The Galapagos is one of the world's premier cruise destinations. Filled with exciting flora and diverse species of all kinds, the Galapagos Islands are recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site and were the basis of Charles Darwin's theory of evolution that arose from his own visit in 1835.
Galapagos cruise prices are higher than many other cruise destinations. Galapagos cruise ships are limited to just 100 passengers, and many Galapagos cruise lines are in a situation where demand outstrips supply, by far.
Complicating matters is the fact that getting to the Galapagos is no easy task. Due to the timing of domestic flights between the islands and the mainland, travelers can expect to have to overnight in Quito or Guayaquil pre- and post-cruise before boarding a charter flight to either Baltra or San Cristobal Island.
So, how much does a Galapagos vacation cost? Prices vary depending on your style of travel but tend to start just under $5,000 per couple for a quick cruise and $15,000 or $20,000 per couple for those who want a taste of the good life. While international flights are an extra cost, many cruise lines roll the flights from the Ecuadorian mainland to the Galapagos Island into the cost of the cruise itself.
Here are three basic pricing levels for cruises to the Galapagos, along with details on what to expect onboard:
Economy (Under $6,000)
The Lines: Latin Trails, G Adventures
The Experience: For under $6,000 per couple, both Latin Trails and G Adventures offer small-ship expeditions into the Galapagos Islands. These are typically conducted on smaller boats with fewer amenities and creature comforts, while at the same time utilizing many of the same great expedition guides that the larger, more luxe ships in the region use.
At this level, quality and style vary wildly when it comes to the ships in the Galapagos. G Adventures, for example, uses five different boats in the Galapagos ranging in size from 16 to 20 passengers, built between 1990 and 2007, each differing in terms of accommodations. The 16-passenger Estrella del Mar only has bunk-style staterooms, while the Yolita offers twin lower berths. G Adventures is very upfront with these differences on its website, but the need for cruisers to thoroughly research all their options is critical here.
Expect to enjoy casual but uncomplicated food while onboard, along with an informal yet convivial atmosphere. Drinks, gratuities, transfers and even Galapagos National Park entry fees - $100 per person -- can be additional expenses on these more budget-conscious offerings.
Moderate (Under $10,000)
The Lines: Metropolitan Touring, G Adventures
The Experience: There aren't many lines offering Galapagos cruises that fall into this area. Call it the "Curse of the Galapagos": Most ships are either quite small and priced accordingly, or they're at the top of the pack and are among the most expensive. These lines offer select itineraries that are more than $6,000 per couple but less than $10,000 per couple.
Both Metropolitan Touring and G Adventures offer Galapagos cruise itineraries that fall within this category. G Adventures offers some of its longer itineraries at this price range, aboard its most luxurious boats in the region. These journeys can range from five days all the way up to two weeks, depending on the line, itinerary and time of year.
As with the above category, it is important to fully research vessels and itinerary at this price point. Metropolitan Touring has a fleet of three nimble and well-appointed ships: Santa Cruz II, La Pinta and Isabella II. The latter is particularly intimate, with only 40 passengers onboard. Santa Cruz II, meanwhile, is the fleetmate of Lindblad Expeditions' National Geographic Endeavour II and carries 96 passengers. All are solid choices, but knowing what you want out of a Galapagos cruise ship will help you make an informed decision.
In addition, these itineraries can provide additional flexibility at this price point: Metropolitan Touring offers a series of voyages that run Monday to Friday, allowing travelers to steal away to the Galapagos Islands while only using a week's worth of vacation time.
Splurge ($10,000 and Up)
The Lines: Celebrity Cruises, Lindblad Expeditions, Silversea, UnCruise Adventures
The Experience: The most expensive ships in the Galapagos Islands are also among the largest and newest. But the premium is worth the price of admission: Celebrity Cruises, Lindblad Expeditions, Silversea and UnCruise Adventures all offer very different products, but they are equally at the top of their game.
Celebrity and Silversea offer the most luxe voyages in the region. Celebrity deploys the popular Celebrity Xpedition and its new running mate, Celebrity Flora, in the Galapagos Islands. The former is swanky and comfortable; the latter gives the newest cruise ships a run for their money, with lavish suites, sumptuous public rooms and all the amenities that Celebrity's past passengers have come to expect.
Ditto for Silversea, which replaces the 100-passenger Silver Galapagos with the brand-new Silver Origin in the summer of 2020. Outfitted with luxurious suites, butler service, and complimentary beverages and inclusive fares, Silver Origin makes waves by offering several new high-tech spaces that encourage passengers and Expedition Team members alike to mingle and share knowledge in a way that traditional Galapagos vessels simply don't permit.
Those looking for fewer creature comforts and more on-shore adventure won't go wrong with Lindblad Expeditions or UnCruise Adventures.
Lindblad, through its exclusive partnership with National Geographic, offers some of the most active and educational voyages out there, along with a choice of two distinct ships: the 48-passenger, twin-hulled National Geographic Islander and the sleek 96-passenger National Geographic Endeavour II.
Real adventure mavens will like the active features of UnCruise Adventures. The line, most famous for its Pacific Coast small-ship cruises in Alaska and Baja California, expanded into the Galapagos a few years back by chartering the 48-passenger La Pinta. It's the least fancy of the ships at this level, but UnCruise Adventures' exceptional excursions and educational component more than makes up for it.
Expect to pay just shy of $10,000 per person on most of the above lines, though discounts and special promotions are sometimes offered.
The most economical way to visit the Galapagos is to fly to the islands and explore by day boats -- so-called because passengers typically don't overnight on them. Day boats are numerous and plentiful but vary wildly in terms of quality. They're a good choice for the backpacker traveling on a flexible schedule who wants to island hop. However, many islands are too far away to reach on a day boat, which makes a thorough exploration of the Galapagos more challenging.
While the itineraries are more expensive than the average Caribbean cruise, the Galapagos Islands offer one of the world's premier travel experiences. Cheap Galapagos cruise vacations may be in short supply, but the cost of a Galapagos cruise is worth it in the end.