Liveaboard Charters in Ecuador
Tour Options and Travel Information
To plan a scuba diving holiday trip to the nature-lover's mecca of Galapagos is to be giving yourself a once-in-a-lifetime gift. The nutrient-rich waters that surround these islands of Ecuador are densely populated with a huge variety of wonderful creatures. You will see sea lions, penguins, eagle rays, Galapagos sharks, turtles, hammerhead sharks, mola mola, iguanas, golden rays, seals and whale sharks! This is no exaggeration. Galapagos is one liveaboard destination where you can believe the hype.
If you're ready to join us on this r-evolutionary journey, check out your options:
The 2 leading names for dives in the Galapagos are Wolf and Darwin. These 2 islands in the far north west of the archipelago promise some of the most breath-taking dives in this extraordinary destination. Their sites are great for sightings of hammerheads in large numbers, as well as Galapagos sharks. There are also turtles, eagle rays, dolphins and sea lions among the parade of wonder.
Other places visited by liveaboards either side of Wolf and Darwin promise thrilling dives with often slightly varying conditions and different creatures. Areas such as Gordon's Rock and Cabo Marshall are also great places for a variety of sharks, but here manta rays, mola mola, endemic red-lipped batfish, seahorses, sea lions and penguins are added into the mix. Many of the creatures here are not wary of scuba divers and will allow you to get up close.
You will also enjoy fascinating land tours to learn about the endemic birds and land creatures of the region, and pay homage to the brilliance of Charles Darwin and his work. What a thrill to be in a place of such scientific and historic relevance, walking in the same footsteps of the great naturalist who changed the way we think about life. The memories you make in the Galapagos islands, both above and below water, will stay with you forever.
The rest of this page contains information about Ecuador:
Diving Cruise Options
Due to the special attractions of the Galapagos being both underwater and on land, we offer both diving and non-diving natural history liveaboards. Dive safaris are allowed to include just one land visit (to the Santa Cruz Highlands, Santa Cruz's Puerto Ayora or San Cristobal Island) so we highly recommend a scuba trip followed by a back-to-back wildlife/nature tour.
Galapagos Diving Safaris - You simply must visit Wolf and Darwin in order to dive the best of the Galapagos Islands. The best liveaboards focus their cruise around these 2 islands and they follow largely the same route. Daytrips from resorts cannot give you access to these remote islands which is why a liveaboard charter is the only option.
At Wolf and Darwin, you can expect to see huge numbers of sharks including innumerable hammerheads, Galapagos sharks, and whale sharks in season. Often you will witness all this from your stationary position on a rocky slope at a depth of about 20m. Elsewhere the dives involve drifting along walls or sloping reefs. The central islands are where your shore visits will take place and you can expect to experience such varied locations as lava flows, research centres, booby sanctuaries and shorelines where penguins, iguanas, pelicans and sea lions compete for space.
Trips are 7 nights in duration. Diving conditions can be difficult in the Galapagos, with water temperatures, current and surge all posing potential challenges to the less experienced scuba diver.
Galapagos Diving and Trekking - As an alternative to a full week of liveaboard diving, you could join a 5 night trekking and diving tour. This allows you to do 2 days of diving at the best sites of central Galapagos, plus you get to sample some of the archipelago's most interesting land activities. Visit the Charles Darwin Research Station, the marine iguanas of Tortuga Bay, check out Flamingo Lagoon, trek to the crater of Sierra Negra on Isabela Island, and snorkel at Concha Perla. What an action-packed few days! What a great way to sample what Galapagos has to offer, if time, budget or liveaboard cruise availability issues require an alternative.
These packages are 5 nights in duration and require a minimum of 2 guests. Diving in central Galapagos may be a little less challenging than on remote islands but still requires a reasonable level of experience. The trekking on this tour means that a reasonable level of fitness is required.
Galapagos Wildlife Cruises (non-diving) - There are not many places where we would recommend a liveaboard without diving, but the Galapagos Islands are different. Here a tour from one island to the next, with on board naturalist guides and the company of fellow nature-lovers, can greatly enrich your experience of this unique Ecuadorian archipelago.
