When you think about Galapagos the first things that pop into your head are probably Charles Darwin and the giant Tortoises. The BIG 15 that you search for while in Galapagos are basically land animals. Some might swim a little but none of them live underwater. As excited as I was see all of those endemic species I was also very excited to get in the water and explore who lives there too. The leaders of Central and South America want to protect the underwater creatures just as much as the land living ones. On the day we were leaving Galapagos they signed a decree officially creating the new Galapagos Marine Reserve. https://www.travelandleisure.com/trip-ideas/nature-travel/galapagos-marine-reserve-ocean-highway
I would not call myself an expert or even an avid snorkeler. I really had only done it a couple times in the Caribbean and honestly didn't enjoy it that much. Then when we cruised Sea of Cortes 2 years ago I was very excited to snorkel with the sea lions which meant I did need to take a refresher course on how to snorkel before we got to the sea lions.
I realized that part of the reason I didn't enjoy snorkeling was that I just didn't like having the snorkel in my mouth. I also hadn't snorkeled in a a wetsuit before so I learned that it is so much easier in a wetsuit since that does all the work of keeping you afloat. I will be honest when our guide said you will always float in a wetsuit I didn't believe her so at first I kept feeling like I had to tread water. Once I got comfortable enough to convince my brain I wasn't going to sink I finally started to enjoy snorkeling.
When I booked the expedition cruise to Galapagos I knew snorkeling would be a must do - mainly because there would be sea lions and I had so much fun swimming with those little guys in Sea of Cortes. I already knew I wanted a wetsuit since it made it easier but then I read how cold the water would be I knew it was a must have. You would think being on the equator would mean warm water but it doesn't. The average water temperature all year is 75 degrees. So I also added scuba gloves and socks to the list to keep me warmer.
With all the covid stuff I thought the ship might not be lending snorkels and masks so I figured best to buy our own. I did some research and so glad I did since I found the best mask and snorkel. I had seen some people wearing these recently on other cruises and I kind of thought they looked silly. After reading the reviews I realized those people were the smart ones. We ordered a couple from amazon and so glad we did. This new mask goes over your whole face and no need to hold anything in your mouth. The snorkel also has a great way of keeping water out of your mouth too. It made snorkeling a breeze. I was able to stay in the water for hours and never felt uncomfortable.
If you really want to snorkel in Galapaogs an expedition cruise, like the Hurtigruten one I did, really is the best way. I think we snorkeled almost every day in new locations and one day even twice in the day. The first time we walked in from the beach but after that it was what they called deep water snorkel where you get in the water from the zodiac. I had never done that before but it was easy and actually better than walking in from the beach because you get the cold part over fast.
There are a lot of amazing animals on land in Galapagos but also a ton underwater too. It was just so serene to be floating on the water and all of a sudden a school of fish would dart your way and next thing you know you were right in the middle of them. Sometimes I would swim along with them and it was just such a cool feeling. The sea lions are also very curious and will come check you out. Some also like to nibble on your flippers. One time I caught a sea turtle out of the corner of my eye so I turned towards him but he didn't want to be friendly I guess because he swam away but it was fun to swim after him for a bit. We also saw lots of different types of fish along with some starfish, rays, and skates. On the last day the guides said they saved the best for last and then they told me it was the best because there are sharks. I wasn't so sure but I figured if the guides were excited to find them it must be safe. When I saw the first one I had a little panic moment but then realized he didn't care about me. I kept watching and found there was actually a bunch of them and some looked like they were sleeping. Every now and then you might see one of the birds dive in and pop back to the top of the water which was also very interesting.
Getting to snorkel somewhere like Galapagos where there just is never going to be a lot of people in the water makes it so much better than snorkeling anywhere else (ok so I haven't been to the Great Barrier Reef yet but that is on my list).
Packing for an expedition cruise is different from packing for a regular cruise. While I usually try to pack light it can be harder on an expedition. The one nice thing about an expedition cruise is you are definitely not expected to dress up at any point. Clothes onboard are casual and it is actually OK to rewear most of the clothes you bring which I will admit was something hard for me to do at first.
