Frequently asked questions about cruises around the Galapagos Islands

Bartolome island | Frequently asked questions about cruises around the Galapagos Islands

How to get there?

How to organise Galapagos flights?
What else should I consider seeing? What is the cost of a trip to the Galapagos?
Do we organize all or part of the trip? What is normally included/excluded?
When should I make my reservation? How to pay the Galapagos Park tax?
What to tip? Best time to go?
What types of guides are there? How important is the itinerary?
What length of cruise is best? What diving is possible?
Which type of boat? Boat or hotel?
Should I charter? What are land visits like?
Can I kayak? Can I snorkel?
What if I need to cancel?

What luggage restrictions are there?

What restrictions for senior people?
How can I avoid being seasick? What medical facilities are there?
Are any immunizations required? What will the weather be like?
What do I need to bring? What can I buy during the trip?
How do we receive vouchers and tickets? Do you recommend travel insurance?
How can I pay incidentals? Can I obtain cash during the trip?

for more complementary info, click Galapagos visitor information

How to get to Galapagos ?
Your international flights to Ecuador arrive at Quito or Guayaquil. It is normal to spend at least one night in a hotel, and then take a domestic flight in the morning with Tame or Aerogal to the Galapagos, landing at Baltra or San Cristobal. These domestic flights always start from Quito, stop at Guayaquil 30 minutes later, and then continue to the Galapagos after refuelling. The Galapagos Islands are about 600 miles west of the Ecuadorian mainland, and flying time is around 1 hour 40 minutes. The aircraft are either Boeing 727 or Airbus 310. Your return flight from Galapagos will arrive back in the afternoon, click for Galapagos flights details.

Should I book the flights separately from the Galapagos trip?
This only makes sense if you want to arrive in Galapagos and then arrange your stay at the last moment. Otherwise your flights need to tie in with the itinerary of the selected cruise, so it is normal to book the flight and cruise at the same time. Note that these domestic flights cannot be purchased by travel agents using normal airline reservation systems such as Sabre.

Should I visit other places apart of Galapagos Island?
At the minimum, you will need to stay in a Quito or Guayaquil hotel your first night in order to catch the morning flight to Galapagos. Unless your international departure time is in the evening, you will also need to stay another night in a hotel on your return. We recommend though that you take advantage of your visit and consider seeing the city and the Equator monument, Otavalo or other Indian markets, the snow-capped Cotopaxi volcano, Mindo cloud forest, Cuenca and surroundings, the Ecuadorian Amazon, or even combine with a trip to Machu Picchu and Cuzco in Peru.

What is the cost of a trip to the Galapagos?
As a minimum, each person pays the return flight to the Galapagos, the Galapagos Park entry fee ($100), the cost of the cruise (from $400 to more than $2,000 depending on cruise length and quality), and a tip for the crew and guide. To this you add any other costs of hotels and tours on the mainland.

What is normally included / excluded in the boat packages?
The boat rates includes accommodations, all meals aboard the boat, guided excursions to the islands, all guide and lecture services, transfers in the islands and between the airport and yacht in Galapagos. The following are not usually included: Galapagos flights, Galapagos Entrance Fee (includes the municipal tax, currently $100 US payable in cash to the national park authorities in Baltra), tips (it is normal to tip the guide, chef and crew) soft drinks, alcoholic beverages, telephone calls, laundry and any other extras and personal expenses not specified in the yacht terms and conditions. There is also a US $25 departure tax from Ecuador on all international flights.

Does Latin Discover organize all or part of the trip?
We can organize your entire trip, including hotels, cruise, domestic flights, and any extensions elsewhere in Ecuador or to Peru. Using our in-depth knowledge of Ecuador and Peru we can suggest the most suitable itinerary for your interests and budget, and arrange it efficiently. The only part we do not organize is international flights. And of course we can put into place for you just parts of your trip also.

When should I make my reservation?
Due to demand, Galapagos yachts historically have been reserved well in advance, particularly for the high seasons. Although shorter timetables are feasible, it is normal and recommended that you book your trip 3-6 months prior to your intended date of departure, and 6-12 months prior to the holiday seasons.

