Choosing your boat in the Galapagos Islands
There are almost a hundred licensed Galapagos boats in the Galapagos Islands so the choice can understandably be bewildering. However, there are some basic things to bear in mind when making your choice of Galapagos boat.
Here are some tips to help you make the best possible choice for your Galapagos cruise holiday.
Galapagos Cruise Itineraries
Every boat in the Galapagos has an itinerary dictated to it by the Galapagos Islands National Park authority, not all boats go to the same parts of the Galapagos by any means. There are good itineraries and there are weak ones.
As a rule of thumb, the more time you spend in populated areas, the weaker the itinerary.
There are four populated islands (Santa Cruz, San Cristobal, Isabela and Floreana). The main population centres are Puerto Ayora on Santa Cruz, Puerto Baquerizo Moreno on San Cristobal and Puerto Vilamil on Isabela.
In fact these places are all outside the National Park which covers 97% of the Galapagos Islands.
Floreana has such a small population that it doesn’t really make much difference.
On a good itinerary you will visit just one of the three main population centres. On a weak one you may visit all three.
We very strongly recommend that you take a 7 night cruise, not shorter.
Over the course of a good 7 night Galapagos cruise you will see the full diversity of the islands, both in terms of species and landscapes. This is simply not possible on a 3 or 4 night cruise.
In addition, shorter cruises encourage more flights to the islands which have a greater impact on this fragile environment AND increase risks of the introduction of invasive species.
You will find that a good deal of the cost of visiting the islands is in the flights, the park entrance fees, etc. The difference in cost between staying a full 7 nights instead of 4 is not great.
Galapagos Boat Style
You have sail boats and motor cruisers and ships.
The biggest vessels licensed to go round the islands carry around 100 passengers. Let’s call these the ships.
You then have motor cruisers which carry from around 16 passengers up to around 50. With 50 passengers these are really more like small ships.
Sail boats tend to carry between 12 and 20 passengers. Bear in mind that the sails are there for show more than anything – they are rarely unfurled.
Waters in the Galapagos Islands are really not terribly rough in general but there is swell. This is most noticeable between July and October. It is also most noticeable in the waters most exposed to prevailing winds which come from the south-east.
Sail boats are the least stable vessels because of their rounded hulls, this means you get movement side to side as well as front to back.
Motor cruisers, catamarans and ships are much less prone to lateral movement. Front to back movement really is a function of the length of the boat.
There’s no getting away from the fact that the larger the boat, the less movement you are likely to feel.
The closer you are to the central axis of the boat, the less movement you will feel.
Boats have engines and they have generators to keep you air conditioned. There is therefore noise on board, more than you might expect.
The smaller the boat, the closer you are going to be to the engines and the generators.
Choose cabins carefully if you are sensitive to noise.
Whatever Galapagos boat you are on, you will be led on shore in groups of no more than 16. So the truth is that whether you arrive on a boat for 100 or for 16 your experience on the ground should be pretty much the same.
However, larger boats do tend to be restricted in the landing sites they can visit.
Also, you quite simply lose the intimacy and flexibility that comes with being part of a small group.
This might mean being able to jump in the zodiac to watch killer whales. It might mean being able to sit and watch boobies mating.
When travelling as part of a larger group, you are going to be more strictly timetabled.
Finally, whereas larger groups are split up amongst guides when on land, in the water they are not. What often happens is that a land visit ends with a chance to snorkel off the beach.
If you are travelling with a small group then this often means the chance to spend time with sea turtles, sharks, penguins, etc. If you are snokeling with 100 others, it’s likely to be rather less of a memorable experience.
Alternatively, larger boats stagger groups into the water which means that your time in the water is spent with a small group. The downside is that you spend time waiting on the boat to be allowed into the water.
At Pura Aventura, our strong preference is for Galapagos boats at the smaller end of the scale.
The largest boat we generally use is Eclipse with 48 passengers. Beyond that our Galapagos boats are usually for between 14 and 20 people.
This is in line with the current advice given out by the Galapagos Conservation Trust.
Their view is that the best way to minimise the negative and maximise the positive impacts of your visit to the Galapagos is to travel on board a smaller boat on a full 7 night itinerary.
Alternatives to Galapagos Boats
There are some excellent land based itineraries in the Galapagos. Land based visits to the islands are much harder for the National Park authorities to regulate and are therefore something of a vexed topic for conservationists.
There is no intrinsic reason that land based Galapagos tours should do more harm than staying on a boat but you must choose an operator very carefully to ensure that all National Park rules are being strictly observed.
Pura Aventura can offer land based trips which are responsible. Please contact us for details.
Do bear in mind that a land based tour, by definition, is going to take you to the populated centres. You will take visits into the National Park and you will take boats between islands but on the whole the wildlife you see will not be as rich as that you would see on a good cruise.
This can be offset but the great experience of getting to know more about the human history of the islands. And you can spend longer on each island which allows you to explore in greater depth.
Therefore, a 7 night land based trip is very unlikely to give you as much exposure to wildlife as a good 7 night Galapagos cruise. However, a good 10 or 12 night land based tour can compare very favourably.
Please feel free to call Pura Aventura on 0845 44 55 058 if you would like to discuss a visit to the Galapagos Islands.