Galapagos Cruise Ships: Choosing Your Perfect Vessel

Galapagos cruise ships

Taking a cruise around the Galapagos Islands is one adventure you'll never forget. But with so many Galapagos cruise ships on offer, how do you choose the right one to suit you? 

Firstly, there is no right answer and no single ship that is considered to be the best. Each person, couple, family is looking for something different and the ship that suits you may not suit the next person. 

Thanks to restrictions within the islands, ships carrying more than 100 passengers are banned from sailing the Galapagos Islands. This essentially means that the larger main line cruise companies like Disney, Norwegian, P&O, Holland America etc. don't sail here. Whilst this is excellent for the environment and should never be changed, people who are used to sailing aboard mega cruise ships will have to adjust to a smaller option.  

So, to help you choose your perfect Galapagos cruise ship, we've split this article into useful sections. Firstly we look at the different size ships on offer, discussing the pros and cons of each. We then discuss what level of luxury will suit you before discussing further considerations such as guides, eco-friendly options, and recognised operators.  

Please use the quicklinks provided below, or read on to find out about the different types of Galapagos cruise ships. For our page on Galapagos cruises, please click here. For information on the best things to do in the Galapagos, please see our page here.  

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Small VS Big

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One of the major considerations when choosing which Galapagos cruise ship to sail on is size. As mentioned above, ships carrying more than 100 passengers are not permitted here, but there is still quite a variation in sizes available. 

There are generally two types of boats to choose from; motor yachts and expedition ships. Occasionally, cruises are operated on small sail boats, but these are much less common. 

Below we discuss the pros and cons of each type of boat. For itinerary options, please click here

Sail Boats & Motor Yachts

Designed to be intimate, sail and motor boats typically carry between 8-20 passengers, but some can carry up to 32. These are the most common type of Galapagos cruise vessels because they offer passengers excellent flexibility. 

Because of their small size there are no queues onboard and no waiting times to go ashore. This means you get more time ashore as you're not waiting for 100 passengers to be ferried back and forth. 

Another good point about these smaller ships is the guide to passenger ratio. Generally you'll have 1 guide to every 10-16 passengers. Larger ships cannot match this. This means you develop a better relationship with your guide and can ask more questions should you wish. You also develop closer relationships with your fellow passengers on smaller boats. Many people often describe this as the best bit! 

Smaller boats also offer a little more flexibility. Itineraries can be changed easily if wildlife is spotted whilst sailing. To change the itinerary and boat direction on a larger ship poses more issues.

The downside to smaller boats is size and motion. The ships have a small feel, particularly if you are used to sailing on large vessels. Balconies are rare and the shared spaces can feel cramped depending on how they're designed.

Because of their small size, you'll also feel the motion of the boat more. Whist the Galapagos is relatively calm regardless of when you sail, you'll most likely have a rocky day or night here and there. If you suffer from seasickness then this could be a slight problem.

Expedition Ships

Expedition ships offer passengers the chance to sail aboard larger ships with more space and amenities. These ships typically carry between 48-100 passengers. 

Onboard you'll get more food options, greater public spaces and more spacious rooms. On the more luxurious ships you'll often have a personal balcony which can be a real joy in the evening watching the wildlife. With more people comes more staff and you're always well catered for on expedition ships.

Your boat will also have more activity options such as kayaking, paddle boarding, diving etc. Families are also best served by sailing on expedition ships. Specific child friendly activities will be available and there are often special kids trips with trained guides. 

For people who suffer from seasickness, expedition ships are the way to go. Because of their size, you'll feel the motion of the sea far less than you would onboard a smaller ship. 

The downside of expedition ships is the lack of intimacy and the fact that only 20 people are allowed ashore at one time. This means you may have to wait for your turn occasionally. 

Luxury VS Economy

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Whether you choose an expedition ship or a smaller motor boat, deciding on what level of ship you want is crucial. Generally speaking, Galapagos ships are split into two categories; luxury and economy. 

