Five Questions to Help You Plan Your Galapagos Vacation
A visit to the Galapagos Islands is a chance to reconnect with nature and experience a place unlike any other. You have plenty of options for your Galapagos vacation, and it can be overwhelming to decide how to structure your trip. While there are some good options for a land-based Galapagos trip, such as a stay at the Galapagos Safari Camp, we are firm believers that the best way to visit the Galapagos Islands is on a small ship Galapagos cruise. With that in mind, here are five questions to consider as you start planning your Galapagos Islands adventure.
1. When do you want to take your Galapagos cruise vacation?
Some travelers have a very specific date range in which to travel, while others have more flexibility. The latter group may wonder, when is the best time to travel to the Galapagos Islands? Galapagos is a year-round destination, though there are some differences between the seasons.
From January to April, temperatures tend to be in the upper 70s during the day, and the water temperature is usually between 76 and 83 degrees. Though this is officially the “wet season” in the Galapagos Islands, rainfall is almost always sporadic, with brief rain showers that clear up quickly and leave clear skies behind. This is an excellent time of year to travel to the islands.
Between May and December, the temperature can be a bit cooler, generally in the low- to mid-70s during the day, with water temperatures between 65 and 72 degrees. This is a nice time of year for those who prefer to hike in cooler weather, and your cruise ship will have “shortie” wetsuits available for you, either as part of your cruise or an inexpensive rental fee, to keep you warm and comfortable during your snorkeling excursions.
Definitely keep in mind that these weather patterns have become much less predictable in recent years! Predicting the exact climate is impossible, but these general guidelines can help if you’re trying to decide when to go to the Galapagos Islands. And if you don’t have flexibility in your dates, rest assured that there is no bad time of year to travel to Galapagos.
2. What size ship do you want?
The best Galapagos ships tend to be small expedition vessels, carrying between 16 and 90 passengers. By law, a Galapagos guide can lead a group of no more than 16 travelers onto the islands; ships carrying more than that will always divide passengers into groups of 16 or fewer for excursions, each group with their own guide. Many of our favorite vessels, such as the Endemic, carry a maximum of 16 passengers, with one guide aboard. This is a nice size vessel, with an intimate, exclusive feeling, and lets you really get to know your fellow travelers.
By contrast, larger vessels like the 48-passenger La Pinta or the 90-passenger Santa Cruz II feel a little more like a conventional large cruise, with passengers dividing into groups for meals and activities. This may be a better fit for those who like to mingle and meet new people every day on a vacation. Larger ships can also offer more space for groups with children. The 100-passenger Galapagos Legend, for example, offers a special dedicated activity space for kids.
Elegant sister ships Origin and Theory strike a nice balance in terms of size. Each vessel carries up to 20 passengers, meaning the onboard experience is lively but intimate, and passengers are typically divided into groups of about 10 for excursions, offering one of the best guide-to-guest ratios in the islands.
3. What vessel class do you prefer?
Galapagos vessels are divided into three classes: Luxury, First Class, and Tourist Superior Class. Keep in mind, Galapagos ships are expedition vessels with a focus on ecotourism. In other words, even on a Luxury class vessel, you shouldn’t expect the waterslides and spas of a stereotypical megacruise. Galapagos Luxury vessels are sleek, elegant, and modern, and often have slightly larger cabin sizes than other classes of vessel. Some offer amenities like a Jacuzzi and private balconies, there may be a higher ratio of crew members to passengers, and meals may be slightly more upscale. The price point on Luxury Galapagos cruises reflects this higher level of amenities and service.
First Class vessels are comfortable options that tend to offer fewer amenities. These ships are still ample and some, like the Treasure of Galapagos, offer similar amenities to the Luxury class vessels, such as whirlpools or balconies. They are generally not as sleek and modern as the Luxury class vessels. This class is an excellent option for travelers who want a comfortable cruise at a more modest price.
Tourist Superior Class vessels offer the most economical cruise options. The ships are often decorated in a simple fashion, and cabins may be slightly smaller, but they are clean and comfortable. The ones we recommend, such as the Angelito, offer intimate, family-like service.
It should be noted that becoming a Galapagos guide is a rigorous, demanding process with high competition, and guides are required to participate in ongoing training throughout their careers. As a result, you can expect your excursions to be led by a well-trained, high-quality, bilingual naturalist guide regardless of which vessel class you choose.
4. Who is traveling with you?
If you’ve ever dreamed of an exclusive, private vacation, then a Galapagos charter may be the perfect option for you. Many Galapagos vessels have capacity for 16 passengers, so if you have a travel group of 10-16 people, you could have an entire ship to yourselves. You might be surprised how manageable this extraordinary experience can be! What could be better than cruising this magnificent destination on a private yacht with just your closest friends and family? The chance to explore the Galapagos Islands with an intimate group of family and friends is an unbeatable experience. If you’re interested in chartering a Galapagos cruise ship, the size of your travel group will help you determine the best Galapagos cruise ship for you.
Cruising with kids? Galapagos is a great family destination, and a Galapagos cruise with children is completely doable. Nearly any vessel in the islands can accommodate kids and families, but some are particularly good choices. Click here for ideas on Visiting the Galapagos Islands with Your Kids, to read about some of the best Galapagos cruise ships for a Galapagos Family Trip.
5. Do you have specific islands you want to visit?
In short, there is no such thing as a “bad” cruise itinerary in the Galapagos Islands. The entire archipelago is worth a visit. That being said, there are different itineraries available, and the distinctions between them may be worth exploring, if you have specific sites in mind. In a bid to better protect the fragile ecosystem of the Galapagos Islands, tourist vessels are prohibited from visiting the same island site more than once in 14 days, so most vessels follow a sort of figure-eight pattern around the islands, offering alternating cruises itineraries. Click here for a comparison of two of the 8-day itineraries available in the Galapagos Islands.
There are plenty of factors that may influence your choice of Galapagos Island cruises. Consider these five questions as a way to get started, or just give us a call and let one of our Destination Specialists work with you to find the best Galapagos cruise for you.