Choosing a cruise

This set of pages offers some things to consider as you make probably the most important decision of your trip—how to travel around the islands.  It’s certainly not an exhaustive list, but it presents some issues I came across in our trip or in talking with other people about their experiences.  Should you do a live-aboard cruise or a land-based tour with day trips to various islands?  What kind of things should you think about when considering all of the options for live-aboard cruises?  Assuming you can’t get to all of the islands, what islands are best known for unusual species?  What about other “must see” aspects of the islands?  Keep in mind these are just my opinions and our experiences, mixed with some of what I’ve learned from other people.  Perhaps these points will help you to think about what’s really important to you on your trip. 

I cover these topics on the pages here.  You can use the page numbers at the bottom of this page to skip around to the various topics.

  • Land-based travel or a naturalist cruise?  (p. 2)
  • Some general cruise considerations (p. 3)
  • Some more specific cruise considerations (p. 4)
  • The cruise itself (p. 5)
  • A spreadsheet to help you choose an itinerary (p. 6)
  • Choosing a boat (p. 7)
  • Unique species by island (p. 8)
  • Other island specialties (p. 8)

70 Responses to Choosing a cruise

  1. Echo says:

    Hi Tina,
    Thank you so much for taking the time reply to me, I really appreciate it! I must say, if I hadn’t read your blog, I would think the Xavier itinerary was great and go for it, but thanks to your great input, I had a brief idea of where we want to go and which itinerary to look for, which is really important.

    Many thanks to you again. Take care!
    Echo

    Like

  2. Echo says:

    Dear Tina,
    Thank you so much for your wonderful blog, I’ve learned so much from your detailed, thoughtful, well informed post. I am sure you’ve helped a lot of people who are like me, who are the first-timer to Galapogas islands. Great job!

    My husband and I are going there on nov.8. We are now in process of choosing a boat to do a 8-day cruise, I am glad I read your post about which one to choose, I agree, the itinerary is very important. We are interested in “Xavier”, however i am not so sure about their itinerary, which does not include the islands you mentioned, I am copying it here, I would love to hear your advices.

    SUN San Cristobal Airport, El Junco
    MON San Cristobal: Punta Pitt, Kicker Rock
    TUE Santiago: Espumilla Beach, Buccaneer Cove
    WED Santa Cruz: Charles Darwin Station, Highlands
    THU Chinese hat, Black Turtle cove
    FRI Santa Cruz: Dragon Hill, Daphne
    SAT Plazas, Santa Fe
    SUN Interpretation centre, San Cristobal airport

    Thank you so much for your help!
    Best,
    Echo

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    • Tina says:

      Hi, Echo–

      In my opinion, this isn’t a great 7-night itinerary. You never really leave the central islands, most of which (with the exception of Sombrero Chino, can all be visited by day trips. With such increased human traffic, the wildlife live further from the paths and are less approachable than they are on the most distant islands. Also, the itinerary has you spending 6 of the 8 days on 2 of the 3 inhabited islands. Not what I’d look for…

      It’s an okay itinerary, but it really doesn’t hit even one of the most spectacular, more distant islands where the wildlife are truly stunning. If it’s all you can afford (time- or money-wise), it’s probably a decent trip. But if it were me, I’d do more searching to find an itinerary that visits fewer of the central islands and get you to at least 2 of the 4 furthest-out islands (Genovesa, Isabela, Fernandina, Española), where the archipelago really shows her wonders.

      Tina

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  3. Rimma Aronov says:

    Tina, I cannot underestimate your input and thank you enough for your help and insight.
    I wanted to ask for your help with tweaking my itinerary before I purchase plane tickets.
    I booked a 7 day cruise with Ecoventura in June of next year, June 21-28, itinerary B, as you suggested. After doing some research on what we will be missing on this itinerary, I came up with these additions:

    1. Arrive in Equador and spend the night near airport.
    2. Fly to Galapagos, San Cristabol, for a two night stay. Spend the rest of the day exploring the island on our own, swim, etc.
    3. Scuba diving/snorkeling trip to Kicker Rock (possibly with the WRECK BAY DIVE SHOP)
    4. Board the cruise
    5. Disembark the cruise ship on the evening before the cruise ends, while in Santa Cruz (Ecoventura people said we would not be missing anything of value if we left the ship after dinner on Saturday night. They would then just travel to San Cristabol to finish up there on Sunday morning).
    6. Day trip to Bartolome from Santa Cruz
    7. Day trip to North Seymor from Santa Cruz, possibly a diving trip
    8. Depart from Santa Cruz after a three night stay.

    When I talked to Ecoventura people, they seemed to think that visiting Bartolome and North Seymor after the cruise is not really worth it, as it will not add anything new to the trip. They say we will have seen everything already on other islands. They suggest adding day trips only for the purpose of diving, if that is what I want to do. I am not sure if that opinion would be shared by you and other Galapagos enthusiasts. Although I do not have a purpose of seeing every bird and iguana and turtle and fish species that lives on Galapagos, I wouldn’t want to miss those animals that are a “must see” because of bad luck or bad weather. But I also don’t want to go through the trouble and expense of additional pre- or post cruse trips if they would add absolutely nothing to the overall experience. What do you think?

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    • Tina says:

      Hi, Rimma–

      I’m with the Ecoventura folks. Most people do a day trip to Bartolomé to snorkel/swim with the penguins. (A small group move between that island and Sombrero Chino.) But you’ll have seen lots of them around Isabela and Fernandina, which is where the largest population lives. Bartolomé also has a lovely viewpoint at the top of the extinct volcano, but I don’t think it’s worth the money for just that experience. You can see the view on just about any postcard of the archipelago. (It’s allegedly the most photographed spot in the islands.) :)

      Also, since you’ll have seen the marvelous seabird breeding colonies on Genovesa, I think the colonies on N. Seymour will be a bit of a letdown. At least on our first trip, which included both Genovesa and N. Seymour, that’s very much how I felt. You may also do some snorkeling around N. Seymour on a day trip but again–you’ll have had much better snorkeling opportunities around Isabela and Fernandina. I doubt you’d see any new species on either of these day trips.

      It sounds like you have a marvelous trip ahead of you. I bet you can hardly wait!

