The Galápagos Islands: booking last minute cruises

The Galápagos Islands: booking last minute cruises

“Show us your tattoo of a penguin riding a unicycle wearing a top hat Mark!!”, we chanted in sync, as we conquered towers of beer in a John Lennon themed bar in the capital of Ecuador. Meanwhile my good friend Mark Todd went on to pull down his boxers, revealing his permanent, wobbly outline of indeed a penguin to the entire bar. So it seemed fitting when they gave us the ‘Pinguino’ cabin on board Archipell II for our four-day Galápagos Islands cruise

At the time (July 2013) I was living off a generous student loan in South America for my year abroad at University. I had been living in La Paz, Bolivia and writing for Bolivian Express for the last three months. Colombia was to be my end destination before unwillingly returning to complete my final year in September. Peru and Ecuador lay in my way.

I had always wanted to visit the Galápagos Islands since I had become fascinated by David Attenborough at a very young age, like many of you I’m sure. The expense of a cruise hadn’t really crossed my mind as I had been living very comfortably off my loan and I expected to carry on this way until I went back.

“So that will be $1,800 USD per person for 3 nights and 4 days, should we get this confirmed?” pushed the sales assistant in Quito. How can this be? This was what I had spent in almost 2 months in Bolivia. The other, more carefree part of my mind tricked me into thinking, but when will I next find myself in Ecuador?

Pelican standing on rocks at the Galapagos Islands
A Pelican on Bartolomme Island in the Galapagos

How much does it cost for a cruise to the Galápagos Islands?

Mark and I set aside a Saturday afternoon to trace up and around Avenida Amazonias in the Mariscal Sucre district of Quito. This area is renowned for having numerous travel agencies all selling a similar array of Galápagos Islands cruises. The first office we entered had space on a cruise departing in a few days’ time but at an offer of over $1,500 USD  each (without flights), we kindly declined.

After two shops, we were already overwhelmed by the astronomical price and abundance of information. We were close to giving up and going for a cerveza. The third agency, Travel Adventures Ecuador, provided us with a deal that made us feel like we were robbing them. We booked the cruise for two day’s time within half an hour. Due to there being many empty cabins on board the 3* Archipell II, they were as keen to sell us the trip as much as we wanted to go, allowing room to negotiate “el mejor precio”.

This is when my Spanish degree came into good use. I chipped the price down from $1,800 USD per person to $1,200 USD each. This was for 4 days, including return flights, which the original price did not. Leaving smug but with wallets as empty as our pockets, we dug a little deeper to find a spare $1 for a celebratory Pilsener.

The agency we found in Quito was Shine Galapagos – (593-2)2224 042. You will be able to find many other tour operators selling last minute deals to the Galápagos Islands in this district for comparisons.

Snorkelling with a sea turtle
Sea turtle drifting away

What is included in the total price of the cruise?

Looking back now at what we spent on this unforgettable Galápagos Islands trip, albeit at the time it was an amount of cash I’d never seen other than in Scarface, we got an absolute bargain.

Our total price of $1,200 each included flights from Quito to Guayaquil and to Baltra and a return flight from Santa Cruz Island. It also included all of our meals, which ranged from fresh fruit salads to lemon grilled octopus. Snorkelling equipment, guided tours on the islands and an encyclopedia of information. We mainly visited the Southern Islands and the itinerary is similar to one I found on this Archipell II Galápagos Islands itinerary with Adventure Life.

The price excluded the Galápagos National Park entrance fee, which was $100 USD per person. Also you have to pay separately for a Transit Control Card for $20 USD  per person (cash only). You pay this at immigration in either Quito or Guayaquil before you arrive to the Galápagos Islands. I have checked and these prices remain the same in 2019.

If you are flexible and ready to fly out immediately or you can hang around for a couple of days for a good deal, booking last minute could work out perfectly. I have found that you do get what you pay for. Therefore I would say anything less than $1,000, I wouldn’t expect as good a quality cruise.

Things to know before you travel to the Galápagos Islands

Sea lion in the path at the Galapagos Islands
Welcome to the Galápagos Islands

Some Galápagos packing tips:

  • Take cash with you as there are very few ATMs on the islands.
  • You can only take one checked bag per person that weighs a maximum of 20 kilos.
  • As there is not much space aboard the ship, the crew prefer you to bring a soft duffle-style bag rather than a suitcase.
  • Whenever you travel to the Galápagos, I would suggest packing:
    • lightweight clothes that dry fast
    • warm clothes for the cooler months
    • windproof jacket for sailing
    • comfortable walking shoes
    • sandals for getting in and out of pangas (dinghy boats)
    • clean shoes for onboard
    • swimwear
    • waterproof sun cream and a sun hat, as the sun is much stronger on the Equator between 10am and 2pm.
    • bring sea sickness tablets, even if you don’t think you get seasick just to be extra safe.

When is the best time to visit the Galápagos?

  • There are 2 seasons at the Galápagos. Cool and dry in June to November and warm and wet in December to June.
  • The warmer season tends to be the best time to visit the
    Galápagos Islands as the seas are calmer and underwater visibility improves.
  • I visited in July and found it to be cooler but comfortable in the evenings. It was quite cold when exiting the water after snorkelling but the sea was calm and good visibility.

What is the immigration and airport process?

  • Before checking in at your airline desk, you need to go to the INGALA counter to purchase a Tourist control card for $20 USD (cash).
  • They might want to inspect your bag at the SICGAL area before you can check into your flight. Don’t travel with animal products or seeds to avoid contamination.
  • You can arrive 2 hours before your flight, that will give you enough time to go through immigration.
  • They also ask you to print out your immigration form. You can ask the immigration officer for one and they usually have spare if you are unable to print.
  • Once you arrive to Baltra or San Cristóbal airport, you will need to go through immigration. If you haven’t already, you will need to pay the Galápagos National Park entrance fee of $100 USD in cash.

What is the best island to stay in the Galápagos?

  • Santa Cruz Island is the most accessible island to stay overnight and has an airport that flies back to Guayaquil.
  • Puerto Ayora, the Galápagos Islands’ main city, has the most bars and restaurants and cost effective accommodation.
  • If you are planning to stay on Santa Cruz Island before or after the cruise, it might be a good idea to book in advance.
  • There are plenty of tour operators in Puerto Ayora for you to be able to organise any excursions. Such as hiking, snorkelling, scuba diving and island hopping

If you have any tips that you have collected from visiting the Galápagos, feel free to share them in the comments below!

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