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Our second great trip on board the Samba (Galapagos Islands)

Anchorage, Alaska
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Our second great trip on board the Samba (Galapagos Islands)

We were on the Samba in early 2008 and liked it well enough to go back with 2 friends in November 2012. It was even better than before. The boat has had several improvements – it now has sails – they stabilize the vessel on long passages, the salon dining area has been reconfigured, the top deck aft outdoor lounge is improved, there are new electronic navigation instruments, and no doubt other improvements invisible to the passengers. There’s plenty of room to lounge about in the salon between meals, on the main deck, on the Portuguese bridge (in front of the pilot house), or in the aft area on the upper deck.

The Samba carries a maximum of 14 passengers. Everyone goes ashore in two skiffs and it feels as if you have the place to yourself. ..unlike the amphibious assaults launched by the large boats.

The Samba is a 78-foot (24m) long x 18-foot (5.5m) wide, 134-ton, steel-hulled vessel. It has twin diesel engines, dual all-chain anchor systems, bilge keels (aka rolling chocks – for stability), navigation electronics (RADAR, GPS chart plotter, depth sounder) and radios, a satellite phone, an emergency life raft that will hold more people than the boat carries, an EPIRB, two outboard-powered skiffs, and sails. The boat is immaculately maintained. It has twin generators that supply 115 and 220 volts; both are available in the passenger cabins. The outlets are US-style (as they are in Ecuador). See www.sambagalapagos.com/specifications.html for more detail.

We were also lucky enough to have the same guide, Juan Salcedo, as before. It was hard to believe that he could improve but he has – Juan now has his Master’s in Ecology and is part owner of the boat. He may just be the best guide we have ever had…anywhere.

The Samba is also a very safe boat. One of those invisible things that you never notice and hope you’ll never need is all the safety protocols and procedures that keep a boat out of trouble and keep everyone safe if trouble does occur. The Samba abounds in such things. For example, every crew member has documented responsibilities in the event of an emergency and has trained for execution of their duties. The amount of rest a crew member gets is monitored and is more generous than Ecuadorian labor laws require.

Our captain, Jose, was a commercial fisherman in the islands for 12 years; he knows the waters well. He is also an excellent dive (snorkeling) guide. Part fish, he free dives to find things you can then see from the surface.

The logistics in running the boat are masterfully executed. Everything seems easy. All shore expeditions requiring transport are perfectly run. The outboards are always gassed, the skiffs are always ready and clean, snacks are ready precisely when passengers return from snorkeling. Fresh fish, chicken, or pork and produce is always served at meals (the Samba has arrangements with local fishermen and farmers to supply product – everything served is produced in the islands). The only event that could possibly have been interpreted as a logistics failure was that the young Australian women drank all the rum and beer. But there was, of course, a backup plan – the crew borrowed from another boat and the girls never knew.

The food is uniformly wonderful. The locally-sourced fresh fish, shrimp, chicken, and pork are unlike anything seen in the US. The fishermen even provided lobsters one night. We were fed at least 5 times a day. It’s worth the trip to Ecuador just for the fruit.

The crew is friendly, professional, and competent. There are six crew members (including the captain) and the guide. Everyone knows their job and does it well and happily. The crew seems delighted to be aboard the Samba. They should be.

The cabins are roomy (for a 78’ boat) and squeaky-clean. Each cabin has its own head (bathroom) with a toilet, sink, and shower. There’s lots of hot water (but use the water carefully – it’s made by an on-board desalinization plant). There are 2 bunks in each cabin – the lower is a ¾ size full bed; the upper is approximately the size of a twin bed. One of the passengers was 6’ 6” and slept comfortably. Air conditioning is individually controlled in each cabin.

Everything on the boat works properly. This is no mean feat on a boat. Roberto is the full-time engineer and keeps stuff running.

The Samba provides good quality snorkeling gear – including full-body wet suits. If you’re really large, ask about your size. If you get cold easily, consider taking a dive hood; even though you’re on the equator, the water’s chilly compared to other tropical sites you may have visited. We snorkeled every day; it was always thrilling. The underwater wildlife is as spectacular as that found on shore. We swam with dolphins, turtles, sharks, iguanas, penguins, morays, and countless beautiful fish.

The wildlife encounters are unbelievable. They are made even better because Juan explains not only what everything is but how it all works together and why each seemingly unimportant piece really does matter. There’s much to be learned on a Galapagos cruise and Juan Salcedo is a masterful teacher. Since Juan is now part owner of the Samba, I have every confidence that he hand-picks the alternate guide.

