How important is the itinerary?
This should be a key part of your decision-making process. As Darwin discovered, each island differs in its flora and fauna, the western islands are more recent and volcanic, and what you see also varies during the year. Much depends on your interests. Itineraries do vary considerably between boats. Not many of the lower-priced yachts visit the popular western islands of Isabela and Fernandina, nor the northeast island of Genovesa, for example. And obviously shorter 4 or 5 day trips will be covering less ground. If you are taking an 8 day trip on a boat which also offer 4 and 5 day trips, check what you will be doing when the boat is picking up and dropping passengers for the shorter trips.
What length of cruise is best in the Galapagos?
The most frequent cruise lengths are 4, 5 and 8 days. There are occasional 10 and 14 day cruises, especially for dedicated diving. Your decision will be influenced by time available, interests and budget. As expected, the longer the cruise, the more islands are visited. This is an important consideration, as each island differs in appearance, history and flora and fauna. The short cruises (4 & 5 days) give a good and quick appreciation of the Galapagos through visiting some islands, whilst the 8 day tours visit more islands and give a more complete understanding of the uniqueness of the Galapagos. The 8 day itineraries also help reduce the impact and fixed costs of the long flight to reach Galapagos, and the $100 park entry fee.
What diving is possible in the Galapagos?
There are three choices: live-aboard diveboats offering purely diving, cruises offering occasional diving (1-2 dives per day) which are often timed not to substitute the normal naturalist land visits, and shore-based dive operations (mainly on Santa Cruz) which take you on day trips. Diving is excellent in the Galapagos, but due to currents is not really for the beginner.
Which type of boat?
Your choice depends on personal preferences and interests. There is a wide range of boats in the Galapagos, ranging from 4 to 100 passengers, and from economy through to deluxe. The larger ships are motor cruisers, whilst a number of the smaller boats (below 20 passengers) are sailing yachts. Sailing yachts usually use motors most of the time, with the sails occasionally deployed to supplement speed. Guides are not allowed by the Park to handle more than 16 passengers at a time, so groups remain small regardless of boat size. Here are some of the pros and cons of the different boat categories:-
Cabin size, passenger risk, fewer facilities, seasickness risk
The risk of sharing a cruise with “negative impact” passengers is probably equal for all boat sizes. In the table above, higher risk is ascribed to smaller boats, but only because there is less space to escape! There are cases on the large cruise ships where a group of noisy passengers have been a factor also.
Boat or hotel in the Galapagos?
Instead of a cruise you can consider a hotel-based stay. Many people also combine a cruise with a hotel stay on Galapagos before or afterwards. Hotels, mainly on the island of Santa Cruz, can offer day trips to neighbouring islands although currently there are few good boats offering these (so a couple of the hotels are reluctant to offer for the moment). Cruises provide a more complete overview of the islands as they reach places too far away for day trips. A hotel can provide relaxation, tours on the island itself, scuba diving, kayaking and biking. Families with young children may prefer the greater freedom of staying on land.
Should I charter in the Galapagos?
Chartering is definitely worth considering if you can bring together a group or family of 6 or more. There are several advantages: it will be cheaper than a normal cruise (if you are close to filling the boat), you know everybody on the cruise, you have greater flexibility in the timing of the various activities and visits, and with sufficient planning you can modify the itinerary. As availability can reduce quickly for yachts, charters normally need to be reserved well in advance, particularly for peak periods. If you are interested in chartering, take a look at our related website Galapagos charters.
What are land visits like?
These vary. Most last 1 ½ – 3 hours, and the terrain varies. Visits from the yachts are in their small boats or pangas, and either are dry or wet landings (the latter means the panga pulls up on the beach and you take off your shoes before jumping out). For some there may be climbing up natural steps. You are always accompanied by the guide. As he frequently stops to explain or s