Tips For Cruising The Galapagos

I’ve just returned from one spectacular trip, seven days cruising the Galapagos islands with Silversea Cruises. The Galapagos had been on my bucket list for quite some time, so when the opportunity landed in my lap to host a cruise in these fabled islands, I leapt at the opportunity. Along with my girlfriend Tamera Trexler, who documented our journey on Instagram, I cruised courtesy of Silversea and Seattle-based travel agency Cruise Specialists.

During the next four weeks, I’ll be posting stories from the Galapagos. Today’s post begins with a few select photos from our trip, along with Galapagos posts from our Instagram feed, and for those considering a cruise to these mystical islands, more than two dozen Galapagos cruise tips

Tips & Observations For Traveling To the Galapagos

  1. September is a great time to visit. One of the expedition leaders told us it was his favorite season. The weather was dry and cool for hikes, and the water, with a partial wetsuit that Silversea provided, was chilly upon entry but perfect for snorkeling.
  2. Silversea provides wetsuits, fins and snorkeling masks for what was for us nearly daily snorkeling. We saw sea turtles swimming, lots of colorful fish, sea lions at play and sharks, yes, sharks. The expedition leaders assured us that the sharks were non-aggressive, nothing that the Galapagos National Park would not allow snorkeling among potentially threatening marine life. Silversea provides three types of snorkeling: 1) deep-water snorkeling from Zodiacs for confident swimmers and experienced snorkelers; 2) snorkeling from the beach, ideal for snorkelers who are good swimmers but want to avoid deep water (in some cases you see just as much on the beach snorkeling activities as you do deep-water snorkeling); and 3) snorkeling for beginners who are not confident swimmers. For the latter group, Silversea provides swimming vests and instructions. Zodiacs patrol the shoreline during all snorkeling activities so that rescue is only seconds away. 
  3. The hikes are not long but they are beautiful. The longest hike we did was right at two miles. Silversea does a great job at catering to everyone. For those who wanted, there were rigorous and fast hikes. There were also hikes for those who wanted a gentle, and short, hike. We even had one guest on board in a wheelchair who was taken ashore with the rest of us (without her wheelchair, of course) several times during our voyage. Staff brought a chair for the guest to enjoy the beach.
  4. Your iPhone won’t do it justice. A camera with a long lens captures better images than even the newest iPhones, because some of the creatures are distant. 
  5. That said, Silversea’s expedition team instructed us to always maintain a distance of two meters (six feet) from the animals. At times that was difficult. So unafraid of humans were the creatures that I found a bird just inches from my toe one day. On another day, a sea lion came flopping up the beach toward us until he was within a few feet. For those moments, the iPhone works perfectly.
  6. Get yourself a GoPro. You’ll want it for underwater snorkeling. I used a GoPro Hero 7 Black, and it worked very well with regard to video capture. 
  7.  When you’re heading out to board the Zodiac (which you’ll do a few times each day – even upon embarking and disembarking), don’t forget to put on your auto-inflatable life vest. These are different from the orange life vest that will be in your room for the muster drill. The Zodiac vest auto-inflates when immersed in water. 
  8. Silversea provides refillable water bottles, but hydrate yourself the night before, and well before the morning and afternoon excursions. Empty your bladder as much as possible, and sip ashore rather than gulp. There are no bathrooms; nor is there anywhere to relieve yourself. Excursions usually last about two hours. Hold on if you must!
  9. Sunscreen and a sunhat with a strap (to keep it from blowing off) are a must. The equatorial sun is more powerful than it may appear, even on cloudy days. Also, long-sleeve sun shirts are helpful at keeping the arms from getting burned.
  10. Your cell phone will work in a few areas, namely Baltra, Santa Cruz and San Cristobal. I even had T-Mobile access at uninhabited North Seymour Island. The major carrier in the Galapagos is Claro. 
  11. Silversea offers complimentary Wifi, which worked well during our voyage.
  12. The currency in Ecuador is the US dollar, not that you will have a lot of time to shop in the Galapagos. You can buy locally made goods from street vendors or shops in the towns (as well as in Quito or Guayaquil). A little cash also comes in handy for tipping guides and drivers during city tours on the mainland.
