What We Did
We went though a company called Explorer's Corner who advertises their trips through O.A.R.S. Several of the people no our trip were O.A.R.S. alumni. We found Explorer's Corner through an internet search looking for Galapagos trips and kayaking. They were just about the only hit. It made sense since at the time they were the only company out there doing daily kayak trips in the Galapagos. We had been looking at trips for a few years, but were hesitant to sign up due to large numbers of people stuck on a boat with each other for a week. Explorer's Corner was different. Only 8 people. We knew we had our trip!
The general pace of the day on the trip we went on, was (except for the days we flew), at least one snorkle each day and sometimes two, at least one kayak trip, and a couple days there were two, and a walk on an island and sometimes two. Between the many activities (you could always chose to sit out of one and about two hours later the next activity was ready to go), there was breakfast, snack, lunch, snack, and dinner, and an occasional relocation of the boat to get to the next activity. That was by far the best features of the trip. Lots of wonderfulactivities and no chance for boredom. The other thing we loved about this trip was kayaking up close to animals and paddling along coastlines, which provided much more close up sight seeing time of land and animals. We can't imagine there is another trip out there at the time that could provide that to its guests.
We heard that a company called Active South America (same company as Active New Zealand) will be starting a kayaking, hiking and biking trip to the Galapagos in the near future. We are looking forward to seeing the itinerary, as we would love to return to the Galapagos in the future!
Some people might be interested in small numbers of people on the boat but do not wish to do a kayaking trip. The boat used by the Explorer's Corner trip (Galapagos Vision) also does trips for about half the cost and a very different itinerary. There were very few bots out there with only 8 people trips, but we saw two others: Sea Cloud and Merak. One has AC, whereas ours did not. We can not endorse either having never seen them other than the internet, but for someone looking for a small boat, those are two to contact to ask questions.
Small boats may have marine toilets instead of traditional toilets. Small boats may not have hot water for showers. Small boats may not have AC. You may need to walk though the cook's galley to get to your room no a small boat. If any of this is important to you, we recommend you ask before you sign up. And yes, it is hot during the day during the warm season.
On a small boat you have the extreme luxury of a small group. Absolutely nothing can compare to the quality of the activities and attention a small group can have. However, room to move around on small boats (the kind with sails) can also prove challenging. The cooler for beer was at the top of the stairs on to the deck, leaving a 4" path around it to traverse to hang up your clothing to dry up front. Lines are everywhere tieing down tarps, jugs, etc. Think of it as a daily obstacle course.
A note on large boats. A larger boat was in the same harbor as us one day, and we saw 5 zodiac boats shuttle 40 or 50 people from the boat to the beach and thought, "I am glad I am not on that trip". For other people, this is what they want in a trip, and we mean no offense, and wish to express acknowledgement that the people on that boat probably had AC, nice bathrooms and hot showers, and a wider variety of food for meals. There were definite plusses to their trip as well, and of course I envied them for that!
Truth in Advertising
A note of fair warning to folks about boats and dive trips or similar trips. Always ask questions like "is it a marine toilet or a regular toilet", "do I pump a handle, or is the flush electric" etc. (See other questions above.) Advertisements for boats that claim they are luxury may not mean what you think. If they talk up the history of the boat or craftsmanship, there is perhaps a reason they are not talking about the features (or lack thereof). Wood boats can be susceptible to cockroaches and will probably be musty. As a side note, our friend went on a dive boat (location withheld) where some of the crew hated Americans and would empty the waste while the divers were decompressing. Knowing this made me feel lucky to only have our Galapagos Vision toilet explode only 5 times in 2 days (it was known to be broken before we boarded, so we let the staff clean the liquefied poo from the community off the bathroom floor) and to find cockroaches in my bed (they had the cook clean up the kitchen and the bugs went away). Happily, after the first 3-4 days, we finally got the toilet repaired and working. Things got better.
So that brings me to another point about the boats and ships. You may contract though a tour company who in turn contracts out a boat that comes with its own crew. Other tour companies have their own boats, and some tour boats do trips independent as their own tour company for part of the year and then a tour company uses the boat and crew for another part of the year.
Any itinerary provided by a company should include the disclaimer that the National Park has the right to change / divert your itinerary for any number of reasons. It can and did. On our trip, the thing I wanted to hike most was the morning sunrise hike up a volcano half way though the trip. Lo and behold the park had just closed that trail so hunters could shoot off the goats so the tortoises could finally return. But because the company we went with clearly stated things like this could happen, we were not at all upset with the company. Sure the hike would have been nice, but there is nothing you could do.
So in the end, it is always buyer beware, but in nicer terms, we hope this helps you form questions that you may want to ask a company about their trip before you sign up. You are paying a HUGE whack of dough for this trip and if you know what to expect going in, even the parts that are not as savory, you have the right expectations and will not be let down.