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)
  • The cruise itself (p. 4)
  • A spreadsheet to help you choose an itinerary (p. 5)
  • Choosing a boat (p. 6)
  • Unique species by island (p. 7)
  • Other island specialties (p. 7)

128 Responses to Choosing a cruise

  1. Anita Hayworth says:

    This has been so helpful for us discussing our upcoming trip. We are traveling to Ecuador in August 2015. Our wish list for islands is to see the albatross (Espanola) and snorkeling at Devil’s crown. Also of interest is the breeding seabirds. given that, it seems we look to the more eastern tours. We’ve found what looks like a good itinerary on the Eden as follows:
    SUN Baltra, Bachas
    MON Genovesa: Darwin Bay, Prince Philllip steps
    TUE Bartolome, Santiago: Sullivan Bay
    WED Daphne, Black turtle cove, Cerro Dragon
    THU Santa Cruz: Charles Darwin station, Highlands
    FRI Floreana: Post office bay, Punta Cormorant, Devils crown
    SAT Española: Punta Suarez, Gardner Bay, Islets Gardner & Osborn
    SUN Leon Dormido, Interpretation centre, San Crsitobal Airport

    I would love to hear your opinion about the Eden (if you have heard anything) and this itinerary. And, again, thank you for all of the effort you have put into this. it is much appreciated.

    Like

    • Tina says:

      Hi, Anita–

      I don’t know anything specific about the Eden. But the itinerary you’ve posted is a typical “eastern” itinerary, which gets you to 2 of the 4 most distant (and most fascinating, in my opinion) islands–Genovesa (wonderful sea bird breeding colonies) and Española (the magnificent Waved Albatross!). It goes to Kicker Rock (aka León Dormido), which has good snorkeling. But since it’s the outing for the final day, I doubt you would snorkel there before heading to the airport. But you have a chance to see a small group of Galápagos Penguins that move between Bartolomé and Sombrero Chino–the only spot for that chance on an eastern itinerary. Giant Tortoises should be easily seen in the Santa Cruz highlands–a great experience.

      The one drawback might be that you stop mid-way through to pick up and let off passengers doing a shorter trip. That can be handled really well or you might face some delays. You might check with the boat to see how they handle that (if indeed that’s what happens).

      All in all, it looks like a good itinerary!

      Tina

      Like

  2. rosietr says:

    Hi, Tina,
    Your blog is great! You’ve helped me a lot with with just sorting out how to start. I’m looking into a tour for 3 adults – my husband, my adult son, and myself. Our dates are June 20- July 4/5. During that time span, I think we want to have an 8 day trip in the Galapagos. From what I’m seeing on the internet, I’m interested in a “tourist superior class”, or a mid-level boat/ship/yacht with a small to mid sized group of people, that goes to some of the distant islands, and includes as much wildlife of all kinds (especially birds and turtles), the opportunity to kayak and snorkel, possibly hike a bit, and a great guide! I’ve inquired about a few tours, with both Cometo and Happy Gringo, and am wondering if you would comment on what you think might be best for us, of the 3 itineraries (2 different companies) listed below. All of these have similar pricing. I’m prone to seasickness. I do plan to take something along for that, but that might be a consideration for the particular boat we go on. Also, it looked like there were fewer positive reviews, or “thumbs up” for the Monserrat as opposed to more positive reviews for the Xavier. What advise can you provide?
    Thank you so much,
    Sherri

    Cometo Travel, Angelito 1
    6/28 to 7/5
    8 DAYS ITINERARY A, SUNDAY-SUNDAY
    1 Sunday
    Baltra – North Seymour

    2 Monday
    Chinese Hat – Bartolome

    3 Tuesday
    Genovesa: Darwin Bay – Prince Phillips Steps

    4 Wednesday
    Puerto Egas (Santiago) – Rabida

    5 Thursday
    Santa Cruz: Charles Darwin Station – Highland of Santa Cruz

    6 Friday
    Española: Punta Suarez – Playa Gardner

    7 Saturday
    Santa Fe – South Plaza

    8 Sunday
    Black Turtle Cove – Baltra

    OR

    Happy Gringo on “Xavier” Motor boat
    6/21 – 6/28 Itinerary B
    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

    OR

    Happy Gringo on Monserrat “motor yacht”
    6/28- 7/5 Itinerary A
    SUN Baltra, Mosquera
    MON Isabela: Sierra Negra Volcano, Las Tintoreras
    TUE Chinese Hat, Rabida
    WED Santiago: Puerto Egas, Espumilla Beach
    THU North Seymour, Santa Cruz: Highlands
    FRI South Plazas, Santa Fe
    SAT San Cristobal: Punta Pitt, Isla Lobos
    SUN San Cristobal: Interpretation Centre, Cerro, Airport

    Like

    • Tina says:

      Hi, Sherri–

      Given those 3 itineraries, I’d definitely vote for the Angelito’s. It’s a typical “eastern” itinerary and the only one of the 3 that gets you to 2 of the 4 most distant islands–Genovesa (amazing sea bird breeding colonies) and Española (awesome Waved Albatross breeding colony–one of only 2 places on earth that these magnificent birds come to land to breed). Giant Tortoises (is that what you meant when you referred to turtles?) should be easily seen in the highlands of Santa Cruz. (The sea turtles are much harder to predict.) You have a chance to see a small group of Galápagos Penguins that move between Sombrero Chino and Bartolomé, which is your only chance on a typical eastern itinerary.

      The Angelito was recently overhauled and I’ve read that they did an excellent job of it. The Angelito is one of only 2 tourist-superior boats that I routinely recommend. Sometimes, the owner (Maja) even is the naturalist guide–and she gets terrific reviews. But even when she doesn’t, the other naturalist guides get good reviews too.

      The other 2 boats never get very far from the central–and inhabited–islands (Santa Cruz and San Cristóbal. (The Monserrat’s visit to the westernmost Isabela only goes to areas around the town–not the stunning landings on the western shore.) I don’t know anything about these 2 boats. But by itineraries alone, I vote for the Angelito–hands down!

