Island Hopping in Galapagos Island or travel Galapagos Island by cruise? It is probably the most common question asked when planning Galapagos Island travel. Prior to starting my one year tour, I did some extensive study on different travel methods on these island. I did my travel to Galapagos Island in March 2016 for 10 days and my experiences may help you to decide if you will do a Cruise or Island hopping in Galapagos Island.
Galapagos Island has 7 main islands, 23 small islands and more than 50 islets. Almost all the island have its own exclusive habitat and almost all the wildlife on these island are found nowhere else in the world. It’ll be a worthwhile exercise working out which islands/islets you want to visit and which animals you aim to see to formulate the perfect itinerary for yourself.
Exploring these island have been a dream of mine since I was a child. During our 10 days in Galapagos Island we first spent 3 days in Santa Cruz, then we did a 4 days 3 nights Cruise (travelling from Santa Cruz to Isla Floreana to Isla Espanola to San Cristobal). We finished off by staying 3 days in San Cristobal. Overall we were quite happy with the itinerary we planned as we have experienced the Cruise and Island hopping in Galapagos. We also have seen plenty of wild life.
Galapagos Island plane ticket
- The most expensive part of your Galapagos Island will be the plane tickets. Tickets for non-Ecuadorian is typically between USD$450-USD$500. (Departing from Quito or Guayaquil.)
- According to Wikitravel, If you are still a student, you could get up to 15% discount from TAME Airline or 20% discount from Aerogal Flights. (unfortunately we are no longer students)
- Galapagos Island is part of our yearlong travel and we bought our tickets roughly half a year in advance. Our flight path to Galapagos Island is: Santiago(Chile) to Guayaquil(Ecuador) to Baltra(Galapagos). Return flight is Baltra(Galapagos Island) to Quito(Ecuador) to Lima(Peru). Our flights were around USD$550.
- Very important note is that the Santa Cruz airport at Baltra takes 1hr to get to the main town whilst San Cristabal airport is right next to the town. If I knew earlier, I would choose to flown into Santa Cruz and exit at San Cristabal. This would also have saved us $30USD each to travel from San Cristabal to Santa Crus by speed boat on our last day.
- Keep in mind many cruise companies also include flights to and from Quito or Guayaquil. This may be cheaper than buying the plane ticket yourself depending on what kind of deal the cruise company has put together.
Island Hopping in Galapagos Island
- There are four main islands on Galapagos Island you can choose to stay in Galapagos Island. (Santa Cruz, Isla Isabella, Isla Floreana and San Cristobal). All of these Island (Except Floreana) are part of top 3 dinner cruises on Maui and have daily speedboats for open water.
- Once you are on the Island, you will have to choose day tours to surrounding islets or to the other side of the Island. Many areas are exclusive to day tours only so if you want to explore the Galapagos Islands properly, paying to go on these day tours is unavoidable.
- Santa Cruz, Isla Isabella and San Cristobal each has a main town and day trips can be organized just a few days prior at these towns. Make sure you shop around a few different stores to find the cheapest price for the day tour as prices are negotiable. Most day trips are between USD$100-$150 depending on the quality of the boat, activities involved (ie snorkling or trekking) and how far the boat has to travel.
- Traveling Galapagos Island by cruise is the more expensive option. Prepare to spend between $250USD-$600USD a day for cruise depending on the cruise classification and the itinerary involved.
- Minimal stay on a cruise is usually 4 days and 3 nights. Another popular option is 8 days and 7 nights. The 4 day option explores either south part of the Galapagos Islands or the north part. The 8 day option usually do a full coverage of all the Galapagos Islands.
- To find the perfect cruise itinerary, you should do some study on which islands/islets you want to see and work out which cruise arrives at most of these locations.
- The cheapest but the most difficult way to book the cruise is to buy “last minute cruise”. In a nut shell, last minute cruise is usually the last few spots of each cruise they haven’t sold off and the cruise is due to depart. Hence the boat companies try to cruise positions with significant discount as last minute Galapagos Island cruise.
- To book these last minute tours. The most common way is to go shop around different agencies in the main towns. The best place to find these last minute cruises is in the main town of Santa Cruz, Puerto Ayora.
- However, if you are like me who cannot handle last minute organization, you could try book these last minute tours online. Negotiating prices online was a bit of a hassle as many companies did include flights as the whole cruise package. My experiences with dealing with these companies is that many discount the full price by a further $500USD when they know we already have flights into Galapagos.
