Galapagos Cruises
Cheap Galapagos cruise? Brochure picture
Sealion, as seen on a Galapagos Islands cruise
Galapagos cruise boat
Galapagos cruise vacation: cruise boats, sealions and tourists on the beach
Galapagos cruise boats illustrated in travel brochures for comparison
Galapagos cruise boats moored off the islands
Galapagos Islands Cruise deck plans shown in luxury cruise brochures

A Galapagos Islands cruise
is a lifetime highlight, so pick the best cruise ship and itinerary for your budget.

Galapagos Cruises & Boats

A Galapagos cruise is a once-in-a-lifetime experience for most tourists and does not come cheap.  Make sure your Galapagos Islands cruise boat, itinerary and guide will do justice to this very special holiday.  If you are struggling to afford the luxury Galapagos cruise of your dreams, consider saving for another year, rather than making do with a budget cruise.  Or, bearing in mind that there is no such thing as a cheap Galapagos cruise, investigate the possibilities of Galapagos hotels and day excursions to see if your travel money would go further with a land-based itinerary in the islands.
A detailed cruise itinerary from your travel agent, before you book, is vital to ensure that your Galapagos cruise takes in your preferred islands and the wildlife you want to see.  Check the itinerary against a map of the islands for an idea of the distances involved and how long you will spend travelling between islands.  The cheaper cruise boats generally cannot travel as fast as the luxury ships.
Galapagos Islands cruise ships and boats and the facilities they offer vary widely - get a written description of the boat.  In particular make sure that the deck offers some shade.  Check if drinking water will be included in the cost - it is extortionately priced on some boats.  Also ask your travel agent about the level of tips expected - this can be a substantial amount of money, although some agents may include it in the tour price.   
Vegetarians and vegans wanting a Galapagos Islands cruise should make careful enquiries before booking to ensure the cruise operator can meet their dietary requirements.  Even the most luxury cruise will not be much fun if you are hungry all the time!  Be aware that you cannot take seeds, grains or nuts to the Galapagos Islands, so healthy vegan protein snacks are very limited.
Most Galapagos tour guides are very knowledgeable and speak at least two languages.  Their level of experience varies with the more expensive boats usually having better guides.  Check that your cruise package includes a guide who speaks your language, especially if you are booking a cruise at the last minute in Quito or in the islands - fascinating information about the Galapagos wildlife may not be too accessible to English speakers if delivered only in fluent Japanese and Italian.  
The choice of boat for your Galapagos Islands cruise will depend on various factors.  Large cruise ships are more stable but embarking and disembarking takes longer with more passengers, so you will have less time actually seeing the Galapagos wildlife.  Smaller boats offer a more intimate cruise experience and more time with the wildlife, but are less stable if the sea is rough and sharing a small space can be awkward if you don't get along with your fellow cruise passengers.  Catamarans are generally more stable than monohulls, both at anchor and while cruising, and tend to use less fuel, which is better for the environment.
Galapagos cruise boats, ships, yachts and catamarans are divided into various categories:  economy, tourist, tourist superior, first class and luxury.  Take this with a pinch of salt as you sometimes see the same boat listed in different categories on different sites.  As a very rough guide, prices per day are up to around $200 on an economy cruise boat, and over $400 a day on a luxury Galapagos cruise ship or yacht, with first class boats charging around $300 to $400.  Note that this is per day and most cruises are either 4, 5 or 8 days.
Regardless of the category, be aware of the limitations of boats.  Even the most expensive luxury Galapagos cruise ships need a motor and it will make a noise.  Just because a boat has air-conditioning does not necessarily mean it will be functioning...  Cabins will be carefully photographed to make them seem spacious - perhaps more spacious than they really are.  Check deck plans, online if not in the travel brochures, to see how much space you will have on your Galapagos Islands cruise and which deck you will be on.  Bear these factors in mind when compiling your Galapagos cruise packing list, and don't forget the earplugs.
Some cruise operators are certified under the SmartVoyager sustainable tourism certification scheme, a "green" award indicating that they comply with strict conservation standards to protect the Galapagos wildlife and environment.  As a responsible tourist you may want to pick an environmentally-responsible sustainable cruise operator.  According to the SmartVoyager website, certified cruise boats in the Galapagos Islands are:  Daphne, Beagle, Sky Dancer, Tip Top II, Tip Top III, the Ecoventura boats Eric, Flamingo & Letty, Eclipse, Monserrat, Santa Cruz, Isabela II, Mary Anne and Sagitta. 
Galapagos cruise operators should have flight availability coinciding with the dates of their cruises, but if you want to fly on different dates, e.g. to travel in Galapagos before or after your cruise, and spend a few nights in a Galapagos hotel, you will need to book your flights to the Galapagos Islands well in advance.
The Galapagos climate and the time of year will also have a major impact on your cruise experience and the wildlife you will see.  Check the Galapagos Weather Calendar and Wildlife Activity pages before deciding when is best to visit the islands, bearing in mind that if your time in the islands is limited, hanging out for last-minute Galapagos cruise discounts is risky.
Useful Spanish Vocabulary for a Galapagos cruise:
mapa de las islas galápagos: map of the Galapagos Islands
itinerario: itinerary
crucero: cruise
yate: yacht
barco: boat
Galapagos Cruises & Boats
Galapagos Islands cruise tips and itinerary notes, Galapagos ship and boat information,
Galapagos Islands map, sustainable cruises in the Galapagos Islands, luxury Galapagos cruise versus cheap Galapagos tour
Website www.ecuadortravelsite.org, text and photos by Sarah Clifford.
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