      Tina

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  4. Brenda Beatty says:

    I am so glad to have found your blog, i don’t need to go anywhere else, other than the links you provide! You Rock!

    Like

  5. Karin says:

    what an amazing website, and thanks for sharing your experiences and trips!! We are planning to extend our Ecuador trip with 8 days Galapagos. looks like there will be just the 3 of us, and we really liked the idea of the Ecoventura boats (size, good guides, dates)… unfortunately they’re full. So two questions – what would you recommend as the next best thing, and is there a travel agent who could find out which actually still have availability and leave on the 28th of December? (over NYE, so I assume very busy). Thanks!

    Like

    • Tina says:

      Hi, Karin–

      Yes, you’ve picked just about the busiest time in the archipelago, I’m sorry to say. The Dec. holidays tend to get booked 1 and 2 years in advanced, especially the most popular boats (which Ecoventura’s ELF fleet surely is).

      As for travel organizations, I’ve read good things about Happy Gringo and Columbus Travel. And of course, we worked with Heather at CNH Tours for our 2nd trip. She was great. You might contact all 3 (all have good Web sites) and see who responds the fastest and in a style that you like–and take it from there (quickly!).

      Good luck with your search.

      Tina

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  6. Kathleen says:

    Hi Tina,

    Thank you so much for your invaluable blog. I have learned so much from you already!

    I know that you prefer the smaller boats for Galapagos travel, but we are thinking of going on one of the larger ships in order to accommodate the various needs of our travel group (me, my husband, our then-12 year old, my in-laws, our friends and their then 12-year old, and their solo traveler friend). In particular, we really want an opportunity for the kids to meet and interact with a variety of other kids, and to have a bit of ship to roam when we are on board. In addition, I think a little extra space can sometimes promote harmony on an extended family trip. :) We were on a 65 passenger wildlife cruise in Alaska with National Geographic/Lindblad recently, and felt fine with that number of passengers.

    Do you know of a good source of information, besides TripAdvisor, for finding detailed information and trip reviews of the larger ships? I am currently thinking that the National Geographic Endeavor is probably the best option for our diverse party, but I would love to explore other options.

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    • Tina says:

      Hi, Kathleen–

      The larger boats clearly have their place in the Galápagos and your situation sounds perfect for one–and the Endeavour is a lovely boat. If you haven’t already checked it, you might look at Cruise Critic: http://www.cruisecritic.com/ . You can find sales literature from the companies, member reviews, and forums that have threads about specific boats. The easiest thing probably is to type in “galapagos” (no quotation marks) into the search box on the home page to see what links come up. Cruise Critic seems to feature the larger boats (48+ passengers) rather than the smaller boats. So you may find some helpful suggestions there. Good luck in your search!

      Tina

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  7. Rimma Aronov says:

    Hello, Tina!
    I am SO glad I came across your site – such a wealth of information!
    I would love to hear your advice on the trip I am planning. I and my four children, ages 8 to 21, will be traveling to Galapagos next year, most likely in the second half of June. I certainly want this to be the trip of a lifetime for them. They are all well travelled and well behaved children, interested in nature and science, as well as photography. Would you have particular recommendations on a cruise/vendor to go with? Are there some interesting options for a two-three day pre-cruise adventure? Is mid to late June a good choice as far as seeing most of wild life? Will the water be too cold for swimming? Should we lean toward an Southern/Central or Western?Northern itineraries (these are the two options on Ecoventura website which is one I am considering so far)? Thank you in advance for your time,
    Rimma

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    • Tina says:

      Hi, Rimma–

      Ecoventura operates a terrific fleet of ships, affectionately known as ELF. They are well known for arranging their departures so that similar groups travel together (e.g., families, older adults, younger adults). I think it’s a great choice for families–the naturalist guides are respected for their good skills with kids. I personally think that the NW itinerary is among the best in the islands, since it gets you to 3 of the 4 most distant islands–Genovesa (wonderful sea bird breeding colonies), Isabela & Fernandina (the westernmost islands with terrific snorkeling). Most itineraries only get to 2 of the 4, so you get a bonus on the NW itinerary (I think they call it itinerary B).

      If you have a few days to spend pre-cruise, I personally would recommend flying into Quito and doing a couple of day trips around there. Quito is a lovely city with many fascinating options in town and a short ways out of town (e.g., Cotopaxi, Mindo in the cloud forest, the markets at Otavalo). You’ll have seen the best the archipelago has to offer on your cruise (in my opinion), and we have really enjoyed Quito on our 2 trips. Also, if you spend a few days on the mainland before you head to the islands, your luggage will have a chance to catch up with you should it miss your connections. If you have to head to the archipelago before your luggage, it will have a hard time catching up with you on the cruise.

      The wildlife do wonderful things every month of the year, so no worries there. The water, especially around the western islands, will be a bit cool but not too cold. You might bring wet suits (shorties will be fine) or see if the boat you’re on offers them for rent. We brought ours on our last trip and I was glad I had it. Not only does it offer a bit of warmth but it adds some buoyancy for those of us who are not terribly confident swimmers. And it keeps you warmer on the panga rides after snorkeling. Lots of benefits!

      I’m so glad you’ve found the blog helpful. Thanks for letting me know and have a grand time planning this marvelous adventure!

      Tina

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      • Rimma Aronov says:

        Tina, thank you again for your input. I made a reservation with Ecoventura for their itinerary B at the end of June. Now, after reading your replies to others on this blog, I am all paranoid that we will miss out on snorkeling with the sea lions. It sounds like they pretty much stay in the Eastern part of the archipelago. Or do they stray off to the NW parts too?

        Another question: do you think it is worth staying an extra day post cruise on St. Critobal where we disembark? Is it an interesting island to explore? Can we move around without a guide? Or maybe there are some day trips from this island which would fill in on what we missed on the NW itinerary?

        Rimma

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      • Tina says:

        Hi, Rimma–

        You won’t see many sea lions along the western islands, although we did see a few–I think at Tagus Cove and Punta Vicente Roca. We also saw some on Fernandina, but not while we were snorkeling. Just not many of the vast sandy beaches that they love to hang out on. However, the NW itinerary also stops at Rábida, which (at least when we were there) was just crawling with sea lions sunning along the red sand beach. Most itineraries snorkel there too. Also, they’re often found around the various Santa Cruz snorkeling spots, since that island has a lot of sandy beaches.