Although your budget will probably decide what level of boat you choose, it's important to know the differences in case you can stretch to something better. Conversely, you may think it's not worth it and save your pennies on a less luxurious option. 

For more information on Galapagos cruise pricing, please click here

Luxury Galapagos Cruise Ships

Without doubt the most stylish way you to cruise around the Galapagos Islands is aboard a luxury vessel. This does come at a higher price though. 

So what do you get for your extra cash? Well, for one thing, you get more space. Your private cabin will be larger, you may get an en-suite and you may get a private balcony. Don't count on it though, both amenities are rare in the Galapagos.

The public facilities will also be nicer. You'll often find hot tubs, libraries, spa facilities, gyms and much more aboard the larger expedition ships. Although smaller luxury vessels may not have all of the facilities mentioned above, they will be finished to a high standard, offer excellent food and well-appointed cabins.  

Luxury vessels also employ level 3 guides. This means the guide will have a university degree in a related subject, six-plus years' experience guiding in the region, and speak excellent English. Although this is no guarantee of charisma, the more expense ships tend to employ the best guides with extensive knowledge. The high level guides will often take care of your transit card for you also. 

Economy Galapagos Cruise Ships

For people on a tighter budget, economy style motor boats are the best and most affordable option. 

There are literally hundreds of options when it comes to economy boats and these are often booked last minute in Quito or Guayaquil. These boats tend to have less space, more cramped cabins and less food options. 

The counter argument is that your ship facilities come second in regards to activities and wildlife watching. This is true and your experience of the landscape and it's wildlife will not be compromised by an economy boat. You'll still take daily snorkelling trips and land-based hikes. However, you must take into account that your guide will not have had the same training that you would find onboard a luxury vessel.  

Further Considerations

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On top of ship size and level of comfort, there are also other considerations to think about prior to booking. 


As mentioned above, there are different levels of guides that operate within the Islands. The highest level you can achieve is Level 3. To achieve this you must have at least 6 years experience, a degree in a related field and fluent English. 

However, in our experience, a guide needs more than this. Having qualifications does not guarantee an ability to communicate ideas and engage well with large groups of people. Word of mouth is a powerful thing though and the excellent guides tend to get snapped up by the more expensive cruise ships who can offer them better wages and larger tips. 

When choosing a budget-economy cruise, make sure you ask if your guide can speak English. Many can't and this will put a severe damper on your trip if they can't. Click here for more information.


Choosing an eco-friendly vessel should be right at the top of your list. We know that beggars can't be choosers and sometimes our budget will force us otherwise. But if you can, make sure your ship meets the standards set out by the Directorate of the Galápagos National Park . 

Although surprising, the larger expedition ships tend have a smaller eco-footprint. Larger and more modern vessels have more stringent  regulations than the older and smaller boats. Many of them have the space for their own sewage treatment plants and natural water supplies onboard. 

Recognised Operators

Although most Galapagos cruises run without problems, this is not always the case and it's a good idea to travel with a recognised operator if you can. 

The biggest names in the region are Linblad who run several National Geographic boats, Celebrity Cruises which runs their 98-passenger Celebrity Xpedition ship, and Metropolitan Touring who operate three boats; the 40-passenger Isabella II, 48-passenger La Pinta, and 90-passenger Santa Cruz II

Other well-known Galapagos cruise ships include the Letty & Eric, Mary Anne, Grace, Coral I & II, Alya, Origin, Evolution, Passion, Ocean Spray, Petrel, and the Sea Star Journey

Get a Cruise Quote!

Expedition Cruise do not sell tours, we simply provide impartial advice. If you would like an exact quote with our recommended specialist click Get a Quote.


If you have any queries or questions regarding Galapagos cruise ships, please feel free to contact us or leave a comment below.

Thank you and happy travels!

Expedtion Cruise Team

About the Author Expedition Cruise is the web’s most authoritative information portal on adventure and expedition cruising. Our mission is to provide up to date and comprehensive information on traveling to the Arctic, Antarctica and further afield, so that your experience is as fulfilling and safe as possible.

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