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.