An Exciting Tender Ride On our 7 Day Galapagos Cruise
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What It’s Like On A 7 Day Galapagos Cruise

The Galapagos Islands are on most experienced traveler’s bucket list. This trip exposes you to exotic animals on land and in the sea and gives the traveler a glimpse into how an ecosystem evolves.

I put the Galapagos in my bucket a while ago. Initially, it was to get there before I turned 50. It took me a couple of extra years to finally make the trip. One reason is that the islands are primarily a preserved national park. Hence, the Ecuadorian government limits the number of visitors each year.

7 Day Galapagos Cruise - Relief Map of the Galapagos

This protected and unspoiled archipelago is a far cry from touristy. Most individuals who visit aren’t first-time travelers. However, it’s likely their first-timers to a destination this remote. It certainly was for DH and me, so we chose a 7 day Galapagos Cruise for our visit.

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Ready for A Galapagos Tour? – What Should You Book?

There are as many ways to visit the Galapagos as there are travelers wanting to go. When planning your trip you will hear about the North and South Loops, the East and West Loops, and finally, the Inner and Outer Loops.  

The Galapagos Governing Council regulates where each ship can go and when. This prevents too many vessels from being in the same waters or on a particular island at any given time.

Each venue has slightly different offerings of islands, flora, and fauna. If you want to see a particular island or animal on your visit to the Galapagos, do more research to ensure you are in the best place at the best time to get the tour you want.

In addition to the different islands, a vast range of ships cruise the Galapagos. You will find everything from small 16-person yachts with little to no amenities to more luxurious vessels with modern comforts.  

The Celebrity Flora Off the Coast of the Shore of San Cristobal Island in the Galapagos

We ended up cruising the Inner Loop on the Celebrity Flora. We are frequent Celebrity cruisers, and I will not hide that this influenced our choice. Please read up on how the Flora was specifically designed and built solely for touring the Galapagos before you diss this choice as maybe being “bougie,”

This article primarily discusses what it’s like on a 7-day Galapagos Islands Cruise. But, if you plan to base yourself on San Cruz and make day trips to various islands, I’ve included information you’ll find helpful in this article’s “Galapagos Island-Hopping” section.

What to Expect On A 7 Day Galapagos Cruise

The Galapagos National Park is part of an archipelago located roughly 600 miles off the coast of South America and is a Unesco World Heritage Site. On your 7 day Galapagos cruise, you will likely visit seven or more of these islands.  

Yes, that’s right, you will be moving constantly. Each evening you will get a briefing on the following day’s activities. There is usually a set of morning excursions, then lunch, and then a new set of tours in the afternoon. This level of activity is why I recommend bringing two swimsuits.

A photo of the daily activity schedule on board our 7 day Galapagos cruise

We found that the excursions generally had three levels: strenuous, active, and somewhat less active. No activities are for those who are mobility impaired or in frail physical condition. Sometimes getting on and off the zodiac was the most hazardous part of the excursion.

You won’t be sleeping in on this adventure. Breakfast service started at 7:00 am, and the first excursion was generally around 8:00 am. The tours, on land or in the ocean, typically last about 1 ½ hours. So depending on your choice of morning and afternoon excursion, you may have time for a brief rest before or after lunch.

Blue-Footed Boobies, Sea Lions, Penguins, and More

Seeing these unique animals in their natural habitat, unafraid of humans, is why people come to the Galapagos Islands. So here we go…

On the first day, we stopped on Santiago Island for a walk across the beaches and lava beds. This was what they call a wet landing, meaning you exit the zodiac into the water. This is where you want to wear your water shoes on the tender and bring a different set of shoes for the hike. We saw our first marine iguanas and Sally Lightfoot crabs.  

In the afternoon, we were at Rabida Island; DH wasn’t feeling well, so I opted for the tender ride with no snorkel. This is where I first saw the sea lions and seals taking shelter from the sea and sun on the cliffs around the island.

The next day at Isabela Island, we started out in Elizabeth Bay with a tender ride through the mangroves, searching for the golden sea turtles. We encountered friendly Galapagos penguins showing off their excellent swimming skills almost immediately after we set out.

