RapidRequest: Galapagos in a hurry – is it worth it? Part 1: Planning

Reader Arye writes:

hey, I was going through a couple links in your blog and I see you have pictures from your galapagos islands trip.  I’ve actually had an interest in going there for a while now, but there have been a few things holding me back.  First of all, I assumed it needed a good few days, which I don’t have.  Also, I wasn’t sure if it’s something that’s doable at all on miles and on a budget.  Now that you’ve been there I’m assuming it is doable as a “rapid” trip.  I would love to hear how you went about it, both getting there and while you were there.

The best way to experience the Galapagos Islands is a multi-day cruise but reader Arye faces the same trade-off The Rapid Traveler faced a year ago, with a three-day holiday weekend in January, if such a short trip is worth it. Absolutely yes!

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At the time Delta had an overnight nonstop from Atlanta to Guayaquil, which could connect to early morning departures for the Galapagos. Now, all options from the US require an overnight in Guayaquil or Quito as all Galapagos flights depart in the morning from Quito and stop briefly in Guayaquil.

Guayaquil (GYE) is served by American and Lan from Miami and AeroGal and Lan from New York JFK. Quito (UIO) has the same from Miami, but trades JFK service for Delta from Atlanta and United from Houston. The additional price of a Galapagos ticket for the extra stop in Quito versus nonstop from Guayaquil is as little as US$30 on a roundtrip, so first figure out the international flights or stopovers that work best, then sort out the Galapagos flight.

The Rapid Traveler booked an open jaw from the US, in to Guayaquil, out of Quito, saving time heading to Galapagos but leaving time at the end for a stroll in gorgeous Quito, more desirable than Guayaquil for tourists.

Galapagos’ main airport is Seymour Airport (GPS) on Baltra Island, with less frequent service to San Cristobal Airport (SCY) on San Cristobal Island. The islands are separated by a several hour boat ride. Both are served only by Lan, AeroGal and TAME. Typical roundtrip fares range US$230-320.

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Setting aside AeroGal and TAME’s mileage programs, Lan is the only mainstream mileage option for many travelers, which opens up possible awards booked through OneWorld partners such as American and British Airways. Based on test searches on American and British Airways for the Lan flights, award availability on Galapagos flights may be difficult or nonexistent, but consult the experts on the FlyerTalk Lan forum.

International award tickets to Guayaquil or Quito are easier to locate on each of the major airline alliances. Northern South America often has much more reasonable award ticket prices and availability than the southern South America hotspots. Then the question would be if the roughly $US300 for the final mile to Galapagos is within budget.

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Putting this all together, it is possible to depart the US on Friday evening, take an early morning connection and be on Baltra Island by noon on Saturday. A Monday or Tuesday morning flight to Quito leaves a few hours to have that city literally take your breath away before an evening flight back to the US.

How many tortoises and boobies can you ogle in a day and a half? The answer tomorrow.

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  • Interesting, I have always thought that for Galapagos only organized groups are allowed and I was thinking of booking a trip there with GAP Adventures.

  • Great post! I would love to see more similar ones for additional destinations.

  • Steve Kalman

    Dear Cynical,

    Most ships are booked en masse by the tour operators, but there are hotels on the main (airport) islands that you can take for a few days.

    We went to China last year via GAP and can recommend them.

  • @cynical traveler – Steve is quite correct that most ships are booked en masse. So if you go alone, and plenty of people do, you check out what extra berths operators have left for their soon departing tours, sometimes at good discounts. I saw a number of backpackers doing this as they were flexible on time. If a multi-day they wanted was not yet available, they filled their time with day boat tours or the activities on Baltra. More in part 2.

  • Chris

    RTC: Great informative post…looking forward to part 2.

  • Hmm…I’ve been wanting to visit for a long time, and this may just be the impetus I need!