When Dan and I touched down in Quito, Ecuador at 2 a.m. after 24 hours of traveling from Chile, we had no idea what the next 4 days would have in store for us. We shared a taxi to the Traveller’s Inn in the Mariscal neighborhood of Quito with two Swedish guys we met at the airport, and arrived around 4 a.m. (which is actually 6 a.m. in Chile). We planned to spend the few days we had booked in Quito walking around, sightseeing, going to the Equator, normal stuff you do when you arrive to a new city.
Let’s back up for a minute. A major part of our trip to Ecuador included booking a cruise to the Galapagos for us and our 4 best friends. We had all done our research and decided that we could get a better “last-minute” deal if Dan and I showed up in Quito and booked something on the ground with one of the agencies. We all knew the risk we could be potentially taking trying to book 6 spaces last minute. But, we figured it would work out and would be totally worth the savings (as people can sometimes save up to 50-75%!)
Dan and I didn’t plan on looking for a cruise this time in Quito. We planned to return on March 1st (in about 2 weeks) and begin the search then for a cruise departing the middle to end of March. Many cruises don’t post their last minute prices until 30 days in advance so we wanted to wait as long as possible, but also with enough time to book for 6 people, to get the best deal.
As we walked around Mariscal on Sunday (after non successfully trying to sleep off our jet lag), it was impossible not to become curious about what we were up against with booking this cruise. There are literally agencies on every corner boasting deals for the Galapagos, Amazon, and other locations around Quito. I had written down many agencies found in blogs and our friends researched other agencies to check out as well, but we almost didn’t need them because there are so many. (However, I am glad that we had done this research just to make sure some of these companies are legitimate). None of the agencies are open on Sundays so we took this time to do some walking around and getting a feel for Quito.
On Monday morning we decided to do a Free Walking Tour of Quito (more information on this later), and then visit a couple of the agencies in the afternoon to get some initial information and ask questions.
We first went to Galapagos Travel Center as we accidentally stumbled upon their office, and I had actually corresponded with one of their representatives a few months ago. We told her what we were looking for: a 8d/7n cruise, 6 people, tourist superior/midrange boat, mid/end of March departure, must depart on a Saturday or Sunday, and preferably visit the west islands. She looked at us with a bit of shock and very professionally told us she’d have to look into it and would send us an email that night with any options she’d come up with. She also politely told us that finding a cruise that fit all of our criteria at this time was going to be a challenge. Damn.
Feeling a little concerned, Dan and I decided to visit three more companies that day just to see if they had anything different to say: Creter Tours, Galapagos Natural Life and Gulliver Expeditions. Each agent did their best to find options for us while we sat there (they have to call the boats directly to see how many spots they have so it can take quite awhile) but we received the same message – it is going to be a major challenge to find a boat that checked all of our boxes. Either pay more, open up your date flexibility, or be prepared to take a cruise with fewer days is what we kept hearing from them. We received maybe one or two options by the end of the day from all of the companies I listed above, and out of the very few options, none we were very excited about, none were really last minute deals.
This is when I started to get nervous. I was upset at the fact that the prices weren’t as low as we hoped (we were receiving anywhere from $2,400 to $3,300 with or without flights) but most of all, scared we wouldn’t be able to book something for the 6 of us (which was the most important thing for me and I believe for everyone). The situation was more dire than I had expected and was feeling like we needed to act fast if we wanted to book something. We decided to have a Skype chat with our friends and see what everyone thought.
Since the original plan was to try to book something more last minute to save money, we agreed to visit more agencies the next day with the false agenda that we’d be booking a boat that leaves in 2-3 weeks (in order to see if this scenario was possible). We visited Zenith Travel, Eos Ecuador, and Jungal Tours and basically the same thing happened. All of the agents called around to the boats and were only able to give us a few options with savings, but not the kind we were hoping to achieve. We even contacted a couple of the boats directly through this site. We also learned that Easter is March 27th and many people book cruises around this time and throughout April due to spring break which decreased our chances of waiting even further, great.
