Galapagos Wildlife : A Giant Tortoise up close and personal

Galapagos Wildlife :  A Giant Tortoise up close and personal

A day in the highlands of Santa Cruz Islands brought lots of fun, smiles, and photo opportunities!

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Galapagos Wildlife : A Giant Tortoise up close and personal

Galapagos Wildlife :  A Giant Tortoise up close and personal

A day in the highlands of Santa Cruz Islands brought lots of fun, smiles, and photo opportunities!

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Why Not to Book Your Galapagos Cruise and Flight Separately

December 17th, 2011

Galapagos Islands: Cruise BookingComing to the Galapagos Islands is generally A Once in a Lifetime Holiday.

It’s important to make some crucial decisions about your dream vacation, and many people think that booking their cruise or tour separately from their flights is an ideal way to save money:  but this isn’t true at all!

Here’s why:

 

Connections:

Galapagos Islands: Flight BookingMost tour companies and reputable agencies in the Galapagos work strictly with one air operator. They tend to book all of their passengers on the same flight from the mainland.  By doing this, several important tasks get accomplished:

The cruise will wait for all of the passengers in case of any type of delay in the flight, and they can generally get discounted rates on the flights as they have agreements with the airline.

Passengers who book their own flights run the risk of missing their cruises, and paying higher prices!

 

Timing:

Galapagos Islands: Cruise and Flight BookingNo one likes to have long lengthy airport layovers, no matter what the destination!

There’s an important timing factor, however, when it comes to Galapagos:  The flights leaving from mainland Ecuador leave only in the morning.

The safest bet for these connections is to arrive in Guayaquil or Quito at least 24 hours before your flight to the Galapagos.This way, not only can you enjoy a day (or more) on the mainland of Ecuador, but you also guarantee that you ‘ll be at the airport on time to catch your flight to the Galapagos. There are manymainland tour options for your overlap between your international flight and your Galapagos domestic flight.

“Wouldn’t your trip be much more stress freeif someone met you at the airport? Told you where to check in your luggage?  Had your special Galapagos transit card form filled out for your advance, and offered expert adviceand tips throughout the stages of your trip: from “just an idea” to the reality of your dream coming true!

Help us change your dreams into a reality.”

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It just makes good sense:

It just makes good sense to book your flights and tour together through a professional and respected tour agency.

Destination experts can provide tourists with answers to all of the questions they may have, and provide extra assistance along the way.

 

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Fernandina Island : the Youngest Island in the archipelago

The westernmost island, or Fernandina (British sailors named it “Narborough” but the Spanish name stuck), is the youngest.

 

It is named for King Fernando of Spain, the monarch who sponsored Christopher Columbus’ 1492 voyage of discovery. It is also the most volcanically active and several serious eruptions have occurred there, the most recent in 2005.

In February of 1825, Benjamin Morrell, captain of the British whaling ship Tartar, was passing between Fernandina and Isabela when the volcano on Fernandina, known as La Cumbre, erupted: he barely managed to bring his ship to safety.

Tar was melting off the rigging as he fled, finally anchoring some fifty miles away. Some of the crew fainted from the heat and suffocating air.

Fernandina Cormorant Galapagos Ecuador

The Galapagos Islands were formed by a “hot spot,” or a place under the earth’s core that causes the crust above it to form volcanoes.

As the earth’s crust, in this case the Nazca Plate, moves across it a series of volcanoes forms, resulting in a chain of islands more or less in a line. In Galapagos, the Nazca Plate moves from west to east over the hot spot, forming volcanoes (which in turn form islands).

Because of increased volcanic activity and its relative youth, Fernandina is home to less plant life than some of the other islands, including neighboring Isabela, but it is rich in animal life. Most of the plant life consists of thick mangroves along the shoreline, which make an excellent home for shore birds and small fish which are an important link in the ecosystem.

Galapagos Penguin at Fernandina

Fernandina and Isabela are home to most of the Galapagos penguin population, and they are commonly spotted on Fernandina’s rocky shores.

The endemic Flightless Cormorant, the only cormorant in the world that cannot fly, is only found on Fernandina, although they do occasionally nest on Isabela.

