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LAST UPDATED: MAY 2015

We have subdivided the various sections as we continue to update and expand the sections to give our readers more ample, accurate and insighful information to assist them planning and arranging their visit to the Galapagos Islands. Enjoy!


Today there is so much information on Galapagos Islands cruises available on the Internet to make your head spin. This can be very advantageous and helpful for the reader as information is readily available ... everything from island descriptions, weather details, island maps, wildlife details and cruise options.

But how accurate and honest is most of the information regarding Galapagos Island cruise on the internet?

Do you know what you are looking for?
  • If so, we can provide you with the currently available options that meet your requirements.
  • If not, we can guide you through all the important aspects (e.g., stability, cabin locations, quality of naturalist guides, where to find certain wildlife etc).


INFORMATION (DATA) IS ONLY AS GOOD AND USEFUL AS IT IS ACCURATE, HONEST AND UP TO DATE.

Making a decision based on inaccurate, incomplete and/or out-of-date information can cause not only frustration but a sense of deception. With accurate information, and complete information, your choices and decisions are made easier.

Let me explain the most common information that is either out-of-date or inaccurate.

EXAMPLES OF BOATS THAT NO LONGER EXIST ...

With a Google search conducted on April 9th, 2009, I searched the following term: Darwin Explorer (a boat that, incidentally, sunk in September 2005). There are dozens of agencies apparently offering cruises on a boat that no longer exists. The same holds true for other Galapagos boats that no longer exist, like the Spondylus, Parranda, Ambassador, Rumba (to name a few).

The same exercise can be applied to other frequent and wide-spread errors relating to Galapagos cruise details, which mainly include the following information that is inaccurate:
  • Cruise itineraries and/or departure days;
  • Classification of boats;
  • Images of boats (some are correct but have been 'adjusted');
  • Technical details (i.e., capacity, cabin types etc).
It is no wonder that many people are easily frustrated and confused during their Galapagos Internet surfing - as many inconsistency or conflicting information arises!

Here is a summary of Galapagos cruise boats that no longer exist (have sunk or simply no longer operate in Galapagos) and notable accidents:


BOAT/VESSEL
DATE
OBSERVATIONS

ALTA MARCH 20, 2010
STRUCK REEF & SUNK

AMBASSADOR updating DECOMMISSIONED

ANTARTIDA
updating SUNK

ANGELIQUE updating updating

CORINTHIAN
updating updating

CORMORANT II
OCTOBER 2, 2009
STRUCK ROCKS OFF ISABELA

DARWIN EXPLORER SEPTEMBER 13, 2005
SUNK

DIAMANTE
updating updating

DISCOVERY (aka ENTERPRISE)
updating updating

FREEDOM
updating updating

GABY (aka FRIENDSHIP)
JANUARY 18, 2010
INCOMPLETION OF OPERATING STANDARDS

GALAPAGOS ADVENTURE
DECEMBER 8, 2012
HULL LEAK OFF NORTH COAST OF SANTA CRUZ

GALAPAGOS AGGRESSOR I
JUNE 13, 2013
RAN AGROUND 02h45 NEAR COUSIN ROCK'S
GENOVESA
updating CAUGHT FIRE AND SUNK

LAMMER LAW updating updating

LILI MARLEEN
updating updating

MISTRAL
updating updating

MOBY DICK
JUNE 11, 1998
SUNK

MONDRIAAN
updating updating

NINA
updating DECOMMISSIONED

PARRANDA JANUARY 14, 2009
CAUGHT FIRE & SUNK OFF BARTOLOME

PELIKANO OCTOBER 5, 2013
ACCIDENT OFF BARTOLOME

PULSAR
updating updating

RACHEL
updating updating

REMBRANDT
updating updating

RUMBA
JULY 2, 2010
SUNK NEAR PUERTO VILLAMIL

SAGITTA
updating updating
SEA CLOUD
updating updating

SEAMAN (not  M/C SEAMAN II)
updating updating

SPONDYLUS JULY 1, 2008
SUNK IN DARWIN BAY (GENOVESA)

