When setting off for South America I put aside enough money to do the Galapagos properly. However I am always looking for ways to save money and The Galapagos offers great opportunities to save big. Although it is tempting to satisfy those organisational needs and have everything planned and booked well in advance I would recommend, if you have any flexibility, waiting until you are at least in Quito. Even though we arrived during the peak travel season where availability was low, we still managed to save 50% on our trip.
There is more scope for saving money if you are willing to pay by cash as most card transactions incur a 20% charge, in order to avoid carrying large amounts of cash with you travel agents allow you to pay deposits over a number of days. Just make sure you get receipts and confirmation. For this reason and also in order to ensure you get the right trip for you it is necessary to give yourself 3-5 days in the town of booking.
You have three options of where to book in Ecuador; Quito, Guayaquil, or on the Galapagos islands. Whilst the latter two are likely to save you small amounts of money, I would recommend booking in Quito.
Quito is a friendly safe city, it is surrounded by a number of incredible day trip opportunities to keep you entertained and fill the time whilst you are waiting to travel. I would recommend Cotopaxi, Quilotoa Crater Lake, and also at least 2 days around the cloud forest of Mindo.
Guayaquil is an industrial town, less catered for tourists and with much less to offer in terms of surrounding entertainment. Whilst I never experienced any trouble here, I heard many stories of people less fortunate.
Galapagos is the final option and a great option if you are there at an offpeak time of year. Whilst you wait for the perfect trip to come around there is plenty to keep you entertained on the islands. However many of the day trips from the islands will be covered in your cruise. Also if booking during peak times of year you may find all accommodation on the island of Santa Cruz either fully booked or very expensive.
Other things to consider whilst booking, you will need to fly to the Galapagos, if you are waiting to book and are travelling during the peak seasons I would recommend leaving 5 days in order to ensure availability on flights.
Like it or not, haggling is part of the culture in South America. Most agencies will be selling the same deals so a very easy way of haggling is by simply playing agencies against each other. Ask one agency for their lowest price and then ask the next agency to beat the deal. There are several charges additional to your trip costs which you will be expected to pay once on board the vessel. If you don’t have a wet suit, fins or snorkel combined these will set you back up to $100 per person per week. Most agencies will happily include this in your price if you ask. What I would say is make sure you get all of this in writing. Several passengers on board our vessel, had made deals with agencies which were not communicated with the ships crew, this resulted in large amounts of complications for the passengers, which could have been sorted with some simple paperwork.
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