Why is exploring the Galapagos Islands different than “sailing on a cruise”?

The world is ever-changing, that’s a fact we need to acknowledge now more than ever. As the current situation we are facing globally changes the way we do basic things, like grocery shopping, commuting, and even greeting people, travelers around the world need to start rethinking the adventures on which they want to embark. One of the most valuable things we can learn right now is that choosing the right destination to visit is essential.

This challenge has required the retailoring of each process throughout our client’s entire travel experience in Ecuador: domestic flights, ground transportation, accommodations at both land and sea, activities, visiting sites, food, beverages, and so on. Each service provider must take on new duties: learning how to evaluate and identify health risks that can pose a danger to travelers. Protocols and procedures that are required to reduce the risk of contagion along every step of the operation rely heavily on the collaboration of airports and airlines, ground transportation providers, hotels, restaurants, and their personnel in the destinations we offer.

Taking this into consideration, we would like to introduce you to the Galapagos Islands – a destination fit for people who are dreaming of traveling again and exploring the world in an intimate and expedition-focused way!

No massive cruise ships sail in the Galapagos Islands

No Massive Cruises Sail In The Galapagos Islands

First things first, unlike many coastal destinations in the world, the Galapagos Islands don’t allow massive cruises anywhere near them. The only vessels permitted in the archipelago hold up to 100 passengers, which is nothing compared to the whopping 6,000 passengers that some cruise ships can accommodate.

This limit, apart from ensuring the conservation of its marine reserve and its wonderful inhabitants -that range between adorable penguins to majestic hammerhead sharks, is also meant to improve the experience visitors have while sailing through the islands.

The Galapagos Islands are an expedition destination. As such, the experience you have in this archipelago is entirely different than the experience you can get in any other touristic destination in the world. The sole focus of your trip is to enjoy the connection you can have with its unique endemic species and the remote beauty of a pristine volcanic landscape. The ship used for an expedition of this caliber should allow you to connect with your surroundings at every moment, not distract you from the awe-inspiring beauty.

Did you know?

Even though we often use the word cruise when we talk about our expedition vessels, according to definitions provided by CLIA, Cruise Critic, and the CDC based on gross tonnage and number of passengers aboard, these are the boats that actually sail in the Galapagos Islands:

Type of vessel (According to definitions used by the CDC and CLIA) Gross registered tonnage (GRT) Number of passengers
Super Mega Cruise Ships

(Can’t sail in the Galapagos Islands)

More than 140,000 Approximately 5,000
Large Ships

(Can’t sail in the Galapagos Islands)

More than 60,000 Approximately 3,000
Medium Ships

(Can’t sail in the Galapagos Islands)

Less than 30,000  Approximately 500
Extra Small Ships

(Sail in the Galapagos Islands!)

Less than 3,000  Approximately 100
Intimate Ships

(Sail in the Galapagos Islands!)

Less than 1,000  Approximately 40

Plus, the average linear distance between passengers we have right now is 17 feet!

While sailing in Galapagos, don’t expect to find the same old tourist traps that cruise ships tend to offer like discotheques, casinos, pools with wave simulators, Laser Tag joints, movie theaters, and so on. Why would you board a ship to do the same things you can do in your regular everyday life? Expedition vessels in Galapagos offer you spaces for relaxation, retrospection, knowledge, pleasant gatherings with like-minded travelers, a nice bar and dining area with personalized attention, and so much more!

Galapagos offers exclusive access to breathtaking, uninhabited islands

In Galapagos, You'll Visit Uninhabited Islands

Large Cruise ships take their passengers to some of the most crowded ports in the world. The amount of people who disembark each time these cruises dock is astounding already. Add this number to the people who are already in the port, and you have quite a crowd! Cities like Venice or certain ports in the Caribbean get absolutely overrun with tourists. However, Galapagos is different, because most of the archipelago is a National Park, only 3% of the entire archipelago is populated by humans, the remaining 97%, – where you’ll be spending most of your time – belongs entirely to the animals! Because of its very special flora and fauna, Galapagos has one of the strictest conservation policies anywhere, aimed at minimizing the presence of humans on these amazing islands.

In Galapagos, you’ll find pristine islands and visitor sites that are completely free of a permanent human presence. What’s more, visits to the island are limited in terms of group size and time. If you go to the Galapagos National Park, either as part of a daily tour or aboard an expedition vessel, you will get to enjoy visitor sites in a small group setting. The very best expedition vessels offer even more exclusivity because they are allowed exclusive access to the visitor sites.

The Galapagos Islands is a highly regulated destination

The Galapagos National Park Is Highly Regulated

The Galapagos National Park authorities carefully monitor the arrival of tourists to the Islands. For starters, there are no direct international flights to the Galapagos Islands, only domestic flights departing from Quito and Guayaquil; this helps a lot in regulating the number of tourists that travel to the archipelago.  Also, travelers’ luggage will be checked prior to departing for Galapagos and then again upon arrival, at both the airport in Baltra Island and the one in San Cristobal Island. Once it is certain the contents won’t endanger the endemic species and the natural balance inside the Islands, luggage is sealed and tagged, indicating that it has passed inspection. Only then can passengers exit the National Institute for the Galapagos (INGALA) control area.

