Wondering how to choose the best Galapagos cruise? The experts at AdventureSmith Explorations have years of experience answering this question and booking travelers on the best Galapagos tours for their interests, ability and budget. To find your own best, follow our tips. We are here to help with honest, unbiased opinions and expert advice along the way.

ON THIS PAGE How to Choose the Best Galapagos Cruise:
1. Plan Ahead
2. Determine the Best Galapagos Cruise Itinerary
3. Choose Your Ship
4. Consider Your Special Interests
5. Choose When to Go
6. Ask an Expert or Past Traveler

Galapagos sea lions on the shore in front of Kicker Rock and a small ship

1. Plan Ahead for the Best Cruise to Galapagos

The number one step in seeking the best cruise to Galapagos is to plan ahead. The Galapagos Islands are one of the most spectacular and remote locations on Earth. Visitation is limited by the national park, vessels are small and cabins fill up fast. Thus, many Galapagos cruises are often sold out 6 to 9 months in advance, with holidays booked out more than 12 months in advance. For the best Galapagos cruise selection, advance reservations are encouraged, and often required.

Planning ahead also allows for the excitement of anticipation. While a last-minute trip is better than no trip, it’s certainly more fun to have the time to learn about this enchanting destination and feel the flutter of anticipation longer.

Planning ahead also often equates to savings due to early-booking deals. See our Galapagos cruise deals for more tips and the latest savings.

Puerto Ayora on Santa Cruz Island in the Galapagos with green plans and many small ships at anchor

2. Determine the Best Galapagos Cruise Itinerary

How to decide which Galapagos Islands to visit? With 13 major islands in the archipelago, each offering a unique mix of wildlife, it can be dizzying to figure out the best Galapagos cruise itinerary. We actually advise not getting too hung up on a particular itinerary, but to instead focus on your cruise length. If you choose at least an 8 day cruise, you are sure to see a great, wide variety of Galapagos habitats and species. And if you stay longer than 8 days, you don’t have to really focus on the itinerary at all!

Why? The Galapagos National Park dictates sailing schedules and landing sites over a 15-day circuit to protect this treasured, pristine archipelago. Thus, among your choice of itineraries you will find more or less the same sites visited, just in different patterns. For the most comprehensive Galapagos cruise, choose a two-week, 15-day itinerary (all have no repeated landing sites), but there are a range of longer options between 8 and 15 days.

Choose at least an 8-day cruise if you wish to experience a wider variety of Galapagos habitats and species.

If you choose any cruise fewer than 8 days, carefully consider what islands and experiences are important to you. Shorter cruises will inevitably miss out on some species. It is important to consult with a Galapagos cruise expert who has been to the islands and knows the landing sites and general regions. They will match you with the right Galapagos cruise for your interest, ability and budget. For further information about where to see certain species, read our Galapagos Islands Animals post, which covers where, when and how to spot the top endemic species.

Giant Galapagos tortoise chewing leaves close-up of face with eye open

3. Choose Your Galapagos Ship

As we noted above, the best Galapagos cruise is a longer one. So if you are not limited by a short itinerary, the best tactic in deciding how to choose the best Galapagos cruise is to pick your ship first.

Below, we’ve separated Galapagos ships into three categories: small yachts and sailboats carrying 8-32 passengers, mid-size cruisers carrying 40-60 passengers and small ships carrying 60-100 passengers.

Choosing your vessel should be determined by many factors, but one key thing to keep in mind: Shore groups are limited to 16 people by the Galapagos National Park to minimize the impact to the environment and preserve a wilderness experience for the visitor. So even aboard a 100-passenger ship, you will still explore the islands up close in a small group with a trained naturalist guide.

Yachts & Sailboats

Smaller yachts and sailboats carrying 14 to 36 guests can vary considerably in price and amenities from rustic floating base camps to luxurious yachts that will satisfy the most refined travel styles. They offer the most intimate experience with the most time ashore. It is easier to get 16 travelers ashore in one group than it is to ferry 100 passengers ashore in multiple groups.