In the afternoon, we were at Tagus Cove, also on Isabela. We did a short hike along the shore, enjoying the sea lions soaking up the sun and the many birds and iguanas nesting and calling out for mates in the scrub.

On the hikes, we focused on wildlife viewing. Of course, everyone is looking for the famous blue-footed boobies, but the bird life is vivid. There are Pelicans, herons, flamingos, frigate birds, red-footed boobies, Nazca boobies, and the flightless cormorant. I found the golden land iguanas to be fascinating. Finches of all kinds are on the islands, including the famous Darwin’s finch.  

When snorkeling, there were all the colorful small fishes you often see. But more exciting were the marine iguanas, sea turtles, sea lions again, manta rays, and white-tipped reef sharks. The waters in the Galapagos can be rough. If you are not an experienced swimmer and snorkeler, think twice before entering the ocean and stay close to your tender boat.

Snorkeling off white sand beaches allowed the group to play with seals, sea lions, and turtles. While cruising around the islands and looking up at the lava tunnels and the ledges where many of the marine birds were resting was always a new adventure.

The days went on like this, hiking and snorkeling around Santiago Island, Bartolome Island, Santa Cruz, and North Seymour Island. Each trip out brought new animals and sea life into view, allowing us to understand them better.

There Is Even Time For Touristy Activities On A 7 Day Galapagos Cruise

The last two days of our cruise were the most touristy. On Friday, we were on San Cristobal Island in the morning. Both tours included a walk around the island and time to view the Galapagos Interpretation Center. After the Interpretation Center, we spent some time in town doing souvenir shopping. I was pretty focused on looking for ice cream; it was hot.

On Saturday, we were on Santa Cruz Island. All cruisers headed ashore at 8:00 am to tour the Charles Darwin Research Station, Giant Galapagos Tortoise Breeding Center. This center is dedicated to bringing back giant tortoises. Here we learned that each island has a native tortoise that has evolved to survive in that specific habitat. When the young are hatched, they are chipped and numbered to ensure they are eventually settled back onto their proper island.

From here, DH and I walked back into town to do some sightseeing before hopping on the busses again.

Our next adventure is a favorite of Celebrity. We all headed up to the highlands of Santa Cruz to help replant the rainforest with the native Scalesia trees. We are provided with wellies to use to keep our feet out of the mud and off we go to plant our trees

Replanting done, we headed to a local “Ranch” for a lovely buffet lunch and entertainment by a local folk dance group.

After lunch, we all set out with a guide for a short walk around the grounds in search of wild tortoises. They were easy to find!

Getting to the Galapagos Islands  Via Quito

Getting to the Galapagos Islands isn’t easy. First, you must get to Guayaquil or Quito, Ecuador’s capital. Both cities serve as base points for these islands. The Baltra airport is now the main for Galapagos, and Baltra Island is connected to Santa Cruz Island by a bridge. There is a smaller airport on San Cristobal Island. It’s from one of these islands that you will board your ship.

Sounds easy enough, but it is never as easy as it sounds. If you live anywhere in North America (besides Houston, Texas), the journey will likely require a minimum of three flights. Your first flight will be from your home city (ours is San Francisco) to Houston and then to Quito or Guayaquil. We flew to Quito, and I think this is the most common.

Welcome letter and Itinerary from Celebrity at our hotel arrival  in Quito

It’s a good idea to plan an extra day or two on either side of your cruise to buffer your travel from any flight connections or delays. We got to Quito Airport at midnight, and by the time we arrived at our hotel, it was 1 in the morning. I was happy that our “tour plans” had us staying in Quito that day and not traveling on to Baltra.

Then, there was the flight from Quito to the Baltra Airport on the third day of our trip. This is common; be prepared for the time it takes to get to the islands.

Note: Getting to the islands is only one part of the complications. You will need a Transit Control Document and an entrance fee to visit the Galapagos. You can obtain this online at There may also be a requirement for a health declaration form. Also, it is a requirement for all visitors to the Galapagos to have valid travel insurance.

