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The Galapagos: Sea Lions, Penguins and Swimming Iguanas, Oh My!

Delayed due to COVID shutdowns in April 2019, we were finally able to take our long-awaited trip to the Galapagos this fall. Our favorite travel bloggers, Kara & Nate, recommended Royal Galapagos back in 2017 and it was watching their videos that inspired us to plan this incredible trip!

The Galapagos

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Many thanks to fellow traveler Andrew for sharing some of his stellar photos with me for use in this blog post (photos are marked as such, below). Please give him a follow on Instagram @laps90 to see more of his amazing adventures!

What Makes the Galapagos So Special

Most people’s familiarity with the Galapagos comes from Charles Darwin’s famous travels there via the H.M. Beagle in the 1830s. During his explorations, Darwin encountered many endemic species and was first to observe how nature evolved to adapt to changing environments – hence, the Theory of Evolution.

Today, this equator-spanning archipelago of 20+ islands offers both geologic diversity as well as unprecedented access to wildlife. The animals in this protected region have no natural fear of humans, allowing visitors incredibly close access to the miraculous and curious creatures that abound on these islands.

NOTE: For a fun(ny) look at Darwin’s real experiences in the Galapagos, check out this podcast!

Cruising the Galapagos: A Trip of a Lifetime

In 2018, we took this Nile river cruise based on Kara & Nate’s recommendation and concluded that it was one of our best ever travel experiences. So when it came time to book a new adventure, we decided to cast our lot with them again and sign on with the boat that they used in the Galapagos.

The Royal Galapagos Natural Paradise is a 110-foot yacht that holds 16 passengers and 8-10 crew members. Guests can choose from 4, 5, or 8-day itineraries throughout the Galapagos. We selected a 5-day trip and considered it to be an ideal length of time.

The Galapagos
Our Comfy Cabin

Why You Should Consider a Smaller Boat

Itineraries for all boats that cruise the Galapagos are dictated by the National Park. On any given trip, you will see the same things that everyone else on the length/geographic area of the trip will see so you don’t need to worry about missing anything. The largest boats hold 100 passengers and are run by mainstream cruise lines like Celebrity, Lindblad, and Silversea. We feel the benefits of traveling on a smaller boat include:

  • A more intimiate experience while on land and while snorkeling. The small ship crews take great care to stagger their times at a destination and you’ll really appreciate the lack of a crowd when exploring these magical isles.
  • Ease of getting into gear and both on/off the boat. The boats hold all wetsuits, snorkel gear, etc. on the aft deck so that passengers aren’t constantly shlepping things to and from their rooms. When it comes time to suit up and leave, obviously having fewer passengers makes for a much quicker process and increases time available to view the sights.
  • Camaraderie. Both among fellow passengers, the naturalist, cruise director and crew, deeper relationships develop on smaller boats and greater customization can be provided. For example, we traveled with two expat families living in Panama City, both traveling with 2 children each. The captain allowed them to jump of the top of the boat numerous times throughout the trip, which thrilled them no end. You won’t find that on Celebrity!
The Galapagos
Blue-Footed Booby
The Galapagos
Sea Lion
Galapagos Giant Tortoise
Land Iguana
Sally Lightfoot Crab 📷: IG @laps90

A Typical Day Aboard

This is not a “rest all day on the Lido deck with a Mai Tai” kind of cruise! On a typical day aboard, you can expect a schedule something akin to the one below.

TimeActivity
6-6:30Wake-up Call
7:00Breakfast
8:00Dry Landing /Island Hike
10:00Back on Board/Clothing Change
10:30Snorkeling off the RIB/Panga
11:30Back on Board
12:00Lunch
Cruise to Next Destination
15:00Wet landing. Hike on Land Followed by Snorkeling off Beach.
17:30Back on Board
18:30Naturalist Briefing on the Next Day’s Activities
19:00Dinner
20:00Stargazing on Deck or Turning the Lights on to Call in Shark
Overnight Cruise to Next Destination

Between all this activity, the crew will be busy working to spoil you rotten. Each time we arrived back on board, there was a spread of fresh juices or hot chocolate and an assortment of tasty snacks. Beds were made and rooms were tidied during each morning excursion and we’d often come back to elaborate towel art formations after our afternoon outing. Kayaks, paddleboards, etc. were well maintained and available for those who wanted to take those out.

