Should I take a cruise or a land based tour?
This is a big question and CNH Tours will bluntly answer -
CRUISE. Here's why we think this way: The Galapagos islands are
world-famous for their unique wildlife and for the fact that many
animals display a total lack of any concern over anyone approaching
them. The islands are famous as the source of inspiration for
Charles Darwin's theory of evolution by natural selection.
Galapagos is one of the only places on Earth where reptiles still
dominate the landscape. On top of all this, the islands are graphic
manifestations of geological processes that have shaped the earth -
with volcanic peaks emerging out of the sea, some still active,
particularly on the west side of the archipelago.
All these factors combined give Galapagos a bit of an "ends of
the earth" feel - traveling among the islands is almost like
traveling back in time, beyond the known world and away from all
the usual routine reference points of your life. CNH Tours feels
that if you are going to go through all the trouble and cost of
getting yourself to Galapagos in the first place, you might as well
do what it takes to experience the full "mind trip." It takes time
to let go of your usual concerns and cares and to let your senses
and spirit adapt to a new environment. The only way to develop a
sense for Galapagos is to spend as much time out on the sea and
amongst the islands as possible.
The only way to do that in Galapagos (unless you're a scientist
in a field camp) is to be on a ship, for several days. You won't be
coming back to the hustle and bustle of human settlements, with
bright lights and traffic every night. You can see the sun set, and
rise, over the Pacific and marvel at the brilliant starry skies and
check for bioluminescence in the sea. A cruise-based visit will
have you on shore, starting your excursions earlier in the morning,
before the sun gets too hot and while the animals are at their most
How do I choose a "good" itinerary?
It depends on what you are looking for in a cruise. All ships
follow a Park-approved circuit through the islands, coming back to
the original point of departure every two weeks. On a standard
cruise (7 nights, 8 days), you will generally get exposed to
roughly half of the archipelago during that time. If
you take a full 14-night / 15-day cruise, you'll see just about all
there is to see.
Lower-end ships might have less adventurous itineraries,
sticking close to home and visiting a disproportionate number of
settled islands. Some people are very keen to see particular
species - like the giant tortoise, the red- footed booby, the
penguin, the flightless cormorant, or maybe the waved albatross -
some of which are more common, or even only present in more distant
What cruise length should I choose?
… it depends! It depends on your time, budget and
passion. If you've been dreaming about going to
Galapagos all your life, then do the full 15-day
itinerary. The majority of people take a 7-night /
8-day cruise - this gives you a good opportunity, particularly with
a good itinerary, to see the diversity of landscapes and life forms
in Galapagos. Some people are pressed for time
(and/or money) and opt for shorter cruises - as short at 4 or 5
days. But remember, a "5-day" cruise is really only 3 full
sailing days. (The first and last days have you embarking after
midday, and disembarking before midday.) Given the fixed
costs of going all the way to Galapagos in the first place (both in
time and money), CNH Tours recommends at least a 7-night / 8-day
What is the difference between the 3-night/4-day, 4-night/5-day and 7-night/8-day tours?
When the cruise business got going in Galapagos in the 1970's and 1980's, the 7-night / 8-day cruise was the standard length simply because there was only one flight a week to the islands! The 7-night itinerary is pretty much the standard today, but several ships started offering shorter cruises for those people more pressed for time. The first and last days of a cruise typically consist of one short land visit (for example, after passengers have flown to Galapagos and embarked, there is little time for cruising on the first day; and in order to get passengers to the airport on time for their flight out, there is little time for cruising on the last day.) So an "8-day" cruise consists of only 6 full cruising days. Similarly, a 5-day cruise consists of only 3-full days.
When considering a longer cruise, you might want to ascertain that your ship is not dropping off / picking up passengers who are on a shorter cruise. When poorly executed, this can result in too much down time for the ship in the middle of your longer cruise and a sense that you are wasting precious hours in Galapagos, waiting around.
What are the typical demographics of cruise ship passengers?
Demographics vary from ship to ship and from month to
month. The largest ships (90 - 100 passengers),
typically marketed on the usual international cruise ship networks,
attract a more conservative, established clientele.
Smaller, lowest-end ships will attract a more diverse group of
bargain hunters, while middle-range ships, or smaller higher-end
ships may attract people who are bit more adventure-minded, yet
settled enough to be able to afford the cruise in the first
place. Given the price of a Galapagos cruise, it's common
that people who've had the chance to establish themselves
financially tend to go on cruise ships. That's often people
who are a bit older, with perhaps 70% of passengers in their 50's,
60's and even 70's, though there still are many adventurous younger
folks as well. You may also bump into more families
with younger children during the school holiday period - typically
the Christmas period, a couple of weeks in March and
What are the pros and cons between a large ship and a small ship?
Small ships (8-20 passengers) are more common in Galapagos and
offer a greater diversity in terms of comfort and design.
Roughly 40 ships fall into this category.
They come in different comfort classes, from the most rudimentary
to luxury. Some have small cabins with bunk beds and
little public space, while others have ample decks, salons and
spacious cabins. There are monohulls and
catamarans. Small ships carry fewer people and tend to
have more flexibility while sailing - e.g. if whales are spotted,
the ships can more easily maneuver or linger among
them. If dolphins are riding the bow wave (not
uncommon), it's possible on most small ships to go to the bow and
watch them from just a few metres away. (See some of CNH Tours's
"next generation" doing just that, here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nBOxcoPucbc).
You can't do that on a big ship. Small ships are a bit
less intrusive as well. When you wake up after a night
cruise, and you find yourself moored in a remote bay, all alone, on
a small ship, you might feel more in harmony with your
surroundings. On the downside, small ships will feel choppy
seas more than a larger ship does - so if you're particularly
sensitive to that kind of thing, it could be a
Large ships (49-100 passengers) tend to come only in the higher
comfort-level classes (you'll be hard-pressed to find a
lower-priced cruise on a large ship). There are about 7
large ships. They have more public space and are more stable
on the water. They might be a good consideration if
you're considering going to Galapagos from July - November, when
seas are a bit choppier, particularly if you don't handle ship
movement too well.
