How to Cruise Through the Galápagos Islands
There's no better way to cover ground on your trip to the Galápagos Islands than to sail on a multi-day live aboard cruise ship.
Galápagos National Park regulates the number and type of tourist boats that are allowed to operate to avoid overcrowding, to lessen the environmental impact, and to minimize stress on the amazing animals of the Galápagos. Today, there are 80 live aboard tourist vessels in the waters around the Galápagos Islands, most of them carrying fewer than 20 passengers each. Most tourist boats in the Galápagos offer 5 day, 4 night or 7 day, 6 night all-inclusive itineraries which are strictly designed and assigned by Galápagos National Park officials.
To find a cruise fit for your wildest Galápagos dreams, refer to this guide, which highlights some of the top Galápagos cruises for every type of traveler.
Small Galápagos Cruises (20 passengers or less)
Most of the live aboard cruise boats in the Galápagos carry fewer than 20 passengers. Small capacity means onboard facilities may be more cramped, but service is more personal — and it’s much quicker and easier to accomplish transfers from the boat to the zodiacs that make island landings. Basically, there's less waiting around on a small Galápagos cruise ship.
Quasar M/Y Grace
The 18-passenger M/Y Grace motor yacht was once owned by Grace Kelly. She and Prince Rainier spent part of their honeymoon onboard, and now you can sleep in their bedroom. The Grace Suite, debuted in 2017, is a renovation of the part of the boat that was the stateroom used by the couple.
Ecoventura M/Y Letty
The M/Y Letty is one of the best full-service motor yachts in the Galápagos for value. There’s nothing fancy about this 20-passenger boat, but it’s a solid option with great service and comfortable accommodations. A trip on the M/Y Letty promises a 10 guest per guide ratio, as well as dinner with the captain.
Ecoventura M/V Origin
The 20-passenger M/V Origin is like a floating boutique hotel. All 10 cabins are on the same deck, there’s an open bar policy, Wi-Fi is available onboard, and there's a a clear-bottom zodiac (an amenity normally found only on larger boats) to transport you ashore. A unique hull design means this ship is also one of the most fuel-efficient in the Galápagos. In 2018, the boat will offer hosted departures with marine biologist Jack Grove, a wellness sailing with a yoga instructor, meditation and rieki, a photographer-hosted sailing, and a chef-hosted sailing. Travelers can also look forward to 2019, when the M/V Origin will get a new luxury sister ship: the 20 passenger M/V Theory.
Medium Galápagos Ships (20 to 50 passengers)
Quasar M/V Evolution
In October of 2017, a top-to-bottom redesign of the 32-passenger M/V Evolution was completed by Adriana Hoyos, a furniture and interior designer renowned for her work on luxury hotels across the Americas. The ship's refreshed cabins now have a contemporary, boutique hotel aesthetic.
National Geographic Islander
All cabins on the 48-passenger National Geographic Islander have windows, eight rooms have private glassed-in patios, and the ship's two suites have wrap-around views over the bow. The ship also offers deck hammocks, Wi-Fi, and a free digital photo kiosk with a trio of iMac computers. Food served onboard is made with ingredients sourced from farms in the Galápagos whenever possible, and any food imported from the mainland is washed, peeled, and sealed before shipping to reduce the risk of introducing invasive species into the fragile island environment.
The Celebrity Xperience carries 48 passengers in three types of suites, all of which feature robes, refrigerators, binoculars, 300 thread count sheets, and a pillow menu, among other upscale amenities. All beverages (including alcohol) and Wi-Fi are included in rates. Cuisine onboard has been created by chef Cornelius Gallagher, who honed his skills at some of the best restaurants in the world, including New York City's Bouley and Daniel, and El Bulli in Spain.
