Here’s a dirty little travel secret: you can show up at almost any popular tourist activity in the world and save serious cash by booking your trip at the last minute.
Whether it’s hiring a Nepali guide and porter for a trek to Everest Base Camp, or going on safari in Africa, rare will be the occasion you can’t get started within a few days of arrival.
To exemplify this rule, I’m going to share with you how to book a last minute cruise to the Galapagos Islands based on my recent experience.
Before I dive in, a disclaimer.
Results will vary greatly due to a large list of variables, from the time of year to tourism trends, and the degree of desperation a boat owner demonstrates at any given time to fill remaining beds before a cruise departs.
When to Go
Due to their proximity to the Equator, the weather on the Galapagos Islands remains fairly constant, which makes it a great year-round destination, however there are still a few factors to keep in mind when deciding when to go.
While the air temperatures may remain relatively constant, there is a hot and a cold season based on the ocean currents.
Warm Wet Season = Late December to June
Cold Dry Season = Late June to December
If you plan to go diving, or take advantage of snorkeling opportunities (as almost everyone does), you may prefer to time your cruise for the warm water season.
During the cold water season, you can still get in the water, however you’ll probably be more comfortable if you rent a wetsuit from your boat, or bring your own.
The high season for tourism is June to August, which is due to the Summer holiday season in North America and Europe.
Expect cruise rates to be higher during this time, and you may need a little extra time to book a spot on your preferred boat.
Some species of wildlife are only present on and around the islands at certain times of year due to their natural migrations.
If you have your heart set on seeing whales off the coast of Isabella Island, or a certain type of bird, do your research in advance. For example, the large waved albatross will not be seen from December to mid-March.
Where to Book Your Tour
There are 3 main cities where travelers are best off shopping around for, and booking, their last minute cruise to the Galapagos Islands.
The Mariscal neighborhood around Plaza Foch in Quito has a high density of hostels, hotels, restaurants, bars, and tour agencies.
You can easily walk out of your hostel and spend a few hours walking around, collecting quotes from various offices so you can make an informed decision.
While booking from Quito may be the easiest option, it’s not necessarily going to offer you the best deals.
Punta Ayora, Santa Cruz Island
If you’re serious about saving a few hundred dollars off the price of a cruise, you can arrange your own flight(s) to Punta Ayora on Santa Cruz Island, and then shop around for very last minute cruises.
The longer you can afford to wait before a cruise departs, the more likely you are to get a bargain basement price. Just don’t sit on a quote you like too long, because someone else can put down a deposit at any time and you’ll either have to wait longer, or go with an otherwise 2nd or 3rd choice instead.