A Galapagos cruise is without a doubt one of the most outstanding wildlife experiences on Earth. Extraordinary wildlife that has no fear of humans, most of which is found nowhere else on earth, from marine iguanas to giant tortoises to flightless cormorants. All of the creatures you see have a fascinating evolutionary history coupled with stunning volcanic landscapes.
Thanks to amazing wildlife documentaries from natural history heroes like David Attenborough, people usually have an idea of what they expect to see on their Galapagos cruise (although invariably even the highest of expectations are exceeded!), However on my most recent trip to Galapagos, I was struck by how many of the joys I experienced each day of the cruise were of the unexpected kind.
1. Waking up each day to a completely new landscape
Watching the sunrise on deck over a new and completely distinct landscape every day over my morning coffee definitely ranked as one of my moments of joy in my latest trip to Galapagos in January.
Unlike land based trips to Galapagos, most of the travel when you are on board a cruise is done at night, which means each morning you wake up to find yourself in a completely different place. Always volcanic of course as that’s how the Galapagos Islands were formed, but always different.
I will never forget the feeling on my first ever trip to Galapagos waking up and going on deck at dawn to see the magnificent Genovesa Island (Tower). This is a partially submerged shield volcano, which has a volcanic caldera whose wall has collapsed, forming the great Darwin Bay. Just a delight! I definitely recommend to anyone taking a cruise to try and get up and out before the sun comes up and head up on the top deck.
2. Out of this world snorkelling
Whilst most guests are well prepared to experience the amazing land based wildlife, for many guests snorkelling is actually an unexpected highlight of the trip as the wildlife below the water is almost as remarkable as the wildlife above it.
For some guests this is the first ever time they have snorkelled in their lives, opening up for the first time the remarkable under water world! The waters around Galapagos are the second largest marine reserve in the world, with some 2,900 species, around a quarter of which are found nowhere else on Earth. You get the chance to snorkel alongside penguins, flightless cormorants, sharks, playful sea lions, rays and a whole host of colourful fish.
On most days during a cruise you get at least one, if not two opportunities to snorkel in the waters around the islands. For absolute beginners at snorkelling, we always strongly recommend to check to see if the yacht provides snorkel vests which give you a bit more buoyancy in the water and if not to purchase one before your trip; they are inflatable, so light and packable and fairly inexpensive.
3. Stargazing in the Galapagos
The stars in the night sky over the Galapagos are a truly brilliant sight to see. At the end of an amazing day of wildlife watching, one of my favourite ways to end the day is stargazing. I am very much a novice stargazer, but there are several things that seem to come together to make this a truly amazing experience in Galapagos.
Firstly the brightness of the ‘starscape’ in a completely unpolluted night sky. This is then combined with being more relaxed and in tune with nature than I am anywhere else, most likely thanks to being surrounded by pristine wilderness and fearless wildlife all day! The fact that you are on equator means you have the rare opportunity of discovering stars seen in both hemispheres – this all adds up to an unforgettable experience.
4. Fellow travellers on your cruise
Most Galapagos cruises attract a very international mix of guests, all united by a love and passion for wildlife and for many this is a trip they have been longing to do for much of their lives.
On my last cruise in January, we had guests from the UK, Switzerland, Canada, England, Spain and the USA of all ages and political persuasions, but we all got along wonderfully. Bonding over our shared amazing experience of the wildlife of Galapagos as we travel through the islands, getting to know fellow guests over dinners, exchanging stories of other wildlife trips, sharing photographs taken during the day and learning about life in other parts of the globe are invariably some of my fondest memories of the Galapagos cruises I have been lucky enough to join over the years.
5. Wildlife accompanying the yacht as it travels
As the Galapagos wildlife cruises (they should perhaps be more correctly named live-aboard Galapagos exploration vessels!) navigate gently between the islands they are often accompanied by Galapagos wildlife. One of the most frequent travel companions are Frigate Birds, who fly above the yachts. This is quite a sight, especially as the sun sets which this video I shot on my last trip captures nicely.
In July – August time especially in the Western Islands another frequent travel companion are dolphins chasing the bow at the front of the yacht. Then at night if you head up on deck you often see the flash of white from Swallow Tail Gulls who hunt at night. When it is absolutely dark, the glow in the water from the bioluminescent plankton that is found in the waters of Galapagos in certain places and at certain times of year is activated by movement, lighting up as if by magic by a sea lion as it swims past the yacht.
Are you looking for advice on booking a Galapagos Cruise? Contact me and I’d be happy to talk.