Our trip to the Galapagos Islands

Galapagos Islands cruise vacation – luxury and small cruises

I recently returned from a memorable family cruise in the Galapagos islands. In this post, I will share reasons visiting the Galapagos Islands on luxury or small cruise ship is ideal. If a family cruise in the Galapagos is on your bucket list, I hope you find this post helpful.

I highly recommend that you embark on a luxurious Galapagos adventure aboard a small ship or luxury cruise. Discover unparalleled comfort, expert guidance, and unforgettable wildlife encounters. We traveled with Linblad National Geographic- most on that later in the post.

Imagine waking up to the gentle sway of a luxury yacht or small cruise ship, surrounded by the pristine waters of the Galapagos Islands. No matter if you visit the Galapagos on a luxury cruise ship or a smaller yacht, you will be sure to see the best of the coast of Ecuador. Walking in Darwin’s footsteps as you explore the Galapagos from the comfort of your cruise ship is mind blowing.

My family Galapagos Island cruise photos

My Recent Family Cruise Vacation – Galapagos Islands

Having recently taken a cruise around the Galapagos Islands, I’m convinced that there’s no better way to experience this incredible destination than on a cruise. Sailing through the archipelago, every moment felt like a discovery waiting to unfold.

I traveled with my my hubby, two boys, my mother and my sis and boyfriend. My nearly 90 year old Mom wanted to make this trip a reality. The scenery and 82 degree pristine blue water did not disappoint!

Naturalists guided us to remote corners of the islands, where untouched landscapes and wildlife encounters awaited. From snorkeling alongside playful sea lions to hiking through volcanic terrain teeming with unique species, each day brought new adventures and unforgettable moments.

Exploring multiple islands, each with a distinct charm and biodiversity, was a highlight. It makes a perfect family cruise in the Galapagos Islands. Every experience felt deeply personal and awe-inspiring, whether it was admiring ancient giant tortoises or observing intricate courtship rituals of colorful birds.

Galapagos Island cruise photos National Geographic

All cruise ships have expedition boats that can take you to the shore (wet landing) or dry landing. This dream Galapagos cruise isn’t just a vacation; it’s a voyage into the heart of nature’s wonders. From the iconic marine iguanas to the playful sea lions, every moment is a new discovery.

Here are some important things you need to know before planning your trip.

You Can’t Visit The Galapagos Islands Without A Naturalist Guide- By Law

Galapagos Island experts are the key to a successful vacation on the island. We had expert naturalist guides who are passionate about sharing all the animal species with you. These naturalist guides help make a family cruise to the Galapagos Islands so valuable.

The Galapagos wildlife is unlike any you have ever seen, based on the unique ecosystems of the Galápagos islands. Some creatures only live on the islands and are nowhere else in the world. 

The Galapagos Islands have always held a special place in my heart as a nature lover. The dream of visiting these remote volcanic islands became a reality when I imagined encountering blue-footed boobies and giant tortoises in their natural habitats.

Pristine beach on an uninhabited island, Galapagos Islands, Ecuador.
Pristine beach on an uninhabited island, Galapagos Islands, Ecuador.

Why Take A Cruise In the Galapagos Islands?

You can visit the Galapagos Islands via land or sea. Depending on your budget, there are many options to consider. I want to encourage you to explore the islands via a small boat or cruise ship. The following reasons are why I suggest this route:

1. Explore Greater Diversity and More Remote Islands:

Cruises allow you to visit a wider range of islands, including remote ones that are not accessible by day tours. This offers a more comprehensive and diverse experience of the Galapagos archipelago.

Galapagos Penguin
Galapagos Penguin

2. See Abundant and Diverse Wildlife:

Cruises offer opportunities to see a larger quantity and variety of Galapagos animals. From iconic species like giant tortoises and marine iguanas to rare birds and sea lions, the wildlife encounters on a cruise are unmatched.

The wildlife makes a family cruise in the Galapagos Islands ideal.

3. Maximize Exploration Time:

Cruising at night allows you to maximize your time ashore during the day, making the most out of your visit to each island. This ensures a more immersive and fulfilling experience within a limited timeframe, such as a one-week trip.

Family zodiac ride in the Galapagos Islands

4. Visit Remote and Exclusive Islands:

With access to remote islands not reachable by day tours, cruises offer a chance to explore secluded and less-visited locations, providing a more exclusive and authentic Galapagos experience. Bounce around the different islands that are best to visit based on the time of year you travel. 

