There are four classes of boats in the Galapagos Islands:
- Luxury Class
- First Class
- Tourist Superior Class
- Tourist or Economy Class
These classes vary by price, amenities on board, level of comfort, size of the cabins, and sometimes even by the quality of naturalist guide and itinerary.
On Luxury Class, First Class, and Tourist Superior Class boats, you will find excellent naturalist guides who speak English very well. These boats have very good itineraries where you will a huge diversity of wildlife on different islands. All of itineraries on these boats will have opportunities to go for naturalist walks on the islands (usually 2 walks per day, for 2 to 3 hours each), and to go snorkeling (at least once each day for about an hour). All cabins on these classes of boats will have private bathrooms, air conditioning, and a window of some sort (either a larger picture window or a small porthole). The differences are listed out further down in this post.
When you get into Tourist or Economy Class boats, the quality of itinerary and guides becomes much more variable. Some Tourist Class boats are fine, but others you want to avoid at all costs! While Tourist Class boats offer the cheapest trips, they are often a bad value as many guides don’t speak English well, food is poor quality, and accommodations are uncomfortable with diesel fumes in the cabins. Cabins may not have air conditioning or windows, and some boats have shared bathrooms instead of private.
Boats can be single hull yachts, two-hulled catamarans, or motor sailboats. These types of boats can be any class. Sailboats don’t travel by sail much, if at all, as motoring is more reliable and helps keep the boat on its assigned itinerary. They are usually long and narrow, with smaller cabins, and they can be a bit less stable than single hull or catamaran boats. Catamarans are generally wider, thus offering more space for their length, and also more stable. Single hull yachts are the most common. As a general rule, the longer and wider the boat, the more stable it is in the ocean, and the more spacious the cabins and common areas will be.
Boats range in size from 10 – 100 passengers, although a majority hold 16 passengers as this is the maximum number of visitors who can tour anywhere within the Park with 1 naturalist. Boats of difference classes can be any size.
Please keep in mind that cruise prices usually don’t include all of the costs of getting to the islands and the entrance fees. For more information on this, see our post on Extra Costs for a Galapagos Trip.
Luxury boats are very high end. They have spacious cabins with larger king or queen beds, and often have private balconies attached to the rooms. On these boats, you’ll find jacuzzis, spas, masseuses, gourmet meals, some types of alcoholic beverages included, the use VIP lounges at the airport, and some include airport transfers in Quito and Guayaquil in mainland Ecuador.
Luxury cruise price range (approximate): $4,000 to $6,000 per person for 5 days; $6,000 to $8,000 per person for 8 days
Recommended Luxury Class Cruises:
This elegant luxury yacht, once owned by Princess Grace of Monaco, offers excellent itineraries, small groups, and a fantastic 9:1 passenger to naturalist guide ratio. Trip Length: 8 or 15 Days Destination: Galápagos Islands Lodging: Luxury-class motor yacht Activities: Wildlife viewing, naturalist walks
The luxurious 20-passenger Origin Galapagos yacht was custom designed for comfort and sustainability. The sophisticated design maximizes ocean views from the ten deluxe staterooms on the main deck and the expansive indoor and outdoor social and observation areas. The Origin offers world-class service and amenities while saving fuel and treading gently on the earth. The itineraries are carefully designed so you will experience the best of the Galapagos, while the inspired gourmet style menus, open bar policy, and sun deck and hot tub will keep you comfortable and happy. Trip Length: 8 Days Destination: Galapagos Islands Accommodations: 20 passenger Luxury Yacht Activities: Wildlife viewing, naturalist walks, snorkeling, kayaking, stand up paddle boarding
A very stable, spacious Mega-catamaran. One of the few Galapagos cruises that offers private balconies in all cabins. Trip Length: 4, 5, 6, 8 or15 Days Destination: Galapagos Islands Boat Details: 16-Passenger luxury catamaran Activities: Wildlife viewing, naturalist walks, snorkeling, sea kayaking
First Class boats will have smaller cabins than Luxury boats, but they will still be very comfortable. The beds will be smaller double or twin sized beds, but there will not be bunk beds (with only a few of exceptions). The facilities on board will be very nice, with spacious common areas, and sometimes these boats will have jacuzzis and spas. Meals will be delicious but not quite as gourmet.