How to pay the Galapagos Park tax?
Unless you are a resident of Ecuador, you need to pay $100 entry fee to visit Galapagos. With some cruises you can arrange to pay this in advance, along with the cruise payment. Otherwise it can only be paid in cash (not travellers check or credit card) in US dollars on arrival at the airport in Galapagos.

How much to tip?
There is no clear rule on this, and you will always be told that it depends on you and the service you received. The following is just an indication for yachts and cruise ships: tip the guide around $6-9 per person per day, and give the captain $5-10 per person per day for the crew. Often these are put in envelopes, and in smaller yachts the passengers sometimes combine all the tips together.

When is the best time to travel?
From a wildlife viewpoint, there is always something happening around the year, whether nesting, mating or hatching. Some migrant species are present only for part of the year, for example whales are present from June-September. See Galapagos calendar for more details. December to May has the best sea temperature and lack of winds, whilst the sea is coldest and less flat from June to November. If you want to go during the low season or benefit from lower prices, then you should avoid mid June-August, and mid-December to April although each operator has a different definition of high season.

What type of guides does Galapagos offer?
There are 3 levels of naturalist guide, although you are most like to come across II and III who are allowed to guide up to 16 people. All must pass various courses applied by the Galapagos National Park authorities. The basic differences according to the regulations are not entirely clear in places:-

Level III

Ecuadorians or foreigners with work permits, academic title in biology, tourism or related subject, speak Spanish, English, French or German, & pass Natural Guide course 2

Level II

Ecuadorians, secondary or intermediate university studies in biology, tourism or related subject, speak English, French or German, & pass Natural Guide course 3

Level I

Residents of the area, high school diploma, basic English, have wide knowledge of the zone & pass Natural Guide course 1

How important is the itinerary?
This should be a key part of your decision-making process. As Darwin discovered, each island differs in its flora and fauna, the western islands are more recent and volcanic, and what you see also varies during the year. Much depends on your interests. Itineraries do vary considerably between boats. Not many of the lower-priced yachts visit the popular western islands of Isabela and Fernandina, nor the northeast island of Genovesa, for example. And obviously shorter 4 or 5 day trips will be covering less ground. If you are taking an 8 day trip on a boat which also offer 4 and 5 day trips, check what you will be doing when the boat is picking up and dropping passengers for the shorter trips.

What length of cruise is best?
The most frequent cruise lengths are 4, 5 and 8 days. There are occasional 10 and 14 day cruises, especially for dedicated diving. Your decision will be influenced by time available, interests and budget. As expected, the longer the cruise, the more islands are visited. This is an important consideration, as each island differs in appearance, history and flora and fauna. The short cruises (4 & 5 days) give a good and quick appreciation of the Galapagos through visiting some islands, whilst the 8 day tours visit more islands and give a more complete understanding of the uniqueness of the Galapagos. The 8 day itineraries also help reduce the impact and fixed costs of the long flight to reach Galapagos, and the $100 park entry fee.

What type of diving do the boats offer?
There are three choices: live-aboard diveboats offering purely diving, cruises offering occasional diving (1-2 dives per day) which are often timed not to substitute the normal naturalist land visits, and shore-based dive operations (mainly on Santa Cruz) which take you on day trips. Diving is excellent in the Galapagos, but due to currents is not really for the beginner.

Which type of yachts?
Your choice depends on personal preferences and interests. There is a wide range of boats in the Galapagos, ranging from 4 to 100 passengers, and from economy through to deluxe. The larger ships are motor cruisers, whilst a number of the smaller boats (below 20 passengers) are sailing yachts. Sailing yachts usually use motors most of the time, with the sails occasionally deployed to supplement speed. Guides are not allowed by the Park to handle more than 16 passengers at a time, so groups remain small regardless of boat size. Here are some of the pros and cons of the different boat categories:-

Cruise ships

Pros

Many facilities & social events, cabin sizes, stable vessels

Cons

More organized, less flexible, less intimate

Motor yachts

Pros

Reasonable cabin sizes, intimate, suitable size for Galapagos

Cons

Passenger risk, fewer facilities, seasickness risk

Sailing yachts

Pros

Romantic, intimate, suitable size for Galapagos

Cons

Cabin size, passenger risk, fewer facilities, seasickness risk

The risk of sharing a cruise with "negative impact" passengers is probably equal for all boat sizes. In the table above, higher risk is ascribed to smaller boats, but only because there is less space to escape! There are cases on the large cruise ships where a group of noisy passengers have been a factor also.

