The 10 days we spent in the Galapagos was very expensive for those of us on an Overlanding budget. However the amount of wildlife that we saw coupled with how easy it is to approach it really does make this a trip of a lifetime.
I want to thank the crew of the Beluga for basically being fantastic from the Panga handlers who made sure we were safe while snorkelling to the chef who prepared some fantastic food. A special mention for El Capitan whose playing music on a glass was truly memorable and also Jorge who served fantastic cocktails, kept our rooms clean and played a mean drum. Juan our guide was also amazing answering every question that was put to him all week and entertaining us with his singing and guitar playing.
Beluga was a great boat to be on and had a maximum capacity of only 16 people. We feel this is really important in a boat. There are much bigger boats around, we even saw one which had a ship’s doctor, but smaller boats mean that everyone gets on the RIBs (Rigid Inflatable Boats) at one time for landings so you don’t have to wait around.
The bigger boats tend to have more facilities and do more sedate excursions. This tends to mean that the average age of the passengers is well upwards of 60 and we saw many people from this type of boat moving with walking sticks very slowly over the rocky terrain. The bigger boats also aren’t allowed to some of the sites because they will swamp them and also can’t anchor in some of the areas we did.
There are three levels of guide in the Galapagos. Juan was a level 3 guide of which there are only around 40 – with around 100 boats, some with multiple guides. This meant that he had 25 years experience as a guide and spoke fluent Spanish, English and German. Less experienced guides may have as much technical knowledge but their language skills may not be as good and Level 1 guides only have to speak Spanish.
There are two seasons in the Galapagos which are controlled by the ocean currents. January to June is the warm wet season and the water is warmer so more comfortable for snorkelling. This is also the calm season. The roughest time of year is July as you transition to the Cool Dry Season which lasts until December. In this season the sea is choppier and the skies are more overcast. Although we were in the Galapagos in the transitional period we had relatively calm seas and no rain.
When booking a trip to the Galapagos make sure that you study the Itinerary really carefully and that it goes to the islands that you want to go to. It takes 2 weeks to cover all the islands so any 1 week trip is always a compromise. Lonely Planet do a really good Galapagos guide book which tells you what you can expect to see on each island.
The Galapagos are all about taking a boat cruise. You can chill out on Santa Cruz or San Christobal but you won’t see the whole spread of wildlife and day trips to other islands are expensive. There are last minute trips available at the shops on Santa Cruz and you might get a bargain. However you might also wait around for a while before you find something that fits – all the while paying for accomodation ! Travel agents in Quito can also hook you up with last minute trips.