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How to Select a Galapagos Cruise Boat

The Galapagos Islands are the trip of a lifetime for many travelers. This remote archipelago has some of most unusual animals on the planet. Most travelers to the islands will opt for a cruise to see many of the more remote areas. However, not all Galapagos cruise tours are the same and which boat you select will have a significant impact on your experience. Here’s how to pick the right Galapagos cruise boat for you.

A Galapagos giant tortoise on Isabela Island

First, there’s a lot of commonality to all Galapagos cruises. The islands are a national park and the Ecuadorian government has a strong interest in maintaining order and limiting the impact to the flora and fauna in the Galapagos.

Regardless of which boat you select, you will have the opportunity for shore excursions (called landings) and snorkeling almost every day. The Ecuadorian government strictly limits landing parties to 16 people who are accompanied by a naturalist guide. So no matter what boat, you’ll get lots of individual attention.

The interior lounge and sitting area on the Beagle Galapagos cruise boat
Interior lounge and sitting area

Despite the similarities, there’s a lot of variability between boats. Here are some key considerations:

Things You Can Control

The Boat

The biggest item in your control is the selection of the boat. In general, boats range from 12 to 100 passengers. Each boat has it pluses and minuses. On smaller boats, you have more flexibility and there’s also more of a connection to the nautical past of the islands. You’re literally at water level for the whole trip.

The larger 100 person boats have the feeling of mini-cruise ships. While landing size is strictly limited, on larger boats, you may have to wait in line to get off onto one of the pangas (small zodiac boats used for landings). The big boats also have to shuttle back and forth, which can mean your time ashore may be more limited. All boats in the Galapagos have the tendency to feel small – especially by the end of the trip.

A catamaran boat in the Galapagos

Depending on the time of year, the Galapagos Islands are known for rough seas. This is especially important if you’re prone to motion sickness. The bigger the boat, the more the stability it has.

In smaller boats, catamarans have more stability in rough weather than mono-hull yachts or cruisers. We cruised on the mono-hull yacht Beagle. Laura’s prone to motion sickness, however, it wasn’t a factor for us. We were there in March and discovered that the seas are generally calmer and the weather is warmer in the December-April time frame.

A male frigatebird in flight over Santa Cruz Island
Frigatebird in flight

One of the charms for us of the Beagle was that it is a sailboat. We had dreams of sailing with the wind just like Charles Darwin did. And one day on the Beagle, we did hoist the sails. And there was almost no wind that day. In the Galapagos, even the sailboats operate under motor power.

The Beagle sailboat in the Galapagos Islands
The Beagle under sail

The larger boats may also have additional amenities that could be important to you: swimming pool, Jacuzzi hot tub, swimming platform, or other conveniences such as laundry (which allows you to minimize what you need to pack for Ecuador). In general, it is usually only possible to go kayaking on some of the smaller boats. Consider what is important to you before booking. If you are looking to scuba dive, there are special, live-aboard dive boats in the Galapagos for this purpose.

A woman in a blue sea kayak during a Galapagos cruise
Optional sea kayaking

A final word on standards. In general, standards and classification of vessels in the Galapagos Islands is fairly fluid. The three classes of boats are: tourist class, first class and luxury. However, be aware that Galapagos standards of “first class” and “luxury” may not be what you’re accustomed to elsewhere. For example, in our cabin on the Beagle (a first class boat), we were in a bunk style configuration.

The Beagle boat has bunk-style beds in the staterooms
Bunk-style beds

The Itinerary

Another key consideration is which Galapagos itinerary you select. Most boats operate on a two week cycle. If you have two weeks in the Galapagos, you’ll be able to see everything.

However, if you’re short on time, you’ll need to make a decision: Southeast or Northwest. There are benefits and disadvantages to both. Much of this decision may come down to which animals you are hoping to see.