Finally, there are about 15 middle-sized ships (21-48
passengers) that combine some of the pros and cons of both the
small and large ships.
How do I decide what ship to choose?
That is one of the toughest questions to answer! It
depends on your own interests/budget. There are over 60 ships
plying Galapagos waters, from small converted fishing boats (just 2
or 3 of these left from the old days) to large luxury ships (100
passengers is the maximum allowed capacity in the
islands). There are catamarans, monohulls, ships
with sails... different ships follow different itineraries, there
are low-end and high-end ships. And once you find a
ship, you might want to consider which of its itineraries you want
to join it for (e.g. 4, 5, 7, 11, 15 days?). CNH Tours can
help you sift through these issues and suggest ships that are most
suited to your needs.
Can I take a sailing cruise?
Though several ships sport masts, few of them actually hoist
sails during a cruise; or if they do, it's just for a few
hours. Winds are notoriously fickle in Galapagos, and
trying to do a regular 8 day, motorized itinerary using wind power
alone could take 2-3 months. Charles Darwin spent more than
50% of his time in Galapagos sailing from one island to the other -
imagine his frustration!
Is a Galapagos cruise a good choice for solo travelers?
Why not? The shared feelings of wonder and the revival of one's
sense of discovery while on a Galapagos cruise is a great ice
breaker. Most ships will not charge a single supplement
if you are willing to share a cabin with someone else (of the same
sex of course). Some ships even have dedicated
single cabins, or have more cabins than the number of allowed
passengers (e.g. a 20-passenger ship allowed to embark only
Do cruise rates include international flights?
Only those complete "from beginning to end" travel packages,
typically offered by international travel agencies, would do
that. But each cruise is sold in many different ways by
different agents - some will include the flight from continental
Ecuador to Galapagos in the overall price, some will sell only the
cruise. You need to know exactly what you're paying for
before you buy. CNH Tours does not deal in international
ticketing - we only handle flights within Ecuador.
Do cruise rates include internal flights and/or hotel before or after the cruise, or the park entrance fee?
Some do, some don't - depending on who is selling the
cruise. Be sure to pin these things down before buying.
CNH Tours covers most of these in its own "Active Galapagos" trip
for details), but for bookings on other trips, we can make any
arrangements you like.
Can I spend a few days on land if I want to?
Yes. There are four human settlements in Galapagos, and
each offers a range of land-based activities focusing on the local
attractions accessible by foot, bicycle, taxi, or ship-based day
i) Puerto Ayora on
Santa Cruz Island. This is the largest (accessible via
Baltra Island airport, a 1.5-hour trip by land and ferry) and has
the most services in terms of restaurants, shops, bars, dance
clubs, scuba outfitters and hotels. The Charles Darwin
Research Station is located here.
ii) Puerto Baquerizo
Moreno, on San Cristobal Island. This is the seat of
the provincial government and comes across as more of a government
town. It has all the necessary infrastructure for visitors,
but is about ¼ the size of Puerto Ayora. Access is by San
Cristobal airport, just 3 minutes away by taxi, or a 15-minute walk
down the road! The town is also connected to Puerto Ayora via
a 3 hour ferry "speed boat" ferry service.
iii) Puerto Villamil,
on Isabela Island. Sand roads, a fairly quiet little
town, ¼ again the size of Puerto Baquerizo Moreno but located close
to many good natural visitor areas. Hotel and restaurant
options are more limited here. Access is by boat from Puerto Ayora
or via small inter-island plane service.
Velasco Ibarra, Floreana: A tiny settlement, with only
110 residents, and extremely limited hotel/restaurant
options. You can't just show up - make sure you plan
ahead. Access is by boat from Puerto Ayora, but service
is not regular.
When is the best time of year to visit the Galapagos?
…. it depends! If seeing the waved albatross in full
courting behaviour is a must, then you'll have to go no earlier
than late April and no later than mid-June (and make sure your ship
itinerary takes you to the one spot in the islands where this can
be seen!). Or if you like to see baby sea lions, just
born, then the months of November - December are ideal.
You'll have a better chance to see giant tortoises in the wild if
you go between January and May. Galapagos is a wonder all
year long. There is always something happening, but the
variety of criteria people consider when choosing a time of year
makes it very difficult to identify a best time. Regarding
environmental conditions, the seas tend to be warmer and calmer
from January to May, coinciding with the hot and rainy
season. See the FAQ on climate for more details.
What is a typical day of sightseeing like on a Galapagos cruise?
Typically, you get up early, have a coffee or tea, admire the
early morning seascape, look for breaching whales, dolphins,
leaping manta rays, seabirds…. Have breakfast and ready
yourself for a morning land-based visit. Some of the more
zealous ships will have you on land before breakfast on occasion,
to take advantage of the early morning light, and animal
activity. You take the panga (small motorized skiff or
Zodiac) and disembark. You might spend 1-2 hours walking
around at a leisurely pace, doing some wildlife observation with
the help of your naturalist guide. Depending on the
visitor site, there may be an opportunity for a swim, or a snorkel
prior to lunch, or perhaps a panga ride along the rugged shoreline
to look for birds and other creatures. Over lunch, when the
sun is at its highest and hottest, the ship might sail a short
distance to a new visitor site. You typically have time for a
little siesta. The afternoon follows a similar pattern,
with a site visit and possible snorkel/swim. If you
like, you can dive off the ship's stern for a refreshing swim -
just ask the guide. Happy hour can be had on the deck as you
watch the sun sink into the Pacific, or behind a volcano and watch
the brilliant starry sky make its appearance (something you don't
see very well in town). Dinner is served and a short briefing
on the next day's activities is provided shortly thereafter.
