Galapagos tours should be on everyone's bucket list. The islands are a haven for endemic wildlife, and a proverbial living Eden. What’s more, you get to glimpse evolutionary history up close. Close encounters with the Galapagos Islands' amazing and unique inhabitants are every nature enthusiast dream.
Prepare to be enchanted by the spectacular volcanic landscapes and shimmering blue waters of this remarkable archipelago. The Galapagos are home to unique varieties of finches, seabirds, giant tortoises, sea lions, iguanas, and much more magical flora and fauna. Rainforest Cruises has selected some of the best Galapagos cruise expedition ships. Our goal, as always, is to make your once-in-a-lifetime adventure to the most iconic marine habitat a complete success.
Top Tip: Visitation to Galapagos has highly regulated Many vessels are small, some with the minimum 8 cabins, meaning spaces can fill up fast. On one side this reduced the impact crowds have on the islands. Availability can be a challenge, so it’s a destination best planned for well in advance.
Cruises often sell out 6 to 9 months in advance, during holiday periods such as Christmas its advisable to plan at least a year ahead. to avoid disappointment. For travelers with flexibility, there are occasional last-minute specials, but they are highly irregular and tend to come and go in a flash.
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Galapagos Cruise of a Lifetime
The Galapagos Islands are a magical, almost mythical, isolated archipelago in the Pacific Ocean. It's no wonder that for centuries they were called the Enchanted Isles by many sailors. To this day, the wonders on and off-shore continue to amaze visitors of all ages.
Chosen by UNESCO as a Natural World Heritage Site, the Galapagos Islands possess an astounding range of marine life. Its volcanic activity, nutrient-rich currents, and position within the tropics, give the islands a striking variety of landscapes. Each island has unique micro-climates that make them unique.
A Galapagos Islands cruise is an incredible and unforgettable experience. Explore the environment that amazed Charles Darwin and contributed to his Theory of Evolution. Identify the finches that inspired him in turn. Its collection of exotic and unusual endemic species wander as freely and fearlessly today as they ever have.
Each day will take you to new, rich and varied sites. You may be snorkeling among sea turtles, playful sea lions, or Galapagos penguins. On land bask in the sun alongside Galapagos land iguanas or relax in green meadows with the giant tortoises. You could even climb to the rim of one of the largest volcano craters in the world.
About the Galapagos Islands
The Galapagos Islands are a group of 19 main volcanic islands distributed on both sides of the Equator. They stand 575 miles west of mainland Ecuador in the Pacific Ocean. Contrary to popular belief, five of the islands have a human population with some 25,000 people inhabiting the archipelago year-round. The majority of these people live in Puerto Ayora on Santa Cruz Island, the commercial center of the Galapagos.
The formation of the islands is still somewhat of a mystery to scientists, yet there are numerous credible theories. The most accepted theory lies with the involvement of tectonic plates and hot spot volcanism. Tectonic plates are the surfaces on which land and water rest, and they constantly shift below us. The plates’ movement created the continents that we know today, splitting up a large landmass.
The Galapagos Islands are situated on top of a hot mantle that essentially burns through the Earth's crust creating volcanic activity. Earth’s mantle is a layer of liquid rock that is melted and intensely hot; mantle supplies magma to volcanoes, geysers, and hot springs. The molten rock would bubble up, erupting as lava and then cooling into solid masses.
In these areas, continuous volcanic eruptions eventually pile on top of each other, in layers. Eventually, the volcanic earth is pushed above the surface of the ocean. A new landmass emerges, where plants and animals eventually settle.
This is how the islands were created, thanks to natural pressure and convection. Furthermore, as the tectonic plates shift, the volcanic activity moves with it. Therefore, the newer islands are constantly being created to the west and the older islands remain to the east. New island formation can take at least ten thousand years to grace the oceans, but we can still follow the movements.
It is for this reason that the islands to the west are much bigger and newer at 2 million years old. Whereas the islands to the east are much older --5 million years old -- and smaller. These formations, also known as seamounts, are either partially underwater or completely underwater. They contribute to the diversity of the archipelago as they create critical sub-aquatic habitat, aggregating sea-life in rich varieties that larger predators, such as sharks, whales, sea lions, and seabirds prey upon.
Galapagos Wildlife & Climate
The islands boast one of the richest marine ecosystems in the world and the unique wildlife. Most of these creatures are known to be completely fearless due to a lack of natural predators inhabiting the archipelago. Around 20% of the indigenous wildlife can be found nowhere else on the globe.
We advise that if you want to see the wildlife, engage in common sense. Do not touch or feed any creatures, and try not to collect any souvenirs. Penguins are protective of their stones for nests, and eggs are fragile. Observation can provide ample memories. So can non-flash cameras, since bright lights confuse wildlife.
