Taking a Cargo Boat to the Galapagos Islands

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   Our Experience of Taking a Cargo Boat for 1,400 Kilometers to get to the Galapagos Islands.

It had always been a dream of my friend and I to visit the Galapagos Islands.  On a tight budget, we simply could not afford flights, so we looked for other alternatives.  Our Couchsurfing family mentioned that if you are lucky you can take a boat there, but not just any boat, a large cargo boat that takes three days to cross the pacific and arrive at the islands.

Finding a cargo ship

Finding a shipping route is the easy part, actually getting onto the ship that can be tricky.  You have either options either working on the ship but involves a lenghty interview process with contracts to sign which tie you in to working on the boat for months at a time. 

Or another option is paying to be on the voyage.  The price includes three meals a day with your own two personed room.  The best way of acheiving this is contacting the travel agent for the shipping company six months before,  as it takes a long time to process everything.   

Lastly turn up at the harbour and chance your luck to see of you can get onboard a ship for free.  This is what we did in Ecuador and luckily it worked out.

Finding a Cargo Boat

Being told to go to the pier in the city of Guayaquil, we patiently asked ship captains if, firstly, they were going to the islands, and secondly, if they could take us. Taking a cargo boat requires patience.  After a few hours of waiting and asking, we were eventually allowed to board a cargo ship free of charge.  The ship was called The Benjamin Franklin, and if the name was anything to go by, we were in for a life changing experience for sure!  An extremely friendly captain led us to a small room where the employees normally sleep.  There was a small mat and a fan on the floor which we were extremely pleased about.

Our boat for the voyage

Our boat for the voyage

Soon getting hungry

That evening, with our food supplies getting low, the captain on board was generous enough to invite us to eat with the other shipmates.  A special experience of eating rice and meat with the guys, they really embraced us as one of their own.  Having a decent level of Spanish definitely helped as well!

If you arranged the option of paying for your stay, they would cover your meals.  Something to take note of when organising your trip.

Not Too Many Distractions On Board

There aren’t too many luxuries on board, over it isn’t a cruise ship!  Yet there was a hot tub, gym area and a rec room with a tv and dvd player.  However basic they may have been, they were still useful in passing the time during the long and slow days at sea.

You have the freedom to walk around the ship anytime including the bridge.  Sunbathing became a frequent activity also. 

Washing on board

We were happy to find out that the showers used fresh water and not sea water, which was the norm for cargo ships from what we had read.  The water is also hot, as on cargo boats water is run past the engine and heats up nicely!

Passing the time

The days passed by very slowly as all we had was our bags and a pack of playing cards.  Making our way up to the ship deck and looking out over the endless expanse of the ocean, along with the constant rocking sway, was something neither was used to, let alone for three days.  

Make sure you bring things to keep you busy.  Bring a ton of music and download movies as there wasn’t any wifi on the boat.  

View from the upper deck

View from the upper deck

Arriving at the Galapagos

After being on the boat for such a long time, you definitely feel like you have accomplished something once you have reach your destination.  

At the airport, foreigners have to pay $100, however when the boat docked we went straight through and didn’t have to pay anything at all.

Tips for arranging a stay on a container ship

  • Never approach the captain of the ship to arrange your stay. He will always say no and might even be offended.
  • Get in touch with the company using the ship, the owners of the ship or the operators of the ship to make an enquiry.
  • Express that you can be on your own and wouldn’t get in the way of the crew and the operations. It would need to be clear that you can be ‘invisible’.
  • Sometimes you can call the port authorities or find who you need to contact on LinkedIn.
  • Offer the ship something in exchange for your stay on board…ie write about your experience onboard and share it with the company.
  • Social media helps. I always try to promote the shipping companies that support me on social media.

Doing it Again?

The sense of acheivement when reaching the final destination was really awesome, however I really think doing this journey with a significant other or friend would be make the voyage a hell of alot more easier.   If you are on a strict travel plan, it would be best to do the paid option so you know exactly where and when the ship will depart.  I think we just got lucky to be able to get the ship that we did.

Cargo ships literally cover the entire earth, thus there should a shipping route that would suit your travel plan.  Please check these links for a comprehensive guide to all your options.

IMPORTANT LINKS: http://www.hamburgsued-frachtschiffre… http://cargoshipvoyages.com/ https://www.freightercruises.com/voya… http://www.freighterexpeditions.com.au/ http://cruisepeople.co.uk/freighters.htm

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