There was once a variety of Galapagos Giant Tortoises on Fernandina, but it is now extinct. Unlike other extinct species of Galapagos tortoise, the Fernandina subspecies did not die off due to humans: the fossil record indicates that it died off naturally, mostly due to volcanic activity and lack of nesting materials and food.

Fernandina is famous in Galapagos for being the most pristine of the larger islands.

It does 0not suffer from the invasive introduced species that plague the rest of the islands, such as rats, ants, goats and different plants. In fact, there is a species of rice rat on the island that is endemic: on other islands, native rats have been muscled out by more aggressive introduced rat species.

Fernandina is home to a population of Galapagos Land Iguanas. These iguanas make a long journey from the rim of the volcano to the floor of the caldera, where they nest. They are rarely seen by visitors, but can be seen on the National Geographic video “Dragons of Galapagos.”

Galapagos Sea Lion Fernandina

The only visitor site on Fernandina is Punta Espinoza, a maze of sandy trails through interesting lava flows. It is known for the colony of hundreds of marine iguanas that live there as well as a sea lion nursery, some flightless cormorants and the occasional Galapagos hawk.

There are also several tidal pools, which are home to a specialized ecosystem and occasionally trap a sea turtle or stingray.

The oldest island in the Galapagos is the one furthest to the east, San Cristobal

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An Amazing swimming hole in Galapagos

Many people often wonder:
What kinds of things can I do in the Galapagos Islands without a Naturalist Guide?
The answer is:  lots!

 

There are a variety of things to do and trips to keep you busy that allow you to soak up the Galapagos wildlife and endless beauty.

Here is one option for an activity on your extra day in the Islands:

A visit to “Las Grietas” on Santa Cruz Island.  Directly translated, “grieta” means crevasse or crack.  Las Grietas is a place to swim in cool ocean water between two tall cliffs, where the earth has opened like a “crack” or “crevasse”.

To get to this amazing place from Puerto Ayora, visitors need to cross to the “otro lado” (the “other side”) in a speed boat taxi (60 cents) from the main dock in front of the park and volley ball courts.

From here, follow the signs to the Finch Bay hotel. With the ocean on your left and the Finch Bay Hotel on your right, continue along a rocky wall to the very end where you will find a path leading off to the right hand side.

From here, you follow a 15 minute trail that starts off sandy and rocky, and winds up crossing over a jagged lava field, through a cactus forest, and up a sandy path once again to the top of Las Grietas.

Wearing closed toes shoes or runners is recommended as the lava is hot and rocks pointy.

Upon arriving to the Grietas, you’ll find some wooden narrow steps that lead down to a jumble of large boulders.  From here, you can climb carefully into the water.   A pair of water proof shoes would be good for swimming here, as the rocks underwater are slippery with algae and the entrance and exit to the water can be tricky.

Local people may often be seen jumping from various levels of the cliff, but this isn’t recommended, as the area where you need to land your jump is quite specific.  Use caution and always check how and where others are jumping from before you take a flying leap!

Although there is not much to see underwater at las Grietas, as it just has small openings for water to filter through, the view is spectacular:  like swimming in a secret cove, in a Jurassic Park scene, or Never Never land!

Snorkeling Las Grietas

If you swim to the very end of the first pool, and climb over the rocky division, you come to a second similar swimming channel.  At the end of this cove there is another rocky divider.

On the right hand side, about a meter from the bottom of the ocean floor, there is a small swim-through:  a tunnel about a meter long. With one long breath you can make it through quite easily to the other side, and it makes for some adventurous photos!

Be sure to leave Las Grietas well before sunset, as the trail is not lit and the path is even less well-defined at night.

For more information about activities in the Islands or to request an Island-Hopping tour, contact one of our expert trip advisors. Fill out our inquiry form to start planning your Galapagos Island adventure now!

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Galapagos Cruises: What’s the Difference between Budget and Luxury?

Dec 5th, 2011

Ask any Galapagos guide and they’ll tell you the best way to see the islands is to spend several days on board one of the live-aboard cruises.

These cruises go to far-flung islands like Española and Genovesa, which are not accessible for day trips from the main towns. But once you start looking for a Galapagos cruise, you’ll find a dizzying array of options of different categories and prices.

