This past June, I spent 10 days in the Ecuador with 7 of those in the Galapagos aboard the ship Archipell I. I had quite a bit of trouble deciding on the boat, itinerary and the right budget. We all want to spend as little as possible and when it comes to the Galapagos, there is a wide range of prices you can pay. It’s hard to know just how much is acceptable to you in terms of comfort and food, especially when you are on the boat for a number of days.
Boat size: Since my husband gets seasick, it was important for us to be on a slightly more stable boat so the catamaran option was preferred. We also found that there were boats of varying size and capacity – the larger cruise size ships and the smaller 16 passenger ships. We went with the 16 passenger ships because it allowed us more flexibility and one on one time with the naturalist guide. The naturalist is a big part of making your trip memorable so you want someone who speaks english well and has significant experience.
# of Days: For my husband and I, the 8 day cruise was perfect for us. We had a family on our boat with a teenager and small child and we heard the smaller child got a bit tired by the 4th or 5th day. There were other people on our boat who didn’t seem quite as interested in wildlife and were just backpacking through South America – for them, 4-5 days was also plenty. I recommend 7-8 days for people who enjoy photography, wildlife, hiking and the outdoors.
Price: You can pay a lot less if you are flexible on timing. The best deals are had by arriving in Santa Cruz and booking your trip from there based on boats with availabilities. You might not get your pick on itinerary/boats but you could get up to 50% off. If you book directly with the boat owner, that will also save you on commission. Unfortunately, I was not able to reliably get information on boat owners. We booked about 2-3 weeks out from our departure date which saved us a bit of money but limited our itinerary options. On my initial inquiry I was quoted one price but after a week or so had gone by, they were willing to lower the price some more. The agencies will often tell you that it’s selling out but that should be taken with a grain of salt because they want you to book asap.
Travel Agency: When it came time to book, I got nervous because I had two options – pay several percentage more for using a credit card or wiring money directly to Miami. Ecuador is mostly a cash economy and vendors often claim that credit card companies charge them the extra percentage which they must pass on to you. This created a dilemma for me because the idea of sending thousands of dollars to someone I didn’t know really bothered me. In the end, I looked through Tripadvisor and went with a reputable agency named Happy Gringo and paid for our trip by mailing a check to their offices in Miami. Everything went smoothly from that point on.
What to Bring:
– Camera (underwater/waterproof camera only recommended if you are a great swimmer or diver), we bought a waterproof case but due to rough waters or water clarity, we never really used to and ultimately decided to just enjoy ourselves rather than trying to get pictures.
– Wetsuit & snorkel gear (snorkel gear was included; we rented a wetsuit the entire time & that worked out well, I recommend bringing your own only if you already own one & don’t mind the extra space it’ll take up in your luggage).
– Watershoes/Keens (not really necessary, you can get away with flip flops for wet landing and then switching over to sneakers if there is a significant hike, check with your guide).
– Extra swimsuits (I recommend bringing at least 2 sets of swimsuits since you will probably snorkel at least once a day).
– For downtime, bring playing cards, games, Kindle, movies, or books. There won’t be internet connection and even though you’ll be fairly preoccupied most of the time, there will still be downtime late morning or early evening.
– Sunscreen, make sure you have enough for the entire time you are there.
– Sunglasses, bugspray, binoculars, day pack, hat and ear plugs (if you’re a light sleeper) are all great to have.
– I recommend bringing your own toiletry (shampoo, conditioner, soap, facewash) since boats may not offer what you want.
– Luggage should be carry-on size or crushable (duffle bag) since cabins tend to be small and large pieces of luggage will take up too much space.
– Cash to cover cost of renting wetsuits, drinks at the bar and tipping. I recommend at bringing along at least $250 in cash per person.
Seasick: I highly recommend taking Bovine, Dramamine or wearing a patch if you have a tendency to get seasick. We did have one passenger on our boat that didn’t take any medication and had trouble enjoying herself. My husband took Bovine the entire time (one a day) and it made him tired but I think it’s a worthwhile trade off. Don’t forget that you are on the boat for several days.
The islands that I found to have the most wildlife on my itinerary were Genovesa & Espanola. North Seymour was a close third and seeing the huge tortoises in the Highlands of Santa Cruz were also quite exciting. We experienced something different everyday but would say that Santiago, San Cristobal and Floreana had the least to offer in terms of wildlife. Islands I have not been to but have read/heard great things are Fernandina & the west coast of Isabela. It’s nearly impossible to find an 8 day cruise that will include Fernandina, Isabela, Genovesa and Espanola so the best itineraries should include 2-3 of the 4 islands.
Some useful websites & blogs I came across included: