Expert Aboard: Elite & Endemic Galapagos Review

April 18, 2023 • Jennifer Morse

AdventureSmith’s Jennifer Morse sailed aboard the Galapagos Endemic for 5 days and took a ship tour of identical sister ship Elite. Below is her honest Endemic & Endemic Galapagos review, plus takeaways and tips from the journey. Scroll down below her blog post to find more Elite and Endemic Galapagos reviews from our travelers who’ve also been aboard.

If you’re planning a Galapagos Islands cruise, you have many ship choices. But after being aboard Endemic and Elite, I see why these sister catamarans rank among the top choices for AdventureSmith when we are matching travelers seeking a luxury Galapagos cruise.

Group of travelers walk along green brush and black volcanic rocks on island hike in Galapagos, Elite and Endemic ships float in distance.
Sister ships Endemic & Elite wait for us just offshore

Choosing Endemic vs. Elite

The 16-guest catamarans are nearly identical, save for the décor, furniture and cabin layouts being slightly different. Both ships are flagship for their operator, Golden Galapagos, a rare women-led company in the Galapagos Islands.

To me as a female traveler booking the trip for my husband and myself, this was a big bonus and why I was excited to travel aboard Endemic. Supporting women in the travel business is important to me and my values. Traveling aboard these ships contributes to WISE (Women’s Initiative for Sustainable Enterprises), a project that offers grants to women entrepreneurs creating sustainable solutions for the challenges facing the fragile Galapagos ecosystem.

In the end, because the ships were so similar, I simply chose Endemic for its availability on the dates I was seeking. You could also perhaps want to choose this ship for its option of a 6-day Western Islands itinerary. Aboard Elite, only an 8-day route visits the Western Islands. But in my opinion, take the extra days on either ship, on any route! Elite also offers the shortest route of 4 days visiting only the Southern Islands.

Or you might just lean toward the décor of one or the other. I’d call Endemic more coastal modern, and Elite is described as art deco (but with a coastal twist). Elite had a bit more wear and tear during my tour of the ship, but the caveat was that it was in the process of refurbishment and was about to have its teak decking redone.

My Review of the Guides, Service & Experience

I was initially drawn to these ships for the 1:1 crew to guest ratio. And this did not disappoint. There was someone available, always. Likely thanks to the sister ship operations, Endemic and Elite have a pool of crew that they can share. While the captains and kitchen crew stay with each ship, the cruise directors can work on either boat, and some of the guides as well.

Reading AdventureSmith past travelers’ Elite Galapagos cruise reviews, they all raved about their guides. So I was eager to see if the same would be true aboard Endemic. It most certainly was.

The main naturalist guide, Morris Garcia, on our Endemic Galapagos cruise in particular was the best guide I’ve ever had on any of my small ship cruises with AdventureSmith. His passion for his work really shined through. You could tell that even after 10+ years of being a national park guide, he wasn’t tired of it he truly was doing his dream job. He was friendly, patient and very attentive to people who needed a little extra care on excursions. He was always attuned to what was going on in the group and made sure to talk once we were all gathered together so no one missed any information. He would get excited when we saw the blue-footed boobies doing their dance or when we saw the dolphins or turtles matting. It wasn’t fake; he was very genuine and everyone on the boat commented about how happy they were to get him as our guide. 

Galapagos Endemic guide stands in front of a brackish lagoon in Galapagos speaking to tour group about flamingos behind them.

The overall program aboard was run very smoothly. Every evening before dinner we had a briefing with our guide in the lounge. He would go over the next day’s itinerary and what animals we would be looking for at each destination. He would also tell us what to wear and pack so that we were properly prepared for each excursion.

Each day had, at a minimum, three activities but sometimes it was four. We usually had a dinghy ride or hike first thing in the morning, followed by some time at a beach to relax and swim. Later in morning was always a snorkel activity followed by lunch.

After or during lunch, we would cruise to a new location and go for a hike. Then those of us who were really hot would jump off the back of the boat to cool off before heading off to shower and get ready for our next day’s briefing and a delicious dinner.

When we weren’t out on an excursion, being aboard the Endemic was such a treat because she doesn’t snip on the comforts of life. The interior of the boat was well air conditioned and had a spacious lounge in the bow as well as a cozy lounge in the aft next to the dining area.

Reading some of our past travelers’ Elite and Endemic Galapagos reviews (found below the blog comments of this page), the meals were excellent as expected. If you’re a vegetarian, things might not be quite as exciting, but we were more than happy with all the fish and meat choices we were offered. Dinners were plated, three-course affairs with plenty of choices for our main entrees and everything was so well prepared and fresh. The coffee and snack bar was always open and very well enjoyed by all the guests, myself included.

Choosing Your Cabin Aboard Endemic or Elite

We chose a suite on the Upper Deck. Our room (suite #8 aka Frigatebird, aboard Endemic) was incredibly spacious with a very comfortable bed, a full-size bathroom with constant hot water, and a balcony where we spent most of our mornings reading and enjoying some coffee. And, when we weren’t in our room, we would spend our time either in the aft outside lounge or the sun deck where you could usually find a few frigatebirds catching a free ride.

There are really no main differences in the suites on either ship, save for one small thing. Top-level rooms like ours allow for interconnecting doors if you need them for family travel. Since it was just the two of us, I hoped it would feel private enough with that shared door. And I am happy to report we had no noise transfer from our neighbor. If you are concerned about this though, or are prone to sea sickness, simply choose a cabin on the lower Main Deck.

Highlights from My 5-Day Eastern Islands Itinerary

The Galapagos was impressive even from the sky. As we prepared to land in Baltra, on Santa Cruz Island, I peered out my window and was awestruck at the landscape that lay before me. Flat desert land surrounded by some of the most gorgeous water I have ever seen. I couldn’t believe I was about to cruise these beautiful waters and set foot on islands that were over 4 million years old.

In the lush green hills of San Cristobal island, guests from an Endemic Galapagos cruise watch giant tortoise in their habitat

For our itinerary, we cruised the Eastern Islands of the Galapagos, which allowed us to see some of the oldest islands in the archipelago. We visited Santa Cruz, San Cristobal, Espanola and Santa Fe, with Espanola and Santa Fe being the oldest islands. We learned that, due to erosion and the volcano being extinct, Espanola was slowing disappearing and would be non-existent, so it felt like a real honor to be able to visit her while she was still here.

Aside from getting to see Espanola, my absolute favorite part of our trip was visiting San Cristobal Island. In the morning we went to Gardner Bay where I saw one of the most beautiful white-sand beaches I have ever seen in my life. The shoreline was surrounded by gorgeous shades of teal-blue water. We swam in the warm water, and because it was so salty were able to float and enjoy our time watching the pelicans dive for fish.  

In the afternoon, we went to Isla Lobos where we hiked along volcanic cliffs. Here there were lots of nesting sites for both frigatebirds and the blue-footed boobie birds. We were within inches of the blue-footed boobies on our walking path. It was so cute to see them doing their two-step mating dance and hear them whistle. This was truly an incredible experience.

Our time aboard Endemic in the Galapagos was a trip of a lifetime. My only regret was that I didn’t have more time to explore more of the islands. I’d highly encourage anyone returning, to do the Islands justice and spend more time. I will definitely be returning in the future and my hope is that I can call Endemic my home again.  

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