A Frigatebird with an inflated red air pouch in the Galapagos Islands

Cruise Duration

We recommend doing a full week (7 or 8 days). If you can spare the time, double up on itineraries (so 14-15 days) doing both itinerary loops. While some boats offer abbreviated trips (3, 4 or even 5 days), you’re really cheating yourself if you do this.

Wetsuits drying on the deck of the Beagle after snorkeling

The Food

In reading reviews, you’ll be able to determine which boats have great food. Or, we can save you the hassle of reading reviews: nearly all of them. Food in Ecuador is excellent and a boat that doesn’t have good food doesn’t stay full very long. The crews generally eat the same as the passengers and they won’t put up with a bad cook for long either.

Broccoli, meat and rice for dinner on one of the Galapagos cruise boats


Visiting the Galapagos Islands can be expensive. Your budget will be a significant factor in determining which Galapagos cruise boat you select. Here’s a tip, set your maximum budget and then figure out if there is any way to stretch it. This is a once-in-a-lifetime trip and it isn’t the time or place to go budget.

The heart-shaped mating dance of the Nazca Booby
The mating dance of the Nazca Booby.

Things You Can’t Control

Your Shipmates

In all social situations, you can’t control the people around you. That means, in all likelihood, there will be one problem person on your boat. The bigger the boat, the more difficult people you may encounter, but also the more room you have to get away from them. We had one woman on our boat who complained about everything: the boat, the crew, the food, the animals, and even the weather. We just tried to stay away from her.

However, most of the other guests on your boat will be interesting and fun people. Make a point of getting to know them.

An early morning panga ride in the Galapagos Islands

The Naturalist/Guide

One of the single biggest factors you can’t control is your guide. Guides are hired by the boats, typically about a month before a trip and last minute changes are very common. So, when you are booking your trip, you won’t know your guide. In general, the nicer the ship, the better the guide since nicer ships have higher prices, which means bigger tips for the guides.

Great blue heron bird walking on the sand

If you think about guiding in the Galapagos, it is really a multi-pronged role. First and foremost, your guide/naturalist is there to educate you about the islands on shore excursions. Of equal importance, your guide is there to ensure the safety of the animals from you so don’t harm them or wandering off on your own. Finally, your guide or naturalist serves the role of cruise director by explaining everything about the boat, facilitating the mixing of guests and maybe even entertainment. A great naturalist or guide is worth their weight in gold.

A Galapagos marine iguana sunning itself on Santiago Island
Marine Iguana

Unfortunately, sometimes you don’t get a great guide. At the last minute, the guide who was supposed to be on our boat cancelled and a replacement was brought in. The new guide actually had more experience, but he also came with a bad attitude. We had several single women on our boat and he tried to impress them. These were “his islands.”

He grabbed and picked up animals causing them stress. He led us on a nearly two-hour bush whack off the trails through dense vegetation and poisonous plants for no apparent reason (although he did apologize after the fact). While you can get away from unpleasant passengers, there’s very little you can do about a bad guide except not to tip at the end of the trip. Thankfully, there are very few bad guides in the Galapagos.

Sally Lightfoot Crab
Sally Lightfoot Crab

The Galapagos Islands are a trip of a lifetime. No matter which Galapagos cruise boat you select, you’ll likely have an amazing experience!

The Beagle Galapagos, a first class sailboat

Is a visit to the Galapagos on your bucket list?

The Galapagos Islands are best explored by boat, but not all cruise tours are the same. Here’s how to pick the right Galapagos cruise boat for you.

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Thursday 18th of May 2023

what website/company did you book your tour through? thanks!

Lance Longwell

Tuesday 30th of May 2023

We worked with Kuoda Travel to arrange both the Galapagos as well as the land-based portion in Ecuador.


Monday 3rd of June 2019

I am trying to decide between a Budget boat like the Golondria and a nicer boat company like GeoEx. Any thoughts are appreciated.

Lance Longwell

Wednesday 5th of June 2019

Can't speak to either boat directly. However, we'd suggest going for the nicest boat you can afford. It does make quite a bit of difference on your overall experience in the islands.

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