The tradeoff is that these boats are smaller. They have smaller cabins, bathrooms, dining room and deck space, and there are not as many public places to go for a private moment. However, travelers aboard small yachts and sailboats often comment that getting to know their fellow passengers and crew is one of the highlights of the trip.

Sailboats like the 16-guest Mary Anne are popular in the Galapagos Islands, but keep in mind that ocean currents and wind conditions are such that most transit is done under motor power. Sailboats are the smallest boats in the Galapagos and many have bunk beds instead of lower beds.

The sister ships Coral I & II and the Galapagos Infinity are the most popular mid-priced yachts. The Grace, Evolution, Aqua Mare and Origin/Theory/Evolve are luxury yachts for those who want to see the Galapagos in style.

Mid-Sized Cruisers

Mid-sized cruisers carrying 40-60 passengers offer the efficiency and intimacy of a small yacht combined with the space and amenities typically found on a larger Galapagos ship. They often have larger cabins, spacious bathrooms, ample deck space, delicious cuisine, a high crew-to-passenger ratio and excellent guides. There are multiple decks where you can always find a moment to watch the sunset and enjoy the solitude.

Mid-sized Galapagos ships offer ample time ashore. They have efficient landing systems with multiple shore craft to ferry hikers to the trail or to snorkel in speed and comfort. At this ship size, added activity options like glass-bottom boats can be found aboard.

The La Pinta and Isabela II combine elegance and adventure while the National Geographic Islander II’s Wild Galapagos Escape Cruise offers the region’s finest expedition leaders from National Geographic.

Small Ships

Because mega cruise ships are not allowed in the Galapagos, small ships carrying 60-100 passengers are the largest to cruise the region. These ships are the most stable, so they are the best Galapagos cruise option for travelers concerned about seasickness.

They are also very appealing for families with children because some offer adjoining cabins and additional cabin space, as well as more chances to have other families aboard. Single travelers can also look to larger vessels for more single-occupancy cabin options.

Galapagos small ships offer a variety of cabin categories from affordable with portholes to elegant with balconies. Usually there are multiple decks, vistas, libraries and salons where you can mingle with other guests or find space for yourself.

Each small ship has a unique personality and appeals to a certain clientele. The Legend and Santa Cruz II are popular and affordable, and the National Geographic Endeavour II features expedition leaders and lecturers from National Geographic.

Considerations on the Best Cruise Line for Galapagos

Among the many ship examples listed above, you can also compare Galapagos cruises by seeking the best cruise line match for your trip. Galapagos cruise lines vary from single-ship operations to multi-ship fleets. Some focus on culinary and luxury touches, while others hone in on being the best cruise line for Galapagos education or sustainability. And others have longevity and owners from the Galapagos Islands.

One Galapagos cruise line, Lindblad Expeditions, stands above the rest in terms of onboard programs and naturalist guides. In addition to guides employed by the Galapagos National Park, they employ a wide range of experts from National Geographic. Lindblad cruises aboard the National Geographic Endeavour II and National Geographic Islander II (Wild Galapagos Escape Cruise) appeal to travelers willing to pay a premium for an intellectual and educational experience with National Geographic in the Galapagos Islands.

Rest assured though that if you are booking a cruise with AdventureSmith, we have done the initial homework on each operator. And we regularly inspect all our Galapagos cruise lines. Furthermore, we often specifically choose our Galapagos partners with guides in mind. Knowing that the experience and demeanor of your Galapagos cruise guide will have a profound impact on your overall experience, it remains one of our top considerations when vetting our best cruise lines for the Galapagos. In general, as with many industries, you will find that the most experienced guides work aboard the nicest ships. These ships have higher prices, which translates into more tips for the best guides.

Travel photograpers taking pictures of Galapagos wildlife on volcanic soil with small ship and cacti in background

4. Consider Your Special Interests to Further Compare Galapagos Cruises

Even if you’ve narrowed down your ship or general ideal itinerary, it can still be overwhelming. We advise next considering your special interests and travel needs to find the best Galapagos cruises for your group to choose from.

By this we mean, considering your group size, ages of travelers, if you plan to also travel by land, your activity interests, how customized you like to travel, and so on. These considerations can help you compare Galapagos cruises to hone in on the perfect match.

