The Galapagos Islands have so much to offer: wildlife like nowhere else in the world; ideal weather year-round; and the best small-ship, expedition-style cruises. However, there are dozens of different cruises in the Galapagos, and navigating which option is the best fit for you, from vessel types and sizes to the countless itinerary options, can be a daunting task. What is the best Galapagos cruise size? What are the best islands to visit on a Galapagos cruise? How long should my Galapagos cruise be? These are all questions I get frequently, and the answers aren’t the same for every traveler. Fortunately, at Knowmad Adventures we are well acquainted with the pros and cons of every Galapagos cruise ship and itinerary that we can help you answer the most important question: what is the best cruise and itinerary for me?
Read on for our tips on how to choose the proper class and size of boat, as well as the best duration & islands for your itinerary.
There are three different classes of boat that Knowmad Adventures works with and that we would suggest cruising on: luxury class, first class, and tourist superior. We do not suggest boats below the tourist superior class as this is where you will really see a drop in quality of the guides on board, both in terms of knowledge and language ability, as well as a drop in quality of balanced and well-planned itineraries, and also of food and cabins. Take a look at the differences below between the three classes we do recommend!
Luxury Class ($800 to $1,000 per person per day)
Luxury cruises are the nicest in the Galapagos. They have the most spacious and comfortable cabins, generally, with king-size beds, gourmet food, jacuzzis, and some even feature private balconies and included alcohol choices. Most also have kayaks on board and include wetsuits in the rate. One of the biggest differentiators is that most small luxury ships have a cruise director on board, where first & tourist superior generally just have the guide & captain. The cruise director has an extra eye on the needs of the travelers, making sure everyone’s well taken care of and enjoying their trip. Like any luxury experience, they do come with a price tag, but occasionally you can find discounts.
First Class ( $600 to $700 per person per day)
First class cruises are just one step down from luxury, in terms of price and how nice your cabin and boat are. These are some of Knowmad’s favorite boats because you can find a lot of variety within this class. There are many first class boats offering a luxury level experience but on a first class vessel and with a first class price tag. However, there are also many that really should be calling themselves a tourist superior option instead, so it’s important to work with a Trip Specialist who has inspected cruises and knows the best first class boats out there.
Overall, if working with a good first class boat, the biggest differences you will find between first and luxury class is the variety and level of food, spaciousness and luxury of the cabins, and the amenities on board. For example, most first class boats do not include wetsuits in the rate, but instead provide them for rent at an extra charge on board.
Tourist Superior Class ($400 to $600 per person per day)
If working with a tighter budget, there are several fantastic tourist superior options out there. The cabins are generally quite small, but you spend most your time outside of the cabin on the different sun decks or on the islands exploring in the Galapagos anyways. The food will be good, but not anything to write home about either. However, the Galapagos is about the incredible wildlife and the beautiful outdoors, and the most important thing is being on a reliable boat with a great guide and itinerary. Knowmad knows the tourist superior options out there that achieve this while providing an incredible experience for your dollar.
Ready to take a look at our favorite cruises in each class? Read our Top 10 Galapagos Cruises article, or reach out to a Knowmad Trip Specialist today to make sure you get the most up-to-date information on the best in each class.
From 4 days to 15 days, there are many different Galapagos cruise durations to choose from. Let’s take a look!
3 night / 4 day Cruise
We personally feel that this duration is just really too short. Your plane ticket out to the Galapagos Islands will average around $500 to $550, so it is really best to take advantage of it once you are there and opt for a cruise with a longer duration than this. However, this duration is fantastic when pairing with a land-based Galapagos experience, like Knowmad’s Land-Based Active Adventure or our Ultimate Galapagos Island Hopping trip. Three nights on a cruise plus three to four nights on land can be a spectacular and varied way to see the Galapagos.
4 night / 5 day Cruise
Five days is really the best minimum duration. If you are trying to see the Galapagos in a short time span, wanting to save time for mainland Ecuador or a combo trip with Machu Picchu, but still want to get the most out of your time there, five-day cruises are great options. They’re also great for those who aren’t interested as much in snorkeling.
5 night / 6 day cruise
In our opinion, this is really a fantastic cruise duration. They are less expensive than 8-day cruises by quite a bit, but give you nearly a full week on board, and allow you to really see and experience the islands. Many cruises do not offer this duration, and as it’s primarily just the small ship size that do, you’ll want to plan well in advance. Small ships are the only ones currently to offer this duration, but a few larger vessels offer similar 7-day itineraries.