5.  Daily Guided Activities:

Cruise itineraries typically include daily guided activities such as hikes (land tours), snorkeling sessions, and explorations by small watercraft. This structured approach ensures a variety of engaging experiences each day.

6. Small Group Experience:

Cruises are ideal for small groups, offering an intimate and personalized journey with like-minded travelers. This enhances the sense of community and camaraderie onboard. Family cruise in the Galapagos Islands is great because your family becomes a small group in itself.

7. Expert Naturalist Guides:

Onboard naturalist guides lead guided hikes, snorkeling sessions, and educational lectures, providing valuable insights into the Galapagos’ ecology, wildlife, and conservation efforts. We had the best guides on our National Geographic Cruise.

Great opportunity for nature lovers to see abundant wildlife inland and on the coast. The unique ecosystems of the Galápagos islands are primed for the best marine life around. 

Naturalist from National Geographic Galapagos Islands

8. Convenience and Comfort:

With all-inclusive accommodation, meals, activities, and guides provided onboard, cruises offer a convenient and comfortable way to explore the Galapagos Islands without the hassle of packing and unpacking frequently.

9. Environmental Responsibility:

Cruise tourism in the Galapagos is regulated to minimize its environmental impact, ensuring that your visit contributes to conservation efforts and sustainable tourism practices.

Family vacation aboard the National Geographic Endevour

Choosing the Right Cruise Ship- Our Family Experience

Choosing the right cruise ship was crucial for for our family cruise to the Galapagos Islands. Our family opted for the true adventure with National Geographic. The spacious cabins and elegant dining room provided the perfect retreat after days filled with shore excursions and wildlife encounters.

Our Family Vacation Aboard The National Geographic Endeavor II

My National Geographic Linblad Trip Review

I recently had the incredible opportunity to embark on a National Geographic cruise to the Galapagos Islands, and it was truly a transformative experience. One of the main reasons we chose this cruise was because of the expert guides they provide.

Having knowledgeable naturalists and guides who shared their passion and insights about the Galapagos’ wildlife, geology, and history made every excursion and discovery even more meaningful. A special shout-out to Cristian Villarroel who made our trip so fun.

The expedition team aboard the National Geographic Endeavor II was exceptional, with their extensive knowledge of the island species and passion for conservation. Each day brought a new adventure, from wet landings on uninhabited islands to snorkeling with green sea turtles in crystal-clear waters. Personal Journey With National Geographic.

Would I Recommend Linblad National Geographic?

Our booking process with Linbad was not a great experience. The expedition on the boat and the pre-planning process with Linblad were two separate experiences. I can’t recommend Linblad National Geographic to anyone until they fix the planning logistics on the front end.

The cruise ship wasn’t what I’d call “luxury,” but that’s not why we booked with Linblad National Geographic. Our vacation was all about the adventure, not the luxury. National Geographic is renowned for its adventurous spirit, after all.

With that said, it’s important to have your expectations in line before deciding what type of experience you want on this trip of a lifetime.

Galapagos Islands - Ecuador
Galapagos Islands – Ecuador

The Educational Aspect

The educational aspect was another highlight for me. Learning about the islands’ biodiversity, the role they played in Darwin’s theory of evolution, and the conservation efforts being undertaken was not only fascinating but also deeply inspiring.

It’s heartening to see National Geographic’s commitment to sustainable travel and conservation, knowing that my journey contributed to preserving these unique ecosystems.

The small group experience was also a big plus. Traveling with a smaller group allowed for a more intimate and personalized adventure, with opportunities for exclusive access to remote sites and unique wildlife encounters that I wouldn’t have experienced otherwise.

As a photography enthusiast, I appreciated the focus on photography during the cruise. From workshops with professional photographers to capturing breathtaking images of the Galapagos’ landscapes and wildlife, every moment felt like a once-in-a-lifetime shot.

Ecuador dancers aboard our cruise ship

Cultural Immersion Onboard

Moreover, the cultural immersion aspect added a deeper layer to the journey. Interacting with local communities and learning about their traditions enriched my understanding of the Galapagos’ heritage and added a meaningful dimension to the trip.

And of course, the comfort and luxury onboard were top-notch. National Geographic partners with reputable cruise operators to ensure a comfortable and enjoyable experience, from spacious cabins to gourmet dining options and wellness facilities.