We just may go back for a third time.

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31. Re: Our second great trip on board the Samba (Galapagos Islands)

Thank you for your input. I was thinking that Dec. might be too late for Espanola ..although everything I have read says there's still fledglings, it's nice to know they're still possibly around, if we go that route. The other item I was unsure about they say the seas are starting to be a bit calm by December, but it sounds like, from your post, they might still be choppy Thank you for clarifying that for me as well.

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32. Re: Our second great trip on board the Samba (Galapagos Islands)

Generally speaking, the Waved Albatross begin to leave sometime in Dec. Given people's reports on this forum, most folks who travel by mid-Dec. see at least some. I've even heard from folks who have seen 1 or 2 in early Jan.--very lucky for them!

The Humboldt Current begins to affect the area in mid-August; Sept. is the month with the highest probabilities of rough waters. The probabilities lessen Oct. - Dec., but the current can still affect open-water crossings during those months. We traveled in Sept. and had one open-water crossing that was smooth as silk and one that was very lively. So even in the month of highest probabilities, choppy seas are not guaranteed. We've also heard from folks on this forum that rough seas have been encountered in March--so nothing is for sure when you're bobbing around on the ocean. But with so many effective motion sickness remedies on the market these days, motion sickness needn't be a limited factor in any but the most extreme cases, I'd say.


trip reports (and much more) at http://galapagos2009.wordpress.com/

Toronto, Canada
2 posts
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33. Re: Our second great trip on board the Samba (Galapagos Islands)

How much was the trip to the Galapagos.....how long did it take.....when did you go.....what islands did you stay on......name of hotels.....time spent at each..hotel.....what were the hotels like..

Thanks in advance, Larry Oliver.

Sodus, New York
2 posts
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34. Re: Our second great trip on board the Samba (Galapagos Islands)

I have thoroughly enjoyed reading your replies to questions about the Galapagos. My husband and I are planning a trip in July of this summer or next. So many of the boats we can afford have gotten terrible reviews. From what I have read from you and others I think the Samba might be the perfect fit. I am still trying to see if there is any availability for this summer but it would only be on the NW route. I feel certain this will be our only trip to the Galapagos so I only want to go it this is the right route. Will we be able to see a wide range of animals on land and snorkeling as well as seeing the giant tortoises - a must for me! I appreciate any information you can provide.

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35. Re: Our second great trip on board the Samba (Galapagos Islands)

The Samba's NW itinerary is, in my opinion, the best itinerary of any boat I've seen in the archipelago (and I've seen A LOT of them!). Unlike the most common eastern or western itineraries that go to 2 of the 4 most distant (and most fascinating) islands, she goes to 3 of these 4--Genovesa, Isabela, and Fernandina. And you snorkel at the northern island of Marchena--the only boat I've seen that stops there--where some great sightings have been reported. The Samba has a reputation for having great naturalist guides. Even if the universally praised principal guide Juan Manuel Salcedo isn't guiding, folks have reported excellent guides in his stead.

The Samba is a very popular boat, and rightly so; it fills up quickly. It's a bit on the small side for us. (My husband is 6' 2" tall and the bunks aren't arranged well for someone that tall.) Otherwise, we'd have been on the Samba--and on her NW itinerary!--for our return trip in 2013.


trip reports (and much more) at https://galapagos2009.wordpress.com/

Ottawa, Canada
Destination Expert
for Galapagos Islands
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3,094 posts
14 reviews
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36. Re: Our second great trip on board the Samba (Galapagos Islands)

Tina, the owner/guide, Juan Manuel Salcedo, would be very pleased to hear your comments on the itinerary. About 4 years ago, when the park changed the rules, and insisted that all ships change from doing a 7 night loop around the islands to a 14 night loop, while most dug in their heels and resisted, the Samba was the first to propose its 14 night itinerary. Juan explained that he designed what he thought was an ideal itinerary, based on a number of variables. Because he was the first to jump on the bandwagon, his itinerary was approved. Later ships ended up having to jostle for position and in many cases, had to compromise, as the park's main concern was to reduce overcrowding at the most popular sites, and to spread the ships over wider selection of visitor sites.

Warmest regards,

Heather Blenkiron

37. Re: Our second great trip on board the Samba (Galapagos Islands)

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