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8 of the best cruise ships for exploring the Galapagos

Considering a tropical escape for a vacation this year? A cruise through the Galapagos Islands definitely fits the profile, with warm sandy beaches, clear turquoise waters, and sun-kissed tan lines. To add to the appeal, the Galapagos has some of the most unique indigenous wildlife which you won’t find anywhere else on the planet. Before you get geared up to venture to the exotic Galapagos Islands, here are a few tips and pieces of advice about when to visit and what mode of exploration is best for you and your budget. Deciding when to visit is one of the most important things to consider when planning a trip to the Galapagos. Since the Islands are located very close the the equator, the temperatures remain rather consistent. However, May through November, the Galapagos tend to experience slightly cooler temperatures and breezes due to the cold water currents of the Humboldt Current pushing up the Pacific coast of South America. Average daytime temperatures are around 80 degrees Fahrenheit, with slightly overcast skies.The shores are teeming with fish and other aquatic wildlife during these months, making for an exciting snorkeling or scuba diving experience. This is also mating season for a number of rare and endemic bird species, such as the Nazca Booby and the Galapagos Hawk. Galapagos whale December through April are slightly warmer and sunnier months, with temperatures in the high 80s. The seas tend to be calmer, but be prepared for light drizzle from time to time. February and March are particularly warm as the strong rays of the sun heat up the islands’ lava rocks. Mating season for a number of land species occurs between December and April. This is also when the sea turtle comes to shore to lay eggs. All cruise ships follow a 15-day route that is approved by the Galapagos National Park, but the routes are often divided up into various packages, with 4-day, 5-day, and 8-day cruises being the most popular. However much time you choose to spend in the Galapagos is up to you, but most people find that an 8-day cruise package gives a satisfying taste of all the Islands have to offer. Everyone has their particular preferences when it comes to exploring the Galapagos Islands.Some people who are more prone to seasickness might prefer a larger and more stable boat, while others may prefer a smaller boat and a more intimate atmosphere. Some people will want to scuba dive or snorkel 4 or 5 times a day on their trip to the Galapagos, while others might prefer more hiking and land excursions. All of these preferences should factor into which cruise you decide to take to visit the Galapagos Islands. Below is a list of my personal favorite cruise ships for exploring Darwin’s playground. Isabella II The Isabella II is a 40-passenger cruise ship which provides guests with a highly personalized level of service. The ship comes complete with ocean kayaks, a glass-bottom boat, snorkeling and swimming equipment, as well as 3 multilingual experienced naturalist guides. The ship boasts luxury amenities on the 3 spacious decks, including a bar/lounge, boutique gift shop, game room, library with resources about the Galapagos, a sundeck, and a elegantly decorated dining room. In your free time, you can lounge and soak up the equatorial sun rays, read up on some Galapagos attractions, or relax in the Jacuzzi. Isabela II Ocean Spray Cruise through the Galapagos Islands on the 16-passenger catamaran Ocean Spray, one of the newest vessels to cruise the Galapagos. Launched in 2012, the 113-foot vessel has 9 spacious cabins, each sporting a private balcony for guests to intimately enjoy the ocean views. This exclusive cabin feature adds an extra notch of luxury above other Galapagos cruise vessels. Ocean Spray Santa Cruz The Santa Cruz is a larger ship able to accommodate 90 passengers in comfort and style. This cruise ship is ideal for families and groups, with choices of suites, superior-class cabins, and standard-class cabins. In addition to the 52-man crew, the ship also has 6 experienced naturalist guides, as well as an underwater expert guide to assist you on your swimming and snorkeling excursions. If you are not much of a swimmer, you can opt for a glass-bottom boat ride to explore the reefs. The entire ship is air conditioned for maximum comfort. Other relaxing amenities include a spacious sundeck, a Jacuzzi, and a comfortable lounge and bar area. Santa Cruz La Pinta La Pinta has some of the largest cabins available on Galapagos cruise vessels. This 210-foot motorized yacht is built to comfortably accommodate 48 passengers in the perfect blend of style and luxury. Guest onboard can enjoy 3 decks with ample space in social areas and observation decks, as well as a Jacuzzi, fitness center, and internet connections in designated areas. Rooms are equipped with safety deposit boxes, twin or double beds, and central air conditioning with individual controls. The crew will also provide you with snorkel gear and a introductory tutorial, or a glass-bottom boat adventure. La Pinta Galapagos Legend The Galapagos Legend has 5 decks to comfortably accommodate 100 guests and crews. It is truly one of the best ways to indulge while experiencing the Galapagos archipelago. Onboard, guest can enjoy the swimming pool, Jacuzzi, gym, sauna, and 24-hour medical services. The fifth deck includes a BBQ area, jogging track, and internet room. The Galapagos Legend is the perfect combination of a larger luxury cruise liner without sacrificing the intimacy of a smaller vessel. The 60-person crew, 7 experienced naturalists, concierge, and highly skilled chef are available to make your stay aboard the Galapagos Legend tranquil, educational, and unforgettable. Galapagos Legend Monserrat Build to accommodate 16 passengers on a tropical exploration of the Galapagos Islands, the Monserrat is a 98-foot motorized yacht with 3 sun decks, a restaurant, bar and lounge, and gift shop boutique. The entire ship is elegantly decorated with original works of art. All cabins have private bathrooms and air conditioning. In addition to its luxurious appeal, the Monserrat is one of the fastest ships cruising the Galapagos. The Monserrat is a floating hotel designed to offer guests a relaxing sweet escape from reality. Monserrat Galapagos Journey I The Galapagos Journey is a 16-passenger luxury catamaran that is designed to provide guest with ample space and comfort while touring the Galapagos Islands. Onboard, guest can enjoy large cabins and outdoor spaces, an elegant restaurant, bar and lounge, Jacuzzi, as well as access to snorkeling equipment and ocean kayaks. Also at the disposal of passengers is an 11-person crew and experienced naturalist to assist you with your adventure gear and answer any questions you might have. This catamaran is a little bit bigger than most that cruise the Galapagos, making it more stable on the open seas. Galapagos Journey Grand Odyssey The 16-passenger motorized yacht, the Grand Odyssey, is truly one of the most luxurious ways to explore the Galapagos Islands. The ship has 9 tastefully decorated suites with minibars, televisions, air conditioning, and spacious sitting areas for which to enjoy panoramic ocean views. To add to its charm, the Grand Odyssey also has amenities like a Jacuzzi, gym, sundeck, restaurant and bar, in addition to a mini-spa offering therapies and relaxing massages. Guests can enjoy a plethora of literature and videos from the on-board library about the Galapagos Islands, and engage in lectures with any of the experienced naturalists. Grand Odyssey Are you a fan of tropical cruises? How would you plan your dream vacation to the Galapagos? Tell me in the comment section! Richard Leon is the General Manager at Peru For Less. If you would like to be a guest blogger on A Luxury Travel Blog in order to raise your profile, please contact us.

