It’s easy to see why the Galapagos Islands are on most savvy travelers’ “bucket-lists.” With the archipelago being one of the world’s greatest natural wonders, nothing can prepare you for a visit to this exotic masterpiece of Mother Nature.
Some travelers prefer to experience this once-in-a-lifetime experience on a land-based “land-hopping” tour – eating, sleeping and resting in a hotel on solid earth.
Others will prefer to explore the Galapagos Islands on a water-based cruise, where you will eat, sleep and rest on board a luxury yacht, a catamaran, a sailboat or a larger cruise ship.
Still, no one comes to the Galapagos just to lie out on deck all day. Luxury cruises serving the Galapagos Islands offer daily land excursions that include hiking ancient lava fields where you will encounter prehistoric reptiles such as the iconic giant Galapagos tortoise, endemic land and marine iguanas. On this landings, you can also witness the courtship dance of blue-footed boobies, and witness a host of Galapagos penguins, Flightless cormorants and massive Waved albatross – just to name a few of the comical sea birds found here.
While marveling at the diversity of the land and marine life found in these paradisiacal islands, you can also enjoy the maximum in comfort, style, service and safety on board a luxury ship.
We have selected seven of these top-end “floating boutique hotels” that boast everything from Jacuzzis to private balconies, as well as spacious cabins and all the big-city amenities.
1. Ocean Spray
One of the newest luxury vessels of its type operating in the Galapagos Islands, the Galapagos Ocean Spray is described as a “mega” catamaran; and — since it is equipped with large staterooms and a huge sundeck with a Jacuzzi — it’s not hard to see why!
The unrivaled spaciousness of the vessel’s design, also seen in the cabins and all other guest areas, is complemented by the equally unmatched stability and speed that only catamarans can provide. Indeed, her speed, comfort and stability make the Galapagos Ocean Spray a perfect choice for your Galapagos Islands cruise adventure.
Built in 2011, the ultra-modern 16-passenger yacht has three passenger decks with a total of nine (9) elegantly appointed and spacious double cabins, all with private facilities – including balconies. Each cabin boasts individual climate controls, private bathrooms and ample space for storing luggage. The Ocean Spray boasts some of the largest cabins on any small yacht in the Galapagos, with her double cabins measuring at least 284 square feet.
A friendly, experienced crew, a top notch menu of Ecuadorian and international cuisine, and pure style all make the Galapagos Ocean Spray a great cruise ship for your Galapagos trip.
Galapagos Ocean Spray catamaran is equipped with two bars, a spacious sun deck, a Jacuzzi, a comfortable lounge, and indoor and al fresco dining. This means that guests will find it difficult not to relax and enjoy the exclusive atmosphere of this luxury-class catamaran.
The crew is made up of 10 members plus a certified naturalist guide who delivers the highest standards of quality service to the guests, and in a friendly and professional manner.
The Ocean Spray has the most advanced navigation and safety equipment, which enhance the guests’ comfort and security. She fully complies with the highest national and international safety standards and regulations for passenger vessels.
Galapagos Ocean Spray is a luxury-class catamaran offering the best performance and comfort in cruising the Galapagos Islands. Ideal for small groups, families or couples.
Insider tip: the Ocean Spray is great for couples as well as group charters.
2. La Pinta
One of the most up-to-date vessels for luxury cruising in the Galapagos Islands, La Pinta has an excellent reputation for great service while offering a variety of activities for all levels of outdoor enthusiasts.
With a capacity for 48 guests, this 209-foot (63-meter) yacht provides superior accommodations and is very popular with family groups all year round.
La Pinta has 20 comfortable double or twin-bedded staterooms, plus four (4) triple cabins (the third person must be under 12), all with ocean views, private bathrooms, personal safes, and individually controlled air-conditioning.
Indeed, the yacht’s cabins are among the largest of any Galapagos cruising vessel, with floor-to-ceiling windows in all staterooms. In addition to the standard staterooms, La Pinta has four extra-large connecting suites, which are very useful when traveling as families.
Spacious public areas in the boat deck include a large observation lounge and bar, which can be used for outdoor dining; a smaller outside “Sky Bar” towards the stern, fore and aft observation decks, an exercise room, a Jacuzzi and a well-stocked natural history library-conference room.
Through panoramic windows, its social areas provide almost permanent visual contact with the islands, while its outside deck areas are also superb havens for relaxation, including an observation deck for dolphin, shark and whale watching.
On the main deck is a window-lined dining room with open seating (though there are no formal dress requirements), the reception area, a boutique and a doctor’s office.