Arguably, the most famous species inhabiting the island are the Galapagos Giant tortoise, which can weigh up to 450 pounds and typically live for over 100 years. You can determine which climate they have adapted to based on their shell shape. Galapagos tortoises are gentle giants but have ample jaw power. They are docile creatures, known to lumber along, sunbathe and nibble at vegetation.
Marine iguanas are reptiles that can live and feed in the ocean. They are one of the few that can reach impressive depths but need to sunbathe regularly to deal with the cold temperatures. You can identify marine iguanas by their black, leathery skin, and their tendency to sneeze, which is their way of eliminating salt from their bodies.
We also cannot ignore the birds. The Galapagos penguin is the only penguin to live natively north of the equator. Meanwhile, the Waved albatross resides on the island, the only member of the Diomedeidae family inhabiting a tropical region, and one of the largest birds in the world.
Consider the marine life as well. If you want to snorkel, the Galapagos reefs are mainly unspoiled and brimming with life. You can see more than iguanas, rays, and sea turtles. Tourists can also swim with whale sharks, provided they take safety precautions. Whale sharks eat mostly plankton, but their skin is rough and can cut human skin, so observation is best done at a distance.
The History of the Galapagos
The islands are reported to have first been discovered in 1535 by a Spanish bishop of Panama, Fray Tomás de Berlanga. When his ship sailed off course whilst en-route to Peru. Up until the early 19th century, the islands were used as a base for English pirates. These rogues would raid Spanish ships that were carrying gold and silver from South America back to Spain.
The islands were also commonly used as a hunting ground for Humpback whales, sea lions, and the famous giant tortoise. Hunting nearly drove the reptile to extinction. It was not until 1959 that the Ecuadorian government turned the islands into a protected national park. Despite the regulations, illegal poachers and fishing remain a problem even today.
There are numerous reasons as to how these endemic species arrived on the islands. Thanks to scientific research, we know they largely originate from mainland South America. Some animals like rice rats, tortoises and iguanas are believed to have survived rough storms.
These creatures were able to hang onto tree branches or other clumps of vegetation. The storms would wash them out to sea. After drifting, the mammals and reptiles would end up on the shores of the Galapagos.
Animals like birds and bats flew from the mainland, having been driven away by a storm or a predator. Finally larger flightless animals like penguins and sea lions most likely arrived on the Galapagos shores following the Humbolt Current or driven by storms.
Top Tip: Pack important documents such as insurance cards! Factor in if you have public or private healthcare. All travelers heading to mainland Ecuador or the Galapagos Islands will be required to show proof of health insurance. This will last for their entire stay in Ecuador.
If the traveler cannot provide proof of said insurance, immigration officers could deny the traveler entrance into the country. You would rather avoid that. Take precautions before you talk with customs on the coast of Ecuador.
Galapagos Islands Information
The Galapagos Islands are considered one of the world's more extraordinary places, many travelers dream of visiting the mysterious and remote islands. There are a whole variety of exciting ways to cruise the Galapagos archipelago, ranging from large cruise ships and motor boats, to sailing vessels and catamarans. Rainforest Cruises is sure that whatever cruise you choose, whether it's a family trip or a Galapagos honeymoon, you'll have one of the most memorable vacations yet. Below, we've put together some Galapagos cruise tips, from the degree of difficulty to travelling with kids, in hopes of preparing you for your once-in-a-lifetime Galapagos adventure.
There are typically 2-3 daily excursions off the vessel, and many guests participate in all of them, but participation is not obligatory. Galapagos Islands activities may include walking, hiking, kayaking, swimming, snorkeling and panga (dinghy) rides. The hiking can be of varying degrees of difficulty depending on the landscape. Guides are well versed in adapting the hikes based upon the varying abilities of the participants, and in some cases the group may be divided - one team will go a bit more quickly than the other which enables those guests who would like a more leisurely trip to go at an appropriate pace. Activities that could be concerning for individuals with poor health include: walking on uneven and slippery surfaces, wet landings when waves are large, climbing a few hundred steps to the peak of the volcano on Bartolomé Island, snorkeling in choppy conditions and climbing up and down the steep steps that are found on many of the cruise boats. If you don’t feel like participating in an activity, you can relax on the beaches or on the cruise boat. Most vessels have air-conditioned cabins and common areas where travelers can rest comfortably.
Weather in the Galapagos Archipelago
The climate in the Galapagos can drastically vary and there are generally two seasons. The hot and rainy season occurs between December and June: high humidity is common and average temperatures reach 80-85 degrees Fahrenheit. There is some rainfall but it comes in patches and for the most, the days are sunny and warm.
This period is normally the most active time to travel. For tourists, the temperature is warmer and the sea is calmer. The dry season occurs between July and November and the temperature is normally lower, hovering around 70 degrees Fahrenheit. Skies are normally cloudy with occasional light drizzle.
Despite this cloud cover, sunshine often prevails. The animals tend to be more active in this period. Nevertheless, the islands are a truly remarkable spectacle to appreciate at any point in the year.
