This is it. Your simple and to-the-point guide for a cruise to the Galapagos Islands, from someone who just got back from a trip there. There’s so much planning and research involved when embarking on a bucket-list adventure that it can feel overwhelming. Do I pack a parka? How’s the Wi-Fi? Do I really need hiking boots?
Here, 10 easy insider tips to save before leaving on your cruise to the Galapagos Islands in Ecuador.
1. Pack More (And Higher) SPF Than You Think You’ll Need: First, make sure it’s a reef-safe sunscreen, and second, pack more than you think you’ll need. If you’re taking a carry-on-only approach (which I recommend!), then pack a handful of TSA-approved bottles under 3.4 ounces. You’ll be close to the equator where the sun is super strong — even on cloudy days — and you don’t want a scorch-y sunburn to ruin your experience. Apply early and often and feel free to give any leftover sunscreen to the grateful crew.
2. Do Your Laundry On-Board: I sailed on Hurtigruten’s Santa Cruz II, which featured two washers and dryers, along with provided detergent. Most lines will offer the same style of service, and I promise, it will come in handy: You’ll be hiking and swimming and sweating a lot. During my five-day sail, I did laundry twice. Doing laundry onboard also helps to keep expenses down when purchasing clothing for the trip and allows for that aforementioned carry-on-only approach.
3. Be Prepared For Little Wi-Fi: Most lines will tell you to expect less-than-stellar Wi-Fi, especially in remote areas. I was able to text (though not images), as well as use email and WhatsApp. Streaming, however, is not possible, so make sure to download movies and TV shows in advance (though nature is your real entertainment here), and don’t schedule an important Zoom meeting.
4. Consider Packing a Wetsuit: Hurtigruten provides guests with a short wetsuit, but truth be told, I would have preferred the longer version. While most snorkel sessions are comfortable in the off-season waters, a few passengers were chilly by the end. A swim shirt or pants (snag them pre-trip on Amazon) can help to mitigate cold waters.
5. Go In The Off-Season: The months of May and September (and sometimes early December) are considered the low season in the Galapagos Islands. I visited in early September and had beautiful sunny skies (with a few very quick, light showers) and warm days with pleasant nights. The weather was perfect for hikes and lounging on the deck. The crystal clear waters, where you’ll often be snorkeling, kayaking, or SUPing, are mostly comfortable, especially if you have a wetsuit. The best part of off-season travel, however, is that you can save quite a bit of money and will encounter fewer passengers and crowds.
6. Bring Some Cash: The official currency of Ecuador is the USD, and it’s wise to pack some cash before the trip. You’ll want dollars, as opposed to a credit card, when you visit local markets for handmade souvenirs. Additionally, you can use cash to tip the staff.
7. Prepare for Possible Seasickness: Weather and waves can be unpredictable on a cruise to the Galapagos Islands, so it’s best to be prepared for possible seasickness. Speak with your doctor about the best options, but come ready with what works best for your body. Most ships will provide over-the-counter, anti-nausea medications and there’s typically a doctor onboard for passengers' medical needs. Something to keep in mind: You don't want to be drowsy for the multitude of daytime excursions — that’s why you’re here after all.
8. Pack Layers: You’ll receive loads of information about what to bring on your trip to the Galapagos Islands and the lists can be conflicting. For me, layers worked best. Here’s what I used during our trip, which could easily be packed into a carry-on suitcase: Tanks and t-shirts, long-sleeved shirts (even better if UV protected), sweatshirts or fleeces that can easily be zipped on and off, shorts, leggings and/or hiking pants, an outdoor hat (I loved this affordable option), a lightweight down coat (if you easily get cold), a light rain jacket, moisture-wicking socks, and nice but casual attire for dinner. Bring two swimsuits; you’ll need one to dry before wearing the other. Leave behind anything overly dressy and know that I didn’t once see anyone wearing jeans.
9. Skip the Hiking Boots: I found conflicting information about what type of shoes to bring, mostly regarding the need for hiking boots. During my time on the Santa Cruz II, I found that most passengers wore sneakers on hikes and skipped anything more heavy-duty and bulky. You’ll have both wet and dry landings and a pair of Keen waterproof hiking sandals (or something similar) will more than suffice. Additionally, I brought along a pair of flip-flops for quick trips to the library or hot tub, and a pair of flats for dinner. No need to bring high heels or anything too fancy.
10. Bring These Bonus Items: Insect repellant, a reusable water bottle (if your cruise line doesn’t provide one), any sort of backpack, a dirty laundry bag, a camera, polarized sunglasses, and lip balm with SPF.