  13. Shipboard attire on Silver Galapagos is always casual. For men, that means leave the dinner jacket at home. 
  14. The small fitness center has a variety of free weights and cardio machines. There is also an onboard salon and spa with hairdresser and masseuse. 
  15. A few people suggested we bring command hooks for hanging our wet clothing, after snorkeling, for example. We found we never needed the hooks.
  16. The lectures are fascinating. If the choice is between a nap and a lecture (typically at 1:30 p.m.), choose the latter. 
  17. On Silver Galapagos, you’ll get a short video (seven minutes or so) and 250 select photos from the voyage, free of charge. Both are provided on two DVDs.
  18. Our itinerary was Baltra to San Cristobal, one of two seven-day itineraries offered by Silversea.
  19. Bring a pen. You’ll complete several documents and forms before entering the Galapagos. For those who purchase the Silver Galapagos Air Package, Silversea also pays the $20 Ingala fee (Transit Control Card) .
  20. Our flight from Quito was direct to Baltra, in the Galapagos, but only because there was work being done on the airport in Guayaquil. Normally, flights are from Quito, with a quick stop in Guayaquil (Galapagos-bound guests do not disembark) before proceeding on for the nearly 1:47-hour flight to Baltra. For the domestic flights, which are operated by Latam, you’re allowed a carry-on not exceeding 22 pounds as well as a personal item (such as a small backpack), and two checked bags with a combined weight of 50 pounds. Food and beverages are available for purchase, and if you’re tall like me, you can request an exit row seat for no additional charge. 
  21. Room service on Silver Galapagos serves as a good alarm clock, although the breakfast buffet is worth the effort to get up early. There were lots of fresh fruits and juices, and always a typical Ecuadorian specialty, including the oh-so-delicious gluten-free Pan de Yuca, or Yuca Bread. 
  22. Gratuities are included in the fare, but if you’re like us, you’ll want to tip your butler (we tipped $50 for the week) and contribute to the crew fund, which is distributed among the whole crew, including the expedition leaders. We dropped $200 in an envelope.
  23. The pre-cruise hotel, J.W. Marriott Quito, was excellent in all regards as was the post-cruise day room at the Hotel Oro Verde in Guayaquil. 
  24. You may not feel quite yourself in Quito. At an elevation exceeding 9,000 feet, you may suffer from altitude sickness. I was sluggish and did not sleep well the first night. The feeling abated once we were in the Galapagos.
  25. For Zodiac wet-landings and for hikes, my Keen Newport Hydros worked extremely well. They are quick-drying and secure on the foot with closed toes and back straps.
  26. You’ll want to have a small backpack ashore, which Silversea provides.
  27. Silver Galapagos has 110 AC power in staterooms. 
  28. If you’re like us, there is no question about it: You’ll want to return to the Galapagos. We have our eyes set on Silversea’s second itinerary, as early as next year.
That’s it for our tips. If you’ve something to add, please do so in the comments section below. If not, look for our future posts in the coming weeks featuring some of the highlights of our trip.

Our Packing Tips

Before leaving home, we thought long and hard about our packing for the Galapagos, writing about it in this post, Prepping For Galapagos; Tips For Packing For Any Adventure Cruise.

We wanted to use carry-on luggage only for a variety of reasons. We packed lightly by doing the hard, but recommended task: Spread out everything you want to carry, then remove at least a third of it. I’m pleased to report that our strategy worked perfectly. We did use Silversea’s laundry service for a few items, but packing light carry-on luggage was worth it. And much to my surprise, I could have done with less. One of five long-sleeve shirts went untouched, as did a pullover. And keep in mind that I carried a 15-inch MacBook Pro, iPad and lots of camera equipment. 

ULA backpack
We traveled with carry-on. I shouldered a ULA Camino 2 backpack and pulled a Briggs-Riley roller bag.
Britton Frost

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Want To Cruise The Galapagos?

The dates have not been set yet, but we're planning to return to the Galapagos in the summer of 2020. If you'd like to travel with us, click below. We'll update you once our plans are firm.
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