I wrote this post for SmarterTravel.com. It appeared there first.
There are four classes of travel to choose from when sailing the Galapagos. They are Luxury/Deluxe, First Class, Tourist Superior, and Tourist.
I wound up sailing the Galapagos on a First Class boat and was able to get a deal that included airfare. How? I booked the day before.
Two of us together paid less than what one of our fellow passengers paid. The boat I chose had a capacity for 90 passengers but was just one-third full. Was this a terrible company to book with? Not at all. In fact, we found out later it’s one of the best.
Below are 10 tips to help you secure a similar deal, questions to ask, and what to watch out for.
Do your research. As you get closer to departure, ask around. Know the going rates for the dates of travel and the class you want to travel. You will be able to gauge if there is a fair amount of availability or if boats are at capacity.
Understand it may not be possible. I’m sure it can be done, but you’re going to have to work harder during the high season as more boats will be filled to capacity. I was able to pull this off mid-March. That’s considered shoulder season.
Be realistic. The Galapagos National Park has assigned all of the boats a 15-day itinerary. Unless you plan on doing one of these, you will not see every island. You can, however, choose your cruise by geography. The islands are categorized into the Western, Northern, Southern and Central routes.
Prioritize. Do you want a boat that offers hot water? Do you want a private bathroom? Would you prefer a doctor on board? Decide what you must have and what is negotiable. Then make sure your boat meets your needs.
Remember this is nature. It’s not a theme park. If your heart is set on seeing something specific, like albatross mating season, you will need to do additional research to ensure your itinerary includes the island of Española for several weeks in April. That said, this is nature and it’s unpredictable.
Set expectations. Remember it’s an expedition, not a cruise. I can only speak for the boat I took. We were well-fed, but if you are expecting a 24-hour buffet, casinos and Vegas-style shows, you will be disappointed.
Negotiate. I was originally offered a cabin with two twin beds. I asked if it I could get a full or queen at the same rate. The travel agent made a quick call and got the okay to secure my preferred room type at the same rate.
Talk to other travelers. I had been traveling around South America for six weeks before I made it to Ecuador. Any time another traveler said they’d been to the Galapagos, I asked a ton of questions. And, in true traveler fashion, they were happy to share their experience. This came in handy as I started my research.
Find out what’s included. Snorkeling was included, as were the mask and the flippers. Had we needed wet suits we would have been charged extra. Find out what is included in the cost. Hint: You don’t need a wetsuit in March.
Ensure that there are bilingual naturalists. This is quite possibly the most important piece of advice I can share. When you’re on land, you will be spending most of your time with the ship’s naturalists. Make sure that you will understand them. You can practice your Spanish with the bartender back on the boat.
Do you have any Galapagos trip tips to share? Have you had success using any of these methods? Tell us in the space below.