Booking a trip to the Galapagos is a huge investment, and something I was very dubious about doing – eventually I bit the bullet and headed to islands with 4 of my buddies aboard the Valkiria via Galapatours, so here’s my review of the tour itself – I’ll be posting a follow up blog on whether I think the Galapagos itself is worth the price tag later this month.
I’d also like to point out now that this trip was booked through Ishai at Montanitours in Montanita – any issues pointed out during this review are not a reflection on them as they were very helpful and we have full documentation that everything was done correctly from their end.
The package I ended up going with was based around the budgets of my fellow travellers. The Valkiria was a budget vessel coming in at around $150 per day. Included in this cost was 5 days with 4 nights sleeping on board the 10 berth catamaran, all food and drinks (minus snacks and alcohol), snorkel equipment, all activities (mountain biking, kayaking, snorkelling, day trips etc) and a guide throughout the whole experience.
In comparison with alot of trips I looked at this was great value for money – some of them were paying well over $200 per day!
In total the whole thing cost $1200 per person including the $400 flight to the islands with AeroGal – who I had a brilliant experience with.
My first impressions of the tour were pretty mixed. From the off I knew who our guide was, he just had that look about him! When he finally found us (he had no identifying board or boat name visible) it turned out that out of the 4 person group I was travelling with he’d only been notified of 2 of us (me not included!). Always a good start.
After a very brief introduction we headed to the bus and ferry transfer over to Santa Cruz Island. Now seeing that he was a tour guide and I was travelling with 3 girls you would’ve thought he would have at least offered to help with some of our luggage or at least walk and talk with us – nope not a chance!
In saying that though he got more chatty towards boarding the boat and talked about what we’d be up to, his background on the island and such like. Mixed first impressions, but we got to the marina promptly and in one piece!
My biggest worry on a budget trip was the boat. It was our home for the next 5 days and a quick search on TripAdvisor and such like brought back some fairly mixed reviews leaning towards the bad.
I was however instantly impressed by it.
The boat was clean, tidy and had enough room. More importantly it stayed clean and tidy throughout the entire trip.
The double room I stayed in with Katja was spacious enough for a boat room (I’ve stayed on boats before so was prepared for a slight lack of space!) and I had enough room to pack away all my stuff.
It came with air con too (admittedly though not 247) and I was able to have hot showers throughout – better showers infact than anywhere in Montanita!
The other girls – Leah and Linnea – shared a twin room (the only twin room on the boat actually, the rest were doubles) which was slightly less spacious, but again had adequate storage facilities and air con. They both slept well throughout but I can’t say I’d recommend a twin to someone who didn’t like enclosed spaces, but lets face it you’re living on a boat – you can’t expect a huge room!
The itinerary over the 5 days broke down as follows;
Day 1 – Arrive on Baltra, trasnfer to Santa Cruz, briefing on boat, mountain biking, night in Santa Cruz marina
Day 2 – hike to Tortuga Baym return to boat for lunch, afternoon spent kayaking, sail throughout night to San Christobal Island
Day 3 – day excursion to Kicker Rock, including snorkelling and hiking, night sail to Floreana Island
Day 4 – spend the morning hiking through the pirate caves and mountains, snorkelling and chilling on the beach. Afternoon sail back to Santa Cruz during the light for whale and dolphin watching, spend the night in Santa Cruz marina
Day 5 – morning spent at Charles Darwin centre, depart at 10am
Throughout the itinerary I had a great time and got some amazing photographs to prove it (here’s my Top Galapagos Shots), however I felt that we overstayed on Santa Cruz somewhat. If I was to rewrite it I’d put Tortuga Bay (which was amazingly beautiful) in the afternoon of the first day, skip the mountain biking/kayaking and sail the first night to Isabella Island – therefore fitting in an extra island, an island that our guide kindly pointed out “sums up Galapagos, and if you don’t go there you haven’t been to the Galapagos”!
For what we did achieve though it was very nicely timed and didn’t feel like we were cramming in heaps for the sake of it.
The Guide and Crew
As previoously mentioned the main guide – Richard – was a bit of a stubborn character with a large personality. For us shelling out over $1000 per person meant to the trip should be at our pace unless there was a need to make specific time schedules.
But if you took him with a pinch of salt he was ok!
The rest of the crew kind of kept themselves to themselves and we didn’t see much of them. The bartender was the most social of them all but even he wasn’t crazy chatty.
For me the tour guides and crew can make or break a trip – in this case there was a definate crew/customer divide andif I’d been travelling solo this may have proved rather unfortunate.
For myself (a non fussy eater with no dietary requirements) the food throughout was gorgeous.
Breakfast was a mini buffet affair with fresh juice, breads, cooked breakfast and granola on offer whilst dinner and lunch were a good mix of fresh fish, meta, rice, pasta, salads etc that kept me fueled well throughout.
I did however travel with 2 less easy going foodies – Leah is veggie (non fish) and Katja is gluten free.
It was rather annoying to find when we boarded that neither of these requirements were passed onto the ship staff (despite explaining in detail to Montanitours and them passing on the info from their end), for Leah it’s more of an inconvinience having to send back fish and what not – but for Katja even more so as she’s extremely allergic.
Eventually both issues were somewhat overcome – although Leahs meals became very samey despite the no veggie meals being easily adapted and Katja had to keep a close eye on every ingredient. Not ideal for either.
Personally for me the trip was pretty good, despite the flaws I have pointed out – and I feel that for the money you pay EVERY flaw should be highlighted – I had a great time. I think though that the people I travelled with and the location itself had a large bearing on that conclusion.
For me the Valkiria trip could be an amazing one – if the aforementioned tweaks were made and the guys from Montanitours assure me that the feedback will be passed on and the itinerary issues will be brought up also.
The Valkiria does however offer an 8 day package which adds in Isabela and has a slightly better itinerary – but if you’re going budget that up the price rather significantly.
If I was to do the same again I would schedule my flight home 3/4 days later (I added in an addiitonal day anyway to get another full day there and to relax) as you can do Isabela as a 3 day trip (all inc) from Santa Cruz for $150, plus accommodation there isn’t too expensive (around $16 per night) so it’s well worth it.
I received a discount form Motanitours on my Galapagos cruise – but rest assured all opinions are honest and my own.