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Saturday, 16 February 2013

Galapagos Islands Getaway

Written by  Peter Lauffer

1_Galapagos_MarineIguanaPlanetHop! has a great affinity for mother nature in all her forms, from the wild game parks of Africa, to the stunning National Parks of North America, to the enchanting reserves scattered across the breadth of Asia. However, regardless of how incredible all of these are, there's one other shining gem that is virtually impossible to surpass. It's known world-wide by one simple name – Galapagos. This chain of islands located off the western coast of South America (Ecuador to be exact) will forever be linked with Charles Darwin and the historic journey of the Beagle, during which the theory of natural selection had its genesis. Today, these island are included as part of a single, consolidated national park system that plays host to the most amazing, diverse and unique range of wildlife to be found anywhere in the world. If this sounds interesting, have a read of the article below, which provides all of the tips that you'll need to select the perfect cruise to arguably the world's most unique ecosystem.

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When is the best season to travel to the Galapagos Islands?

The Galapagos have spectacular flora and fauna all rear round.2_Galapagos_Satellite

My preference is the month of February and March because of the warm water temperature. During these two months, the Galapagos are under the influence of the warm "El Nino Stream", and the sea can reach up to 86° F (24° Celsius). February and March are also the rainiest and warmest months and the air temperature can reach over 88° F (30° Celsius).

In contrast, during the months of August and September, the temperature of the sea is only about 66° - 68° F (18° - 19° Celsius) and the air 74° - 77° F (24° Celsius). During this period, you have little rainfall and the vegetation on the islands is very dry and on some islands desert-like. During this period, the sea can also be very rough.

What kind of tour is the best to explore the Galapagos Islands?

The best option to explore the Galapagos Islands is with a cruise where you sleep aboard the yacht.

The following types of cruises are available in Galapagos:

Naturalist Cruises

On this type of cruise you do guided land visits on foot. Depending on the island, you will have the opportunity to swim at the beach, snorkel with sea lions and observe the marine life. You normally visit one location in the morning, have lunch on the yacht when navigating to the next location, and then visit the day's final destination in the afternoon.


Sleeping sea lions

Active Cruises

These cruises are the same as Naturalist Cruises with the added bonus of having the option to scuba dive. Depending on the cruise, you can do as many as 4 dives during a standard 8 day cruise. Cruise operators use specialized dive instructors to escort you to the various dive spots. However, be aware that you will miss any scheduled land visits on your "diving days". It should also be noted that in some instances the dive locations will not be at the same location as the corresponding land visits. In most cases, this is a good thing, as most landing sites won't allow you to see or experience much more than you would when snorkeling.

Diving Cruises

These cruises are for the experienced diver only. To participate, you should have at least 50 logged open water dives during the last calendar year. Make sure that the cruise includes both Darwin and Wolf Islands. This type of cruise is without any interest for a non-diving guest because it only includes a few land visits.

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How long should I stay in the Galapagos Islands?

The larger 90+ passenger vessels offer 4, 5 and 8 day cruises. All these yachts are fast, and even during a 4 day cruise, you will comfortably see a lot of the Galapagos Islands.

If you travel on a smaller yacht - 20 passengers - I recommend that you do at least a 5 day cruise, or better yet an 8 day cruise. In general, it's far better to do a good 5 day cruise than a mediocre 8 day cruise.

What kind of yacht should I cruise?

Large vessels up to 100 Passengers

The Galapagos National Park authorities don't allow vessels with more than 100 passengers on board. Most large Galapagos vessels are designed to carry more than 100 passengers, which means they are never sold out down to the last cabin.

All these large vessels are very well organized when visiting the islands. You don't really feel the large numbers of travelers visiting the same island at the same time. On all the yachts, you will never have more than 16 travelers per naturalist guide.

Motor yachts for up to 20 Passengers

A motor yacht is a great option to explore the Galapagos Islands. You travel with an intimate group and will easily make new friends onboard.

Travel between islands occurs overnight, so if you're in a lower deck cabin, you'll have motor noise to contend with. During the day you might also hear the electric generator.

Ideally, try to make sure that you travel in an upper deck cabin. Unfortunately, not all the yachts have cabin assignment in advance or, if they have, the upper deck cabins are generally more expensive.

Depending on the yacht, cabins are fitted with either upper / lower berths (bunks) or two lower berths. Normally, lower deck cabins on motor yachts tend to have upper / lower berths.