SULIDAE APRIL 22, 2012 SUNK

TROPIC SUN
updating updating
VOYAGER
NOVEMBER 20, 2013
STRUCK OBSTACLE DURING MAINTENANCE PERIOD

YOLITA (not YOLITA II)
updating updating


I have found that individuals experience and feedback comments on any given cruise are directly related to their expectations. If one's expectations have been falsely (purposely or not) raised beyond the reality, the person will almost always be disappointed. If one's expectations are in line with reality, one's experience will be what you expect.

A great deal boils down to one's expectations. We would rather prefer to err on the side of caution and have our clients have a slightly lower level of expectation about their Galapagos boat and be pleasantly surprised when the reality is better than expected. I have seen, all too many a time, that on the same Galapagos cruise that there is a wide discrepancy regarding the passengers' overall review of the cruises with some disappointed, others exactly what they were expecting and others extremely satisfied. It boils down to how closely their expectations matched the reality!

That being said, there is no one Galapagos cruise that is perfect for everyone. Each client has his or her particular likes and dislikes, expectations and requirements. Some prefer the large, comfortable Deluxe cruise ships that carry 40 to 100 passengers (i.e., Isabela II, Santa Cruz, Galapagos Legend, La Pinta, Eclipse etc) while most prefer a more intimate, smaller option. Of these smaller options, they can neatly be divided into the following type: motor, motor sailer (or sailer) and catamarans (motor or motor sailer).

We have found that the naturalist guide(s) on any given cruise can almost literally make or break a cruise experience! More on this under 'Naturalist Guides'.


The Galapagos is visited all year round, but most people select the holiday / vacation periods (i.e., Christmas/New Year's, Easter, summer holidays/vacations). These periods sell out up to one year in advance (or more!).
  • The warmest period (air & water temperatures) generally run from November through to April.
  • The coldest (and generally has more turbulent seas) are generally September and October.
  • June through September is normally characterized by the presence of whales in Galapagos (mainly off the coasts of the western islands of Isabela & Fernandina).
Most of the wildlife is present all year round (although in different activities depending on the month in question). Two 'locals' are only present in determined periods:
  • The Waved Albatross (usually present on Espanola only from March to December);
  • Humpack whales (usually only present between June and September).
February through to April are the most desirable months. During this period, the islands not only adopt an emerald-green color, and turn humid and balmy warm, but many species start reproducing now.
  • Calmest waters;
  • The hottest period in Galapagos (water & air temperatures);
  • The islands are generally a lush green due to high humidity & scattered showers;
  • Most animals are in the height of reproduction, courting and/or nesting;
  • Reproduction of land reptiles, as well as land birds.
[MORE ON GALAPAGOS CLIMATE / WEATHER ... coming soon]

For those sensitive to motion or sea-sickness, there are two main factors to keep in mind:
  • Time of year - Try to avoid late August through to October as the seas are generally more turbulent this time of the year;
  • Type of boat - Try to avoid the sailing (or motor sailer) boats:
    • The narrower the boat the more prone it is to rocking in the open waters, while the wider (and heavier) the boat is the more stable it is;
    • The most stable are the large cruise ships (i.e., Galapagos Legend, Isabela II, La Pinta, Santa Cruz etc) and the motor catamarans (i.e., Anahi, Seaman Journey, Cormorant, Ocean Spray, Eco Galaxy, Millennium, Treasure of Galapagos etc), followed by the wider motor boats and then down to the narrow sailing boats.


Many visitors select a short cruise (i.e., 3 or 4-nights) when a longer cruise is what they really would have preferred; or selecting a long cruise (i.e., 7-nights) when a shorter cruise would have been more than sufficient.

