My husband and I celebrated our 30th wedding anniversary with a trip to the Galapagos Islands. We flew to Quito from New York City, spent a day touring Quito and the famous Otavalo Market where the indigenous people exhibit everything from animals to handicrafts. We then flew to San Cristobal where we were met by the naturalist from our tour company, Quasar Expeditions. We spent a week on The Grace, a lovely 16 passenger yacht which formally belonged to Princess Grace of Monaco. The yacht was recently gutted and renovated. An upper deck was added during this renovation with four additional cabins. It's a lovely 145' yacht (luxury class) with 8 cabins - 4 on the top level and 4 on the lower level. What really made our trip was our naturalist, Raphael - a second generation Galapagos Island resident from Santa Cruz Island and a trained ornithologist. Some quick observations for those of you who are considering a trip.
Type of Boat: This was a special trip for us so we were not too concerned about cost. If cost isn't an issue for you, definitely take the luxury yacht. While the exterior of our yacht was dated (it was originally built in the 1920's), the renovation was well done. Our cabin was spacious for a boat and quite comfortable. The "living room" area was lovely as was the dining area. There were two beautiful decks in the back of the boat - main level and upper level. In the front of the boat, there was a jacuzzi - nice at sunset time.
Size of boat: If you want personal service, take a small boat - 16 passengers. Definitely don't take the 100 passenger boat unless you really can't handle the motion of a smaller one and you need to have more services on board such as a doctor/medical services. You cannot all go on the islands when there are 100 people and it diminishes the experience. What we loved was the intimacy of a small group. I know there are 32 passenger boats so this is probably the largest I would recommend to healthy, physically fit people who are not too concerned with getting seasick.
Food: The meals prepared by our chef were excellent - every meal was different - 3 course meals at dinner - always started with a delicious soup, buffet style main course with several selections, and homemade desserts.
Excursions: We snorkeled every day and sometimes twice a day. My husband is not a great swimmer and he didn't go snorkeling the first day. Our guide convinced him that if he didn't snorkel, he'd miss half of what there is to see. So, my husband wore a life jacket and came with us on the second day and thereafter. He absolutely loved it and admitted that it would have been a shame had he missed the beauty of what was under the sea. We also hiked on land at least once a day and the hikes were amazing. A one mile walk might take 2 1/2 hours because our guide had so much to point out along the way. The birds are not afraid of people since they have no natural predators - hence - they haven't learned to fear people. While you are warned not to touch any of them, you can walk right up to them and they will just look at you like you're the oddity. The day we went to Santa Cruz Island, we were on land the entire day. We visited an ancient caldera that was now overgrown with trees and took a nature hike followed by a visit to a lava tube, then a tortoise farm where these giant creatures could roam freely in order to get to their nesting sites. After lunch at the tortoise farm, we went to the Darwin institute and then spent a couple of hours in Puerto Ayora - did some shopping and visited the fish market (great photos of sea lions and pelicans trying to steal some fish as they were being filleted). Again, the advantage of the smaller boat is that you get to do far more than on the larger boats.
Seasickness: We came armed with the wrist bands, patches, bonine, ginger candy, etc. The first night was the roughest for everyone because even though it's a 145' yacht which seems large, you're in the open ocean. Trying to sleep that first night was the roughest because we weren't used to the motion. My husband used the wrist bands that deliver an electric impulse every four seconds and that actually seemed to work. While we had the patches with us in case it got really bad, we never used them because they do have some side effects. We were fine with the wrist bands, ginger candy and an occasional bonine tablet. After that first night, I didn't have any further trouble with the motion. On the second night, we were told that we'd be traveling for 12 hours overnight from Genovesa Island to Isabella and we were all advised to take seasickness pills that made you sleepy. So, after dinner, we all took them and EVERYONE had a great nights sleep.
The sea is fairly calm in February so we were lucky. I'm told that in other months, from June through December, it's rougher and much colder (you definitely need to wear a wet suit at that time). In February, the water is warm and the only reason to wear a wet suit is for sun protection (definitely a good idea since you're on the equator).
One last note on seasickness - if you're concerned about it, don't book an upper deck cabin because you will feel the motion much more on the top than on the bottom.
Camera Equipment: My husband is an amateur photographer so he was in heaven on this trip. We were armed with macro lenses, zoom lenses and underwater camera and a video camera. I will say that I'm really glad we bought a Canon underwater camera (about $300). It took video as well as stills and could be used, of course, on land. It was well worth it.
What really made the trip for us was our naturalist and the people we met on our boat. We were 15 in all and everyone got along extremely well so I have to say that we were quite fortunate since this doesn't always happen.