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  1. You mention scuba diving in your introduction but don’t mention the ability to scuba dive from any of the above ships. What are your suggestions for the best blend of luxury and scuba diving capability? in the Galapagos?

  2. Bill,

    Scuba diving used to be permitted on an occasional basis from many of the ships in the Galapagos. That is no longer true. Basically, the authorities encouraged local fishermen to switch out their fishing permits for dive permits in order to reduce overfishing. Part of that same process was that authorities clamped down on what was effectively unregulated scuba diving by the cruise ships. So that’s the background. What’s the situation now?

    There are three boats which have permits to run diving trips. That’s all they do. A week of pretty intensive diving, usually way off to the north of the archipelago. I presume that’s not what you want.

    For day/occasional diving, you have a series of operations based on the main islands of San Cristobal, Isabela and, primarily, Santa Cruz.

    For your purposes, you have two choices. The first is that one of these dive operators comes out to meet you on your cruise and instead of your heading off on a shore landing that day, you are whisked off to go diving. Any boat operator will be able to tell you which days of which journeys are possible diving days, it’s a process which is generally managed between the boat and the diving school so you don’t have to sweat the details.

    The downside of this arrangement is that to gain time scuba diving, you have to lose time doing something else. What I personally recommend to our clients the second choice. Your cruise will start or end either at Santa Cruz island or San Cristobal. Add a couple or few nights in a hotel at the end, or start of your trip in order to take a few dives. This gives you access to the best possible range of dives and means you can pick a dive to an island you won’t be seeing or have seen on your cruise.

    In short, your choice of boat doesn’t need to be dependent on scuba, just pick the best one for you then double check they can arrange a day of diving.

    And finally, remember that many of the Galapagos sites are quite shallow so the snorkelling which you will do on any/all cruises, is fantastic. You will have plenty of great underwater action without ever having to strap on tanks of air so take a moment to be sure that you really do want to go diving.

    I hope this helps!

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