Shark off the Boat at Night – 📷: IG @laps90

Meals are served buffet style and were abundant (to keep up with all those calories we were burning off). The fresh fruit in South America never disappoints and breakfast/lunch/dinner all came with several salads as well as several hot offerings and desserts. Our bartender, Alejandro, lived by the motto that it’s always 5 o’clock somewhere and did a stellar job of keeping everyone’s favorite cocktail within close reach.

When to Travel

The Galapagos are so diverse and change so much based on the season that I think they can be a good option all year round. We were initially scheduled to travel in April. This is part of the warm, wet season. The water is a bit more temperate but hikes can be more tiring due to the heat and humidity.

When we initially booked our trip we planned to follow our time in Ecuador with a visit to Peru and were looking for a time when the weather at Machu Picchu would also be good (April/May). On rescheduling, we eliminated the Peru portion due to the country’s ongoing healthcare accessibility issues and landed on November for the Galapagos trip.

In November, you can expect very comfortable daytime temps with cooler evening temps. It is the cool/dry season which makes for colder, clearer water and an abundance of sea life. The islands appear more dry and arid this time of year.

We’ve already discussed a return visit, perhaps staying on Baltra or San Cristobal next time. As mentioned previously, the islands and sea life change a great deal based on the season. The landscapes and access to animals are so remarkable that a return trip under different climatic conditions could easily be warranted!

The Galapagos

Good to Know Before You Go

  • I’m normally one who is all for packing light, however, when visiting the Galapagos, don’t skimp on your medical kit. Bring anything you may need while out on the water – motion sickness medications, anti-diarrheals, allergy meds, loads of sunblock, etc. This is particularly important on a small boat. There is no “ship’s doctor” and absolutely no where to go pick up a few things once you get on-board.
  • Pack layers and focus on quick-dry materials. Temperatures can fluctate a good bit and the humidity prolongs the drying time of cotton goods considerably. On coming back from a snorkel trip, where the water is quite cold, you may want to bundle up into leggings and a fleece. For mid-day, full-sun hikes on land, shorts and tanks are more appropriate.
  • You will not have cell service or WiFi much of the time. Put your phone into airplane mode so it’s not always draining while hunting for a signal. As we have elderly parents, I left the name of our cruise company representative and main phone number in case of an extreme emergency. They should have a way to reach the boat in a truly life-or-death circumstance.

COVID Notes

According to this article, Ecuador has the 2nd highest per capita vaccination rate in the world. Entry to Ecuador requires proof of vaccine as well as a negative PCR test and masking is mandatory on the mainland. Once on board (in early November 2021), masks were optional. On populated islands, masks remained compulsory.

We packed AbbottBinaxNOW tests for our return so that we could test at our convenience prior to flying home. This test, which includes a virtual visit with an e-med certified guide, meets current US re-entry requirements. Additionally, we both work from home and were able to quarantine upon our return until we were certain that we were not infectious.

Rules are continually changing. Check often before you depart for your trip.

The Galapagos

Stay tuned for a future post that will outline our on-land experiences in Quito and Guayaquil Ecuador and for more travel posts, click HERE.


Until next time…keep cultivating a simple, stylish, and satisfying life!

The Galapagos Islands are a bucket list destination for many! Come find out why I think it's best to explore this remarkable area by small boat. #galapagos

4 thoughts on “The Galapagos: Sea Lions, Penguins and Swimming Iguanas, Oh My!”

  1. Hi Betsy. I’m so glad you finally got to visit the Galapagos! Though we were in Ecuador for 18 months, we never got to see the Galapagos! Your photos of all the sea creatures, are amazing! I’m looking forward to reading what you thought about Guayaquil. I’ve never seen anything like those tree iguanas. xx

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