7 night / 8 day cruise
For many, the main drawback of 8-day cruises is the price tag. If the price is manageable for you, then you are in for a treat and guaranteed an incredible week full of new discoveries each day. Eight days is considered the traditional, full-length Galapagos program where you can hit all the highlight species. If you don’t like swimming or snorkeling, but are wanting an 8-day Galapagos cruise, I’d suggest choosing a mid-size to larger ship where you’ll have other activity options during marine excursions.
Have you figured out your ideal cruise duration? Or do you need some more advice to narrow it down? Connect with an expert Galapagos Islands Trip Specialist to start taking a look at the best cruises for you.
In the world of cruising, all of the ships in the Galapagos are considered small expedition cruises. The largest size allowed to cruise through the Galapagos is 100 passengers. Within that under 100 passenger size, we’ve broken the ships down into three size categories: Small vessels of 20 passengers or fewer, mid-size ships of 30 to 50 passengers, and finally the larger ships of 90 to 100 passengers. You are guaranteed a great Galapagos cruise experience with any of the ships we work with, but of course there are advantages and disadvantages to each size that may make one a better fit.
Large Vessels (90 to 100 passengers)
- More amenities: Some larger ships have glass bottom boats, gyms and/or spas, and a wider variety of food selection.
- More guides: More passengers means more guides, and although you have more travelers sharing common spaces, group sizes are still small and large ships often have some of the best passenger-to-guide ratios, usually around 12:1
- Less movement in rough waters: When compared to a 16 passenger yacht, the larger ships can take some rocky seas better, so it’s often a good fit in the rockier months of late July through October or for those prone to sea sickness.
- While the boats do a good job of getting everyone off the ship for excursions in an efficient manner, there’s naturally going to be more time spent getting groups organized and off the vessel, into the zodiac boats and off on excursions.
- Less intimate & personalized: Unlike on the smallest vessels, you’re not likely to share dinner with your guide and get to know each traveler on board.
A Good Fit For: Less active travelers, families, and those prone to sea sickness. I like the larger ships especially for the less active traveler or for the traveler that doesn’t want to snorkel. Being on a ship both with multiple guides (and hence the ability to split travelers into groups based on fitness level) and with glass bottom boats is great for those looking to enjoy the Galapagos at most fitness levels. Some large ships also have special programs for kids, like Metropolitan’s Pirates Aboard Program, so I also find they’re a fun fit for many families with kids under 12. You’re also more likely to have other kids on board.
Small Vessels (12 to 20 passengers)
- Efficient: With fewer travelers on board, it’s easy to get on and off the ship and out on excursions quickly.
- More intimate, private & personalized with fewer guests & staff on board.
- Easier charter capabilities for group of friends or a multi-generational family trip.
- More choice: By far this is the most popular size in the Galapagos, so there are options to match all different budgets, itineraries, duration preferences, dates, etc., and there’s often a small ship out there running a discount.
- Some smaller ships can experience more movement in rockier waters. If you’re prone to seasickness yet want to be on a small vessel, I suggest a catamaran, luxury monohull with stabilizers, or avoiding the late July through October timeframe.
- The vast majority of these boats are 16 passengers and just one guide. This leaves little flexibility to divide the group up based on ages or fitness levels. If a snorkeling excursion is planned and you don’t want to snorkel, your alternative options are generally to stay on board, or sometimes to do a zodiak ride accompanied by other cruise staff. If you want a small ship but multiple guides, there are a few 20 passenger ships out there with 2 guides (most only with 8-day itineraries).
A Good Fit For: Since you find the widest variety of prices & durations in this category and the efficiency and intimacy of these small expedition vessels is a nice pro, we often recommend this size for most travelers, except those with limited mobility, little desire to snorkel, or a desire for some of the large ship amenities and/or programs designed for kids.
Mid-size Vessels (30 to 50 passengers)
- Mid-size ships have many of the pros of larger ships, like more amenities and multiple guides on board, while maintaining the intimacy of smaller vessels as well.
- The biggest con in this size is the availability. There are only a small handful of mid-size ships with limited itinerary/duration options and they fill quickly, and most fall in a higher price range.
A Good Fit For: Those who want the amenities of a larger ship with the intimacy of a smaller vessel. More options in the luxury class price range.
Are you ready to start looking at some cruise options? Contact a Trip Specialist who will help you narrow down the best fits for you and run a thorough availability check on the best cruises out there within your preferences.