      Tina

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      • rosietr says:

        Thank you, Tina. May I get your opinion on another option? It is the Tip Top III via Happy Gringo with the following itinerary. It looks like it goes to one more of the larger islands, so I wanted to know how you think this might compare with the above Angelito tour. I’m also trying to fit in one extra day for my son to scuba dive- he’s a beginner. Can you suggest a good resource and some logistics for that? ie, Should I just ask the tour we choose to book us a day extra at the beginning or end of the cruise, and then figure out a day trip for scuba diving from the island of Baltra, where we have to be for the airport?
        Thanks again for all your advice and assistance!
        Sherri

        TIP TOP III GALAPAGOS CRUISE ITINERARIES 2015
        8 DAYS – NORTH & WEST (ITINERARY 1)
        FRI Baltra, Bachas
        SAT Santiago: Sullivan Bay, Bartolome
        SUN Genovesa: Darwin Bay, Prince Phillip Steps
        MON Santiago: Puerto Egas, Bucaneer Cove
        TUE Isabela: Punta Vicente Roca, Fernandina: Punta Espinosa
        WED Isabela: Urbina Bay, Tagus Cove, Elizabeth Bay
        THU Isabela: Tintoreras, Wall of tears, Tortoise breeding centre, Sierra Negra Volcano
        FRI Charles Darwin Station, Baltra

        Like

      • Tina says:

        The Tip Top fleet is one of only a small number of boats that does this “northwestern” itinerary. It’s a good one, since you get to 3 of the 4 most distant islands. I think it’s better than the Angelito’s, for this reason.

        I don’t know much about diving, but I know that most folks who dive in the Galápagos aren’t beginners. You might contact Scuba Iguana (a group that gets good reviews) to see what they might suggest for a beginner day trip. You’d probably do best to arrange it yourself, if you can. Note, though, that you’d be staying on Santa Cruz rather than Baltra. Baltra is really nothing except the airport. An hour or 2 of travel from the airport (bus to the canal, a ferry across the canal to Santa Cruz, a bus into Puerto Ayora, the main town on Santa Cruz) will get you to a variety of places to spend the night. You’ll then have to reverse that process to get back to Baltra when you want to catch the plane back home or hook up with the tour. I personally think it would be less risky (not needing to worry about not finding the tour staff at the airport) if you did the extra day at the end of the trip. It’s safest to let the boat arrange your flight from the mainland to Baltra so that everyone on that particular cruise arrives at the airport on the same flight. That way, you just walk off the plane, go through the lines to check your luggage and pay the entrance fee, and then find the boat staff who will be waiting for you. If you do an extra day first, you’ll need to make absolutely sure that you meet the right group at the airport in plenty of time. If something happens and you’re late, they can very easily leave without you.

        Tina

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  3. Kathleen says:

    I agree with Tina about NatGeo. We had a very good experience with them on a small ship Alaska cruise last year. But they are quite expensive, and their unwillingness to divulge the schedule of their 2 itineraries is so frustrating!

    BTW, with some work, you can figure out the alternating pattern of their 2 itineraries – just go on the Lindblad website and look up the trip reports and you will soon see the pattern. I actually did that myself when I was trying to figure out who to book with! But in the end, we booked on the Eclipse for next summer, because it gave us everything we were looking for from NatGeo, plus a bit more cabin space, AND ended up being less expensive.

    Like

    • Tina says:

      Hi, Kathleen–

      It’s great that you could figure out the itineraries–and it’s a good hint for anyone who is dead set on sailing with NatGeo. But why on earth should anyone have to work that hard AND pay extra money? I’m glad you found a boat that had just what you were looking for. I don’t know the Eclipse personally, but it gets great reviews.

      Tina

      Like

  4. Brannan says:

    Tina,
    Fantastic job on providing a trove of useful information! I had no idea there were so many options.
    The first place we looked was national geographic, which runs two boats through the Galapagos. They are priced above most of the other cruises, and are vague on details about itinerary on their web site. Should that be a concern? Have you heard anything about the NatGeo cruises?

    Like

    • Tina says:

      Hi, Brannan–

      You’re right–options are the blessings and the curse of figuring out a trip to the Gálapagos! NatGeo has a good reputation, although it is indeed rather pricey. I personally think you’re paying a considerable surplus for the name and the advertising–both of which are, in my opinion, unnecessary because there are so many really good boats that don’t have such overhead.

      The lack of specifics about the itineraries is a major irritant to me. Choosing the best itinerary for you and your interests is one of the few things that a well-informed traveler can actually control in arranging this trip. I see no reason why NatGeo isn’t specific about the 2 8-day itineraries they run. All boats have their itineraries pretty much set in stone with the National Park; so, except for extreme and unforeseen situations (e.g., a volcano erupting on Fernandina), the owners know exactly where the boat will be every day. Why not let those travelers choose for themselves? It seems a bit arrogant on their part, if you ask me. For this reason alone, I would avoid booking with NatGeo until they are more forthcoming with letting you choose the itinerary you’d prefer.

      Having written that, I’m sure either itinerary is fine. But I feel that they do their passengers a disservice by not giving them all of the information available–which pretty much all of the other 60+ boats in the archipelago do.

      Tina

      Like

  5. Alex says:

    Superb blog Tina. We too are looking at going to the Galapagos in September this year. We have followed your blog advice on trying to fit 3 of the big 4 into our 8 day cruise, so have opted for a NW itinerary. We have narrowed our search down to the Tip Top III and the Nemo II. Do you know much about these boats? There are only minor differences in the itineraries really? Was Bartolomé worth the visit; I hear it’s a stunning landscape from the viewpoint there?

    Itineraries are:
    Tip Top 3
    FRI Baltra, Bachas
    SAT Santiago: Sullivan Bay, Bartolome
    SUN Genovesa: Darwin Bay, Prince Phillip Steps
    MON Santiago: Puerto Egas, Bucaneer Cove
    TUE Isabela: Punta Vicente Roca, Fernandina: Punta Espinosa
    WED Isabela: Urbina Bay, Tagus Cove, Elizabeth Bay
    THU Isabela: Tintoreras, Wetlands, Wall of tears, Tortoise breeding centre, Sierra Negra Volcano
    FRI Charles Darwin Station, Baltra

    Nemo 2
    SUN Baltra, North Seymour
    MON Santa Cruz: Highlands, Charles Darwin Station
    TUE Isabela: Punta Moreno, Urbina Bay
    WED Isabela: Tagus Cove, Fernandina: Punta Espinosa
    THU Santiago: Puerto Egas, Bucaneer Cove
    FRI Rabida, Santiago: Sullivan Bay
    SAT Genovesa: Prince Phillip Steps, Darwin Bay
    SUN Daphne, Baltra

    I appreciate any guidance you can give, and again you’ve done a wonderful job on this blog, it’s so informative!