Overall, my National Geographic cruise to the Galapagos Islands was a perfect blend of adventure, education, conservation, and luxury. It’s an experience that I’ll cherish for a lifetime and one that I highly recommend to anyone looking for a meaningful and unforgettable exploration of this incredible archipelago.”

With that said, the booking aspect with Linblad was a poor experience. If you are planning on a cruise with Linblad- National Geographic, use a travel agent for sure.

Maragritas at sunset

Benefits Of A Luxury Cruise To Galapagos Islands

One of the best things about a luxury Galapagos cruise is the opportunity to experience both the wildlife and the culture of the region. I combined my cruise with a land tour to mainland Ecuador, immersing myself in the vibrant local communities and exploring the stunning landscapes of the Andes Mountains.

Seeing endemic species in the Galapagos is special because they are unique to the region, not found anywhere else on Earth. These species played a role in Darwin’s theory of evolution, showcasing adaptation and natural selection. Their fascinating adaptations and the connection they offer to nature underscore the importance of conservation efforts, as many are endangered due to human activities.

A Few The Top Sites To See In The Galapagos Islands

La Ruta de la Tortuga (Santa Cruz Island)

South of Santa Rosa is El Chato Tortoise Reserve, where you can observe giant tortoises in the wild. When these virtually catatonic, prehistoric-looking beasts extend their accordion-like necks to feed, it’s an impressive sight.

Giant Tortoise in the galapagos islands
Giant Tortoise in the galapagos islands

The Giant Tortoise Breeding Centers are a must-visit on your Galapagos tour. While many tours stop at Santa Cruz and San Cristobal Islands to see these ancient-looking creatures at places like the Charles Darwin Research Center or the Galapagos Interpretation Center, the lesser-known but more fascinating breeding center is in Puerto Villamil on Isabela Island.

Many tour groups allocate only a brief time on the north coast at Post Office Bay, where you’ll find old barrels surrounded by graffiti-covered pieces of wood. While this spot served as a functional mailbox for American and British whalers in the late 18th century, today it’s more of a tourist attraction.

Post Office Box In The Galapagos Islands

Visitors leave postcards here, hoping they’ll eventually reach their intended recipients like a message in a bottle. In reality, it’s a bit more straightforward; tourists are encouraged to take a few postcards with them to mail when they return home.

Fisherman’s Wharf- Shops and Dining On Santa Cruz Island

Fisherman’s Wharf- Shops and Dining On Santa Cruz Island

This is where fishermen sell their catch twice a day. This isn’t just a great place to see local life on Santa Cruz, but you will also see the many pelicans, frigate birds, and even sea lions that come for a free meal. Fun shops and wonderful bars on the waterfront where you can rest and take in the gorgeous view. Sana Cruz island is one of the top visitor sites based on the many activities and site to see. 

 Dragon Hill, on Santa Cruz, gets its name from its large population of land iguanas. The walk up to the top is beautiful, with views over brackish lagoons where you’ll often see pink flamingos standing like statues.

The star attraction on this hike, though, is the land iguanas. 

Black Turtle Cove

You can hop on a Zodiac to navigate the intricate mangrove maze at Black Turtle Cove on Santa Cruz. This lush green labyrinth is among the most untouched in the Galapagos and teems with diverse wildlife.

Keep an eye out for sea turtles peeking above the water to observe you as they take a breath, while brown pelicans, egrets, and herons gracefully perch in the trees.

The Value Of A Small Ship Cruise

The beauty of a small ship cruise is the intimacy it offers. I had the chance to connect with fellow nature enthusiasts and share our awe and excitement at every breathtaking moment. Whether marveling at the volcanic landscapes or spotting fur seals sunbathing on the shores, each day was filled with wonder and joy.

As I reflect on my journey, I realize that a luxury Galapagos cruise isn’t just about the spectacular landscapes or iconic wildlife; it’s about gaining a deeper understanding of our natural world and our place within it. It’s about embracing different perspectives and appreciating the beauty of endemic flora and fauna that call the Galapagos home.

In conclusion, my dream Galapagos cruise was a transformative experience filled with unforgettable memories. From the knowledgeable guides to the luxury amenities, every aspect exceeded my expectations. If you’re a nature lover seeking adventure and luxury, there’s no better way to explore the Galapagos Islands than aboard a small ship cruise.

Wine glasses on cruise ship

The Small Yacht Options

1. The ELITE

The Elite is a chic 16-passenger plush catamaran with 9 luxury cabins. Each is complete with ample storage space and climate-controlled bathrooms stocked up with L’Occitane amenities. 

