In the summer of 2016, my husband and three children, who were 11, 13 and 15 years old at the time, spent 5 days cruising the Galapagos Islands in Ecuador. We visited four islands. If you are interested in a daily description of where we went and what we did, please read my earlier blog called Galapagos Islands: Five Days In Paradise. In this blog, I will discuss what I liked and didn’t like, and whether I would change anything if I could do it all again.
The Scenery, the Animals, and the People
It is undeniable how spectacularly beautiful everything was. The ocean was a crystal clear turquoise that beckons you in. The beaches and natural terrain felt untouched. I often felt we had stumbled upon a deserted island that had never seen visitors before. But of course, that was never the case. Many of these islands are uninhabited but have a steady, yet limited amount of guests visit each day.
Then, there are the animals. You often hear about how fearless they are, how they do not sense danger from humans. It seems hard to believe. I have come across wild animals in national parks in Africa and Central America who have little exposure to humans and yet, they do fear us. It just seems instinctive for animals to sense that we can do them harm.
However, these animals on the Galapagos Islands were truly oblivious to us. The sea lions barked, walked, swam, and sunbathed mere feet from us. They seemed ready to push us out of the way if we foolishly became distracted and unaware of their approach. The marine iguanas stealthily crept to and from the beaches without a care in the world. Even the fantastically colourful crabs perched on rocks just above the waves of the ocean seemed unconcerned about us as we hopped from rock to rock.
Life On the Boat
We were on a small catamaran called the Seaman Journey which had 9 cabins and a capacity for 16 passengers. It was a very comfortable and spacious boat. The food was delicious and plentiful. The cabins were nice with comfortable beds and a good size bathroom. There was a nice indoor living room where we socialized with many lovely people from all over the world. There was a fantastic upper deck with lounge chairs for sunbathing or watching the sunset. We had a large crew who were friendly, worked very hard and indeed, gave each of us any personal attention that we needed.
There wasn’t any wifi on board and no other children. This worked out really well. The adults were patient and nicely engaged with our kids and vice versa. A lot of stories and jokes were shared. All that was missing was a campfire! Quite frankly, I think it would have been too much for the size of the boat if there were more children on board. Having said that, I do not know if this was intentional on the part of the reservation department or merely luck.
There was an itinerary already set out for each morning and afternoon on the cruise. Each night, the naturalist guide would give the guests a quick run down of the schedule for the following day, including wake up times. Basically, each day we visited an island. In the morning, we would explore one side of it and in the afternoon, we would explore another. Most mornings started early and the significant travelling between islands happened at night.
Choosing the Cruise
I found choosing the boat and the itinerary to be overwhelming. There were so many classes and sizes of boats with many different amenities. In some instances, it was hard to determine why one boat with certain amenities cost more or less than another. The description of the itineraries provided limited help. Unless you were searching for a certain type of animal or bird on your cruise, it was often hard to figure out why one island was better to visit than another. The booking agent that I dealt with at www.galapagosislands.com told me that “all islands were amazing to visit” and all boats within our class were great. This was reassuring, but it still didn’t help me narrow down which boat and what itinerary we should select! I guess the good news was that an incredible experience would be waiting for us no matter what!
The 5 day/4 night cruise was the perfect length for our family. Although there were some unique experiences (Galapaguera and Suarez Point (Day 2 and Day 3)), many of the other days shared similar experiences. For example, our time at the beach at Witch Hill and Gardner Bay was spent walking and playing at the beach while sea lions frolicked nearby, birds dove into the water, and marine iguanas crept by. I would not have given up my experiences with them, but I also didn’t feel that I needed more.
Cruising vs. Hotels In the Galapagos Islands
One of the biggest deterrent against taking a cruise in the Galapagos Islands is the cost. It cost approximately $13,000 USD for 5 days (return airfare from Quito, entry fees, and the cruise). This did not include alcoholic beverages or gratuities for all the crew members. In my opinion, this is a phenomenal amount of money. Our boat was comfortable but not luxurious. Indeed, there were three higher classes of boats than ours, and only two below us.
Because of this, many people turn to staying at a hotel on the few islands that are inhabited. Then, they do day trips from there. We did not do that so I can not properly express my opinion about what kind of experience that could be. However, I can tell you that being reminded of the normal day to day realities of being in an inhabited part of an island were my least favourite part of our trip. Once you have experienced the solitude of the boat with its remarkable views, the untouched terrain, the deserted beaches and hiking trails, it is a stark and recognizable contrast to be on an island with shops, hotels, and tour companies, however few there are.
I also don’t know if you have the same access to all the islands or parts of the islands like the overnight cruises do. The government carefully controls the number of people who can access certain islands and regulates the paths that people must follow. The overnight cruises follow a proscribed itinerary created months in advance. When we did share the beaches or the paths with others, they were the same people from the same boats that we saw on Day 3 and Day 4.
I still do not know the answer to the question, “Would we do it again“?
It was remarkably beautiful on the Galapagos islands. I loved cruising on the ocean, anchoring at sea and waking up to the sound of the waves. It was special to walk along deserted beaches and paths to discover animals and birds in their own habitat, oblivious to your presence.
It was an amazing place to visit with my children. My two fundamental goals – reconnecting with my kids and creating lasting memories – were easily and definitely met. There was no wifi on board the ship so time was spent talking, playing games, and watching the world go by. On land, we hiked and played in the sand and water, and were often dumbfounded by how closely we were sharing moments with animals. Having these types of moments with older children and teenagers are not easily accomplished. To have five days of them is significant!
However, was it worth the cost? I don’t know. I guess the answer depends on where else you have travelled or hope to travel; your yearly travel budget; and how important it is for you to see certain animals and birds up close. One thing for sure, it was a unique experience and I feel privileged to have been able to share it with my children.
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