Recently we did a 7 night Galapagos Islands Cruise in Ecuador and although the Galapagos Islands had been on our bucket list for some time now, we truly didn’t know what to expect. But now that we have experienced it we hope to clarify the unknown for you in this blog today.
Without sounding too “hypish” we have to say that this vacation was filled with a colossal of rare moments and was TRULY A TRIP OF A LIFETIME!!
In our minds the Galapagos is a “secret jewel” because it is the most under-promoted cruise destination out there compared to what it should be.
If you want to explore a unique place in this world, away from crowds, a place truly untouched and unspoiled, filled with indigenous wildlife and nature (that can only be found in the Galapagos and nowhere else) with the sun on your face while you actively explore daily- this is one of those rare places that you MUST “without question” visit…
…this was our 45th Cruise and by far one of the top Cruise experiences we have encountered- and THAT is saying something! 🙂
Why is the Galapagos so under promoted you ask?
We’re not 100% sure but the high cost probably is a factor (a typical trip on a good ship with everything included like tours, drinks, tips, etc. starts at around $7,000 per person) and we’re guessing some people simply don’t realize how close Ecuador is (just a 3.5-4hr flight from Miami) so things like that may throw people off.
Below contains some cool facts about the Galapagos Islands
important tips on how to prepare for your trip there
an overview of what to expect while visiting
so you are not guessing and instead you’re well prepared.
We took this exploration with Lindblad Expeditions/National Geographic. We did it with them for no other reason then to check out their product as we’d never Cruised with them before and we of course want to know the differences between the various cruise lines…
…no matter which company you plan to take your Galapagos Cruise with though we know you will love it.
But get some good advice BEFORE booking your Galapagos adventure!
If you talk to Shawn, the cruise line or tour operator he will recommend for you will depend on what is most important to you and what you want from your Galapagos cruise. The experience will be different from operator to operator…
…for instance, with Lindblad it is not your typical cruise but it’s an “expedition”. What this means is that it’s less about luxuries onboard the ship (best quality food, fancy drinks & pampering) but more rugged with emphases placed on exploring the destination.
With Silversea, Celebrity or Tauck it is about the combination of the two. Yes, emphasis is placed on exploration of the islands but also on the food & beverages, the staterooms will have more space with oversize queen beds (not singles like on Lindblad), the rooms will have TVs, movies and many other luxuries we are used to seeing on a cruise ship.
See the differences so far? To learn more just talk to Shawn– he will clarify it for you, he’s REALLY good at that… as you likely already know 🙂
Ok. Now, let’s dive in and share more details about these FASCINATING Islands.
As per usual, we flew in early to the area to get over the jet-lag so we’d be rested & ready for our Cruise and we do recommend the same for you! (We are sounding like a broken record- we know… but its for your own good! 🙂
We knew we had to stay in either Quito or Guayaquil to get to the Galapagos so we stayed in Quito, Ecuador 1 extra night to reacquaint with friends from the area and did a city walking tour- to see a little of Quito check out our pictures here.
On embarkation day it was easy peesy. A Lindblad representative met us at the Quito airport (or depending on the itinerary you choose- a representative might meet you at the Guayaquil airport) and he took our bags and got our boarding pass to the Galapagos- It was seamless and worry free!
For your information: the Flight times are approximately as follows: Quito to Guayaquil was under 1 hour and Guayaquil to Galapagos is 1.5-2hrs hours long.
Onboard the ship and off there were many occasions like the picture below with us learning from the Naturalists, it was SO interesting…
…but another thing the guides said that stuck with us was this:
“We were lucky! Being there was better then watching a documentary or listening to a theory lesson… You just have to be there in person to feel and appreciate it”…
…and we couldn’t agree more!!!
About the Galapagos:
Take your experience to the next level and get to know the Galapagos Islands BEFORE you arrive!
The Galapagos is a province of Ecuador, South America that straddles the Equator consisting of over 7000 km2 (3,040 sq mi) of land spread over 45,000 km2 (17,000 sq mi) of ocean…
…it is one of the world’s greatest destinations for wildlife viewing.
