Are you frustrated because you think your dream Galapagos cruise requires more vacation time than you can spare?
Don’t get your blue-footed boobies in a twist. A short, relatively affordable Galapagos cruise is not a fantasy.
I recently returned from a Galapagos sailing that can be done, including travel time, in just a week. Although I spent only four days on the ship, I saw a wide range of animals and landscapes — which is the goal of most Galapagos travelers.
Sure, the inclusive cruise package was not cheap, but it was more affordable than a sailing twice as long.
If you’re short on vacation days or want a Galapagos sampler sailing, a four-night cruise might just be your ticket to South American paradise.
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Hurtigruten Expeditions recently began offering a western loop itinerary called Iconic Wildlife and Sublime Scenery aboard Metropolitan Touring’s Santa Cruz II cruise ship. The seven-day itinerary is as follows:
- Day 1: Fly from origin city to Quito; overnight hotel stay.
- Day 2: Transfer from hotel to airport; early flight from Quito to Baltra in the Galapagos; transfer to Santa Cruz II.
- Days 2-5: Visits to various islands in the western Galapagos, including Baltra Island, Santa Cruz, Isabela Island, Fernandina Island and Floreana Island.
- Day 6: Disembark Santa Cruz II; transfer to Baltra airport for flight to Quito; overnight hotel stay.
- Day 7: Return flight home from Quito.
All hotel stays, transfers and flights listed are included in the cruise fare, except the flights between your home city and Quito and back.
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Passengers can book back-to-back sailings to extend their travels and visit other areas of the Galapagos; combined, the line’s northern, southern and western loops span 15 days.
Additionally, cruisers can tack on pre- or post-cruise stays at some of Metropolitan Touring’s other properties, including the Mashpi Lodge, an eco-friendly expedition hotel in the middle of Ecuador’s Choco Cloud Forest.
Related: Hilton just opened the first points hotel in the Galapagos — and it has a restaurant in a lava tunnel
For the purposes of this article, I’m only discussing the western loop, without a pre- or post-cruise add-on.
What sets this cruise apart
This itinerary is new for Hurtigruten and includes four days and four nights on the ship, sailing the western part of the Galapagos Islands.
Most other cruise lines in the region focus on the southern and northern loops, which take longer to visit. The shortest voyages offered by those lines last at least seven days instead of four, and that doesn’t include travel to and from the ship, which adds another two to three days.
Despite the shorter amount of time required to complete Hurtigruten’s western route, your sailing will allow you to see a menagerie of animals. Spotting blue-footed boobies, flightless cormorants, fur seals, sea lions, Sally Lightfoot crabs, land and marine iguanas, Galapagos penguins, blue herons and a host of other critters will make even the shortest of stays worthwhile.
In fact, it’s possible to see 12 of Hurtigruten’s “big 15” animals in those four days, including what our guide said is the most rare: the Galapagos hawk.
Owned by Metropolitan Touring and operated by Hurtigruten Expeditions (which holds a 25% stake in Metropolitan Touring), Santa Cruz II was built in 2002 and holds up to 90 passengers. The groups can often be smaller; fewer than 40 people were on my sailing.
What I love about the ship is that it’s carbon neutral. It operates in such a way that my visit didn’t create a negative impact on the delicate Galapagos environment.
On each voyage, passengers pay a small fee as part of their cruise fare. The amount goes toward preserving land in the Choco Bioregion, a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve, which allows for the restoration of land that absorbs carbon dioxide.
The ship is bright and cheerful but bare bones. If you’re used to more mainstream cruise ships, you’ll likely notice the no-frills bathrooms and the lack of TVs in passenger cabins.
Regarding amenities, the ship doesn’t have a pool or spa. It does have a small movie and game room, a main bar and lounge area, a library that also serves as a lounge, laundry facilities that are free to use, a compact fitness center with a couple of machines, two hot tubs, a sun deck and a small shop that sells limited sundries, as well as Galapagos-themed jewelry and gear that passengers might need.
Ultimately, the ship exists to move passengers from place to place in comfort, but the focus is squarely on the destination.
A four-night sailing departing June 27, 2023, starts from $6,237 per person for the most basic ocean-view cabin. (The ship doesn’t have windowless inside cabins or rooms with private balconies.) For the same itinerary and accommodations on the Feb. 6, 2024 departure, fares start from $6,587 per person.
That’s an average of $916 per person per day, based on the seven-day itinerary with three days of transit and four days of cruising. The price includes all meals on the ship, beer and wine with lunch and dinner, crew gratuities, transfers and two nights at a hotel.
If you dine on your own during your pre- or post-cruise stay, you’ll be responsible for those costs. However, factoring in some meals on your own and round-trip flights to and from Quito, it’s a trip you can do for less than $10,000 per person.
If the Galapagos tops your travel wish list but seems out of reach, a shorter option like the western loop offered by Hurtigruten Expeditions on Santa Cruz II could be the perfect compromise.
The trip is still pricey, and it might seem like a lot of time in transit for only four days in the Galapagos. However, it’s less expensive than longer sailings, and you can be home and back within a week without burning too much vacation time.
Your Galapagos dreams may be within reach, after all.
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