I spent 16 days in the Galapagos Islands.
When I decided to travel to Galapagos, I didn’t want to make any cruise. What I had in mind was to explore the several islands on my own, without getting any Galapagos cruise.
However, when I arrived in Puerto Ayora, the biggest city of Santa Cruz Island, I changed my mind.
I decided to buy a Galapagos Last Minute Cruise.
Well, while visiting Puerto Ayora I was offered a very good last minute deal to go on a cruise. Something I couldn’t refuse.
Puerto Ayora is the perfect city to get your Galapagos Last Minute Cruise, because there are many tour operators and it’s actually the main headquarter offices for most cruise ships. So there is always up to date information about which boats have last minute available places.
On this page I give you personal insights on how to get a cheap Galapagos cruise, detailed information about budget cruises and where to buy them, how to choose your itinerary, how much to pay, budget accommodation information and a few other tips and tricks.
Last Minute Cruises to the Galapagos
What to know:
• Getting to Galapagos by yourself is quite easy. You just need to get your airplane ticket online. My ticket from Guayaquil to Baltra and from Puerto Baquerizo Moreno to Guayaquil costed $337 USD. I bought my tickets 2 weeks in advance with LAN ECUADOR AIRLINE at http://www.lan.com/.
• Presently all Galapagos cruises depart from Santa Cruz island. Not from San Cristóbal anymore.
• Buying a last minute cruise in Puerto Ayora is always much cheaper than in main land Ecuador or elsewhere in the world. In Puerto Ayora city center there are many offices that offer daily excursions, tours, and last minute cruises information.
• Official Ecuadorian currency is the US dollar. Cash is king.
• Give yourself a few days to wait for the perfect time to get a last minute ticket. This way you have more time and more cruises to choose from. You might wait a couple of days before the cruise starts. If you’re short on time, and the agency salesman becomes aware of that, your next day ticket will definitely be more expensive.
• Catamarans can be more expensive, yet faster in good weather conditions. Small yachts are less crowded and offer more personalized service. Big cruise ships should be avoided as you will not experience the real Galapagos.
• There are some islands you can visit by yourself. Others you can only visit on a day trip tour package. Some islands you can only visit with a cruise.
• Choose an itinerary far from the islands you can do by yourself.
• Choose an itinerary that includes islands you would need to buy a day trip anyway. They cost from $80 to $160 USD per person. This way you save money. For example: a day trip to Bartolomé Island costs $180 USD, South Plaza Islands $80 USD and Santa Fé Island $90 USD. My point here is that, a 4 day cruise can cost as low as $550 with accommodation and food included. Much better option.
• Never rush to buy anything. Galapagos salesmen’s techniques are ferocious and you’ll be pushed to buy buy buy! Never buy without asking around. I asked for information in at least 4 different offices and realized that prices were different even for the same boat. One was actually twice more expensive than the others. One of the guys that was traveling on the same boat also got a last minute ticket, but he paid doubled than me.
• Technically, there’s always one day less than what the agencies / websites sell. I mean, a 4 day cruise is technically a 3 day / 3 nights, a 5 day cruise is technically a 4 day / 4 nights, a 6 day cruise is technically a 5 day / 5 nights, … a 10 day cruise is technically a 9 day / 9 nights. Why? Because agencies count the last extra day taking you to visit the lava tunnels and the giant tortoise breeding center at the Charles Darwin Research Station in Santa Cruz Island as a cruise day. Which is not. So, basically, the last day will never be spent on board, rather a land tour as you have already done your check-out from the boat in the morning.
• Galapagos boat types: Luxury Class, First Class, Touristic Superior Class, Economy Class.
• Galapagos boat sizes: small yachts take about 12-16 passengers, medium yachts take about 20-45 passengers and large cruise ships take about 90+ passengers.
• Tips are not included on the cruise price. A non-mandatory 10% of the cruise value is expected to be paid. Honestly, I do not agree with this since the boats already get a lot of money. You can pay or not. It’s up to you.
