...Insight

Galapagos

How to Sail the Galapagos

If you are planning to see the best of 'what's on offer' in the Galapagos - a boat is certainly a key priority.

DEPARTURES

Three-, four- and seven-night cruises are available, but if you’re flying halfway around the world to see the islands, we recommend going for a full week, especially as much of the first and last day of any trip is spent travelling.

There are departures just for families, with special attention paid to kids and teenagers, as well as cruises for photographers, or with prominent host lecturers like evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins. Some of the smaller, smartest yachts are also available to charter privately – a wonderful way to share a trip of a lifetime with your closest friends and family.

A few specialist ships offer dive trips to the northerly Darwin and Wolf islands, which have some of the best dive spots in the world, with thousands of hammerheads gathering in one place.

“Considering that ten of the 13 major islands are only accessible by sea, a luxury cruise is by far the best way to explore the Galapagos.”

Steph Carthy, Personal Travel Designer

EASY EXPLORATION

Cruising allows you to explore more islands and experience a greater diversity of spectacular sights and fauna.  Due to the long distances involved, most of the cruising will take place at night, with the vessel making different stops during the day.  During your voyage you will enjoy a mix of shore landings, snorkelling trips and panga boat rides, ensuring you experience a variety of marine and wildlife.

If you’re set on seeing a particular species in the Galapagos, talk to us and we will help you pick the month and itinerary that will give you the best chance for a sighting. It is important to note that some species are seasonal, and many exist only on specific islands.

Blue footed boobies, Galapagos, Ecuador

SHIP SHAPE

Boats in the Galapagos can roughly be divided into three classes. ‘Tourist’ boats are simple vessels such as converted fishing boats or those built for mass tourism. ‘First Class’ boats offer a high level of facilities and service. ‘Deluxe’ vessels are few and far between and offer the highest levels of luxury in the islands.

 

Origin boat main lounge Galapagos

SIZE IS EVERYTHING

"If you prefer small groups and a more private experience, a small boat is recommended"

Boats are then further classified by size. The smallest boats, often called yachts, typically carry between 12 and 20 guests. They have the advantage of speed and manoeuvrability, allowing you to visit multiple places in one itinerary. They can cater better to personal requests and offer a level of exclusivity and intimacy that larger boats don’t, but mean you’re sharing the experience with just a few other guests. While this might suit some, it won’t necessarily suit others.

Fewer people mean you’ve less time waiting to get on and off the ship, and more opportunities to do popular activities like snorkelling and sea kayaking (larger ships don’t always offer kayaking). These smaller yachts are also perfect for private charters.

IS SMALL BEST?

Medium-size boats typically carry between 21 and 40 guests. They can appeal to families as they often have family or interconnecting rooms unavailable on smaller boats.

Large boats carry between 41 and 100 guests and by virtue of their size offer a wider range of onboard facilities, dining and entertainment options. They’re often more stable in open water, so may appeal if you suffer from seasickness. Some have glass-bottomed boats to go ashore on, allowing those unable to swim or snorkel to get to see beneath the surface. But they lack the speed, manoeuvrability and intimacy of smaller vessels.

PERFECT FOR DIVERS

For scuba divers who want to focus on underwater adventures, there are dedicated 7-night dive expeditions available.  These journeys are designed specifically for scuba divers and they ply the waters all the way to the little-visited northernmost islands in the archipelago, where deep, cold, current-filled diving offers manta rays, whale sharks, schools of hammerhead sharks and sunfish.

Note, these expeditions are for experienced divers only.  You will need your PADI open water certification; Nitrox certification and a minimum of 50 registered dives, with your most recent dive being inside of 6 months from embarkation.  Due to a limited number of dive boats operating in the Galapagos Islands, you will likely need to plan 12 -18 months in advance, longer if you want to dive with the gentle filter-feeding giants of the sea, the whale shark.

Galapagos penguin, Galapagos, Ecuador

PICKING A ROUTE

To lessen their environmental impact, ships cannot visit the same site twice within 14 days. Most alternate between two different seven-night itineraries: a southern and central route, and a northern and western route.

