Anticipation ripples through you and your fellow passengers. Your ship is dropping anchor about 100 yards from shore and your expedition staff is lowering the zodiacs into the water. The island you’ve approached is sandy and rocky with little vegetation save some brushy grasses and spindly Paulo Santo trees. The sun blazes overhead yet there’s a cool wind that sends your hand to your hat to hold on.
This is the first deserted island you’ve visited in the Galapagos and your naturalist said dancing blue-footed boobies, frigate birds with their bright red pouches, crazy yellow land iguanas, and prehistoric-looking marine iguanas can all be found here. Your kid pulls on your shorts leg and looks up at you, wide-eyed and laughing. This is it! You and your family have arrived in the Galapagos Islands and you’re never going to forget this moment.
You really should visit the Galapagos Islands once in your lifetime. Certainly we must protect the islands from overtouristing, yet if we take turns and prohibit large volumes of visitors at one time, as the Galapagos National Park does, a visit to these sun-drenched, lava-filled islands teeming with the unbelievable animals that inspired Charles Darwin will blow your mind and spark your imagination too.
But how do you get there and what ship should you take? Arriving in the Galapagos via Quito or Guayaquil, Ecuador is easy and will be taken care of by your travel planner, yet the important decision you’ll need to make is what kind of ship you’ll select. The available ships fall into three categories, small, medium and large, and each has its merits. Yet which is right for you?
Small Yachts of 12-20 passengers are fantastic because even if they’re luxury yachts (like the Origin/Theory) they’re often very casual environments that will offer you the opportunity to spend lots of time with your family or traveling companions. And you’ll get to know your fellow passengers very well too. You’ll have one or two naturalists onboard depending on the ship size, and they’ll be available often for questions and easy-going chats.
The yacht is like your personal summer house and you can make use of its (limited) public areas and amenities. The cuisine is often super fresh and casually delicious. The chef and ship’s steward will become like family. Every landing is an adventure you’ll discuss at lunch or dinner. When it’s time to leave you might even shed a tear.
Small yachts are not for people who prefer alone time and anonymity. They’re also not for people who need room to stroll or like to dress up. They’re not for people who like different sources of information as you’ll only get the point of view of one or two naturalists. And they’re not for people who are concerned about seasickness. The waters can be very choppy in this region and anyone with concerns about rough seas should take a larger ship.
Larger Ships of around 100 passengers are much more spacious and provide more anonymity. Teens and tweens particularly love these ships as during typical school holidays, there’s usually a pack of teenagers onboard who become fast friends for the whole trip. Some of these ships offer the highest standards of luxury available in the Galapagos including Relais & Chateaux fine dining (Silver Origin), all suites with seating areas, and even light entertainment. Other ships this size are more casual (Santa Cruz II) yet still offer many attractive public spaces to explore. Larger ships are best for anyone sensitive to seasickness plus having many naturalists means a stronger education program.
100 passenger ships can be overwhelming for some, yet they can also allow for dining alone and keeping to yourself with no need to get to know people. More people can mean waiting in line to go to shore as each group of 16 heads off on a shore visit. Still, these operations run very smoothly as 100 passengers is still a very small ship from an operational standpoint.
Midsize Ships of 40-50 passengers can offer the best of all possible worlds for some. La Pinta is an example I love. I sent the producer of the Harry Potter movies on this ship and he loved it! There are enough fellow passengers that you can happily make new friends yet not so many that you feel invisible. Going to shore is quick and easy with only 3 or 4 groups to land. There are enough public areas to explore that you feel like you have space to roam. A great compliment of 3-5 naturalists offer different points of view. Still, you might prefer qualities of the other two sizes.
There’s more to choosing a Galapagos ship than its size, yet choosing a size is a great place to start. We at Wild Nectar have curated a selection of ships based on the quality of experiences they offer as well as their sustainability activities in this very fragile place.
All of our ships, no matter the size, offer outstanding education programs and the very best operational support. Some offer kayaking, paddle boarding, glamping in a turtle reserve, and other activities as well. We also have land trips.
Sadly, there are many ships in the Galapagos with poor safety records and substandard food, cleanliness and amenities, and just by Googling, it may be hard for you to identify these. Be sure to plan your trip with an expert. I traveled to the Galapagos in 2005 on a 10 day trip and have helped hundreds of travelers visit there since. Check out my slideshow from my trip on the 48 passenger National Geographic Islander, a midsize ship.
Whether the size you choose is small, medium or large, we at Wild Nectar look forward to helping you select the perfect ship. Contact us today!