There’s no one “best” way to visit the Galapagos Islands, but there are plenty of tricks for building the ideal Galapagos trip for your needs and interests. There are also strategies you can use to get a good deal.
Among Galapagos boats, there are five categories that they fall into.
- High-end cruise ships – As far as passenger-liners go, these boats are the kings of the Galapagos waterways. They not only provide a high level comfort, but also usually have the most onboard features, like exercise rooms, spacious cabins, private balconies, Jacuzzis, and more. They are also the highest occupancy vessels in the Galapagos, accommodating between 30-100 guests.
- Luxury yachts – Boats in these categories are almost always the nicest ones in the Galapagos. They are small enough to provide a private and intimate environment. And on top of that, they provide the maximum comfort, including air conditioned rooms, private bathrooms, plush suites, and amenities like onboard Jacuzzis and full bars.
- First class cruises – The difference between first class and luxury isn’t particularly big. Most first class yachts offer all or almost all of the same amenities that luxury cruises offer, but they might not have certain things like Jacuzzis or private balconies. But you will still get an attentive, knowledgeable, and friendly crew and guide, which makes these cruises some of the best values you can find in the Galapagos.
- Mid-range yachts – Mid-range yachts are a pretty good bargain. The rooms are usually a bit smaller and probably won’t have many of the comforts of the first-class and luxury vessels. It is unlikely that your boat will have air conditioning, but you will still have nice access to comfortable common areas, good food, and private bathrooms with hot running water.
- Budget cruises – The budget cruises are a great option for adventure-seekers. They don’t offer many creature comforts; rooms might be considerably smaller, and deck space will probably be limited. You should also consider that the staff might not be as attentive or knowledgeable as some of the upper classes of cruises. However, most of the budget cruises have very limited passenger occupancy, meaning that there is a more intimate atmosphere onboard, and you might even be able to get to know the crew better than on larger cruises. It also means that you might have more flexibility and a bigger voice when it comes to planning out the day’s activities. Fewer passengers also generally means more time for activities, since you won’t be spending too much time boarding and de-boarding the boat.
If you’re interested in a trip focused more exclusively on diving, then you should consider one of the diving tours and cruises.
The best of each class
- Luxury yachts:
- The Ocean Spray is one of the finest catamarans in the Galapagos Islands. Built for stability and comfort, you will enjoy every minute of the hand-crafted itineraries and the high quality service you receive on this boat.
- The Cormorant is another fantastic Galapagos catamaran that offers its guest the pinnacle of comfort and stability aboard a luxurious boat. Just like the Ocean Spray, this spacious boat hosts some of the best naturalist guides available in the Islands.
- First class yachts:
- The Beagle is unique among many Galapagos boats, as it is a motor sailor. Passengers will get to experience the Islands in their most natural way, just like Darwin did it, with a full sail when possible. To complement this “green” way to travel, the Beagle has some great promotions.
- If you’re looking for a more classic yacht, then the Majestic might be a good option for you. Though it only accommodates 16 passengers in its three-story single-hull deck plan, there is ample social space for you to get to know your boatmates, as well as plenty of privacy in your first-class staterooms.
- Mid-range yachts:
- As far as mid-class yachts go, the Archipell is a great option that balances comfort and affordability. Like some of the highest class Galapagos boats, the Archipell I & II are catamarans, whose double-hull design helps distribute the weight and make the boat more stable. The rooms, social spaces, and menus will leave nothing to be desired.
- The Eden is a fully air-conditioned yacht, perfect for those hoping to see the vibrant and diverse Galapagos marine life. In addition to the complimentary snorkeling gear, there is also diving equipment onboard for your rental upon request.
- Budget yachts:
- For travelers hoping to save some money, the Darwin is a tremendous value. Aboard this boat, you will find many things you might expect on a first-class cruise, like a bar, lounge, sundeck, and air-conditioned rooms with private bathrooms, all at a price that’s hard to turn down.
- Another bargain of a boat is the Golondrina, which has both a motor and sails to give guests a taste of classic navigation. On top of a variety of itineraries ranging from 4-days to 15-days, this boat and its crew will make sure your stay is comfortable while you enjoy all the Galapagos Islands have to show you.
Most will contend that the best way to experience the Galapagos Islands is by cruise. Since the Islands are rather spread out, cruises take advantage of nights to do longer navigations so that you can visit a greater number of islands and remote visitor’s spots during your trip. However, cruises also tend to be on the more expensive end of Galapagos vacations.
Land-based tours are a great alternative and tend to be more economical. There are four main inhabited islands that each have their own distinct personality and identity (Santa Cruz, Isabela, San Cristobal, and Floreana).
If you have a few more days and want to see even more of the islands, consider staying on several of the islands for a few nights instead of just one for your whole trip. One great way to do this is to move West to East (or vice versa) – Isabela, Santa Cruz, Floreana, and San Cristobal. Since there is an airport that has daily flights to mainland Ecuador on Baltra Island (by Santa Cruz and Isabela) and on San Cristobal, this is a very practical way to plan your trip, but it does require some thought beforehand.
It’s important to note:
- Even the luxury hotels on each island can be less than the cost of a cruise.
- Most hotels also offer to arrange day trips to different islands or even have sister-hotels on the other islands.
- The main transportation between islands for land-based tours is by speedboats, which can be commutes of several hours. This cost is generally not included in the price of your hotel but is with all inclusive tour packages.
Combining land & sea
A third option is to combine both a cruise and a land-based tour. The most common way to do this is by combining a 4-day cruise with several days in a hotel before or after your trip. The 4-day cruises, although not as comprehensive as the longer cruises, are the least expensive option and still allow you to get that authentic Galapagos cruise experience. Afterwards or before, you can book a few nights in a hotel that comfortably fits into your budget.
Specials & Promotions
Of course, there are other ways to find great deals too.
- Think about going in the Galapagos low season, during April/ May or September/ October, when tourism is lower and companies offer special deals.
- Book at the last minute. Or more precisely, reserve in the last month or two before your trip while maintaining a flexible travel schedule and you may uncover last minute deals that can sometimes be up to 50% off.
- Book with a company in Ecuador rather than in North America or Europe, as the price will be significantly lower and you’ll receive a higher level of expertise and specialization dealing with the Galapagos.
Contact Columbus Travel to get a free quote and customized itinerary to the Galapagos.
Article writen by Brian Bayer January 2016.