The pristine beauty of the Galapagos Islands is otherworldly. Located 600 miles off the coast of Ecuador, the archipelago’s isolation has helped to preserve an ecosystem unlike anything else on the planet: penguins, sea lions, and green sea turtles leisurely move through the deep blue waters, dramatic lava formations rise from the ocean, and red, green, and black sand beaches beckon from shore.
Little wonder then, that Charles Darwin lingered here…
Countless visitors have followed Darwin’s example, traveling to the unique island chain and instantly falling in love with the climate, colours, and creatures of the Galapagos.
The best way to embark on this once-in-a-lifetime journey is on a cruise since 97% of the archipelago is a national park which is off-limits to human establishments. This means there are no hotels, restaurants, or buildings of any kind on the majority of the islands, so the only way to access them is on a live-aboard vessel which takes travelers throughout the entire archipelago.
Live-aboard adventure yachts bring travelers to distant islands while offering plenty of land excursions, so visitors can experience the nature and animals of the Galapagos Islands both by sea and by land.
If you’re thinking of adventuring to the Galapagos, the primary objective of your journey is likely to be encounters with magnificent animals and stunning landscapes. In this article, we discuss the most important factors to consider when choosing the best Galapagos cruise.
Travel Group Size
Picture yourself standing on the deck of a cruise ship, mesmerized by the sun sinking slowly into the tranquil Pacific Ocean. Who is beside you? Your family? An intimate partner? A master guide who can answer all of your burning questions about the pod of dolphins you just saw?
Or do you picture a big noisy crowd of strangers, waving their selfie sticks and jostling for prime views of the sunset? The size of a group has a big impact on the quality of travel experiences. After all, mass tourism has a way of turning unique adventures into cookie-cutter routines and transforming even the most sacred spaces into commodities.
When researching Galapagos cruises, look for companies that organise exclusive, small-group experiences of under 36-guests. Getting away from the crowds and exploring the Galapagos with just a handful of other travelers helps you see the breathtaking islands as Darwin saw them two centuries ago. Small groups quickly become like family, fostering lively conversations with loved ones, other guests, and expert guides while leaving space for moments of quiet reflection, so that travelers can immerse themselves in the natural world without the distracting noise of large crowds.
The Galapagos archipelago is a fascinating ecosystem brimming with colourful marine life, unique flora and fauna, awe-inspiring geological formations, and a rich history. A year-round destination that really has no “off season,” every month in the islands offers something special to discerning travelers. From snorkeling with the Galapagos penguins to glimpsing Darwin’s legendary finches to wandering through rare cloud forests during the day, and stargazing in relaxing lounges at night, there’s a lot to see and do.
Taking it all in is not only the journey of a lifetime, but is an intellectual and spiritual adventure, as well!
Guides often set the tone for travelers with their enthusiasm and knowledge, and superior cruise lines understand that guides can make all the difference between a good travel experience and a remarkable adventure that visitors will look back on for their entire lives. That’s why a high-quality cruise should be thoughtful about selecting very experienced guides who have university-level education in the fields of conservation, biology, and wildlife.
The best Galapagos guides have a Level III certification from the Galapagos National Park that when combined with years of expertise, empowers naturalists to add depth and colour to any journey through the Galapagos while helping travelers feel safe with first-hand knowledge of safety and first aid. Stellar guides will point out and provide context for all the marvels of the islands while being fun, entertaining hosts.
Traveling to the Galapagos Islands is about profound encounters with nature and, often, with your deeper, quieter self. It’s not about touristy opportunities for consumption, so if a cruise line puts primary emphasis on the quality of its meals and cabins rather than experiencing wildlife and sealife, then there’s a good chance that all they offer is fancy but superficial decor.
Too many travelers make the mistake of focusing on how many stars the on-board restaurant can boast and what type of cabin to choose, instead of prioritising an authentic encounter with nature. Look for a cruise company that provides the perfect balance of both.
There’s elegance in simplicity. True sophistication is about quality, not quantity, and when it comes to journeying into the heart of the Galapagos, quality means an abundance of outdoor experiences. Look for yachts with plenty of open spaces for unrestricted views, shady decks, and itineraries designed to maximize encounters with exotic animals.
When you return home and reflect on your travels, you probably won’t remember much about your cabin’s décor, but those intense moments spent gazing into the curious eyes of a Galapagos Sea Lion pup will stay with you for the rest of your life.