    Kind regards,
    Alex

    Like

    • Tina says:

      Hi, Alex–

      You’re right–the 2 itineraries aren’t much different. The view from the top of the extinct volcano on Bartolomé is lovely, to be sure. But for folks seeking wildlife, the main draw of Bartolomé is the opportunity to see/snorkel with the Galápagos Penguins. If you’re not going to the western islands, Bartolomé is your best bet. But you’ll have seen plenty around Isabela and Fernandina.

      I’m not much of a fan of hanging around the towns in the Galápagos. So for that reason, I would be a bit antsy with the day spent in Puerto Villamil on the TTIII. The walk to Sierra Negra can have some nice views if the weather is good. But more often than not (by the reports I’ve read), it’s a muddy slog on a rainy day with no views at all. So that has never enticed me–although that might sound good to you.

      For those reasons, I’d favor the Nemo 2’s itinerary a bit.

      I don’t know the TTIII specifically, but I know Wittmer Turismo, which operates the Tip Top fleet (and, you probably know, we sailed on the TTII in 2009). I have a lot of respect for Wittmer Turismo, a local company founded by Rolf Wittmer who was the first baby documented to be born in the archipelago. They hired good crews, provided modest benefits (unusual in the archipelago), and offered the best of them long-term contracts. The crew we sailed with was excellent and our naturalist guide (who himself had a long-term contract with them–unusual, because guides tend to freelance and move from boat to boat) was superb. I really don’t know anything about the Nemo 2.

      I’m delighted that the blog is useful for you—it’s a true labor of love. Hope this helps!

      Tina

      Like

  6. Jenny says:

    Tina, wow your information is magical.
    I am in the middle of trying to plan my trip to the galapagos for October and this is a wealth of information.
    Would you happen to have any advice on which itinerary to choose for october? I realise that different wildlife will be at different islands but I guess different times of the year are good for different animals -mating etc.
    Im assuming there is positive and negatives no matter which one you choose!!

    Like

    • Tina says:

      Hi, Jenny–

      So glad you’re finding the blog useful–and thanks for letting me know!

      Honestly, you will find wildlife doing fascinating things any month of the year in the archipelago. Many species breed year-round, depending on the availability of food, or the same species may have a different breeding cycle on a different island. So any itinerary from a reputable boat will offer you wonders galore in October. If you have specific species you’re especially interested in seeing, that might help to make choice since the viewing can sometimes be easier on one island than another.

      I know that doesn’t help you narrow down your many options, but–it is what it is!

      Tina

      Like

      • Jenny says:

        Thanks Tina for your speedy reply!
        yeah i figured that would be the case!
        Ill keep reading through your website and will let you know if I have any other questions!
        Thanks
        Jenny

        Like

  7. Karen W says:

    Tina, I agree with you from all my research, Angelita and their itinerary are the way to go. Thank you for confirming!
    What about the comment on sea sickness? Traveling in August?? Doesn’t make a difference if Angelita is not a catamaran ?

    Like

    • Tina says:

      Is anyone in your traveling party prone to motion sickness? Some people swear that a catamaran is more stable in choppy water, but I’m not convinced of that. It really depends on the direction of the waves. If the waves hit fore or aft, a single-hulled boat will slice through those waves more efficiently. If the waves hit abeam, a cat might handle that better. But for most folks who are affected by motion sickness, it’s more the up-and-down motion that produces problems rather than the side-to-side pitch. And either style of boat can run into that. You might read this interesting discussion by 2 naval architects–http://www.tripadvisor.com/ShowTopic-g294310-i6637-k7666463-Catamaran_vs_Monohull_ship-Galapagos_Islands.html . And really, there are so many good motion sickness remedies available on the market–I don’t think it should be a major issue for anyone. My husband used the scopolamine patch, as did about 2/3s of both of the groups we traveled with. If you’re interested in that, check with your physician (they’re rx-only in the US). Since you just can’t know how you’ll react, might as well be prepared.

      The months of the highest probability of rough seas are Sept. – Nov. The Humboldt Current begins to shift in mid- to late August and is going full-tilt boogie by Sept. So you have a higher probability of choppy waters starting in mid-August. But it’s just a probabilities thing. The rough waters are more likely to occur on the open-water crossings to the more distant islands; around the more central islands, the current doesn’t really impact the seas much. Our first trip was in Sept.–the allegedly worst month for rough waters. We had one open-water crossing that was quite, um, lively. But the captain knew in advance and let us all know. Since those crossing are typically made at night, we all just headed down to our cabins after dinner, secured things that might roll around, and went to bed. No problem–everyone showed up for breakfast ready for the next day’s adventure. Our other open-water crossing was as smooth as silk.

      So unless someone in your party is plagued by really serious motion sickness issues, I think you can handle whatever might come along. Just bring your favorite anti-motion-sickness remedy, just in case.

      Tina

      Like

      • Karen Waldman says:

        Tina you are a wealth of information!!! I rate you 5 stars!⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

        Sent from my iPad

        >

        Like

  8. Betsi says:

    Okay – thanks for your input and your knowledge!

    Like

  9. Karen W says:

    I have another question, or 2…
    1. I understand a catamaran might be more sturdy during rough waters. I am about to book on the Angelita, which I gelieve is not a catamaran. I have not heard too many comments on getting sea sick and whether the type of boat makes a difference.
    2. Also our travel agent is trying to convince us to book with Eden cruise, 16 passengers going to Baltra, Santa Cruz, bartholemew, Santiago and sombrero islands, Dalph island, dragon hill and charles Darwin station.
    It is somewhat less costly than the Angelita.
    Different itinerary!
    What are your thoughts on that?
    THANKS!

    Like

    • Tina says:

      Hmmm–why does your agent want you to book the Eden? She’s a tourist-superior-class boat, as is the Angelito, and she is owned/operated by a local family, as is the Angelito. So those are both pluses for either. I haven’t read all that many reviews of the Eden, unlike the Angelito (which people seem to come back and be bursting with praise). But no reviews isn’t the same thing as bad experiences–so that doesn’t tell us much.

      In my opinion, the Eden itinerary you posted is much less interesting than the western itinerary of the Angelito you’re considering. You don’t get very far from the central islands on the Eden. They’re nice, but not as spectacular as the more distant islands. In contrast, the western islands on the Angelito’s itinerary is a really solid western itinerary with really extraordinary scenery and wildlife.

      If it were me, I’d definitely go with the Angelito unless the agent has some very compelling reason for suggesting the alternative.

