Touring the Galapagos on an 8-day, 7-night Cruise
If you are looking for a thorough introduction to the Galapagos, an 8-day trip is probably your best choice.8-day Galapagos cruises are the length of trip most frequently recommended by experts because they strike a excellent balance between the very short 4 and 5-day cruises and the much longer 15-day cruises.
While shorter cruises are extremely limited in what you get to see, many people feel that two-week cruises are expensive, long, and even exhausting. An 8-day/7-night trip usually gives you a chance to witness the westernmost and easternmost regions of the Galapagos Islands and hit most of the highlights in one trip. If you need more convincing, though, then check out this short-list of reasons why the 8-day option is the best option for the majority of travelers to the Galapagos.
Why choose an 8-day cruise?
- You will be able to visit over a dozen different visitor sites in the furthest reaches of Galapagos National Park and try all activities more than once (snorkeling, swimming, kayaking, hiking, dinghy rides, etc). Although some activities might only be offered once (if your boat has a kayak, kayaking tends to be scheduled only as the National Park itinerary permits).
- More visitor spots means more wildlife, more biodiversity, more varied ecosystems and landscapes.
- Most experts believe that an 8-day, 7-night cruise is the best balance of time on the islands for the money.
- Disadvantage. A 4 day trip is not a good option for people who want to get the full Galapagos experience. The 4-day cruise allows very limited time exploring the Galapagos because days one and four are mostly consumed by flying to and from the islands. Depending on your particular boat's itinerary, you may or may get to do anything but be in transit on the first and last days. 5-days is definitely better in this respect.
- Disadvantage. You don't want your cruise to end and wish you had booked a longer cruise. Many people who go with a four day cruise feel that they weren't able to truly experience the Islands. No trip to the Galapagos Islands is cheap, so when that final day of your cruise comes, you should feel satisfied with your Galapagos experience rather than incomplete.
- Advantage. 5-day and especially 4-day cruises are cheaper. It's a simple fact.
- In general, a cruise to the Galapagos is expensive, especially compared to traveling on the mainland of Ecuador. An excellent alternative is taking a couple of days before or after your cruise to stay in either Puerto Ayora or Puerto Baquerizo Moreno hence lowering the cost per day of a Galapagos trip while allowing you to explore more of the islands. Both of these towns have several different options for half day or full day excursions. If you're a SCUBA diver, this option is an especially attractive and affordable option.
The advantages and disadvantages of 15-day cruises
- Advantage. No doubt about it, the luxury of being able to spend 15 days cruising the Galapagos enables you to see more -- nearly all of the islands, with the exception of Darwin and Wolf in the far northern reaches which are only visited by dedicated SCUBA diving liveaboard cruises.
- Disadvantage. Cruises that are longer than eight days might become somewhat exhausting, especially for elderly passengers or even those who are not accustomed to multiple hours of physical activity every day for many days in a row. That said, passengers aren't obligated to do the 2-3 activities each day, and resting in the jacuzzi or taking a nap are always an excellent option. That said, one always feels like they're missing out on some amazing explorations happening when relaxing while other passengers are out there discovering amazing things.
- Disadvantage. The more days on a cruise boat makes an already pricey trip more expensive.
- Alternative. A happy medium could be taking both a shorter 4 or 5-day cruise AND a land tour package. This lowers total costs while increasing your total time on the islands. Most people only visit the Galapagos once in their lifetime. It's worth taking a few extra days to make it truly a once-in-a-lifetime experience.
Choosing a boat type for an 8-day cruise
In the Galapagos, boats are divided into classes largely based upon cost and level of services. Listed in higher level to lower level (and higher cost to lower cost) the categories are: Cruise ships, luxury yachts, first class yachts, mid range yachts and economical yachts.
- Catamarans: These are the most stable of the small Galapagos boats. The body of the boat is spread over twin hulls that limit the rocking feeling. This is the best type of boat for people prone to motion sickness. This is also a good option if you want a more private experience, as they usually accommodate no more than 16 passengers and tend to be newer, with larger rooms and
- Single hull motorboats and sailboats: These are best for the adventure seeker. Generally smaller size, there is a more intimate atmosphere for the travelers. Since they are single hulled, they will rock more than larger ships or catamarans. Curiously, most sailboats rarely or never raise their sails during an entire cruise. This is because a Galapagos cruise is a mostly an exercise of motoring to the next visitor spot (especially at night) and anchoring to board a dinghy to go to visitor spots.
- Large cruise ships: The 30-100 passenger boats are the biggest passenger vessels that are allowed to navigate the Galapagos Islands. They are single-hull, but since they are larger, rocking is not as amplified as in smaller boats. There are more facilities (gyms, Jacuzzis, swimming pools, etc.) on these boats. Boarding and disembarking can take more time as well. Your hikes on the visitor spots will be limited to 16 person groups, by law, but dining and briefing will be with large groups. Large cruise ships are a good option for families (kids have room to run around) and couples seeking a social experience among many diverse passengers.
Categories of Galapagos boats and price ranges of 8-day cruises
The general guideline of “You get what you pay for” does hold true in most cases when budgeting a Galapagos trip, but here's an orientation with several tips and tricks to find the best cruise for you, at the best price available.
In general, boats are divided by price and quality of service. The higher categories will generally have better guides, better food, larger cabins and common areas, and amenities like hot tubs and pools in some cases. Going towards the middle and lower ranges, you get fewer and fewer of these advantages.
Cruise boats are categorized by the following:
- Ships and larger boats. 8-Day cruises range from around $3700 to $6500
- Luxury Yachts. 8-Day cruises tend to be around the $5500 to $6200 range
- First Class Yachts. 8-Day cruises range from around $3700 to $5000
- Mid Range Yachts. 8-Day cruises range from around $2500 to $4300
- Budget Level Yachts. 8-Day cruises tend to be under $2000 to $2500
Tips to consider when choosing a boat:
- Air conditioning is very nice to have, especially in the warmer season from December to May.
- Avoid getting noisy cabins next to the boat's motors, especially on smaller vessels.
- Book your boat with a local agency in Ecuador because your agent will know the Islands and the boat options much better than a worldwide agent in your home country. They'll be better able to match you with exactly the right cruise for your needs.
- An Ecuadorian agency, especially the larger ones with higher sales volume, will be able to negotiate better prices.
What to expect from a cruise with Columbus Travel?
Reserving with Columbus Travel guarantees the highest quality of service both while planning your trip and while enjoying the islands.
Planning the perfect Galapagos trip can be difficult. Columbus is here to make the process pleasant and fulfilling. There are no centralized reservation systems for Galapagos cruises, so we take time to understand what you really want from your trip and manually check availability on different boats and hand craft with the best itinerary at the best value specifically for YOU.
Expect a highly competitive price. Expect to save thousands versus reserving with an agency in North America or Europe. Since Columbus is located in Ecuador, and all we do is Galapagos and Galapagos extensions, we have close relationships with all of the top boat owners in the Galapagos. And since we do more volume than nearly any other operator in the Galapagos, we negotiate the lowest prices available in the marketplace. We almost always are able to give lower prices than the owners of the boats themselves because of the owners' pricing contracts with agencies.
We get it. This may be the one time in your lifetime that you'll visit the Galapagos. It needs to be perfect. We're here to make sure that this once-in-a-lifetime experience is one of the highlights of your life.
Article writen by Brian Bayer January 2016.