        I don’t know much about Puerto Baquerizo on San Cristóbal (we avoided the towns as much as we could), but you can do some day trips around that island there. You can’t do day trips to other islands from San Cristóbal, though–you can only get those from Santa Cruz. You might contact the agency you booked with to ask them what the options for San Cristóbal are. Or look around on TripAdvisor–folks have written about the fun things there. One great option, if you can arrange it, is a day trip to snorkel at Kicker Rock. That spot gets terrific reviews. But it gets filled up fast, so see if you can book it ahead of time.

        So, bottom line–you should have chances to snorkel with sea lions on Ecoventura’s NW itinerary–just not too many likely around the lava coasts of Isabela & Fernandina.

        Tina

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  8. Morag Campion says:

    Hi Tina,
    Can I please add my thanks to you for so much useful information!

    We are planning a last minute trip to the Galapagos in October this year. We are fairly flexible with dates and my husband is keen on just making our way to Quito and trying to find a late deal – but I’m a bit nervous about that as I don’t really want to end up on a very grotty boat that no-one else wants!!
    So I’ve been researching and have come up with a few good bargain that are within our budget. My favourite so far is on the Galaxy because they are offering a 10 or 11 day option and with most of the others it is a choice between 7 or 14 nights. But we would need to choose between Itinerary A + B which is 10 days or B+C which is 11. My husband doesn’t really want to fork out for A + B + C which is 14 nights and I actually think that may be a bit long anyway. Obviously there then has to be a sacrifice and I can’t decide on what to leave out! We’d welcome your advice.
    We like snorkeling a lot (and are both certified divers but can’t really spare the time and money to go to Wolf and Darwin so have decided to stick with snorkeling) and are more interested in what’s on the land and in the sea rather than in what’s in the air – though I do want to see the frigate birds puff out their chests!!
    I’ve copied the itineraries here:
    A
    SAN CRISTOBAL PM LOBOS ISLAND / KICKED ROCK
    ESPANOLA AM GARDNER BAY /GARDNER ISLAND/OSBORN ISLET
    ESPANOLA PM SUAREZ POINT
    FLOREANA AM POST OFFICE BAY
    FLOREANA PM CORMORANT POINT/DEVIL’S CROWN
    SANTA FE AM SANTA FE
    PLAZAS SUR PM SOUTH PLAZA
    SANTA CRUZ AM CHARLES DARWIN STATION

    B
    SANTA CRUZ PM CHATO / TWINS
    ISABELA AM TINTORERAS
    ISABELA PM BREEDING CENTER/HUMEDALES /MURO DE LAS LAGRIMAS
    ISABELA AM ELIZABETH BAY
    ISABELA PM URBINA BAY
    ISABELA AM TAGUS COVE
    FERNANDINA PM ESPINOZA POINT
    SANTIAGO AM EGAS PORT
    SANTIAGO PM ESPUMILLA BEACH/CALETA BUCANERO
    SANTA CRUZ AM DRAGON HILL

    C
    SANTA CRUZ PM BLACK TURTLE COVE
    RABIDA AM
    RABIDA SOMBRERO CHINOPM CHINESES HAT
    SEYMOUR AM
    SEYMOUR MOSQUERA PM MOSQUERA
    SANTIAGO AM SULLIVAN BAY
    BARTOLOME PM BARTOLOME
    GENOVESA AM EL BARRANCO
    GENOVESA PM DARWIN BAY
    SAN CRISTOBAL AM INTERPRETATION CENTER

    Could you possibly tell us which you’d recommend as the best combination?

    The other deals I’ve found for 7 or 14 nights are on the Nemo III or the Reina Silvia but I think we’d then probably opt for 7 nights and miss a lot more.

    Many thanks

    Morag

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    • Tina says:

      Hi, Morag–

      Given your interests, I’d choose A+B. The snorkeling around Isabela and Fernandina (the westernmost islands) was spectacular on our 2nd trip. And Devil’s Crown is, according to those in the know, the best spot in the archipelago for snorkeling that ISN’T around the western islands. Kicker Rock gets really good snorkeling reviews too.

      Most of the iconic birds of the Galápagos actually ARE viewed on land or water–the sea birds. A+B will take you to the best of these–the Waved Albatross of Española. With one small exception, this is the only spot on the planet that they come to land to breed. And they are truly magnificent.

      And you’ll see plenty of Flightless Cormorants and Galápagos Penguins (two other iconic birds that are actually viewed only on land or in the water, since neither can fly) around the western islands. You’ll likely even snorkel with some penguins out there, more than once.

      However, A+B won’t get you to the best spots for seeing breeding frigatebirds (Genovesa and N. Seymour). The males inflate their bright red gular pouches primarily on their breeding grounds, as a way to attract a mate. You’ll see frigatebirds throughout the islands, but the best views of the gular pouches are in the breeding colonies. Doesn’t mean you WON’T see them, but your chances are lower.

      Tina

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  9. Marie says:

    Hello…great website. You are amazing for putting all this info together and keeping it updated.

    My question is: once I choose a cruise, how do I book the ship? I have itieneraries from travel companies and we are thinking of a trip on the queen of galapagos through gadventures.com for June 2015, but after reading your site, it looks like the price for the cruise itself for that ship is a lot less than the price from the travel company. If I were to book the same trip without gadventures, do I just contact the ship directly?

    I hope this isn’t a dumb question.

    Thank you,
    Marie

    Like

    • Tina says:

      Hi, Marie–

      Definitely NOT a dumb question! You can book the boat directly from the ship’s owner, if you’d like: http://www.queenofgalapagos.com/ . If you’re considering a pre- or post-cruise add-on (e.g., a few days in Quito or a stopover in Peru), you might want to work with a travel agency that specializes in Galápagos travel, such as Happy Gringo. Agencies such as that can help you organize all aspects of your trip in addition to the cruise.

      When comparing prices, say between Gadventures and Happy Gringo, make sure you’re comparing apples and apples. Sometimes travel organizations offer extras for the same price, so it can be hard to tell whether a higher price might actually get you more things that you’d like.

      I’m so glad you’ve found the Web site helpful! I enjoy working on it and I’m always really happy to hear when people like it.

