Simply put, the Galapagos is an amazing one-of-a-kind destination. There’s no other place on earth where you can get so close to, and even interact with, so many animals safely in the wild. That is why I say, “It’s not about the boat but the Galapagos boat has to be about the islands”. Remember that an exceptional Galapagos adventure is all about the Galapagos animals and the Galapagos habitat, so you are looking for a Galapagos yacht that enhances that experience rather than detracts from it.
This post is meant to provide you with all the answers that most travelers have when choosing the best Galapagos boat tour for their trip of a lifetime. Once you are done reading this, you’ll know exactly what to look for and what to avoid when it comes time to choosing the best Galapagos cruise.
This is why the yacht you choose can make yours the trip of a lifetime... or not. Over the years, I’ve been to the islands on wonderful Galapagos live-aboard yachts. I’ve also been through the Galapagos on boats that made me roll my eyes and one time my stomach... On each trip, while the Galapagos were the same, some yachts detracted from the experience while others made for a trip of a lifetime.
So, how do you choose your Galapagos yacht?
What should you look for and what should you look to avoid?
I invite you to follow my lead, and you’ll be well on your way to choosing the perfect vessel for your trip of a lifetime.
Outdoor Space Under Shade vs. Smoked Glass
The Galapagos weather is an ideal climate, where skies are typically sunny and gentle sea breezes create that perfect air temperature that instantly relaxes the body. So, the question is, why would you want to be stuck inside when the average high air temperature is 82° F/28° C? The answer is you wouldn’t.
That’s why it’s so curious that so many Galapagos yachts are clad in smoked glass, with very little outdoor space and even less space outside under shade. When I pointed this problem out to a passenger who was considering a yacht that defines the smoked glass design approach, he had a sudden realization, “How will that work if I want to take photos!” Exactly. Remember to think floating safari not floating Las Vegas casino.
Expert Tip on Galapagos Boat Outdoor Spaces:
Look for a yacht that offers plenty of space outdoors and under shade. Don’t forget that you are on the equator and that shade is as important as being outside. The best yachts have plenty of open space to relax in. Their owners recognize that comfortable, well designed and attractive outdoor spaces are critical to your trip of lifetime.
Note: Those spaces should offer a view. Some yachts put the outdoor spaces up top but in a way that makes it difficult to look out over the sides and with little shade.
A Yacht You Can Walk Around vs. One You Can’t
Speaking of feeling like a caged animal, that’s what will happen when you choose a yacht you can’t walk around. It baffles me that so many Galapagos yachts are designed so that you can’t walk all the way around the perimeter on deck. The trend is getting worse, with some designs confining passengers to the aft if passengers want to be out-of-doors. The sides of these yachts are sheer walls of metal and smoked glass.
Can you imagine the captain say, “I know you can’t see them, but I thought you’d like to know that a huge school of dolphins is ahead of us and some are surfing the bow wake?” Didn’t you come to the Galapagos to feel free and unconfined? And what if you spot that pod of whales or dolphins as frequently happens or a school of flying manta rays? How are you going to watch them?
Expert Tip on Galapagos Yacht Layout:
Look for a yacht that offers a deck that permits you to walk all the way around the perimeter. That way you can:And you can take your photos of all those things without a piece of dark glass between you and them.
- Watch the sunset from anywhere on deck.
- Whale and dolphin watch with ease.
- Enjoy dolphins surfing the bow wake.
- Marvel at frigate birds soaring next to the yacht.
- Smile at a passing sea turtle.
- Take in unobstructed views of the islands and their spectacular shield volcanoes.
- Go for a walk all the way around the yacht.
Note: Beware of postage stamp balconies... and I mean small. They also keep you from walking all the way around the yacht. You will spend very little time in one and if you happen to pass by a whale that’s on the other side of your yacht from your balcony you will be out of luck.
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Monohulled vs. Catamaran
Quasar used to own the largest Trimaran in the world, called the Lammer Law. While it was a great dive boat it earned the nickname Slammer Law. That’s because the dirty little secret of trimarans and catamarans is that between the pontoons, they have a raised underside and when a wave hits that underside... SLAM. The entire vessel becomes a drum being played by the ocean.
Typically, this happens when the yacht is sailing into an opposing sea, and in the Galapagos that happens when you are crossing from one island to another... at night when you are trying to sleep. The only time I ever got seasick in the Galapagos was aboard a catamaran where my cabin was right above where the ocean kept pounding the boat... all night long.
That doesn’t happen on a monohulled/single hull yacht simply because there is no raised underside. There is a myth out there that catamarans are more stable than monohulled yachts. I say myth because there are only two times when a catamaran is more stable than a mono hull. That is when the water is very calm (when it doesn’t matter) or if the entire boat capsizes.
Think about it, if a largish wave comes in from either side of a catamaran one hull is going to ride up on the wave while the other stays down. Then the other hull will go up while the other drops down. Not all that stable.
Expert Tip on Monohull Yachts:
Good sized mono hull yachts will do as good or better job of cutting through opposing seas compared to a catamaran as they are heavier; and without the ocean slamming the raised under carriage like a drum. A mono hull can roll but a bit more in smaller waves, but less than a catamaran in larger side waves and a larger mono hull with more displacement will not roll much at all.
Cabins vs Common Spaces
When I talk to potential passengers, we inevitably spend a good amount of time talking about cabins, which is understandable since passengers pay for their cruise based on their cabin. The truth is that after you return from the Galapagos your cabin won’t be the first thing you remember. This is not to say your choice of cabin is not important. It is, but it’s just one aspect of what you should consider when purchasing your cruise.