• Buy some sea sickness pills before going on board. You can get the pills at a pharmacy in Ecuador’s mainland or in Puerto Ayora in Santa Cruz Island. Sometimes the sea can get rough.
• All Galapagos cruises have a mandatory official guide on board. They are very communicative and explain everything there is to know about Galapagos fauna and flora.
• You can rent snorkeling and wet suits in Puerto Ayora, or pay a much more expensive snorkeling gear on board of the boat. You can also buy some $30 USD snorkeling equipment in one of the Puerto Ayora supermarkets.
Useful to know before traveling
• Before the flight, at Quito or Guayaquil airport, you have to buy a $10 USD Immigration Control Card.
• Before the flight, at Quito or Guayaquil airport, you’ll have to pass the Quarantine and Inspection control. Your luggage will be checked for fresh vegetables or fruits.
• I preferred to fly in to Baltra / Santa Cruz and fly out from San Cristóbal Island. This way I didn’t have to return to Santa Cruz after visiting San Cristóbal. I saved time and money with the taxi boat on a two insane hour trip between both islands.
• The Galapagos National Park entrance fee costs $100 USD per person. $100 dollar bills sometimes are not accepted.
• There are banks with ATM cash machines in: Santa Cruz Island, Isabela Island and San Cristóbal Island.
• There are supermarkets and groceries stores in: Santa Cruz Island, Isabela Island, Floreana Island and San Cristóbal Island.
• There are 2 hour taxi boats between Santa Cruz Island and Isabela Island, between Santa Cruz Island and Floreana Island and between Santa Cruz Island and San Cristóbal Island. The price is $25 USD or $30 USD if you bargain last minute.
• Islands you can visit by yourself: Santa Cruz Island, Isabela Island, Floreana Island and San Cristóbal Island.
• Islands you can visit on a day trip tour: Bartolomé Island, South Plaza Islands and Santa Fé Island.
• Islands you can only visit on a cruise: Española Island, Genovesa Island, Fernandina Island, Marchena Island, Pinta Island and Wolf Island.
• Prices vary. I paid $550 USD for a 4 day cruise on board of the first-class Estrella del Mar Yacht (all included except snorkeling gear and wet suit). Someone on my boat paid $1100 USD buying last minute in Puerto Ayora. Other on my boat paid $3000 USD booked back in Germany. An Italian guy I met at the border of Ecuador / Peru paid $600 USD for the same trip on the same boat. Other mid-range and low priced cruises are cheaper, yet the quality is also much lower. I advise you to get high-end yachts, luxury or first class boats.
• I booked my last minute trip with Lonesome George Travel Agency and Tour Operator located in the center of Puerto Ayora town. I just showed up and start asking questions.
[message_box type=”info”]Contacts: Lonesome George, Av. Baltra y Enrique Fuentes, Puerto Ayora, Santa Cruz Island – Galapagos, Ecuador ● Phone: +593 5252 6245 ● Email: email@example.com ● Website: Lonesome George.[/message_box]
• Many Galapagos animals can be seen without any cruise trip. Every island that can be visited all by yourself has sea lions, brown pelicans, and marine iguanas just there, sleeping in the middle of the sidewalk. You can see giant tortoises in ranches and in a few breeding centers. You can swim with sea lions, penguins, whitetip reef sharks and sea turtles for free. Many beautiful Galapagos endemic bird species will come next to you. Exotic birds such as Blue Footed Boobies, Frigatebirds, Greater Flamingos and Great Blue Heron can be seen at very close range in many islands.
• Budget hotels can be found in Santa Cruz Island, Isabela Island and San Cristóbal Island. A single room starts at $10 USD and a double starts at $20 USD.
• You can eat at local restaurants as cheap as $4 USD per person – soup + main dish + juice.
• There are bicycles for rent in Puerto Ayora, Puerto Villamil and Puerto Baquerizo Moreno. 1 Day $20, 1/2 Day $15 and 1 hour $4 USD.
