Decisions, decisions, decisions…

The most common question that people have asked about this trip has been “How do you get started making all of these decisions?”  I can only share how we made our decisions.   But perhaps our tale will get you started on your own path.  Keep in mind that this trip occurred in September, 2009; prices and options will certainly vary.  Also, what mattered to us may not concern you a whit.  Reader discretion is advised!

If you haven’t already read it, you might want to check out my “Choosing a cruise” page too.  Lots of helpful information and links about things to consider when trying to make this huge decision!

Note that, because we went with Exploritas (formerly, Elderhostel and currently Road Scholar), we didn’t make any decisions about the cruise.  They have been using the Tip Top fleet for years, so we just went with that.  However, since our trip, I’ve learned a lot about all of the choices that people face when starting from scratch. One of the most basic decisions is how to travel around the islands—land-based tours (a.k.a., island hopping) or on a live-aboard boat?  It’s a really important decision, and people often feel at a loss about how to think about traveling around the islands.  It’s so important that I’ve written an entire page just about some of the issues or questions you might be wondering about; click here.  I certainly don’t pretend to know all of the answers; but I know a lot of the really basic questions about cruises.

But choosing a cruise isn’t the only decision you have to make.  Here are the topics you’ll find on this set of pages, along with their page numbers:

  • the travel company (p. 2)
  • the season—including some discussion of El Niño (p. 3)
  • trip insurance (p. 4)
  • extra days in Quito (p. 4)
  • help on the Internet (p. 4)

Click below to jump to a particular page.

11 Responses to Decisions, decisions, decisions…

  1. Bernadette says:

    Thank you again Tina and your comments make sense! Without worrying about altitude in Quito that gives us more flexibility with cruise dates.I also might investigate flying from Guayaquil to Peru.

    Great appreciation for your expertise and time, Bernadette


  2. Bernadette says:

    Hi Tina,
    What a joy to find your blog and the wealth of information. I am planning a trip to Galapagos late April 2015 and that has just become much less daunting!

    After reading, I am a little concerned about the suitability of this trip for my husband who is a virtual non-swimmer. Irony is that his love of all things wild-life is why I am planning in the first place without realising that snorkeling was so intrinsic. I would really appreciate your opinion as to whether we would be better spending our money elsewhere.



    • Tina says:

      Hi, Bernadette–

      Glad the blog has been helpful!

      Snorkeling is a big part of naturalist cruises. But on both of our trips, we had a few non-swimmers. Some folks just put on their personal flotation devices (PFDs) that we all had to use on the pangas and bobbed around the waters with the group like safe, happy corks. They were able to experience just about as much of the marine wildlife as the rest of us did. So if your husband isn’t too phobic about water, that could be a wonderful solution.

      If that wouldn’t work, you might look for a boat that has kayaks. You can’t kayak everywhere that the snorkelers go (kayaking is strictly controlled by the National Park), but he might be able to paddle in a few areas. Another possibility might be to just stay in the pangas when the snorkelers are in the water. The panga operators stay close to the snorkelers at all times, so anyone can signal to them to get out of the water sooner. So at least your husband could be out on the water. Or sometimes, as a total alternative to snorkeling, the boat might offer a panga ride for the non-water folks.

      Not all snorkeling starts from the pangas; sometimes, you start from a beach. In that case, he could easily just loll on the beach although he wouldn’t be allowed to wander around most beaches without the naturalist guide there. (Most of the time, the guide will go snorkeling with the group.)

      Even though I’m a major fan of the smaller boats, you might find that you have more options for each outing on a larger boat. I don’t have a lot of experience with those boats, but it’s probably more likely that non-snorkeling options would exist with most outings when more groups are heading out.

      And of course, you don’t have to go on any outing that you don’t want to. So your husband could just relax on the boat during snorkel outings. On both of our trips, 1 or 2 folks always stayed behind. As long as you let the naturalist guide know that you won’t be going, there’s no problem with just hanging out.

      So I’d say you don’t need to rule out this trip, as long as your husband is comfortable enough to don a PFD and sit in a panga to get to the landings. He’ll have to wade to some beaches, but the water on those “wet landings” is usually no deeper than calf-deep.



      • Bernadette says:

        Many thanks for the rapid reply Tina and even more helpful information.I will check out some of the larger but maybe not huge boats and yet think he will probably cope with those you have recommended.

        On another note, do you think it is better to go straight to Guayaquil before the cruise and avoid any possible altitude issues?


      • Tina says:

        Hi, Bernadette–

        I’m not really a big fan of Guayaquil, although I know of others who enjoy it. To me, it seemed like just another hot, humid river port city. I would suggest flying into there only if you know you or someone in your group has serious lung issues. If that’s the case, Quito will probably present a challenge.