      Tina

      Like

  10. Betsi says:

    Thank you, Tina! Do you know much about the ship Santa Cruz or its staff?

    Like

    • Tina says:

      Hey, Betsi–

      All I know about the Santa Cruz is that, at 90 passengers, it is one of the largest boats working the waters in the archipelago. I haven’t read anything about the boat itself or its crew. But luxury-class boats such as this are usually just fine.

      Tina

      Like

  11. Karen waldman says:

    Thanks again for your quick response! I have learned so much from your posts and and am going to book our trip with Angelita! Happy travels to all! Karen

    Like

  12. Sonya Donnelly says:

    Sorry Tina just found a more detailed 2015 itinery – not sure if it’s identical to the one I just posted
    2015 “WEST” ITINERARY 7-NIGHTS (FRIDAY to FRIDAY)

    FRI:
    Baltra airport | North Seymour
    SAT:
    Isabela (Punta Vicente Roca) | Fernandina (Punta Espinoza)
    SUN:
    Isabela (Urbina Bay / Tagus Cove)
    MON:
    Rabida | Santa Cruz (Dragon Hill [Cerro Dragon])
    TUE:
    Santa Cruz (Charles Darwin Station / Twin Craters [Los Gemelos])
    WED:
    Floreana (Post Office Bay / Punta Cormorant / Champion Islet)
    THU:
    Santa Fe | (South) Plazas
    FRI:
    San Cristobal airport

    2015 “EAST” ITINERARY 3-NIGHTS (FRIDAY to MONDAY)

    FRI:
    San Cristobal airport | San Cristobal (Cerro Colorado)
    SAT:
    San Cristobal (Punta Pitt / Cerro Brujo)
    SUN:
    Espanola (Punta Suarez / Gardner Bay)
    MON:
    Santa Cruz (Charles Darwin Station) | Baltra airport

    2015 “NORTH” ITINERARY 4-NIGHTS (MONDAY to FRIDAY)

    MON:
    Baltra airport | Santa Cruz (Highlands – El Chato)
    TUE:
    Santa Cruz (Eden Islet) | Chinese Hat [Sombrero Chino]
    WED:
    Bartolome | Santiago (Sullivan Bay)
    THU:
    Genovesa (Darwin Bay / Prince Phillip’s Steps)
    FRI:
    Baltra airport

    Like

    • Tina says:

      Sonya–

      What you’ve copied here is La Pinta’s full 15-day itinerary. I’m not sure what you’d like me to comment on. Perhaps I covered it with your previous message (which was about the 8-day western itinerary, listed here first)? Let me know if I’m missing something.

      Tina

      Like

      • Sonya says:

        I got a bit carried away with the cutting and pasting there!! I had only meant to include the first 8 days. You have indeed covered my question in your previous answer. Thank you very much. You are incredibly generous with your time and knowledge. I am so very grateful to have happened upon your blog.

        Like

    • Laurie says:

      Thanks so much for this blog!
      My 30+ year dream of getting to the Galapagos is getting closer to reality, but I’m struggling with the decision of whether to do the full “Grand Galapagos” tour by putting two 8 day cruises together. I doubt I’d be able to return for a second time, but also worried that two weeks on a boat might seem overwhelming to my family.
      We need to fit our travel into the Christmas-New Year holiday period, when daughter is on break from college and son’s high tech firm shuts down for a week. I’d love to do the Galapagos Travel 11 day cruise on the Tip Top, which hits most of the islands, but even if it is available, it starts before my daughter’s exam week ends. It looks like we could do the Samba’s SE itinerary followed by the NW. The reactions I’ve gotten from people who’ve visited the Galapagos have ranged from “why would you not NOT want to spend two weeks on a boat” to “a week is plenty”. I’d feel bereft about missing Isabella and Fernandina completely but in addition to concerns about travel fatigue, husband and son are concerned about being away from work that long. I’d love your thoughts on the 8 vs 15 day cruise, and would be happy to send the itinerary (although from your comments to others, you seem very familiar with them – that Excel spread sheet was truly extraordinary.)
      Thanks again!

      Like

      • Tina says:

        Hi, Laurie–

        Only you can know if 15 days is too much. My husband and I did an 8-day trip each time and, to be honest, by the end of 8 days, we were ready to head home. We’re not great travelers, we board our dogs and we worry about leaving them for too long, we’re real homebodies. For me, my “wow” meter was a bit on overload by the end of the 8 days. Our feelings had nothing to do with the wildlife or the boats–all were spectacular and a good boat can’t be beat for easy traveling. We were just ready to be home again. But that is most certainly not a recommendation that everyone only do an 8-day tour. An 11-day tour might be the perfect compromise. Most boats these days chop up one of their 2 8-day itineraries into 2 shorter legs (usually the itinerary that DOESN’T go to Isabela and Fernandina, since they are so far away). You might be able to find a combination that fits your schedule better than the TTIV’s by checking a site like http://www.galapagosislands.com/galapagos-cruise.html, which displays all of the mix-and-match itineraries of some of the more popular boats. Alternatively, you might want to contact an agency that specializes in Galápagos travel to help you juggle dates, length of time spent, quality of boat, etc. Three that get consistently good reviews are Happy Gringo, Columbus Travel, and CNH Tours. (We used CNH Tours for our return trip.) There are many others, too. All have a presence on the Internet, so you could check out their Web sites. All can also be contacted in a variety of ways (phone, Skype, Web chat, e-mail…). So formulate a few introductory questions, send them off, and see who responds quickly and in a manner most to your liking. Really–this is exactly what they do, day in and day out. Their help can be invaluable.

        You probably know this, but the December/Jan. holidays are really the highest of high seasons in the archipelago. Not only do trips book, often, years in advance but you often have to pay a “holiday supplement.” The Samba especially is an extremely popular boat (and deservedly so) and may already be booked during this period for 2015. (Of course, I don’t know this–just going by what I’ve read from other folks’ trying to book the Samba.)

        So glad you’ve found the blog helpful–thanks for letting me know! But given all you’re juggling, you really might want to partner with an expert agency to help you home in on some really good choices. Something to consider…

        Tina

        Like

  13. Sonya Donnelly says:

    Hi Tina, I’m afraid I’m back again looking to pick your brains. I have investigated the ELF boats as you recommended. Unfortunately they don’t have availability this Easter (as you suspected). I have found another slightly larger boat La Pinta which seems to have excellent reviews and may have availability. Whilst it is larger I do like the fact that it has a Dr on board given that the children will be with us. I’m a little worried about the itinery though as IT doesn’t seem to mention many of the hot spots I’ve read about. I wonder would you mind casting an eye on it and giving me your opinion. It is the 8 night western.