First Class cruise price range (approximate): $3,500 to $5,000 per person for 5 days; $5,000 to $6,000 per person for 8 days
Recommended First Class Cruises:
First-class 20 passenger sister yachts that offer active and very personalized tours due to a small guide to traveler ratio (1 naturalist per 10 travelers). Great guides, great itineraries, great service make these memorable trips, and these are the first boats in the Galapagos to have Stand Up Paddleboards on board. Trip Length: 8 Days Destination: Galapagos Islands Accommodations: 20 passenger, First Class Yacht Activities: Wildlife viewing, naturalist walks, snorkeling, kayaking
The Galapagos Odyssey was designed specifically for comfortable cruising in the Galapagos Islands, with spacious communal areas and picture windows in each cabin. During your downtime, you can relax and enjoy the view from one of the Galapagos Odyssey’s many decks, or soak in the outdoor jacuzzi. Trip Length: 5, 6, 9, 10, 11, or 15 Days Destination: Galapagos Islands Lodging: 1st-Class to Luxury Class Activitiies: Wildlife viewing, naturalist walks, snorkeling
The Mary Anne is a lovely 3-masted Galapagos sailing ship owned and guided by the longest-running operator in the Islands. This striking vessel is one of very few sailboats in the Galapagos and the nearly one thousand yards of sail add to her graceful appearance. Trip Length: 8 or 15 Days Destination: Galapagos Islands Boat Details: 16-Passenger first-class motor sailboat Activities: Wildlife viewing, naturalist walks, snorkeling
TOURIST SUPERIOR CLASS
These cruises are the best way to go if you want a great trip in the Galapagos but don’t need any frills. The cabins are smaller, and usually only have bunk beds. You’ll most likely be spending your time out on the deck anyway! The common areas won’t be as spacious, but you won’t feel overcrowded. The food will be good and plentiful.
Tourist Superior cruise price range (approximate): $2,000 to $3,000 per person for 5 days; $3,500 to $4,500 per person for 8 days
Recommended Tourist Superior Class Cruises:
A beautiful sailboat with wooden decks, the Cachalote is a top choice for those looking for a great Galapagos experience, with great itineraries, guides, and service, but who don't need, or want to pay for, luxurious cabins and shared spaces. Trip Lengths: 6, 8, or 15 Days Destination: Galapagos Islands Accommodations: 16 Passenger Tourist-Class Motor Sailor Activities: Wildlife viewing, naturalist walks, snorkeling, kayak
The Galaven is a tourist superior 20 passenger yacht, offering 1 naturalist guide for every 10 travelers. The Galaven offers spacious outdoor seating areas with sun chairs, large interior dining room and a library. Trip Lengths: 4, 5, 8, 11, 12 or 15 Days Destination: Galapagos Islands Lodging: 20-Passenger, tourist superior yacht Activities: Wildlife viewing, naturalist walks, snorkeling
In general, we don’t think that Tourist Class boats are a good value for your money. But there a few cruises out there that are great value, with cabins that have private bathrooms, small windows, air conditioning, as well as good guides and good itineraries. If you’re looking for a cruise in this class, please contact the travel experts at Detour and we will let you know what’s available.
Recommended Tourist Class Cruise:
A small, comfortable yacht ideal for those on a budget who still want a quality guide and nice itinerary. Trip Length: 4, 5, 6, 8, or 15 Days Destination: Galapagos Islands Lodging: 16-Passenger, tourist class motor yacht Activities: Wildlife viewing, naturalist walks, snorkeling