Obviously, most travelers want to save money where they can, which brings us to the big question: is it worth it to pay more for an upgrade from a budget-class Galapagos boat to one in a higher category?

Luxury Galapagos Cruises vs. Budget Galapagos Cruises

Galapagos Islands: Motor SailorCosts

Needless to say, this is a big question for most travelers.

The price tag is usually the most important factor of all!

A typical first-class cruise costs about $600-$800 per person per day.

A budget Galapagos boat is considerably cheaper, averaging around $200-$300 per person per day.

Other expenses, such as airfare, Park Entrance Fee, and Transit Control card are fixed and will not vary depending on category of cruise.

Itinerary

The itinerary of the ship is one very important factor that many visitors fail to consider.

• Do you want to see a Waved Albatross? Then pick a boat that goes to Española Island.

• Do you want to see Galapagos Penguins? Your itinerary should include the western islands.

That being said, there isn’t really much difference between itineraries of luxury class or budget boats: schedules are fixed by the Galapagos National Park and visit a variety of islands over a period of 2 weeks, most visiting the same sites.

The specific itinerary you experience depends on what part of the set 2-week period your trip covers.

Facilities

This is where the luxury ships really shine.

The differences in facilities and accommodations on a budget and a luxury ship are enormous.

Galapagos Islands: Cruise Dining TableThe luxury and first-class ships are another story entirely. Staterooms are generally above the deck, airy and comfortable. Many have small balconies or large, picture windows for scenic views.

Design and layout of the cabins is vastly superior.

The whole ship is air conditioned with new machines that make very little noise.

Social areas are classy and comfortable. Snorkeling gear is generally new and well-maintained.

Galapagos Islands: Boat AccommodationBudget ship staterooms are generally below the deck, on or under the waterline. They are cramped, poorly-designed and uncomfortable. They are often close to the engine room, which means that they are noisy and often smell badly of diesel. Windows are generally small, round portholes.

Many budget ships have bunk beds in the cabin which can be a challenge for many passengers, while few luxury and first-class ships have bunk-beds.  Air conditioning may not work or be noisy on budget boats, if they have it at all. Snorkeling gear may be worn out.

Galapagos Islands: Outdoor Dining AreaService

On luxury ships, service is a priority.

Luxury ships hire the best captains, crew and guides and ask their guests to fill out comment cards at the end of their cruises in order to continually monitor and improve their service.

The ship is kept neat and regular maintenance is performed annually. Representatives are usually with the guests from beginning to end:  an airport pick-up in Quito to drop-off and check-in for the Galapagos flight, and assistance upon returning to the mainland of Ecuador afterwards.

Guides are first-rate, with good language skills and lots of experience. Food is outstanding and memorable, with options for vegetarians and other special-needs diners.

On the other hand, service is not a high priority for budget ships. Visitors are generally on their own to arrive to Galapagos, although almost all boats do send representatives to greet passengers upon arrival in Baltra or San Cristobal.

Guides may be new and inexperienced with a lower level of English. The ships are generally kept clean, but engine maintenance is sometimes a problem. Food is acceptable but not great.

Overall Recommendation

No one can argue that saving money is important, especially when luxury ships cost significantly more than budget vessels.

When service, facilities and reliability are factored in, however, it probably makes more sense to upgrade if you can. After all, what’s the point of an expensive visit to the Galapagos if you’re uncomfortable and miserable the whole time you’re on board the ship?

For advice on selecting budget boats with high reviews, or to find out more information on choosing between luxury and first-class boats, contact one of our expert Trip Advisors! Also, you can search by type of boats and see their ratings to assist your planning.

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For those on a budget, travel agents generally recommend spending a bit extra and upgrading to at least a mid-range boat, in order to avoid some service problems typically associated with budget boats.

If money is not a high factor in planning your Galapagos trip, but you want to save some money, first-class boats may be a great option:

They have very comfortable accommodations and high level of service similar to the luxury yachts, but give you some extra spending room for the rest of your trip.

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Galapagos Only A Runner Up

On November 11th, the provisional results of the voting for the New7Wonders of Nature were released: included in the top 7 is the Amazon Rainforest, a pride and joy of the Ecuadorian people.

