This is a HOW TO guide for booking a Galapagos Cruise for people who want to balance an incredible experience with not paying top dollar! It will only really work for people who have a fairly flexible timeframe for travel too.
Skyscanner is a good place to start. Set up a number of alerts for various dates and look at the flight options every day.
Expect to pay $450 return – this is the standard price for flights from Quito (the capital of Ecuador) to Santa Cruz (the main airport for the Galapagos).
Any deals that come up for $300 or less should be snapped up. You are VERY unlikely to find cheaper flights but, you probably won’t pay more than $450 so you can book your flight the day before you go and still pay the same (or so my research told me!)
I paid $167 return – deals do exist – look for them!
Generally speaking you can change your return dates for approx. $15 so my advice would be to book a few days extra on the Islands and if you find you don’t need or want them (very unlikely to happen) you can always return earlier than planned and spend a few days in and around Quito.
Looking for your cruise should be done once you reach Puerto Ayora (the capital of Santa Cruz). You can walk around, chat to the travel agents and find out which boats go where, which ones have spaces and look at pictures etc.
DO NOT buy your cruise before you fly to Ecuador or before arriving on the Islands. People on my cruise who had booked ahead of time paid $800 per person more than me.
Bear in mind that the travel agents are sales people and they add something on top for their commission. Shop around since many of the agents sell the same spaces and negotiate hard to get the best deal. If you are taking the last space/couple of spaces on the boat with only a few days notice you should get a good deal.
Try and find one of the boats which has its own office so you can negotiate directly with the company and not through a third party. This will also make things cheaper.
Negotiate hard – the price you pay comes down to how much you discuss the price. Expect to pay at least $130 per day, probably more. I paid more but I didn’t choose the cheapest boat.
If the cruise goes further the cost will be higher. My route included circumnavigating Isabela Island and visiting Genovesa but it was totally worth it to see Penguins, Whales and Red Footed Boobies.
Picking your Route:
Do some advance research to decide how long you want to spend on the boat and which Islands you most want to visit. Each Island has different features and animals to see.
The first and last day of your cruise will be half days. An 8 day cruise will begin in the early afternoon of a Sunday for example and finish early morning of the following Sunday. It’s really 6.5 days.
My advice is to take no less than an 8 day cruise in order to see a decent amount of the Islands.
Most boats seem to run in 2 weekly patterns – week 1 they visit Islands to the south-east of Santa Cruz and week 2 they visit Islands to the west and north.
Create your own itinerary by negotiating for a space on the latter half of a week 1 itinerary and the first half of a week 2. I actually spent 11 days on my cruise aboard the Guantanamera. I went aboard halfway through the first week and stayed on board when everyone left that Sunday to meet the new cohort who I spent the next week with.
Don’t be Fussy:
All of the boats are similar in terms of amenities. You want a tourist class boat to get the best comfort/value for money.
These cruises are about the guide and the wildlife. Focus on that.
The most important thing is the route. If you choose that well you will be happy.
The cabins are small with beds that are a little on the short side for anyone over about 5’8″ but they are clean and you are lovingly looked after by the staff and fed heartily! I suspect this applies to all the boats of this class.
If you want a higher-class product you need to pay a lot more.
I hope that helps you all with booking your version of what was the best individual trip I have done so far in my life! This guide will get you a fantastic experience for a reasonable price. What more could you want? I don’t think anyone goes to the Galapagos and ends up disappointed! Enjoy!