When looking for the best Galapagos luxury cruise for your bucket list trip, there are many options to choose from. There are a number of high-end ships that offer fantastic amenities. We went with Quasar’s Evolution cruise for our trip to the Galapagos. We chose them because of the mixture of itinerary and amenities offered on the boat.
Being able to come back from a day of snorkeling in the frigid water and soak in a hot tub after was especially appealing to me. Their itinerary also seemed to be the most encompassing in terms of coverage of the islands and wildlife as it went to Isabela/Fernandina and Española which were three places I really wanted to see and many of the other itineraries forced you to choose one or the other.
I was a bit concerned that the boat fit 32 passengers versus the 16 that the other boats I was looking at allowed, but decided it was still a small enough number that it wouldn’t feel over crowded and with the extra space on board the trade off was well worth it.
|Overall Experience||★★★★★||The overall experience was fantastic.|
|Service||★★★★★||The staff was always ready to help and the guides were very knowledgable.|
|Food||★★★★||Food was great overall. Very creative and decent variety. Fresh baked pastries daily.|
|Cabin||★★★★||This is an older boat that was refitted into a luxury cruise yacht. For the best experience, look for a cabin not near the anchor.|
|Boat||★★★★★||The boat was well redesigned with lots of open hang out areas for lounging and wildlife watching.|
Our trip started with a flight from Guayaquil and our return flight back brought us to Quito to continue exploring the incredible places in Ecuador. The first and last days were onboarding and offboarding days so we didn’t have much on our agenda aside from enjoying the ship so lets jump in and cover the days that we had on-shore and the water activities.
Hot tip: Avoid booking a cabin locating in the lower levels in the front of the boat unless you are a very deep sleeper. This is where the anchor is located and it woke me up at the worst times as sometimes the boat sails overnight. If you get sea sick it is better to be on lower levels versus the upper level as the boat rocks less on the bottom.
Galapagos Luxury Cruise Review: ‘In the Steps of Pirates & Darwin’ Itinerary.
Day 1 of Exploration.
The first full day of the cruise was packed with adventure. We woke up in Punta Vincente Roca on Isabela Island with views of volcanic cliffs in front of us. Towering black volcanic rock with caves carved out by the water below. We immediately noticed sea lions swimming not far from the boat. After breakfast we set off on our first excursion, an hour-long panga (motorized zodiac boat) ride to observe the wildlife on land and in the water.
We were split into three groups. Each had a naturalist on board whose job was to point out the unique wildlife that Galapagos is famous for. The first spotting was fur seals swimming close to the shore and as we got close, we noticed several baby fur seals on land alongside massive marine iguanas. They were nearly the same size!
As the panga kept going along the shore line it became evident just how many iguanas there were, in certain areas dozens were piled one on top of the other. Their agility was spectacular to witness. Looking out on the sheer volcanic cliffs you could see them spotted with Galapagos marine iguanas. Everyone wondered how they managed to climb up there and more importantly stay up on the cliff without falling off. We also saw tons of sea life in the clear green waters including large schools of fish, dozens of massive green turtles, seals and sea lions. For bird lovers there were Galapagos Penguins, Blue-footed Boobies, Flightless Cormorants and Petrels galore.
One of the other guides messaged ours as they had just spotted a Sun Fish (also known as a Mola Mola) so we took off to try to capture a look at this rarely seen creature. Some people were able to see it, but with the sun reflecting off the water it wasn’t visible to me. We then took the panga into the cave to explore inside and as we turned around a playful seal swam right up to the boat and followed us as we took off from the cave. Anticipation was building to jump into the water and experience the wildlife first hand. We all agreed to get back to the boat quickly to get into our snorkel gear to be able to experience things first hand. Our first excursion of our Galapagos luxury cruise did not disappoint.