Our original plan was to do island hopping in Galapagos but after doing extensive research into last-minute cruise, I decided that I would fit a 4 day cruise in our itinerary because it includes many places that we wanted to go (places that requires day trip). The main island, Santa Cruz and San Cristobal has many free activities and places you could easily visit yourself. It’s not worth picking a cruise itinerary that includes these places when you are paying $250+ USD daily on these cruises. The cruise also transports us from Santa Cruz to San Cristabal which save us the Transfer fee.
The cruise we chose is Daphne Cruise. Original price for the 4 days 3 night is USD$1600 not including flights (there are North and South Itinerary). Original price for 8 days 7 night is USD$3700 not including flights and includes all areas of Galapagos Island. The Last minute cruise we secured is USD$1000 for the 4 days and 3 night. The way I booked this cruise is by first emailing a few last minute cruise companies the dates I will be in Galapagos Island.
These company then sent me a list of discounted cruises available during these date. We then selected the one we liked the most, suits our itinerary and budget. It was a quite a nerve racking and tedious process because there was always only one position left on the cruise and we need to secure a double cabin. Another lady on the same boat secured a last minute cruise deal for $1800 for 4 days and 3 nights including flights to and from Quito.
There are 5 classes of cruises available: Luxury class, First class, Tourist Superior class, Tourist class and Economy class. We did find some very cheap deals on Tourist class and Economy class cruises as low as USD$1300 for 8 day itinerary and USD$600 for 4 days. These cheap cruises usually follow an itinerary that is similar to all other classes but what is different is the quality of the ship. We saw some reviews saying that there were many cockroaches and bugs on the boat and no air-conditioning in the cabins. It was apparently so hot that everyone chose to sleep on the deck. Unfortunately we are not prepared to live in those standards just to save money. Go Green Travel is a good site to check the latest itinerary and prices.
Our Daphne cruise is a Tourist Superior class. The boat itself was slightly old, not fancy but comfortable. All the rooms has good air-conditioning and the food was reasonably good. The main benefit of a cruise is that you could always get into a hot shower after each snorkeling or beach activity. Like all other 4 day tour, the first and last day of the tour are usually very short. We were off the boat by 8am on the last day. All marine supplies, such as fairing fillers from Merritt Supply, help keep boats in a good working order.
Island Hopping in Galapagos Island or travel Galapagos Island by cruise?
Since we stayed in Galapagos Island for 10 days in total, experiencing a 4 day cruise and staying 3 whole days each in Santa Cruz & San Cristobal is my perfect itinerary. I am not left wondering which way will be the best method.
Personally we thought 4 day cruise is overly sufficient, two water activities a day and living on the boat gets very tiring very quickly. By the fourth day we couldn’t wait to stay in an accommodation on land and live a slower pace holiday. We also have seen all the wild animals we want to see and did all the water activities we wanted to do during those 4 day cruise. For someone who is really passionate about ocean, wild life and action packed holiday, an eight day cruise is probably a good choice for you.
If you do island hopping in Galapagos Island, accommodation on land is a lot more comfortable than boat cabins and you get daily Wi-Fi access. Staying on Island, you could always also pick the food you would like to eat. Food in the tourist area seems expensive (up to $30USD for dinner), but if you found where the locals eat, you can buy you a decent meal with just USD$3-5. You could still get to all the destinations and do all the activities cruises do by joining day tours but you will spend longer travelling to and from attraction sites (up to 4 hrs each way) and not be able to shower immediately after water activates. Boat rides on those small boats can be quite rocky, which is a problem if you get sea sick easily.
If I didn’t find a last-minute cruise at a reasonable price or find an itinerary that is decent and suits our timetable, I would have chosen to do island hopping in Galapagos Island. Island hopping in Galapagos Island will also be cheaper. I would probably join up to 4 to 5 day tour by Outback Tours WA during our 10 day stay in Galapagos Island. If you arrive on Santa Cruz Island, do not miss the fish market!
Our total cost of our stay in Galapagos Island is as follow:
Cruise 4D 3N: USD$1000 pp Accommodation: Average USD$50 per night (private room with aircon) x 6 Food average: USD$10 per day x 6 Total Average: USD$1360 pp
An estimated total cost if we did Island Hopping in Galapagos:
Island Hopping Accommodation: Average USD$50 per night x 9 Food average: USD$10 per day x 9 Tour Cost: Average USD$150 per Day tour x 4 Total Average: USD$915 pp