Large Galápagos Ships (50 to 100 passengers)
Galápagos National Park officials have set a maximum limit of 100 passengers per vessel, making these the largest ships in the archipelago. Travelers may opt for a large-capacity cruise ship for more space onboard (like bigger hallways and staircases for easier movement around the ship) and increased services, like an onboard doctor. The downside of traveling on a large ship is the time it can take to complete transfers by zodiac from the boat to land destinations. Also, some areas of the Galápagos may be off limits to larger ships.
National Geographic Endeavor II
The 96-passenger National Geographic Endeavor II was fully renovated in 2016. The ship has Wi-Fi, a doctor, SUP gear, a clear-bottom zodiac, a free digital photo kiosk with iMacs, and a spa. Like the Islander food brought from the mainland is carefully prepared and packaged to prevent the introduction of invasive species to the Galápagos Islands.
Santa Cruz II
The 100-passenger Santa Cruz II was renovated in 2017 to be even more family friendly. The five level ship has 50 cabins, including family state rooms and three 325-square-foot Darwin Suites which have a sitting area, a Wi-Fi package, and larger bathrooms with L’Occitane toiletries.
In May of 2019, the Celebrity Xperience and Celebrity Xploration will get a new, larger luxury sister ship when the Celebrity Flora hits the water. The 100-passenger Celebrity Flora will feature all of the design elements, amenities, and services of its sisters and then some, including two 1,288-square-foot Penthouse Suites (the largest in the Galápagos), and a marina that can accommodate three zodiacs at a time to facilitate faster transfers from ship to land. All of that comes in a high tech package that makes the Flora the most fuel efficient vessel in its class.
The 100-passenger Silver Galapagos is an all-suite ship with accommodations up to 360 square feet, some with Illy in-room coffee makers, mini-bars, and private verandas. Wi-Fi (with some restrictions), butler service, select wines and spirits, and tips are included. There’s also a fitness center, spa, and two restaurants onboard.
These small boats have a unique hull design, like the dual parallel runners of a sled, that many believe makes catamarans more stable in the water.
The 16-passenger Celebrity Xploration is arguably the most luxurious catamaran in the Galápagos. Its eight suites and junior suites feature extras like binoculars, private refrigerators, choice of mattress, a pillow menu, and room service. Cuisine onboard has been created by chef Cornelius Gallagher.
The Anahi carries 16 passengers in eight rooms, including two 270-square-foot suites. Travelers should expect traditional yacht design details, like polished wooden floors and portrait windows.
One of the newer catamarans sailing in the Galápagos, the Alia can carry 16 passengers in nine cabins, eight of which have private balconies. Travelers can opt for eight, five, and four-day sailings, with inclusive excursions such as snorkeling and kayaking.
The Nemo II, which was renovated in 2016, takes just 14 passengers. At this time, the ship only operates eight day sailings from Sunday to Sunday.
Live-aboard Dive Boats
If you’re an experienced certified SCUBA diver, a live-aboard dive boat might be for you. These boats are built to accommodate the specific needs (and the gear) of divers, and they navigate special routes and itineraries that include top dive sites. Divers in the Galápagos regularly see whale sharks, hammerhead sharks, spotted eagle rays, manta rays, sun fish, and many other marine creatures that are on divers' bucket lists.
M/V Galápagos Sky
Explorer Ventures' M/V Humboldt Explorer and M/V Majestic Explorer each accommodate 16 passengers. The Humboldt currently has the largest dive deck of any live-aboard dive boats in the Galápagos, which makes getting into and out of your dive gear easier.
The Galápagos Master accommodates 16 passengers and is the only dive boat in the Galápagos offering 7 and 10-day itineraries (other boats offer seven day trips only).
The Nortada is the smallest live aboard dive boat in the Galápagos, accommodating just eight passengers. Guests on the 85-foot-long ship can congregate on the bridge, the galley, or in the air conditioned dining room and lounge.
The Galápagos Aggressor III, part of a company that operates dive boats around the world, can accommodate 16 passengers and has been operating in the Galápagos Islands since 1993.