      Tina

      Like

      • Karen says:

        Hi,
        We are looking at two boats for a Galapagos cruise in February. The Anahi for the western islands or the Seaman for the eastern islands. We have found the best price through Galapagos Last Minute. Can you give us some feedback on the two boats, which itinerary would be preferable and the reputation of the tour company?
        Thanks so much!

        Karen

        Like

      • Tina says:

        Hi, Karen–

        If you could copy the exact itineraries you’re considering, it will be easier for me to offer some comments on them. Since boats often cut their itineraries into a variety of days, I just want to make sure I’m looking at the precise itineraries you’re considering.

        Tina

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    • Marie says:

      Thank you for your prompt and informative response. Lots to think about now, but feel like I’ll be able to make informed decisions thanks to you.

      Like

  10. juli says:

    Greetings Tina! We are 2 seniors trying to plan a Galapagos trip that will not slow our cruise-mates down. Are there companies that are more sensitive to the older client? I read your advice to stick to the eastern islands. I am just afraid that I will end up sitting on the deck rather than struggling to keep up with the other passengers. Will the guides allow people to just stay on the beach rather than hiking up volcanoes?

    Like

    • juli says:

      P.S. Road Scholar dates will not work for us.

      Like

    • Tina says:

      Hi, Juli–

      One thing to note–the pace of the landings is very slow, since you’re always stopping to listen to the naturalist guide explain things and take bazillions of photos. There also are stops to just rest and taken in the wonders around you. So, for instance, you’re often out for 2 or 3 hours but only covering a couple of miles. I think the longest landing we went on was on Española to the Waved Albatross breeding colony. That outing lasted about 3 hours and covered only about 3 km. At most landings, you probably can’t just hang out on a beach by yourselves, since you always have to be with a naturalist guide when you’re on National Park land–which covers most of the archipelago except around the towns.

      If you’re still worried, you might consider one of the larger cruise ships. (In the Galápagos, the largest cruise ships are ~100 passengers–not at all like what most of us think of as “cruise ships.”) On these larger boats, you have more naturalist guides (1 guide for every 16 passengers) and you’ll have a better chance to choose less vigorous outings if you’re worried about the landings (e.g., a panga ride vs. a walk). People also tend to sort themselves into ability groups to a greater degree. You could check out this Web page to get a sense of these larger boats: http://www.galapagosislands.com/galapagos-cruise-ship.html .

      Another thing to note–you don’t routinely hike up volcanoes (which sounds really strenuous to me!). On Bartolomé, you slowly walk up ~300 wide, wooden stairs (built by the National Park and an easy climb) to the viewpoint at the top of the extinct volcano. In Puerto Villamil (Isabela), you typically take transportation to within a relatively short walk to the first lookout point on Sierra Negra. (No other volcanoes are open for landings.) Nearly all other landings are on wide, well-marked, relatively level paths. My caveat about avoiding the western islands, if you’re a bit unsteady, comes from the time you spend on the uneven lava. But even those walks are pretty flat and not strenuous (except that they can be very hot, even early in the day). And I highly recommend taking a collapsible hiking stick, which can offer you a bit of extra steadiness and a way to catch a quick rest while walking. Some boats have them on board too, so you might check on that once you decide on a boat.

      Tina

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  11. michael grabowski says:

    Hey Nick,
    I will be going to Riobamba in sept 2015 for a medical mission trip for a week. We want to do some sightseeing along with the galapagos after our mission. We may have a small group and would like your opinion on where and what to see . We should have an extra week or 10 days to tour. Of course a medium to budget cost would be ideal.

    Like

    • Tina says:

      Hi, Michael–

      For the Galápagos, I strongly recommend a naturalist cruise, if you can swing it. You get to 2 landings a day and have 1 or 2 snorkeling outings each day, compared to 1 day trip if you’re traveling land-based. You waste no time traveling between islands because the boat moves while you’re eating lunch or sleeping. Each time the boat stop, the curtain rises on your next amazing adventure. Naturalist cruises also visit the islands early in the morning and late in the afternoon, when the wildlife are most active and the light is best for photography. Day trips, because of the 2+ hours of travel time (one way), hit the landings when the sun is much harsher and the temps., higher.

      Two boats that get good reviews in the tourist-superior class (the class just below first-class) are the Samba and the Angelito. Both have excellent naturalist guides–which are critical for a marvelous trip–and give you a lot of bang for your bucks. In myh opinion, the Samba’s NW itinerary is the best itinerary currently available. Not only do you get to the stunning western islands (Isabela & Fernandina) but you snorkel at Marchena, which has had some spectacular sightings reports. No other boat, as far as I know, takes you to Marchena (a very northern island).

      Keep in mind that I’m a huge fan of naturalist cruises rather than land-based trips. People have fine times on land-based trips. However, if you really want to see the best of what the archipelago is famous for, a naturalist cruise is by far the best option.

      Tina

      Like

      • michael grabowski says:

        Do u know if they can arrange or would that include flight and possible sightseeing around riobamba ?

        Sent from my iPhone

        >

        Like

      • Tina says:

        Hi, Michael–

        The Angelito is owned by Cometa Travel, which is a travel agency based in Quito. It’s pretty common for people to want to do add-ons to a Galápagos trip (although I’m not sure that Riobomba is a common request). You can find them on the Internet and send them a question about that.

        The Samba is owned and operated by a family and I don’t think they have a travel agency connected with them. However, if you’re interested in the Samba, you might contact Happy Gringo (again, easily found on the Internet), which is another Quito-based travel agency that can help you to book a wide variety of boats and can easily arrange a Riombomba outing (I imagine). Both of these agencies get consistently good reviews for service and responsiveness.

        In general, when you book a boat for a Galápagos naturalist cruise, they arrange the flight from the mainland of Ecuador to the archipelago and back again. The boat operators want everyone on the boat to arrive on the same plane–as do you! If there’s a delay with the flight, the boat won’t leave without you because everyone else is delayed as well. If you arrange your own flight (and end up on a different flight), a delay runs the risk of the boat’s leaving without you.

        Tina

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  12. Michael Trombetta says:

    Hi Tina,

    I can’t thank you enough for your spectacular blog. By far, BY FAR, the best source of information for anyone planning a trip to the Galapagos. I looked at all the guide books in the library before I found your blog, and none has anywhere as much information as your blog.

