The Galapagos Islands are not an easy place to describe because of all the places I’ve been to, I’ve never been anywhere quite like it. When Andando Tours invited me to try one of their tours, scheduling conflicts nearly had me declining what turned out to be a trip of a lifetime. No, I was no paid to write this and it’s not an advertisement. There are other ways to visit the Galapagos on a budget but this particular $4500 Andando trip, onboard the Mary Anne sailboat, ends up being a value if you can afford the upfront cost. Watch the video above or read on to find out why.
Comparing The Competition
No matter how you get to the Galapagos, there are costs upfront: tickets – and visa if you need one – to Ecuador (flights to the Galapagos can only leave from their mainland) and the Galapagos permit required of all visitors. Round trip flights from Ecuador to Galapagos plus the permit will be at least $500 total. Once you’re in the Galapagos, you’ll have to take a small dinghy to the only major settlement, Puerto Ayora. Without opting for a cruise, add in hotel (minimum $60 daily) and meal prices as well.
The Galapagos are an archipelago of 21 islands spread over several hundred kilometers in the Pacific. Not all of them are easy to get to but there are 4-5 points which can be done as day trips from Puerto Ayora. Those would be primarily hiking trips, with a guide, leaving around sunrise and returning at dusk.
I’m laying all of this out to because the most frugal ways to visit the Galapagos limit what you can see with day trips to select spots on nearby islands, for roughly $1500 for 8 days if you’re very careful with spending. Other Galapagos cruises tend to stick to those primary islands as well, running about $2500-$3000 for short 3-5 day trips, or closer to $4000 for trips of a week.
What You Get With Andando
Given that the cost of the Andando Tour onboard the Mary Anne is just above those prices ($4500), these are the three area you’re really paying for broken down:
- The Boat
- The Experience
Let’s start with the boat. The Mary Anne is a former German racing sailboat, the only sailboat operating in the Galapagos. There are 14 tourists on the boat and roughly that many crew. The vessel is spacious, comfortable, and doesn’t feel like a floating hotel. The rooms are spartan, beds and small bathroom pretty much, but the rest of the boat is where you’ll be spending a most of your time. There’s a short boat tour in my video here.
2. The Experience
Again, I’m referring you to the video but the 8-day trip is broken down daily by your guide. In my case, our guide Fernando Ortiz whose credentials are impressive to say the least, split the days into several activities. Andando it seems gets priority in scheduling island visits (they’re limited to avoid over-tourism) and hiking activities are generally arranged to avoid the hottest parts of the day when the equatorial sun is especially strong.
You’ll hike, snorkel, kayak, see unique wildlife close up since they have no natural fear of people, across 2-3 activities a day. Between each activity you return to the boat for a meal or snacks, giving those who want to stay behind an chance to do so. Which basically was just this blogger and this one staying behind once or twice to shoot videos for their travel blogs.
The efficiency in which all of this is coordinated, the boat transfers, the rooms being clean whenever you’re not in them, the timing of the meals, when to snorkel with seal lions at their most playful, all of it was very, very impressive. I kept looking (and expecting) cracks in the presentation. You know, crew that looked miserable when they thought nobody was around, dinghies being late, a guide who bull-shot the occasional answer to a question – and encountered none of that. There was a warmth and personality of the crew, guide, and Captain Mario whose authenticity could not be faked, even for our benefit.
Many of the outlying islands of the Galapagos archipelago cannot be done as day trips from Puerto Ayora because of the distances involved. Andando offers several itineraries, and the eastern route I was on covers many of them. Because of the biodiversity of the Galapagos, you often find multiple ecosystems within a very small area. The spots you’re taken to are planned for the best time and the efficiency of the route, day planning, and crew ensure in 8 days you see a lot.
To compare everything, I planned out an individual trip for myself to see what it might look like. There are two major constraints I found. The first, is reaching the outer islands. Missing those mean you would miss albatross returning to land, for example. Additionally, trying to recreate this route using Puerto Ayora as a base would make each activity of the Andando trip (2-3 daily) a trip of an entire day. Not to mention most of the sites are limited to certain cruises, so individually they wouldn’t be as accessible (i.e. you would need to opt for one of the higher-end tours from any company to reach those destinations).
Ultimately, if an Andando Tour is way out of your budget, then there are alternative ways to visit the Galapagos Islands. But if their prices are just a bit higher or around what you were planning to spend, I can certainly recommend their tours. Galapagos is a special place and suggest you treat this as a once in a lifetime type of trip – if you have the opportunity and the means, it’s not a place you want to skimp on.