In 2013, following days of deliberation we made the decision to cut our time in Colombia short and go on a last minute 8-day cruise around the Galapagos Islands. It was stretching our budget but we decided that it was a once in a lifetime experience we didn’t want to miss – and we wanted to do it on a fancy boat. After 3 flights and a delightful 13 hour lay-over in Quito, we landed at the Baltra airport.
We were greeted at the airport with one person from Customs checking out two plane loads of people by typing with one finger, followed by a 45 minute wait in a sweaty bus before finally we departed for our boat – the Monserrat.
We hadn’t even made it onto our boat before seeing our first sea lion, which was laying on a bench at the landing pontoon where we caught our dingy. After a short ride, we arrived at the Monserrat. We were very impressed! It was certainly more luxurious than we had expected. The age of our fellow passengers ranged from around 20 to 75 – it was a very mixed bag. We had a lower deck cabin with twin beds, which was very spacious and comfortable. It was better than most of the hostel beds we have stayed in! The food was served buffet style and was very tasty, although there were a couple of vegetarians on our cruise who weren’t given great options.
During our first afternoon we saw giant land tortoises – we only took three steps off the bus to find one cruising around the car park. Throughout the week we managed to see basically everything the Islands had to offer: giant tortoises, sea turtles, marine iguanas, those funky looking orange crabs, sting rays, manta rays, heaps of boobies (get your mind of the gutter – they are a type of bird), stacks of sea lions and sharks. One of the highlights was snorkelling with a school of hammerhead sharks at Kicker Rock – it’s still a mystery how KG managed to keep her bowels in order during this one!
Cost of our 8 day Galapagos Island cruise
We found a First Class cruise on the Monserrat for around half the usual price online. Although it was seriously stretching our budget, we decided that it was worth spending the money for a week of luxury and great English-speaking nature guides who would help us make the most of our time in the Galapagos.
The total cost of our 8 day cruise (in 2013) was US$1,700 per person. This included:
- Return transfers from the Baltra airport
- 7 nights aboard the Monserrat yacht (lower deck cabin with twin beds)
- Three meals per day and drinking water
- Guided excursions
- Accredited English-speaking naturalist guides
The cost did not include:
- Galapagos National Park fee US$100 (paid in cash on arrival)
- Ingala Immigration Card US$10.00 (paid in cash at Quito airport)
- Alcoholic beverages.
- Snorkel equipment (nominal fee) and wetsuit
- Return airfares from Quito (approximately US$225 each way)
- Paypal fees (US$75)
Our Galapagos Island cruise itinerary
We chose a 7 night/8 day cruise so we could see more of the Galapagos Islands. We felt like the 3 night cruise was not long enough to justify the expensive flights, nor would it give us enough time to see everything we were interested in. Below is our boat’s itinerary:
- Day 1: Arrive from Quito at 11h50. Visit Santa Cruz Island (Charles Darwin Station)
- Day 2: Santa Fe Island to South Plaza Island
- Day 3: San Cristobal Island (Pitt Point and Lobos Island)
- Day 4: San Cristobal Island (Interpretation Centre, Tijeratas Hill, Loberia and Galapaguera)
- Day 5: San Cristobal Island (Kicker Rock and Ochoa Beach)
- Day 6: Espanola Island (Gardner Bay and Suarez Point)
- Day 7: Floreana Island (Cormorant Point and Devils Crown)
- Day 8: Santa Cruz Island (Highlands then flight to Quito at 15h05)
Finding discounted Galapagos Island cruises
Travel agencies will often offer huge last-minute discounts to fill empty beds on Galapagos Island cruises. The best deals can be found by visiting budget travel agents personally in the Mariscal district of Quito. Compare the deals on offer and be prepared to bargain.
However, there are also some great discounts available online. A simple Google search of “last minute Galapagos Cruises” will give you tonnes of options. We used Zenith Ecuador Travel, and were very pleased with their service. They can also book flights. We have also heard good things about Ecoventura.
Before booking your cruise, clarify what is and is not included in the price (preferably in writing). For example:
- Meals and drinking water
- Room type (including windows and private bathroom)
- Air conditioning
- Galapagos National Park entry fee
- Accreditation level of guides
- Snorkelling gear and wetsuits
- Payment fees (e.g. Paypal fees)
Be warned: in high season (mid-June to early-September, and mid-December to mid-January) it may be difficult to find discounted last-minute spaces. Other times of year, you will need to be flexible with your departure date as it could take a week or so for your preferred boat to become available.
Choosing your Galapagos Island cruise
There are four classes of boats in the Galapagos Islands:
- Luxury Class
- First Class
- Tourist Superior Class
- Tourist/Economy Class
Luxury Class boats are very high end, and usually out of the budget of most backpackers! First Class and Tourist Superior Class are very comfortable options. You will have a private room with air-conditioning and a bathroom. The food will be tasty and there should be plenty of it! You will usually have an experienced naturalist guide who will speak very good English, and the crew will be very professional. The excursions will allow you to see a wide range of wildlife and the snorkelling gear will be good quality.
We read very mixed reviews about Tourist/Economy Class boats. These are budget-friendly options, and are far cheaper than the other classes. However, this means you will probably have a less experienced naturalist guide and poorer quality amenities and food on the boat. You may not have a private bathroom, a cabin window or air conditioning. If you are looking at a Tourist-Economy Class boat, read reviews online and speak to other travellers before booking. Ask to see recent photos too!
No matter what class of boat your choose, do a bit of research on the itinerary before booking to check it is visiting your ‘must-see’ places. If you are a shark lover, you can’t miss Kicker Rock!