    La pinta 8 day, 7 night
    Day 1
    AM. Baltra
    PM. North Seymour Island
    DAY 2
    AM.
    Punta Vicente Roca (Isabela Island)
    PM
    Punta Espinoza (Fernandina Island)
    DAY 3
    AM Urbina Bay (Isabela Island)
    PM. Tagus Cove (Isabela Island)
    DAY 4
    AM. Rábida Island
    PM. Cerro Dragón (Dragon Hill) (Santa Cruz Island)
    DAY 5
    AM. Puerto Ayora and the Charles Darwin Research Station (Santa Cruz Island)
    PM. Highlands of Santa Cruz Island
    DAY 6
    AM Post Office Bay (Floreana Island)
    PM. Champion Islet & Punta Cormorant (Floreana Island)
    DAY 7
    AM. Santa Fe Island
    PM South Plaza Island
    DAY 8
    AM Puerto Baquerizo Moreno (San Cristóbal Island)

    I’m very grateful for your thoughts.
    Sonya

    Like

    • Tina says:

      Hi, Sonya–

      Too bad about the ELF availabilities–they do book well in advance. La Pinta is a lovely boat, according to what I’ve read. This itinerary is a classic 8-day “western” itinerary, which focuses on Isabela and Fernandina (the youngest and furthest west islands). It also goes to Floreana, but it doesn’t have you snorkeling at the best spot (Devil’s Crown). However, I’ve read a few good reports about the alternative (Champion). You’ll also get to see the Giant Tortoises living free in the highlands of Santa Cruz–a really great experience.

      Since it’s an 8-day itinerary (rather than a full 15-day itinerary), you’ll have to miss some of the “stars.” There’s just no way around it. But this seems like a fine western itinerary that will offer you all sorts of marvelous encounters with wildlife on land, in the air, and at sea.

      Tina

      Like

  14. Mojo says:

    Hi Tina,

    What an amazing collection of information! It is a delight to read whether or not one is planning a trip to the Galapagos. Thank you very much for taking the time to write this. We are planning a trip in near future (Feb/Mar 2015) and your website is the only way we could short list the options quickly!

    Now a couple of questions:

    Is there a website that reviews the tour guides? This would play a big factor in our final decision. But we haven’t been able to find reliable reviews of the guides anywhere.

    Is there any website that shows cabin sizes for the boats? Or cuisine on these boats?

    We have short listed 3-4 boats (Tip Top III or IV, Nemo II, Samba). But we are having a hard time picking one without the answers for these questions.

    Like

    • Tina says:

      Hi, Mojo–

      Thanks for letting me know your positive experiences with the blog–I love keeping it up!

      I know of no Web site that reviews the naturalist guides. The National Park has a partial list of certified guides by level here: http://www.galapagospark.org/onecol.php?page=turismo_guias_naturalistas_directorio . But the links to Class II and Class III seem not be working right now. But really, even that wouldn’t help you. With very few exceptions, the naturalist guides freelance and move around on the boats, so you typically don’t know who will be in that critical role for your trip. So even if there were a review site, you wouldn’t know what boat that person might be on when you’re there. In my experience, a few boats offer long-term contracts to guides who they want to keep around. On the Tip Top II, our naturalist guide and a few of the crew had one of those long-term contracts; it’s possible that Wittmer Turismo (which owns and operates the Tip Top fleet) still does that with all of its boats, but I don’t know. Also, on the Mary Anne, our naturalist guide–granddaughter of the founders–worked consistently on that boat, as did a number of the crew members (in part because she’s a true sailboat, so she needs experienced sailors to work the sails). Another exception to this freelance situation is the Samba. Her principal guide, Juan Manuel Salcedo, gets rave reviews. However, even the guides get time off, so you just can’t know. Your best bet is to opt for a boat in as high a class as you can afford; since the guides get to pick where they’ll be, the really good ones tend to gravitate to the better boats. An exception to that is the marvelous tourist-superior-class Samba–one of the few tourist-superior-class boats I highly recommend. As an aside, the Samba is a very popular boat; it’s often sold out months in advance so might not be available for your short travel window.

      I’ve never seen a Web site with either the cabin sizes of boats or the cuisine. For our 2nd trip, we worked with CNH Tours (a Galápagos travel specialist); Heather was able to send us some information on the cabin sizes of a few of the boats we were considering. But as far as I know, that’s not compiled for the public anywhere.

      Hope this helps with your decision!

      Tina

      Like

  15. Claudine says:

    Hi Tina. Thanks again for such great advice. You are awesome. I will go over both of these and try to make a decision sooner then later. Between me and you which did u prefer. The east or the west. I know they are both great and wonderful but did u have a preference of likability.

    Like

    • Tina says:

      To be honest, Claudine, I wouldn’t be able to choose just between the itineraries, I don’t think. Both are great. Getting to 3 of the 4 islands (Nemo) is really wonderful, especially if you’re not likely to return (and few do!). But I have heard such great reports of the Angelito’s naturalist guides that I think I might be swayed toward that boat–not because of a better itinerary but because of how important getting a terrific naturalist guide is. I think your odds of getting an awesome guide on the Angelito, with Maja as the owner/operator, may be a bit higher than with the Nemo, which hires free-lance guides. But really, that’s just a small lean toward the Angelito.

      You might try a coin flip–see which one comes up the winner and see how you feel about that. That might tell you more about your gut feeling!

      Tina

      Like

      • Karen waldman says:

        Hi Tina,
        Qwhat a wealth of information you have provided! Thank you!!
        I am planning a trip to Galapagos islands the first week of August. We can unfortunately only take a 6 day cruise. I emailed Mary Anne, majestic, Columbus, ocean spray, Klein tours, Columbus, beluga and Angelito.
        I immediately heard back from Maja and Bruno through Cometa travels. Maja has been so responsive and accommodating and we think we are going to go with Angelito tours itinerary B includes travels to Baltra-Las Bachas, Mosquera-cerro dragon, Tagus cove (isabela) and punta Espinoza (Fernandina), isabela: Urbina bay-Elizabeth bay, and punta Moreno (whale watching from puesta Villamil to puerta ayora. The cost is slightly more than other travels ($2,350).
        Unfortunately Maja will not be available for this trip, Bruna will be our naturalist guide.
        What are your thoughts on this ?
        Thank you for all your generous information and sharing and help!!!
        Karen

        Like

      • Tina says:

        Hi, Karen–

        I’m so glad you’ve found the blog helpful!