Our first snorkel on the Galapagos luxury cruise
We strapped on our gear, put on the wetsuits provided onboard and packed back into the panga to go out on our first snorkel in the Galapagos. Jumping into the water for the first time felt a bit shocking as the body experienced the cold for the first time. Excitement of seeing Galapagos penguins swimming in the water right in front of us quickly made me forget about the cold.
As we followed the penguin, I saw something large swimming from the corner of my eye. Looking over, I realized it was a large sea lion and it had just caught a fish! I quickly followed it, watching in wonder as it played with its supper. It would bring the fish it caught up to the surface and then let it go. As the fish sank to the bottom, the sea lion proceeded to do circles in the water before diving down to pick it back up. It was fascinating.
As we kept swimming, the panga followed our group to ensure that if anyone was tired (or cold) they could easily get out of the water. Green turtles were everywhere I looked. I was determined to savor every moment of my time snorkeling. I came across schools of different fish, some I recognized from snorkeling in tropical reefs, but they were 3-4 times bigger. Massive parrot fish, puffer fish and many others that were quite large, but I didn’t recognize.
As I swam through a school of thousands of sardines, I got to experience first-hand the Galapagos penguins hunting for their meals. The penguins darted in and out as they chased the schools of fish in the water. If that was not enough, late in the snorkel I just happened to spot a Galapagos marine iguana on the verge of diving in from a nearby cliff. I sought out a strategic spot by a rock with algae and was rewarded with seeing the endemic sea iguana dive in from the cliff and swim with grace to take in an ocean snack.
Once everyone in my group was out of the water and sitting on the panga I decided it was probably time to get out. Surprisingly, despite the frigid water, I stayed in the water for quite a long time fueled off of adrenaline and wonder. We returned to the ship for lunch and a sail to our second destination, Fernandina Island.
Hot tip: The wetsuits provided on board are shorties which means they only cover half of your arms and legs. The water is very cold, especially near Isabella, between 65-75 degrees Fahrenheit (and some parts of the year even colder). If you own a full wet suit and have room in your baggage it is highly advised to bring your own. If you don’t have much room I highly recommend rash guard pants and shirts to layer underneath the provided wetsuit for extra warmth and comfort. I own Waterlust pants and love them for snorkeling/diving. They are super comfortable and fast drying. I personally brought two pairs with me on this trip.
Wildlife we saw: Fur Seals, Sea Lions, Marine Iguanas, Flightless Commorants, Blue-footed Boobies, Petrils and Penguins.
Fernandina Island – Punta Espinoza
It was hard to believe that it was still only day one of our Galapagos cruise journey. Walking onto land from the panga we were immediately greeted by a baby sea lion napping in the mangroves. This landing was truly incredible, filled with marine iguanas and baby sea lions. It was hard not to spend the entire time observing as they played with each other in the water or snuggled with their mamas on shore. We took a walk on the pre-defined path and learned about the geology and wild life around.
By the beach, we witnessed firsthand a marine iguana battling the relentless waves as it attempted to swim to shore. After several attempts where it was hurled back into the ocean by the waves, it finally made it on to the beach to bask in the setting sun.
We were soon distracted by baby sea lions playing on a nearby beach. Sitting and watching them, one became quite curious and waddled right up to my feet. I felt like I could stay there for hours watching them in wonder.
Overall, it was a day that will stay in my memories forever.
Wildlife we saw: Sea Lions, Galapagos Hawk, Marine Iguanas, Flightless Commorants and Oyster Catchers.
The day’s activities started at Urbina Bay on Isabela Island. This area is very unique from a geological perspective as it experienced an uplift in 1954 causing land in the area to rise up 16 feet. As a result, what was once mangroves were buried underneath the ground, while what was once sea coast jutted out of the water and the coast expanded out half a mile.
We started off with a nature walk admiring this unique landscape. Our naturalist, Cristina, told us all to keep our eyes peeled for tortoises and iguanas. Just minutes down the path from shore we spotted our first Galapagos giant tortoise. It was a juvenile, likely only 10 years old or so which meant it wasn’t yet very big. Turns out these interesting animals live over 100 years and many were wiped out by humans for food years ago.
