What Do I Need To Know Before Going on a Galapagos Cruise?

by on 15th September, 2023

A Galapagos Cruise is a once-in-a-lifetime adventure.

Follow Charles Darwin’s footsteps through a wildlife-rich and dramatic volcanic landscape. So take the pressure out of planning your Galapagos cruise with these travel tips.

You’ll find everything you need to know before you go to this paradise. We’ll cover everything from the big questions like when to go to the details like seasickness that can make or break a holiday.

The answer to what you need to know before going to the Galapagos Islands is simple: this travel guide.



Why Should I Visit the Galapagos Islands?

UNESCO has listed the Galapagos Islands as an ‘Outstanding Universal Value’ to humankind and Earth. Travellers visiting the Galapagos Islands will immerse themselves in a pristine environment where animals are unafraid of people.

Nowhere else on the planet feels like this Eden. The emblematic tortoises and Darwin finches are just two of the many fantastic species that call the Galapagos home. The still-active Sierra Negra volcano and its enormous crater show Earth’s raw power. In short, visiting the Galapagos is stepping into nature’s laboratory and touching evolution.


How Do I Get to the Galapagos Islands?

For Galapagos cruises, people need first to head to mainland Ecuador. Here, you overnight in Quito or Guayaquil before catching an early morning flight to one of two Galapagos Islands airports, usually booked by the cruise ship.

Most flights head to Baltra airport on Santa Cruz island, with some heading to the archipelago’s capital, San Cristobal, and its airport.



How To Plan the Best Galapagos Cruise

We recommend the following steps to ensure your Galapagos cruise is perfect:

  • Book early—you’ll get the best choice of cabins, routes, and boats because spaces go fast.
  • Choose when to travel according to your interests. Most Galapagos animals are there year-round, but whales or albatrosses performing their mating dance are seasonal. Read our wildlife highlights guide for more.
  • Decide if you want a cruise or a hotel-based trip.
  • Understand your budget. Galapagos is an expensive destination, but there are few expenses once aboard your cruise ship.



Know Before You Go: Getting Ready for a Galapagos Cruise

The best part of Galapagos cruises is they are open to almost anyone! From children to sprightly 90-year-olds, many people can enjoy the archipelago. Walks are short, around 1.3m/2km maximum, and require people to be on their feet for two to three hours.

You need to be able to get in and out of boats and zodiacs. Indeed, some trips are zodiac-based, so you need to be able to sit for 90-120 minutes in a zodiac while observing wildlife.

Snorkelling is a big part of the Galapagos experience, and most snorkel sites are gentle, with sea lions, fish, and penguins as companions, to name a few. Snorkels, however, are in the open sea or coves, so we recommend people try snorkelling at home before the cruise. Some boats have kayaks for people to paddle about in.

Snorkellers jump straight into the sea from the zodiac and get back into the zodiac by climbing a submerged ladder. Staff are on hand to help pull you up if there are struggles. But don’t worry; the Galapagos is a place to be natural and not worry about elegance.

And remember, pack light. You won’t need all those elegant suits and frocks on a Galapagos adventure.



What Clothes Should I Take to the Galapagos Islands?

Galapagos is warm and humid. A quick packing checklist (ask us for a more detailed packing list) would include the following:

  • Moisture wick-away or breathable T-shirts can be very useful, lightweight skirts or trousers and bathing suits.
  • One or two cotton shirts can be used to protect you from sunburn, especially when snorkelling.
  • Evening clothes, relaxed code, e.g., jeans and T-shirts, are fine.
  • A fleece, sweatshirt, and waterproof for the Highlands and on board. It can get chilly on deck when the boat is moving.
  • Strong sandals, trainers, or light hiking boots are ideal footwear. Boats often ask people to avoid bringing large boots.
  • A hat to protect from the sun’s rays.
  • Seasickness tablets.
  • An underwater camera for snorkellers.


Coral Galapagos Green Turtles Galapagos


How Do I Pay the Galapagos Entry Fee?

Every traveller has two entry fees to pay to enter the Galapagos Islands. There is a $20 fee to have your luggage checked by Sicgal (Ecuador’s inspection and quarantine system for the Galapagos) and a $100 Galapagos Park entry fee.