        The Angelito is one of only two tourist-superior-class boats that I routinely recommend. From what I’ve read, you get a lot for your money on her trips. Maja has been in business a long time and enjoys a solid reputation–not just as a terrific naturalist guide but as an owner. I don’t know much about Bruna as a naturalist guide, although I’ve read reviews from travelers who worked with her to arrange travel through Cometa; all spoke very highly of her. I think Bruna is a co-owner of the Angelito. They recently refurbished the Angelito and by all reports did a really good job.

        The itinerary’s a good one, hitting many of the highlights of those young, western islands. The boat is a solid one and the price is good for the quality you’ll get. I think you won’t be disappointed.

        Tina

        Like

  16. Claudine says:

    Hi Tina
    And u thought u heard the last of me. I have you in favorites under Galapago decisions for a reason. :) Oh my, decisions, decisions. I have been talking to the Galapago experts and the girl mentioned an itinerary on the Memo II which sounds mighty nice also and mentioned I would see more wildlife on this one. It is :

    Baltra, North Seymour
    Santa Cruz Highlands, Charles Darwin Station
    Isabela: Punta Moreno, Urbina Bay
    Isabela: Tagus Cove, Fernandina: Punta Espinosa
    Santiago: Puerto Egas, Bucaneer Cove
    Rabida, Santiago: Sullivan Bay
    Genovesa: Prince Phillip Steps, Darwin Bay
    Daphne, Baltra

    So it seems to be between this one or the Angelita Itinerary ” A ” which of course have the waved Albatross with the cutest looking babies.
    And of course thank u so much for your time and feedback. I really value your opinion.

    Like

    • Tina says:

      Hey again, Claudine–

      I think you’re talking about the Nemo II; I don’t know much about the boat itself. I think you’ll see lots of fascinating wildlife on either of these itineraries. You’re facing the classic “eastern” vs “western” itinerary challenge. On our 2 trips, we saw more individual wildlife (a LOT of which were those adorable Galápagos Sea Lions) on our eastern trip but greater diversity on our western trip. The Nemo’s western itierary will have you spending several days surrounded by lava, lava, lava! While the Angelito’s eastern itinerary spends more time around the older, more weathered, and less-volcanic-looking islands. The Nemo also goes to 3 of the 4 most distant islands, which is a plus. But the Angelito has a great reputation for really good naturalist guides–which is an absolutely critical part of the trip. A mediocre naturalist guide will make the time seem to drag; a terrific guide will make your trip sing. The Nemo probably contracts out for guides, so you have no way of knowing who you’ll get.

      But really, either one is a great itinerary. You just have to make the hard choice of which islands are most important to you, since you’ll have to miss something on any 8-day itinerary. I don’t think you can lose, though, so don’t sweat the decision too much!

      Tina

      Like

  17. Debra says:

    Hi Tina. Thanks so much. We would travel in February or March 2015. We’re not big snorkelers. We were so worried about taking too long to decide and then not having a spot that we opted for the Beluga. I am feeling slightly regretful about our rush to choose, and perhaps not selecting the Mary Anne and its itinerary. But hopefully all will turn out well. Thank you again for taking the time to respond with such good detail.

    Like

  18. Claudine says:

    Thank u so much Tina. Your quick response is excellent. U are really helping me make a decision. I am really torn between Isabela/Fernandina / or Espanola. I seen your baby Albatross pictures and they are just the cutest little things. Oh decisions, decisions.

    Like

  19. Debra says:

    Hi. Thanks for compiling all this information. We are going to book a Galapagos cruise for our honeymoon. We are looking at first class since it is our honeymoon :) Right now, we are leaning toward the Majestic (A or B) and Beluga (Tower). The Mary Anne (West) was also recommended. We are fairly active and like many others coming to Galapagos, most interested in the wildlife. Thoughts for us honeymooners? Thanks!

    Like

    • Tina says:

      Hi, Debra–

      I have an absolute love of the Mary Anne, which we sailed on last year. If you haven’t already read it, you can see lots of photos and read about her on the blog. (There’s a link under the header photo of the Giant Tortoise.) We too were on the western itinerary, so you can get a real sense of it by clicking through each day’s write-up (although, again, you may have already done that). Since the Mary Anne was originally built for 24 passengers but now sails with only 16, it has a lot of common space and the sailboat is just gorgeous. Cabins 9 and 10 are quite large; if you went with her, you might try to get one of these for a bit more luxury.

      I don’t have personal experience with either the Beluga or the Majestic, but their itineraries look like pretty typical “eastern” (Beluga/Tower or Majestic/A) or western (Majestic/B). You didn’t mention when you would be traveling, which makes a bit of a difference if you’re deciding whether a visit to Española. If you’d be there between, say, mid-Dec. and late March, the magnificent Waved Albatross will likely be gone from their breeding grounds there. (I have heard of a trip or 2 that saw 1 or 2 in early Jan., but they were VERY lucky.) Española is a lovely island in its own right, even with these gorgeous behemoths. But it’s not quite as special without them.

      If you’re really keen on snorkeling, I might lean toward the Majestic/A trip over the Beluga/Tower. The Majestic visits what are probably the 2 best snorkeling spots in the eastern islands–Devil’s Crown, off Floreana, and Kicker Rock, off San Cristóbal. Aside from these, these 2 eastern itineraries aren’t very different in meaningful ways; they’re both solid ones that will offer lots of great experiences.

      The Majestic/B and Mary Anne (west) are pretty similar too. In my experience, the marine wildlife was more interesting along the western islands than along the eastern islands. The Mary Anne has you snorkeling at Punta Vicente Roca, which the naturalist guides on both of our trips said was their absolutely favorite spot for snorkeling anywhere in the archipelago. (The Majestic doesn’t stop there.) The Mary Anne also snorkels at Devil’s Crown; couple that great spot with snorkeling all along the western shore of Isabela and around Fernandina, you’ll be at the best spots in the archipelago. So in addition to loving the boat, I’d lean just a bit toward the Mary Anne’s itinerary over the Majestic/B. But it’s just a slight lean.

      Having written all that, these are all solid first-class boats with good reputations. The itineraries differ a bit but not dramatically. Any one of them will offer you a delightful experience with lots and lots of wonderful encounters with wildlife.