On my recent Galapagos cruise many of the other guests commented that I was a super smart packer for the choices I brought with me so today I wanted to talk a little bit about what I packed for my Galapagos trip and how to decide what to bring for almost any expedition. The 3 key things are Weather, Terrain, and Activities.
Planning what to pack for any vacation first starts with your own comfort level. I know that I am always cold so I like to make sure I pack things to keep me warm. I research what the weather is generally like where I will be traveling and that is where I start with what I will need to pack. Next I will look at what activities I will be doing on this vacation and then I decide what I will need to make those activities the most comfortable. I also learn from each vacation and try to pay attention to what my guides are wearing for certain types of things and I plan to get those things for my next trip.
For the Galapagos I did my research on the weather and the terrain. That told me that I would need to plan for layers which really does work best for almost any travel. It is always better to be able to take off a layer if you get hot. I also read that we would be visiting Galapagos in the wet season so I packed a light rain jacket. We didn't end up really needing the rain gear but that was OK. Galapagos is on the equator so I knew the sun would be strong no matter what time of year it was. I prefer to wear lightweight clothes that have an SPF vs lathering on the sunscreen. My go to for clothes like that is Columbia. I like to have pants and a button down shirt so I can have another shirt layered underneath but if it will be hot I go for one of their cooling shirts. Also do not forget a good hat to shade your face and neck. These clothes work for either hiking, kayaking, or riding around on the zodiacs since they are light and will shield you from the sun and also dry fast when they get wet.
Shoes are one of those things that take up a lot of suitcase space and can be heavy so trying to take the least amount of shoes but still be comfortable is key. I read about what kind of hikes we would be doing and as is typical on most expedition type cruises we would be taking zodiacs over to land and many times it would be a wet landing. I tend to be a flip flop person so if it was just going to be a beach walk that would be fine however most of the land in Galapagos is rocky so hiking type shoes work best. Having been on a couple expedition cruises I had seen the guides wearing hiking sandals and those seem to work nicely since they can get wet on the landing but still protect your feet for rougher terrain. I will be honest I have never been a fan of the way tevas look so I researched some other options and I found Chacos. I liked the way they looked and they got great reviews so I ordered a pair. They worked perfectly for me on this trip so I was very happy. Very important - if you buy new shoes for any vacation be sure to break them in before leaving home. Some others on our trip brought hiking sneakers and would either go barefoot off the zodiac or would wear other shoes that could get wet and then dry off their feet and put on the hiking shoes. To me that seemed like too much extra.
Galapagos is one of those places where the snorkeling is amazing and you don't want to miss the chance to do it. The water isn't as warm as you might expect though so if floating in 75 degree water for an hour doesn't sound appealing then you will want to be like me and bring a wetsuit. Many expedition boats might also carry some wetsuits you can borrow however you might be surprised to find the wetsuits are shorties like on our boat. I was very happy to have my full length wetsuit since it allowed me to spend way more time in the water than the guests that were wearing the shorties. Our previous expedition in Sea of Cotes did loan us full wetsuits so that is also how I knew I really preferred a full length but I also wasn't super crazy about wearing a loaner for something that is so close to so much skin. Another snorkeling item that you might not feel too comfortable using a loaner is the mask and snorkel. With all the covid stuff I wasn't totally sure the ship would be offering the snorkels to use so I figured best to buy my own anyway. When I did my research I found many people were raving about this new type of snorkel mask that gives you a much better view and you didn't have to hold the snorkel part in your mouth. I am so glad I found that mask for this trip as it really was as great as the reviews said! Also being someone that gets cold very easily I also had a few other accessories like diving gloves and socks to keep me warm.
A few other accessories that come in handy on expeditions are a good camera/underwater camera for snorkeling, a small backpack/dry bag, binoculars, and a refillable water bottle (our ship gave each guest a nice bottle and had filling stations onboard).
I have learned the hard way that on an expedition it really doesn't hurt to pack those things that you normally might not want to waste precious suitcase space on since most expeditions are probably once in a lifetime trips so you don't want to miss out because you don't have the right gear.
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