Upfront, know that a few things are common to all archipelago cruises:

  • daily guided shore excursions in small groups to explore the islands and experience wildlife up close
  • disembarking the ship twice daily for landings or exploration by pangas (dinghies)
  • breakfast, lunch and dinner served on board
  • snorkeling as an included activity

With that in mind, you can aim to figure out what makes some cruises and ships unique. For example, some ships may include photography courses, kayaking, stand-up paddleboarding and/or glass-bottom boat rides. Glass-bottom boats are a special added bonus if anyone in your group is not comfortable snorkeling, since the underwater experience is integral in the Galapagos. Ships with this added activity option will offer the best cruise to the Galapagos for anyone not able to get in the water.

Traveling with a family? Not all ships are created equal for Galapagos family cruises. The best cruises to Galapagos for families often tack on extra kid-specific programming, menus and/or themed departures. You can also look for ships with triple- or quadruple-occupancy options, extra space and/or interconnected cabin doors. Or perhaps you want less (or more) time at port in towns? Many families consider a Galapagos Islands yacht charter for even more flexibility and customization. For many, the best Galapagos cruise itinerary is one they can help design themselves!

Budget is also a special interest to consider, whether you are on the spectrum of seeking a Galapagos luxury cruise or the best Galapagos cruise deal. When booking your trip, obviously be smart about your finances, but also keep in mind that the sweetness of low cost can easily be overshadowed by a bad trip or a mismatch for your travel interests. The Galapagos is a place filled with unusual wildlife experiences that you won’t find anywhere else. And booking your passage with reputable guides and sustainable operations is paramount. Do what you can to budget for this once-in-a-lifetime trip.

Three blue-footed boobies on North Seymour Island with a group of Galapagos travelers in the background

5. Choose When to Go

Next up in how to choose the best Galapagos cruise is often deciding when to go. This deciding factor can sometimes help you choose your itinerary, especially if you are very specific on your wildlife wish list. But since the Galapagos is a year-round, warm destination on the equator, you can really go anytime and have fun and see lots of wildlife. There is no hurricane season to consider and it’s extremely rare to encounter stormy conditions, so really you are just looking at averages for rainfall and water temperature. If you are susceptible to sea sickness, you can also try to time that. Increased tradewinds during the cooler months (June through November) can bring increased chop on open-water crossings. So the best Galapagos cruises for you might fall in the summer or early fall. Read our best time to visit Galapagos, a handy Galapagos cruise guide to understand more about the Galapagos climate, wildlife and occurrences by month. Or visit our guide to what’s new for 2023 Galapagos cruises.

Couple travelers in a tandem kayak in front of their Galapagos small ship

6. Ask an Expert or Past Traveler

There are now countless Galapagos cruise and travel review websites on the internet. Many offer honest advice, but many need to be taken with a grain of salt. Use Galapagos reviews as a tool but don’t rush to judgment when you read a poor review. Often this is a result of a mismatch between the style of the traveler and the type of cruise they were on. The best Galapagos cruise review is a personal referral. Ask your booking agent if he/she can put you in touch with someone who has traveled to the Galapagos with similar interests as you or aboard the boat you are inquiring about. Reputable Galapagos agencies will gladly refer their past clients. To learn more and research what our past clients say, view our Galapagos cruise reviews.

Most important, speak with an experienced Galapagos expert to receive a curated recommendation of best Galapagos cruises. AdventureSmith Explorations employees are award-winning Galapagos small ship cruise specialists with a focus on guided small group nature tours and custom travel for individuals, couples, families and small groups. Our staff has decades of experience guiding, arranging and selling wilderness adventures. We offer firsthand knowledge, personal service, sustainable practices and unbeatable prices, and can match you with the best Galapagos cruise for your travel needs. 

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If you’ve gotten this far reading, you now know that since each traveler is unique, there’s truly no single best Galapagos cruise. It’s all about finding your match! If you have questions about our tips on the best Galapagos cruises, please use the comments below. If you are interested in booking a Galapagos cruise, please contact us for a more personalized recommendation.