Quirky Cruise
April 5, 2018

Galápagos Small Ship Cruise Tips from AdventureSmith Explorations Founder Todd Smith

By Anne Kalosh.

California-based AdventureSmith Explorations is run by owner Todd Smith, who’s among the prestigious ranks of Condé Nast Traveler’s Top Travel Specialists as a leading expert on small-ship expeditions. He also serves on the board of the International Galápagos Tour Operators Association (IGTOA).

Galápagos Small Ship Cruise Tips from AdventureSmith Explorations

Todd Smith, AdventureSmith Explorations Founder & President

Growing each year in popularity, the Galápagos Islands are a highly sought-after vacation destination. They’re also among the world’s most fragile ecosystems.

The appeal of this archipelago off Ecuador’s coast can be likened to the goose that laid the golden egg. Becoming too popular, Smith said, means risking uncontrolled growth for this UNESCO World Heritage Site.

“This could lead to eroding the very ecosystems that support the bird life, flora and fauna that people travel [there] to experience,” he warned.

Smith seeks to position his company and clients to be part of the solution, keeping the region’s best ecological interests in mind and not adding to the problem of overtourism.

“We want to help make a once-in-a-lifetime journey to the Galápagos the best trip possible when it comes to fulfilling travel dreams and to securing the future health of the islands,” he said.

Here are 6 tips by AdventureSmith Explorations on how to do the Galápagos right:

  1. Go by small ship (12 to 100 passengers).

Small ships enable visitors to witness wildlife in their unchallenged island environments. Covering more than 3,000 square miles with 13 major islands, the Galápagos archipelago is larger than most people realize, and many visitor sites are accessible only by water. Sleeping aboard a ship each night allows a broader range of exploration since you don’t have to travel back to a land-based accommodation each evening following day trips by boat.

IGTOA reports that 100 percent of the growth in Galápagos tourism in the last decade came from land-based tourism at a time when ship-based tourism declined.

“Ship-based travel in the Galapagos is highly regulated to maximize guest experience and minimize impact on the islands,” Smith noted. Land tourism is currently less regulated, and it is a goal of IGTOA, UNESCO and other conservation groups to approach on-island growth as carefully as ship-based tourism.

Galápagos Small Ship Cruise Tips from AdventureSmith Explorations

National Geographic Endeavour in the Galapagos. * Photo: Sven-Olof Lindblad

  1. Stay as long as you can.

By allowing yourself more time in the archipelago you are going to encounter the most wildlife possible and see a wider range of islands. Allotting more time to understand the subtle ecological differences among the islands enhances the experience and assists conservation with fewer airline flights in and out. Air traffic along with increased cargo shipments are two of the concerns identified by UNESCO in its 2016 State of Conservation Report on the Galapágos Islands, as these are primary ways new invasive species arrive.

Longer stays also help support the local community with more opportunities for meaningful interaction.  Smith recommends at least a seven-night/eight-day cruise.

Galápagos Small Ship Cruise Tips from AdventureSmith Explorations

A famous Galapagos tortoises. * Photo: AdventureSmith Explorations

  1. Make conservation a priority.

In advance of a Galápagos trip, Smith encourages people to learn about conservation organizations and community needs and to donate time or money to them.

AdventureSmith Explorations supports conservation partners and offers a convenient way for its travelers to donate to the Galápagos Traveler Conservation Fund on their booking invoices. Plus, every AdventureSmith traveler in the Galápagos is sailing carbon neutral; the company launched a carbon-free cruising campaign in 2005 and pays to offset each passenger’s cruise carbon footprint via MyClimate.

Galápagos Small Ship Cruise Tips from AdventureSmith Explorations

Expert guides teach visitors to respect the fragile eco-system. * Photo: AdventureSmith Explorations

  1. Plan ahead, do it right once.

Travel to a place as fragile as the Galápagos should ideally be done once, so make the selection process fun for this once-in- a-lifetime trip.

“Shop for the best experience and seek advice from an expert who has traveled to the Galápagos Islands,” Smith advised. Booking early provides more date and ship choices, plus special offers like early-bird discounts.

Galápagos Small Ship Cruise Tips from AdventureSmith Explorations

Spotting dolphins on a zodiac excursion, definitely a once-in-a-lifetime thrill. * Photo: AdventureSmith Explorations

  1. Snorkel!

“If you don’t get in the water, you are missing half of the wildlife in the Galápagos,” Smith said. “There is no shortage of colorful fish, but encounters with charismatic megafauna (playful sea lions, sharks, rays, turtles), prehistoric-looking marine iguanas and the only penguin that lives north of the equator are what really sets Galápagos snorkeling apart.”

Snorkeling options range from deep-water to beginner-friendly shoreline snorkels.

Those who don’t wish to snorkel can opt for a ship that carries a glass-bottom boat.

“Interacting with the Galápagos wildlife and seeing them in such close proximity fosters a conservation mind as you bond with the fearless animals,” Smith added.

Galápagos Small Ship Cruise Tips from AdventureSmith Explorations

Definitely snorkel for up-close encounters with beautiful creatures like this sea lion pup. * Photo: AdventureSmith Explorations

  1. Remember you’re in South America.

Don’t rush the journey and miss out on exploring a bit of what else Ecuador or other nearby regions, like the Sacred Valley and Machu Picchu, Peru, have to offer. Smith cautioned against trying to combine the Galápagos and Peru in just one week, thereby shortchanging two of the world’s most spectacular destinations.

“Machu Picchu is our most popular extension,” Smith pointed out. “Our team offers an array of ways to experience this world-renowned Incan site, from lodge-to-lodge treks to boutique lodges in the Sacred Valley. In Ecuador, our crew can recommend unique lodges in the cloud forest, complementary small ship cruises down the Amazon River or haciendas in the highlands to horseback ride and seek out the Andean condor.”

Galápagos Small Ship Cruise Tips from AdventureSmith Explorations

Machu Picchu, WOW. * Photo: AdventureSmith Explorations

Even if pressed for time, you have to include a stopover. To access the Galápagos Islands some 600 miles west of mainland Ecuador, you must fly.

“As there are no direct international flights to the archipelago, you must route through either Quito in the Andean foothills or Guayaquil along the coast,” Smith said. AdventureSmith’s Galápagos Cruise Package takes care of the essentials of getting to the islands and lets travelers explore these gateways efficiently with a knowledgeable guide.

For more info, go to

Click here for a gander at’s excellent Galapagos Islands small-ship cruise overview.


Galápagos Small Ship Cruise Tips from AdventureSmith Explorations

Pups and kids are a great combo. * Photo: AdventureSmith Explorations


© This article is protected by copyright, no part may be reproduced by any process without written permission from the author. All Rights Reserved.

Posted In:

Ecuador, Galapagos, How to Choose articles, South America


  1. Christina - 2 years ago

    I’ve avoided going for fear of contributing to the destruction of this place. When all ships make education mandatory like a muster drill, I may reconsider!

    • Quirky Cruise - 2 years ago

      And as Todd Smith says, make it a “once in a lifetime” adventure and do it with your eyes open.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *