These are usually the main considerations:
Style and size of boat
There are several dozen boats plying the islands at any one time, of all types. There are large purpose-built 'expedition vessels', elegant schooner rigged yachts with well appointed cabins, sturdy practical motor yachts converted for the Galapagos, and conventional sailing yachts of the kind you wouldn't be surprised to find at Cowes Week. We have chosen good examples in each style. As conventional sailing yachts are usually cramped and tend to become the worse for wear rather quickly there are relatively few that, in our opinion, make the grade.
Larger boats tend to be faster than smaller ones. Speed can be a significant advantage because it enables boats to include the interesting outlying islands such as Fernandina (for waved albatross) and Genovesa/Tower Island (for red-footed boobies). Most smaller boats have to drop one of these two sites.
Larger boats also give a better ride. You might enjoy the thrill of being tossed around a little (sometimes a lot) in a smaller boat, but if your sea legs can be a bit wobbly then play it safe and go for one of the bigger boats. It's a long way to go to risk feeling queasy.
You are ferried from your mother vessel to each site in a small tender, usually a sturdy motorised Zodiac or RIB (rigid inflatable boat). Larger boats form their passengers into small groups of up to sixteen for the landings, with each group usually going to a different landing site in the area, so neither you nor the wildlife should feel there is a crowd.
An important additional factor is whether a boat is run by owners and crew who have long experience of the islands and are committed to their conservation in the long term, or whether the boat really hails from elsewhere and is just trying to make a go of the tourist business in the Galapagos for a season or two. Our selection excludes the latter.
Number of days
The boats agree two-week itineraries with the national park. They divide them into shorter segments, usually of 3 nights, 4 nights and 7 nights.
If your budget will stretch to it and you are keen to see the islands fully, you should definitely go for the longest cruise that you can spare the time and money for. If you can manage a full 14 night trip, then you will see a great deal of what the islands have to offer. A week allows enough time to see most of the interesting sites in the archipelago, each of which has something different to offer. Shorter trips of 3, 4 or 5 nights will never disappoint, but you may be left gasping for more!
If you are looking for a long cruise, then your best bet is to choose a boat that has not divided up its itinerary too much. Every time a boat has to dock to pick up passengers, those who are not leaving the ship have a somewhat jumbled day of land excursions accessible from the dock. When the cruise continues you may find guides having to repeat themselves in the field for the benefit of people who have just joined - this is seldom a significant problem, but it is worth bearing in mind.
Whatever length of cruise you choose bear in mind the cost of the flight from mainland Ecuador and the mandatory National Park fee, both of which are the same no matter how long your trip. Consider also that most of the first day of your 'cruise' will be taken up by the flight out to the Galapagos, travel from the landing strip to the boat, and safety drills and administration on board the vessel.
You should also consider staying on the islands at a hotel, not only to make a short cruise more worthwhile, but also to round off a longer cruise. It is amazing how much you will see and experience during a cruise, and how helpful some relaxing days afterwards can be.
By and large, each boat has a well-balanced itinerary providing a good all-round experience of the islands. If you have a particular interest in visiting certain islands more than others, then you should study the boats' itineraries carefully to meet your needs. Even so, there is always a possibility that the itinerary you chose will be changed - but thankfully this is very unusual.
The boats typically move between sites before dawn and during lunch, making best use of the morning and afternoon for visits ashore.
Flights to the islands leave Quito and Guayaquil in the morning, and return to the mainland early in the afternoon, in time for flights to Europe from Guayaquil. Most people combine the Galapagos with one of our tours of mainland Ecuador. When cruises are in short supply it is usually possible to split a visit to the mainland to fit available cruise dates: we are adept at ingenious solutions to this problem.
It is possible, if time is short, to arrive in Quito, overnight and catch a flight to the islands next day, but it is better to pause a while on the mainland first.
Most Galapagos boats offer discounts and special offers off their published prices at various times throughout the year. It is well worth calling us to check out what offers are currently available.