Galapagos research done for you
Decision to go to Galapagos is a big one for anyone let alone for travellers on longtime journey and on a budget.
We are quite lucky as we lived in Australia for the past 8 years and that’s how long we were preparing for our sabbatical. Once we sold our car, we knew Galapagos was happening and boy was it worth it.
Flights to Galapagos:
You can fly from Guayaquil or Quito (with a stop in Guayaquil but you don’t have to leave an airplane). Quito cost in average 25$ more one way than flying from Guayaquil.
2 major companies that fly to Galapagos are Tame and Avianca (member of Staralliance). I have also seen planes from Latam and FlyGalapagos at the airport.
There are 2 airports in Galapagos Islands: Baltra (Santa Cruz Island which also has the biggest town: Puerto Ayora) and San Cristóbal airport ( 2 hours by boat from Puerto Ayora)
There are few categories of tourists who travel to GIs:
- those who come for a short holidays and therefore have set dates they need to fit into - my advice is to book everything in advance including flights, accommodation, cruise if that’s what you are doing. You won’t have as much space for negotiations but you’ll have a piece of mind that everything should work out
- those who have plenty of time and therefore can be flexible about the dates and can wait for the best last deal etc
- Those who booked the flights in advance and will leave the rest till last minute to obtain the best deal - that’s how we did it.
We have booked 2 months prior as we knew the rough itinerary for Ecuador and the prices were better in low season. Normally you should be paying $350 return from Guayaquil but we scored return tickets for $300 for business class ;)) (always happy to travel business when on a budget) by searching via momondo and then booking with Avianca directly as separate flights there and separate back.
The flights we booked were: Guayaquil to Baltra and San Cristóbal to Guayaquil.
Knowing what I know now, I would simply book return flight from Baltra so we don’t have to spend 1 day extra in San Cristóbal (we did stop at San Cristobal as part of our cruise itinerary which was perfect). This way we ended our cruise in Puerto Ayora and then had to take a ferry for $30 dollars per person one way to get to San Cristobal. The ferries leave only at 7am and at 2pm.
Now this is not a ride for faint hearted. Ferry is a speed boat for 16ppl and for 2 hours I was scared for my life. And I’m no pussy, I promise.
We were literally flying on the waves. Not sure if you are supposed to get of the boat totally wet, with very wet backpack, shaken. Even the fire extinguisher was flying through the boat. Anyway, the first 15minutes I was laughing as it felt like we are on a rollercoaster but then I realised we really have to sit through this for 2 hours.
When to go:
The season in GIs is whole year, there is always so much to see. I tend to worry about the weather a little too much but you really don’t have to in Galapagos.
Low season is considered only in September - October, but the cruises run even if there are only few ppl on board.
Low season means that it’s not super hot, average temperature is 22 degrees, it doesn’t rain that much although the sea is rough and you’ll need wet suit when snorkelling.
Other than that, the weather won’t have that much impact on your experience as it will be just awesome, I promise!!!
High season is the rest of the year with extra busy around school holidays, Christmas and July - August (summer in Europe and US where majority of tourist come from)
How to pick up the best boat
1 month prior to flying to Baltra I started to do my research into cruises.
We wanted to spend a fair amount of time on the boat and see as many island as possible.
There are 4 categories of boats in Galapagos:
Tourist, Tourist Superior, Luxury and 1st class.
Bear in mind that tourist and tourist superior will be mainly occupied by younger passengers (we had average age of 30) and the more luxurious will have much higher age average. You probably won’t meet that many 18 yo party animals in thongs and singlets as they normally skip the whole GIs. People you meet here either worked hard to effort this and are here for the nature or they are retired and happily spending the money.
People on our cruise were awesome, we had only 9 spots filled out of 16, 5 young Swiss after graduating master degrees in uni, 1 female solo traveler from Germany, Canadian retired teacher traveling on overlander through South America and Slovak couple on sabbatical (us).
You can choose from itineraries that go from 5 to 8 days mostly. I always want the longest, biggest or the richest of them all (like cake in a cafe, doesn’t matter how it tastes, I have to have the biggest - not my best trait I must admit)
Itineraries on the islands:
North and South = West and East
Government has set up rules around the number of visitors for each island at the time.
They also control the number of ppl arriving to Galapagos by the number of passengers on an aeroplane, there is no other way to get to GIs beside airway.
Because of the rules, the boat companies have to follow guidelines and visit certain spots only once in 15 days. Therefore they follow the 2 itineraries focused on North and South Islands.
The north islands (or west) are much younger as the volcanoes are in full power and constantly changing the environment. The animals you get to see here are different to those in South islands. Going to north, you will see pink iguanas, red footed boobies, whales (in season), dolphins, tiger sharks. The water is generally warmer.
