Stubborn Mule’s Helene Cooper set sail with her nine-year old son on a Galapagos Island cruise on board the Santa Cruz II. Being on a larger expedition-type vessel allowed them to enjoy a wide range of activities – from snorkelling and swimming to kayaking, hiking and mountain biking. Motoring overnight, they avoided the perils of motion sickness and visited a number of islands in small groups with a team of naturalists. She also enjoyed fine dining, excellent accommodation and the services of a superb crew, most of whom her son became ‘best friends’ with. Here is her diary of a typical jam-packed day on a Galapagos Island Cruise.

Family Galapagos cruise - on board Santa Fe II

Motor through the night to arrive at Santa Fe Island around 5am

Wake-up call at 6.30 for a 6.45 breakfast (but you really need to be up before this so that you are showered, ready and organised with your – and your offsprings’ – day sack packed). The usual phenomenal choice at the breakfast buffet with numerous continental and cooked options. At 7.30 meet in the library ready for your group call (you are divided into groups of 10-12 so you do not feel it is an ‘en masse’ visit – and more importantly, nor does the wildlife).

Stepping on to the panga on Galapagos Island cruise

From cruise ship to panga using the ‘Galapagos handshake’ for stability

A ‘wet’ landing (which means transferring from ship to shore in a panga/zodiac dinghy and stepping out into the sea briefly at roughly ankle height before wading up onto the beach – soft sand so no need for wet shoes or any other protection). To be followed by a walk so we are advised to wear good hiking boots (the terrain is quite rugged and volcanic and some sort of support and toe protection is needed but if you are sure-footed then trainers or walking sandals are fine).

Dozing sea lions form the welcome party

After landing, hand life-jackets to the crew and dry off your feet (beach towels are provided by the boat) before putting shoes on to start the walk at around 8. Sea lions are everywhere – they form a welcome party for the pangas arriving at the beach and you virtually sit on them when you are putting your shoes on as they blend into the rocks so well.

Panga landing on beach - Galapagos Island Cruise

‘Wet’ landing on the beach

They doze under the prickly bushes along the trail so that you are constantly almost tripping over them. They are very inquisitive and it is impossible to remain at 2m as they keep approaching you.

Baby sea lion on trail - Galapagos Island cruise

Selfie with inquisitive baby fur seal on the trail

The pace is gentle and 20 minutes is spent at the first beach listening to your naturalist explain about the local ecology. Santa Fe is quite barren in a dramatic, scenic way with lots of cactus-like prickly pear and the Alto Santo tree (very aromatic). A slight rise brings stunning views over the island and one can see the non-walking group in their glass-bottomed boats (with roofs for rain/sun protection) in the neighbouring bay.

Finches, hawks, mockingbirds, iguanas and lava lizards

The famous Darwin Finch is everywhere and there are plenty of other birds around such as the Galapagos hawk and mockingbird. Lava lizards lead a merry dance …right up to a Santa Fe Land Iguana, in all its prehistoric majesty, posing on the cliff edge with the ship anchored in the bright blue sea in the background.

Santa Cruise II with trees and Helene on Galapagos Island Cruise

Prickly pear cactus and the pristine ocean make the perfect backdrop for a photo

After a busy hour and a half it’s back to the landing beach to fight through the packs of sea lions – both on land and cruising the shallows, blocking access to the pangas. On the short ride back to the ship more sea lion dart around the boat as well as some white-tipped sharks.

Back on board, nibbles followed by snorkelling

Back on board at 9.45 for a welcome drink and nibbles and then, dash to the cabin to change into swimsuits for the (optional) snorkelling excursion. Back to the aft deck to don wetsuits and then into the panga to head to a protected cove. This particular snorkelling excursion involved jumping from the panga into the sea but other times it would be simply walking in from the beach.

Each snorkeller has a buddy, as per the PADI dive system, and a naturalist guide swims with you as well as the support boat riding alongside the group. You leave your bag with towels etc… on the panga so you can keep warm when you finish your swim.

Young boy snorkelling on a Galapagos Islands cruise

The snorkelling is fabulous…

The marine life was astounding with more sea lions, manta rays, sharks and… turtles! Huge shoals of exotically coloured fish everywhere. Above water and we were swimming past boobies of various kind perched on the rocks. After 45 minutes we took off our flippers in the water and clambered up the metal ladder into the panga and back to the ship.

swimming with turtles -Underwater photo taken on Galapagos Islands cruise

… and swimming alongside turtles was out of this world

A much needed quick hot shower and then a further trip briefing at 12.15 in the bar followed by an amazing lunch at 1 with everything from seafood paella to lasagne and fried rice.

South Plazas Islands

Finally some ‘down time’ after lunch as you sail to the next island.

Delicious sea food on a Galapagos Island cruise - on Santa Cruz II

Shrimp anyone…. or burger and chips?

Cue: packing for the impending expedition. At 3pm it is disembarkation time at South Plazas Island on a ‘dry’ landing. The pangas bring you alongside a stone jetty – surrounded by the inevitable sea lions. This is a beautifully scenic island – oddly like New Mexico with its fiery scarlet sesuvium carpeting the ground and bright green prickly pear cactus.

There are both land and marine iguanas everywhere along with Frigate birds, pelicans, white-tailed gulls and shearwaters filling the sky.

Marine iguanas - Galapagos island cruise

Marine iguanas

Fur seals are every present and you are once again constantly tripping over iguanas as they fill the entire path, blocking your route through. A quick prod by the guide with one of the wooden walking sticks passengers can borrow from the ship and they scuttle away.

land iguana - Galapagos islands cruise

Land iguana

Here conservation is in action with a ‘field’ of planted cactus to enable the survival of the population of iguanas which have been depleted due to the El Nino effect which kills the food they live on.

Ascend to a dramatic basalt cliff for more stunning views – and a strong wind (fleeces needed).

Back for Happy Hour…

Back on board at 5.15 to be greeted by the usual welcome drink and nibbles, time for another (very) quick shower before Happy Hour and an open-air BBQ on deck – although why anyone is hungry after a huge lunch and dinner looming at 7.30….. It’s a struggle to make it to dinner. Forget pudding, bed at 8pm.

Boy asleep after a full day of activities on a Galapagos cruise

Galapagos Island cruise for families

For more information check out our family holidays in the Galapagos section and read Helene’s Galapagos with kids blog. Also see our When to go to the Galapagos Islands page.

Or simply ring Helene on 01728 752751 if you’d like to chat with her about her experiences on a Galapagos Island cruise and her trip to mainland Ecuador. You can also get in touch using our online form.