If you love the ocean, animal life, and a sense of adventure the world heritage site, Galapagos Islands, must be on your to do list. Let us help you plan your trip.
Boobies and seals, iguanas and manta rays, oh my! Our family trip to the Galapagos ranks up there as one of the best trips I’ve ever taken. With all the travel we’ve done, we had never taken a cruise of any sort before. It wasn’t my idea of traveling…at all, but my travel journey, my evolution, so to speak has taught me to be open to new ways of getting around. So, the idea of living on board and sailing around these world famous islands was exciting. We couldn’t wait to walk in Charles Darwin’s footsteps and discover the amazing island and marine life for ourselves.
In this post, you’ll learn how to start planning for a Galapagos Islands Vacation:
- World Heritage Site Galapagos Islands
- How to Get to the Galapagos
- Galapagos National Park
- How to Choose a Cruise Boat
- What to Expect on a Galapagos Cruise
- Galapagos Islands Animals
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World Heritage Site Galapagos Islands
A unique ‘living museum and showcase of evolution,’ the Galapagos Islands were the very first world heritage site to be inscribed on the UNESCO list due to its outstanding universal value.
The islands lie about 1,000 kilometers off the coast of Ecuador where three different ocean currents merge. It’s this convergence that provides the amazingly rich abundance of life in an ecosystem unlike any other on Earth.
How to Get to the Galapagos Islands
Getting to the Galapagos is a bit tough and pretty expensive. First you must purchase your round trip airfare to Ecuador. There are only two gateway cities to start your journey, Guayaquil and Quito.
Since there were four of us, we took the cheaper route and flew into Guayaquil. From Guayaquil, it’s an hour and a half flight to Baltra. Upon arrival, we were met by a person representing our boat, and we just followed his lead to the entrance of the national park. It was quite easy.
Galapagos National Park
We were taken to the entrance of the Galapagos National Park. Upon arrival, the admissions point was well set up. We snaked our way along a wooden line in order to pay our $100 per person park entry fee as well as go through customs. There we were met by our Ecuadorian guide, the amazing Bolivar, who immediately took us to our boat, the Golondrina.
Even though I think $400 for my family to visit a national park is a bit steep, I found the guides to be attentive and knowledgeable, able to answer our questions and tell us all about the geological background as well as about the flora and fauna within the park. Also within the boundaries the boats and people are well maintained and regulated, which preserves the biosphere.
The cost of entrance to the park is $100 for each person over 12, and $50 for children. Of course we went when both the girls were teenagers. They loved it and understood it all. Learning about Darwin and his Theory of Evolution on the boat and seeing the species he talked about in person was absolutely the best education.
How to Choose a Cruise Boat
We had read the many pros and cons of big boats versus small boats. The bigger boats appeared to be much more luxurious with plenty of amenities like pools and hot tubs. There are plenty of lines to choose from and it’s a personal choice.
We looked at a number of boats, like the Quasar Evolution, the Sea Star, and the Golodrina. Each had a choice of cruise options and of course were full board with at least one naturalist assigned to the boat, so it really came down to cost and amenities.
We opted to go small, booking the Golondrina with 10 other passengers, even though it holds 16. For us, it was the right choice. The boat was not full of luxuries at all; it had an eating area, a deck on top, and a small deck on the back that we entered and exited the boat from.
But the really nice part was that it was also not full of people, and we never had to wait to be transported to the various landings or to get into the water to swim and snorkel. It was quiet and restful, and we seemed to maximize our time both on land and in the water.
We did come across some of the larger boats, and when they would drop anchor, our captain would whisk us away to someplace else that didn’t have hordes of people. That was a wonderful bonus!
What to Expect on a Galapagos Cruise
We had four fun-filled days traveling to the various islands where we hiked which included animal and bird viewing, swimming, snorkeling, and just taking it easy. The schedule is extremely comfortable, and the crew was ready with either a meal or snack each time we climbed back onto the boat.
Our days went something like this: wake up, breakfast, tour, snack, swimming, lunch, tour, snack, swimming or relaxing, an evening cocktail, dinner, relaxing and bed. It was the best mixture of lazing around in the sun with a drink and a snack, a good swim with the sea lions or amazing fish, and eating great food and getting to know everyone on the boat really well from the crew to the eight other passengers.
Some of the highlights of our tour were:
- Visiting and hiking the various islands, inlets, bays
- Swimming and snorkeling
- Freshly seafood on the boat
- Cruising through the phosphorescence at night
Visiting the Various Galapagos Islands
On our tour we started in Baltra and visited so many points, bays, and of course other islands. We loved Isla de Lobos, Genovesa, Mosquera, Kicker Rock, Vincente Roca Point, Seymour Island, and Isla Isabela.
The black jagged rocks of the lava, the almost desert-like landscapes, the up close and personal looks at the flora and fauna, and all with a superior naturalist, Bolivar, made each visit unique and fun.