Just check out this picture we took, Fascinating right? 🙂
Incredibly, nearly half of the plant and animal species in the Galapagos are endemic. This means that one in every two species you encounter while exploring the Galapagos occurs nowhere else in the world!
It’s no wonder that when Charles Darwin visited in 1835 his observation of Galapagos species later inspired his theory of evolution.
The Galapagos has an interesting Marine Ecosystem too:
- it is one of the top marine reserves in the world
- it has over 800 different Fish species
- 86 are Endemic
- it is a UNESCO world heritage site
- it is the 7th largest ecosystem in the world AND
- it and the Galapagos are highly protected and regulated by the National Park Services.
Weather: You can visit the Galapagos anytime of year. The seasons are simply Wet and Dry, that’s it! When we asked the Naturalists what time of year was the best to visit, surprisingly each of them described a different time of year they liked best. We were there mid December and the weather was great!
Interesting Facts about the World in general we learned from our Naturalists:
95% of the ocean has never been explored!
71% of our planet is water & it’s the largest habitat on earth!
Only 1% of volcano activity is above water!
Our planet’s water: 97% is salt water, 3% is fresh!
20% of the protein eaten world wide comes from the ocean!
50% of our oxygen produced comes from the ocean!
What is so special about the Galapagos?
- Well, as we said above- finding rare creatures that are non-existent anywhere else on the planet is pretty special, but there’s more!
- The islands in the Galapagos are strictly preserved and because they have been, one of our guides, who is a native of the Galapagos, told us that the islands were the same as when he was a kid… This is incredible as most places on earth have been influenced by growth and overpopulation. Very rare!
- We saw this to be true because even with the amount of tourism yearly, when you step onto one of the islands you’d swear there wasn’t one person there the days prior- it’s so pristine!
- That’s because we have to stay close to our guide and not go outside the walking trails so not to spoil the land. Actually, you can’t even enter the Galapagos without a naturalist guide.
- There is no commercial fishing in the Galapagos making the waters a perfect home for many marine life and a mecca for snorkeling and diving. We snorkeled everyday, sometimes twice and couldn’t wait to do it to again to find out what we were going to see next, like this (its a terrible picture we took with a cheap underwater camera, but you can tell it’s a reef shark):
- Another unique thing is that the animals in the Galapagos are not aggressive like in other parts of the world. They don’t have to be because they have few predators and there is an abundance of food for all of the animals to survive…
- …this means that they are very relaxed and not bothered by us humans coming semi-close to see them. That’s PERFECT for us because the animals do not frighten or run away. They just sit there and let you admire them. Amazing!
Just have a look at all the creatures next to us in the picture below:
- What also makes the Galapagos Islands so special is its location. It gets favorable currents from several surrounding ecosystems that brings in a rich array of species to the Galapagos. So get your cameras ready!!
During our Galapagos Cruise we boarded zodiacs and got to partake in excursions like:
1. To embark Lindblad’s National Geographic Endeavor ship we took a zodiac ride out to the ship – usually we board a ship from the dock, so this was unique because it was the first time we have done that in 45 cruises!
2. Having beach time. On top of taking a dip in the turquoise warm waters with sea lions, we saw TONS of wildlife. Giant turtles, birds like blue footed boobies and Frigate’s (like below), flamingos, pelicans, iguanas, crabs and so much more!
Check out this Frigate bird, isn’t he incredible!
3. Going close to shorelines in search of wildlife and birds. We took lots of pictures of penguins, turtles and many gracious birds that hugged the shoreline. Sea lions came to check us out too!
4. Landing on and hiking various unspoiled islands with vast differences. Some were more lush, some attracted one animal, plant or bird over another. Each time we stepped onto an island we were surprised with something new!
Check out the two pictures below. Notice the fresh volcanic rock on one Island verses the other mountainous sandy Island covered in plant life.
5. We snorkeled most days and got to swim with sharks, sea turtles, sea lions, various colorful fish and more! (If you didn’t want to snorkel you always have the option to explore by a zodiac tour so you won’t miss anything). Here is Shawn getting ready to enjoy snorkeling one afternoon.