What is not commonly stated is the following: The first and last day of any given cruise are short days (as they are based on the flight arrival and departure schedules into/out of Galapagos). Cruises really start with the arrival of your flight into Galapagos between 09h30 and 11h30 the morning of the first day of the cruise in Galapagos, and end between 08h30 and 10h30 in the morning of the last day of the cruise.

Most classify Galapagos cruises as 4-DAY, 5-DAYS and 8-DAYS when these cruises really translates into 2, 3 and 6 full days, respectively (or 3, 4 and 7 full nights, respectively) in the Galapagos Islands. The two partial days at the beginning and end of the cruise are mainly occupied traveling to and from the islands.

In our years of experience we have equal numbers saying that a 4-night cruise was the perfect length, while others stated that the 7-night experience was without a doubt the best. If you want to cover as much of the diversity that the Galapagos has to offer, the 7-night cruise is the best and only option for you.


CAPACITY

The vast majority of the non-cruise ships are, on average for 16 passengers allocated into 8 double cabins - although there are a handful of boats with lower capacity (i.e., Nemo II carrying 12 passengers, for example) and several carrying more (Eric, Letty & Flamingo with a capacity of 20 passengers each, for example). The large capacity cruise ships (Santa Cruz, Galapagos Legend, Isabela II, La Pinta) carry between 40 to 100 passengers each.

CABINS

The standard cabins (characteristic of most boats) are double cabins, for two people, each cabin with its own private facilities (hot/cold water shower, bathroom) and normally air conditioning. Most 16-passenger boats only have double cabins (8) and usually do not offer single and/or triple cabins. A limited number of boats (generally the large capacity cruise ships) offer a limited number of single and/or triple cabins.

An important issue to keep in mind is the cabin location - that is to say how close/far the cabin is located to the rear (aft,stern) of the vessel. This is generally where the motors/generators of the vessel are located - thereby a higher probability of noise and/or heat effects to the surrounding cabins. Generally speaking (but depends on the mechanical layout of the boat in question) the father forward and up the cabin is, the farther away you will be from the motors/generators. This translates into less noise, vibration, heat and possible fuel aroma.

Cabins are found on one (or more) different decks. Depending on the boat(s) in question, these are usually LOWER, MAIN and/or UPPER decks. The higher up the cabin is located, the more likely one is to notice the sway of the boat in open water ... but the added advantage is that it is not only farther away from the motors/generators but have better views and are more private.

BEDDING

The standard bedding arrangements are upper / lower single bed berths (or bunk beds). Cabins that have one lower double (or Queen) bed or two lower twin bed are generally found on the larger/wider First and Deluxe classes cruise ships and catamarans (as these vessels are wider they have extra space to permit this type of bedding arrangement).


Although only a few boats accept infants (children less than two years of age), most Galapagos boats do generally accept children with a minimum age is 6 years of age. Most require that the parent/guardian sign a waiver form. Most Galapagos boats classify children as anyone under the age of 12 years of age (while some determine the cut-off age as 10 or 11 years of age).

Many vessels have their own particular cruise policies when it comes to such issues as how many children, how the child is allocating into a cabin and the discount rate for the child.

The vessels that are more frequently chosen by family with young children tend to be the large capacity cruise ships - partly because of the extra space aboard which alllows children more freedom to move around and the capabilities of the crew to cater to the needs of children.

If you are planning on visiting the Galapagos Islands with your children, there are several issues/concerns to keep in mind: While aboard a boat you will be living in close contact with other passengers, each with different levels of tolerance. They have paid for an expensive trip what for many is the dream of a lifetime; On the island trails the group must stay together and stay with their guide. In addition, all tourist - regardless of age - must abide by the Galapagos National Park rules & regulations at all times; The flora and fauna should not be touched, picked, chased, petted or in anyway interfered with its natural state of being.