Cristina told us that the island was once full of goats that were brought over by humans so that they could have meat to eat when they were there. Unfortunately, the non-native goats over populated and ate up much of the vegetation which was critical for the tortoises and the iguanas to eat. This put further strain on an already endangered population.
Only in the last couple of decades did the National Park service intervene and work to rid the island of the goat invaders. This, along with restrictions put in place really helped the local endemic species on the island. Thankfully, due to the hard work of conservationists and the local government, the Galapagos giant tortoises are now making a comeback. Still, seeing very large ones that are over 100 years old is quite rare.
Well, it was our lucky day. As we continued down the path our naturalist spotted one coming in our direction down the path. She said based on the size and the shell it was very old. I was awestruck admiring these incredible, ancient creatures. We would see several others as we walked on, along with beautifully colored land iguanas, coming in a variety of bright colors from orange to yellow.
We returned to the beach and eagerly changed into our wetsuits to dive in for a snorkel. Sea lions and penguins were playing in the shallow shore and greeted us as we got in. I spotted a baby eagle ray and followed it along the shoreline before getting distracted by schools of penguins fishing for sardines. As we continued along the rocks hugging the land we came across a Galapagos Bullhead shark. Further out a friendly Wingless Cormorant showed off his fishing techniques as he dove down, and probed multiple openings in the rocks until he struck gold and came up with a fish in his mouth.
Landing 2. Tagus Cove
This anchorage is one of the most famous for sailors in the Galapagos due to its protected bay. Named after a British naval ship, pirates and whalers would come here and write the names of their vessels on the stone wall on land. Although this practice has since been banned, you can still find these carvings on shore. We were able to find carvings dating all the way back to the 1800s. It is also home to the beautiful Darwin’s Lake which can be seen by taking a 1.5 mile long hike which leads to a beautiful observation point of the surrounding area.
After another delicious lunch in the afternoon the main activity was kayaking around this beautiful bay. Kayaking here allows you to get close and immerse yourself in the beautiful scenery and nature all around you. As you paddle by cormorants, penguins and pelicans sun themselves, while out of the water pop out groups of golden rays and curious sea lions dive and play around you. What a treat!
This bay is also a great snorkeling spot. The water is very clear with great visibility. Snorkeling here I was engulfed in a group of penguins fifty strong, darting all around our group. Sea lions swam by us as well as an octopus spotting rounded off this great swim.
Wildlife we saw: Penguins, cormorants, sea lions, golden ray, octopus, tortoises, turtles, sharks and iguanas.
We woke up in the morning still sailing to our next destination, Bartolome island, where the world-famous Pinnacle Rock stands. Bartolome is a volcanic island shaped like a cone. It is easy to climb up to the top to get a beautiful view of the surrounding islands. I eagerly got ready and went upstairs to try and catch a glimpse of wildlife sightings from the boat. After about 30 minutes I saw a ray breaching from the water as we sailed by.
Upon arriving, we set off on a hike up the volcanic terrain to a gorgeous view point showing off the surrounding islands and beaches below. This is the most famous viewpoint, most often seen in photographs of the Galapagos. After the hike, I was excited to get back in the water for a snorkel as this area is known for some of the best snorkeling in the Galapagos. And it truly lived up to the hype.
As soon as we jumped in, we were greeted by hundreds of fish in every direction. The current pushed us forward making swimming feel like a lazy river. We spotted something that looked like a snake with black and yellow coloring, we later learned from our guide that it was a tiger snake eel.
As we kept snorkeling, I saw a sea lion swim by from the corner of my eye. I immediately went after it only to notice a white-tipped shark swim by. Later on, in our snorkel we ended up seeing several other white tips, dozens of massive multicolored sea stars all over the ocean floor and thousands of fish. This was definitely a highlight of all previous snorkel spots.