These filters ensure that there are no huge crowds roaming the islands freely. Ecosystems in the Galapagos are very fragile and by monitoring the number of visitors to the Islands, the GNP is able to guard the well-being of wildlife in the Enchanted Isles. The approximate number of tourists in the Galapagos National Park, which is about 3,089 square miles (8,000 square kilometers), hovers around 65,000 a year. In contrast, a world–class sporting event will draw approximately 90,000 people to a single game!

Thanks to the hard limit on ship size also mentioned above, the Galapagos Marine Reserve stays protected from industrial fishing, pollution, and disease vectors. Not even massive cargo ships are allowed to sail through!

So, you see, while the Galapagos Islands are a uniquely spectacular destination, the actual number of visitors remains regulated and well-managed. There are plenty of measures in place to preserve the islands’ fauna and flora and to ensure that the Galapagos’ ecosystems remain intact. Rest assured you can enjoy a relaxed and exclusive vacation when you come to this natural, secluded paradise!

You’ll always have access to a health care professional and a Park-certified guide

Medical Officer Available 24/7

Our recommendation: Always ask your destination expert or travel advisor if your expedition vessel has this very important feature! Keep in mind that not all ships in the Galapagos do!

While traveling aboard an expedition vessel in the Galapagos, you will, of course, find yourself in a remote destination. However, you can enjoy peace of mind, knowing that you have 24/7 access to a medical professional; in this case a fully licensed doctor with marine experience, who is someone intimately familiar with all the different aspects of the Galapagos.

Additionally, two important factors contribute to your safety and any potential treatment you may need. For one, at each site that you visit, and in each activity in which you participate, you will always be accompanied by a Galapagos National Park-certified guide. These folks have gone through extensive training and study in order to become your hosts in this magnificent location. They are familiar with all the wildlife and terrain you’ll see throughout the expedition and, should you suffer any injury, they have first aid training to help take care of you until you can be seen by the onboard medical officer. Second, each of our vessels has a medical treatment facility that is well-equipped and well-stocked. No matter what the need, the onboard medical officer is ready to assist you!

Our safety protocols have changed according to your needs and concerns!

We also acknowledge that, considering the changes happening right now, our protocols must also change to adapt to our traveler’s needs; therefore, we’ve implemented the following changes:

Spacious dining areas

We’ve always thought that during such an intimate journey, it’s great that our guests can also share special moments with other fellow travelers. Nevertheless, we also acknowledge the importance of comfort and space. That’s why our dining areas are constantly renewed to provide our guests with their own space to enjoy their meal at ease! But don’t worry, you’ll get to spend time with other travelers as your trip unfolds, at your own pace!

Crew members will not disembark the ship as we sail through the islands

We’re very proud to work with local crew members on our fleet. Most of the people you’ll see aboard are native to the Galapagos Islands and Ecuador! Even though they’re screened by our Medical Officer upon boarding our vessels, we have all come to the agreement that, in order to guarantee our passenger’s peace of mind, crew members will not disembark on inhabited islands during the itinerary.

Are you interested in exploring our protocols?

Updated:May 10, 2023

Published:April 10, 2020

3 Responses

  1. Very informative about the cruise and it’s definitely on my list of things to do in the near future

    1. We are so glad you found our blog useful. You definitely have to visit the Galapagos, it will blow your mind! Don’t hesitate to contact us to help you plan your trip. We will make sure you see all that is worth seeing here and that other cruises and operators don’t have access to.


Machu Picchu & Galapagos Islands Tour 2024 Package: 12 days / Quito, Galapagos Islands and Machu Picchu / From USD 9,598 per person




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This small, secret rooftop of the restored Casa Gangotena mansion peers over Plaza San Francisco in the center of Quito’s colonial Old Town, the world’s first UNESCO World Heritage Site. Order a Cedrón Spritz, a refreshing mix of rum, lemon, sparkling wine, and fresh lemon verbena (cedrón) syrup and leaf, then revel in the mesmerizing, real-time montage of daily life in Ecuador’s capital as it parades past.

National Geographic Traveller

A Font of information, Klaus has spent decades in the field, leading tours in the Amazon, Andes and Galapagos Islands. He hung up his guiding boots a few years back and now creates itineraries for the tour operator, Metropolitan Touring. Adrift in the Pacific Ocean, hundreds of miles from mainland South America, Galapagos is one of the most biodiverse locales on Earth.

Cruise Critic

Santa Cruz II is a replacement for the much-loved Santa Cruz, which plied the waters of the Galapagos for 36 years. It is not a new ship; it was built in 2002 and sailed as Mare Australis under the Australis cruise brand, operating expedition cruises around Cape Horn and to Antarctica. Metropolitan Touring bought the ship in 2015 and completely refurbished it, launching it as Santa Cruz II in October 2015.

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Terms and Conditions

Itinerario de 5 días / 4 noches: Basado en la tarifa regular (4214 USD + impuestos por persona)
Itinerario de 7 días / 6 noches: Basado en la tarifa regular (5672 USD + impuestos por persona)
No reembolsable. Aplica únicamente para residentes ecuatorianos en nuevas reservas directas realizadas, hasta el 30 de junio del 2022, con un ejecutivo de ventas del hotel. Válido para estadías hasta el 31 de agosto de 2022. No puede ser combinada con otros descuentos, promociones u ofertas. El descuento no aplica para otros servicios. El precio no incluye recargo de combustible de $20 por noche de crucero.

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