South America – A Galapagos Cruise

My trip to the Galapagos was amazing, unbelievable, and surreal. I’ve included “how to” tips below, but here’s why this was one of the best things I’ve ever done:

  • I made new wonderful friends.
  • I swam with turtles, sea lions, sharks, rays, and tropical fish.
  • The geek in me soaked in teachings about evolution and the island history.
  • We snorkelled 2-3 times per day, and hiked at least once per day.
  • Some days we hung out on the beach and did nothing.
  • I enjoyed some of the worlds most beautiful and diverse landscapes.
  • We visited a location where marine iguanas were filmed for the Planet Earth film series.
  • I think snorkelling might be ruined for me forever, because this is some of the best snorkelling in the world.

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Overall, this 8 day trip was one of the BEST things I’ve done in my life, and a big check mark on my bucket list. I still dream about swimming with sea lions …

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Some things that may help you, when you book this once in a lifetime trip for yourself …

1. Book your tour through an agency (or if you can figure out how to, through a boat owner). I chose a Backpacker yacht with the help of CarpeDM, which cost about $1,300 USD + the flight from Quito. There are larger, fancier yachts that cost more, but I’m kinda broke.

  • Book it last minute for the best deal, but know that spaces do fill up and I’ve heard July is maintenance season for the boats so spaces may be tighter.
  • I would say a 4 day cruise is too short (you spend day 1 and day 4 as half days going back and forth to the airport), but an 8 day cruise is worth it if you can handle sea waves and small cabins.
  • Large boats handle seas better – smaller boats give a more intimate, flexible tour.
  • Cruises get access to places that the day-trips do not get access to. I’ve heard it can cost up to $175 for a speed boat from Santa Cruz to the far islands; and you only get a couple of hours there before you have to turn around. Put that $175 toward a boat cruise and save up; it’s worth it.

2. Choose a small to medium size boat

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  • We got catered service. There were 12 of us on the boat, and our guide was able to make itinerary changes based on what we wanted to do most. Already been to Tortuga Bay? No problem, he says, let’s spend time in a cave pool.
  • Downsides are that the cabins are tiny, you basically have to shower while sitting on the toilet, and my room in particular strongly smelled of diesel because it was right next to the engine. But remember: you don’t spend all your time in your room.
  • Our King of the Seas boat was able to get into smaller bays, and we almost always had beaches to ourselves (which is unreal when you’re on a beach that’s ranked among the top 10 in the world). Our guide also got to know us each personally, and we didn’t have to wait for 100 people to disembark. Only twelve people on an island, now that’s cool.
  • The crew and the cook made special dishes for us. One day, we bought kernels at the grocery store and Mario had popcorn and hot chocolate ready after our afternoon snorkel!
  • If you’re in your 20s or 30s, you’re more likely to be matched with a group of people that have similar interests. I feel really lucky to have cruised the seas with the people that I did, they were all lovely.

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3. Buy sea sickness pills.  Mariole is the brand I got from the pharmacy. The tiny boat could only go a max of 4 knots in the large, open-ocean waves, and though I’ve been on boats before, I definitely got very sick. On Day 1, while chatting on the top deck, I had to say, “I’m sorry Tom, I need to lie down,” and promptly placed myself on the floor. I invited Tom to keep chatting, and he didn’t skip a beat! Ha!

While I was lying there with my eyes closed, another new German friend says, “I’m sorry Bill. I am very sick and cannot talk at this moment.”  At least I wasn’t alone on Team Nausea!

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4. Choose a Southern Islands itinerary. Even our guide said the Northern Islands aren’t as good, because you have more landscape and plant-life and less wildlife and snorkeling. I guess it depends what you’re into, but the Southern Islands (Espanola, Floreana, San Cristobal, Kicker Rock, Lobos Island, etc.) gives you the most for your money (landscape, flora and fawna). I’m sure you can’t go wrong in the Galapagos in general, though.

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5. Tip the crew. The guide and crew have separate envelopes at the end of the cruise. We estimated between $3 – $5 per day, per envelope. Of course, if you don’t think the crew did a good job, that’s your prerogative. Our crew was amazing, teaching us to salsa, drinking with us, and going the extra mile with post-snorkeling snacks and dinners. The King of the Seas(Victor, Jacinto, Wilmer, Mario, and Luis) did a great job!

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6. Other good things to know

  • Most boat guides will pick you up at the airport as a group. We had to wait a good 3 hours for everyone to arrive. Don’t plan on going anywhere fast …
  • If you get a guide named Jacinto, you’re in for a great tour!
  • To get from the airport to Puerto Lopez, you have to:
    1.  (~$1USD): Take a bus from the airport to the harbour,
    2. (~$0.80USD): Take a small ferry, on which your  bags are stored atop the roof
    3. (~$1USD): Take another bus to Puerto Lopez.
    4. The whole trip takes about an hour, I’d say, and you’re basically herded like cattle. I chose to arrive the day before my cruise, take the bus-ferry-bus combo to Puerto Lopez. The only problem is that I had to then do the same thing in reverse to meet my group at the airport, and then bus-ferry-bus AGAIN back to Puerto Lopez and our boat. So, moral of the story: if you can fly in on the same day as your boat cruise, you should do it. This 1-2-3, bus-ferry-bus thing gets old … 

There are more tips to share, I’m sure, but if you are curious just comment and I will try to help! Information is scattered, and it’s difficult to decipher what islands offer what. So ask away if you have any questions!

In summary … go to the Galapagos. Don’t think, just go.

 

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