My biggest recommendation for any traveler looking to plan a trip to the Galapagos is to not get too hung up on the ins and outs of itineraries (that’s your Trip Specialist’s job, and it’s taken them years to understand the intricacies of each visitor site, so don’t pull your hair out trying to become an expert in a few weeks!). Pay attention to it, but don’t let your concern over the perfect itinerary prevent you from doing any trip at all, especially when looking at a fixed window of time to travel and/or with limited availability. I often hear travelers say, “My friend went and said I have to go to the Western Islands,” while my next call will say, “My cousin who’s been said I need to do a northern itinerary.” The fact is the Galapagos wildlife is incredible anywhere you go (so most travelers come back convinced you have to go to the islands where they went), but anyone doing a cruise on a reputable ship will have an incredible wildlife experience.
However, I do always want to ask my travelers what their priorities are for their Galapagos trip. Is it important to see penguins? Have you dreamed of walking next to a blue-footed booby? Is it on your bucket list to swim with a sea lion? Is snorkeling your main activity or interest, or do you not like to swim? These are important things for the Trip Specialist planning your trip to know.
If that up & close experience with a blue footed booby is high on your list of experiences you want, I suggest including North Seymour or Española in your trip. You’ll often see blue-footed boobies on any trip in the Galapagos, but at some visitor sites it’s more common to see them along the rocky shores or flying in the air. These two spots are known for their large colonies of blue-footed boobies.
Española is also a birding highlight from April to December as nearly the entire world population of around 25,000 to 30,000 waved albatross flock to this one island. Watch their clumsy behavior on land and an elaborate mating dance.
While you won’t find the famed blue-footed booby here, Genovesa is also referred to as ‘Bird Island’. Its steep cliffs make for a perfect home for a variety of seabirds and is one of the only spots where you’ll see a large colony of the lesser-known red-footed boobies.
Finally, if it’s important for you to see penguins, this is one of those species where you do really need to pay attention to your itinerary as they’re only found in certain areas. The best place to guarantee seeing them is on an itinerary to Isabela, especially the western side. They are also commonly found on Bartolome and Chinese Hat (Santiago Island).
There are incredible snorkeling experiences throughout the Galapagos Islands and on most any Galapagos itinerary. But again, if snorkeling is the main driver of your trip, there are a few sites that are more highlights than others. The western side of Isabela is particularly known for snorkeling, especially at Vicente Roca, Tagus Cove, and Fernandina Island (although, just because your cruise visits Fernandina, doesn’t mean they offer it as a snorkeling instead of land excursion). When snorkeling on the western side of Isabela, expect to snorkel with sea turtles and possibly sea lions, and on Fernandina, penguins or even iguanas.
Devil’s Crown on Floreana is another snorkeling highlight. An underwater volcanic crater, it’s home to a variety of marine life from colorful fish to eels, sharks, rays, and sea turtles, and the sea lions often come to swim as well.
Genovesa and Bartolome also have great spots for snorkeling, and San Cristobal and Santa Fe especially have good visitor sites for snorkeling with sea lions.
The tortoises are found many places in the Galapagos, but one of the best places to see large tortoises up close and in their natural habitat is in the highlands of Santa Cruz. You can even ask your Trip Specialist about a stay at Magic Galapagos, where you can stay in safari-style tents with tortoises lumbering around outside. San Cristobal also has a great visitor site to see tortoises in the wild, and you can see generally smaller numbers at Urbina Bay on Isabela and the highlands of Floreana.
Insider’s tip: Just because you visit a particular island, doesn’t mean you’ll go to the visitor site you may be interested in. For example, not all cruises going to Floreana go for Devil’s Crown. It’s a fantastic stop for history & culture as well. But, if you want to be going to Devil’s Crown, pay attention not just to the island but the visitor site you’ll be going to. Most importantly, express your wishes to your Trip Specialist, so they can take charge of pairing your wish list to the best itinerary for you.
Now that you know what to consider when choosing your boat and cruise duration, let’s look at our top 10 Galapagos cruise guide to see which is the best fit for you!
Ready to get some personalized advice on picking the best Galapagos cruise and options tailored to your own interests? The Trip Specialists at Knowmad will help you navigate the different boat options, itineraries, and seasonal differences, coordinating Galapagos and mainland Ecuador travel for a holistic, seamless and safe experience, all at a guaranteed best value. If you’re interested in crafting a custom trip to the Galapagos Islands, reach out today at 612-315-2894, or fill out the short form below. We can check itineraries, dates, and availability for our favorite boats and send you over the best fits for you.
Renee is a Trip Specialist at Knowmad Adventures, a company dedicated to creating unique, private and custom trips in South America. She lived in Mexico for over 3 years and is excited to help Knowmad travelers discover the wonderful impact not just travel, but really experiencing a different country and culture can have on your life. Read Renee’s biography and more about the Knowmad team.