After you have made your decision to backpack the Galapagos (aka a “land based” tour) versus taking a cruise, the next most challenging part is deciding WHICH cruise you want to take.
Many times your choice will be made for you depending on your flexibility with time and the amount of money you have available to use. I bought my ticket six months in advance and the agent I booked with said I only had three options based on the dates I had available and the price range I was looking at. I think this had a lot to do with the fact that I was traveling in the Galapagos the week of Christmas, which is the very peak of high season.
The Galápagos archipelago consists of 13 big islands, six small islands, and more than 40 islets. An advantage to visiting the Galapagos Islands is that the wildlife is virtually fearless of humans because all of the large predators have died out. Wherever you end up, it is almost guaranteed that you will see plenty of wildlife and have an amazing time.
There are a few choices you can make to help narrow down your search:
1) length of cruise; 2) type of boat; 3) Western or Eastern islands; 4) weather.
Length of Cruise
Cruises can range in length from 4- 15 days, but most people I’ve talked to either go on an eight or five day cruise.
8 Day Cruise- 6 real days of exploring
5 Day Cruise- 3 real days of exploring
Keep in mind that the first and last days are mostly spent picking up and dropping off people. I think eight days was the perfect amount to be able to see a variety of islands and to do plenty of snorkeling.
Type of Boat
Sailboat- slower and carries 16-20 people or less.
Yacht- good option for people with smaller budgets. Carries 16-20 people or less.
Mid Size Cruise- 40-60 passengers, fast and with some amenities.
Large Ship- 80-100 people, great for families, tons of amenities.
I went with a yacht because I could still see plenty of places and we only had 16 people on our boat which felt like the perfect amount.
Western or Eastern Islands?
Most itineraries are broken into two routs, the northwestern or the southeastern routes.
Western Route- Isabela (Wall of Tears, snorkeling, giant tortoises in the wild, flamingos), Fernandina (largest colony of Marine iguanas, flightless cormorants)
Eastern Route- Espanola (marine iguanas, Blue Footed Boobies, Galapagos Hawks, Frigate birds, and the Waved Albatross), Floreana (Post Office Bay), San Cristobal (El Loberia, sea lions, crabs, lava gulls, surfing), Santa Cruz (Charles Darwin Research Center, giant tortoises)
To choose your route you need to decide what your priorities are. I personally like tortoises, penguins, beautiful landscapes, and I LOVE snorkeling!
I ended up choosing the SE islands on the Guantanamera Yacht mostly because I really wanted to see Post Office Bay and Espanola Island.
Some people are also concerned about the weather, but I don’t think it is a big deal either way. You have two options: wet/warm (December to April) or dry/cool (May to December). You will end up being either very comfortable on your hikes or very comfortable in the water. I went in the wet/warm season and had mostly sunny days with a bit of rain on a couple of mornings.
I have never met anyone who has visited the Galapagos Islands and just had a “meh” kind of experience. You will love your experience regardless of your cruise option, but I hope this might have helped you narrow down your search a bit!
Have you been on a Galapagos cruise? Which boat did you go with? What was your favorite island?