Without any doubt, the on-board naturalist guide is one of the MOST IMPORTANT aspects on a Galapagos Islands cruise. Although all are technically bilingual (Spanish / English), the degree of English spoken does vary. In addition, the level of knowledge regarding the Galapagos (i.e., the wildlife, the geography, the history etc) does play an important part.

You can have a guide that speaks almost fluent English but does not know a great deal on the Galapagos - you have a great conversation with them but wont learn much about the wildlife, for example. Reversely, an extremely knowledgeable guide on Galapagos but one that has difficulty conversing in English wont help that much either!

The key is to have a naturalist guide that not only speaks almost fluent English but is also extremely knowledgeable.
Administration of the naturalist guide system

A Naturalist Guide carries out environmental interpretation in Punta Espinoza, a narrow ledge of lava and sand that extends from the base of the volcano La Cumbre, on the island of Fernandina.

The Directorate of the Galapagos National Park works to advance technical training, and periodically update naturalist guides, enabling them to renew their knowledge and abilities, improve their academic level and skills in the field of human relations.

Between 1975 and 2009 the Directorate of the Galapagos National Park has conducted 27 courses for Naturalist Guides in Santa Cruz, San Cristobal and Isabela. Currently, the archipelago has 77 Class III Naturalist Guides (the highest), 98 Class II Naturalist Guides and 203 Class I Naturalist Guides and 38 guides-divers of the Galapagos Marine Reserve.

Most courses for Naturalist Guides and promotions have been enacted with the support of the technical and scientific staff of the Charles Darwin Foundation, the country's universities and experts from the Directorate of the Galapagos National Park.

Currently, the preparation of future guides is in the charge of the Pontificia Universidad Catolica (Catholic University, Quito), the Directorate of the Galapagos National Park and the Ministry of Tourism.

On each island, Santa Cruz, San Cristobal and Isabela, the examination for admission is given. Of the participants who scored 80% or more, the best 30 candidates are selected.

In the Course for Naturalist Guide, candidates are trained in:
  • Protocol and etiquette;
  • Customer Service;
  • History of Ecuador and Galapagos;
  • Ecology and Conservation;
  • Wildlife of the GNP and the GMR and Continental Ecuador;
  • Geology and Volcanology;
  • Group Assistance and Guide;
  • Environmental Interpretation;
  • Professional Ethics;
  • Management of National Heritage of Natural Areas;
  • Interpretation Techniques;
  • Environmental Education;
  • Cartography;
  • Camping Techniques;
  • First Aid and Survival.
To enhance this education and continue training the guides, the Directorate of the Galapagos National Park organizes seminars, workshops, and meetings and prepares and publishes informational materials such as the Visitor Sites Guide for Galapagos Naturalist Guides

Further on, a digital program has been predicted for long distance education, which includes valuable scientific material, cultural and natural that will strengthen the knowledge of the Naturalist Guides.

Currently, new courses for Dive Guides of the GMR are being developed, promotional courses for Naturalist Guide of Class I to II and from II to III and refresher courses prior to the renewal licenses of Naturalist Guides, that expire on October 31, 2009


Regardless of the vessel, they all navigate and operate in a similar fashion ... the major inter-island transitions (i.e., from Espanola over to Floreana, for example) are done on the overnight hours. That way, when you awake the next day, the boat is already anchored off the island to be visited that morning. This maximizes the daylights hours, and thereby attempting to reduce transitions during the day to a minimum. There are occasional transitions done on some boats between the morning and afternoon visit (these transitions may be to another point on the same island or to a nearby island). These however are generally not that noticeable as passengers are enjoying lunch aboard during the transition.

