Friday, November 05, 2010

What we know and learned about cruising the Galapagos

To actually go to the Galapagos, we had to turn a blind eye to the questionable economics (greed vs conservation) given the exorbitant cost, we had to ignore our personal impact on the environment of the islands, we had to disregard the extra carbon footprint incurred by such jaunts. Setting aside our ideals, only the mechanics are considered here.
  • We picked a ~20-passenger boat
The bigger boats (~100-passenger) have to be more stable, but they take a long time to load and unload at each landing (typically twice a day). Our boat had two dingies (pangas) that traveled together.
  • We picked a 5-day cruise
There are 3, 4, and 7-night cruises. A lot (not all) of the 7-night cruises are basically a 3-night and 4-night program added together. So the cruises net down to 2, 3, 5, and 6 whole days at sea. We thought 2 days is kind of short. Our friend Dayle gave us an honest opinion - it can get old after a few days. So we thought 3 whole days should be sufficient. And it was. But of course if you come all the way from North America just for the Galapagos, you almost have to do a 7-night.
  • We ended up on a "Luxury" boat
Because of John's potential for seasick and my fear of a dirty boat, we decided to go with a higher end boat. In fact, we could have gotten on a 7-night cruise on a lower end boat for less money than our 4-night cruise. On the other hand we could have as easily gotten on a lesser "First Class" boat.
  • Our boat sailed to the western islands, Isabela and Fernandina
The western islands see lot fewer tourists because they are farther away from the airports. I did not think there would be last minute possibilities for a 5-day cruise to the western islands. We had been shopping for a boat with a southern route. The western route was a lot of cruising; 11-hours the first night and the sea was rough. Since we were not particular about what animals and what quantities we needed to see them in, the itinerary worked out well for us. For two whole days, there was no other boats where we anchored, landed, or dingied. We crossed paths with only a couple of boats.
  • We came in the cool season
It happened to work this way with the rest of our South America trip. The weather was really comfortable. But the water was too cold and too choppy for me to snorkel. The other folks on the boat snorkeled with wetsuits, and they still were shivering. There were no colorful reefs, but you do get to swim along turtles, sea lions, penguins, etc.
  • Who to book the boat with did not seem to be important
We shopped for a cruise in Quito at a number of agencies. Many times a couple of them would offer the same boats. Once we decided on our boat, we had tried to give our business to an independent operator, but when we went by in the morning to sign up, his office was not open at 9am. So we went to the agency that claims to manage the boat which we really have no idea whether it means anything at all.
  • Paying for the cruise was a little tricky
We shopped for the cruise on a Monday and started drawing money on two different ATM cards, since the agencies charge 5-10% for credit card transactions for the boat, but not flights. We put down a deposit for our boat at 9am Tuesday morning and then got the rest of the money. We arrived 6am Thursday at the Quito airport for our flight.

By booking last minute, we saved 55-60% over the normal cost of the 5-day (Th-M) cruise on the Seaman II Catamaran.


Kathy said...

Thanks VERY much for the details. Aside from the snorkeling it sounds ideal, and I could stand to miss that.

Fast Eddy said...

"By booking last minute" you mean when the boat was not full and operator was willing to take a lesser fee just to fill it?

Sun-Ling said...

@Ed, you've got it perfectly! It applies only to the cruise. Flights, park fees, etc. are still regular price.

Dayle in NC said...

Looks like you did extremely well by your last minute booking efforts!