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The Difference Between an Amazon Cruise & Galapagos Cruise

  |   Expert Advice

Looking for an unforgettable cruising experience in South America? Two remarkable destinations, the Amazon and the Galapagos islands, are known for offering a unique combination of luxurious cruises through the world’s most exotic natural environments. Sailing amidst remarkable wildlife, gorgeous natural scenery, and destinations full of both adventure and relaxation, there’s no doubt that your next cruise should be to one of these spots. The question then becomes- which one? For those torn between the two, here are the differences between an Amazon cruise and Galapagos cruise.


Pinnacle Rock Galapagos

Pinnacle Rock Galapagos

River vs Sea

It's important to note that an Amazon Cruise is the Amazon River, and although the current can be strong in places, the cruise will be on calm and in some places, still water. Cruise in the Galapagos however are on the open sea. Those who experience sea-sickness might feel bad on a Galapagos cruise, but perfectly fine in the Amazon.


Amazon River Environment

The Environment

The Amazon Rainforest is exactly that: a rainforest. The environment is largely made up of dense jungle, with weather that tends to be warm and humid. When traveling in the Amazon, it is important to keep in mind the rainy and dry seasons, not so much for rainfall (it rains all year round) but for how the river's water levels can affect the activities you'll participate in and the wildlife you can see. The Galapagos are a series of islands just near the Equator, with warm weather most of the year and lighter rain than the Amazon during its rainy season. 


The main difference to consider here is if you prefer the environment of being in the rainforest of the Amazon, or out at sea amongst the islands of the Galapagos. The weather of the Amazon is slightly more extreme, but not significant enough to be a deciding factor. Preference is a key factor here. 



Galapagos sea lion

The Wildlife

Both the Amazon and Galapagos are known for their wildlife, in different respects. The Amazon Rainforest is known for exotic, wild species, notably the sheer variety of them that come in a plethora of shapes and sizes. Flying in the air are over 1,300 species of birds, countless colorful butterflies, and hundreds of thousands of insects. Wandering through the thick jungle you’ll find over 40,000 plant species (many of which have been discovered to offer medicinal properties), over 400 species of mammals (including sloths, monkeys, jaguars, anteaters and giant otters), 378 species of reptiles (such as the larger-than-life anaconda), and more than 400 amphibians. 


Swimming in the waters of the river and its tributaries are more than 3,000 freshwater fishes (like the infamous piranha or three-meter-long paiche), and animals such as pink dolphins, manatees, and multiple species of caimans. 


The key thing to note is that in the Amazon your sightings of wildlife cannot be guaranteed, as they are exactly that - wild. They are naturally fearful of humans and are often camouflaged, so seeing them may be hard, without an expert local naturalist guide (and a decent pair of binoculars!).


Amazon River Dolphin

Amazon River Dolphin


In contrast, the wildlife of the Galapagos is famous for being fearless of humans, and very easy to spot, seemingly posing for photographs, having evolved without the threat of humans or many predators. The inspiration for Charles Darwin’s “Origin of Species”, in which he noted that the species on each island evolved uniquely from those on neighboring islands, many species found throughout the Galapagos Islands are rare and endemic, meaning that they cannot be found anywhere else in the world. 


In the Galapagos, you can expect to see a range of unique sea birds, such as Darwin’s Blue Footed Boobies, the Galapagos penguins, and the greater flamingo. The beaches are inhabited by colorful and intriguing reptiles, including the giant tortoise, Galapagos green turtles, and many massive iguanas, and the ocean is home to sea lions, humpback whales, dolphins, and colorful tropical fish (not to mention a few friendly sharks, like the whale shark or hammerhead!). Wildlife here exists in a drier climate, in the ocean, on the beach, or upon the islands themselves.



Piranha Fishing in the Amazon

Piranha Fishing in the Amazon

The Activities

In the Amazon, activities will vary by ship, but often include a combination of onshore and water-based activities. In the rainforest, trek through the jungle with an informative nature guide who will help you spot the Amazon’s most incredible wildlife. Visit local villages, and immerse yourself in the jungle culture. On the river, you’ll be able to sail through small tributaries, go kayaking, paddle boarding, or even swimming with dolphins. The on-board activities vary by boat, but are always sure to include world-class meals, down time to utilize facilities such as bars, decks and Jacuzzis, and sometimes additional entertainment for adults and/or children.



Galapagos Islands Snorkelling

Galapagos Islands Snorkelling

In the Galapagos, you will also experience a mix of activities on and off the ship. Lounge onboard whilst sailing between destinations, and enjoy the sun and sea. All meals will be taken on the ship, and you can count on first class service to help you relax. Off the ship, daily excursions will include opportunities to hike to viewpoints, snorkel in the crystal water, kayak, and swim. On Galapagos Cruises you have the opportunity to explore beaches between the water and on-shore activities in the Galapagos all year round, whereas in the Amazon beach time is unlikely, although some river beaches in the Brazilian Amazon appear at times of low water and are included on some boats' itineraries. Back in the Galapagos, guests will also be able to visit notable research centers on land, and learn about the history and wildlife of the islands. 



Galapagos Passion Yacht

Galapagos Passion Yacht


Cruise Ships Available

One additional difference between an Amazon cruise and a Galapagos cruise to consider is the type of ship. As an underdeveloped, inaccessible and exotic destination, the Amazon's tourist industry is nowhere near as well established as the Galapagos Islands. The Amazon has fewer than 40 vessels, but the Galapagos almost 100.

Strangely the Amazon has the widest variety in terms of passenger capacities, with some vessels carrying as few as 8 passengers to as many as 150, whereas the Galapagos, where tourism regulations are stricter, has vessels varying from 12 to 100 passengers. Generally vessel capacity averages remains below thirty people per boat wherever you go, promising an intimate and personalised cruise experience. 

The difference in the type of vessel available is also intriguing, with the Amazon hosting river vessels of all shapes and sizes, from traditional hand-carved wooden riverboats, to floating hotels and even a full-blown cruise liner. The Galapagos Islands have many ocean-going yachts, expedition ships and catamarans to choose from. Amazingly both destinations have a pirate-style schooner ship to cruise on! 


So you now know there are several differences between an Amazon cruise and a Galapagos cruise, but it should be noted that there are also some important similarities. Both destinations are very popular, and cruises often get booked up several months in advance, especially the smaller vessels at holiday times. Remember both destinations will involve the purchase of additional flights to get there, and in general, costs are comparable, although it will vary on a cruise-by-cruise basis. There are cruise styles to suit all budgets in both destinations.


The main similarity is that both are bucket-list journeys waiting to be crossed off of your list! Our advice is to combine an Amazon and Galapagos cruise so you don't miss out on anything! For more information on how to do this, or just book one or the other, Contact Us.

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About Rainforest Cruises

Rainforest Cruises is a boutique travel company specializing in Amazon river cruises and tours, providing you with the finest collection of cruises in Peru, Brazil, Ecuador, the Galapagos Islands and Panama. As South American travel experts we have all the advice you need to help you find and book your dream cruise and an unforgettable adventure of a lifetime.


Geri Daniel loved her vacation with Rainforest Cruises.
We had an absolutely fabulous time on the cruise. Thank you again for the trip of a lifetime.
— Geri Daniel, Austin, TX
The Johannson family encounter a sloth on their rainforest cruise.
We had a wonderful time. We were all impressed with the efficiency and organization of the trip from start to finish.
— Jeanette Johannson & Family, USA