Boat or hotel?
Instead of a cruise you can consider a hotel-based stay. Many people also combine a cruise with a hotel stay on Galapagos before or afterwards. Hotels, mainly on the island of Santa Cruz, can offer day trips to neighbouring islands although currently there are few good boats offering these (so a couple of the hotels are reluctant to offer for the moment). Cruises provide a more complete overview of the islands as they reach places too far away for day trips. A hotel can provide relaxation, tours on the island itself, scuba diving, kayaking and biking. Families with young children may prefer the greater freedom of staying on land.

Should I charter?
Chartering is definitely worth considering if you can bring together a group or family of 6 or more. There are several advantages: it will be cheaper than a normal cruise (if you are close to filling the boat), you know everybody on the cruise, you have greater flexibility in the timing of the various activities and visits, and with sufficient planning you can modify the itinerary. As availability can reduce quickly for yachts, charters normally need to be reserved well in advance, particularly for peak periods. If you are interested in chartering, take a look at our related website Galapagos Charters.

What are land visits like?
These vary. Most last 1 ½ - 3 hours, and the terrain varies. Visits from the yachts are in their small boats or pangas, and either are dry or wet landings (the latter means the panga pulls up on the beach and you take off your shoes before jumping out). For some there may be climbing up natural steps. You are always accompanied by the guide. As he frequently stops to explain or show things, the pace is gentle and never rushed. Note that to protect the unique nature of the Park, visitors are only allowed access to clearly-defined visiting points and trails, of which there are around 60 in total. Equally the number of visitors to each place is limited at any one time. If this appears restrictive, it is considered the only way to preserve the area. In any event the trails are carefully designed, and long enough, to exhibit the best the island has to show.

Can I snorkel?
Snorkelling in the Galapagos can be marvellous. Most if not all itineraries allow for snorkelling in areas defined by the Park. Not all yachts provide snorkelling equipment, and some charge, so you should check in advance. If not available, it can be rented with prior notice in Quito or at the Galapagos airport on arrival, or you should bring your own. From June-November the sea can be colder, and a thin wetsuit is advisable. You will probably need to rent or bring this, although some of the top yachts may provide.

Can I kayak?
Kayaking is also great fun in the Galapagos. Not all yachts have kayaks, so you should check in advance. The rule is that you must remain in the kayak and not touch land. The itineraries allow for kayaking in areas defined by the Park, but these are slightly fewer than snorkelling. Also the dictates of the sailing schedule often mean you have to choose between kayaking and snorkelling at some locations.

What if I need to cancel?
Cancellation penalties for cruises are punitive, since bookings are normally made well in advance and operators find it difficult to fill last minute space. As departure date approaches, so does the cancellation penalty increase. According to normal cancellation clauses, the operators have the right to charge the penalty whatever the reason for cancellation. Sometimes operators may be more lenient, only charge a smaller amount, and provide a credit towards a future cruise, normally within a year. But refunds are rare. So you are strongly advised to take out at least trip cancellation insurance to reduce your risk.

Do you recommend travel insurance?
Yes, definitely advisable. As stated above, cancellation penalties for the Galapagos are heavy, and increase rapidly well before departure date. Operators usually have the right to make operational changes at the last minute and you may not be able to adjust. Or your personal situation may change. We have seen several dramatic last-minute situations where clients have been suddenly unable to travel as planned for reasons of health or accident directly or in the family. For possible sources of travel insurance, click Travel insurance.

Can I visit the islands early for photography?
Photographers sometimes want to visit islands at dawn to catch the best light. With advance planning, some yachts are willing to accommodate this. It involves a guide accompanying the photographers to the visitor site, and then returning in time for the guide to lead the normal land visit. An extra charge and guide tip will be probably payable, and this is only feasible if the boat has already reached the island during the night.