Sunscreen & Sealegs
The equatorial sun on the Galapagos Islands is extremely powerful. Don't be fooled by the temperature, even if the weather is cool the sun can still be extremely dangerous. The best way to protect yourself is to wear sunblock, applied generously throughout the day. Even if you are wearing long clothes that cover your skin, you should still apply sunblock underneath as the sun is so strong that it can burn through your clothes. A wetsuit and a rash-guard is a good idea for snorkeling, and some even come with UV protection. After your cruise you may feel a little unsteady on your feet, this is known as “sea legs” and is perfectly normal after a week at sea. Make sure you allow yourself at least two days after the cruise to recover, and spend those two days resting, you'll soon feel better once your body adjusts to dry land again. Make sure you book this into your schedule for your return. To prevent seasickness, make sure to drink plenty of water and take motion sickness tablets and patches, which can be found in your local pharmacy at home. Do not rely on being able to buy tablets at the port or on the islands, as this isn't always possible. This also goes for any prescription medication. Also note that Galapagos catamaran cruise boats are very stable, and are usually better for those who suffer from motion sickness.
The Galapagos with Kids
Home to a number of endemic species that you and your kids will never see anywhere else, an epic and unpredictable wilderness, and plenty of adventure, the Galapagos Islands with kids will be unlike any family vacation they have ever had. These special experiences last a lifetime and can even positively influence children going forward. Not every cruise will accept children on the ship. Make sure you check with the cruise operator before you book with regards their minimum age requirements. Even if a boat says they allow children of a certain age on board, that does not necessarily mean their cruise is child friendly. Some cruises are exclusively for adults and couples, while others are more family orientated. Some of the best boats for families are ones that have large social areas for the kids to socialize, spacious or connecting cabins with many beds, and plenty of board games, videos and activities to entertain the children whilst on board. The Galapagos beaches are also ideal place to spend a relaxing family day on the islands, with black, white and even green sandy beaches, these are generally safe environments where kids can play and snorkel. All areas of the Galapagos are clearly mapped for visitors, so before you visit any area of the islands be sure it is a designated area first and always check with your guide.
The Galapagos Islands are a protected National Park, and the primary concern of the park is to protect the rare wildlife of the islands. If you decide to swim with Galapagos Sea Lions be aware of the aggressive bulls (which have a much larger bulbous head). They can charge in the water and even bite, so it's best to avoid swimming when they enter the water. On land, you may find the playful pups nudge you and touch you, but resist the temptation to pet them. If their smell gets tainted, as a result of getting to close to humans, their mothers will abandon them. Stings are also something you want to avoid. Wearing a wetsuit, even when the water is warm enough to snorkel without one, will reduce the risk of being stung by jellyfish. If you are paddling on beaches renowned to be nurseries for rays, it is also important to stand very still as sudden movements may lead to you stepping on their barbed stingers. With that in mind, a key issue is keeping a respectful and safe distance from the wildlife. Your guide will instruct you on how much distance to stand from animals (for their and your safety). This is also a reason why selfie-sticks are not allowed to be used for taking close-up photos. Another less cute issue, is to watch out for iguana snot! When they leave the water they have a tendency to clear their nostrils of salt, with a spray of saline. It isn't a harmful substance, but can mess up your digital camera so try to stay out of the way. A few more things to keep in mind: You won't be able to bring any plastic bags or food onto the islands (or smoke there). Plastic bags are notoriously dangerous to sea turtles who think they are their favorite snack - jellyfish. Food or garbage will naturally upset the ecosystem balance and endanger the wildlife.
Animals Most Likely Seen on a Galapagos Tour
Galapagos Tortoises: The largest group of can be found on the Volcano Alcedo on Isabela Island, with over 4,000 living there.
Marine Iguana: Thousands found on all the islands.
Galapagos Finches: You can spot the endangered sharp-beaked finch on the central and western islands.
Galapagos Penguins: 90% are on the western islands of Fernandina and Isabela.
Blue-footed Boobies: They can be found on most islands, except those in the north.
Galapagos Sea Lions: Found on most of the Galapagos Islands, including Fernandina Island.
Magnificent Frigatebird: The largest and most active colony can be found on North Seymour Island.
Sally Lightfoot Crabs: Often see in large groups on the rocks of Santa Cruz Island.
Land Iguanas: Found on the islands of Fernandina, Isabela, Santa Cruz, North Seymour, Baltra and South Plaza.
Galapagos Green Turtles: Large numbers of sea turtles are found on Bartolome Island, Santiago Island, Santa Cruz Island, Santa Fe Island and Floreana Island.
Learn More From Rainforest Cruises
Rainforest Cruises wants to help you enjoy your vacation to the fullest. We offer trips to exotic places, with day trips and ventures into the wilderness.
Contact us for more details. We want to help you explore the Galapagos. Dive into our site, and have the adventure of a lifetime.