Before embarking on an exotic adventure, such as a cruise to the Galapagos Islands, there are a few comparatively trivial, but nonetheless essential things you should know. Here is one piece of valuable advice – never underestimate how the lack of basic practical knowledge about a particular destination can undermine your travel plans. Do you want to end up being unable to recharge your technical equipment or be surprised by subsequent charges? So bear with me while we answer your most frequently asked questions about Galapagos Islands cruises.
FAQ #1: Seasickness?
If you are generally prone to seasickness, our suggestion is to prepare in advance. Bring medical supplies you have found useful and make sure to stay in the lowest deck cabins where the sea motion is less noticeable. Some popular medications include Mareol, a nonprescription medicine that prevents the symptoms of motion sickness during travel and that is available many places in the world, including Ecuador, or Dramamine in the USA. Many people find the patches that go behind your ear are very effective. If you tend to get motion sickness or seasickness, keep in mind that the waters are much calmer during the January – June period, as opposed to August – November. Here is some first-hand experience about traveling to the Galapagos Islands if you are prone to seasickness.
FAQ #2: Electrical Outlets
People tend to travel with various high-tech gadgets – smartphones, digital cameras, e-readers and tablets etc. Personally, I learned to make a quick inquiry about the type of electrical charges the hard way – it wasn’t until I ended up in a country where I couldn’t recharge my phone and laptop that I realized that this tiny practical issue, ignored by most people, is crucial.
If you’re coming from North America, there’s no reason to worry – almost all Galapagos Islands yachts and hotels operate on 110-volts/60-cycle currency, with standard North American outlets. Most yachts also have some 220 volt outlets available as well, although they may not be in your cabin. Plugs are the same as those used in the USA.
FAQ #3: Drinking Water
Water safety (cleanliness of drinking water) has always been an issue when traveling to more exotic destinations. For example, there are strict guidelines in terms of sanitation and water safety when traveling to India. It is no surprise that the quality and safety of the local water is a frequent issue among travelers.
All water on Galapagos cruise ships, as well as bottled water offered, is safe for consumption. Also, all the drinks and food on board are prepared with sanitized water – there is no reason to feel uncomfortable with the local supply during your trip. While illness can happen on any trip just due to changes in diet, the sanitation of your food and water should not be an issue.
FAQ #4: Fuel Surcharge
A common issue when embarking on a cruise is the extra charge for fuel. It is not uncommon for yacht companies throughout the world to add a fuel surcharge for their customers, so don’t feel like you’ve been cheated in any way.
The fuel surcharge for the Galapagos cruises is a government policy. Fuel prices in Ecuador were subsidized by the government until 2008 when decree #921 was issued and Ecuador’s fuel subsidization policy was changed. Since then, all Galapagos yachts using more than 4000 gallons of fuel per month have been taxed.
Smaller yachts with central islands itineraries are not included in the fuel surcharge, but boats with more comprehensive itineraries or larger yachts are all affected by the government’s fuel policies. The fuel surcharge will remain until the Ecuadorian government changes its fuel subsidizing policy. Some yachts have changed their trip prices to absorb these costs so that they don’t have to charge a separate fuel surcharge, while others have not adjusted their pricing and thus are compelled to charge passengers the fuel surcharge. Either way, you are paying for the fuel costs in your cruise.
FAQ #5: Tipping
Tipping etiquette varies from country to country. There are even places around the world where this simple act of gratitude for services provided is strictly regulated. For example, some cruises in Europe automatically add a tipping fee at the end of your travel and give you the opportunity to either go with the standard tip, increase or decrease it, or not leave a tip at all.
Tipping of guides and crew in the Galapagos is quite common, and while it is not required, it is generally expected and will be deeply appreciated. Amounts usually vary depending on the service levels and tipping can be done all at once at the end of your cruise. Most cruises allow for anonymous tipping by dropping the tip into a communal box for the crew. Usually, passengers tip the guides and the rest of the crew separately, so tips are split into a tip for the naturalist guide, and another for the crew.
Typical tipping guidelines suggest $8-20 per day per person of the trip.
FAQ #6: Island Visits
There are literally countless cruise options and itineraries available when it comes to exploring the Galapagos Islands. Each of the Galapagos Islands has its own unique beauty and different attractions. Having said that, there are several islands that truly stand out from the rest. Here are some of the islands you should consider including in your itinerary. With the new Galapagos itinerary regulations it can be difficult to visit all of these on one trip, so you may have to pick which are most important for you. Often you will have a great itinerary if you are able to visit two of these islands on your trip.
Genovesa Island, also known as Tower Island, is located far in the north and reaching it means a full night of motoring, and large cruise ships are not allowed on that island. Genovesa is the island of birds in the Galapagos – you will observe some of them in other places around the islands, but nowhere will you get the chance to see the immense quantity and diversity as you will on Genovesa. This island is often referred to as the Bird Island because of the large and varied bird colonies nesting there. Genovesa Island is the best place in the archipelago to see Red-footed Boobies, Nazca Boobies, Swallow-tailed Gulls, storm petrels, tropic birds, Darwin’s finches, and Galápagos Mockingbirds.
Española Island is located in the extreme southeast of the archipelago and is considered one of the oldest islands. The sandy-white beaches are covered with sea lions that are lazily enjoying the sunlight and the surrounding sea is a great place to snorkel. Española Island is the only place where you can see the waved Albatross, and it is worth visiting to see them in large numbers. They are generally gone from the island from January to March, when they are out fishing in the ocean.
Bartolome Island is a volcanic islet in the archipelago. The island doesn’t offer much in the way of wildlife or magnificent fauna to explore but, underwater, there’s a hidden world of breathtakingly beautiful landscapes of secret passageways leading to a world of diverse and colorful marine life. The land visit on Bartolome is to climb a series of wooden steps and boardwalks to reach a viewpoint looking out over the Galapagos. The view, and the photos from there, is one of the iconic Galapagos images.
Isabela and Fernandina Islands are in the far west of the Galapagos archiplago. Seahorse shaped Isabela is the largest island, as it is larger than all the other islands put together. The island was created by six volcanoes, and it is one of the more volcanically active islands in the chain. Fernandina is the westernmost island in the Galapagos Islands, and it is the youngest of the islands. The Bolivar channel between the two islands is one of the best places to see whales and dolphins in the Galapagos, so make sure you are on deck looking for them when traveling in this area. Fernandina is known for numerous marine iguanas and flightless cormorants, while there are many different sites to visit on Isabela where you can see land tortoises, penguins, and other species.