My dad and I had been planning to go the Galapagos for about two years. Because this was our bucket list trip-of-a-lifetime, we knew we wanted to see the most we could and enjoy ourselves as much as possible (who doesn’t?!). So I dove into planning more than a year in advance.
First thing was to decide whether to do a boat-based tour (cruise) or land-based tour (aka island hopping). Given that I saved enough money to indulge a bit this trip, I decided to go with the cruise because you simply get to see so much more. On a cruise, you cover more ground (or sea, for that matter) so you can explore the more remote islands. A lot of travel is done overnight while you are sleeping, so your time in the Galapagos is spent exploring & swimming. Because there are endless things to do and a plethora of animals to see, maximizing your time on the islands is really important. Besides the basic research I read online, I bought this book, which was written by a woman who had travelled to the Galapagos 30+ times. She broke down the pros & cons for the various types of travel within the islands and basically said the boat-based is the way to go. I’d have to agree!
Next on the agenda was to pick which boat to take! I read a ton of articles on booking a last minute cruise to save money. Last minute can mean anything from 6 months prior to practically right up until the cruise leaves. (Side note: “cruises” in the Galapagos don’t typically mean the kind you’d imagine like the huge 4-story ships in the Caribbean or Mexico; the majority in the Galapagos are much smaller. Ours ended up holding 12 passengers, and while most range around that, there are a few bigger ships that hold over 100 passengers.)
I started doing some hardcore research about 6 months prior, and would look every other week or so. I saw a (not-surprising) trend that the cruises closest to the present date were the cheapest. The boat companies do the best they can to filltheir boats, so they will lower the prices the closer to the date of departure. I used a few different websites to check out last minute deals. A simple google search will do the trick. I found this site to be the clearest one, which led us to the Nemo II, the boat we ended up booking.
About 3 months out, I started making a basic spreadsheet of all the last minute cruises available on the dates that my dad and I planned to be there. Then I added details about the cruise, such as the itinerary, customer reviews, type of boat, price, etc. There is so much information out there it’s a little intimidating to try and differentiate your options unless you organize it a bit. Or maybe that’s just me 😉
My dad and I ended up booking our cruise 30 days prior. He’s a little less spontaneous than I am, so I reluctantly decided to book our cruise ahead of time. I had read that some people just show up on the Islands and book their cruise once onsite.
Here’s why I am so happy we booked ahead of time:
- Our boat was fully booked by the time we arrived at Baltra Airport (the main and only airport on the Galapagos). That meant that if we arrived without booking, the Nemo II Catamaran would no longer have been an option for us. If you care about the quality of your guide, which itinerary you do, the level of class you want, then you’d really limit yourself to whatever is available once you’re there. Yes, I’m sure there’d be something, but you’d pretty much have to just take whatever is available.
- There were no salesmen/tour company operators at the airport looking for tourists to book with them. When we had debated on whether showing up atthe airport and just winging it, we assumed upon arrival that there would be tons of tour companies wanting our business. Now when we arrived there were a few tour companies present, but they were mainly there to help transport already-booked customers from the airport to the docks.
- You could find the ideal itinerary and boat once on Santa Cruz, but you run the risk of the departure/arrival dates not working with your schedule. This is especially important if you’re only staying in the Galapagos for a short time. If we had a month or so on the islands, we would have had some flexibility, but since we had about a 2-week window, we knew that would greatly limit our options.
- The most important reason of them all…My dad and I were able to enjoy 2 full days on Santa Cruz Island doing whatever we wanted to do! This included doing a last minute dive tour, surfing & swimming at Las Grietas. If we waited until the very last minute, we would have spent our time walking around town from tour company to tour company, getting quotes and trying to compare all the ships. And if you don’t have a full list of ships you knew were “Yays” or “Nays”, good luck finding strong enough internet to do your research in Santa Cruz.
I am so happy that we booked ahead of time, yet still last minute enough that we got a great deal! Knowing our boat was full when we got there gave me so much peace of mind that we did the right thing. Definitely do your research on all the boats before choosing. The Galapagos is definitely the coolest place I’ve ever been to & I’m so thankful to have spent it with my dad on the Nemo II for 8 days. Do you have any last-minute tips or stories from the Galapagos? Share in the comments below!