Hop on these eco-friendly ships to the “Enchanted Isles.”

By Erika Hueneke

The first tourists arrived in the Galápagos Islands aboard a cruise ship in 1934, and cruising is still the premier way to explore this 19-island archipelago, home to rugged volcanic moonscapes and more than 9,000 plant and animal species. A small-ship cruise (100 passengers or fewer, regulated by the government of Ecuador) comes with the most perks, providing access to islands and wildlife not reachable by land-based visitors and a more intimate experience with fellow travelers and guides.

Cruise operators must comply with eco-friendly practices such as water and energy conservation, recycling, and sourcing local products. Still, with visitors topping 275,000 annually, sustainability remains a major concern in this fragile environment. Happily, several cruise lines are introducing new ways to sustainably visit the islands — without sacrificing creature comfort. Here’s who to sail with in 2020.

galápagos islands cruises
Adventure awaits on a Zodiac excursion with the Celebrity Flora.

Celebrity Cruises

Designed specifically for the Galápagos landscape and launched May 2019, the 100-passenger Celebrity Flora extends VIP treatment in the form of all-suite cabins flaunting “Infinite Verandas” and personal attendants, as well as posh public spaces like The Vista, an open-air deck featuring hanging cocoon loungers, private cabanas, and 360-degree views of the surrounding “living laboratory.” Take advantage of naturalist presentations and guided stargazing, and shave off valuable transport time to the islands thanks to the ship’s large launch platform, which can accommodate up to three Zodiacs at once.

Sustainability Points: Thanks to its design, Celebrity Flora consumes 15 percent less fuel than most other ships in its class. Plus, it’s capable of staying in position without physically anchoring and harming the sea floor. In-room water-filtration stations also reduce the use of plastics onboard. Eight-day voyages from $8,512 per person.

Silversea Cruises

Silversea’s subtle Italian aesthetic meets Ecuadorian touches on the 100-guest, all-suite Silver Origin, arriving summer 2020: Think colorful regional design accents, local cuisine prepared by Ecuadorian chefs, and a team of expert local guides. Education is at the heart of the experience — the ship will offer an extensive onboard library and multimedia lectures — while luxury infuses everything from the rooms (some with ocean-view bathtubs; all with butler service) to the sleek spa. After days spent snorkeling with sea turtles, calling on colonies of penguins, and trekking across bizarre lava fields, retreat to the Basecamp lounge and piano bar to swap stories over cocktails.

Sustainability Points: Silver Origin will feature a dynamic positioning system (no damaging anchors) and in-suite freshwater-purification systems, as well as an advanced wastewater treatment system and high standards of energy efficiency. The cruise line also contributes to the Floreana Island Ecological Restoration Project. Eight-day voyages from $9,450 per person.

G Adventures

G Adventures’ brand-new Reina Silvia Voyager yacht will make its maiden voyage in late July 2020 with just 16 passengers — proving that good things come in small packages. Rates come with unique extras such as snorkeling gear, wetsuits, double kayaks, walking sticks, and beach towels, and a naturalist expert serves as guide to all onboard talks and land adventures. Enjoy up-close encounters with flamingoes, sea lions, and marine iguanas, then socialize on the top deck, outfitted with lounge chairs, a cocktail bar, and a hot tub.

Sustainability Points: Each passenger receives a reusable stainless-steel bottle and access to filtered drinking water. Plus, find energy-saving LED lighting onboard, as well as toiletries provided in refillable containers. G Adventures also supports an Ocean Health Fund. Eight-day voyages from $5,999 per person.