When should I book my trip?
What are the differences between a yacht tour and a land/sea tour?
If I choose a yacht cruise, what class of yacht should I book? What are the differences?
How many days should I plan to spend on the Galapagos?
When is the best time of year to visit?
What are the activities during the trip?
What do I need to bring?
Do I need a wetsuit? What about snorkeling equipment?
What is included in a Galapagos tour?
What is NOT included in a Galapagos tour?
How much should I tip?
Is seasickness a problem?
If you choose a yacht tour, we suggest booking as early as possible. Many of the better yachts fill up months (sometimes a year during peak season) in advance, so if you wish to select your yacht, booking at least 6 months to a year in advance is a good idea. However, if you don’t have any particular yachts in mind, last minute spaces are frequently available at a discounted price from a couple of months to a week prior to departure.
Land based tours are more flexible; we suggest booking these tours at least a month or two in advance. Last minute pricing generally does not apply to these tours, so there's no reason to wait until the last minute to book.
A yacht cruise in Galapagos is the conventional way to visit the islands. The advantage to a yacht tour is that you will see more islands and, on many cruises, you will travel to some of the most remote areas of the Galapagos Islands, each one with a slightly different land and water environment. Yacht tours typically visit two sites each day, with a land visit including a short walk and a chance to snorkel at each site. Between visits, you will be aboard your yacht with time to relax and enjoy the amazing tranquility and sights of the islands and the open water. Longer voyages between islands are done at night.
We also offer trips combining land and sea travel, which while visiting fewer islands, typically cost slightly less than even a basic yacht tour and offer a greater variety of land based activities along with chances to swim and snorkel. Travel between islands is done on small speedboats, and each trip is around 2 hours (for example, from San Cristobal to Floreana island). Nights are spent in hotels or hostels on the islands. Our land tours offer visits to 3 or 4 of the major islands with optional day tours if you wish to extend your visit...unlike some land tours, these are very complete and comprehensive tours. With a land tour, more of your money stays in Galapagos, and thus offers more aid to the local population. Land tours also tend to be a bit more flexible, offering more time to visit and enjoy sites of interest.
All of the yachts we sell are listed according to the classification given by the operating company. Thus, for example, our listings of first class yachts may include yachts listed by other agencies as “tourist superior.” There is often significant variation in both price and service within the same class of yacht; in some cases a yacht in tourist superior class may be very comprable to another first class yacht. However, we feel that using the classification provided by the operator is the best way to maintain consistency in our classification system, but if you wish any further information about a specific yacht, we will be happy to advise you.
Below is a brief description of the different classes of cruises operating in the Galapagos:
Tourist and Economy Class Yacht Cruises: These yachts are not featured on our site, and we honestly cannot recommend any of these yachts. There are only a few tourist and economy class yachts operating in the Galapagos Islands. Yachts in both tourist and economy class are generally extremely basic and cramped, and extremely small cabins are the norm. These yachts may or may not have hot water and/or air conditioning (which may or may not function well if at all). The food is generally very basic, but well prepared. Guides are typically level II (in some cases level I), but experience, knowledge and English level can be extremely inconsistent. Generally these yachts have a low level of enivironmental consciousness in operations and maintenance, and they generally operate itineraries limited to the central islands. In sum, in our opinion, these yacts are acceptable only if you truly cannot afford anything else.
Tourist Superior Yacht Cruises: While still basic, these yachts are significantly more spacious and comfortable than a tourist class yacht, and nearly all have hot water and air conditioning that generally functions well. Most have somewhat small cabins with bunk beds. Generally these yachts offer very good standards of maintenance and safety, well prepared and good quality food, and experienced level II guides. While slightly more expensive than most tourist class yachts, these offer a good balance between price and a quality experience in the islands and some offer excellent itineraries. The best of these yachts maintain superb reputations for service, guides and overall cruise quality.
First Class Yacht Cruises: Generally larger cabins (some with bunk beds, some with side by side beds or double beds) and more spacious common areas relative to lower level yachts. Yachts in this category provide excellent food, very high maintenance, service and safety standards, and typically a level III or highly experienced level II guide. All offer hot water and air conditioning, generally with individual air conditioning controls in your cabin. Prices can vary dramatically within this class of yacht. Some of these yachts are more ecologically sensitive in their design, construction and maintenance.
Luxury Class Yacht Cruises: Very spacious, large common areas and very comfortable cabins (often with expansive view windows and/or private balconies), excellent gourmet food, and very high standards of service and maintenance. These yachts can be quite expensive. We sell many of the smaller yachts in this category, and some of the best larger ships as well.
For ecological reasons as well as offering the best possible experience in the Galapagos, except if you are traveling in a group, we do not recommend the largest luxury yachts (really ships). Galapagos, in our opinion, should be an intimate, tranquil experience in a small group. Smaller boats can get closer to the islands, can enter excellent snorkeling areas, and a small group does less damage to the islands and minimizes the disruption of the local wildlife.
