If you are looking for that unforgettable, once-in-a-lifetime travel destination, then the Galapagos Islands or Antarctica are surely top of the to do list. An Antarctica or Galapagos vacation will give you incredible memories to treasure all your life. Here is an idea of what they have in common, and how to choose between the two.
It goes without saying that both the Galaparos Islands and Antarctica are havens for nature and wildlife. Because of their isolation, both have wildlife not found anywhere else. The fierce sea between The Antarctic and Atlantic Oceans has, for 20 million years limited the exchange of animals and fish between the oceans. Antarctica has penguins, seals, sea birds and whales not found anywhere else. The Galapagos fascinated Darwin and continues to enthrall visitors with the variety of unique species – even found between the islands. The Galapagos penguin, tortoises, finches and much more are only found in the Galapagos Islands.
It is an amazing experience to come up to a blue footed booby on the Galapagos as the bird just sits there looking at you. Because the creatures of both the Galapagos Islands and Antarctica have had little contact with humans, they are not scared of visiting tourist. Adelaide penguins don’t scuttle off when they see a tourist with a camera; and neither do the Galapagos iguanas.
Galapgos has beautiful beaches and achingly gorgeous sunsets but, to be fair, it will never be a match for the monochrome grandeur and other- worldliness of Antarctica. Galapagos white sand is beautiful but not the same as towering icebergs and the midnight sun of the south.
Boats, ships and cruises
Both the Galapagos and Antarctica are best explored on a cruise. In order to protect the environments, both the Galapagos National Park and the voluntary IAATO of Antarctica impose restrictions on cruises and tourist visits.
In the Galapagos there is a limited number of vessels, their itineraries scheduled in advance to minimize impact on the fragile nature of the islands. Landings are only made in designated sites and with a guide. Vessels tend to be small with the largest holding around 90 guests and many small craft holding only 16 visitors. The best Galapagos cruises involve visits with expert, naturalist guides who come from the Galapagos themselves and are enthusiastic about this natural marvel.
For Antarctica, only 100 people can disembark at one time. This means that the larger the ship, the less likely it is that you will be able to spend time ashore. Large luxury vessels will have more entertainment but you will only be looking at the frozen continent from afar. The best Antarctica Cruise ships are of the expedition type with space for less than 100 guests and staffed by polar experts.
Example of an Antarctica Cruise on an Expedition ship
The Galapagos and Antarctica Experience
Cruises in the Galapagos and Antarctica unlike anywhere else. There is limited entertainment; the focus is more on the experience and the incredible natural wonders around you. Guides are generally knowledgeable experts. Instead of music shows you are more likely to sit down to an entertaining lecture from a naturalist guide about the differences in giant tortoises, or the effect of global warming on the life of the penguin. In these spectacular locations it is difficult not to immerse yourself totally in what is around you and you will find that you learn a lot about the planet on your cruise!
These are active cruises. In both the Antarctica and the Galapagos Islands there are two shore excursions a day. These might involve short walks, snorkeling in the Galapagos or kayaking in Antarctica. Travel to shore is in zodiac boats in small groups.
Dress is most definitely casual and the emphasis on adventure and exploration.
Galapagos and Antarcica Vacations: The Difference
Time: Galapagos cruises start from 4 days and the longer cruises visit most of the islands and last 8 days. The shortest Antarctica cruises involve flying to the Antarctic Peninsular from Chile. This cuts out the time needed to cross the Drake Passage and these trips last 8 days. Heading further south and into Antarctica proper, there are cruises lasting weeks to monghts.
The season for Antarctica Cruises runs from November to March only. Galapagos cruises run year-round.
Price: Antarctic Cruises are more expensive starting at US$5000. Galapagos Cruises on the better quality, more comfortable vessels start at around US$2000.
The Weather: Needless to say; the Galapagos is warmer! During the Antarctic summer, though, temperatures reach 30-50 degreees F.
Beaches: If you want to end your trip on a beach, you can add a few days to your Galapagos vacation for some quiet relaxation on some of the most un-spoilt beaches in South America.
Families: For families with children, the Galapagos is an undoubted winner. Antarctica Cruises will involve at least a couple of days at sea with no time ashore Galapagos Cruises always involve a lot of time ashore, including plenty of time on beaches or swimming. There are optional active extras available in the Galapagos such as bike rides, kayaking, snorkeling. What child would not like to take a close look at a giant tortoise, or take a swim with a turtle?
Life Changing Experience: We hear it again and again; a trip to Antarctica will change your view of the planet – and yourself on it.