A Typical Day in the Galapagos Islands

Posted by on December 27th, 2017

All around us, curious sea turtles popped their heads through the water’s surface like whack-a-moles. Marine iguanas paddled lazily in the waves, unfazed by their human companions snorkeling just a few feet away, and two frigate birds coasted above, their silhouettes looking remarkably like mini-pterodactyls. Suddenly, our guide tapped my arm and pointed through the crystal clear water. As my eyes adjusted to the real-life aquarium below us, I realized we were floating directly above a manta ray, its 6-foot long wings waving gracefully through the water. “Ballenas!” we heard our zodiac driver call to her across the water. “Whales!” she shouted to us, as she waved frantically to climb into the two small inflatable boats. We could see several plumes of spray on the horizon and we sped off in pursuit of them. Once we reached a wide, calm cove, our motor quieted and we sat floating in the silence. Just as we thought we had perhaps missed our chance, a mother humpback whale breached right in front of us with a tremendous crash into the water, followed right away by a tiny calf.

Panga ride

We often saw sea lions chasing after the pangas, swimming in the bubbles, curious penguins following us, or schools of manta rays floating below.

A cruise through the Galapagos Islands is a dream experience for many travelers who are fascinated by wildlife and remote, pristine nature, and who are ready for a true adventure to a living laboratory. Each day aboard your cruise will take you to a new visitor site in the archipelago, each with its own wildlife-spotting opportunities and unique history and characteristics.

Although your exact itinerary will vary based on the length of the cruise and the section of the islands that your cruise covers, here is how a typical day aboard a Galapagos cruise unfolds:

6:00 a.m. – Early Morning Wake Up Call

Your days will start early in the Galapagos Islands. The islands’ location straddling the equator means that the sun rises and sets at just about the same time every day of the year, with sunlight first spilling into your cabin around 5:30 a.m. Breakfast is often served at 6:30 a.m. so that you can board the pangas and begin your first excursion by 7:30 a.m. Starting your day so early means you’ll be spotting wildlife during one of their most active times of the day.

Tortoise reserve

A trip to a wild tortoise reserve or a research and breeding station, where baby tortoises are raised to be released back into the wild, is included on every cruise itinerary.

7:30 a.m. – First Excursion of the Day

After breakfast, while the weather is still cool and refreshing, you’ll climb into a panga (a small inflatable boat used to reach land or just coast along the various coves, mangroves, and rocky islets) and embark on your first excursion of the day. Group sizes are limited to 16 passengers per guide, and all travelers must remain with their guide at all times while in the 97% of the islands that is deemed a national park. If you are traveling on a vessel with 16 or fewer passengers, you will have one guide on board, and if you are cruising on a larger vessel, you’ll split up into several groups. This regulation prevents overcrowding at the various visitor sites and helps to conserve the islands and their wildlife habitats.

Galapagos map

Our guide shows us on a map where our next excursion will take place.

Your morning excursion might venture onto land, such as a visit to the highlands of Santa Cruz to look for tortoises, a hike to the rim of Sierra Negra volcano on Isabela Island, or a walk along the black lava rock of Fernandina. In these cases you’ll have either a wet landing, where you’ll wade through a few inches of water onto shore, or a dry landing, where you’ll step directly onto land. Some of the walks can be a bit challenging, since you’ll often walk over uneven rock, but they generally have a leisurely pace to allow time for watching the wildlife, taking photos, and listening to your guide talk about your surroundings. Late morning through the afternoon in the Galapagos Islands can get quite hot (you’re right on the equator, after all) so sunblock and a sun hat are highly recommended.

You’ll typically have a few opportunities during your cruise to disembark from the vessel and walk on the islands, seeing the wildlife and foliage up close.

10:30 a.m. – After your first excursion, you’ll head back to the boat to relax before lunch, or at some visitor sites you may have a chance to snorkel.

12:30 p.m. – Lunch and Siesta Time!

A leisurely lunch is followed by a couple hours to nap in your cabin or on a lounge chair on the sun deck. One of my favorite afternoons on the cruise I took included sitting on the top deck of our vessel next to the magnificent, towering red cliffs of Punta Vicente Roca on Isabela Island and watching hundreds of blue-footed boobies dive into the water below (at speeds of 60 miles per hour!) to hunt for their own lunch.

Some days during this time, you may navigate to another visitor site or another island altogether for your afternoon excursion.

Sundeck

The sundeck of our ship was the perfect setting to watch blue-footed and Nazca boobies in action.

3:30 p.m. – Afternoon Excursion

Your second main excursion of the day may be snorkeling, an opportunity to kayak, or a relaxing panga ride.

Snorkeling is one of the main activities offered on any Galapagos cruise, and you’ll often have the opportunity to snorkel at least once a day. The ocean surrounding the Galapagos Islands is an entire world in itself, and you’ll be able to swim around with sea lions, penguins, marine turtles, sharks, and marine iguanas. You may snorkel in deep water along high cliffs, or in shallower water along sandy beaches. Even if you’ve seen iguanas, penguins, or sea lions on land, it’s a completely different experience to see them underwater as they change from slow and clumsy to speedy and graceful.

All of these excursions are optional however, so if you find yourself wanting to just relax on the boat with a fresh juice (or afternoon cocktail), there’s no pressure!

Small groups help protect visitor sites and allow for more personalized attention from your guide.

5:30 p.m. – Return to the boat

After your afternoon excursion, you’ll head back to the boat and have time to shower and rest a bit before dinner. Your guide will also go over the plan for the next day and answer any of your questions before you sit down for dinner. After your meal, you may watch a documentary about the islands, relax on the top deck and watch the stars, or mingle in the social areas with other passengers.

You’ll often navigate overnight to another island and wake up the next morning for a completely new experience.

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