People are often happy to call it a day fairly early.
Can I go anywhere I want?
No. 97% of the land area of Galapagos is with the
Galapagos National Park - and people are only allowed to go to
designated visitor sites, and only in the company of a certified
naturalist guide. In the remaining 3%, located on the 4
settled islands, there are attractions that can be visited
What are the best visitor sites?
That's a bit like asking "what's the best colour?" or "what's
the best day of the year?". A survey of past visitors
will result in a wide variety of answers. One site might get
you an encounter with a rare species seen nowhere else, but not
much else. Another might be good for swimming, and you'll see
a large school of spotted eagle rays swim below you - a sight
you'll never forget! One site in April could have a lot going
for it, but 4 months later, be little to remember. You
may be very interested in some of the intriguing human history of
the remote towns of Villamil or Floreana, but your fellow
travellers may not.
You'll have to do your own research and find an itinerary that
best suits your tastes. The only way to get the full
diversity of sites is to take a 15-day cruise in May, and again in
October - which is beyond the reach of many in terms of time and
money, further underscoring the need to plan ahead.
How physically fit do I have to be to enjoy a Galapagos trip?
You don't have to be an Olympian. People of all ages, some
into their 90's, have been to Galapagos. You have to be able
to get into a panga (small motorized skiff), disembark, and
negotiate trails that can be a bit uneven at times, with rocks, or
tree roots, or on sand. Some people bring a walking
stick. Hikes are rarely more than 2.5 km in length (1.5
miles), usually with little elevation gain. Hikes are done at
a slow pace - because it's all about observing nature, not about
establishing speed records. Although not mandatory, it's good
to know how to swim with mask and snorkel because the underwater
life is so spectacular. If you're not yet comfortable with
that, CNH Tours highly recommends taking the time to develop a
level of comfort with it before you go - you will not be
disappointed. Crews and guides are experienced in
working with people of all ages. If you want to sit out a
particularly hike, you can stay on the ship; or in some cases, an
alternative outing can be proposed. Some cruises or
charters are specifically designed for more active people (see our
Are these trips suitable for children?
Of course! CNH Tours took their 6 month old on a cruise;
and when he and his younger brother were 7 and 10; on another, and
yet again when they were 10 and 13. It's best if they
are comfortable in the water and using a mask and snorkel - if not,
it's worth investing the necessary time before the trip to ensure
they are. Several ships offer "family departures,"
encouraging people to bring their children, thus ensuring that the
kids get to have fun with other kids while on the cruise and
perhaps giving the parents a bit of a reprieve in the
meantime. CNH Tours would however recommend not taking
children who are under 7 years old out of concern that they may
require too much supervision on the part of parents, resulting in a
frustrating time for all. Some ships have age
restrictions and may not accept toddlers or younger children -
check to be sure.
How are the naturalist guides classified?
Depending on their level of training and education, guides are
classified into three classes:
- Speaks only Spanish; little or no post-secondary education
- Speaks a language other than Spanish with a good degree of
- Has a university degree in biology or natural sciences
- Speaks a language other than Spanish with a good degree of
CNH Tours knows many guides personally. Though the
classification system above provides some general indication on
guide training, it provides no indication whatsoever on the real
quality of a naturalist guide. At the end of the day, a
"good" guide is a whole lot more than someone with a degree in
biology and speaks English fluently! So there are top
quality class I guides out there and very average class III guides.
A good guide will make a big difference in your Galapagos
experience. In the end, there are rarely any guarantees -
but as a general rule, higher end ships tend to guides that are at
least competent and professional.
Does the guide accompany us on each island?
Yes, and in the water as well. Most visitor sites in
Galapagos are off limits to people, unless accompanied by a
certified naturalist guide (these are certified by the Galapagos
National Park Service after they have completed a guide's
course). Cruise ships must hire at least 1 naturalist
guide for every 16 passengers.
How do I find a good Galapagos travel agent?
You'll find hundreds of travel agents selling Galapagos cruises,
based in most countries of the world. But few of them will
really know Galapagos, and fewer still will have actually been
there. So find a Galapagos travel agent that specializes in
Galapagos. They will know the latest developments and
the various options open to you. Be sure your agent
enjoys a good reputation. Agencies come and go on a regular
basis, or some are clearly not too focused on customer service once
the invoice is paid. But thankfully, there are more
reputable Galapagos specialist agencies out there now than ever
before. Of course CNH Tours believes we are the best
Can I arrange my flight from the continent to Galapagos independently?
It has become easier to make one's own flight arrangements from continental Ecuador to Galapagos. Before considering doing so, it is very important to note that cruise ships have rigid schedules. They sail at a set time, from one of three places in Galapagos, and drop off passengers for flights back to the continent at set times, again in one of three places in Galapagos. Ship owners have access to guaranteed spaces aboard specific flights that ensure a seamless trip from the continent, to Galapagos, to the ship. It is strongly recommended that you have the ship book your flights to avoid any problems. Anyone booking flights independently assumes the consequences of being on the wrong flight and arriving after the ship has sailed, flying to the wrong airport in the islands. This might mean missing your cruise, or having to hire a private transport to your ship at a cost of $1,000 or more.
Is it OK to book my international flight before choosing a cruise?
The more flexibility you have in terms of cruise start / end dates, the great the number of ships and itineraries you'll be able to consider when choosing a cruise. If you choose your international flights before you choose a cruise, you might end up with few options, none of which are ideal. We strongly recommend that you choose your cruise first, and then deal with international flights.
Is there a dress code on board?