While more expensive, we suggest a tour of at least 8 days if you choose either a yacht cruise or a land/sea tour. First, a 4 day or 5-day tour is really only 2 or 3 full tour days, since the first day is a half-day, and on the last day, you arrive at the dock in the morning to take your return flight. 6 days tours are now offered by many yachts, but we feel this is a short time to spend in the Galapagos. Yachts in the Galapagos now operated on a 15 day circuit; diring these 15 days, most yachts do not visit any site more than once...and to really see everything the Galapagos has to offer, a 15 day cruise is really not excessive. Each island -- and really each site -- in the Galapagos is a bit different, with different wildlife, underwater life, and terrain. Seeing as much as possible while there is well worth the extra time and expense, particularly considering the expense just to arrive on the islands and enter the park.
If you choose to take a shorter yacht tour, we suggest spending a few extra days exploring Isabella Island if your cruise does not stop at Puerto Villamil. We can help arrange accommodations and activities there for you if you wish.
There really is not a “best time” to visit the Galapagos. The water is at its warmest from December to May, as is the air temperature. The waters are generally a bit calmer during this time. But this is also the rainy season, with occasional heavy afternoon rainfall.
From June to November is drier, with occasional drizzle, and both the air and water are cooler. The seas are rougher during these months.
During the rainy season, the island birds and animals tend to be more active, and during the dry season, the sea mammals and birds tend to be most active. More fish are visible during the dry season as well, making this a good time of year for diving. The courtship of the Albatross can be observed after their arrival in April.
On a yacht tour, each day typically includes two walks on different islands, and two opportunities to swim or snorkel. There is some down time while traveling from island to island, but generally the longer trips are during the night. You sleep on the boat each night (although some cruises include one night in a hotel).
Land/Sea tours include a variety of activities, including hiking, snorkeling and swimming, which vary depending on the day. Island visits are made on a smaller boat, and nightly accommodations are in hotels or hostels. Your evenings are free to enjoy the island towns.
Really, not much. The most important items are a good sun hat and high SPF waterproof or water resistant sunscreen, since the Equatorial sun can burn rapidly. A pair of sandals, good walking shoes, a light fleece jacket and lightweight rain protection, a waterproof case for your camera if you wish to take underwater pictures, binoculars, and a good book or deck of cards for evenings and travel time. Don’t forget your swimsuit.
During the cooler dry season (Jun-Nov), a light (“shortie”) or a full size wetsuit can make snorkeling or swimming more pleasant for longer periods (the water can be quite cool at some sites during this period). Wetsuits can generally be rented on Galapagos or on the mainland, or you can bring your own. If you are taking a cruise, most of the yachts offer wetsuits for rent at reasonable prices.
There is another benefit to having a wetsuit at any time of year: sun protection. If you burn easily, renting a wetsuit for snorkeling gives nearly all of your body protection from sunburn...too often an unpleasant experience for Galapagos visitors. And, sunscreen is a contaminant, so a wetsuit minimizes its use and helps keep the waters around the islands pure.
All yachts provide snorkeling equipment, and many include the use of this equipment in the cruise price. For those yachts that do charge for this equipment, rental generally costs $25 to $35 for an 8-day cruise. Quality and fit can vary, so some tourists choose to purchase their own. If you are a swimmer, you might want to bring your pair of swim goggles.
Both yacht tours and land tours include shared cabin or hotel accommodations, all meals during the trip, beverages with meals, drinking water, coffee, tea, snacks, guide, and local transfer between the airport and the dock. Some yachts and tours offer free use of snorkeling equipment, and some first class and luxury boats offer free use of wetsuits (first come, first served basis; your sizes may not be available). One excellent tourist superior class yacht -- the Samba -- offers wetsuits to all passengers on board at no extra cost.
Your airfare to Ecuador, airfare from the mainland to the islands, entry fee for the Galapagos National Park ($100), InGala entry card ($10), sodas and alcoholic beverages available for purchase on board, tips for the crew, personal expenses, travel insurance (highly recommended), and, on most yachts, wetsuit rental. For cruises and land based tours which visit Puerto Villamil, there is a $20 port use fee that most tours do not include. On some yachts, snorkeling equipment is not included, but is always available to rent.
Tips are entirely up to the passenger, but generally depend on the class of the yacht and, of course, the quality of service provided to the passengers. Generally between $10 and $20 per day per passenger is a reasonable figure to plan for in your budget, perhaps more on luxury yachts, but passengers should not feel obligated to tip the crew if service is not up to expectations. We also suggest leaving constructive written feedback with the boat crew if you wish, including both positive and negative comments.
Occasionally, passengers do become seasick, but for most people it is not a serious issue during a cruise. Typically this is only a problem on the longer voyages in open, deep waters, and can be more of a problem in the months of July through November when the ocean is rougher. If this is a serious problem for you, we suggest booking a larger yacht or catamaran, and bringing seasickness medication (widely available in Ecuador and usually available on board).