The south islands (or east) are older, the volcanoes are extinct and the animals you are able to see here are blue footed and Nazca boobies, waved albatrosses, flamingoes.
For whatever reason (maybe because I was reading lots of blogs prior to going here) I was really set on doing the northern itinerary and we ended up on the south.
I can promise you, that if you have never been to Galapagos before, it doesn’t really matter which route you take.
The only thing you should focus on is to have an itinerary that covers also the remote islands where you can’t get by ferry (on South/East itinerary that would be Santa Fe, Espanola, Floreana) and on North/West itinerary that would be Fernandina, Punta or Wolf)
The is the best website with online last minute deals I found and it was my starting point for negotiations with agencies.
I checked all the boats leaving on dates that suited me and calculated cost per day. Based on my conversations with fellow passengers I knew that you can get 8 day cruises for $1600-2000 per person depending on the category. The prices for last minute deals kept going down and reached minimum online cca 1 week prior to departing on the boat. I reached out directly to few agencies via email and WhatsApp to see what they can do and nothing was really satisfactory in terms of price.
Most ppl book the Galapagos trip in Quito where you have a street full of tourist agencies and can negotiate the best deal on the spot just by walk ins. There are few agencies based in Guayaquil or if you want the truly last minute deal, you can wait till you get to Puerto Ayora - all the boats leave from there.
We have decided we didn’t want to arrive to GI and not have anything booked as we had only 10 days there and were worried that the cruises we liked would be booked out. (it was low season, none of the boats were full, but you can never rely on that)
So we found a couple of agencies in Guayaquil.
Disadvantage of booking the trip in Guayaquil is that unlike in Quito the travel agents are in different parts of town, sometimes 3-5km from each other, therefore door2door ain’t easy.
Please note that many of them are closed on Saturday.
We booked with an agency in Casa Madrid (hostel in Guayaquil), had to do the whole sales dance and tried to leave twice before we settled on price that we were happy with.
Prices and what's included
To be very transparent, there were ppl who booked online and paid $1800 for the 8day cruise on ($225 per day), ppl who joined us for 6 days negotiated $980 (163 per day) and bought 1 day prior to boat departing (they were a group of 6 therefore bigger negotiation power) and we paid $1475 per person for 8 days ($185 per day) in a top level cabin.
This was on a tourist superior boat which included pick up from the airport, all food on board and it was truly enough with 5 meals per day (including snacks, hot chocolate, 2 types of salads with every main, desert after lunch and dinner, just absolute heaven), accommodation for 7 nights and 8 days, clean towels every day + they cleaned your cabin, itinerary for all 8 days with English speaking naturalist - without him explaining everything I would never have such an experience, mask and snorkel + 6 members of the crew.
The additional cost you should not forget are for fins and wetsuit and I’ll do recommend you take them. It’s expensive, but we negotiated a price of $50 for 8 days for both fins and wetsuit for 1 person.
Also tip for the guide and for the crew is expected. Their expectation was 10$ per day for the guide and separate 10$ per day for the whole crew. Taking to our fellow passengers, we were giving 70$ per person in average
Some ppl got sea sickness as we were relocating 2x per day, usually for 4 hours after dinner. We never had to take any pills and didn’t get sick once, but I’ll recommend taking something on a boat if you envision any problems.
This whole thing was so well organised and thought through that you simply had to just show up and be entertained every day.
Total Cost per person for 10 days (including 8 day cruise)
Flights: $300 USD return
Transfer by ferry:$30 USD
Cruise: $1475 USD
Tips: $70 USD
Fins and Wetsuit: $50
National park entrance: $120 USD
Accomodation on the main islands: $27.5 USD (double occupancy, private bathroom)
Additional food outside of the cruise: $130 USD
+ some smaller expenses
Total: $2150 USD
Daily life on a boat
You do start early with breakfast at 7am and first activity usually at 7.45 or 8am ( natural walk on an island followed by snorkeling). Lunch was served at 12pm and the very welcomed fiesta was until 2pm before the afternoon activities started. Dinner would be served at 6.30pm and first few days we were so tired from all the excitement that we ended up in bed by 8pm - sleeping.
The cabins didn’t have double beds but we truly didn’t mind, there was hot water in the shower and I really can’t imagine what the extra money on luxurious boats could get me beside maybe more space in the room.
It was no luxurious cruise, those in GIs tend to have up to 100 ppl but at the same time can’t get to many remote places and the experience wouldn’t be so private with all the animals.
I’m sure we would love it even on the first class boat but the constellation of crew, our fellow passengers and everything we have seen on land and in the ocean made this trip just perfect.
We have travelled to Galapagos in November 2017, if you have more up to date information, please share them here with other travellers who might use your advice.