Our daughter spent 6 months backpacking around South America and for her X-mas gift she asked for a trip to the Galapagos. When she returned home she would not stop talking about what a great time she had and wouldn’t rest until we booked our own trip. Since she was on a budget she had chosen to stay on Santa Cruz and book day trips from there to the points of interest. That’s a perfectly acceptable and cost effective option. We chose; however, to go on a 10 day boat tour that included a native guide. When boating through the Galapagos you need to make a few decisions.
1) Sail or motor
2) Size of boat and class
3) Itinerary A or B
4) Length of tour
5) In which season to go
We chose to motor since when you are inside the archipelago you can’t properly sail and there are few things more tedious than motoring on a sailboat with a diesel engine pounding. We a chose a 16 person motor boat called “The Majestic”. We chose her because of price, she is relatively new (Class A – there is a higher class still) and is also the boat the National Geographic Tours charter for Galapagos Tours under their own brand. Also, the Class A tour boats have better guides that are certified by the Tourist Association and speak English fluently. We also felt that at a passenger load of 16 people our on land tours would be less crowded and we would get more personal attention. We decided to go for 10 days since that provided enough time to cover most of the islands and enough different animal species for us to get a good feel for the area. Whether you go in winter or summer will impact the wildlife you get to see but ultimately, since we love to snorkel, we chose to go in February/March as the water is warmer. The itinerary we chose, Itinerary A, did not include San Cristóbal which meant missing the Red Footed Boobies. It’s worth researching each island to learn what wildlife is predominant there so that you can base your itinerary on what you want to see.
In terms of booking process we narrowed our tours down a short list of types and names of boats acceptable to us and then waited until fairly close to our planned departure. The boats tend to offer specials, even 2 for 1 prices, nearer to sailing to assure they get to full capacity. We got an incredible deal on The Majestic by waiting until a month before sailing. Some real hard bargain hunters actually wait until they get to Quito and then hunt for the best deal they can find just a few days before departure. To do this though you need to be a bit flexible in when you schedule your departure from Equador as its not always possible to get the exact dates you would prefer.
A trip to the Galapagos is well worth the time and investment. As an earlier reviewer has commented it is a long way to travel but if you can take at least two weeks off it is definitely worth it. I would have liked to take in the two islands we missed – Española and San Cristóbal since every island has its own magic and special characteristics. It’s worth planning to spend as much time there as possible. Definitely a must do travel experience.