GALAPAGOS ISLANDS – Background
Located 600 miles off the coast of Ecuador, the remote Galapagos Archipelago offers a unique opportunity to observe and study an incredible variety of wildlife and intriguing flora in one of the Earth’s greatest natural laboratories. In a stark, volcanic landscape, millions of sea birds, land and marine iguanas, fur seals and sea lions, and the endangered Galapagos tortoise make their home, largely unaffected by and unafraid of humans (because of the islands’ lack of predators).
The Galapagos Islands are world-famous for their incredibly fearless wildlife and exotic vegetation. Ninety-six percent of the reptiles, 47% of the plants, and 37% of the fish are found nowhere else in the world. Well known for the part they played in helping Charles Darwin to formulate his theory of evolution, the islands still provide unlimited possibilities for exploration and discovery.
As a visitor, you’ll spend your days hiking (easy), photographing and studying wildlife, snorkeling with sea lions and penguins, kayaking or simply relaxing. Our naturalist leaders, who are highly trained at the Darwin Station and certified by the National Park service, will provide nature interpretation during the day and informal lectures in the evening.
If seasickness is a concern, you have several options. First, you may cruise between January and early July, when the winds are low and the waters are calmer. Second, you may cruise aboard a midsize or larger ship (i.e. 48 or 90 passengers) instead of a smaller ship (16 to 20 passengers) as the larger ships are more stable. Third, you may do a land-based tour, staying at a hotel (usually on Santa Cruz), exploring the island, and doing short boat excursions to nearby islands.
Avoid 3 star rated ships as they are often unsafe. They usually do not meet the SOLAS standards and a number of ships have capsized over the years.
Deluxe 5 star ships do not usually have better guides or itineraries than First Class 4 star ships. The main difference is the size of the cabins, the décor/amenities, and exclusivity.
Smaller ships (16 to 20 guests) offer a more intimate experience and they often have a lower guest-to-guide ratio (i.e. 10:1 instead of 15:1). On the other hand, they seldom have a physician aboard and they can be less stable. Midsize and larger ships are more stable, and larger ships usually have a physician aboard.
When comparing cruises on the basis of value, make sure to factor in all costs — internal airfare (approx. $500pp), national park fees ($120pp), any applicable fuel surcharges, and any applicable wetsuit rental fees.
If you prefer a longer cruise (e.g. 7 nights), then you should know that some ships have 7 night “continuous” cruises, while others combine 4 night and 3 night modules. Combining two shorter modules has the slight disadvantage of the ship having to return to one of the two islands with an airport so that they can let some travelers disembark and pick up new passengers. Fortunately, those guests who will be continuing on a longer cruise will still enjoy excursions on the transition day. Prospective travelers should, however, make sure that the excursions on these transition days are high quality and not “filler” excursions. The continuous 7 night cruises do not have to deal with this issue.