4 day Galapagos Islands Cruise
I bought a last minute 4 day Galapagos Islands cruise departing from Puerto Ayora. The trip itself was amazing and I’m happy I did spend some money to make this trip. I now write day-by-day detailed information about my trip.
Day 1 – Galapagos Islands Cruise
Baltra Island -> Bartolomé Island
I started the day going from Puerto Ayora to Baltra Airport, where the official Galapagos guide was waiting to bring us on board the yacht.
Early departure towards Bartolomé Island (Isla Bartolomé). This amazing island mix incredible rocky volcanic mountains with sand dunes. The most famous part of this island is the incredible Pinnacle Rock. After snorkeling with sea lions and Galapagos penguins, we went on a hiking up the volcano hill.
Day 2 – Galapagos Islands Cruise
After a rough night sea cruising, the boat finally anchors inside the horse-shoe shaped Darwin Bay, in Genovesa Island. Morning hiking to bird watching. This island is a great place to watch Darwin’s finches, Frigatebirds, Galápagos Mockingbirds, Nazca Boobies, Red-footed Boobies, Swallow-tailed Gulls, Storm petrels and Tropicbirds. After the hike we went snorkeling with fur sea lions.
Day 3 – Galapagos Islands Cruise
South Plaza Island -> Santa Fé Island
Long night cruising. Arrival at South Plaza Island in the morning where we went on a couple of hours walk to see Red-billed Tropicbirds, Swallow-tailed Gulls and a large colony of Galapagos Land Iguanas.
After South Plaza we cruised to Santa Fé Island. This is a great place for snorkeling and hiking the hill top among the palo santo trees and cactus. Santa Fé is the habitat of one endemic species, the Barrington land iguana. Sea lions can be seen all over the beach at Barrington Bay. Snorkeling is amazing, and you can swim with marine iguanas, sea lions and whitetip reef sharks.
Day 4 – Galapagos Islands Cruise
Santa Cruz Island
After sleeping the last night on board of the boat, we are taken early in the morning to Puerto Ayora. Inside a tour bus we visit the Santa Cruz Lava Tunnels, the Tortoise Farm Rancho Primicias and the Charles Darwin Research Station.
End of trip.
[message_box type=”info”]NOTE: During the 16 days I spent in the Galapagos Archipelago I visited Santa Cruz Island (Puerto Ayora, Lava Tunnels, Tortoise Farm Rancho Primicias, Charles Darwin Research Station, Tortuga Bay, Tortuga Beach, Laguna las Ninfas, Las Salinas, Las Grietas, Playa de los Alemanes, Pelican Bay), Bartolomé Island, Genovesa Island (Darwin Bay), North Plaza Island, Santa Fé Island, Isabela Island (Puerto Villamil, La Poza del Amor, El Muro de las Lágrimas, Arnaldo Tupiza Giant Tortoise Breeding Center, Poza Baltazar, Poza de los Flamingos, Poza Puerta del Jelí, Concha Perla), San Cristóbal Island (Puerto Baquerizo Moreno, Lobería Beach, Las Tijeretas, Playa Cabo de Horno).[/message_box]
Example of a first class Cruise
Example pictures of the boat I traveled in Galapagos. I paid for a 4 day cruise on board of the first-class Estrella del Mar yacht.
General view of Estrella del Mar
Upper Deck of Estrella del Mar
Stern of Estrella del Mar
Starboard of Estrella del Mar
Captain’s Bridge of Estrella del Mar
Living room of Estrella del Mar
Main Dining Area of Estrella del Mar
Breakfast of Estrella del Mar
Bar of Estrella del Mar
Bedroom of Estrella del Mar
Lower Deck stairs of Estrella del Mar
Zodiac trip back to Estrella del Mar
Budget Accommodation in main cities
Hotel Posada Flamingo in Puerto Ayora
Hotel Posada del Caminante in Puerto Villamil
Hostel Luis House in Puerto Baquerizo Moreno
[message_box type=”error”]NOTE: This is NOT a sponsored post and I didn’t get anything in return for writing this travel article. Consequently, all content and opinions are entirely my own.[/message_box]