Galapagos Cruises: How to select the perfect Galapagos Cruise
May 11, 2010 § 1 Comment
Galapagos Cruises cater to nature lovers from all over the world and are the classic way to visit the Galapagos Islands. Cruising through the Galapagos combines the romance of an ocean voyage, the spirit of adventure, and the exotic and uninhibited wildlife, which makes the Galapagos a dream destination.
Cruises are offered in 4, 5, 8 or 15-day options. On the first day of your cruise you’ll fly from the Ecuadorian mainland (either Quito or Guayaquil) to the Galapagos where you’ll board your boat and begin your cruise. Similarly you will fly back to the mainland on the last day of your cruise.
Each cruise has a pre-determined itinerary designed in conjunction with the National Park to offer travelers with the best possible experience, while minimizing the effect of their visit on the islands. During your cruise you will have a glimpse of the great diversity that makes the Galapagos Islands so special, you’ll delight at incredible interactions with the island’s wildlife and with the help of your naturalist guide gain an understanding of what makes these islands so unique and their preservation so important.
There are four distinct regions in the Galapagos—the Southern, Western, Northern and Central Islands. As islands age they take on new characteristics. Each of the areas differs depending on the geologic age of the islands found there. The Galapagos archipelago was never attached to a continent. All of the islands are volcanic in nature. On the younger islands the volcanoes are still active, the islands are rugged, and the wildlife lives off the fruit of the sea and has evolved to survive in harsh conditions. The older islands, the volcanoes have become extinct, the lava has broken down to become fertile soil and this rich soil is able to support a variety of plants and assortment of wildlife.
San Cristobal, Espanola and Floreana in the southern part of the chain are the oldest of the islands. These islands were favorites among pirates, whalers, and early setters. Where other islands are dry and desolate these islands have a variety of plants and animals as well as the Galapagos’ only permanent freshwater lake (found on San Cristobal) and fresh water springs (found on Floreana).
In distinct contrast, to the west you’ll find the youngest islands—Isabela and Fernandina. These islands are closest to the Galapagos Hot Spot and the volcanoes are still active – the last eruption occurred in 2009. Visiting this area offers a sense of how the islands were born and that the archipelago continues to evolve. Pioneer plants like candelabra cactus and mangroves are seen as a glimpse of green on the otherwise barren black volcanic rock landscape. Much of the wildlife found here is endemic to the Galapagos. These species have evolved overtime to survive the unforgiving environment and include the Flightless Cormorant, Galapagos Penguins, Marine Iguanas, Mangrove and Woodpecker Finch.
Further to the north you’ll find Genovesa, unlike other islands with a central volcano towering over the island creating a distinct highland area, on Genovesa you’ll sail into the center of the collapsed caldera. The highest point on the island is 250 feet. This large flat surface is a favorite of sea birds and Genovesa is lovingly known as “bird island” with colonies of Red footed boobies, storm petrels, great frigate birds, blue footed boobies, nazca boobies, swallow tail gulls, short eared owls and Darwin finch living here.
The central islands are mid-way through their life cycle. These islands were created in two ways either from a single volcano like Santa Cruz and Santiago or from geological uplift like Plazas and North Seymour. The central islands retain the dry rugged look of the western islands while being able to support a more complex mixture of plants and animals similar to the southern islands. Colonies of boobies, frigate birds and sea lions are common sites. Land Iguanas can be seen in forests of opunita cactus. And for many visitors, a trip to the highlands of Santa Cruz is their only opportunity to see the Giant Galapagos Tortoises in the wild.
The best Galapagos cruise will combine all four of these areas over an 8 day period. Due to national park restrictions boats with more than 32 passengers are not permitted to visit the northern area. If you are booking an 8 day cruise, for the most interesting experience you will want to look for an itinerary that includes at least three of these areas.
Traveling to Galapagos is not an inexpensive endeavor – you’ll find yourself spending a minimum of $500 per person just getting yourself to the islands without having left the airport. The Galapagos is a once in a lifetime destination. Cruises vary in price based depending on the comfort level and services offered on board. Prices typically range from around $200 a day for a low end cruise catering to the backpackers to over $400 a day for a luxury cruise.
When deciding how much you want to spend, take a look at the itinerary, as well as the features of the boat whether you’ll have your own cabin or be sleeping in a dormitory situation. You’ll want to look whether the cabins have lower beds or bunk beds, shared bathrooms or private baths. There are also optional choices like whether they have snorkel gear available, kayaks or wetsuits for you to use.
Last but not least, it’s always a good idea to ask about the demographics of the typical passenger for the boat you are selecting. Many of the boats cater to a specific market. If you are in your 20’s going with your fiancée you may not want to go with a group of seniors. There are boats that cater to Germans, French, Italians, Israelis or Ecuadorians travelers – while traveling with people from other countries adds to the experience it may be lonely at mealtime if you find yourself unable to communicate with other passengers.
For most traveler’s this will be the one time you visit the Galapagos, so make sure to take your time making your decision and to get good advice so that the Galapagos Cruise you choose will live up to all your dreams.
Learn about our recommended Galapagos Cruises