The Amazon Rainforest largely covers the Amazon River Basin with a region of 1.7 billion acres.

60% of the rainforest is contained in Brazil with the remainder spreading through Peru, Colombia, Venezuela, Bolivia, Guayana, Suriname, French Guiana, and of course, Ecuador.

Amazon: Dendrobates FrogEcuadorian Amazon: Blue ButterflyThe Amazon covers slightly less than half of Ecuador, although less than 5% of the population lives in this dense rainforest.

According to Conservation International, Ecuador has more biodiversity per square meter than any other nation, largely due to the rich biodiversity of the Amazon Rainforest and the Galapagos Islands.

Tourists visiting Ecuador are especially keen on visiting not only the Galapagos Islands but the Amazonia. Visitors typically stay in lodges in the jungle, interact with local tribal communities, and participate in excursions via canoes or hiking.

Amazon - EcuadorOne popular lodge that organizes in-depth excursions with guides and offers superb accommodations is La Selva Lodge.

This recently renovated institution offers a complete package for travelers visiting the Amazon Rainforest and are dedicated to showing off all the Ecuadorian rainforest has to offer.

They even offer discounts for passengers participating in Galapagos trips as well!

The Swiss-based New7Wonders Foundation launched voting for the New7Wonders of Nature in 2007.

The Amazon is the perfect extension to your Galapagos trip! Check out our trip add-ons to make the most of your time in Ecuador and South America. Contact one of our expert Trip Advisors and consider the Amazon as part of your Galapagos vacation!

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The other natural wonders elected are: Halong Bay, Iguazu Falls, Jeju Island, Puerto Princesa Underground River, and Table Mountain.

Results are being reviewed and verified and the official New7Wonders of Nature will be announced in early 2012 at the Official Inauguration Ceremony.

Although the Galapagos Islands were originally nominated and in the running, they did not make the top 7 in the list.

 
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Charles Darwin´s Visit to the Galapagos Islands

“In a few days’ time the Beagle will sail for the Galapagos Islands. I look forward with joy and interest to this, both as being somewhat nearer to England and for the sake of having a good look at an active volcano.”

 

-Charles Darwin, letter to J.S. Henslow, July 12, 1835.

Darwin Beagle ItineraryDarwin got more than he bargained for when he visited the Galapagos Islands. He may have come for the volcanoes, but it would be the unique Galapagos wildlife that would leave a more lasting impression on this English naturalist.

Darwin and the HMS Beagle were in Galapagos during the months of September and October of 1835, and during this time Darwin had the opportunity to explore a handful of islands, collecting Galapagos species for use in his research back home.

These species would eventually be used to illustrate Darwin’s controversial theories, and the Galapagos Islands have had a privileged place in natural history ever since.

Darwin’s Galapagos expedition was, in one sense, not unlike the visits enjoyed by thousands of modern visitors every year.

The Beagle itself was far too large to land, so it cruised around the islands and smaller boats would take Darwin and the other crew members ashore, where they could mingle with the endemic wildlife. Modern ships such as the Cormorant and Ocean Spray follow a similar pattern, sending guests ashore in small, easy to use pangas or dinghy boats.

So where did Darwin go and what did he see?

Here is a description of Darwin’s Galapagos itinerary:

September 15-23, 1835: San Cristobal Island.

Galapagos Giant TortoisesOn September 15th land was sighted: it turned out to be Mount Pitt, part of San Cristobal Island.

Darwin first went ashore in Galapagos on September 18th while the crew captured several San Cristobal giant tortoises for food.

Darwin was intrigued by the tortoises and by the rocky island and the lava that formed it.

He mentioned seeing a few “dull-colored” birds: presumably the famous finches that would later bear his name!

September 24-28: Floreana Island.

Floreana was an Ecuadorian penal colony at the time, managed by an Englishman named Nicholas Lawson.

The Beagle’s crew was allowed to go ashore and on the 25th, Lawson gave them a tour of the colony.

Lawson told Darwin that it was possible to tell from which island a tortoise came merely by looking at its shell.