We recommend to avoid the poor quality and low value-for-money daytrips from towns like Puerto Ayora and San Cristobal and instead choose the comfort and quality of a non-diving liveaboard nature tour. You will see much more of the archipelago, experience different habitats, encounter a wide range of creatures and learn from some of the best guides in Galapagos. Daytrips will take you where they want to go, but onboard wildlife safaris make it their business to take you to the most fascinating places. We suggest that you aim for a high quality experience to enrich your once-in-a-lifetime holiday in the Galapagos.
Wildlife charters run from 3 to 7 nights so they are easy to add on to your diving trip and are suitable for everyone.
Key Travel Facts
Ports of Departure and How to Get There
For holiday makers, travel to the Galapagos National Park involves an international flight into Ecuador followed by a domestic flight out to the islands. The country has 2 international airports - Guayaquil and Quito. There are direct international flights from many South American countries but also from Spain, the Netherlands and the USA. The US airports that connect to Ecuador are Miami, New York and Houston.
Flying into José Joaquín de Olmedo International Airport, Guayaquil (elected as best South American Airport) is our recommended route since onwards flights to the Galapagos are cheaper and better timed than from Quito. However, you can still go through Quito although both your outbound and inbound flights to the islands will stop in Guayaquil.
You will need to overnight in Guayaquil or Quito before flying on to Baltra, San Cristobal or Santa Cruz in the Galapagos Islands, where the cruises depart from. On the return leg you will probably need to overnight in Guayaquil or Quito since most international flights depart too early to make the connection possible.
We will place your domestic flight requirements in Ecuador with the liveaboard operator since they are responsible for booking the flights. We request your patience with this process since there are often waiting lists and slow confirmations of availability. You must inform us whether you are flying into Guayaquil or Quito before domestic flights can be considered. If you wish to extend your holiday in Galapagos to enjoy land tours please decide that early in the booking process to ensure flight availability.
We recommend you take out health, diving and travel insurance, including trip cancellation. See our insurance programme for a competitive quote.
Places to Stay
If you plan on staying in Ecuador or Galapagos before or after your diving safari, our affiliated hotel reservation agents Agoda.com have a variety of suitable accommodations. Browse the choices on their website, use their live chat to ask your questions, and then simply use your credit card to make your reservation:
You can book your mainland Ecuador accommodation for over-nighting or for extending your stay. Locations include Quito, Guayaquil, Cuenca, Manta and Salinas on the mainland, and Isla Santa Cruz and Isabela at the islands. In any location you can benefit from Agoda's 'Low Price Guarantee', so you will always get top-dollar value for money.
The Climate and Best Time to Visit
The Galapagos Islands experience a subtropical climate, regulated by both the warm El Niño current and the cold Humboldt current. This results in a dry season from July to December meaning cooler water (19-23°C) and air (average daily temperature 21-24°C), clear skies and occasional afternoon showers. The wet season from January to June is warmer (average temps 24-28°C) and sees cloudier skies and daily rain, but warmer water (20-25°C, but 27-28°C at some of the sites).
You can dive in the Galapagos all year round but the best time to visit on a liveaboard cruise would depend on your own reasons to travel and your degree of aversion to cold water. The dry season is best to see whale sharks but the water is colder. The wet season is best to see hammerhead sharks and manta rays and the water is warmer.
Guayaquil can be hot and humid although the temperature ranges between 20 and 34° C. January to June sees the most rain and the dry season runs from July until mid December.
Quito, Ecuador's capital, is subtropical and, because of its highland location (2,850m), maintains a cool temperature that stays fairly constant in the mid 20's. The wet season is October to May, while the dry season is June to September.
Since June 20, 2008, any person from any country can enter Ecuador and obtain a visa on arrival for a period of 90 days. Normally all you need is your passport (valid for at least 6 months) and a return ticket. However, we recommend you double-check with your Ecuadorian Consulate or the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Human Mobility website before you travel.
Reasonable medical care is available in Quito, Guayaquil, and most of the other big cities. Pharmacies are plentiful. Medical facilities outside the major towns are limited.
We recommend you drink only bottled or sterilised water during your time in Ecuador, avoid unpasteurised dairy products, eat only meat that has been well-cooked, peeled fruit and cooked vegetables.