San Cristoban Harbor

Sailing Yacht for up to 16 Passengers

This is without a doubt the most authentic Galapagos experience. Accommodation is normally in cabins with upper / lower berths on the lower deck. So expect some engine and generator noise. The sails will be used only during the day if the wind conditions permit.

Most sailing yachts in the Galapagos have beautiful interiors, but to move around is not as easy as onboard a motor yacht. Often you have to go up a ladder, instead of a stairway, and larger guests may need to duck their heads when moving around the yacht.

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Is it a good idea to bring children to the Galapagos?

Most quality yachts have an age restriction of 7 - 10 years for children. On all yachts you have to sign a "Weaver of Liability" if your child is less than 12 years old.

Think twice before bringing children under 10 years of age to the Galapagos, especially if you want to enjoy the trip yourself. It's important to note that the sea can be rough at times, and the journey by zodiac to shore landing points can be extremely wet and difficult for children.5_Galapagos_BlueFootedBooby

Most yachts don't offer any type of child discount or have anyone designated on-board to help look after children.

The exception to this are special "Family Cruises" that leave during the U.S. school holidays and are offered on some medium-sized deluxe class motor yachts. On these cruises, the age limit for children is normally 7 years of age, and there is a special naturalist guide onboard to help look after the children.

Oh, there's nothing wrong with cartoon characters and amusement parks, but as a parent, you're always concerned about the value of the time spent with your children.

Here's your opportunity to show them a part of the world they've probably never seen, and enjoy the entire process of learning, to boot! And if mom needs beach time, you can still meet the quota! She can return with a tan, and stories galore. Learn about Darwin's Theory of Evolution and enjoy the beautiful and unique flora, fauna and scenery of the Galapagos Islands... all at the same time.

Have you ever heard about birds that can't fly? The Galapagos has them.

6_Galapagos_MarineIguanasHave you ever stood next to a flamingo, an elegant bird with long, spindly legs, pink feathers and all; or have you enjoyed getting face-to-face with all types of iguanas and nose to nose with huge turtles that live in complete and total freedom?

You'll meet these animals on a daily basis on one of these exclusive Galapagos cruises.

But perish the thought that Galapagos cruises are just educational, as they offer an enormous range of adventure for the entire family. Nearly every day you'll have the opportunity to swim at world-class beaches and, if you're lucky, you might even get a photograph swimming with a sea lion.

In the Galapagos, this kind of thing happens nearly every day.

Less active families can sunbathe on the beach, or simply chill out with a good book, while enjoying the spectacular scenery.

I'd suggest a "Family Cruise" onboard one of several vessels where you do not have to worry about your children. Children onboard these ships are in the well-trained hands of special naturalist guides, who organize special land programs exclusively for the children.

Often, we're asked how old a child must be to travel and enjoy the Galapagos Islands. In my opinion, the best age is at least 10 years old. On most special "Family Cruises", however, children from 7 years and up are allowed onboard.

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Two of the best Galapagos vessels - M/V Eclipse and M/V Evolution - offer not only the best naturalist cruises throughout the year, but they are the only yachts at the moment offering these special "Family Cruises" in the Galapagos.

It is easy to see why the M/V Eclipse is considered by many to be the best vessel cruising the Galapagos Islands. Outstanding accommodation, world-class food and the best imaginable service make a Galapagos cruise onboard M/V Eclipse one of the world's finest experiences, with special family departures during the U.S. holiday season.

The oversize yacht offers 4 spectacular Deluxe Staterooms on the Bridge Deck, allowing 2 cabins to be converted into a 3-bed cabin. Note, however, that because these are so popular, these cabins have to be booked well in advance. The other 8 Superior Double Staterooms offer spectacular views to the sea and the islands.

On the main deck are another 13 large Double Staterooms. They have a series of porthole windows to the sea which give them a very unique look.


Stunning scenery morning, noon and night!

Teens haven't been forgotten, either. Do you have a teenager who doesn't want to have to share a room, especially with a younger brother or sister? Don't worry; there are 2 single bed cabins available on the main deck just for this very situation!

Public areas onboard M/V Eclipse are absolutely spectacular. Both inside and "al Fresco" dining is offered on the Weather Deck (located between the Main and the Bridge Deck). All meals can be served in one session. Breakfast and lunch are buffet-style and dinner is a la carte and can be enjoyed inside the elegant dining room - no formal wear required as casual, sport clothing is the norm.

The M/V Eclipse also offers three fabulous sun decks for sunbathing, reading or just enjoying the moment.