The first thing to remember is that a Galapagos cruise is not
like one of those classic transatlantic crossings you see in the
movies. There is no "black tie / evening gown" night
and conditions are very relaxed. There may be people on board
who prefer to dress up a little for the evening meals, particularly
on the larger, higher-end ships, but dining in a (relatively clean)
t-shirt and shorts is equally respectable in Galapagos.
How much should we tip the guide and crew?
Tipping is often a controversial subject but shouldn't
be. Though no one is forced to leave a tip, in
Galapagos and on cruise ships, it is expected of you, just as you
are expected to leave a tip when dining in a restaurant in the
USA. If satisfied, each passenger is expected to leave
about +/- 3-4% of the total price paid for the cruise (cruise
portion only, don't include flights etc...). You do this once
for your naturalist guide and once again for the whole of the rest
of the crew (e.g., the total tip budget could be from 6-8% of the
cruise price). Most ships have a system of envelopes
which make it easier for you. You should not feel coerced
into doing so - there are stories of lower-end ships nearly holding
passengers hostage in order to get tips! Of course, if you
found that a particular crew member went the extra mile for you,
feel free to leave something extra for them. Crew members
often appreciate a good t-shirt, an exotic ball-cap or other
paraphernalia you're happy to leave behind.
What are the accommodations like?
You get what you pay for - from basic bunks in a small berth
below the waterline with a small porthole to spacious luxury cabins
with a private deck. All cabins have private bathrooms and
showers, with hot water and air conditioning. It can be
a challenge to find storage space for your luggage in the smallest
cabins - you should consider bringing soft-sided bags so that once
empty, they can be rolled up and stuffed in a nook, out of the way.
In the end though, you spend relatively little time in your
cabin - a consolation for those in the smaller cabins!
What are the meals like?
You get what you pay for - though generally, even on basic
ships, the food is hearty. Fish, chicken, veggies,
sauces, rice and fruit are typical fare. Higher-end ships
will of course have a more refined menu. Remember that
these are not luxury Caribbean cruise ships with 24-hour all you
can eat buffets on hand. Besides regular meal times, a
variety of hot and cold snacks are usually provided after each land
visit (mid-morning and mid-afternoon).
I’m vegetarian / vegan / don’t eat pork etc... - will that be a problem on the boat?
Ships can handle most kinds of diets and dietary
requirements. You can imagine that over the years, they've
received people with many different dietary restrictions. Of
course, some do it with more style than others. Before
you book, make this clear and ask if / how your needs can be
Can I bring my own bottle of wine / spirits on board?
Though most ships like to improve their profits by selling
alcohol on board, they will generally turn a blind eye to people
bringing along a bottle of their preferred drink. This might
be particularly true for medium- to lower-end ships. You
should try to be a bit discreet and not expect the crew to mix your
drinks in such cases.
Are the Galapagos boats equipped with snorkeling equipment?
All ships provide snorkeling gear - some provide it free of
charge, others for a small fee (e.g. $20 per week). You may
want to bring your own gear if you like.
How common are wildlife sightings in the Galapagos?
Wildlife cannot be avoided in Galapagos.
Do all ship offer snorkeling activities?
Yes - the underwater experience is one of the major highlights
in Galapagos. The marine reserve was declared a UNESCO World
Heritage site in 2001. Only Galapagos fishermen, using small
scale fishing practices, are allowed to fish in this huge reserve -
though there is an on-going debate on sports-fishing. (CNH Tours is
completely against this practice in Galapagos, which remains one of
the very few areas between Tierra del Fuego and Alaska where
bill-fish such as sword and sail fish are protected.) As a
result, the underwater life is about as close as you can get to
pristine these days. All ships give you the chance to spend
time observing underwater wonders. If you're not
comfortable snorkeling, it's worth practicing in your local pool to
develop a greater comfort level, so you can get the most out of
your Galapagos trip. If you really like snorkeling, let your
naturalist guide know so that you can enjoy it as much as
Can I scuba dive from the boat?
No. Only dedicated live-aboard diving expedition ships are
allowed to do this. You can arrange for a two tank
scuba diving outing with land-based outfitters before or after your
trip. To do this, you'll have to extend your stay in the
islands by one or more days - or arrive a day or two before your
Do you cruise between islands in the daytime or at night?
A bit of both, but mostly at night, depending on the
itinerary. Typically, the ship is motoring for a total of
about 6 - 8 hours a day on average. It may motor for up to 12
hours for longer journeys, and maybe a few hours in the day, often
during lunch time.
Are boats equipped with life vests and life rafts?
All ships must meet typical safety standards and are regularly
inspected by authorities to ensure they do so. Safety
certificates are provided and must be renewed
regularly. For this reason, ships all carry life vests,
life rafts and smoke detectors.
Can you smoke on board?
Ships have designated smoking areas outside. Smoking
is not permitted on official visitor sites and other park
How are the cruise ships equipped for electricity?
Ships accept US style plugs and offer both 110V and 220V outlets
in the cabins, in general.
How will I do laundry during on a cruise ship?
You'll have to do it the old-fashioned way, in the sink of your
bathroom and then hanging things up to dry. All ships have a
dedicated communal clothesline for drying. Some of the
larger or higher-end ships may have a dryer. You can use
shampoo or hand soap for the wash.
What telephone service is there on the cruise ships?
Ideally, to really get into the Galapagos state of mind, you
will turn your phone off. But sadly, we realize that this is
not always possible in modern life. Mobile phone service is
likely to be available for most of your itinerary, though you may
be out of range for a few days, particularly if you're sailing in
northern or western waters. Otherwise, the ships are in
constant contact with the mainland using their radios and can be
reached via their office in an emergency. You might want to
check on the compatibility of your mobile phone service with the
Ecuadorian service, and on any possible additional fees
Can I use my cell phone?