Galapagos Transit Card - 7 day Galapagos cruise

Fortunately for us, all of our transit documents and air tickets to and from the Galapagos were handled by Celebrity Cruises, our tour provider. This is typically the case with most Galapagos cruise lines. Put your transit control card in a safe place (maybe with your passport), as you may be asked to show it when entering and leaving the Galapagos.

What Cruise Lines Sail In the Galapagos Islands

Government restrictions make it hard for cruise lines to break into the Galapagos market. Celebrity Cruises was one of the islands’ first “well-known” brands with their ships, the Xpedition, Xploration, and the newest purpose-built Flora.  

San Cristobal Harbor with Many Expedition and Fishing Boats on the horizon

Silversea’s Silver Origin is the most luxurious sailing Galapagos. And while the Silver Origin offers a bit more upscale aesthetic, she was designed and built at the same shipyard as Celebrity’s Flora. Together these two ships bring cruisers the expedition experience with a refined touch of elegance.

That said, most big-name carriers in the islands (Hurtigruten, National Geographic, Avalon and Abercrombie & Kent, etc. ) charter ships owned by other companies already established in the region. Additionally, many smaller individually owned vessels provide 3 – 8 day cruises and day trips from San Cristobal and Santa Cruz Islands.

What Are Expeditions Ships Like

Galapagos-based ships are required to hire locally, and most of the ship’s crew are Ecuadorian. Much of the food is traditional Ecuadorian dishes and sourced as locally as possible.

We found the crew all well-versed in the Galapagos and Ecuadorian culture. In fact, travelers like us are not allowed to be on many islands in the park without expert naturalist guides. On the Flora, the ratio was one naturalist guide per 12 guests. This leads to a more immersive experience, both on board and ashore.

Expedition ships tend to have one small restaurant for meals and a bar/lounge that doubles as the entertainment venue and briefing room. There are limited services: laundry service is usually available (either by the crew or self-service), a guest services desk, and maybe a small sundry store. Common outdoor areas may include a hot tub and sun deck.

In general, vessels won’t be what you’re accustomed to if you’re used to mainstream cruising. The ships don’t have theaters, casinos, large fitness centers, or spa facilities. Specialty dining may be limited to dining on the top deck under the open sky.

At the back of the ship is where you find the Zodiac launch platform, equipment storage area, and outdoor showers or hoses for rinsing off shoes and feet and snorkel gear when you return from shoreside landings.

On most cruises, the fares are all-inclusive. The cruise includes all dining, drinks, and services, with few exceptions. All excursions are included, and there are a lot of outings. On our cruise, we had the opportunity to have laundry done twice during the 7-day cruise at no cost.

What To Pack For A 7 Day Galapagos Cruise

Pack light! Your luggage is generally restricted to 1 suitcase weighing 23 Kg (50 Lbs) or less and one carry-on bag weighing less than 8 Kg (17 lbs). Packing light is made easier as the ships generally provide wetsuits and snorkel gear, including flippers. So unless you need a prescription mask or special equipment, you don’t need to bring your own.

Bring quick-drying clothing; you will likely get wet whenever you leave the boat. Those trekking pants with zip-off legs are perfect for the Galapagos. For ladies, I would also recommend Capri length leggings with tech pockets.

Womens Hiking Pants
Mens Hiking Pants

I highly recommend two swimsuits per person. This way, you always have a dry suit for the next snorkel. A rain poncho or light waterproof jacket will come in useful as it’s not uncommon for a sudden downpour to occur.

Appropriate footwear is essential. Take good hiking boots if you plan to do more strenuous hikes. Other than that, an excellent trekking sandal like the Tevas I brought, a pair of water shoes for wet landings, and a simple sandal to wear on the ship are all you will need. No one dresses up on these cruises, even for dinner.

Note: if you plan to wear trekking sandals, bring socks. All island excursions are in sandy, rocky areas; nothing is worse than having sand or rocks between your sandal and bare feet.

Don’t Forget Protection From The Sun And Other Elements

The Galapagos Islands (and all of Ecuador) are near the equator. We were given this clever certificate on the cruise for crossing the equator.