Anyone worried about seasickness should keep the tablets in their hand luggage.

Cruise boats usually have representatives at Quito and Guayaquil airports to help travellers pay their $20 SICGAL fee and have their luggage checked.

The Galapagos Park entry fee is paid on arrival in cash. Please take good, clean, new notes because old and tatty ones may be rejected.


What’s a Typical Day Like on A Galapagos Cruise?

Being close to the equator, days and nights in the Galapagos are both around 12 hours long. That means most days, you’ll wake around 6-7 a.m. to make the most of daylight hours.

Your guide usually explains the day’s activities at dinner the night before. That gives you time to get your kit ready, be that a swimming suit and towel for snorkelling, your walking shoes, or both.

Some people worry about the small cabins on cruises; don’t. Cabins are mainly for sleeping and showering and, thanks to packing light, that should give you all the space you need. Luxury yachts do offer balconies and more room.

After breakfast, apply plenty of sun cream, preferably biodegradable, to protect the reefs and marine life. The equatorial sun is powerful and will burn skin quickly. Take it with you and reapply frequently.



Galapagos Cruises: Out and About

Setting off, you may have a dry landing where you step from the zodiac onto a jetty. A wet landing sees folks jumping the zodiac onto a sandy beach, usually up to your knees or thighs.

Most walking tours last 2-3 hours and cover 2-3 kilometres at most, spending most of the time looking for animals and observing Galapagos’ amazing landscapes. You’ll be grateful for drinks from your water bottle, which you can fill with treated water for free at any time aboard the cruise ship.

Having swam or explored, most guides get folks back on board around 1130 a.m. to avoid the hottest part of the day and the strongest sunshine. Your crew usually has a welcoming and refreshing drink and snack ready for an energy boost. Alternatively, buy a beer from the bar if you want something celebratory.

Most folk wash up and then enjoy a relaxed lunch and perhaps a siesta. There are coffee and tea stations for a pick-me-up at any time, and then there is the afternoon activity. You’ll soon get used to the snacks on your return from exploring.

Evenings are relaxed, with time for a sundowner before dinner. You may not get much mobile phone reception, giving extra time to mingle with your fellow guests. That jacket you packed could be helpful on deck if the boat is sailing towards tomorrow’s destination. Keep an eye out for wildlife at all times. Travel binoculars are a real treasure.

Remember that most boats cater to most dietary requirements, from vegetarian to vegan to gluten-free. They do need to know in advance; forgetting to give a warning could mean minimal options because it’s impossible to restock at sea.

Read more about a day aboard a Galapagos Cruise boat.




When Is the Best Time To Visit the Galapagos Islands?

There are two distinct seasons in the Galapagos. Neither is better or worse; they are different, and there are many reasons to visit during either season.

The warm season (Jan-Jun) sees calm and warm waters (around 70°F range) with similarly sunny days (72-9°F or 22-32°C). There could be afternoon showers; snorkelling is often possible without a wetsuit in the clear waters.

The dry or ‘garua’ season (Jun-Dec) is so called because of the mist (garua) that lies on some islands in the mornings. Sea temperatures may fall to 60°F- 72°F (15-22°C), and currents might make sailings choppy. There is a lot of animal activity during these months, especially marine life, for the snorkellers.

Pro tip: Shoulder seasons like November, February, March, and May are excellent ways to avoid the peak travel season but get great weather and animals.

Check the current weather conditions and our Galapagos animals list and bird list.


Red feet of a red footed Booby Genovesa Galapagos


Know Before You Go on a Galapagos Cruise

Before you go on a Galapagos cruise, the main points to remember are to read up, book early, know what you want to see, and travel during the best season for your wish list.

Remember that Galapagos is not an elegant place. You’ll value sun cream, lightweight clothing, good Teva-type sandals, a water bottle, and a hat more than your Sunday best. You don’t have to break your budget for the best cabin on luxury boats because much of your time is on deck or the islands.

Physically, you’ll need to be able to last 2-3 hours on your feet for the walks, get in and out of zodiac boats from the main cruise vessel, and then out of the zodiacs onto a beach or jetty. Snorkellers need to climb a ladder to return to the zodiacs. In short, Galapagos is accessible to most active people.

Have you been inspired to visit the Galapagos Islands? Contact us for more.



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