Cell phones have been around in Galapagos since
2001. Coverage is good in the towns and inhabited
islands. As long as your ship is within range of cell phone
towers located on the inhabited islands, you will have access to
your phone. However, some ship itineraries take you to
the far western shores of the archipelago or to the more northerly
islands. You will not have cell phone coverage here - and
depending on the itinerary, you could be out of range for up to 3
days at a time. Before leaving, you should also check
with your service provider in terms of roaming fees and how to
connect with the Ecuadorian providers.
Can I extend my stay?
Of course - you can stay longer on a ship if they have room for
you (and if you can pay for it!), or you can stay on land in
Galapagos. There are 3 main settlements in the islands (and a
4th tiny one), each with hotels, restaurants and mom & pop tour
operators who can help you organize activities - or you can just do
your own thing.
Do ships have kayaks? Glass bottomed boats?
Most ships have at least one kayak. The Park Service
allows kayaking only in a limited number of areas. Only a
small number of ships, usually the higher end ones, will have a
glass bottomed boat.
What are wet / dry landings?
These terms refer to the nature of the disembarkation from the
small skiffs or Zodiacs (which they call "pangas" in
Galapagos) that take you from your cruise ship to an island.
Sometimes the skiff beaches itself, and you get out in calf-deep
water - a "wet" landing. Sometimes it alights next to a rocky
outcropping, allowing you to disembark directly onto dry land - a
Does the ship provide soap / shampoo?
Most ships will provide at least soap, and unless you are in a
"backpacker's special" boat. As for shampoo, typically,
higher-end ships will provide that. If you bring your own,
consider bring bio-degradable versions.
Even on the biggest ships in Galapagos (100 passengers), you will hear some ship noise - ranging from the anchor chain resonating as the ship weighs anchor (or drops the anchor), the engine, or the electrical generators. Of course, the bigger the ship and the further you are from the sources of the noise, the less intense it will be. On smaller ships, no matter where you are, these sounds will be heard. The magic of it all is that after a few hours, your ears tend to tune it out. Cabin selection on these ships can help - though the further you are from the engines, the closer you get to the anchor - whose chain can make a loud racket in the middle of the night when it is dropped or weighed. Some ships are designed in such a way as to more effectively keep the sounds away from the cabins - but there is only so much that can be expected. You are on a ship after all, and ship sounds are part of the experience - but earplugs can help.
Are there biting insects?
Depending on where you come from, you might find Galapagos
relatively free of biting insects, or infested with them!
Typically, you'll run into a few mosquitos or more rarely,
horseflies that bite a little harder. The mosquitos
come out in the evenings and are worse on land - but can still make
it around a moored ship. The usual insect repellant should do
the trick - complemented by long pants, socks and long-sleeved
Are there any poisonous insects or animals such as snakes?
Notwithstanding some bees and wasps, the only poisonous land
species in Galapagos are scorpions and centipedes. There are two
Galapagos scorpion species - the Hadruroides maculatus
galapagoensis, which occurs on most of the major islands and
the Centruroides exsul, which occurs on Española, San
Cristobal, Santa Cruz and Pinta islands. You will likely not
see them unless you have a good guide who knows how to find
them. None has a particularly dangerous sting, though they
may cause a bit of pain. There is also the Galapagos
centipede, Scolopendra galapagoensis, which can grow up to
30 centimetres (12 inches) long, and has a wonderful pair of
venomous pincers which can deliver a painful, poisonous bite but
not deadly. CNH Tours vividly recalls finding one of
these big boys at the back end of our desk drawer one day - quite a
Should I be concerned about the zika virus?
The zika virus is spread mostly through the bite of the Aedes mosquito, which is present throughout most of subtropical South, Central and North America (e.g. including south of a line that goes roughly from southern Maine to Central California). This mosquito does not exist in higher altitudes (e.g. there are none in Quito). In Galapagos, it is present, but as the climate there is mostly arid, mosquito numbers are relatively low. Lower numbers of mosquitoes combined with adopting the usual precautionary measures (longs sleeves, trousers, mosquito repelant), make the risk of contracting zika in Galapagos very small. The US Center for Disease Control (CDC) reports (2017) that many cases of zika are now occuring in the continental USA, including cases of local transmission.
According to the CDC:
"The most commons symptoms of Zika are fever, rash, joint pain and conjunctivitis (red eyes). The illness is usually mild with symptoms lasting for several days to a week after being bitten by an infected mosquito. People usually don't get sick enough to go to the hospital, and they very rarely die of Zika. For this reason, many people might not realize they have been infected. However, Zika virus infection during pregnancy can cause a serious birth defect called microcephaly, as well as other severe fetal brain defects."
As of the end of March 2017, the Ecuadorian Ministry of Health has reported only 2 cases of Zika in Galapagos (these had occurred in early 2016 - none has been reported since). For more information, please consult the CDC website.
How about sun protection?
By far the most common (if not the most serious) health concern
arises from the effects of the powerful equatorial sun.
You'll be under its strong rays for a few hours each day.
Many of you will be coming from the northern hemisphere winter,
your skin having lost any natural protection gained from recent
exposure. We all have different tolerance levels to the
sun, depending on skin type; but regardless, you should be very
careful. Bring lightweight long-sleeved shirts and pants,
good sunscreen (SPF 30 or 40, anything much above is windowdressing
only), a wide-brimmed hat, or an umbrella (cooler for your head,
good for rain, and can be used as a walking stick!).
Bring some water for your land visits as well! Good
polarizing sun-glasses are also much appreciated.
Do I have to worry about food safety?
Though no one is immune to the occasional bout of "turista" or
"Montezuma's revenge" (maybe "Atahualpa's revenge" in Ecuador -
look him up), the cleanliness standards are generally very good on
Galapagos cruise ships and in most island restaurants.