Swimming and Snorkeling
Everyday we had the opportunity to swim and snorkel. It was amazing, the best I’ve ever done. One day we were snorkeling around a rock. This rock had algae or some plant life on it that attracted all kinds of fish. All kinds of fish, but we really loved the Angel Fish with yellow fins. They swam around and around the rock, stopping to eat, just like at a roadside diner.
Another time we jumped on our panga (skiff) to be taken a bit from the boat to snorkel and underneath the panga swam a gigantic Manta Ray. It was longer than the boat, at least 11 feet long. It was black and white and it just glided under the surface. It was stunning.
And one of our biggest highlights was the day that the sea lions came to tease and play with us in the water. At first they were chasing schools of small fish, flashing this way and that. Then they swam right up to us, I swear with a glint in their eyes, and at the last moment turned. They did this a few times and then swam off. We couldn’t believe it. That was a check off on the bucket list!
The Fresh Seafood on the Boat
We had a small three person crew on our boat. They worked all day and most of the night to keep us fed, comfortable, and happy. One of the things they did was fish as much as they could. Each night we’d eat the fresh seafood they caught, and there was only a couple of meals we went without seafood.
Cruising through the Phosphorescence
One magical night, we were on top of the boat chatting and having a cocktail. It was getting late, but we loved the starlit skies against the inky black night. On this night, one of the crew whispers to us to look down. All around the boat was the bio-luminescence of little white sparkling organisms in the water. Our daughters were thrilled. It’s something you read about, but you’re not sure you’ll ever get to see it.
Galapagos Islands Animals
Everyone goes to the Galapagos to see the tortoises and blue-footed boobies, but there are so many more birds and animals to see. We encountered all kinds of birds from boobies, finches, frigate birds, and flamingoes, as well as the myriad of animals like the land and marine iguanas, geckos, sea lions and seals.
To top it off we couldn’t get enough of the sea life such as sharks and manta rays, and fish…so many fish! It was a smorgasbord of wildlife. The rules are strict within the park, and therefore the animals don’t really even acknowledge you, because they have never been threatened. They just go on with their business as you snap away with your camera or hike on by. It has to be one of the most relaxing, yet fascinating places I have been.
Practical Tips for Visiting the Galapagos
We learned so much of what to do and not to do on this trip. In some ways we felt we could have better prepared. So, we’ve listed these few things that we learned to help you plan your trip.
Take Your Time
For many people, visiting the Galapagos is a “once in a lifetime” experience. As we’ve mentioned, it’s not a cheap undertaking, mainly due to where it’s located and the restrictions put on by the national park, which is well warranted. Once you master how to get to the Galapagos Islands and choose a boat, though, it’s all worth it.
One thing we wish we’d done is take more time on land. On the cruise, you land every day, hike and see animals, but we didn’t spend any time in Puerto Villamil or any of the other local cities.
What to Bring to the Galapagos
Luckily, it is full board on all the boats so you don’t have to worry about eating. We ate very well, often seafood, fresh fruits, and as I mentioned lots of snacks since we were swimming and burning a lot of calories, so don’t bother bringing any food or snacks.
As the country name implies, it’s right near the Equator so it’s hot, hot, hot. Even smearing ourselves with sun tan lotion wasn’t enough. We all got burned. So bring a very high SPF and wear a hat as much as you can, and don’t forget the aloe lotion.
It’s a good idea to pack a light cotton long-sleeve to keep the sun off of your shoulders and neck as well. Of course, at night it gets cold on the water, so also bring a pullover or sweatshirt to keep warm.
Most of the ride was quite smooth, but there was one stretch of water that is notoriously rough and every passenger on the boat, except Jim, crawled into their beds to try and keep from getting sick. It did help some, but bringing Dramamine or wearing wrist bands would probably have been welcomed.
Here are some products we recommend you bring:
Sun shirts: for women, one of my favorite pieces of travel clothing is a white, long-sleeved blouse to keep the sun off. Here’s one that I wear, the Minibee Casual Cotton Linen Blouse, and my daughter likes this one, the Minibee Women’s Cotton Peplum Tunic. They are light enough to wear when hiking or touring or beaching.For men, Jim loves the Baleaf Long Sleeve Shirt with SPF protection.
Sun hats. Again, you just want to be able to stay cool and keep that equatorial sun off of you as much as possible. Jim and I both love the Columbia Unisex Adult Bora Bora Booney, which comes in a myriad of colors.
Visiting the Galapagos Islands, the first world heritage site, is a dream vacation. Who doesn’t want to explore and hike small islands in the middle of the ocean? Who doesn’t want to swim with sea lions, see animals and birds that otherwise might only be encountered in zoos or aquariums? Who doesn’t want to ride on a boat and be pampered for a week?
Author Bio: Corinne Vail is a travel photographer, food lover, and a perpetual traveler who has been travel writing for over 14 years. For many years she lived overseas in Germany, Japan, Turkey, South Korea, and the Netherlands teaching the children of the US. military. She’s visited over 90 countries, and she’s not stopping anytime soon.
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