Tourist Security and Safety
The Galapagos Islands, being sparsely populated and remote, do not carry much of a threat to personal security.
Quito has the same issues as every big city, and sometimes more. You would be well advised to take special care in certain areas. The Old Town is a busy tourist area during the day with a strong police presence. Aside from taking the usual precautions against notorious pickpockets and opportunistic thieves, there is no particular threat here. Pickpockets can be a threat elsewhere such as at the main trolley station, so you may wish to make good use of your hotel safety deposit box and carry only what cash you might need.
In the evenings some places are best avoided, particularly as a pedestrian, such as El Panecillo, Mariscal Sucre and other parks and the area around Hospital Militar. Taxis are always the best way to get around.
In Guayaquil, again sensible precautions and the avoidance of potentially risky situations should see you enjoy your time here without incident. However, sensible precautions in Guayaquil may be a little more extensive than elsewhere.
Night times are not a time to be on foot and you should stick to the safer areas. These are generally accepted as being Las Penas, Plaza de la Administración and Avenida 9 de Octubre. Malecón 2000 is a safe and well patrolled spot day and night. As with Quito, you should avoid carrying too much cash or any credit cards with you and avoid wearing flashy jewellery. We advise you to pre-arrange all airport transfers and organise taxis through your hotel. Taxi robberies are a danger in Guayaquil.
Useful Tips for Tourists
Sightseeing, Activities and Adventure
Ecuador straddles the equator after which it is named, and occupies an area of approximately 280,000 km². Geographically, it can be divided into 4 regions: the coast, the sierra or highlands, the Amazon Basin in the east, and the Galapagos Islands. It has over 2,300 km of Pacific coastline and is bordered by Colombia and Peru.
Of course, the most popular tourist attraction in Ecuador is the Galapagos National Park. Santa Cruz's main town, Puerto Ayora, is the Galapagos' most developed and many tourists overnight here as it represents one of the only shopping opportunities in the islands. Santa Cruz is the most densely populated island and consists of a bay normally full of boats, tour desks, some shops, cafés and the national park headquarters.
A must-visit is The Charles Darwin Research Station, some 10 minutes stroll from the town centre. Here you can learn much of the details of Darwin's research and study. Established in 1959, the Darwin Station works closely with the national park, protecting the islands and marine reserve. It is a very interesting glance into the past and a tangible link to one of the most profound and elegant answers to some of the greatest mysteries of life.
Travelling to the Highlands of Santa Cruz represents a great opportunity to experience the various ‘life zones’ of the Galapagos from the coast, through agricultural lands and up into misty forests. A great variety of birds can be found in the highlands. You will also see many of the giant tortoises here in their natural habitat. In addition, there are fascinating volcanic elements to the landscape such as sink holes, lava tubes and craters.
2 of the best known craters are known as Los Gemelos (The Twins) and they are an attraction in themselves with unique vegetation and a variety of bird life. A licensed guide will allow you to visit these areas and make the visit a special one full of interesting facts and sightings.
If you want the full land and sea experience of the Galapagos Islands, we recommend a non-diving, wildlife liveaboard trip. Guests will get some experience of land creatures during their diving cruise, but the island chain has much more to offer than that brief exposure.
For a wide range of eco-, nature and adventures throughout Ecuador, visit the specialists: Ministry of Tourism, Ecuadorian Tours and Escape to Ecuador.
Quito is the nation's capital and has the buildings, events and nightlife to prove it. It is considered to be one the best preserved historic centres of South America, a distinction for which UNESCO declared the city a World Heritage Site.
Set inland from the coast in a long valley in the Andes, Quito's historic sites, museums and the surrounding mountainous area, make it an interesting place to spend some time. It is well located to be a base from which to explore elsewhere in the country. Although less convenient for cheap flights to the Galapagos and well timed international transfers, if you intend to spend some time in mainland Ecuador, Quito is a great place to start.
Most tourists tend to focus on the Old Town, around the central plaza. The Old Town is what made Quito a UNESCO cultural heritage site in 1978. Cathedrals, places and statues of independence heroes dominate the streets.
