Since Charles Darwin first explored the Galapagos Islands in 1835 and postulated his theory of evolution, visitors have been awed at the environmental enclave isolated in this tropical paradise. This is a remote, once-in-a-lifetime-type experience that is the feather in any globetrotter's cap. Getting there requires some thought and planning, so would-be Galapagos cruisers can benefit from practical advice on their options to this exotic archipelago.
Taking a Galapagos Cruise
Since the islands straddle the equator west of Ecuador, cruise passengers interested in visiting this remote destination can book passage throughout the year. Due to the delicate ecological balance of the various 19 islands and more than 40 islets, the number of visitors is strictly regulated and cruises sell out quickly. Therefore, interested passengers should reserve their vacation well in advance.
Voyages exploring the Galapagos Islands vary from four nights to more than a week, with varying levels of luxury (and price tags). Travelers interested in shorter or longer voyages may have more success with privately chartered yacht lines rather than established cruise lines with regular routes.
Celebrity Cruises is the only major cruise line that regularly calls on the Galapagos Islands, specifically with their small ship, the Xpedition. The ship only accommodates 90 passengers, but does so with Celebrity's signature star treatment and luxury.
No larger ships participate in Galapagos cruises because they cannot maneuver adequately to visit the small islands without disrupting the local flora and fauna. Celebrity, in fact, has made a commitment to conduct its voyages with the smallest possible environmental impact in order to help preserve the islands' unique ecosystem.
Departing from the island of Baltra, they offer two distinct 7 night itineraries, navigating the inner loop and outer loop of islands respectively.
Quite a number of Galapagos cruises are aboard yachts or catamarans, which hold a max of about 16 guests .
- Travel supplier AdventureSmith Expeditions offers an array of cruising alternatives in the Galapagos, from a four-night journey aboard the Tip Top III to an eight-day expedition aboard the S/S Mary Anne, a romantic sailing ship.
- Passengers interested in a educationally-focused experience would do well to consider Linblad Expeditions' 10 day itinerary aboard the National Geographic Endeavor, with expert guides and naturalists for an immersive encounter with the islands and their wildlife.
- Luxury travelers also have the option of an eight-day journey on the luxurious Origin or Silversea Cruise Lines' week-long itineraries.
Traveling to the Galapagos Islands
Prior to boarding the ship, most passengers will arrive by air via either the coastal city of Guayaquil or Quito, the capitol of Ecuador. Layovers of one or two days are common while all passengers arrive, which also gives adequate time for delayed luggage to be delivered before the cruise begins.
Embarkation Ports for a Galapagos Cruise
Depending on the specific ports of all arranged for a particular cruise (which are often scheduled with respect to the migration patterns of local wildlife and the climatic conditions of the volcanic islands), there are a few cities where cruises depart. Common embarkation parts include:
- Baltra: Once home to a World War II United States military base, Baltra sees the lion's share of cruise departures.
- San Cristobal: A scenic island in its own right, some smaller yachts depart from here.
Ports of Call
Ports of call vary on each Galapagos cruise, as they are determined according to environmental and ecological factors. As with any adventure cruise that focuses on discovery and wildlife, visitors are assured of many encounters with the more than 1,200 exotic plants, birds, animals, and fish that inhabit these islands when they visit different landing points, including:
Punta Pitt, San Cristobal: As one of the oldest of the Galapagos Islands, erosion has created some dramatic scenery for the visitor.
- Puerto Ayora, home to Lonesome George, the last survivor of one species of Galapagos tortoise and the largest city in the islands where visitors can find local and international cuisine, artisans, and numerous snorkeling and scuba opportunities.
Puerto Egas, where the highlight is hiking over extensive coastal trails to black lava grottos.
- Santa Cruz: The most populated island of the archipelago, it is headquarters for the Galapagos National Park Service and Charles Darwin Research Station.
- Punta Espinoza, favorite gathering place for the flightless cormorant, a bird which exemplifies Darwin's concept of evolution.
- Las Bachas, a white sand beach that is a favorite nesting site for Pacific green turtles.
- Bartolome, where sea lions and penguins frolic among both ancient and recent lava tubes.
- Punta Suarez: Located on Isla Espanola, the sheer cliffs attract a variety of sea birds.
- North Seymour: A smaller island located north of Baltra good for snorkeling.
In addition to these popular landing points, cruise passengers will visit numerous bays and islets where they may spot albatrosses, pelicans, sea turtles, sea urchins, octopus, marine iguanas, blue-footed boobies, Darwin finches (so named because they illustrate natural selection at work with their different beak structures), dolphins, angelfish, and other creatures. In more populated regions, guests may experience the Galapagos Interpretation Center or other museums that help explain the delicate balance that exists in the archipelago.
At most ports of call, cruise passengers are invited to participate in shore excursions at one of three levels of exertion: mild tours that involve nothing more strenuous than boat rides, moderate tours that require minimal hiking, and intensive tours that may require hiking a mile or more through rugged terrain. Because of this variety, a Galapagos cruise can be an enjoyable experience for passengers of all ability levels.
Enjoying and Preserving Beauty
Extensive and unusual wildlife coupled with dramatic landscapes virtually untouched by man gives a Galapagos cruise a wondrous mystique for cruise travelers. By arranging voyages in concert with environmental awareness, the cruise lines that service the nation are dedicated to protecting its beauty and value for generations to come.