The second landing was another island right across from Bartholome called James Island where we landed in Sullivan Bay. This island contains a massive lava flow called pahoehoe creating a very unique and beautiful sculptured landscape.
We were presented with an option to do a walk on lava flow or snorkel from the panga to a sandy beach. Given my love for water I chose to snorkel.
We were dropped off by panga quite a ways from the beach where the lava flow met the ocean. As we swam parallel to the lava flow toward the beach we were surrounded by hundreds of fish. We kept seeing trails of crushed shell, hoping to find the elusive octopus. We would dive down and attempt to follow the trails, but didn’t succeed in spotting any.
Once we got to the beach, we did a short walk on the lava flow ourselves. The formation made by the hardened lava was incredible to experience. We couldn’t go very far without a guide and we also only had our neoprene socks on which were very uncomfortable on the lava so we decided to head back to the boat and call it a day.
Hot tip: Bring an underwater torch/flashlight so you can see inside the caves. Sharks, rays and tons of other interesting fish hide out in there and when snorkeling in this area there are tons of places like that where you can’t see inside without a light.
Wildlife we saw: Many different fish, giant starfish, white tip sharks and eel.
The morning excursion took us to Bachas Beach on Santa Cruz Island. It is a beautiful, white sand beach with volcanic rock formations on the sides. As we got off the panga, we were greeted by a marine iguana warming up in the sun on the beach.
We took a walk along the beach as our naturalist explained the history of the area and the wildlife that can be found here. This is a turtle nesting beach but nesting season wasn’t for another few months.
Our walk took us to a small lagoon with 3 beautiful flamingos. It turns out the Flamingos flew to the Galapagos from America and are the same type of flamingos we see in the Caribbean and Florida. After we finished the walk we went back to the beach for a swim and a snorkel from the beach. The snorkel here wasn’t anything spectacular and the visibility was not great, but I did see a school of very large parrot fish.
Rabida Island – Our favorite from the Galapagos luxury cruise.
Rabida island is really special, it spoils you. It’s ice cream in a cup with a cone on top, best of everything. How so? An afternoon snorkel in crystal clear water was a great way to start the experience. The typical fish and sea life attractions greeted us right away, but the real surprises were yet to unfold. After following the sides of rock ledge we noticed a large scattering of open shells, a sure sign of a coy octopus den nearby.
Octopus have the cleanliness habits of freshmen college students, and this is helpful to find these brilliant and majestic animals. Sure enough after looking around a few nearby rock holes we found one with octopus eyes staring back at us. As we recovered from the high of finding such a hidden gem we felt a whooshing right past us. Once, twice and we knew we were in great company, sea lions! In another minute we learned why. A giant bait ball of sardines was right in front of us, thousands if not many times that tightly shaped into a ball. Out of the middle of the bait ball a seal lion emerged spinning and gliding and then gone.
We continued further down and and caught up with a white tip shark. And then a sea lion showed up ready to play. He bit the tail of the shark and then performed circles around us. But his showing up was not over. He gracefully dove down and reappeared with a sea star in his mouth. A souvenir perhaps, but only for our memories. We played with the sea lion for at least 10 minutes swimming and spinning around each other. It was truly amazing experience, one so rare where you get to interact and play with a wild and yet highly intelligent creature.
As the sun set, but the high of our snorkel was still in full effect, we landed on Rabida Island. The beach on Rabida island is the maroon color of a full bodied Cab Sav. The experience of a sunset here is no less worthy of a fine wine. The golden hour peaked and everything quieted down, sea lions picked out spots for naps as others came in from their swims. Small birds patrolled the waterline as a perfect day closed out.
Day 5- Santa Cruz
Puerto Ayora is the most populated city in the islands with a population of around 20,000 people. It is the headquarters of the National Park Service and also home to the world-famous Darwin Station Research Center.