To get the most out of such enriching wildlife encounters, you will be accompanied by expert guides on La Pinta, which is complemented by the ship’s faultless service, delicious cuisine and plenty of comfort on board.
Its staff embraces a spirit of adventure, while ensuring comfort and safety at all times during your Galapagos Islands vacation.
Taking a cruise on this luxurious 16-passenger Galapagos Islands cruiser is a bit like staying in a fabulous boutique hotel, but with ever-changing spectacular scenery and mesmerizing animals appearing just off the deck.
The 141-foot luxury Integrity yacht — built in the United States in 2005 — was designed with painstaking attention to detail and has been spotlessly maintained. Indeed, it has earned the reputation as one of the finest ships sailing the Galapagos Islands.
The Integrity Motor Vessel is customized to carry 16 adventurers in comfort, safety and style – something it has been doing in the waters of the Galapagos Islands since April, 2005.
With the most comfortable staterooms and suite of any “enchanted islands” vessel – big ship or small – your stay on board the Integrity cruising vessel will be one of sheer delight. The decor is tasteful and simple, featuring hardwood that its owner hand harvested, milled and cured for this special yacht.
Each stateroom is a double accommodation cabin with comfortable seating, lots of storage, and large picture windows (no tiny portholes!). Cabin temperatures are individually controlled, and you’ll have mini-refrigerator stocked with water and snacks in your room. Bathroom facilities are en suite with a full-sized shower, lavatory, toilet and storage cabinet.
The cozy lounge/salon is the perfect place for viewing your day’s Galapagos Islands photos on a wide-screen in this media center, as well as for reading or listening to the daily natural-history briefing from the on-board naturalist.
In the large, well-equipped galley, the chef and his cooking team strive to satisfy. Menus are varied, carefully executed and very healthy. Breakfast is buffet style with cereals, juices, fresh fruit, toast, muffins, hot items and eggs cooked to order. Fresh brewed coffee, a selection of teas, milk and cocoa are also served. Lunch and dinner are served in several, elegantly plated courses and often start with a soup, followed by safe-to-eat-salads and a main course of fish, chicken, beef or seafood. And there’s always dessert, coffee and tea. Special diets are readily accommodated; and there are plenty of kid-friendly dishes.
As for the ship itself, the Integrity’s state-of-the-art stability and anti-vibration systems guarantee “smooth sailing” all the way. The interior design of the motor vessel is impeccable, while the social areas are spacious and the services are some of the best to be found.
Insider tip: the Integrity is known for its especially excellent itineraries
The Origin motor vessel, named for Charles Darwin’s insightful work The Origin of the Species, will make its appearance in the Galapagos Islands early this year (2016). At that time, the ship promises to be the newest, most environmentally efficient and the most comfortable 20-passenger yacht sailing in the waters of the archipelago.
Though possessing 10 different deluxe double staterooms to choose from – two of which able to accommodate up to three people. Measuring approximately 140 square feet, each cabin is brimming with amenities, which include nightstands, an ample sectional closet, a sitting area, modern décor with local art work, fine linens and towels, climate controls, satellite TV/DVD, iPod docking station, a safe deposit box and a private bathroom. Each bathroom includes hot water, full facilities, and features such as hair-dryers, slippers and robes, as well as soap and shampoo that are both bio-degradable. Your spacious cabin will be located on the main “Beagle” deck, with a panoramic window so you can wake up and fall asleep to the stunning views of the ocean and the archipelago. As an additional note: all cabins are cleaned twice daily and laundry service is available.
Throughout the yacht you will find great extras such as a fitness room equipped with cardio machines, spacious social areas, satellite TV, and a spacious sun deck equipped with a fully stocked open wet-bar, BBQ, lounges and hammocks. On top of all this, you can enjoy the available kayaks, paddle boards, wet suits and snorkeling equipment for your own use when permitted. Masseuse are available on charters (only) for an additional charge.
In addition, the ship possesses semi-private nooks for you to escape to and relax on the boat, or you can use one of the Origin’s three lounge areas, its library, computer station or the social area with satellite TV.
The yacht will run two basic 8-day itineraries, a southern/central route and a western/northern route. During these times, every need of the guests will be catered to cater to by the ship’s two expert naturalist guides, a concierge, a well-trained experienced crew and a well-qualified captain. The naturalist guides and captain are hand-picked to provide you with an educational week and exceptional service while you are touring each island.
Origin will combine modern sophistication and a high level of comfort and service, with indoor and al-fresco gourmet dining experiences (including Ecuadorian and Peruvian specialties), exciting physical activities and a dose of intellectual science providing guests a life enriching experience.