    Like

    • Tina says:

      Hi, Michael–

      Wow–thanks so much for letting me know how useful you’ve found all of this! I started it after our 1st trip in 2009, when I had one heck of a time finding info like this before we made our reservations. I think got a bit addicted to keeping it updated. I’m so glad it’s still helping travelers!

      And thanks for the private message about the filter option on the Excel itineraries spreadsheet on p. 6. It’s a great suggestion and I’ll see if I can write a bit about it there.

      Tina

      Like

  13. Laurie Bartels says:

    Do you know anything about VACATIONS TO GO? I am ready to book a 6 day, but thought I would check with you first. It is
    The July 26, 2014 departure of Intrepid Travel’s “Glimpse of Galapagos – Northern Islands”

    Like

    • Tina says:

      Hi, Laurie–

      I don’t know anything about this organization. Sorry!

      Tina

      Like

    • Sally says:

      I have used Vacations To Go several times and have always had a positive experience. I am sure that I will use them again. They have the ability to take advantage of group bookings which is passed on to you whenever possible. In fact just returned from an Italy cruise through them. Everything they offered was delivered.

      Like

  14. Nick Moon says:

    Thanks for the most comprehensive travel advice blog I think I’ve ever seen – I’ve enjoyed every word of your trip reports! I’m planning a trip for April/May 2015. I need a boat with no (or very low) single supplements, which has the advantage of narrowing the bewildering choice down a bit. I’m very temped by the Mary Anne, as you make it sound so good! I’m not really a birder, but I am really attracted by the idea of the waved albatrosses, plus the flightless cormorants. However, my main aims, in some sort of order, are: giant tortoises (ideally in the wild); iguanas; snorkelling with penguins, rays, sharks etc.; sea lions and seals; turtles; and finally the other birds It seems to me that I have to do the western itinerary and give up on the albatrosses and cormorants, but I’d welcome your comments. I think I’ll read both you day by reports again before finally deciding

    Like

    • Tina says:

      Hi, Nick–

      I’m really glad you’ve found the blog helpful. I enjoy keeping it up and I’m always happy to hear that someone else is finding it useful. Thanks for letting me know!

      Given your priorities, I’d say a western itinerary is a great choice. We found the snorkeling out there to be extraordinary, especially for penguins, really large marine iguanas, sea turtles, rays, and reef sharks. You’ll find the cormorants only out west–so you may have to trade the albatross for the cormorants. Unless you can do the full 15 days, you’ll have to miss SOMETHING!

      Galápagos Sea Lions won’t be as plentiful out west as they are on an eastern itinerary, though. They love the warm sandy beaches, of which there are far fewer on the western islands. But we did see a few in the west. But if you go to Puerto Egas (Santiago), you’ll get great views of the other sea lions–the Galápagos Fur Seals (which aren’t true seals–just a misnomer). You won’t snorkel with them, since they’re nocturnal. But you’ll get really close to them resting in the grottoes. And you have a small chance of seeing truly wild Giant Tortoises at Urbina Bay, since the largest population of them lives above that bay at Volcán Alcedo. But you’ll definitely see them living free on the farm lands in the highlands of Santa Cruz–just as good as truly wild and much easier.

      Something to keep in mind–a small handful of boats have a 7-night itinerary that goes to Española, Isabela, and Fernandina if your heart is set on the Waved Albatross. The Excel Web spreadsheet here can point those out to you–or I actually may have listed some names in this section. But you may run into single supplement on those boats, so…

      Good luck with your choice. But in my opinion, you can’t do better than the Mary Anne. She’s a gorgeous, stately sailboat and the Angermeyers take great pride in all aspects of her operation.

      Tina

      Like

      • Nick Moon says:

        Hmmm – I’ve just re-read your eastern trip report again and it does sound very attractive!! and you seemed to have pretty good snorkelling. I’d better read the Mary Anne report again quickly!

        Like

      • Tina says:

        Hey, Nick–

        You cracked me up here! Don’t make yourself crazy over which itinerary to choose. For a first trip to the archipelago, any respectable boat will offer you wonders galore not matter which of their 7-night itineraries you choose. We had a great time on both the eastern and western itineraries–you’re right about that. You’ll have to miss something on a 7-night cruise, but oh—what you’ll see!

        The one downside to some eastern itineraries is that some boats chop that 7-night trip into 2 shorter cruises, to allow folks to (foolishly, in my opinion) take just a 3- or 4-night cruise. That can introduce some delays and disjunctions, although some boats handle the transfer just fine. So if you go with an eastern itinerary, try to avoid a chopped-up one. (I don’t think the Mary Anne does this, but double-check that.)

        Tina

        Like

  15. PKV says:

    Hi Tina,
    You put together a great deal of information into a well structured and concise manner with links to many relevant sites. I’m sure it took a good deal of time, and wanted to thank you.

    I am trying to plan (a bit last minute) a family trip for 4 between June 4-14. This is our first time visiting the area. Per your informative blog, I have narrowed to the following choices: Floreana, Galaxy and Nemo 2, Tiptop2. Would you mind taking a look at these itineraries and giving me your thoughts on them?

    GALAXY: (D)
    SAT:Baltra airport | Santa Cruz (El Chato / Twin Craters [Los Gemelos])
    SUN:Isabela (Tintoreras / Humedales / Breeding Center / Flamingo Lagoon / Concha y Perla)
    MON: Isabela (Punta Moreno / Elizabeth Bay)
    TUE: Fernandina (Punta Espinoza) | Isabela (Tagus Cove)
    WED: Santiago (Puerta Egas / Espumilla Beach / Bucanneer Cove)
    THU:Santa Cruz (Dragon Hill [Cerro Dragon] / Black Turtle Cove [Caleta Tortuga Negra])
    FRI:Rabida | Chinese Hat [Sombrero Chino]
    SAT: North Seymour | Baltra airport

    FLOREANA: (north)
    THU: Baltra airport |Santa Cruz (Los Gemelos [Twin Craters])
    FRI: Genovesa (Darwin Bay / Prince Phillip’s Steps)
    SAT: Santiago (Sullivan Bay) |Bartolome
    SUN: Sombrero Chino [Chinese Hat] | Santa Cruz (Dragon Hill [Cerro Dragon])
    MON: Isabela (Tintoreras / Humedales / Wall of Tears / Arnaldo Tupiza Breeding Center)
    TUE: Fernandina (Punta Espinoza) / Isabela (Tagus Cove)
    WED: Santiago (Puerto Egas) | Rabida
    THU:Santa Cruz (Black Turtle Cove [Caleta Tortuga Negra])| Baltra airport

