Travel The Galapagos Without Paying Retail

Travel The Galapagos Without Paying Retail

When we did our planning for our round-the-world trip, we had very vague plans for our South America leg. Other than setting a $50/person budget for the region, we didn’t plan for any major tours or excursions. This, in hindsight, was a mistake and we’ve had to do some budget manoeuvring since.

One of those major budget recalibrations came when we got to Ecuador and, along with our friend Anusha who joined us for 3 weeks, decided that the Galapagos was a must do. The question was how to do it without breaking the bank?

After much reading and research, it seemed like the most economical choice would be to find a base on one of the main islands and set out on some day trips. While this is not as ideal as taking a cruise where you do most of your navigation overnight and therefore get to spend more time on the islands, we did have a budget to consider. The information we gleaned online and from other travellers is that a week on the islands doing day trips would cost somewhere around US$1000 to US$1200 per person (including airfare).

However, our best intentions went out the window when we arrived in Quito. After speaking to a few travel agents and airlines in Quito, we failed to find any good airfare deals and the more we looked at the cruises the more enticing they became. In the end, we decided that the added expense was worth the better guide, more time on the islands, and the ability to reach islands further afield that are not possible to visit on day tours.

How to Score a Good Deal

Do not book your tour from home. There are lots of boats departing at all days of the week and unless you’re travelling in the middle of the high season (July and August), you will have no problems finding last minute deals when you land in Ecuador. We were offered around 10 different cruises leaving within the next 5 days when we talked to agents in Quito. Prices ranged from (cruise only) US$800 to US$1600 per person depending on number of days and class of boat. A quick look around online at listed prices for Galapagos cruises showed us that these prices were about 50% off.

Quito versus Puerto Ayora. Besides booking from Quito, you can also fly to Baltra and make your way to Puerto Ayora on Santa Cruise island and find a deal there. There are some reports that you can find even better deals there. We did not take this option as we were told by local folks that the difference would not be great and we could not find good flight deals (all were quoted at above US$500).

Shop around. Don’t book with the first travel agent you talk to. Some have better deals than others and access to more boats.

What Cruise we Picked and Why

Of the close to 10 different options we were offered we picked an 8-day, first-class catamaran with a northern itinerary.

While there were cheaper options, we chose our cruise for 3 reasons:

  1. only boat that was doing a northern itinerary that would take us to islands not accessible to regular day tours from Puerto Ayora
  2. only first class and luxury boats have class III guides
  3. considering that half of the fist day and almost the entire last day is taken up by travelling to and from Quito, we decided to do an 8-day cruise rather than a 6-day cruise so we get to see more of the islands

The initial per person price for the cruise (US$1490) and round trip flights (US$US$465) was US$1955.

After some negotiating, we managed to get the price down to $1825.

A quick search online showed us that cruises on the boat we chose had listed prices of US$2760 – US$3000 per person. Add to that a US$500 flight and we estimate we got a discount of around US$1435 – US$1675 per person or almost 50% off retail.

The Cost Breakdown

Here are our final per person costs.

  • Cruise and round trip flights: US$ 1825
  • Galapagos National Park Entrance Fee: US$100
  • Transit Card: US$10
  • Tip to Guide and Crew Members: US$65
  • Total: US$1995

Agent We Used

We booked our tour through the agency Galapagos Natural Life ( We were generally satisfied with their information and service except for one thing. We were suppose to have an early transfer to the airport included but our transfer never showed up and we were left to scramble and hail a taxi at 4:30am.

Notes and Considerations

  • Our first class catamaran was very comfortable with excellent food. If we hadn’t wanted to have a class III guide, we certainly could have saved some money and still been perfectly comfortable on a lower class boat.
  • Consider the quality of the guide when you choose your boat. We found our guide to be one of the highlights of the trip as he was very well informed and made the experience that much more interesting and enjoyable.
  • While 6-day cruises will save you some money, consider doing an 8-day cruise instead. There is much to see and the first and last days are mostly spent travelling to and from Quito.
  • Booking last minute will need some flexibility in your schedule. Give yourself an extra 5 days or so in your travel schedule. Alternatively, contact a recommended agent in Quito (see our agent above) over email a week or so before you leave home and start considering your options and negotiating before you arrive.

Have more questions about booking your Galapagos experience? Comment below.

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  1. I am planning on leaving last weekend of April for Quito and spending a month in the area. Please let me know if this is really doable. I went to the website and it was blocked by my firewall as being a virus site.
    This is my trip of a lifetime and if I can save any money it would be great. Thank you for your time and consideration. Safe travels.

    • Hi Jennifer,

      To be clear, you are looking to spend a month in Quito or the Galapagos? Either is possible of course. I don’t think you’ll want to be touring the islands for a month mind you (that sounds exhausting) but might consider mixing in some volunteer work perhaps on the main island. Just a thought.

      Not sure about the virus. That sounds bad. I’ll be on the watch for further feedback however. Thanks for the comment.

  2. Thanks for money saving info about Galapagos.
    I am a 50+, on a budget – Unfortunately I have become a light sleeper, so single room acc. is necessary – shared fac. fine. I am going to Ecuador Feb /March 2013 a total stay of about 5 weeks – the highlight will definately be Galapagos – would three weeks be too long to stay? Would it be an idea to have overnigt bases and make daytours from there – There are three bases to stay at, I think. San Cristóbal, Santa Cruz, Isabela and mayby Floreana – maybe a full day tour would be ok. Normally I prefer exploring on my own, but for Galapagos there are lots of sites where you can´t go unguided. I am quite fit, hiking, kayaking and swimming – haven´t tried snorkling yet, but will try on Galapagos.

    • We are usually the last people to take an organized tour and instead almost always operate on our own. That said, the Galapagos is just one of those places that you want a guide and also where a guide is almost always required. It’s hard to say if three weeks is too much since that depends on the person Day trips will only get you so far as there are a number of islands outside of the reach of day trips. For us, the 8 day tour was just the right length and it packed in a lot of stuff. I think I would have been exhausted doing 8 days worth of day trips due to the lengthy navigations. I am not sure but I would expect single accommodations on the boats to be limited (if that is an issue for you). Remember, if you take a tour, they almost always move during the night so I doubt having a partner in a bunk would matter next to the crashing of the boat against the waves.

  3. Thanks for the helpful post. I am going back and forth between daytrips and a cruise. You mention with cruises that you go to islands that you can’t reach in day trips. What do you see in these further out islands that you don’t have a chance to see on daytrips? Seeing another island, in itself is not too important to me, but seeing the main wildlife highlights is. Basically what would I miss by doing day tours from the 3 main islands as opposed to doing a cruise?

    • That is a really good question and to be honest, i could not tell you which animals you would not see. albatross and red footed boobies for sure are not on the day trips. but other than those, i would be hard pressed to give you a breakdown of which animals live on which islands. if you have something you really wish to see, it is probably best to contact a travel agent and inquire about itineraries (remember even cruises dont see everything and have wide ranging routes).

      beyond the sights, the day cruises will be more exhausting of course but that may not be as important as saving the money.

      im sorry but i dont think i can answer your question properly. best to speak with a galapagos agent by email to get a better answer.

  4. Hi, which boat did you end up getting? I read each boat has a different guide and they vary in quality…


    • Yes, each boat has a different guide. The higher class guides (there is a certification process based on knowledge and experience) work on first class and luxury boats. We were on the Nemo II which was a first class catamaran. Have a great time :)


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