What restrictions are there for children?
Children with an interest in nature usually thoroughly enjoy a trip to the Galapagos, but bored or misbehaving children can at worst be the bane of a boat and, on smaller yachts, cause serious tensions with other passengers. Child restrictions depend on the boat, as also the facilities for looking after children. Although the Park recommends that children be over 7 years, there is no prohibition and mothers could even bring babies in their arms on land visits. Large cruise ships are better equipped for children, and may have nurseries and child-minders so that mothers can make land visits and leave their children onboard. Smaller yachts generally have no facilities, and some will not allow young children below 5-7 years. Those that do accept younger children usually make it clear that the parents have full responsibility to accompany and look after the child(ren) throughout the cruise, and require the signing of a waiver. Chartering a yacht has the advantage of enabling dedicated care to be organized. To note that recently some operators have been offering family departures on an occasional basis.

What luggage restrictions are there?
Although many yachts do not offer much space, the main luggage restriction is applied on flights to the Galapagos, where only one checked suitcase (44 lbs, 20kg) and one carry-on bag are allowed.

What restrictions are there for senior people?
There are no formal restrictions, but most operators require people with handicaps or medical problems to indicate these well in advance and may indicate they cannot take responsibility. Plenty of people over 80 years visit Galapagos each year. Senior people who are mobile should have no difficulty, even with wet landings, except for a few land visits where the guide may indicate in advance that a certain part is tricky and offer an alternative (for example, a tour by panga while the rest of the group does the land visit). Some of the land visits have steep climbs at the start, or require walking over highly broken and uneven volcanic lava. Otherwise the pace of the land visits is slow, and should not present a problem.

How can I avoid being seasick?
Remedies such as pills, patches and acupuncture wristbands work well, but not for everybody. June - November are the months when the sea has more swell. Obviously the smaller the vessel, the more the risk: on the large cruise ships the risk of seasickness is low. Between a sailing yacht and a motor cruiser of the same length, the more stable boat should be a sailing yacht due to its keel, but on the few occasions when it deploys its sails it may have more complex motions.

What medical facilities are there?
Medical facilities in the Galapagos are basic and effectively handle first aid. Serious medical problems and emergencies usually involve flying back to public or private hospitals in Quito or Guayaquil for treatment, and given distances this may take time. Only some of the large cruise ships may have doctors on board, but they cannot deal with serious problems and emergencies. So people with known medical conditions should consult their doctors before considering a visit. Pharmacies/drug stores are available on the large ships, and in Puerto Ayora (Santa Cruz).

Are any immunizations required?
At the time of printing, none are required for visitors to mainland Ecuador and Galapagos (excluding jungle areas). To be on the safe side in general, you should check with your local health office several weeks prior to your departure. You may also wish to take a look at the US Center for Disease Control`s useful health recommendations for South America.

What will the weather be like?
Despite being on the equator, the Galapagos is notorious for the remarkable mild climate. At times it can be cold. The weather changes during the year. For a more detailed outline, see weather.

What do I need to bring?
Unless you are on a cruise ship, attire is very casual and shoes not normally allowed on the boat. For land visits, the guide usually indicates whether sandals or tennis shoes are recommended for the particular visit. When the ship is moving and in the evenings it can be chilly so a windbreaker and even a light pullover are advisable. Click for a detailed checklist.

What can I buy during the trip?
Only when you stop at Puerto Ayora will there be an opportunity to buy anything apart from what may be available on the boat. Puerto Ayora is small, and likely to be more expensive than the mainland, but basics are available in the shops and pharmacies as well as souvenirs, t-shirts, films, sun lotion, etc.

How do we receive our vouchers and tickets for the Galapagos?
We will e-mail (or fax or mail if requested) a receipt and voucher that is valid for the yacht, for the flight tickets to Galapagos, and for any other services we provide. The ticket for the Galapagos flight is held by the yacht operators and will be issued to you once you are in Ecuador.

How can I pay?
Cash (US dollars) is the main medium, although a few places in Puerto Ayora may accept credit cards or travellers checks. Tips and bar bills on board can be paid by cash or travellers checks. For some of the larger cruise vessels, credit cards may be acceptable for bar bills and gift shops.

Can I obtain cash during the trip?
There are a couple of banks at Puerto Ayora where you can change travellers checks or withdraw cash using Visa or Master Card.