Checking the Galápagos Off Your Bucket List

So, you want to go to the Galápagos Islands? This locale is on many bucket lists and for a good reason – the islands are a place of wonder even to the well-traveled…but it is notoriously expensive to visit. There are some important reasons that prices tend to be high, but here’s the good news – you don’t have to buy high-end cruises costing thousands to enjoy the islands and to see an incredible range of nature’s wonders.

Knowing where to start is the hardest part, but luckily you found this blog. I’m a financial researcher by day and everything-else researcher after hours, so now you can benefit from my countless hours of reading reviews, planning my own travels and digesting all the travel reports and publications I can get my hands on. I put in the legwork, but I want to share our knowledge with you – I strongly believe that seeing the world is a privilege that should not be limited to the rich and well-connected. I traveled to the Galápagos Islands with my partner for the first time in November 2016 and I have been planning my next trip back ever since.

Doing Your Homework

I am a worrier by nature and an over-planner, but for this vacation, I tried to just let go. I had just finished working for a tough client based in California and was missing life on the road, so we decided to plan a trip to the islands for my 29th birthday. We managed to find great deals of flights, especially so close to our departure, and I did not have as much time to research and plan as I would normally have liked.

No, planning is not fun and it can be kind of stressful. But would you rather be stressed ahead of time or during your vacation? That’s what I thought. Do the work ahead of time so that you can relax and be present more during your vacation.

Confession: Of the 35 countries I have personally visited, this was probably the trip I prepared for least. After solo travel in places like Bulgaria, Serbia and years in Albania, I figured I could manage to work it out on the ground – what was the worst that could happen on the islands?

Unfortunately, we weren’t as prepared as we could have been. We were SO excited to just be able to go and “check this off our bucket list” that we were under-prepared and overpaid as a result. Granted, we still made out like bandits compared to people with pre-booked cruises and all-inclusive packages, but we’ll get to those tips later. We knew that we were on to something and that we had to share this information because we were lucky to spend as little as we did, particularly without the deep dives that are going into this project.

A Lesson: Even the Best-Laid Plans

We were happy to jump on whatever day tour we happened to find and had mostly positive experiences as a result. We also paid less than most, as we were willing to look for last-minute deals and vacancies (more on this later). On a 12-person day trip we took, we paid $75-$100 less than the average amount paid by others who had pre-booked online or did not shop around for a better price. On that note, however, I would honestly recommend keeping the price point you negotiated to yourself, as this trips are fairly small and intimate and no one wants to hear that they overpaid.

Though we had great experiences almost across the board, the same can’t be said for many of those we met while staying on Isla Santa Cruz, however. We met a sweet young couple (that was also from Texas) when we took a snorkel expedition to Isla Pinzon and Isla Daphne. They were honeymooning in the Galapagos and still had ten days left on their trip when we met them. We were very jealous of this information, as our trip was nearing its end.

We ran into the husband the next day on the trail to Tortuga Bay while his new wife was on a dive trip – we were heading out for a self-guided snorkel and he was returning from surfing Playa Brava. You’ll find that island life is always small, even in the Galapagos. I was envious that he had the time to slow down and surf and not just hop from place to place and I was a bit gutted that this was our last day and they still had a week left.

At the airport in Guayaquil the next day, however, guess who was there? The same honeymooning Texas couple. It turns out that they blew through their entire budget (which was not that modest) in half the time they had planned and they had to change their flights and ended up leaving the same day we did. You never know how much someone has paid, but based on our observations and experience – most everyone overpays.

The Main Take-Away

You don’t have to break the bank to check the Galápagos off your bucket list, or most any vacation for that matter. The most important thing – and I can’t stress this enough – is to understand what you want to get out of your vacation and set an honest maximum budget. It doesn’t matter if your maximum budget for two weeks is less than what others pay for three day cruises – you need to know what your limits are and stick to them.

We will cover the pros and cons of different cost-saving methods, as well as the benefits of a more traditional trip for the Galápagos if that’s what’s right for you. If you are ready for a bit more spontaneity and self-guided adventure, you found the right place. Even if you are still planning to take a multi-day cruise, you can still benefit from this guide as well. Let our learning experience be your good fortune.

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