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Cruise Tours

The most popular way to see the Galapagos Islands is by cruise ship. These ships become the visitors’ homes for the duration of their tour, and all activities (eating, sleeping, relaxing, partying, etc.) take place onboard. Due to the increasing popularity of the Galápagos, some 75 tourist vessels are now available for cruises, ranging from small but charming sailboats, to elegant, custom-designed motor yachts and luxurious, mid-sized cruise ships. Most, but not all, of them are listed here: this is due to some ships being in and out of service recently.


Because park rules limit the number of ships visiting each island, each cruise carries a fixed trip length and itinerary. Voyages vary in length from four to fifteen days, although currently most cruises are excursions lasting four to eight days, counting the days you arrive and depart at the airport.

Ship tours combine land and marine visits on the islands. Tourists usually visit two different land sites and one or two snorkeling sites on each full day of the tour. Usually, guests staying a full week get to spend some time in the highlands of Santa Cruz or the visitor center on San Cristóbal while the guides pick up new passengers and drop off those who are departing.

You can get a taste of the Galápagos in four days, but since each island has its own unique characteristics, you will see a broader variety of plants and animals with each additional day’s visit. Besides, since the first and last days of the tour include a morning flight, a four-day tour yields only two full days and two half-days in the islands. Because of travel time required on each end of the trip, a longer trip is recommended.

In 2011, many ships switched to a 15-day cycle, divided into three cruises of six, six and five days. Basically, this change was made to reduce wear and tear on major visitor sites. That’s great for the boobies, but not for the tourists, who can no longer see all the major islands in one week. Generally, the three tours are divided into Western Islands (Isabela and Fernandina), Eastern and Southern Islands (Española, San Cristobal and Floreana) and Central and Northern Islands (Santa Cruz, Genovesa and Santiago). Each of these tours has its highlights, but unfortunately if you want to see all of Galápagos you’ll need to spend two weeks on board!

Checking the ship’s itinerary should definitely be an important part of your booking process. Itineraries change frequently and are partially controlled by the park service, so make sure you’re looking at information that is up-to-date.


Each boat is required to have one or more naturalist guides who is in charge of providing daily island briefings, natural history information on fl ora and fauna of the islands, and suggestions for island conservation. Each guide is responsible for up to 16 passengers and no one is allowed to go onto the islands without a guide. There are over 200 certified naturalist guides in the Galápagos (not all work concurrently), who are qualified with a level I, II, or III according to their educational background.

Generally speaking, level I guides have their high school diploma; level II guides have a bachelor’s degree and some foreign language training; and level III guides have an advanced degree or specific training in the biological sciences and fluency in a foreign language. Lamentably, these are fairly arbitrary designations that do not take into account years of experience in Galápagos, naturalist behavior or group facilitation style.

Guides can make or break a tour, so it is prudent to ask for additional recommendations and/or qualifications that clarify the ranking of the guide assigned to your cruise. Unfortunately, since most guides are hired on a tour-to-tour basis (some have semi-permanent placements on boats), visitors have very little control over guide selection.


Galápagos cruisers are crewed almost exclusively by Ecuadorians, most of them from the Galápagos. There will be captains, mates, cooks, panga drivers and in some cases engineers and even doctors. Most of the time, the crews are very friendly and professional, but there are a few bad eggs. Some visitors have reported sexual harassment and petty theft. The higher the cruise class you choose, the less likely it is that you’ll have a bad experience.

Most crew members only speak Spanish, but they’re usually able to communicate with just about anyone. In general, ships have one crew member for every two or three passengers. Remember to tip them if they provide good service!

Here are some related tips to help plan your trip to The Galápagos Islands: Spotted Eagle Ray, Great Blue Heron, Bravo Clinid, Brown Pelican, Flightless Cormorant, Tourism in Mainland Ecuador, Parrot Fish, Stingrays, Marine Iguana and Blue-Footed Booby.

24 Sep 2013

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