    NEMO II: (north)
    SUN: Baltra airport | North Seymour
    MON:Santa Cruz (Las Primicias / Fausto Llerena Breeding Center)
    TUE: Isabela (Punta Moreno / Urbina Bay)
    WED: Isabela (Tagus Cove) | Fernandina (Punta Espinoza)
    THU: Santiago (Puerto Egas / Salt Mines / Espumilla Beach / Bucaneer Cove)
    FRI: Rabida| Santiago (Sullivan Bay)
    SAT: Genovesa (Prince Phillip’s Steps / Darwin Bay)
    SUN: Daphne|Baltra airport

    TIPTOP 2: (option 2)
    FRI:Baltra airport | Santa Cruz (Charles Darwin Station)
    SAT: Santa Fe | (South) Plazas
    SUN: Chinese Hat [Sombrero Chino] | Rabida
    MON: Santa Cruz(Black Turtle Cove [Caleta Tortuga Negra] / Dragon Hill [Cerro Dragon])
    TUE: Floreana ( Post Office Bay / Devil’s Crown / Punta Cormorant)
    WED: Espanola (Punta Suarez / Gardner Bay / Osborn Islet / Gardner Islet)
    THU: San Cristobal (Punta Pitt / Pitt Islet / Kicker Rock [Leon Dormido] / Cerro Brujo)
    FRI: North Seymour |Baltra airport

    Like

    • Tina says:

      The short answer is, in my opinion, the Nemo II. It goes to 3 of the 4 most distant islands (Genovesa, Isabela, Fernandina). And unlike the Floreana’s itinerary (which is very similar), you don’t spend 1 whole day around the town of Isabela; instead, you go to more of the western landings, which are terrific. And the snorkeling is great over there. You’ll get to see Giant Tortoises at Las Primicias, which is a really wonderful experience.

      The Galaxy has a pretty typical “western” itinerary, focusing on Isabela and Fernandina. And the Tip Top II only goes to 1 of the 4 most distant islands (Española), since her other itinerary goes to the other 3. But snorkeling at Devil’s Crown is 1 of the 2 best spots in the archipelago–and Kicker Rock gets good reviews for snorkeling too.

      Really, though, any of these itineraries is a solid one. And any will offer you lots of wonders to behold! Let me know if you have other questions.

      Tina

      Like

  16. trudy trombley says:

    This is great. We’re (hubby and I) planning on Jan-March 2015. I’m going in circles since we want to add Machu Pichu to the trip. Hubby is not a water person so he is leaning towards Celebrity. What do you think. I’m more adventurous than he is. It would be easiest to just go with Celebrity but not as exciting.

    Like

    • Tina says:

      Hi, Trudy–

      Glad you’re finding the blog helpful–thanks for letting me know! If you’ve read much of it, you know that I’m a huge fan of the small boats. The Celebrity Xpedition is among the 4 or 5 largest boats working the waters of the Galápagos and the experience is considerably less intimate that it is in the smaller boats. But most folks who take Celebrity report having a fine time.

      But the smaller boats offer an unusual chance to be up close and personal not only with the wildlife (which you’ll have on any naturalist cruise in the archipelago) but also with your fellow passengers and (always important in my book) the crew. Even the smaller boats have common areas that are away from the water, so your husband would have ways to “escape” the seas. (I’m having a hard time imagining someone’s not being a water person, since my husband and I both grew up around huge bodies of water.)

      Perhaps there’s a compromise to be had–say, one of the larger “small” boats? The Eric/Letty/Flamingo boats carry 20 passengers each and get terrific reviews. The Odyssey and Coral II also carry 20 passengers; the Coral I, 36 passengers; Isabela II, 40; La Pinta and Islander, 48 pax. The last 3 are more in the luxury class (as compared to the first-class category of the others)l–perhaps (if money isn’t too restricted) a bit of extra luxury might be a way to bargain down the large size?

      Really, though, the Xpedition typically satisfies those who choose it just fine. It may attract a slightly different crowd–those more into cruising throughout the world–than do the smaller boats since Celebrity has a name that “cruisers” recognize. The smaller, locally owned/operated boats may tend to attract a more eclectic, adventuresome clientele (painting with very broad strokes here).

      But the bottom line is that the wildlife don’t care what boat you arrived in. And they, really, are the stars of any cruise, large or small.

      If you have any other questions I might be able to help with, don’t hesitate to write back!

      Tina

      Like

  17. julia says:

    Hi
    I cant find your link for last minute cruises please?

    thanks

    Like

    • Tina says:

      Hi, Julia–

      Here’s one: http://www.galapagoscruiselinks.com/index.php . Another one to check would be http://sangay.com/last_minute_offers/ . (I should add this latter one to the Web site–it has a nice presentation.) I’ve never used either of these to reserve a cruise, so I can’t vouch for the service behind either. But both have clear presentations on the Web, at least. There probably are others out there too, if you do a search on “last minute, galapagos” or something like that. But these’ll give you a place to start.

      I hope these help. Good luck!

      Tina

      Like

  18. Betsi says:

    Tina,
    Thanks so much for your quick response – now I know we should do the 7 night cruise!
    I will probably contact you again once I get a little further along in the planning.
    Betsi

    Like

  19. Betsi says:

    We are just starting to research and plan a trip to the Galapagos Islands for the spring of 2015. Do you think April or May would be the best month to visit? We prefer warm over cold weather but want to go when it’s the overall best month to see everything.
    Also do you think you could see enough for a 4 night cruise, or do you feel strongly we should stay for 7 nights?
    We may also tie in a trip to Maccu Pichu (sp)…
    Thanks!
    Betsi

    Like

    • Tina says:

      Hi, Betsi–

      I strongly believe that there is no “best” month to visit the archipelago. The wildlife are doing interesting things any month of the year. So no worries there. The days (and the waters for snorkeling) are warmest Jan. – April, so if you like really warm weather, April will likely be a bit warmer than May. But not a big difference. When we were there in May, the days were PLENTY hot!