6. We went to a town and did a little shopping AND
7. We went to a place that is populated with Giant Tortoises and got to see them in their natural habitat. Amazing!
Onboard we got to do unique things like:
A. Cross the Equator at sunset
B. Attended interesting lectures onboard the ship specific to the Galapagos.
C. Land on a 200,000 year old dormant volcano.
D. Step off the ship onto a glass bottom boat to see what was underneath.
E. Circle a large rock formation (see picture below) looking for marine life like whales and dolphins (well ok, you caught us- AND enjoy a glass of bubbly.) lol
and much more!
What should I pack in my suitcase?
The cruise line will send you a packing list and reading below along with that list will make everything crystal clear about what to pack!
Nancy made a mistake on our first day and wore a spaghetti strap shirt on a hike- not good! You really should “at the least” wear a t-shirt that covers your shoulders since you will be in the sun for HOURS each and every day. KEEP IN MIND- you will be near the equator…
…the staff wear long sleeve shirts and pants during long hikes and exploring. We would suggest doing the same. At the least, have a set just in case you get burned one day.
A pair of shoes that act as a combined water and hiking shoe are the BEST option as you will do a wet landing (stepping out of the zodiac to ankle level in water) hike at times, like this…
All you need to do is bring a pair of socks in your pocket to change into for the hike and you will be good to go. An example of a great pair of water shoes would be these:
Wet suits are provided for snorkeling which is great for warmth, sun protection and provides great flotation. Bring form fitting clothes (bathing suit or similar) to wear underneath.
Why wear a wet suit? Wet suits help you stay in the water longer as your body losses heat more quickly without it- meaning less snorkeling time… Oh no!
**If you don’t have water shoes (we didn’t but highly recommended them) and are planning to bring sneakers- be prepared to get them dirty, so save your oldest pair of runners or hiking shoes for this trip, don’t bother with a new pair. Have those for the plane ride home and pitch the old ones at the end of your trip- that’s what we did!
Bring a good underwater camera– and NOT a disposable one like we did. We SO regretted not having a quality underwater camera like a GoPro, etc. but regardless- we did get to see these fascinating creatures and MUCH more!
The ship is very casual dress-wise so pack for water and hiking activities for the daytime and then bring a couple of casual outfits to refresh in for dinner. Simple.
For the ladies: if you are sensitive to air conditioning bring a light jacket or similar to wear onboard in common areas like the dining room. You’ll want it anyways for the airplane as they can get chilly too.
Bring a backpack! You will need to keep your hands free while getting on and off the zodiacs, so a backpack large enough to fit sunscreen, water bottle, camera and runners (if you don’t have water shoes) will do the trick!
More Tips & Things You Should Know Before Going to the Galapagos:
It is recommended to be in good health and have the stability to hike about uneven terrain to take this cruise. If not, this may not be the cruise for you as hiking the Islands to explore is a big part of the trip…
…That said, they give you a choice of a shorter hike and alternatives to water activities for those who just want to do a little exercise or are not comfortable with getting wet.
Do NOT bring a selfie stick, they are prohibited because it invades the animals space.
But, bring your camera! A professional photo instructor is always available to help you take pictures and share tips to taking better shots. So if you want to learn how to take better pictures… there is no better opportunity!
In the Galapagos:
Drink lots of water! You will be in the tropics in very warm weather and being dehydrated can cause low energy and headaches, so drink up!
Sunscreen is your friend as the sun is really hot. BUT as explained already, it is recommended to wear clothes to cover your skin over applying sunscreen as you will be spending lots of time outdoors.
Now you are in the know for your Galapagos cruise! 🙂
In summary, you can see more of our pictures and videos here and we would also recommend adding in a trip to Machu Picchu, Peru if you have the time (all the Cruiselines offer it as an add on) as this trip would not be compete without a visit there. Check out our pictures of our time in Machu Picchu.
Stay tuned for next month’s post all about our trip to Machu Picchu (here it is) and get more great tips to better your experience while there. The more you know ahead of time, the less headaches & better time you will have.
We Appreciate You!
Nancy & Shawn
Your Trusted Cruise Experts!