M/V Eclipse is one of the world's best "small cruise" ships and offers the comfort of a much larger vessel. Don't hesitate to book one of these cruises!

Another luxury vessel is M/V Evolution. In a bygone era, privileged travelers experienced the magic and mystery of the Galapagos Islands in a relaxed and elegant fashion. You and your family can experience the Galapagos in the same way.

As on M/V Eclipse, a specially-trained Naturalist introduces your children to the flora and fauna of the Galapagos Islands. M/V Evolution offers space for a maximum of 32 passengers and is a bit smaller than the M/V Eclipse.


Galapagos giant tortoise

On the Bridge Deck, you can enjoy the large "owner's suite", which covers the whole width of the vessel along with two large Bridge deck double cabins. These cabins are ideally shared by a large family seeking privacy - and they have it - because there are no other cabins on this floor.

The 8 large Main-deck cabins and the 4 large lower deck cabins all offer excellent comfort and convey the real "feel" of a cruise ship in the 1920's. Passengers of a bygone era had much more time to travel than many of us today. All cabins, however, offer modern comforts such as individual climate control and ample space to store and hang clothes.

The social areas of M/V Evolution are absolutely splendid. Gourmet meals are served either outside "al fresco" or inside in a beautifully-decorated dining room. The M/V Evolution is known for its outstanding cuisine.

M/V Evolution has an unforgettable lounge with wine bar where daily briefings about the next day's activities are held. The ship also features an extensive library about the Galapagos Islands, and sun-decks feature comfortable rattan furniture for relaxing.

During "Family Cruises" – those that operate during the U.S .school holidays – the M/V Evolution offers a "Kids Club" with special learning activities such as star-gazing and movie nights. Child-oriented Naturalists organize learning activities and provide children with a kid's Expedition Journal. The lectures about the next day's activities are organized especially for children, with parents having plenty of time to enjoy the cruise knowing that your children are in good hands.

Another vessel recommended for children is M/V Galapagos Legend. This yacht has no age limitation for children but any parents with children under 12 years of age are required to sign a "Waiver of Liability" before they begin the cruise.

M/V Galapagos Legend has no specially trained staff for children, but the yacht has a playroom onboard with games and many play items for children.

Other yacht operators are looking in the future to organize special "Family Cruises" in the Galapagos Islands.9_Galapagos_MagnificentFrigate

The Galapagos Islands offer a great family destination, where you can spend a beautiful, relaxing, and educational time together as a family; visiting impressive island retreats, often far away from civilization. Few places exist where a family can enjoy this kind of combination.

Because of the uniqueness of these offerings, the demand for these cruises is so large that you have to book well in advance – even a year ahead – especially if you want to pick your own cabin from those available.

Whichever tour you choose, a trip to Galapagos Islands is expensive and needs exact and professional planning. Make sure that you travel with an expert Galapagos tour operator who will insure that you have a "Once in a lifetime travel experience" that will be talked about for years to come.



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A trip to the Galapagos Islands is guaranteed to be one of those experiences that your entire family will continue to reminisce about for the rest of your lives. This is just one more example of how travel acts to enhance everything in our lives, from the formation of life-long memories to the bonds of family that ultimately keep us together. Just imagine what it would be like to pull out photos of your trip for your children's children and witness the joy of travel blossom in their eyes! Ahhh, the birth of another PlanetHopper!

The above article was originally posted by Peter Lauffer on Content for Reprint and combines Galapagos Islands: "The Perfect Family "Getaway Vacation" and Galapagos: How to Find the Right Galapagos Cruise. PlanetHop! supplied the photos that accompany the articles. Peter is the General Manager of TrueColorsTravel in Quito – Your Expert Guide for Galapagos Cruise Travel at

Who (will enjoy)

Perfect for the entire family. However, children will probably only enjoy the experience if you travel on one of the specially organized "Family Cruises" that operate during the U.S. school holidays.

What (to do)

The Galapagos Islands provide arguably the world's most interesting and unique wildlife viewing experience – swimming, snorkelling and diving options also abound.

When (should I visit)

See Section – When is the best season to travel to the Galapagos Islands?

Where (to stay)

All accommodations are aboard the cruise ship, with options ranging from singles to triples in a variety of configurations to suit the needs of any family. The article covers many of these options in detail.

How (much will it cost)

Prices range from approximately USD $1,500 per person for a 4-day cruise, up to USD $4,500+ for an 8+ day cruise. However, these prices should only be used as a guide, as prices can vary greatly depending on the type of cruise thatyou select.

Exploring the Galapagos Islands
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