If you’ve never been on a cruise to the archipelago before, use this cruise guide of Galapagos to help you prepare.
What You Should Know When Sailing in the Galapagos Islands
The Galapagos Islands are an archipelago located off the coast Ecuador. They are famous for their wildlife, and also because Charles Darwin visited them during his voyage on the HMS Beagle. His collections and observations eventually led him to develop his theory of evolution by natural selection.
How Do You Get to the Galapagos Islands?
Visitors exploring the Galapagos Islands depart from Quito or Guayaquil, which are the capital and largest city of Ecuador, respectively. It takes about two and a half hours to fly from Quito to the Galapagos. You can also depart from Guayaquil, it takes approximately one hour and forty five minutes to the islands. You fly over the vastness of the east pacific tropical ocean for nearly 1,000 Km (620 nautical miles). Did you know the Galapagos Islands have two airports? One is centrally located in Baltra Island (GPS), and the other one in the eastern island of San Cristobal (SCY).
Islands to Visit
It is important to have a cruise guide of Galapagos and learn that the archipelago consist of 20 islands, and about 107 islets and rocks. Different islands are famous for their landscapes, volcanoes, sea birds and wildlife. Some of these islands include:
- Rabida Island, which is home a great deal of iron in the lava produced by its now-extinct volcano. Consequently, the island is a gorgeous shade of red. It is also home to one of the most amazing snorkeling sites.
- Bartolome Island, which is an extinct volcano that boasts some beautiful and brilliantly-colored formations
- Floreana Island, a popular tourist destination with a lot of green sea turtles and pink flamingos. People visit it to watch local wildlife and go snorkeling. Historical Post Office Bay is a must stop.
- Española Island, home to a large colony of Galapagos albatross, blue-footed boobies, and red-black marine iguanas.
- Santa Fe, which boasts the tallest Opuntia cactus in the Galapagos and is home to the Santa Fe iguana.
What is the Climate Like?
The Galapagos Islands are distributed both above and below the Equator. The weather is at its hottest from December to May (the Hot Season), with the air temperatures generally ranging from 79°F to 85°F. The water has an average temperature of 79°F. During this season, water visibility is excellent, and snorkelers and divers will be able to see 60 to 80 feet.
From June to November, the Dry Season sets in, and the air temperature drops a bit and generally ranges from 72°F to 79°F while the temperature of the sea drops to somewhere between 70°F and 75°F. While there is hardly any rain during the Dry Season, the winds pick up, and visitors should consider the wind chill when planning activities. Regardless of the time of year, the sun is always very strong, given the islands’ equatorial location. Sunblock of at least SPF 45 is therefore a must. The islands can be visited anytime during the year, and lie at a geographical location considered storm-free.
What to Pack
The Galapagos Islands tend to be warm. During the day, people will probably wear shorts and a cotton t-shirt. When exploring, avoid wearing very dark colors (i.e, black) as it absorbs too much heat. At night it might be cooler, so visitors may want one or two pairs of light pants and a sweatshirt. Most of the ships don’t have dress codes, so it is usually not necessary to pack anything too dressy. Quito is in the mountains and is much cooler, so travelers should pack a few items of warm clothing. A jacket or windbreaker that can double as a raincoat would be ideal. Dress in layers is the best advice.
Waterproof walking sandals tend to be the best kind of footwear for visiting the Galapagos for sandy or gravel-like walks. Sneakers (tennis shoes) are the best type of footwear for regular outings on volcanic terrain. There are plenty of options out there when finding the right footwear equipment for island exploring.
The sun is extremely strong, so travelers should bring protective items like long-sleeved shirts, sunglasses and broad-brimmed hats. Since swimming and snorkeling are popular activities, people should bring their swimsuits as well. Expedition vessels and cruises have snorkeling gear, but bring your own mask if you wear a prescription mask. Wet suits are also available on board. In the Dry Seaon (Jun-Nov) it makes a big difference to have a wet suit on and snorkel for extended periods of time. Chek our Galapagos packing list before your trip.
What is the BIG15?
The BIG15 is a list of iconic animal species that are considered must-sees for visitors. The most famous animal on the list is likely the Galapagos giant tortoise, which is the largest living tortoise in the world. Some specimens can be over 5 feet long. In fact, the Galapagos Islands were named for the tortoises by the Spanish sailors who discovered them in 1535. Galápago is the Spanish word for “riding saddle”, and many carapaces of tortoises carry that shape.
Like the tortoises, many of the animals on the list are endemic to the islands, which means they are not found anywhere else in the world. The animals also do not fear humans and actually allow them to approach. The BIG15 is the way to understand these islands’ outings should be based on content and not just mere opportunities to go ashore. The more species you see, the better the experience.
Other animals in the BIG15 include the marine iguana, frigate birds, sea lions, the blue-footed booby and the flightless cormorant. The Galapagos albatross is the only albatross that lives in the tropics, and the Galapagos penguin is the only penguin that lives north of the equator.
Understanding Expedition Cruises and Expedition Vessels
An expedition cruise provides Captains and Deck Officers who have a unique combination of years of sailing in Galapagos waters, as well as top qualifications from the Ecuadorian Navy and Merchant Marine. An MD Medical Officer provides free consultations will also be on board.
While expedition cruises do use larger ships, visitors still have access to all the islands. It is quite a misconception to think that in Galapagos expedition cruises and vessels don’t have access to secluded bays and coves. The ships carry skiffs/pangas (outboard motor-power) that are used to carry people to an island. The islands have no docking facilities. An experienced and knowledgeable Naturalist Guide will accompany the visitors and explain the natural history of the islands.
The Galapagos itineraries of expedition cruises and vessels will be planned and approved ahead of time by the Galapagos National Park. They are timed to minimize human impact on the islands, so any given group will have an island to themselves.
How Big Are the Ships?
In order to protect the environment and wildlife of the islands, the Galapagos National Park has fortunately placed restrictions on the size of cruise ships visiting the Galapagos Islands. Cruise ships and yachts visiting the islands may not carry more than 100 passengers. Similarly, only 16 guests per group are allowed ashore. The National Park authority is in charge of managing itineraries and monitoring human impact on the islands.
Metropolitan Touring provides one expedition cruise and two expedition vessels that carry from 90 to 40 guests, providing an experience that will last a lifetime.
After learning about this cruise guide of Galapagos, we invite you to read about important tips for a great Galapagos Journey. This will be your best way to see what’s a perception when exploring Galapagos versus the reality of how things are actually operated in the islands.
Blog Reviewed & Edited by: Francisco Dousdebés
All Images: Francisco Dousdebés