Explore. Experience. Engage.

Home Travel Tips Travel Deals Destinations Trip Reviews Forums Blog
The IndependentTraveler.com Blog

galapagosBe you bucket lister or wildlife buff, the idea of cruising the Galapagos is imbued with animal magnetism. It’s evocative of a science fiction adventure — ship as time machine transporting travelers to a prehistoric land of black lava, alien cactus trees and giant tortoises.

It turns out that planning for such a voyage, which includes ticking off items like “underwater camera housing” or “quick-drying pants that magically become shorts,” is oddly satisfying. So with the determination of a flightless cormorant who hasn’t had eel in a week, I began researching, prepping and packing for a July Galapagos cruise aboard Metropolitan Touring’s 48-passenger La Pinta.

As I dug through travel message boards and guidebooks, and picked the brains of past passengers, there emerged four cornerstones of the successful Galapagos cruise: protection from the sea and weather, proper footwear, a touch of pre-cruise study, and a means to record the experience of wandering onto a beachhead littered with groaning sea lions and thousands of fluorescent orange crabs.

6 Reasons You’ll Love an Expedition Cruise

Protection from Sea and Sun
The packing list skewed more backpacker’s trek than cruise. Instead of a blue blazer and dress shoes, I stuffed my carry-on with quick-dry shirts, zip-top bags to protect equipment and a floppy hat to repel the equatorial sun. Also part of the regimen: two large tubes of sunblock, one SPF 45 for the delicate face, the other a waterproof 30 for the rest of the body — plus aloe, should I forget to re-apply either.

The sea poses its own problems — the wind-drawn Humboldt Current can bring with it nauseating, choppy waters from July to December — so I scored some Dramanine (which I later found that La Pinta offered in an all-you-can eat basket). Other passengers ultimately went with the prescription motion sickness patch, the dot-behind-the-ear option not available in South America.

Simply put, lava, over which many of the hikes take place, is unforgiving. Still, I left my hiking boots at home, opting instead for the TEVA sandals I’ve taken over rocky Greek Isles, European cobbles and dessert sands. However Galapagos visitors roll, they should make sure they’re properly out-footed. “A lot of people think, ‘Oh, I’ll just bring my oldest pair of shoes and then dump them at the end of the trip,'” said John, one of our guides. “If there’s one tip I can offer, it’s to bring a solid new pair.” (Break them in pre-trip to avoid calluses.) Sure enough, one French passenger suffered a dual sole-ripping on a single walk. His well-worn boots literally ripped in half. Given his propensity for mocking American dining habits, no one seemed too upset for him.

How to Pack for an Active Outdoor Vacation

Pre-Cruise Enrichment
The Galapagos is a place where pre-knowledge enriches the experience — or so I was told. “On the Origin of Species” felt a little too “Challenges of Modernity,” a 200-level class, so I tapped Dominic Hamilton, Metropolitan’s Head of Communications, for something less collegiate. He suggested three: “The Beak of the Finch,” a non-fiction look at a pair of evolutionary biologists who watched natural selection, in real time, shape a colony of finches; “My Father’s Island,” a memoir written by a woman whose family colonized Santa Cruz in the 40’s; and “Galapagos, the Islands That Changed the World,” a photo-laden companion book to the BBC documentary of the same name. My public library had them all and all were winners.

Capturing the Tortoise
travel packingThough the local wildlife remains bizarrely apathetic to encroaching, camera-wielding homo sapiens, a colleague’s husband suggested renting a telephoto lens. I discovered LensProtoGo, which ships the lens in a waterproof, nearly indestructible Pelican case. The Nikon 80 – 400 millimeter telephoto lens costs about $1,600 new but only $15 a day to rent, and is ideal for framing the red-rimmed eye of the swallow-tailed gull or spying on other expedition ships. If you do bring the “bazooka” and plan on switching lenses, don’t forget the accouterments (a sensor cleaning kit). Jumbo-sized zip-top bags, procured from Amazon.com, would shield my camera equipment, already in a water-resistant bag, during wet landings (when Zodiacs pull up to a beach rather than a natural “dock”).

A second splurge, inspired by Galapagos cruise vets who shared regrets, was an underwater camera. I opted for a waterproof case for my Canon S90 point and shoot, which cost about $150. The video I took underwater, including a spiritual moment with a baby sea lion, was worth the cost.

The one thing I didn’t pack? My cat, a plague-like invasive species, had to stay.

— written by Dan Askin

6 Responses to “How to Pack for a Galapagos Cruise”

  1. Best says:

    Renting a lens is an option for a short period of time, what if 30-60 days vacation?

  2. very nice information and blog.- thanks and greets from cologne germany

  3. jackieooo says:

    Are water shoes advisable for the galapagos?

  4. Nadine (Senioren Handy) says:

    Renting a lens is an option for a short period of time? More than 10 days?

  5. Fiona Ludbrook says:

    Thanks Dan.
    Was in Galapagos myself in May and highly recommend a non DEET based insect repellent for some of the islands. Mosiguard is the one I use and leaves no nasty toxins to affect local species!
    I found my hiking sandals perfect, even for the lava flows.
    Anyone with latex sensitivity should keep their sandals on on deck, if latex is used to make the surfaces less slippery. My feet reacted and were a total mess. Could have been worse if anaphalaxis had have resulted. Keeping my sandals on prevented them from getting worse and spoiling my fun.
    I forked out on a cheap underwater camera, but did not end up using it, as once I had swum with a sea lion companion on the very first day of my cruise, I had achieved my dream. Not being a very confident swimmer or snorkler I prefered to stay on deck or land, depending where we were, so those who are not big on swimming may find they can get by with their non waterproof camera, but with suitable waterproof gear for those wet landings.
    I also found my head sock and sun hat indispensible for sun protection. The sun also kept me out of the water. Even with high level protection, my pathetically fair skin was burning with the reflection from the water.
    I can also recommend a monopod for stability of your camera, as there are few natural high mounts to sit your camera on to prevent lense shake when you employ those impressively long lenses to reliably shoot minute details of animals and insects, minus blurring and to help with personal stability. If you have any issues with your knees or legs take a stick or monopod. Though the walks were all easy, there is a lot of scrambling. Without some kind of stick I am so slow at scrambling up and over and especially down rocky and unlevel surfaces. There are very few natural sticks available on the islands and a camera monopod will serve both purposes well!
    Despite my minimal swimming and snorkelling and need for a stick over some lava flows, I relished every minute of my 8 day Galapagos Cruise on Nemo 1 and highly recommend it as an option. Nemo 1 berths no more than 16 at an affordable price. Crew and guides are top notch!

  6. Fiona Ludbrook says:

    Also a floaty device for the waterproof camera is a must, less it slip out of your hand and sink down to the depths of the sea. These are inexpensive and work like a life jacket for your camera. They will go under water, but will float your camera back to the surface if you loose your grip and “drop” it!

Leave a Reply