The vast majority of the 75 or so boats that tour the Galapagos carry 20 passengers or less. There are some that go up to 100 passengers. There are generally four classes of service: luxury, first-class, tourist and economy. They may use variations of these designations. Our boat was in the tourist class. From what I can tell, the additional cost for the higher classes of service gets more luxurious cabins and facilities aboard the boat. You could easily pay 2 or even 3 times what we paid for this additional luxury. In my opinion, this would not yield a 2 or 3 times better experience as it relates to exploring the islands. Our cabin was definitely small but it had a small bathroom and shower and air conditioning. Anything more would have amounted to pampering for ourselves.
Many boats run simultaneous 3, 5 and 8 day tours. This means that they may return to Puerto Ayora to drop off and pick up passengers during your tour. The boat we were on is one of the few that runs only an 8 day itinerary. Therefore, it can reach some of the more distant islands since it doesn’t have to return to Puerto Ayora during the tour.
Boat Tour: January 20-27, 2011
Day 1 – We got to the boat in the late morning so we had lunch fairly soon after arriving. At around 3:00pm we took the launch to the dock on Santa Cruz and went into the interior of the island to view some of the volcanic craters and walked 900 meters through a large lava tube. Next we went to see some of the famous giant Galapagos turtles. At this time of year they are mostly found on a part of the island that is a private farm. They migrate between this area and land that is part of the Galapagos national park. We saw probably 30 or 40 of them on a short walk through a cattle pasture. The big one in the middle of the pond our guide estimated at about 150 to 170 years old and to weigh around 500 pounds. We then returned to the boat for dinner.
Day 2 – Overnight, the boat made the trip to uninhabited Isla Genovesa. This is one of the smallest islands and is located in the northern part of the Galapagos group. We landed on a beach in Darwin Bay and took a walk on the island seeing many different bird species. Afterwards we did a short snorkeling and then returned to the boat for lunch. After lunch, we did some snorkeling on a different part of the coastline followed by another hike on a different section of the island. Among others, we say a short eared Owl that appears nowhere else other than this island. Back to the boat for dinner. After dinner, the crew pulled up the anchor and we headed for uninhabited Isla Santiago.
Day 3 – A large portion of Santiago was formed from a lava flow only 120 years ago. Our morning visit was to this portion of the island. Not much wildlife but very interesting lava formations and a few pioneer plants. After the walk we went snorkeling and sighted our first white tipped shark and sting ray. After lunch we went snorkeling around Bartolome, a small island adjacent to Santiago. Our afternoon hike was on Bartolome up to the highest point which affords a fantastic view of Isla Santiago and the surrounding beaches and ocean. Before dinner, the crew relocated the boat to another small island adjacent to Santiago, Chinese Hat, so named for its distinctive shape.
Day 4 – The morning walk on Chinese Hat yielded many sea lions with young, marine Iguanas and the Galapagos Hawk. This island has some very dramatic coastline and beautiful beaches (even by Galapagos standards). We then went snorkeling along the coast of Santiago. In the afternoon the boat was relocated to a site near to Santa Cruz and late in the afternoon, we went ashore and saw lots of land Iguanas.
Day 5 – We loaded into a speed boat for a short trip to Isla Isabela, landing at Puerto Villamil. Here we visited one of the 3 giant turtle hatcheries in the Galapagos. We had lunch in Puerto Villamil and in the afternoon visited Islote Tintoreras seeing many marine Iguanas and sea lions. Afterwards, we did a short snorkeling but the water was a bit rough and visibility was not very good. We then returned to the boat for dinner.
Day 6 – During the night, the boat moved to the north side of Isla Baltra. From there we went ashore onto Mosquera which is a very small islet between Baltra and North Seymour but is mostly sand with a ring of volcanic rock and is enjoyed by many sea lions. In the afternoon, we went onto North Seymour which is a major breeding ground for frigate birds.
Day 7 – With the boat moved to the channel between Baltra and Santa Cruz, we went by bus to Tortuga Bay near Puerto Ayora on Isla Santa Cruz. This is a place where the sea turtles go on shore to lay their eggs. It is a beautiful beach with marine iguanas and sea lions. In the afternoon we went snorkeling in the channel along the northern coast of Santa Cruz.
Day 8 – This was a short day since we had to leave the boat before lunch. We took an early boat ride to an inner bay on Santa Cruz lined with black mangrove trees. This is a very popular place for sea turtles to mate and we were able to observe several “in action”.
Here’s some additional landscape photos. Following our boat tour, we took a launch from Santa Cruz to Isla San Cristobal and spent 3 days there. The town of Puerto Baquerizo Moreno is very low key and has a very nice malecon on the waterfront. We then went back to Santa Cruz and spent our last day in the Galapagos in Puerto Ayora before our scheduled flight out the following day.