During your time onboard, you will have a concierge at hand to cater to your every need. In addition, you’ll be supplied with sized equipment and wetsuits and be able to enjoy a wonderful selection of gourmet meals. 

You can pick from a choice of 4 itineraries onboard the Elite, each of which will take you to many of the best places to see in the Galapagos Islands. Itinerary A, for instance, begins in San Cristobal before going on to North Seymour, Santa Cruz, Isabela, Fernandina, Bartolome and then returning to San Cristobal. 

Along the way, you’ll be able to tick off the likes of Dragon Hill, Sierra Negra Volcano and Kicker Rock. In doing so, you’ll be able to experience many of the best things to do in the Galapagos Islands across 8 jam-packed days. During your adventure, you can go hiking, snorkeling and kayaking to see all of the most incredible animals in the Galapagos Islands

2. The ALYA

Freshly refurbished, Alya stands out as one of the top small ship cruises in the Galapagos. This sophisticated catamaran seamlessly combines luxury and exploration as it traverses the stunning waters of the archipelago.

Dubbed “The Jewel of the Galapagos,” the vessel can host up to 16 guests across its 9 stylish cabins, 8 of which feature private balconies. Alya also features a library, dining area, and a sundeck complete with a panoramic jacuzzi.

While the allure of the yacht itself is enticing, you might be curious about the activities on this Galapagos Islands cruise. Your journey commences on Baltra Island’s arid landscapes, and the subsequent route will depend on your chosen itinerary.

Galapagos Luxury Cruise Ship Options

National Geographic – Endeavour II

We visited the Galapagos Islands aboard The National Geographic Endeavour. Zodiac to pristine beaches, kayak or stand-up paddleboard along volcanic shores, explore wildlife on land or under the sea. Experience the Galápagos aboard our elegant and nimble ship, well-equipped for up-close exploration. 90 guests and a staff of 65. 

Perfect for couples, families, and solo travelers. Encounter abundant wildlife—blue-footed boobies, marine iguanas, Darwin’s finches, pink flamingos, giant tortoises and more. The wildlife of Galápagos is legendary for being without fear in the presence of humans.

Silversea Origin

Silversea’s Silver Origin offers the epitome of luxury when exploring the Galapagos Islands. Specifically designed for these waters, it’s Silversea’s inaugural ship tailored to this destination, boasting eco-friendly features.

With a capacity for up to 100 passengers in all-suite accommodations, the ship’s all-inclusive amenities extend to premium spirits in your stateroom’s minibar and include their renowned butler service. Uncommon for this area, there’s also a salon and fitness center aboard. While most voyages last seven nights, longer trips are arranged for winter holidays. The Silver Origin navigates the north, central, and western Galapagos Islands loops.

Why A Galapagos Island Cruises Is Unique?

Picture yourself embarking on a thrilling adventure in a tropical paradise made up of not one, not two, but a whopping 127 islands! However, amidst this vast archipelago, only about 20 islands are hotspots for tourists seeking unforgettable experiences. And guess what? Only four of these islands are buzzing with bustling communities.

When you fly to the Galapagos Islands, there are direct flights from Quaaquil to San Cristobal or Baltra Island. 

Explore Remote Untouched Islands

Galapagos cruises offer a unique way to explore the cluster of remote, mostly untouched islands located around 600 miles off Ecuador’s coast. What sets Galapagos cruises apart from any other cruise experience is their focus on nature and wildlife, rather than flashy amenities or bustling entertainment. The ships are small, often accommodating as few as 16 passengers, ensuring an intimate and environmentally conscious journey.

Forget water slides, Broadway shows, or casinos; Galapagos cruises are all about immersing yourself in the natural wonders while minimizing our impact on the environment. These ships are designed with sustainability in mind, equipped with kayaks, paddleboards, and scuba gear for eco-friendly adventures. Itineraries are packed with two active excursions daily, ensuring you spend more time exploring uninhabited islands, encountering marine iguanas, playful sea lions, pristine beaches, and embarking on unforgettable adventures.

Navigating the logistics of a Galapagos trip can be complex, making cruises an excellent option for exploring this unique region. Travelers typically fly to Quito or Guayaquil in Ecuador, spend a night, then fly to the Galapagos to board their ships. National Park Guides accompany all travelers, helping them navigate these rugged and largely undeveloped islands, ensuring a safe and enriching experience.

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