Colonial homes can be visited in the Old Town, the choice of which are 2 of a distinctly historical nature, Casa de Benalcázar, the home of one of the nation's founders, and Casa de Sucre, where Field Marshall José de Antonio de Sucre, a hero of Latin American battles for independence, lived.
Museums are worth visiting in Quito, particularly the Museo Franciscano in the Monastery of San Francisco, the oldest colonial building in Quito. Other museums within monasteries include San Augustín and San Diego. The Museo del Arte y Historia and the Museo de Arte Colonial are great places to see the varying influences of Spanish, Italian, Moorish and indigenous art.
Given Quito's beautiful natural setting, it is not surprising that hiking tours into the nearby highlands overlooking the city are a popular pastime among tourists. Your hotel will have information on the various options available.
Guayaquil, located on the Pacific coast, is the main port of Ecuador and its most populated city. It is a hot sea port with what some call a ‘Caribbean air’ as the music of steel drums fill the air and seafood sizzles on the grills.
It is becoming an increasingly important tourism hub and, with the generation of new green zones and tourist-friendly features, it is trying hard to leave behind a past image of being a dirty and edgy city. Many divers pass through on their way to the Galapagos and might spend a night or two here.
You would be wise to stick to the downtown area near the main hotels in Guyaquil. This is a regenerated area, designed to ensure the safety and comfort of tourists, and there are a number of things to see and do.
The Malecon del Salado is an area where you can enjoy fresh air and wonderful sunsets, with restaurants serving local delicacies, all within a safe new park and free of the worst excesses of traffic and potential pickpockets.
Take a walk up the 400+ steps to the top of the Santa Ana and El Carmen hills. From here you can see almost the whole city. There is a lighthouse, church, museum and a small park. At the foot of the steps in the Malecon Simón Bolivar you will find another lovely park with an IMAX theatre.
Nearby is a market worth checking out for souvenirs and all manner of kitsch. It is known locally as the Mercado Artesanal - the ‘Artisans Market’.
The Galapagos Islands are -6 hrs GMT (or -1 hr EST). Quito and Guayaquil Standard Time is -5 hrs GMT (same as EST).
Electrical appliances operate on an alternating current - 110 volts, 60 cycles (Hertz) AC, 2 flat pins - in Ecuador; the same as in the United States. The Galapagos liveaboard boats use 2- or 3-flat pin sockets.
In major cities, local telephone calls can be made from street phones. You will probably need to buy a prepaid card and the service is unreliable. There are also stores that allow the use of phones but these too can cause frustration and be busy.
Calls to the USA are best done via net-phones from internet cafés. Through a computer you can connect to dialpad.com and make calls for free, and of course there is always Skype and other forms of instant messaging and internet calling.
Internet cafés are plentiful, reasonably cheap and straightforward to both locate and use throughout the country.
593 is the international calling country code for Ecuador.
Codes of Behaviour
Shaking hands when meeting and parting is normal in Latin America. Body proximity is something you may note here as Ecuadorians tend to stand much closer to each other in normal circumstances than people from other cultures. You may also find them very inquisitive with many questions. In a safe environment this is an endearing way of showing interest in you. In a less safe environment you may not welcome such interest.
Tipping and Bargaining
In Ecuador tips are generally given in restaurants, to supermarket bag boys and parking lot guards. How much depends on the person doing the tipping and how satisfied they are with it. Generally it varies between 20 cents for parking and bag boys and up to US$ 5 in restaurants.
Bargaining in markets is normal and indeed essential as there is normally no set price. Often the first one suggested is hugely over-inflated, so the best first response is shock and retreat. You should counter with a maximum of half what the seller began with and settle on a price you think reasonable.
There are no clear rules about dress code, however skimpier outfits may be frowned upon away from tourist areas. Sometimes, and certainly in the highlands, the temperature can drop below what you might call ‘equatorial’ so a long sleeved sweater or jacket is worth packing.
Most visitors will not encounter any difficulties in this regard although the usual precautions should be adhered to in order to avoid petty crime in the towns. Pick-pocketing in Quito and Guayaquil can be an unwelcome problem for the unwary or under-prepared.
Useful References for Galapagos Islands