Paul Schicke
Written by Paul Schicke Senior Expedition Designer

Updated: January 22, 2024
Published: December 15, 2023

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Galapagos Sea Lion on a cruise with Quasar

The traditional definition of a cruise is: to make a trip by sea in a liner for pleasure, usually calling at a number of ports. Unfortunately, this definition doesn’t really apply to the Galapagos.

Contrary to most cruises around the world that sail from port to port, in the Galapagos you normally only visit ports at the beginning and at the end of your cruise. These are expedition cruises, and the ports are never the highlight. The highlights are the different island visitor sites that are part of the Galapagos National Park, and are almost always far removed from the port towns.

So, which cruise lines go to the Galapagos Islands? In this short article we’ll answer this question by allowing you to understand how the Galapagos is very different from other cruising destinations around the world.

Cruise Line Restrictions Before 2010

Prior to 2010, only locally owned Ecuadorian companies like Quasar Expeditions were allowed to offer cruises in the Galapagos Islands. In 2010 however, the Galapagos National Park lifted a restriction on non-local ships that previously prevented them from entering the Galapagos and opened the door to international cruise companies. Consequently, because of their popular demand as a peak adventure and wildlife destination, the Galapagos started to attract larger international cruise lines and the cruise scenario changed considerably after 2010.

Since 2010, locally owned cruise companies like Quasar have been joined in the Galapagos by large cruise line names like Celebrity, Silversea, Disney, and Hurtigruten. All of these major cruise lines operate 100 passenger ships, which is the largest ship size permitted in the Galapagos National Park.

Galapagos Brown Pelican

In the cruise business, the reality is that more is better: more passengers equal more revenues. It’s no exaggeration to say that some cruise ships come close to doubling the population of the places they visit when passengers disembark. The only reason there aren’t larger cruise ships in the Galapagos is that the national park sets a limit of 100 passengers per vessel–and it’s now limiting the number of those vessels as well.

Intimate vs. Non-Intimate Galapagos Experiences

If you have cruised with a major cruise line before, 100 passengers may sound like a very small number and an ‘intimate’ experience. In fact, the larger cruise lines market it exactly that way. However, in the Galapagos, 100-passenger ships are the equivalent of the 1,000+ passenger ships in other popular cruising destinations around the world. The visitor sites around the Galapagos are small and fragile, so having 100 passengers disembark on a single landing site can quickly overcrowd it and overwhelm the wildlife habitat.

Evolution Cruise in the Galapagos Islands

The Galapagos Islands are unique in that they are a true marine wilderness. The national park has implemented more and more initiatives over time to keep it that way. With an aim to lighten the environmental impact of tourism on landing sites, the Galapagos National Park now requires vessels to wait 14 days before returning to the same site. This has had the positive effect of dispersing vessels evenly throughout the archipelago, ensuring that fewer vessels visit the same landing sites at the same time.

As a result, your Galapagos experience will be quite intimate… unless you bring a crowd along with you by traveling on a cruise ship carrying 50 to 100 passengers. There are many limitations to consider with larger travel groups in the Galapagos.

Galapagos Limitations Due to on Ship Sizes

Galapagos landing sites have single-file nature trails. Travelers who prefer more intimate experiences should ask themselves if they really want to wait at the back of a line to see blue-footed boobies doing their mating dance, or if they want to go snorkeling with 50 to 100 other tourists in the water.

Basic tasks also take much longer in larger groups, such as waiting for meals, putting on wet-suits, and lining up to board dinghies. Some cruise line ships don’t carry enough dinghies for all their passengers, which means you may have to wait for a dinghy to return from the landing site to get you. Extra time spent on logistics results in less time exploring and getting close to the Galapagos wildlife.

Hiking in the Galapagos Islands with Quasar Expeditions

It suffices to say, Galapagos small ship cruises maximize your connection to the environment and wildlife viewing opportunities. With much smaller tour groups, flexible itineraries, and dedicated naturalist guides, experiences like Quasar’s safari-style yacht adventures allow you to see the Galapagos away from the crowds.


When Quasar began operating almost 40 years ago, passengers coming to the Galapagos cared about one thing: wildlife. For most of our adventurous travelers, that goal remains true.

Early on, Quasar chose to focus on helping guests become immersed in the natural world, while offering high-quality intimate yachts, cultural cuisine, familial service, expert guides, and a friendly crew to complement the adventure. Our safari-style approach is our means to that end.

To get the top experience in the Galapagos, we highly recommend choosing Galapagos luxury cruises with 36 passengers or less. With much smaller tour groups, flexible itineraries, and dedicated naturalist guides, yacht safaris allow you to experience Galapagos away from the crowds.

Grace Cruise in the Galapagos Islands
Paul Schicke
By Paul Schicke
Senior Expedition Designer

Hello! My name is Paul. I am a photographer, traveler, teacher and writer. I have extensive experience in travel to Galapagos, Peru, Patagonia and the western seaboard of South America specializing in ways travelers can experience these once-in-a-life destinations like locals on the road. Lover of wine, chocolate, travel, coffee, and helping others plan vacations of a lifetime!

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