The other major cost factor is the length of the cruise. The cruise itself will be the most expensive element of your trip, so choosing a 4 or 5 day cruise versus an 8 day or longer trip will cut the price dramatically. Unfortunately, it also cuts your amount of time in the Islands. Thrifty travelers may choose to stay in a hotel before or after their cruise to lengthen their Galapagos experience and cut the cost per day.
Some may want to consider foregoing a cruise all together and choosing a land-based Galapagos tour. Read all about cruises vs. land based tours here.
Last Minute Cruise Deals
One effective way of saving money when planning your Galapagos vacation is to book your cruise at the last minute. It’s not uncommon to find extremely discounted rates of 50% or more in the weeks and months before a cruise sets off. It makes sense for the boat owners. They don’t want a cabin to go unfilled, and generally the closer to departure time, the lower they’re willing to drop prices. But, last minute really means weeks or months rather than minutes.
High Season vs. Low Season
If you are planning to go during the high season, when tourism is at its peak, you need to book your cruise several months or even years in advance. There is a high likelihood of being be justify without space on a boat if you wait until the last few months in the high seasons of June through August, the end of November, and the Christmas and New Year’s seasons.
Timing is Everything
The low season (all times not mentioned as high season above) normally afford more and better opportunities for last minute deals. Waiting as long as one to two months before your trip may be possible if you have flexible travel dates. Waiting until a month or less before your travel date to reserve isn’t recommend any time of the year. You could get lucky or you may get stuck with limited less than desirable options.
Last-minute Galapagos cruises Pros & Cons
- Advantage. You can save thousands of dollars. No Galapagos vacation is cheap, but this might be a way to turn a $10,000 trip into a $5,000 trip, without changing the experience.
- Advantage. You can usually negotiate the price pretty well. Whether you negotiate through a travel agency or directly with the boat owner, you will probably be able to name your price window.
- Disadvantage. It’s possible that you won’t find a cruise at all. There aren’t a lot of boats navigating the Galapagos Islands, and if none of them have an opening, you might get stuck with a land-based tour.
- Disadvantage. You might have to settle for a boat that is not your first choice. Having a list of your top choices will be very helpful here, so you know which boats are best for you.
- Disadvantage. You have less control over which itinerary you get. Even if you manage to snag a last-minute spot on the perfect boat, the itinerary still might not include everything you had in mind.
- Disadvantage. If you don’t have a lot of flexibility, then this is generally a bad option. Since there’s always a chance that you won’t be able to find a cruise opening, you really need flexibility with your departure/ return dates. If this is not a luxury you have, then you should book your trip in advance.
Tips for getting the best deal on a Galapagos trip
- Do your homework. No matter when you are going, you need to figure out which boats and itineraries are best for you.
- Have some flexibility with your schedule. Cruise dates are set in stone and options diminish quickly as the departure date approaches.
- Choose a 5-day cruise as a balance between a low total price and having enough time on the islands.
- Extend your stay in the Galapagos by staying in a hotel or lodge before or after your cruise. The cost per day tends to be less and there are breathtakingly beautiful hotels and places to explore when you stay on one of the inhabited islands of Santa Cruz, Isabela, Floreana and San Cristobal.
- Consider a few extra days in Ecuador. The mainland is full of natural and cultural wonders. Arriving to Quito and planning trips to the Amazon and the Andes regions of Ecuador before your Galapagos trip is ideal. One needs about ten days in order to see the Galapagos, Amazon and Quito in one trip.
- Get to Ecuador early, because a flight delay arriving could cause you to miss your flight to Galapagos the next morning, which would make you miss your cruise in most all cases.
If your schedule allows, consider going in the lowest seasons (April/ May & September/ October). Tourism is significantly less during these months, and there are often some great deals and promotions.
Article writen by Brian Bayer January 2016.