One of the newest ships sailing the Galapagos Islands, the 16-passenger Petrel Luxury Galapagos Catamaran offers a luxury-class way to visit this magical archipelago.
This luxury cruise vessel is one of the best ways to see the Galapagos Islands.
Named after a sea bird common to the Galapagos, the “Petrel” is like its namesake: elegant, swift and silent at sea. Guests will travel in comfort to the different islands, where they can have up-close encounters with Blue-footed boobies, iguanas, giant tortoises, sea lions and more.
A motorized catamaran, the Petrel is designed for comfort and stability and is outfitted with spacious cabins with private balconies, a comfortable lounge and ample relaxation areas.
The huge sundeck features the Jacuzzi, the perfect spot for dolphin- and whale-watching, or for simply unwinding and soaking up the sun between island excursions. In the evenings there is no better place for star gazing.
Enjoy dining in the ship’s elegant restaurant, or dine al fresco on the deck while taking in the views over the islands. Order a drink at the bar in time for sunset.
On the Petrel, emphasis is placed on the remarkable natural history of the Galapagos Islands, selecting naturalist land-tour guides who are knowledgeable about biology and ecology, in addition to having excellent language skills and client reviews.
Insider tip: The intimate Petrel is provides amazing comfort for couples and small groups.
6. Stella Maris
Touting itself as the “only luxury yacht based in the Galapagos Islands,” the M/Y Stella Maris has the facilities in place for serving the most demanding and discerning clientele.
Accommodating up to 14 guests in ultimate of style, the ship is available for private charter groups, offering fully customized charters, complemented by complete pre-established 8-day cruise itineraries in which you and your party will thoroughly explore the Galapagos from end-to-end.
Her interior boasts a clean and inviting contemporary décor, the well-appointed panoramic windows allowing for natural light. Luxurious accommodations, the likes of which have never been seen in the Galapagos Islands, set the tone for the M/Y Stella Maris. This lavish motor yacht features a total of seven (7) suites: four (4) expansive suites on the aft/lower deck, two (2) suites on the front main deck, as well as one (1) master suite on the second aft deck, with the master suite featuring its own private access to an outdoor lounge. All suites are fully air conditioned and offer private en-suite facilities. Note: Each of these spacious suites has its own private balcony.
On the main deck, the Stella Maris motor yacht features a beautiful central staircase that provides separation from the luxurious formal dining room and the ample living room with TV entertainment.
These grand appointments and an attentive crew are important aspects contributing to the overall experience aboard the yacht; however, the savory cuisine available is its crowning jewel. The M/Y Stella Maris’ food and liquor service is available 24 hours a day, and the ship features a full stock of excellent quality wines and spirits. Among the crew some of the most qualified local chefs.
Insider tip: the Stella Maris is only for charters.
7. Silver Galapagos
For those looking for a larger luxury-class cruise ship with an excellent range of facilities and personal service, the Silver Galapagos will not fail to delight.
One of the largest and most luxurious ships sailing the Galapagos, the Silver Galapagos has the capacity for 132 passengers, but due to the National Park regulations, it only carries 100 passengers. Refurbished in 2014, the ship has 50 spacious air-conditioned outside cabins — all with spectacular ocean views, their own private bathrooms, and small sitting areas.
The Silver Galapagos offers an impressive list of amenities and social areas, including a Jacuzzi, a first-class restaurant and grill, a spacious dining room, an electronic elevator, the Explorer Lounge, a piano bar, a fitness center and massage room, a beauty salon, a boutique, a snorkel area, a library and a large briefing/conference room. In fact, that briefing room is used by the vessel’s six (6) naturalist guides, who lead daily shore excursions and offer nightly presentations and briefings to fully prepare passengers for the islands to be visited the following day.
In addition, Silver Galapagos offers karaoke, star gazing, massage therapy, Spanish lessons and even cocktail-making classes. Indeed, you’ll be spoiled by all the choices.
And on top of all the pampering, this vessel also has power. Navigating the Galapagos Islands at a cruising speed of 17 knots, the Silver Galapagos enables passengers to see more of the Galapagos archipelago in less time.
Insider tip: the Silver Galapagos is best suited for those wanting plenty of space, particularly families.
With whichever yacht you choose, it’s not uncommon for a Galapagos cruise vessel to be sold out six of nine months in advance – particularly for holiday periods like Christmas and New Year’s.
This means that if you have a specific vacation date in mind, you and your tour operator will have to book your trip well in advance to ensure the availability of your cruise ship.
Alfonso Tandazo is President and CEO at Surtrek Tour Operator.