On the ships, you shouldn't have to worry about anything (again,
there is always the exception that proves the rule!). Ship
tap water, though technically potable, is usually not recommended;
but there is a permanent supply of fresh drinking water in the
dining rooms. Concerns grow when you are in a back-alley mom
& pop eatery, looking for the lowest-priced eating options, or
booking the very lowest-end ships.
How about altitude sickness when passing through Quito?
One reads a lot about concerns over altitude issues for visitors
to Quito. Frankly, CNH Tours thinks these are largely
unjustified. Quito is at 2,800 metres (about 9,100
feet). For the sake of comparison, Cusco in Peru (a major
tourist destination) lies at 3,400 metres (11,150 feet) and that
doesn't stop tens of thousands of visitors from going there every
year. CNH Tours had to travel to Quito from Galapagos (sea
level) to give birth to her first child and felt no inconveniences,
despite the effort required... Typical effects for those
living close to sea level include a mild headache for some, a less
restful sleep for others and maybe a bit more huffing and puffing
when climbing stairs. Some recommend avoiding alcohol as an
extra strategy to mitigate any altitude effects.
Are there any immunizations or vaccines required or recommended?
Galapagos is a remarkably benign place with few serious health
concerns, though there has been an occasional outbreak of
mosquito-borne dengue among a few people in the local
population. Having said that, doctors recommend being
prepared for most eventualities. CNH Tours is not a doctor
and cannot be responsible for your decision in this regard - though
a good starting point is the following:
Recommended for all travelers
For travelers who may eat or drink outside major restaurants and
Measles, mumps, rubella (MMR)
Two doses recommended for all travelers born after 1956, if not
Revaccination recommended every 10 years
Is the water on board safe to drink?
The drinking water provided by ships is safe to drink. The
ship tap water, while not necessarily toxic, may not be
advisable. There is always a supply of drinking water readily
available on ships - perfect for filling your water bottles before
heading off to a new visitor site.
What if I have a medical emergency on the cruise ship?
The largest and higher-end ships (3-4 of them only) will
generally have a medical professional on board to deal with
immediate medical needs. Otherwise, most ships rely on
the naturalist guide who is trained in basic first aid and survival
skills. You can be far away from a hospital in
Galapagos - if your ship happens to be in a more remote part of the
archipelago, it may take over 12 hours to reach the nearest island
hospital. If more advanced care is needed, a flight to
the continent will be necessary - which could be up to 24 hours
away. Everyone travelling to Galapagos must be fully aware of
and accept the fact that you will be in a remote area and at times
far away from professional medical attention. There is
now a helicopter in Galapagos. Its main duty is not tourist
rescue; but in extreme cases, it has been known to be of
Will I get seasick?
CNH Tours has been surveying hundreds of our clients over the
years on how they managed in terms of seasickness. Most
of our clients traveled on smaller ships, and they travelled
throughout the year. On a scale of 1-5, where 1 was
"not affected at all" and 5 was "it really kept me from enjoying my
trip!," the average response is between 1-2. Most people report
having brought some type of motion sickness remedies with them,
just in case. Beyond such remedies, if you are
particularly worried, you can consider traveling when the seas are
at their calmest (Jan - May) or book on a larger ship. It's
interesting to note that those most prone to seasickness are
adolescents and young adults.
Is a catamaran better than a monohull ship in terms of seasickness?
CNH Tours approached two US naval architects based in Japan
(Nigel and John) to get an informed answer to this question.
Their answer was not a straight "yes" or "no." They
used the term "seakeeping ability," which is a measure of how well
suited a ship is to conditions when underway. John said it depended
on the speed of the ship, the ratio of the wavelength to ship hull
length, the angle the ship was sailing in relation to the direction
of the waves, and the length-to-beam ratio (long and slender vs.
short and wide). He indicated that long, slender monohulls
generally had better seakeeping ability but that catamarans could
perform well. John's final verdict remained equivocal
though: "A fast fat monohull is going to be worse than a fast
slender catamaran or a slow slender monohull is better than fast
fat catamaran, and so on."
Nigel piped in, relating John's comments to the crux of
the matter: Seasickness. CNH Tours quotes him:
"So what causes seasickness? There are lots of
scientific papers on this subject but to summarize: It's the
queasy feeling brought about by a ship's heaving motion (up and
down) mostly rather than roll (side to side). So in a long
swell with a wave length from crest to crest several times the
length of the boat it really does not matter what form the hull
takes. The boat will ride up and down like a
cork. A ship's roll is distressing to people
unaccustomed to the sea. So too is violent pitching and
slamming in very rough seas. This may produce lots of
screaming, but it's not the cause of seasickness.
Another contributing factor is age. It's not the old
or babies who are most vulnerable but teenagers and, to a lesser
extent, people in their 20s and 30s. In shorter seas like you
described the Galapagos chop as being, the motion becomes dependent
on resonance. Monohulls tend to roll more (side to side),
catamarans tend to pitch more (up and down). It also depends
where you sit. The best place is aft of amidships and low
down. And how fast you're going and the direction of
travel in relation to the waves. Both catamarans and
monohulls heading into oncoming waves is worst. If you turn
downsea everything goes quiet. I don't think there is much
overall difference between catamarans and monohulls in terms of
sickness but I know a lot of people have very firm, if opposing
Will we have to exchange any money before we travel to Ecuador or once in the country?
Ecuador's national currency is the US dollar. Due to the
incompetent and corrupt nature of much of Ecuador's banking class
in the 1990's, locals lost confidence in their currency (the Sucre)
and increasingly sought out dollars. The country was forced
to abandon its currency and started using the US$ in 2000.
CNH Tours lived through that process - those were "interesting
How much should I budget for a cruise to the Galapagos Island beyond the international airfare to Ecuador?