Galapagos adventures are active. You will typically spend up to 5 hours a day at visitors’ sites and another 2 going on Galapagos snorkeling outings. Add 3 meals a day to that, a happy hour and a daily briefing to that. The point is, you aren’t going to sit in your cabin gazing out at the view. You will likely look out your cabin once in the morning and that is it (mark my words). For the most part your cabin is a place to sleep and change.
The important considerations when a choosing cabin are things like: Is it within your budget? Your bed configuration. Where is the cabin located (passengers who are very sensitive to motion will do better in a cabin closer to the fulcrum of the yacht)? Of course, overall comfort, beds/mattresses and bathrooms are important, and you should investigate these and amenities that are important to you.
But put your cabin in perspective. Which brings us to the importance of common spaces and other features.
Note: I am not aware of any Galapagos vessels that have “inside” cabins, which don’t offer ocean facing windows or portholes.
When you aren’t on excursions you will spend most of your waking hours enjoying your yacht’s common spaces.
Things to Look for on a Galapagos Yacht:
- Yachts with both indoor and outdoor or indoor-outdoor dining areas. Some yachts put the dining areas inside between the cabins so you can’t look out. I prefer to be able to look out at the islands.
- An outdoor saloon under shade with plenty of space and comfortable deck furniture. To me a space like this can define a yacht as you can read, write or simply relax and watch the islands pass by.
- An attractive bar: great for happy hour, so you want one where you can watch the sunset from.
- An outside deck all the way around the yacht: As mentioned this is an important common space and why would you choose a yacht that doesn’t offer this?
- A comfortable main saloon where you will have your briefings. Also, a good place to relax at night.
- A large jacuzzi: This is for warming up after snorkeling so look for large ones and avoid small ones.
- Sun deck with comfortable lounge furniture: Just be careful when it comes to the equatorial sun.
Note: Avoid vessels that offer “onboard lectures”. This is code for: “we are going to skip an excursion activity”. Did you come to the Galapagos for indoors lectures or to have an expert interpretive naturalist guide you in the field? Offering lectures is a way for larger yachts to avoid all the logistics of getting the group on and off the yacht for an activity.
Yacht Safari vs Cruise Ship
When the Galapagos National Park first started it was a haven for natural history buffs wanting to experience the enchanted archipelago made famous by Darwin and its amazing creatures. Back then if you could find a boat with a bunk, toilet, food and a hose to shower off you were in heaven.
The Galapagos islands remain a natural wonder, and today the bar has been raised when it comes to what travelers expect from a vessel. The Ecuadorian companies that grew up with the National Park over the years took the approach that the Galapagos was all about experiencing the animals, habitat and natural history with the yachts being a complement as the means of access.
These companies offer a small group, floating safari experience. Their yachts are designed to enhance this experience and honestly that is what you are looking for, a Galapagos focused experience. Then the international cruise ship companies discovered the Galapagos. You know, the ones that visit places like Venice with ships carrying well over 2,000 passengers. In the Galapagos they are limited to 100 passenger vessels and that is what they operate; ships carrying the maximum number of passengers the park allows. Wonder why?
Expert Tip on Galapagos Boat Size:
No matter who you travel with my recommendation is to avoid vessels of over 40 to 100 passengers. That’s because the Galapagos is a marine wilderness and when you show up on a landing site with that many passengers it becomes a beach with a lot of people on it.
The nature trails are single file so no matter how you break a group of 48 to 100 passengers you are going to have to wait on line to have your chance to see a pair of blue footed boobies doing their mating dance.
Do you really want to snorkel with 99 other passengers plus guides?
Before 2012 yachts were typically doing the same itinerary week in and week out. Then the park changed the rules so that yachts had to wait two weeks before visiting the same landing sites which had the effect of dispersing yachts more evenly throughout the park, while reducing the environmental load on each site. Before 2012 there were more crossovers, which means sharing your landing site with other yachts. Imagine arriving at a site only to discover that you had to share the site with a ship of 100 passengers. These days there are few crossovers. As a result, you aren’t likely to find a crowd in the Galapagos unless you bring one with you.
I will leave it at this. If you are going out into a wilderness habitat to get up close to animals in the wild would you choose so by going on a floating yacht safari or a cruise ship?
Your Galapagos Crew
Your Galapagos crew is an extension of your vessel. After all the crew lives on their vessel for a good part of each month.
Many years ago, I had the misfortune of traveling on a vessel owned by another company with a not so happy crew. The passengers could feel the tension between guides, crew and captain. The issue was all about how the yacht owner, who was somewhat notorious, was treating crew and the vessel. This is not something for any passenger to experience, nor would I want to repeat it and thankfully I never have.
This was the extreme but there are also yachts where the crew is simply indifferent to everything. The passengers are more of an inconvenience and you end up feeling like tourist taking up their time. You can see when a yacht is cared for and you can feel when a crew is cared for and appreciated. A great yacht makes for a happy crew and a happy crew makes for happy passengers on a trip of a lifetime.
A great crew is helpful, happy, attentive and professional in a way that makes passengers feel relaxed, important and part of the family. Look for reviews that mention all these things and mention the crew in the reviews in the first place.
A great crew makes a trip so much more fun while leaving you feeling pampered. Our crew cleans your cabin twice a day, and I can never get enough of those little towel animals. Before I sign off, I want to leave you with a few things that our passengers have said about our crew.
Quasar's Galapagos Crew Reviews
I could go on. After 33 years in Galapagos, we can attest that Quasar has the best yachts and crew in the business, and I can’t wait for you to see it for yourself!