Before I came to the Galapagos Islands, I was pretty naive. Like most people, I imagined them to be uninhabited landscapes, only accessible to those who jumped off a passing cruise ship for an hour or two to take in the sights. I was in for a few surprises. So, if you’re about to book a Galapagos cruise, these tips might help you save the dollars and come more prepared.
SOME OF THE ISLANDS ARE SURPRISINGLY POPULATED
Santa Cruz, San Cristobal and Isabela all have major ports. In fact, more than 70,000 people call the Galapagos home. The towns behind these ports are surprisingly sizeable, with a good selection of accommodation options and restaurants, as well as supermarkets, souvenir shops and, most importantly for us, tour operators. This means you can get pretty much everything you want there, albeit at a much higher cost than the mainland.
YOU WILL SAVE A LOT OF MONEY IF YOU BOOK YOUR GALAPAGOS CRUISE FROM THE GALAPAGOS
If you’re prepared to risk turning up to the Galapagos with no tours booked, you can shop around for a really good deal leaving in the next day or two. I’d certainly recommend doing this if you have some spare time to play with. I paid $850 for 8 days on board a tourist superior-class boat (that’s one step behind first class). It was a beautiful catamaran with more crew members than passengers and I even wangled not having to share my cabin with a stranger. If you’re looking for a fantastic cruise option with one of the best guides I’ve ever had the pleasure to meet, check out The Galapagos Guide.
GALAPAGOS CRUISE BOATS SAIL A LONG WAY
I had it in my mind that the distance between each island wasn’t that big and that the boats would perhaps sail for an hour or two in the morning and again in the afternoon, travelling between tourist hot spots, but mooring up at night. I was so wrong. We were out on the open ocean, rocking from side to side – and occasionally being smacked by massive waves – all through the night.
YOU WILL GET LAND SICKNESS AFTER YOUR GALAPAGOS CRUISE
Others may disagree, but I found it much easier to accustom myself to the sway of the boat than I did to get used to not swaying when we found ourselves back on dry land. The first couple of nights on the boat, I felt queasy and had to watch the horizon (and then the stars) to help me get my bearings. After that, I came to enjoy the gentle motion of the waves, especially being rocked to sleep. Not even the driver momentarily falling asleep at the wheel causing water to come in through my roof porthole could change my mind! When the cruise ended, it took me two days to stop swaying involuntarily!
THE WATER IS COLD
I was in the Galapagos in the ‘cold, dry’ season, but I hear that even in the warmer months, flopping over the side of the ‘panga’ (or dinghy) into the merciless ocean isn’t the most pleasant experience. Wet suits are strongly advised; if not solely for the extra warmth then for the protection from jellyfish stings. This means you should check when you book your cruise whether or not snorkelling equipment is included. Others on my boat paid another $60 to rent wetsuits and snorkel gear.
YOU SHOULD TAKE SUPPLIES
You may stop off in a port once or twice to exchange passengers or visit a mainland sight, but for the majority of your Galapagos cruise, your boat will be alone at sea. Once it gets dark, there’s very little to do except star gaze or play cards and socialise with the other passengers and crew. If you like a drink it will be cheaper to bring your own, and then you don’t risk the boat supply running out either.
THERE’S NO STEREOTYPICAL PASSENGER
Not everyone who visits the Galapagos is a David Attenborough wannabe, nor is there a common age group. As a general rule, the clientelle of the larger cruise ships tend to be families and older people, while the smaller sailing boats have a mix of ages, but more predominantly those in their 20s and 30s. An advantage to booking last minute at the port is that you can ask the ages and nationalities of the other passengers to determine if you think you’ll be a good mix.
THE WILDLIFE IS INCREDIBLE
As a zoology graduate, I’d heard a lot about the Galapagos and I’d dreamt of going there my whole life. I’d watched nature documentaries on them and turned green with jealousy whenever I met anyone who’d been there. Still, I wasn’t prepared for how incredibly diverse the Galapagos Island wildlife would be, and for how unaffected the animals are by human presence.
It’s also wonderful to see measures in place to help protect the species and habitat. Over the years, humans have been responsible for dwindling numbers of some species and the extinction of others. Now, it’s possible to see conservation in action; for example, at the Galapagos tortoise rehabilitation centre on Isla Isabela.
It’s a dream to be able to creep within a few metres of a blue-footed booby and to find it still standing there idley preening itself. We were practically tripping over new species with every step. The Galapagos Islands truly are a dream destination. The only problem with experiencing such paradise is that it cuts like a knife when you have to leave it behind.