      Tina

      Like

  20. Claudine says:

    Hi Tina

    Thank u so much for the quick response. This is a 7 night/8 day cruising of the Galapagos. It is the west, central and east inlands. And yes I would love to see the penquins and giant tortoises and I do believe the highlands are not on this itinerary. Being from Canada am I better to book thru an agency here or go thru a direct one for a more reasonable price.

    Like

    • Tina says:

      Hi, Claudine–

      Ah, I was looking at 2013 itineraries for Monserrat–my bad! Looking at your itinerary list again, I see that it does go to Bartolomé, so you have a chance at seeing the small group of penguins that move between that island and Sombrero Chino. Not guaranteed, but many folks report seeing them (as we did on our first trip). So cancel that concern of mine. But it’s being an 8-day itinerary makes it even less appealing to me that you only get to 1 of the 4 most distant islands. If you like the boat, does its other 8-day itinerary (all boats should have 2) go to the other 3 islands? Generally speaking, if only 1 distant island is on an itinerary, the other 3 are on the other itinerary. Not every boat makes the long trek to Isabela & Fernandina, so it’s possible that the Monserrat doesn’t go there at all. But you might want to check into that.

      I personally really like working with the agencies that specialize in Galápagos travel. They have a very broad picture of all of the options available and can bring up issues that most people might not ever have thought about. By working just with one boat owner, you have automatically limited your options, cruise-wise. I don’t know anything about the Monserrat or its owners, so I can’t speak to their discounts. But many folks report that working directly with an owner may not necessarily save you much, since they often charge similar prices to the agencies–instead of giving the agencies a discount for selling, the owners just keep that discount when you book directly. The largest savings you can get is going for last-minute deals, which you’re not talking about right now. (Such deals often are within a month of sailing or even a few days.) If you’re not completely sure of what you want, an agency is the way to go (in my opinion). For our return trip last year, I knew quite well what I wanted. But Heather at CNH Tours was extremely helpful in broadening our options and even helping us out when surprises arose that necessitated our changing our plans. And really, a “reasonable” price is a bit of a misnomer when considering a trip to the Galápagos. It’s simply an extremely expensive destination, if you want to be on a boat that meets the minimum standards of cleanliness, decent crew, and a sturdy boat.

      Tina

      Like

  21. Hi Tina
    I have also just started looking into our Galapagos adventure for Oct 2015. Doing research I found u. Thank goodness. I had no idea there were this many choices to the Galapagos I thought I phoned and booked a trip to the Galapagos. Wowsa as there is too much to wrap my head around. I found an iteniary that I keep going back too but it does not include Isabela, Fernandina and Genovesa that it seems u speak volumes about. I am interested in Giant tortoises as well as the big iguanas. Actually any animal. Love them all. What do u think of this one. It would be aboard the Monserrat. San Cristobal, Cerro Brujo / Kicker Rock, Espanola Island , Floreana Island , Santa Cruz, Sullivan Bay/ Bartolome, Bachas Beach, and Black TurtleCove/ Baltra . Thank u so much for your feedback. Also how is the weather in October or would September be better? Again thank u so much for any input u can give me.

    Like

    • Tina says:

      Wowza indeed, Claudine! All of the choices can feel overwhelming, I know. It looks like you’re talking about the 5-day itinerary of the tourist-superior class Monserrat. With that short an itinerary, you typically can only get to 1 of the 4 most distant islands that I rave about. In this itinerary, it’s Española. If you want to get to more than 1, you’ll probably need to choose a longer itinerary. Keep in mind that any itinerary is really 2 days shorter than it sounds; the first day is just an afternoon outing and the last day, a morning outing, because of airport transportation issues. So this 5-day itinerary only has 3 full days at sea, which doesn’t leave you enough time to travel to more than one of the distant islands.

      Having written that, Española in Oct. will be nice. The stunning Waved Albatross will still be on land and their nestlings will be large and totally funky-looking. The adults will also probably be resuming their courtship activities a bit as they prepare for their 3 months of flying non-stop off the coast of Perú starting around mid-Dec. or so. So it’s a great time to be there. Snorkeling at Kicker Rock is reported to be good (I’ve not been there). It also goes to Floreana, but you don’t snorkel at the best spot there (Devil’s Crown), although I’ve read a decent report or 2 about snorkeling at Champion Islet. You spent the last morning at the tortoise breeding center (Research Station) on Santa Cruz, but it’s not clear that you’ll get to see the better viewing–of Giant Tortoises living free in the highlands of Santa Cruz. You might want to check on that, because that experience is really great.

      So I’d say this is an okay itinerary but maybe not the best even for such a short cruise. You’ll be paying a lot just to set foot in the archipelago (~$400 airfare and $100 park entrance fee). Might you be able to swing a bit more money and time and look for an 8-day/7-night cruise? I don’t think you’d regret it. You might consider working with an agency that specializes in Galápagos travel, such as Happy Gringo, Columbus Travel, or CNH Tours. Those folks have lots of experience in listening to what you want, your limits, and your expectations and then offering suggestions for you to consider. They can really help you sort out the many options facing you.

      An alternative might be, if you had the time, to take a short cruise like this and then spend a few days on Santa Cruz doing day trips to places that you didn’t get to (e.g., the highlands for tortoises, Bartolomé for penguins, N. Seymour for sea bird breeding colonies). Day trips can be a bit tricky, since they don’t run every day and the most popular ones (such as Bartolomé and N. Seymour) can sell out. But you’ll be traveling during a non-high-traveler time, so that might not be so much of a worry.

      The weather in Oct. will be quite similar to the weather in Sept., so that shouldn’t play much of a role in your decision. In fact, the water temps will likely be a tiny bit warmer in Oct. and the air temps still mild with low humidity. The probability of rough seas will still exist but will not be quite as high as in Sept. So Oct. is, in my opinion, a fine time to visit.

      Tina

      Like

  22. Betsi says:

    Thank you so much!! We can’t wait for our trip!

    Like

  23. Betsi says:

    Tina, can you give me your opinion on the 5-night western itinerary on the Santa Cruz? Also, what is your opinion of this ship? We like the idea of the larger ship and are hoping for no seasickness and a good variety of wildlife on this cruise! We are going to the Galapagos in mid to late April.

