So, adventure seekers… here’s how we planned our time on the islands.
We flew into Quito on the 8th Feb, a Sunday. We hadn’t done any research but had designs on an 8-day Galápagos cruise. Our first day was pretty much “internetting” at Posada Tambuca (a friendly family-run hostel just a 5min walk from Plaza Foche where a lot of the last minute agencies are based). Turns out there is a LOT to consider – length of cruise, the type of boat, the actual boat (there are 120), the itinerary, are flights included, how much is snorkel gear rental etc. You could spend months researching.
Here’s how I recommend you approach the task for a quick result:
1. Book your flights first
A lot of the deals from Quito will come with flights included, and the agencies do bulk reserve air tickets in advance to get cruisers out to the islands. However, a couple we met told us that, despite booking a last minute cruise, their Agency couldn’t get them on a flight and they had to miss the first 2 days of the trip. Plus I’m not sure you get a discount on the air fare from the Agency, provided you book your flights early for the pick of the lower prices.
So, we decided that we’d take responsibility for the flights and remove the risk of relying on agency. We knew how long we had (1.5 weeks) and we knew that you could do land-based tours if a cruise didn’t come through – we’d be OK with that.
2. Get a list of all available spaces on boats, regardless of cost, within the dates you can go.
This is to avoid you researching 120 boats, deciding which you like with a good itinerary within your dates, contacting them and finding out they don’t have spaces left. You will narrow down 120 boats to probably 10 if you use the internet and email a lot of agents (they all represent different boats) for their last minute offers first. Also visit a couple of agents (Gullivers, Happy Gringo were good). There’s no need to limit your criteria yet, just give dates and see what’s on offer.
3. Filter your List
Once you have an idea of availability, you can read boat reviews and filter out the crap, and remove any boats with itineraries that you know you don’t want (again, read reviews and info about the islands and itineraries). Don’t filter on anything else yet, you don’t know what discounts or offers you’ll get on boats that may seem out of budget.
This list we ended up with was not as extensive as we had imagined, so we changed our tactics slightly. We had thought we might wait until we got to the Galápagos to get the really last-minute deals and low prices. But, faced with a short shortlist of available places, we thought it best to get something booked from Quito. Those with more time, traveling alone, and who aren’t concerned with the boat or itinerary can wait on the islands for a cheapy cheap place, if they’re lucky.
1, 2 and 3 took us a couple of days. Jim was suffering with altitudinals so we stayed close to base, and there’s a lot of waiting around for responses and decision-making… so having a hostel close to agents with great internet was important. Not sure Jim appreciated the shared bathroom, however.
After Day 2, we had an offer for a good cabin (always book a specific cabin!) on a 16 berth, tourist class boat, doing an Isabela itinerary. We still thought we might be able to do better (a southern island itinerary, a luxury or first class boat etc). So we held on one more day, leaving the offer open on the table for as long as we dared….
3. Contact Boat Owners
This requires some internet digging, but once you know which boats you’re interested in you can try and find the contact details for the actual boat owner or operator. They will offer you cheaper prices, but you won’t be able to find most of them – maybe at least a few.
4. Book Before you Lose Out
Don’t sit too long on it or you might lose out. In the end our first offer was the best for us – not 8 days but we reasoned that close proximity to 12 people for 5 days in San Blas was enough, so 6 days with 16 here would probably be ideal. This turned out to be true – 5 nights was perfect. The itinerary was not the one we’d hoped for, but it is sought after by some because you see the newest islands with amazing young lava (Fernandina and Isabela) – and we read all the time that ‘any itinerary in Galápagos is amazing’. We weren’t disappointed, although some of the snorkelling was very cold and cloudy to the west of Isabela.
So, after three full days we had our cruise booked. We were flying out on a Thursday, spending time on Santa Cruz, and then cruising from Tues-Sunday. Exciting times!
Seriously looking forward to time when we didn’t need to research and book anything. And surprisingly really missing the heat – give us warmth and a beach!!
Had one final day to explore the old town of Quito. Felt a bit sketchy walking down there, beautiful church and fairly pretty colonial area – but not much to write home about. Jim did fall in love with the running green man on the traffic lights so – sooo many videos of it, but the video mysteriously couldn’t pick it up. Shame.