for any situation that may arise. While you are of course going to want to pack some nice cruise attire, when you are heading to the Galapagos and are seeking to actually take in some of the adventures of the islands, you are going to want to prep more like a hiker than simply a cruiser. Here is a packing list to help ensure that you are ready for anything the Galapagos throws at you!
A few other tips that you may want to consider are the fact that the cruise liners tend to anchor offshore of the visitor sites, and then passengers will be tendered to a landing site in pangas (or Zodiacs). You will find that there two forms of landing, a wet one of a dry one. Wet landings are when you hop out of the panga and into about 1’ of water, you’ll get wet, not drenched, but wet so you may want to invest in some quick drying clothes or just opt for shorts.
Finally, there is an entrance fee to the Galapagos that is at present $100 per each adult and $50 for kids (not to mention the $10 fee for citizens of the United States for an INGALA Transit Control Card). Fees are collected from all of the passengers upon entry to the islands and all of the money is in turn utilized to fund conservation and the management of the Galapagos.
Finally, we come to the topic of whether it is better to island hop the Galapagos or take a cruise. There are of course a ton of pros and cons to both methods. Let’s take a look at some of the top reasons in favor and against both cruises and island hopping:
A cruise off Santiago island in the Galapagos Photo by Alan
If you are ready to head to the Galapagos islands on your next vacation, you are sure to find all the thrills, awe and adventures that you can imagine. There is so much to experience, and with the proper planning and overall course of action, you can be sure that you can take in just as much of the islands as your vacation schedule will permit!