Safety on a Galapagos Cruise
Taking a Galapagos Cruise is the best way to see one of the world's most unique and untouched natural habitats. Heading out into the wild Pacific Ocean by boat emulates the experience that Darwin, and other adventurers of the 19th century, had. Endemic species, such as the Galapagos sea lion and the flightless cormorant, will greet you as the boat pulls into the isolated archipelago of islands and make you feel like a real explorer. This post explains how to safely experience a cruise to the Galapagos and ensure an enjoyable adventure both on and off the boat for you and your loved ones.
So before you drop anchor in the Galapagos, indeed before you've even packed your bags, take a look at the safety information contained in our complete safety guide to a Galapagos cruise below. Learn about on-board safety, recommended medications and how to stay safe on the islands themselves. Then, get ready to experience the trip of a lifetime:
1. Cruise Safety
First of all, it's important to know that your boat is operated by trained professionals, a team of highly-skilled crew members and guides with first aid and CPR trained staff, as well as health professionals. Every Galapagos Cruise commences with a comprehensive safety briefing to run through all of the safety procedures of the boat. You will have a chance at this briefing to air your concerns and ask any questions you may have about on-board safety.
Crew members are highly skilled in not only operating the boat, but also in understanding the Galapagos Islands. They have lived and worked in the region for most of their lives and understand the wildlife, terrain and danger spots. With their invaluable inside knowledge they will ensure your trip is as safe as it can be. If the crew notice a change in climate, for example, they will be able to adapt the itinerary and ensure every activity you undertake that day is appropriate and safe.
The guides and crews on board the boat have established excellent lines of communication to ensure if there is a change of plan, the whole team is aware of the situation. If a guide predicts a dangerous situation they follow strict protocol to ensure the boat and passengers are kept away from any potential problems.
As well as their local knowledge and years of experience, crews use the latest navigation technology, including GPS and sonar to ensure the boat is always reachable. In the case of an emergency, boats are also equipped with emergency flares and signals, VHF and UHF radios, floatplanes and speedboats.
All vessels include the following safety items:
- First aid supplies
- First aid trained professionals
- Satellite phone for emergency calls
- Life vests for all passengers
- Smoke detectors and fire extinguishers
- Life boats
- Some boats have safe deposit boxes
- Emergency flares and signals
All of our boats are checked and regulated in dry-docks for maintenance, with regular safety and performance assessments to ensure the boats are safe for passengers.
2. Medicines & Vaccinations
If you are already taking a form of medication, make sure you have your prescribed supply for the duration of the trip. Although there are a few pharmacies on some of the larger islands, it will be almost impossible to find your specific drug if you do run out, so make sure you have enough.
As far as vaccinations go for any trip, we recommend that you are up to date on all routine vaccines before you go. As for the Galapagos Islands themselves, Hepatitis A and B, which are moderately to highly transmittable in this area, are recommended. Unlike visitors to the mainland of Ecuador, you do not need a malaria or yellow fever shot, but if your Galapagos cruise is part of a larger itinerary involving the mainland or other destinations you may well need these and others. Your physician will be able to let you know if you need to start taking any medication or vaccinations before your trip. Make sure you consult your doctor well in advance (around four-five months) as some medication and vaccinations need to be administered a certain number of days before.
3. Motion Sickness
Seasickness in the Galapagos Islands is a reality. The Pacific Ocean waters can be rough and many travelers suffer with the feeling, however, you can prevent the horrible nausea by drinking plenty of water and taking 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. If you do begin to feel sick, you actually are sick and you feel dizzy get some air out on deck, drink plenty of water and if you still feel bad take a gravol.
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.
5. Sea Legs
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.
6. The Wildlife
While the animals in the Galapagos are famously friendly, you are invading their natural habitat and it is important to ensure you respect them and do not provoke them or react too loudly to them.
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. Plastic bags are notoriously dangerous to sea turtles who think they are their favorite snack - jellyfish. Food will naturally upset the ecosystem balance and endanger the wildlife.
7. The Water
Swimming in the Pacific Ocean around the islands can be very dangerous. The ocean is full of currents and rip tides. Guides and local rangers will know where you can safely swim, but always be cautious when you are in the water, especially if you are diving or snorkeling further away from the shore. Wearing a life-jacket at all times in the water is a good idea, especially if you are not a strong swimmer, and the extra buoyancy provided is a welcome aid to weary limbs.
If you plan to take part in a scuba diving tour do not drink alcohol beforehand. It can make you dehydrated and can exacerbate Decompression Sickness when you are coming up from a dive. Divers must also operate under a strict “buddy” system around the islands due to the strong currents and rips, to ensure no one gets pulled out to sea.
8. General Safety Advice
The Galapagos Islands is a vast national park and a World Heritage Site, protected by dedicated rangers and local people. This means the park has a number of rules and regulations that need to be followed, including how many people can enter the islands at one time. Anyone that steps off of the beaten path set out for visitors can be removed from the islands and even sent out on a plane for breaking the rules. It's extremely important that you respect the rules put in place by the park to protect you and the wildlife, and stick to the track. No one can enter the islands without a licensed guide, so make sure you follow your guide's instructions to remain safe and to keep the animals safe.
Part of Ecuador, the Galapagos has a mix of cultures living on the islands, but is made up primarily of South American people. The residents of the islands can be extremely friendly and welcoming, but be aware that some may try to sell you illegal souvenirs or objects that have been made from the precious plants and animals from the Galapagos. Do not buy from these sellers. If you are unsure about whether a seller is legitimate seek advice from one of the guides or crew members.
9. Keep Valuables Safe
Crime on the islands is very low, almost non-existent, but it's always a good idea to know where your essential valuables are at all times, such as your ID and money. Keeping your valuables safe is more a case of keeping them safe from nature. There may be no pesky monkeys like in the Amazon to steal your expensive sunglasses, but gusts of wind on the panga rides may well do. Make sure your hats and sunglasses have straps where possible, or at least hold on tight to them!
For wet landings, or on kayak excursions, there is always a danger of items getting wet. Keep valuables in waterproof bags until it is safe to get them out. If you are walking on uneven surfaces, on slippery rocks, or slippery boat decks for that matter there is also a chance of damaging yourself and valuables. It's best to have a neckstrap for your camera so you have your hands free to steady yourself in the event of a fall, but the best advice of all is to take it steady.
When you are in Quito or Guayaquil on the mainland of Ecuador, before boarding your flight to the Galapagos Islands, be aware of your surroundings. The city and port can be extremely busy, so make sure you do not have any expensive items on show or your cell phone out when you are in a crowded area. Like any city, crime can be an issue so wear modest clothing to avoid standing out in a crowd and be especially cautious at night.
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If you need more information about staying safe on a Galapagos Cruise contact us for more information, and if you are unsure about what to take on your cruise to the Galapagos Islands read our guide about What to Pack for a Galapagos Cruise.