A cruise to the Galapagos is in the same price range as a good
African safari. These places are remote; and the logistics of
providing visitors a safe, enjoyable and comfortable experience are
very complex, involving long supply chains. Similarly, cruise ships
in Galapagos are small, ranging from 8 to 100 passengers, meaning
the costs involved in running a cruise ship here have to be shared
among a smaller number of passengers. For these
reasons, the price of cruise to Galapagos is generally higher than
for most other cruise experiences, with the notable exception of
Antarctic cruises. Per person, per night, you should be
prepared to budget from at least US$325 for a basic tourist-class
ship to as much as US$800 or more on a high-end ship. You
also have to factor in the park entrance fee, the flight from the
continent, additional hotel costs, tips... You generally get
what you pay for. There are a few cheaper deals to be found,
either through last-minute offers or by considering the small
handful of the very lowest-end ships available.
How far in advance should I book?
We all have a different tolerance level for these kinds of
things. Some people want to firm things up two years in
advance, while others don't start thinking about their next major
holiday until a few months or weeks ahead of time. Of
course, the sooner you book, the likelier it will be that all
options will be open to you. If you wait too long, your
options will be more limited, or there may be nothing at all
available for you.
If you follow the recommended booking times in the table below,
you should be able to still have a wide range of options from which
to choose. If you're looking to charter an entire ship,
consider adding another 6 months to the time frames below.
Desired cruise period
Recommended booking time
Christmas, US Thanksgiving (end November), March break
12 - 18 months ahead
September, October, November (outside US Thanksgiving)
6-8 months ahead
1st half of December
3-4 months ahead
8-12 months ahead
If you're a happy-go-lucky person, with a very flexible schedule
and not worried about whatever ship you end up on, there can be
some significant savings to be made by booking at the last minute
(e.g., within 1 or sometimes 2 months of the departure date),
particularly in the lower-end ships. See www.galapagoscruiselinks.com
for what's on offer right now.
What should I pack?
There are many Web-based packing lists for a Galapagos cruise -
we won't go through the details here. But generally, you'll
be on a small ship with limited amenities. You'll be in a hot
tropical climate with no need for warm clothing (though light
sweaters / windbreakers for the evenings between June - December
are appreciated). You'll be under the hot tropical sun - with
the risk of sunburns ever present. The dress code is
very informal and, on many ships, you may have little storage
Should I bring a wetsuit?
Wetsuits are pretty much mandatory during the cooler season
(June - December), unless you are some type of iron
man/woman. It's not impossible to go swimming without one;
but after a few minutes, you can start getting cold.
During the warm season, they become more of an option (though many
people like to have them). CNH Tours sees no need for
wetsuits in March / April; but then again, we are used to cool
Canadian lake waters. Depending on your sensitivity,
you may opt for just a shorty or the whole thing. Most
ships will lend you / rent you a wetsuit, and, usually, you should
let them know your size through your agent before you leave.
They don't always fit like a glove but usually do the job.
You can of course bring your own - but these can be bulky.
Any basic tips for photography?
Of course, Galapagos is a wildlife photographer's
paradise. You can get up close and personal
(e.g., within 2-3 metres) with some of the animals - this
affects the type of lens you'd want to bring. The challenges
lie in practicing your art while having to be in a group during
site visits; in the lighting (high contrast on sunny days); in the
risk to your equipment in a salty, dusty environment; and in how to
manage your picture files.
Generally, groups move about at a very leisurely pace, giving
you ample opportunity to take all kinds of pictures (you won't be
alone in taking them!), though setting up and using a tripod can be
a challenge in such situations. A "monopod" might be more
practical. Ideally, it's nice to get on land as early as
possible in the morning to take advantage of the better lighting.
That's also when many birds and animals are out and about, doing
things - they tend to lie low under the noonday sun.
The same goes for staying on islands until just before sunset.
(No one is allowed on the islands before sunrise and after
sunset.) There's lots to shoot underwater as well - but
flashes are not permitted (either on land or underwater). Let
your naturalist guide know about your passion (you won't be the
first!) and ask that he/she help make things easier for
For more informaiton, see our CNH Tours "Tips for Amateur and
Professional Photographers in Galapagos" by clicking here.
Is there a "recommended reading" list?
There are many such lists posted all over the internet - you'll
find them easily. One of our all-time favourites is David
Quammen's "Song of the Dodo". Though not specifically about
Galapagos, it tells the story of islands, evolution and extinction,
and follows the work of interesting people and scientists all over
the world, including Galapagos. We received this one as a
wedding present (we were married 3 weeks before going to Galapagos
for 4 years). We read it several times - it's very well
written, enjoyable, funny, gripping, sad, enlightening - and a
great foundation to help you understand why Galapagos is so
Where does a Galapagos cruise start?
Typically, when you book a cruise, your agent should also be
booking your flight from continental Ecuador to Galapagos, where
you embark. You may embark at either one of the two island
airports (Baltra or San Cristobal), or you might embark at the
Puerto Ayora harbour, on Santa Cruz island (about a 1.5-hour
journey overland, and by a short ferry ride, from the Baltra Island
airport). It's very important that you get on the flight that
corresponds with your cruise ship's departure time - your agent
should ensure that happens. You need to get
yourself to either Quito (the capital, in the Andes, a UNESCO World
Heritage site) or Guayaquil (on the coast, the main commercial hub
in Ecuador). Both are common international airline
destinations. It's from either of these two cities that you
take your flight to Galapagos.
Some people may head off to Galapagos independently before their
cruise. In that case, you have to ensure you know where to be
and when to be there, so that you can embark.
What type of aircraft is used between the mainland and the Galapagos Islands?
The usual Boeing 737 or Airbus 320 type of
How long is the flight from Ecuador to the Galapagos?
