The Great Frigatebirds are some of the most iconic inhabitants of the Galapagos Islands, especially when dramatically inflating their red gular sacs to attract mates. When not breeding or caring for young, however, they can be well out of sight — soaring up to 2.5 miles high in the air!
This would be impressive for any seabird, but the truly amazing fact is that frigatebirds have been tracked by GPS flying continuously (without any rest) for 56 days! Averaging 260 miles per day with 400 miles possible in perfect conditions, that would be a global round-trip in 95 days.
Most seabirds (albatrosses, petrels, sulids, etc.) glide for maximum efficiency. A frigatebird’s heartrate when soaring at altitude, flapping once every 6 minutes, is similar to when resting in a nest. Updraft currents allow them to ride upwards before swooping, in rollercoaster fashion.
So you’ve decided that a cruise boat, rather than a hotel stay or island-hopping, is the best way to see a great variety of Galapagos wildlife with the minimum of fuss. Itineraries range from 4 to 15 days, visiting 4-15 islands (more or less!) and almost everything is included.
Now, whatever your budget range, there will be at least half a dozen options. Prices roughly correspond with boat size, because spacious cabins allow for queen/king beds, large sundecks allow for a jacuzzi, and it is preferable to have separate dining, bar and lounge areas.
The vast majority of boats can accommodate 16 passengers, though on most cruises the actual number on board is less. The standard of service provided by the crew, and especially the guide which leads tours on land, is universally high — but can vary markedly.
The most famous visitor to the Galapagos Islands was also the co-author of humankind’s most influential scientific theory. Charles Robert Darwin sailed around the Islands in 1835 as part of a longer voyage around the globe on a Royal Navy vessel named HMS Beagle.
In five weeks, Darwin the young naturalist and his more experienced crewmates landed on just four islands to explore the geology and wildlife. Today known almost universally as Isabela, Santiago, San Cristobal and Floreana, in Darwin’s notes the islands were Albemarle, James, Chatham and Charles islands (the latter after King Charles II, not Darwin).
The abundant and diverse flora/fauna on the Islands (most notably the variety of finches) were the principal source of Darwin’s theory of evolution by natural selection. However, it wasn’t until 1858, after Alfred Russel Wallace had written to Darwin about the same idea, that both men jointly published their papers to the scientific community.
When is the perfect time for that once-in-a-lifetime trip to the Galapagos Islands?
If your tolerance for humidity (or rainfall) is low, both are lowest from May to December. From January to May, average temperatures are higher. Optimal water temps can be enjoyed around April, though wetsuits are widely available for rent.
However, since the principal reason to visit the Galapagos is its abundant wildlife, we took the time to make a nice infographic about mating/migration seasons for the spectrum of species found on the Islands. You can find it on our infographics page.
January: Giant tortoise eggs are hatching. The future is especially bright for these Galapagos giants since rats were practically eradicated from the Islands in a comprehensive poisoning program in 2012. Meanwhile, Green Sea turtles come onshore to begin laying their eggs — usually at night. This activity peaks in February and lasts until June.
To go deep into the lower Amazon basin, where biodiversity is highest, an extended canoe ride is a usual element of the trip. Though there are many wonderful rainforest lodges in Ecuador, only two cruise boats are licensed to operate along the Napo River, which courses through all the main highlights of the Ecuadorian jungle.
Cruises vastly increase the range of attractions one is able to visit, since lodges rarely offer excursions to places more than a few hours away. In one week, a cruise boat will travel over 100 miles to the Amazonian border with Peru. There are also half-week cruises.
The two available boats are the Manatee and the Anakonda, catering for lower and higher budgets respectively. Their itineraries are identical, with the only likely differences arising due to weather and other unforeseeables. Both boats are equipped with canoes for all passengers, and experienced guides accompany guests on all excursions.