Top-Notch Accommodations and Amenities
Letting nature take center stage doesn’t mean that travelers have to compromise on luxury. Eco-travel isn’t about the boat because the boat is simply there to enhance the journey rather than being the journey’s focus. The optimal vessel should be refined yet practical and built for adventure.
Space and shade
Any well-designed trip to the Galapagos should include as much time in the fresh air as possible, not least because the climate of the islands is a balmy 82 degrees Fahrenheit on average. To enjoy this paradisiacal climate while indulging in the breathtaking vistas of sea, air, and land, look for yachts with spacious decks that offer plenty of shade so travelers can lounge in comfort.
Freedom of movement
While living on a yacht for a week or more comes with its own special joys, it can also quickly feel cramped. Superior yachts will encourage rather than restrict liberal movement around the entire circumference of the deck, so that travelers never feel trapped or miss a single stunning view of moonlit islands, leaping dolphins, and breaching whales.
If you’ve ever been on a catamaran (a boat with two separate hulls) then you’re probably familiar with that drumming crash of waves that strike the raised sides of the catamaran. The sound can quickly become distracting, especially late at night when travelers are trying to rest. For a calm and relaxing sailing experience, look for monohull yachts. Thanks to their weight and absence of raised sides, monohull adventure yachts move smoothly, gently, and quietly through the water.
Indoor and outdoor dining areas
While enjoying a fresh meal on a shady deck while watching the waves of the Pacific Ocean roll gently by is a deeply satisfying experience, travelers should also have the option to dine indoors. When researching cruise companies, be sure that your ideal cruise offers both al fresco and indoor dining areas.
After a thrilling snorkeling excursion spent spotting marine iguanas and hammerhead sharks, travelers want nothing more than to warm up, relax, and reflect on the details of their adventure. What better place to lounge and daydream than an oversized jacuzzi? The best cruises will come equipped with oversized hot tubs that can accommodate most of the guests on the yacht instead of just a handful of them. Warming up in the jacuzzi after snorkeling, resting and easy conversations are a highlight of a Galapagos trip.
Enthusiastic, Experienced Crew
While large cruise ships of 100 passengers are often staffed with a competent crew, their members rarely have direct experience of the Galapagos, much less a profound intellectual and emotional connection with the islands. Crew members should be both knowledgeable and passionate, eager to provide world-class service for their guests while sharing insider tips and answering questions thoughtfully and patiently.
They understand that guests are deeply invested in their trip and are making memories that will last a lifetime, so they’re dedicated to helping travelers fulfill their dreams.
When it comes to cruising in the Galapagos, an experienced crew is an essential component of an enjoyable trip. The more years they have working in the islands under their belt, the better. From mouth-watering, 5-star cuisine crafted by brilliant chefs to fun personal touches like towel animals left sitting precociously on your stateroom bed, talented crew members are there to elevate your cruise from “great” to “unbelievable.”
The best Galapagos cruises are staffed with devoted cruise experts and nature enthusiasts who have been working in the islands for years because they love what they do, and who can’t wait to share their enthusiasm with their guests.
If mass tourism is about the consumption of nature, then eco-travel is about its preservation, celebration, and protection. The point of exploring the Galapagos is to make a meaningful and emotional connection with the majesty of untouched nature, not to tick a box or collect plastic trinkets. Be cautious of massive tour operators who source their meals from major distributors and whose large groups create a lot of waste while generating higher carbon emissions. Such companies are committed solely to revenue rather than sharing the beauty of the Galapagos.
When booking your Galapagos cruise, reach out to socially responsible companies whose eco-friendly trips prioritise sustainability to minimise the environmental impact of their excursions, whether with zero waste policies or carbon-neutral emissions. Truly loving nature means nothing less.
Like No Place on Earth
The Galapagos Islands are on every adventurous traveler’s bucket list. At Quasar, they have been making travel wishes come true since 1986. They have been voted the #1 Intimate Cruise Line in Travel+Leisure’s 10 best intimate-ship ocean cruise lines for offering powerful travel experiences to explorers, adventurers, and dreamers who want to connect with and celebrate the exquisite Galapagos Islands. If you’ve been dreaming of visiting this magical place, now is the time to explore the Galapagos with Quasar.