We took this information back to our friends and I think we all realized that we needed to book something, as soon as possible. We all came to an agreement that the Eden was our best bet in terms of cruise ship, itinerary, schedule and price. So the next day, Dan and I went back to Galapagos Travel Center as a) the representative had sent us the Eden as an option and b) we really liked working with her and felt she was trying very hard to find us something two days before. As she called the Eden, I was incredibly nervous sitting their waiting for our fate. I started to sweat a little and break out in hives. My life flashed before my eyes and everything came crashing down when she said 3 spots were booked literally the night before. I couldn’t believe our bad luck after months of planning, talking, researching, and then two full days of talking to agencies and obsessing over booking a cruise.
I think at that moment Dan, myself, and our representative went into action mode like never before. We used their internet to speak with our friends and our representative started calling other boats and looking for other options like a mad woman. The only option she was able to find was the Treasure (which is the boat owned by Creter Tours) for $2,800 NOT including flights for only 7d/6n. After that, we felt a little backed into a corner and she sort of stopped trying to find other boats after that. Feeling like we were settling, we asked her to put a hold on the Treasure, choose to let the information marinate, and went to our other representative at Jungal Tour that we really enjoyed working with to see if she could work some magic.
After telling Maria at Jungal Tour our situation, she went to work right away calling all the boats she knew of leaving on a Sunday or Monday, in March or April, on a 8d/7n tour. I almost couldn’t even be in the room I was so anxious but after the first call, she told us right away she had an option for us! The Nemo I had space which we all liked better than the Treasure but still felt like we’d be settling as the cabins are pretty small. She continued to call for about another hour finding us TWO more options: the Guantanamera and the Archipell I. I couldn’t believe with some extra work, she was able to find us three other options that Galapagos Travel Center couldn’t. I really felt like Maria was working in our favor and was genuinely trying to help us find something we wanted.
In the end, we booked the Archipell I that meets all of our criteria: nice boat, 8d/7n cruise, great itinerary, good reviews, and leaves on a Monday. The one downside was we spent more than we were hoping ($2,380 a person plus flights) but Maria was able to talk the company down from over $2,400 and it’s about half the normal rate. So in the end, we did receive about a 50% discount for this particular boat. I was so thankful to have found Jungal Tours and Maria; I really don’t know that someone else would have helped us so much to find what we were looking for.
We all sent in our wire transfers that day and have received our confirmation emails as well. So, WE’RE GOING TO THE GALAPAGOS! I cannot wait until April 4-11.
A few important tips that I learned booking a Galapagos Cruise last minute, on the ground in Quito and in general:
- The most crucial thing for me after all was said and done was finding a representative and a company that has you or your group’s best interest at heart. Someone who is willing to call more than just a few boats and won’t just settle on one option for you. This for us, was Maria at Jungal Tour.
- Do your research ahead of time. Know what boats you like, itineraries, budget, how many days, etc. This really helped us each time we entered an agency so we weren’t just shooting in the dark and also not getting taken advantage of.
- Visit more than one company. They all have different boats they are trying to sell so you might find a better boat or better price somewhere else. We visited 7 companies total. It takes a lot of time (2.5 whole days for us from start to booking) but I wouldn’t have done it differently.
- Flexibility is really helpful. The cheapest deals are usually booked a week or so in advance but usually only have spots for two people or so. We were luckily able to find a cruise but with 6 people we were told to either be prepared to spend a little more or have completely flexible dates.
- Be careful of the high seasons as it’s much more difficult to book last minute – Christmas, Easter, Spring Break, etc.
- Thinking we’d have the advantage as 6 people didn’t really play out like I thought. The agencies usually know it’s difficult to book 6 people last minute so a discount won’t really be given necessarily because you’ll be “filling a boat”. They will find others to fill those spaces.
- Be ready to book something ASAP. The spots go quickly last minute and are constantly changing (example – the Eden for us).
- The whole process is overwhelming, can be frustrating, and takes quite a bit of time but don’t lose sight of why you’re doing this. The minute I saw photos of the animals and Galapagos, I realized that it was all worth it in the end.
- Have awesome friends or a group of people that is willing to be flexible, understanding, and ready to take action like ours were!