In his journal, Darwin remarked that the convicts regularly ate tortoises and that whaling ships and pirates often took them: one such ship carried off 700 Floreana tortoises to eat while at sea. By 1846 the race was extinct.

September 28-October 4: Isabela Island.

The Beagle made several stops and Darwin had many chances to go ashore and explore.

He was amazed by the number of “most disgusting, clumsy lizards,” marine iguanas. Darwin correctly deduced that they fed underwater but initially believed they ate fish or other animal life.

Later while on Santiago Island, he would have the chance to dissect one and discovered that they actually eat algae.

October 4 – October 8: Northern Islands: Marchena, Genovesa and Pinta.

During these days, the Beagle tried to get to Pinta Island but was repeatedly foiled by currents and winds.

The Beagle did not anchor at any of these islands and instead decided to head for Santiago Island, as they were running low on water.

October 8 – October 17: Santiago Island:

Galapagos Darwin's FinchThe Beagle found no water on James and headed back to San Cristobal to resupply.

The ship’s physician, Benjamin Bynoe, Darwin, and each of their servants remained behind. They had a tent and provisions and spent the week exploring and gathering samples.

It would be Darwin’s longest stay on any of the Galapagos Islands.

He collected many specimens, including some fish, snails, several varieties of birds and reptiles and some insects, although he remarked about how few insects were to be had.

It was about this time that Darwin realized that the different islands were home to different species: he had, until then, not been carefully labeling his specimens, as he believed at that time that all of the species lived on all of the islands.

October 17 – October 20: Isabela, Wolf and Darwin Islands.

After picking up Darwin’s party, the Beagle went back to survey the eastern coast of Isabela Island before going to Pinta to pick up another party that had been surveying in one of the smaller boats.

On October 20, they surveyed Wolf and Darwin before setting sail for Tahiti: Darwin did not set foot on Darwin, the island that now bears his name.

Just like Darwin on the Beagle, you too can navigate Galapagos on board with Cormorant, Galaven, or any other cruise options. Contact a professional trip advisor to learn more about discovering
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Galapagos Islands New 15 Day Itinerary

Big news out of the Galapagos Islands:

The Park Service and other regulatory institutions have approved a proposed 15-day/2 week itinerary for cruise ships.

Taking effect in 2012, the change is designed to protect fragile Galapagos ecosystems by spreading out the island visitors to different sites.

Any measure taken to protect the Galapagos environment can only benefit the islands in the long run.

How It Works Now

Currently, most of the ships have a one-week cycle of visits with a break mid-week for passenger exchange.

Passengers may book a 4 day/3 night or 5 day/4 night cruise, or an 8 day/7 night cruise which is a combination of the first two.

This traditional itinerary had the advantages of allowing those who had booked a full week to see most of Galapagos.

Galapagos Islands: Fausto Llerena Interpretation CenterHowever, many parts of the archipelago are still missed and this itinerary is hard on delicate ecosystems.

How the New Itinerary Will Work

The New Itinerary will be a two-week cycle rather than one.

Travelers who want to experience the entire archipelago can book the whole 2 week cruise and not see the same place twice, while the cruises may divide the cycle into two or three chunks for those who do not want the full two week schedule.

Advantages of the New Itinerary

The new itinerary will bring several advantages for the Galapagos as well as travelers. Here are some of the more important ones:

Galapagos Islands: Tourism in Galapagos

  • It’s Better for the Islands: This is the foremost concern of everyone involved. In the past few decades, visitor traffic has increased dramatically, and every year thousands of visitors trample through delicate ecosystems at a handful of designated visitor sites. Doubling the length of the itinerary essentially cuts the number of visitors to each site in half.
  • It’s Better for the Marine Ecosystem, Too: On a longer cycle, ships will have more time to get from one place to another, and will spend more time on each island. This means that they will spend much less time chugging around Galapagos, polluting the marine environment and using gasoline.
  • A Boon for Smaller Ships: Some smaller ships do not cruise as fast as larger ones, and this excludes them from certain sites which are considered remote. The new itinerary will allow all Galapagos ships access to all visitor sites.
  • More Traveler Options: With a longer cycle, ships will see more islands that were not featured before. Visitors will be able to select from a variety of cruise options within the two week tour cycle to pick out the itinerary that best suits them.
  • Better Cruise Lengths: One of the most frequent visitor complaints about the traditional itinerary has been that it is too long or too short. Four days is not nearly long enough in Galapagos, but eight is sometimes too much. The new itineraries will likely be cut into thirds, allowing for manageable five or six day trips.
  • More Visitor Sites: The Park Service may be forced to identify and develop more visitor sites in order to fill the longer itineraries. This is good news for those who like to see animals, because it will provide more opportunities. For example, Red-Footed Boobies are common on most Galapagos Islands, but only visible at one or two visitor sites. Additional sites may have more chances to see this sort of animal. 
Galapagos experts can help you plan your trip! Contact the experts (free trip planner)  now at Galapagosislands.com for information about boats operating under the new itinerary.  Or, sign up for our weekly newsletters to stay abreast of Galapagos news and to learn more about the islands.
Trips already booked will not be affected.

Look for the new itinerary to be phased in beginning later this year and throughout the next couple of years as cruises finish existing obligations before switching over.

 

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Why is Galapagos “So Expensive”?

A visit to the Galapagos Islands is a trip of a lifetime, the dream of millions who have seen the Galapagos on television or in the IMAX theater. The fearless animals, the clear blue water, the sandy beaches and the fascinating natural history of Galapagos draw visitors from around the world.

 

Yet, when they go to book, often they’re dismayed to learn that their Galapagos dream vacation will cost more than they had thought. It’s a common question put to tour agencies around the world:

Why is it so expensive to visit the Galapagos Islands?

There are several answers to that question: here are some of the most important factors in the relatively high cost of a visit to the islands.

They’re Very Remote

Remote Galapagos

This is probably the top factor in the cost of the islands. They’re terribly isolated: they were unknown to mankind before their accidental discovery in 1535. They weren’t even considered worth settling for another three hundred years or so.

To reach the islands, you need to fly: they are three days by ship from the mainland and in any event there is no passenger service by sea. The flight from Ecuador is currently about $350 round trip: add in a flight from wherever you are to Quito or Guayaquil and you’re looking at a lot of money just in airfare.

The remoteness of Galapagos does not only affect visitors flying back and forth: many things needed in the islands must be flown or shipped there as well.

The only industries on the islands are tourism, fishing and agriculture: everything else, from electronics to bed linens, from construction materials to silverware must be shipped. It’s expensive, and hotels pass the cost on to visitors.

Galapagos Regulations

Galapagos Tourist

The Galapagos Islands are a very special place, and the Ecuadorian government has taken steps to insure they’re protected forever. This means a cost for visitors, however. The most obvious manifestation of this cost is the $100 park entry fee for visitors, which goes to support the park and conservation efforts.

Also, there is a long list of things that are not permitted in the Galapagos Islands, including several species of fruits and vegetables: it is feared they could take root and spread if brought into the islands. Therefore, many tour operators rely on local produce, which can be more expensive due to high demand and low supply.

Another Galapagos regulation is designed to help the residents of the Islands find work. In Galapagos, you are not allowed to hire someone from abroad or even from mainland Ecuador if there is someone from Galapagos who is qualified to do the work. Therefore, the whole workforce, including everyone from dishwashers to waiters to crewmen and guides, must be from Galapagos.

Because there are a limited number of islanders looking for work, labor has become quite expensive.

Is it Really so Expensive?

Galapagos Masked Booby

A quick comparison with other “dream vacations” shows that Galapagos is perhaps not as expensive as you may think.

A trip to Antarctica including cruise, hotels and airfare costs at least twice as much as Galapagos. An African Safari is also expensive: a mid-range accommodation will cost some $400/night, in addition to airfare, park fees, etc.  This is comparable to an elegant cruise ship in Galapagos.

A day of sightseeing, a nice dinner and a decent hotel room in Rome will cost over $100 and may approach the $175/day or so that the most economic of Galapagos cruises cost.

Although Galapagos can be expensive, finding last-minute deals and choosing slightly less expensive hotels and travel options can minimize your costs. Our trip advisors can answer all of your questions and help you save big on your Galapagos trip!
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