M/Y Grace, for example, will sail one week from San Cristobal in the east, visiting the likes of Espanola, the southernmost island in the group; Floreana, where you can still drop a postcard in the island’s ‘post office barrel’; and Santa Cruz, home of the Charles Darwin Research Centre. Then the following week she will sail out of Baltra, calling at Santa Fe; Fernandina, home to the world’s only species of flightless cormorant; and Isabela, among others.

There are always trade-offs of what you can and cannot see during a weeklong trip, but all the routes we recommend are excellent and well balanced, taking in a wide range of islands and wildlife. However, if you have your heart set on seeing a particular species, do let us know, and we’ll be sure to suggest a trip that calls at its island home.

The Galapagos Islands. Ecuador. View of two beaches on Bartolome Island
Sea Lion, Galapagos
Flamingo, galapagos islands

A TYPICAL DAY CRUISING

“When was the last time you saw something for the first time?”

Days typically include morning and afternoon landings at different sites. You’ll be taken ashore in a small panga or dinghy, which may take you to a dock (a dry landing) or might drop you at a beach where you’ll need to paddle ashore (a wet landing).

You’ll always be accompanied by an expert naturalist guide, who’ll point out the flora and fauna, explain the island’s history and regale you with stories about working and living in these strange, enchanted lands.

Sea lions, Galapagos, Ecuador

Different activities are available at different sites. You might hike across ancient black lava stones to watch marine iguanas dive into the sea to nibble on green algae. You may be led around a harem of female sea lions, jealously guarded by a muscular bull. You might snorkel with sea turtles or Galapagos penguins.

Some ships offer kayaks and stand-up paddle boards, others explore the coast by glass-bottomed boat.

Between island visits you can relax aboard your ship, listening to lectures to learn more about the islands, swapping stories with new friends over an al fresco lunch or cocktails by the bar, or soaking up the scenery from an open-air hot tub.

SUMMARY

At the end of the day, the ship you choose will come down to personal preference. We have developed close relationships with top guides and operators of the very best boats to ensure you have the most rewarding experience in the archipelago.

Our Favourites Vessels

M/Y Grace, Galapagos Islands
1

M/Y GRACE

The most stylish way to experience a once-in-a-lifetime trip around the Galapagos Islands.

Her rich heritage is obvious when you step aboard. The Grace has been lovingly restored down to the fine details of her most elegant period, and still bears her original 1927 steering wheel. She has space for 16 guests, and you can charter her privately, or book individual cabins. Book early to get the top deck suites or the new Grace Kelly Suite, designed by Adriana Hoyos.

The guides, chef and crew are handpicked by the ship’s owners, and it’s their job to make your trip unforgettable. No two trips are the same, because any ship sailing the Galapagos has to vary its plans so as not to overburden the precious island environment. The crew will provide a trip that’s unique to you, and all that’s left for you to do is step ashore and discover the rich and varied wildlife of the Galapagos.

DID YOU KNOW

Few yachts can have had as rich a history as the M/Y Grace. Built by Camper and Nicholson in Southampton in the roaring Twenties, she was conscripted into the Royal Navy and saved hundreds of men at Dunkirk. She patrolled for U Boats in the English Channel and Winston Churchill cruised aboard her. Later she belonged to Aristotle Onassis, who gave her to Grace Kelly and Prince Rainier of Monaco as a wedding gift.

2

M/V Origin

An intimate and luxurious adventure into a haven of wildlife. This impressive yacht was built by people who know the Galapagos Islands inside out. With a sophisticated design and excellent service, MV Origin will provide you with a unique adventure in this animal paradise.

When you step on board and take in the understated luxury, you’ll see why former guests want to come back and why it’s won so many awards. An incredible welcome is the start of something truly special.

With just ten cabins, a voyage on MV Origin makes for a very personalised and intimate experience. They offer the lowest guest to guide ratio of any island cruise. The cabins are all of the highest standard, so no smallest room, no tiny porthole and no nasty surprises. The large picture windows mean you can enjoy the view at all times.

DID YOU KNOW

The ship’s speed brings a number of benefits. You can be on the last boat to leave an island and the first to arrive at the next one. This means greater chances of wildlife sightings and less chance of those unwanted human encounters. It’s also one of the Galapagos’ most eco-friendly cruises, so you can have less of an impact on this spectacular location.

Have questions? Our knowledgeable team of experts are on-hand to take your call or if you prefer by Zoom. Talk to us about your holiday dreams or challenge us with your travel conundrums.

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