      I personally think 4 nights/5 days is too short to get the best of this marvel. That really only gives you 3 full days at sea, since the first day is just an afternoon outing and the last day, just a morning outing. If you choose well, you might get to 1 of the 4 most distant (and most fascinating) islands. But the other landings will be on islands that are closer to the towns (most often, Santa Cruz). Those landings can be nice; but why go all that way, spends all of the money (per person, $400 for airfare, $110 to get into the park) and not see the best that the archipelago has to offer? Many people who take shorter cruises wish they had taken a longer cruise when they’re done; very few people who do a 7-night cruise wish they had done a shorter cruise. Most people go there only once, so I wholeheartedly think you should do the trip that you AND the islands deserve–at least 8 days/7 nights.

      Tina

      Like

  20. DB says:

    Great info in your blog, traveled throughout south america for 6 months and recorded tons of Video. Creating a video Blog for those interested in seeing what it is like first hand.
    Hope you don’t mind me sharing: http://threeztraveler.com/galapagos .

    Like

  21. jiashman says:

    Tina, thank you for providing so much wonderful information about traveling to the Galapagos. My wife and I are planning to spend the months of February and March in Cuenca, Ecuador, and would like to end our trip in mid-to-late March with a visit to the Galapagos. We found your suggestions about how to do it extremely helpful. I would like your thoughts on the following: We are in our mid-sixties and fairly active–bike riding, walking a mile or two on fairly flat or gently sloping terrain, etc.–but I have arthritic knees and find being on my feet for too long or walking up or down steep and uneven terrain challenging. What are your thoughts about whether the walks might be too challenging and whether one of the two itineraries (east or west) might be gentler.

    Like

    • Tina says:

      Hi, Jay!

      So glad you found the info helpful. Considering your worries, here are my thoughts. (Of course, I am not a doctor–nor do I play one on TV…) The longest path that we’ve been on, as I recall, was about 3 km (just under 2 miles), on Española (Punta Suárez). We spent 3 hours on that path, stopping often to listen to the naturalist guide, take a gazillion photos, sit for a bit to admire the amazing scenery… On pretty much every landing, the pace is very slow, if that helps your arthritis. I was having lower back issues on our first trip, so I took a collapsible hiking staff. That gave me something to lean on if I couldn’t find a place to sit and the opportunity for a quick stretch. The staff also helps avoid worries about balance. I highly recommend bringing one (although some boats have hiking sticks on board too).

      I think I’d recommend an eastern itinerary for you folks. The western itinerary spends A LOT of time walking across uneven, HOT lava. One climb at Taugus Cove was almost a bit of a workout! The scenery is spectacular, but the walking is more challenging. And I found fewer places to sit down briefly for a quick break on those islands too. (Black, hot lava is not terribly inviting for that!)

      The eastern islands are older, have eroded more, and have more gentle paths in general than do the islands to the west. The exception there is Genovesa, if that is included on an eastern itinerary. There is a brief climb up Prince Philip’s Steps–large flat boulders forming a stairway of sorts. That might be a challenge for you, but the naturalist guide and panga operators are there to help you out however you need. And, in my experience, fellow passengers pitch in happily too.

      Getting into and out of the pangas can be a bit of a challenge for us older folks. But again, the naturalist guide and panga operators are right there to give you a firm, steadying hand in and out. Their grip, widely used by panga operators in the archipelago, is sometimes called “the Galápagos handshake!”

      Hope this helps some. Don’t hesitate if you have any other questions! I love talking with people about this marvelous archipelago!

      Tina

      Like

      • Jay Ashman says:

        Hi, Tina,
        Thanks for you very quick and helpful reply. We have done a fair amount of research at this point, and are considering going with Road Scholar. Their price–$3999 including round-trip airfare to and from Quito–appears to be less than comparable trips, most of which don’t include airfare in that price range. We checked out the ship–the Galaven–and it seems like a quality operation. They offer two itineraries; I cross-referenced the various locations with the Galaven website, and it looks like the trip that goes from March 9 to 19 (http://www.roadscholar.org/n/program/dailySchedule.aspx?DId=1-6IFHMX) is, for the most part, less physically challenging than the alternate itinerary (offered March 16-26). We also checked out the Mary Ann. It looks like a terrific ship, but the price difference is an obstacle. Any thoughts you have would be much appreciated.
        Jay

        Like

      • Tina says:

        Hi, Jay–

        I think that this Road Scholar Galápagos program is a great value for the money. (That price also includes medical assistance coverage, should health-related issues arise. That’s especially important in the archipelago, where you could be 24 hours from decent medical care on the mainland.) That’s why we went with them on our first trip. We would have gone with them again for our return trip except that we were traveling with a single friend and she wasn’t especially interested in sharing a cabin with a stranger. So we found the Mary Anne, which didn’t have a single supplement.

        I think you’ve definitely identified the “gentler” of the 2 itineraries. Prince Philip’s Steps on Genovesa are just a bit challenging, but (as I mentioned earlier) the guide and crew will help any who need it. And it’s just at the beginning of that landing. The rest of the landing is an easy, flat walk. The other landings should present no problems. And by traveling with Road Scholar, you should be with a crew that are used to active, but still less-than-young-and-spry passengers.

        I don’t know the Galaven, but it sounds like you’ve done your research!

        Tina

        Like

  22. chicnylon says:

    Thanks for all your insight. Truly helpful in my planning. I was curious if you’ve gone on your 2013 Galapagos trip yet and what you thought of Isabel and Fernandina (assuming you visited those islands on your second time around). Thanks!

    Like

    • Tina says:

      We returned just last Sunday from our 2nd trip and it was as good–if not even better–than our 1st trip. Isabela and Fernandina are stunning volcanic islands, in sharp contrast to the older, softer, more vegetated eastern islands. Which you prefer is a very personal choice. I think I liked the wildlife diversity and easier walks of the eastern islands, while our traveling companion much favored the steep, dramatic cliffs and other volcanic scenery of Isabela and Fernandina. If snorkeling is important to you, the marine life around Isabela and Fernandina were much more spectacular that what we encountered around the eastern islands–snorkeling with sea turtles, rays, sharks, penguins galore, marine iguanas, and lots of other species. However, if you’re longing to frolic with sea lions, you’ll likely have many more in the water with you around the eastern islands. But any 7-night or longer itinerary will provide you with many wondrous sights. (Shorter itineraries run the risk of never getting you beyond the central islands, where the wildlife is more impacted by the increased human traffic of both day trips and naturalist cruises.)