On this day we were able to choose to break away from our Galapagos luxury cruise group and book a dive through a local dive company while the others on the ship went about their scheduled activities. Since the group was going to see more Galapagos giant tortoises which we were lucky enough to see earlier in the trip, as divers we couldn’t pass up the opportunity to dive in one of the most famous (and epic) dive spots in the world. You can read our full account in a separate post about our incredible Galapagos diving experience.
Day 6- Española Island – The Most Southernmost Island of our Galapagos Luxury Cruise
This island was the southernmost not only of our Galapagos luxury cruise but of the Galapagos as a whole. It is home to one of the most biodiverse diverse sea bird colonies and during the right season it is the best place to go to spot waved albatrosses as this island is where they come to breed and raise their young. It also contains several other endemic species found only here.
We started our last full day with a gorgeous morning where you could really feel the strength of the equatorial sun. We descended on the rocky lava shores of Punta Suarez. The lava flows have created a protected area where baby sea lions bask in the sun and learn to swim well protected from the patrolling sharks looking for an easy meal. Sea lion cubs, as young as a couple of weeks old, basked in the rocks while the slightly older ones play in the shallow waters.
Further inland the low banks of the inlet turn to large boulders and rugged tall cliffs on the windward side of the island. This island is very special for one type of bird, this is one of the only places that the Waved Albatross nests.
These large, majestic bird, masters of the far reaches of the oceans, gather here to find their mates and raise their chicks. What might appear an unassuming outcropping of large boulders is actually an albatross runway. Due to the large wingspan of these birds necessary for their ocean endeavors, they require quite a large open area to land and take off from.
The farther side of the point, large ocean waves crash into the tall cliffs and when they catch it just right massive sprays erupt from the blowholes studded throughout the cliffs. All of this makes Espanola island in the Galapagos really special.
In the protected areas of the cliffs, both albatross and Nazca boobies have their nurseries. The boobies can be seen up-close with their babies ranging from scraggly week old’s to fuzzballs almost the size of their mothers.
In between the two areas, large sea iguanas collect. Since it was nearing their mating season, large males warm themselves in the sun to show off their skin of amazing colors; blue, green and red. In the nearby bushes hawks take up positions to patrol for an easy meal. The only reminder of human contact is the lighthouse warding of seafarers from the dangerous jagged rocks menacing underwater. It was a magical place to be and a contrast from the luxury of our Galapagos cruise boat.
The afternoon activity was a snorkel in Gardner Bay. This area is known to be a popular hangout spot for playful sea lions that often come and swim with snorkeling groups. The snorkel is among beautiful rock formations with many caves to explore. Though there were no sea lions there on our swim, we were fortunate to see two schools of Golden Rays swimming by in deeper areas as well as turtles and many small fish in large caves.
Wildlife we saw: Blue-footed boobies, Nazca boobies, Espanola marine iguanas, mockingbirds, sea lions, waved albatross, oyster catchers, lava birds, Espanola lizards.
The last morning, we started early as we sailed by a beautiful rock formation that is known to be a good dive site on our way into the harbor of San Cristobal and the end of our Galapagos luxury cruise. It was a truly bucket list worthy expedition of the Galapagos. As a final good bye, playful sea lions met us on the dock as we disembarked from the pangas one last time.
To summarize such an amazing, adrenaline and endorphin rich trip is nearly impossible. The serenity and unique richness of nature astound you. The islands enchant you and the animals draw you in. Quasar’s Evolution is a fantastic choice for a Galapagos luxury cruise expedition. It has many comforts and amenities as well as knowledgable guides that help you really understand the area.
Galapagos is a must add to your bucket list. In the water, deep down below and even just on deck of your Galapagos luxury cruise, enjoying cocktails as you recount another amazing day at sea with worldly and enamoring fellow guests and crew. For more incredible cruise experiences in Ecuador, a trip to the Ecuadorian Amazon is a must.