    Like

    • Tina says:

      Hi, Betsi–

      The 5-night western itinerary of the Santa Cruz looks like a good one. You’ll hit some of the best snorkeling spots in the archipelago, if that’s important to you. Fernandina and Isabela have terrific marine wildlife. And Punta Vicente Roca is the favorite snorkeling spot of the naturalist guides on both of our trips–and they were avid snorkelers and divers. It’s a bit of a shame that the itinerary goes to Floreana but doesn’t let you snorkel at Devil’s Crown (the other most-touted spot); instead, you snorkel at Champion. But I’ve read some nice reports of snorkeling there.

      You’ll get to see lots of penguins on the western islands, which are such a treat. Isabela/Fernandina are home to the largest subspecies of Marine Iguana–and they are big! About the only wildlife that you’ll likely see in lower numbers around the western islands are the Galápagos Sea Lions, which hang out in much larger numbers on the sandy beaches of the older, eastern islands. But you should still see some in the west, especially around Fernandina, I think.

      You can probably arrange to see the Giant Tortoises living free in the highlands of Santa Cruz on the day spent there–so much better than just seeing them in the more zoo-like setting of the Research Station. And you’ll get a nice taste of the sea bird breeding colonies on N. Seymour.

      I don’t know anything much about the Santa Cruz. A larger ship will likely help with motion sickness–although in April, you have a high probability of calm waters, so motion sickness is not likely to be a problem on any boat.

      Tina

      Like

  24. Mich says:

    Thanks for you wonderful information. Do you have any experience or any opinions on the Queen of Galapagos. It is a 16 person Catamaran, and I we are considering for a trip in Nov 2015.

    Like

    • Tina says:

      Hi, Mich–

      I don’t know much about the Queen of Galápagos per se, except that she is one of the more expensive boats in the first-class category. But the boat herself is only one–and to me not necessarily the most important–decision point. You really need to consider the itineraries. Her itineraries are odd for such an high-class boat. Either of her 2 8-day/7-night itineraries goes to only 1 of the 4 most distant islands–in her case, Genovesa on one and Española on the other. Most boats put 2 of the distant islands (often Isabela and Fernandina) on one 8-day itinerary and the other 2 (often Genovesa and Española) on the other. But the QoG doesn’t appear to go to Isabela/Fernandina at any point during her full 15-day route. I’ve seen lower-end boats that don’t go to Isabela/Fernandina (the westernmost islands) because they lack the power. (Those islands are a 10- to 12-hour trip from most locations.) But it’s curious that the QoG–which should have plenty of power–never goes to those marvelous spots. I wonder why?

      So I personally wouldn’t choose these itineraries as the best of the best, especially for the price you might pay. As a minimum, I’d look for a boat that goes to at least 2 of the most distant islands on an 8-day itinerary; those islands have the most unusual wildlife, having evolved in isolation, and are least visited by human traffic. Some itineraries will even get you to 3 of the 4 islands on 1 8-day itinerary–those are the best, in my opinion.

      Tina

      Like

  25. Ken says:

    I want to go to the Galapagos. I am 68 and had been concerned about the landing craft until I read your blog. I had about given up on the idea. I noticed in some of your blog replies that there are sharks among the snorkelers. Could you address this? Thank you!

    Like

    • Tina says:

      Hi, Ken–

      No need to give up on the Galápagos! Getting into and out of the pangas just requires a little bit of balance and a willingness to let others help. The crew are there to help everyone in and out. Those firm handholds–a.k.a., the Galápagos handshake–make sure that no one ends up in the drink.

      Regarding sharks–The most common shark we saw were the white-tipped reef sharks. (In fact, I don’t think we saw any other species of shark when we were snorkeling.) These sharks are nocturnal and spend their days resting on the floor of the oceans. They present no danger for snorkelers as long as you keep your distance (as is true for just about any wildlife).

      Most of the larger shark species (e.g., hammerhead, Galápagos shark) are found by scuba divers around the outer islands of Darwin & Wolf (reachable by tourists only on a liveaboard scuba tour). However, the Samba’s northwest itinerary snorkels at several spots around the northern island of Marchena. (As far as I know, the Samba is the only boat that goes to this island.) A few spottings of these larger shark species have been reported by snorkelers, but they are by far the exception rather than the rule. So, if you LIKE sharks, check out the Samba. Otherwise, you’ll mostly just see reef sharks as you float a good distance above them.

      You can read a bit more about the sharks of the archipelago here: http://www.animalcorner.co.uk/galapagos/sharks.html .

      Tina

      Like

      • Ken Kohler says:

        Thanks Tina. I feel better about the sharks. Now all I need is a good reasonable priced tour on a nice boat with airfare included from Miami, and a free transfer to and from the airport for a Eastern Galapagos cruise with a share in April or May of 2015. I have always wanted to go to Manchu Pichu also however the packages are out of sight. I love your blog. It is the best information I have seen. Thanks!–Ken

        Like

  26. 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

  27. 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

    Like

    • 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

      Like

  28. 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?

    Like

    • 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

      Like

  29. 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

  30. 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

      Like

  31. 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.

    Like

    • 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

      Like

  32. 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

    Like

    • 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

      Like

      • 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

        Like

      • 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

        Like

  33. 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

    Like

    • 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

      Like

  34. 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

        Like

    • 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

  35. 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

      Like

  36. 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

        Like

  37. 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 I 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

  38. 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

  39. 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

  40. 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

  41. 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

  42. 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

  43. 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

  44. 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

      • Betsi says:

        Hi, Tina,
        We have booked a 5 night cruise on the ship Santa Cruz for the middle of April doing their western itinerary, which includes North Seymour, Isabela, Fernandina, Santa Cruz, and Floreana. I know you prefer the 7 nights, but we are doing this trip with another trip to Machu Picchu and had to fit it all into our schedule!
        Any tips or information for this cruise or these islands?
        Thanks,
        Betsi

        Like

      • Tina says:

        Hi, Betsi–

        That sounds like a good 5-night itinerary. Isabela and Fernandina are stunning and the wildlife are fascinating there. You won’t get to see the amazing sea bird colonies on Genovesa, but you’ll have a good taste of those on N. Seymour. If you snorkel at Devil’s Crown off Floreana, you’ll have experienced the best snorkeling the archipelago has to offer (experts say) because Devil’s Crown and Isabela/Fernandina are considered the highlights.

        I think you’ve made a great choice!

        Tina

        Like

  45. 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

  46. 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

  47. 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

  48. 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

  49. 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

  50. willowoman says:

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

    Like

  51. 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

  52. 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

  53. 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

  54. 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

  55. Adele says:

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

    Like

  56. 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

  57. 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

  58. 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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