Itineraries are generally variations on a theme. All boats now have two alternating 7-night cruise routes, which can generically be classified as:
  • EASTERN (one week) and WESTERN (the other week); or
  • NORTHERN (one week) or SOUTHERN (the other week).
Islands & sites that are generally common to most cruises are (based on 7-night cruises):
  • Baltra airport (not technically a tourist site but the start and/or end point of most cruises);
  • Santa Cruz Island (i.e., Puerto Ayora, Charles Darwin Station, Highlands);
  • Espanola Island (i.e., Punta Suarez & Gardner Bay);
  • Floreana Island (i.e., Punta Cormorant, Post Office Bay, Devils Crown);
  • North Seymour;
  • (South) Plaza;
  • Santa Fe;
  • San Cristobal (i.e., Puerto Baquerizo Moreno, Interpretation Center, Leon Dormido etc);
  • Fernandina Island (i.e., Punta Espinoza);
  • Isabela Island (i.e., Elizabeth Bay, Urbina Bay, Tagus Cove etc);
  • Genovesa Island (i.e., Darwin Bay & Prince Phillips Steps)


There are different advantages and disadvantages of the various types of vessel (cruise ship, motor catamaran, motor-sail catamaran, motor boat, sailing and motor-sailers). The larger and heavier the vessel, the more stable it is in the water.

CRUISE SHIPS

The most stable (important for those extremely sensitive to sea sickness) are the large capacity cruise ships (i.e., Galapagos Legend, Isabella II, La Pinta & Santa Cruz). These vessels carry between 32 to 100 passengers, have spacious and well acquainted cabins & facilities, spacious decks and social areas and highly qualified and trained crew members. Cabins are generally allocated on two (or more) different decks. Several boast Jacuzzi, gyms and other perks. The possible disadvantages (depending obviously on one's point of view) are the following: (1) generally attract an older and higher socio-economic clientele; (2) a greater number of fellow passengers; (3) the activities are generally geared towards older passengers so are not demanding (for those wanting a more active cruise with plenty of snorkeling & hiking etc a smaller vessel is better suited for you); and (4) slower boarding and debarking of the vessel (i.e., for island visits) as passengers are divided into smaller groups of 16 to 20 passengers each.

Turning to the non-cruise ship options, you have:

CATAMARANS (both motor & motor sailors) include Nemo I/II, Treasure of Galapagos, Cormorant, Ocean Spray, Seaman Journey, Anahi etc.

The heavy, wide motor catamaran version (i.e., Anahi, Seaman Journey, Cormorant, Ocean Spray etc) are not only well appointed, but due to the width of the vessel are spacious in terms of cabins and social areas and stable. Some even have onboard jacuzzi to soak into after a long day hiking the islands. The lighter motor sailing catamarans (i.e., Nemo II etc) are comfortable and relatively spacious, but not as stable as their heavy motor brothers above.

SAIL & MOTOR SAILERS like Cachalote, Mary Anne, Beagle etc;

The sailing boats (most of them are technically motor sailers ... when there isnt sufficient wind, I think you would be glad that they can still navigate under motor power!) are long and narrow by nature. This makes them vulnerable to swaying (or rocking) in the seas even when anchored. Most of these vessels have small and somewhat cramped cabins and limited deck and social areas. However, vessels like the Cachalote have an attractive and cozy atmosphere aboard. These vessels are, without a doubt, geared more towards your adventurous and active passenger. They provide and intimate experience ... something that is hard to replicate on a large cruise ship.

MOTOR

The most representative type of vessels in Galapagos; The bulk of the Galapagos cruise vessels fall into the motor category - from your small, old & basic economic motor boats like the New Flamingo right up to the luxurious and relatively spacious Galaxy, Grace and Tip Top IV etc. The wider and heavier the motor boat is, the more stable it is. Many (but not all) of these motor vessels have cabins allocated on two (or more) different decks.
That being said, there is no one Galapagos cruise that is perfect for everyone. Each person has his or her particular likes and dislikes, expectations and requirements. Some prefer the large, comfortable cruise ships that carry 40 to 100 passengers while most prefer a more intimate, smaller option.

For those with an ecological and environmental concern and interest, there are a limited number of Galapagos boats that take serious steps to reduce any negative environmental impact and can be considered as responsible tourism options.


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