        But if you’re just sort of worried in general about the altitude, I’d consider spending 2 or 3 days in Quito. It’s such a lovely city with many options within just a short distance. It is high altitude; but in general, the altitude doesn’t bother most casual visitors. If you intended to get off the plane and go mountain biking or serious hiking right off the bat, okay–that could be a problem if you live in lower areas. But most folks take a tour of the historical district or do a day trip to the cloud forest or perhaps a couple-day trip to Otavalo to the markets. Those aren’t strenuous trips and you can easily pace yourself so that the altitude plays very little role in your visit.

        Having written that, only you can know what is likely to be best for you. And for flying back, we have always chosen to go stop for the night in Guayaquil. (All flights from the archipelago to mainland Ecuador stop first in Guayaquil and then go on to Quito.) The airport is very near the city and decent hotels (unlike the new airport in Quito). Since we’re just spending the night to catch a flight back to the U.S. the next day, Guayaquil makes great sense.



  3. Suzanne Barlettani says:

    Tina – you really should have made this blog into a book. Your information and witty way of delivering it is way better than any others I have read. I read every word and LOVED every one.
    We are going to the Galapagos on May 12 of this year. We will be staying in Quito for two nights and then onto the Galapagos Islands on the Corals. We are going on three back to back cruise itineraries and will be gone 18 days. So Excited!!!! This is a bucket list trip so I want to get in as much as I can – I turn 65 in July. You mentioned that shortie wet suits were desirable on your September trip – but how about your May trip?
    Thank you so much for all your helpful information,
    Suzanne Barlettani – Concord, CA


    • Tina says:

      Hi, Suzanne–

      I’m so glad you enjoyed the blog and found it helpful! Thanks so much for letting me know.

      For me, I was glad I had my shortie wet suit for the May trip. First, I’m a not-very-confident swimmer, so the extra buoyancy was great. Jumping from the panga–typically my most anxiety-filled snorkeling moment–became great fun because I’d just bob up to the surface like a little cork. Also, the waters around the western islands (Isabela and Fernandina) are noticeably cooler than are the waters around the more central islands. Also, as you head further south (e.g., Floreana), you may notice cooler water temps. They also provide you some protection from sunburn–it’s hard to use sunblock well with so much time spent in the water. (Of course, a t shirt or a rash guard will provide that too.) And mine kept me warmer on the panga rides back to the boat when still wet than the towels provided by the boat did. On our May trip, probably about 1/3 of the snorkelers used wet suits; so clearly they’re not mandatory. But I was very glad to have it.

      It’s great that you can do the full 14-night trip. Even though it’s not cheap, it’s cheaper than going back to hit the islands you missed the first time (like we did) when you realize how much you love the archipelago! You’ll have a wonderful time.



  4. Just getting back to William’s comment – which I find misleading. As an agent myself, I know for a fact that ship operators set a “rack rate” for their cruises, and announce this to all agents. They also tell you the % commission an agent will get on the rack rate.

    Bear in mind that the ship operator is almost always also in the sales business. I.E. he/she is competing with other agents to sell spots on their own ship! They realize that it’s better to have an army of agents selling your ship to all kinds of different markets, using different angles, than just trying to sell your ship all by yourself.

    Under these circumstances, it just doesn’t make any sense for a ship operator to announce a rack rate for Ecuadorian agents that is lower than a rack rate for non-Ecuadorian agents. In this day of internet and easy price comparisons, who would want to agree to sell a product at a higher price?

    Any search for the price of particular cruise will reveal identical prices, no matter who is selling it. In fact, in my experience, it’s true that a few Ecuadorian based agents are offering cruises at a price LOWER than what the actual ship operator is offering themselves. You can imagine that the ship operator doesn’t like being undercut on their own prices! It makes them look like they are gouging clients. When they find out, the make it clear to the agent that this is not acceptable.

    All this to say that William’s claim is unfounded.



  5. William says:

    Another quick note – if you book with an international agency (such as a US or Canadian agency) you will be paying a higher price than with a local Ecuadorian agency 9 out of 10 times. The owners of the boats offer special prices to local agencies, and the commission they add is normally less than international agencies. Also, many international agencies will contact a local agency to book a cruise for their passengers. The local agency will sell the cruise WITH the added commision to the international agency, which the international agency will sell to the passenger with their own commission. Hence, you could be paying double commission for a cruise by booking through international agencies. However, I always recommend going with the company you feel most comfortable with, and I know many people trust more in US and international companies. Just thought I would add my 2 bits.

    P.S. Your blog is fantastic.


  6. Just a note re: where the money stays when you book with an Ecuadorian company. The only difference is where the commission stays. The rest of the money goes to the ship operator.

    Tina writes:

    Thanks for this clarification. I’ve adapted the text to make this distinction clear.


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