Dangers & Annoyances
There are some common pitfalls and hassles with Galápagos boat tours. It’s sometimes the case that the cheaper the trip, the more likely you are to experience problems. That’s not to say that costlier boats are glitch-free, but the companies are often more attentive and quick to respond to complaints.
Some of the recurring complaints involve last-minute changes of boat (which the contractual small print allows), cancellations if there aren't enough passengers, poor crew, lack of bottled drinks, changes in the itinerary, mechanical breakdowns, insufficient and poor-quality snorkeling gear, hidden charges ($5 to $10 per day for wet suits is common), bad smells, bug infestations and overbooking.
Passengers share cabins and are sometimes not guaranteed that their cabinmates will be of the same gender. Always ask to see a photograph or layout of the boat, including those of the cabins, before booking.
It’s frustrating but not uncommon to discover that shipmates have paid substantially less than you for the same services, especially if you’ve booked abroad and they’ve arranged things locally and at the last minute – there’s little recourse, so it’s best not to ask and to simply enjoy the trip.
When things go wrong, a refund is difficult to obtain. If you have a problem, report it to the capitanía (port captain) in Puerto Ayora and contact the agency where you booked the boat. You should also report problems (in person or by email) to the Cámara de Turismo in Puerto Ayora, which keeps a database of complaints to share with agencies and tourists.
There are occasional reports of crew members of tourist boats (and, more commonly, small fishing boats) illegally fishing and killing wildlife. Complaints of this kind should be reported to the Natural Reserve office, a green building just to the left of the information booth at the entrance to the Charles Darwin Research Station in Puerto Ayora.
With all the boats cruising the islands, it’s easy to forget that these are remote, inhospitable and dangerous places to be marooned. Seventeen people have disappeared since 1990 – most were found alive, though a few have died after straying from the designated paths.
Compared to the mainland, you get much less bang for your buck in the Gålapagos. Cash is preferred for most transactions – many restaurants and shops don't accept cards and some accommodations may not, either.
- Bring cash with you from the mainland in case your credit card isn’t accepted or the ATMs run out of bills.
- ATMs can be found in Puerto Ayora and Puerto Baquerizo Moreno only – make withdrawals before heading to Isabela or Floreana.
- Small bills are best – $5s and $10s are ideal; most places won't take any over $20.
- MasterCard and Visa are the most accepted credit cards, few businesses take American Express; note that some establishments may charge a 5% to 10% fee.
- Traveler's checks aren't widely accepted, so stick to cash and credit cards.
Fees & Taxes
The Galápagos national park fee is $100. It must be paid in cash at one of the airports after you arrive, or in advance through a pre-booked tour. You will not be allowed to leave the airport until you pay. In addition, a transit control fee of $20 must be paid at the Instituto Nacional Galápagos window next to the ticket counter in either the Quito or Guayaquil airports; the charge is already included in the price of many prearranged boat tours. When flying to Isla Isabela, tourists must pay a $10 fee on arrival.
On cruises, it’s customary to tip the crew and guide at the end of the trip. Some tour operators advise a 50-50 split; others give more to the crew than to the guide. How much to tip is very much a personal decision, but here are some general guidelines:
For basic and superior class cruises, $14 to $20 per passenger per day is about the norm; on first-class and luxury boats, $18 to $28 per passenger per day is fairly standard. The total amount per passenger per day should be split between guide and crew.