Quito - Galapagos, non-stop (rare)
Quito - Galapagos, Guayaquil stopover
2.5 hours total travel time
Guayaquil - Galapagos
This is the time from take-off to final landing. It
does not include check-in times (add 2 hours approximately).
What are the Galapagos flight departure times?
Flights depart from the mainland in the mornings, starting from
about 8AM to 10:30AM. They leave Galapagos back to the
mainland between about 10:30 AM and noon, getting you back into
Quito or Guayaquil in mid- to late afternoon.
Are there luggage restrictions on the airplanes?
20 kg (44lbs) for checked baggage. You can take one
carry-on (e.g., small suitcase with wheels, medium-sized
backpack). Technically, overweight checked luggage will
be charged - though if it's not too much, there is often no
How do I get from Baltra airport to Puerto Ayora, on Santa Cruz Island?
Any local living in Puerto Ayora knows this trip well.
Baltra airport is on … Baltra Island, a small island that lies just
a few hundred metres from Santa Cruz Island. There is a
bus service that takes you from the airport to the channel that
separates the two islands, then a small ferry boat (apx. $1.50)
that takes you across. On the other side, you can take a bus
(apx. $3-$4) or a taxi pick-up truck (apx. $15) for the 40-minute
drive to Puerto Ayora on the other side of the island.
Pick-ups can take up to 4 passengers - so if you can pair up with
enough people, you might want to consider them over the bus and
save about 20 minutes of travel time while not paying any
more. If you're met at the airport by your cruise staff,
they'll handle all of this for you-no payment needed. Just
listen carefully, follow instructions, and keep an eye on your
Are there any discounts available?
Some ships might offer discounts as the sailing date nears and
if there are berths available. There are many "last minute"
websites, offering various deals for people with very flexible
schedules and not too concerned about the ship / itinerary they may
end up booking. www.galapagoscruiselinks.com
puts you directly in touch with ship owners, for example.
It's important to understand what you are getting into before you
book on any ship. You should not feel pressured to buy until
you are comfortable with what you are buying.
Should I bring cash or Traveler's checks? Are ATMs available? Can I use credit cards?
Travelers' checks are a thing of the past. They are more
of a bother than anything and will cost you time and money to
exchange. ATMs are available in Ecuador and readily use
bank cards from around the world. There are a few ATMs
in Galapagos. But cash is king - and it's always good to have some
cash on hand for paying tips, the park entrance fee, and other
incidentals. Credit cards are accepted only in higher-end
establishments. There is often a surcharge of up to 5%
applied for their use.
Should we get travel / medical insurance?
This is always a personal decision - and depends on the amount
of risk you are willing to take. Some packages (e.g.,
sold via a tour company) insist that you get medical / cancellation
insurance, while others leave it entirely up to you. There is
medical insurance to cover medical fees (which are not that
expensive in Ecuador compared to some countries, particularly the
USA), emergency evacuation / repatriation, and trip cancellation
insurance. Insurance can be expensive - but it gives you
peace of mind and can save you lots if you end up needing
it. Your call. It's always important to
read the fine print carefully, especially about what isn't covered for trip
cancellation. Some policies don't cover much of anything and
some cover a surprising number of events (e.g., political riots,
Do I need a visa/passport?
Ecuador lets citizens from most countries enter for up to three
months with just a valid passport (North and South America,
Europe etc...). To be sure, check with the Ecuadorian embassy
in your country. Passports should be valid for 6 months
beyond the date of your final departure from Ecuador
What time zone are the Galapagos Islands?
This may come as a surprise, but Galapagos is located due south
of …New Orleans! That puts it in the GMT - 6 hours time
zone. That's Chicago / New Orleans time or one hour
behind New York City. They don't do daylight savings time,
though; so during those months, it is in the Denver time zone or
two hours behind New York City. Continental Ecuador is
1 hour ahead (GMT - 5). To avoid confusion, some ships
operate on continental time.
What is the National Park fee?
Established in the "Special Galapagos Law," this fee raises much needed money to help cover the costs of park management. (The park and its marine reserve are nearly equal in surface area to the state of New York or a bit larger than Greece!) The fee is $100 for adults and $50 for children under 12 when we wrote this. The fee has not changed for 20 years but is likely to increase between 20%-100% soon enough (and based on our experience, will be announced and applied with little advanced warning).
The money is shared between the Galapagos National Park Service and Marine Reserve (45%), three municipal governments (20%), the Galapagos island governing council (10%), the Ecuadorian national parks service (5%), the National Galapagos Institute (10%), the Quarantine and Inspection System (5%), and the Ecuadorian Navy (5%). For example, the municipal governments have tapped into these funds in the past to implement dog and cat sterilization campaigns to reduce the number of street dogs and cats.
What is the Transit Control Card (also called the INGALA card or Tourist card)?
In an effort to conserve the islands, immigration to Galapagos is tightly controlled, even for Ecuadorian residents! To avoid massive population movements to the islands, where living conditions are a bit better than on the continent, the government has set up a system to monitor the arrival and departure of people, be they Ecuadorian nationals or foreigners. At the airport in Quito or Guayaquil, you will need to get a card, with your name and date of travel to Galapagos. The modest cost helps make the system self-financing. Some travel companies can arrange to have the card pre-issued to you. Once you have it, keep it; you'll need to show it again when you leave Galapagos.
Do I have to pay an exit fee to leave Ecuador?
Exit fee, airport tax... call it what you want, but there is generally some type of fee attached to using the airport. Because it changes regularly, both in amount, how it's applied and what airport you are using (it seems to be - increasingly incorporated directly into your ticket price - so you may not even be aware that you are paying it), we won't go into the details. You might just want to be sure you have $30 or $40 on hand, just in case.