On this part of the planet, the sun is always at its most intense. Pack protective clothing: items with SPF built into them are a bonus, but long-sleeved sun shirts, hats, neck protection, and sunglasses (preferably with polarized lenses) will serve you well.

SunBum SPF 30
Black Sunglasses

There can be a lot of biting insects on the islands. Before we packed, we sprayed all of our outerwear with Sawyer Permethrin Clothing Insect Repellant. When applied correctly, this product will last and repel insects for up to six washings. This is one barrier, but don’t forget to use a good bug spray. I like to use Off Botanicals rather than a DEET-based product.

You should apply sunscreen with a high SPF (50 or higher) as you will swim or at least be in the water. But be aware that you need to find a “reef-safe” sunscreen as this is required in the Galapagos to protect the fragile environment.

Little Things Matter On Your Galapagos Islands Cruise

Depending on your preferences, you may want binoculars, a day pack (waterproof, if possible) to take ashore, and a water bottle. Check with your cruise line, as they may provide these items. Celebrity provided water bottles, day packs, ponchos, and sunscreen. This was a bonus, less for us to pack.  

These smaller ships don’t have the stabilizers you may be used to on the larger cruise ships. If you tend towards motion sickness, have your patches, wrist bands, and Dramamine with you.

Most importantly, bring whatever device you use for a camera. On a bucket list cruise like the Galapagos, you want to document the adventure for the folks back home. And make sure the camera can handle the water.

There Are Things You Can’t Bring To The Galapagos

On a cruise in the Galapagos, what not to bring is just as important. To keep the region as free of invasive species as possible, the Galapagos government is quite strict about bringing fresh fruits, vegetables, nuts, or seeds to the islands. We had to leave our luggage out for inspection the night before our flight from Quito and did not get it back until we were on the ship.

Also, your carry-on will be screened carefully when you arrive at the airport in Baltra or San Cristobal; think about TSA in reverse. You can face steep penalties if you’re caught with contraband.

Lastly, you are going on an expedition, not a cruise. Most ships in the Galapagos aren’t fancy. People do change for dinner, you won’t need dressy clothes. Most men at dinner wore shorts and polos, and women wore lightweight blouses, skirts, or shorts.

How To Visit The Galapagos Islands Not On A Cruise

Not everyone who visits the Galapagos goes on a cruise. On the Islands of San Cristobal and Santa Cruz, you will find thriving downtown areas with Hotels, B&Bs, cafés, coffee shops, and bars to service the tourist coming to the islands. Once you have your sleeping accommodations, you can set out to see the island.

Hotel and Restaurant on San Cristobal Island In The Galapagos

On, you can find over 90 properties available for stays in Puerto Ayora, Santa Cruz, alone!

The Charles Darwin Station is located just outside of town. You can walk to the station from the harbor area or take a local tuk-tuk. Visiting the research station is free, but there is a charge of $10 / person for the required guide to take you through.

You’ll want to head to Tortuga Bay for a day at the beach. Here you will find the white sand beach, Playa Brava. A note of caution, though, the water currents are powerful. Great for surfing, but maybe not the best for snorkeling. At the trail’s end, you will find Tortuga Laguna, where the water is calmer and more suited for swimming and snorkeling.

Galapagos Island-Hopping

Ready for another Island? You can plan a day trip to one of three other islands using the ferry system. The Galapagos Ferry runs daily between Isla San Cristobal and Ilsa Santa Cruz and between Santa Cruz and Isla Isabela or Isla Floreana. Each ferry ride costs around $35 per person, and each trip takes about 2 hours.

The ferry also offers 1-day tours to Bartolome, North Seymour, Santa Fe, and Pinzon Islands. So you can see it is entirely possible to create your own tour packages for the Galapagos on your own schedule.

Is A Galapagos Cruise In Your Future?

I hope this article has helped you decide you’re ready to cross the Galapagos off your bucket list. The Galapagos is a once-in-a-lifetime adventure you won’t forget anytime soon. So how did we top this off? We headed to Machu Picchu of course!

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