      I’m trying to formulate my thoughts about this classic “east vs west” dilemma many folks face in choosing a cruise. I’ll add a more detailed discussion of the contrasts and comparisons in the near future. Stay tuned!

      Tina

      Like

      • Stephanie says:

        That’s refreshing to hear. My husband is longing to go farther out to the west to see Fernandina & Isabel but I’m concerned about missing out on seeing all the bird/wildlife that you’ve mentioned on the east (although I could do without seeing the sea lions, we have plenty of those here in California). Would you recommend supplementing a west coast trip with day trips or land based tours to the islands somewhat closer to Santa Cruz (like Bartolomé & Santa Fe)? Ah, it’s such a tough decision regardless. Maybe I’ll just have to do what you did, go back for 2nd trip 4 years later!

        Like

      • Tina says:

        Hi again, Stephanie–

        You could indeed do some day trips before (or after) a cruise to the western islands. (I personally wouldn’t do them after–I’d be afraid that the day trips would pale by comparison to the wonders of the naturalist cruise. You spend 2+ hours (one way) on a small speed boat–a far cry from the ease of the naturalist cruise.)

        You can only visit a limited number of other islands from Santa Cruz. I usually recommend Bartolomé to see/swim with penguins, but you’d have had much better interactions with them on Isabela and Fernandina. Bartolomé has an iconic view from the top of the extinct volcano; but I’m not sure it’d be worth the time and money of a day trip after the western islands. N. Seymour would be a good day trip if you don’t get to Genovesa–the breeding colonies of the seabirds are unlike anything you’ll see in the western islands. Santa Fé has a unique land iguana species; but other than that, I didn’t find it especially interesting. S. Plaza offers land iguanas too, but that walk didn’t strike me as all that interesting, as I recall. The day trip to Floreana doesn’t go to the same spots as the naturalist cruises do–you go to the inhabited highlands (not as much wildlife there) and typically don’t snorkel at the marvelous Devil’s Crown. So I don’t think that’d be a particularly great a day trip.

        Unfortunately, the best islands (in my opinion, of course!) that are more easterly are Santiago, Genovesa, and Española–none of which can be reached by a day trip. So maybe a day trip to N. Seymour might be something to consider. You might have to plan on a couple of days in Santa Cruz to get that day trip, though. Not all day trips are offered every day and the more popular ones (which N. Seymour probably is) sell out pretty quickly.

        Or–you could do a 14-night trip and get to all of the best spots! For me, that would have been a very tiring trip, but it would have been considerably cheaper than going back a 2nd time. A few boats offer 10- and 11-day trips that might let you get to Genovesa (and maybe Española) without going the entire 15-day route. Something to consider….

        Tina

        Like

  23. Cris says:

    Thanks for the information. It is the best I have seen. We are thinking of doing the Road Scholar trip but have notice that the boat has changed to the Gavalen. How does this compare to the Tip Top Ii?

    Like

    • Tina says:

      Hi, Cris–

      The Galaven is typically classified in the first-class category, as are the Tip Top boats. It holds 20 passengers (as opposed the 16 on the TT boats). But that is still small enough for an intimate experience. And, if you sail with more than 16 passengers, you’ll have 2 naturalist guides–cutting the typical guide:passenger ratio from 1:16 to 1:10. That’s great!

      It had some problems at the end of 2012, but I think it was pulled for major work after a collision (no passengers on board) and is now sailing again. Reviews are generally good, especially around the naturalist guides and the food (both crucial aspects of this trip). I trust Road Scholar (and probably Holbrook Travel is the contact agency?) to do their research carefully, so I wouldn’t worry about the boat. Look carefully at the itineraries to see which one might fit your interests best. Aside from that, I’d say go for it and have a great time!

      Tina

      Like

  24. Melanie says:

    I just want to thank the authors of this blog for sharing such great detailed information and objective advice. It helped us a lot to choose a great ship (7 days on Archipel catamaran) and itinerary, and generally to plan our wonderful trip in January 2013. Well done!!!

    Like

  25. willowoman says:

    i surely agree with all-the-above grateful people in thanking you for your most helpful info. muchas gracias!

    Like

  26. Heather K. says:

    What an absolutely wonderful page to come across! We are planning a trip for April 2012 and were feeling overwhelmed by all of the choices. After reading your blog I am starting to feel much better about where to start when it comes to making decisions. Thank you!!

    Like

  27. Tim says:

    The level of detail you have gone to blows my mind. I wish I had found your site before booking my trip. However, everything so far has just validated my choices, so I am happy. Thanks for putting in this effort.

    Like

  28. Elena says:

    Thank you so much for the well researched information and the valuable links! We will be cruising with Ecoventura beginning of January 2012 on one of their last 8 day itineraries including Genovesa, Fernandina, Isabela AND Española. I studied over 20 itineraries before choosing them and now I am even more looking forward to it knowing that that was one of the very last opportunities. Just need to organise a one-day trip to Floreana now :-)

    Like

  29. Gloria Fitch says:

    Thanks for much for your information. My head is so full of options, I’m having a hard time sorting them out. It’s wonderful to have someone spend the time to be so helopful.
    Gloria from Texas

    Like

  30. Adele says:

    Thanks, so much, for taking the time to write this information. It is extremely helpful!

    Like

  31. quatro49 says:

    Your review was so helpful and informative. I leave next week for a 7 day cruise of the Galapagos and I appreciate all of your wonderful information.

    Like

  32. shamba says:

    Grasias! I’ve now finished reading EVERYTHING you wrote and feel like I’ve already been on the trip! And the best is yet to come!

    Like

  33. SUSAN YANOVICH says:

    YOUR BLOG HAS BEEN THE MOST HELPFUL OF ANYTHING THAT I HAVE READ
    IN MY SEARCH FOR THE PERFECT GALAPAGOS TRIP.
    THANK YOU SO MUCH FOR TAKING THE TROUBLE OF WRITING IT.

    Like

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