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There's a two-tiered pricing structure in the Galapagos

Philadelphia, PA
Level Contributor
957 posts
1,081 reviews
There's a two-tiered pricing structure in the Galapagos

It will take me a few days to write up my recent Galapagos experiences, but I wanted to provide one quick kernel of truth that seems to escape almost all discussion of travel to this archipelago.

And that is that there is a very definite two-tiered pricing structure that affects almost all your travel costs in the Galapagos. Basically, it's a divide between luxury and "normal" travel -- something that is very common in travel to developing countries like Ecuador. Basically, anything that's geared to wealthy American and European tourists -- and that includes tours, cruises, lodging and food -- is very expensive. It certainly includes anything that can be booked in advance from a foreign travel agency.

On the other hand, there is an almost completely separate pricing structure that encompases non-luxury travel. It's certainly not "backpacker" level travel -- more like the type of travel encouraged by Rick Steves to Europe. I'd call it 3-star travel: comfortable but not luxurious, and a lot closer to "normal" life in the Galapagos. This means that a 3-star hotel can be $25 or $30/night, while a 4-star hotel could be $250 night. A roundtrip visit on the public boats to Isabela or Cristobal can be $50, while a tourist boat trip to an uninhabited island will likely be almost $200. Pay a local taxi driver or small boat owner to take you to a site (when it's allowed) and you'll pay a tiny fraction of the cost of an organized tour. Avoid the restaurants geared toward tourists (basically, all the ones that serve non-Ecuadorean food -- including pizza places!) and you'll pay less than half for your meal (and avoid an additional 22% service and tax charge).

This doesn't mean that you should avoid luxury travel in the Galapagos -- many people seem to really enjoy their high-end experiences. And these experiences are usually, but not always, a little better than the "Rick Steves-level" Galapagos experiecnes. But you are paying a lot more for it: much like the additional premium you pay for a Gucci bag over a regular one. Anyone planning a trip to the Galapagos should understand this principle before putting down their money.

Edited: 17 April 2012, 05:56
Tucson, Arizona
Destination Expert
for Quito, Ecuador
Level Contributor
11,406 posts
101 reviews
1. Re: There's a two-tiered pricing structure in the Galapagos

I wouldn't say that this has "escaped" anyone's attention as it's such a common practice almost anywhere you travel (as you noted above) that no one really pays it much attention. Many tourists to third world and developing countries, are, almost by definition, "wealthy" by local standards. It's perfectly natural that hotels that attract tourists will charge more (channeling Willy Sutton: that's where the money is).

I think a lot of us did the whole hippie-with-a-backpack thing in our younger years, but these days, I really like a private bath and hot water (though I'm still good with the occasional hammock and outhouse scenario).

Philadelphia, PA
Level Contributor
957 posts
1,081 reviews
2. Re: There's a two-tiered pricing structure in the Galapagos

The thing is that $30 or $35 night for 2 DOES get you a "private bath and hot water" -- and a lot more -- in the Galapagos. As I said, we're not talking backpack level accomodations here -- although those do obviously exist at even lower prices. All that is required is avoiding the luxury properties aimed at the kind of folks willing to spend several thousand dollars on a weekly Galapagos cruise. We're talking accomodations that are significantly nicer than, say, most rooms in the USA national parks.

Quito, Ecuador
Level Contributor
1,566 posts
146 reviews
3. Re: There's a two-tiered pricing structure in the Galapagos

In every touristic place in the world, tourists are seen as "cash sources". I was in Peru for 2 months in January and February doing extensive travels and as a foreigner in Cuzco I had to pay a pretty expensive touristic ticket (usd 50) to have access to museums and monuments and I had no option but to pay. Locals have free access. Same thing happened with the Inca Rail and Peru Rail where the Ollaytantambo and Machu Picchu inhabitants pay USD 4, ten times less for one way than the "tourists" pay. I am not a gringo and the only choice I had was to handle out "fresh cash" US dollars and give them to the attendant, because that's the money they like down there, even when the local currency are the"soles". If you complaint or not, doesn't make any difference.

Now I'm in Argentina and the ticket pricing difference does exist too. What can we do? I hope next time I go to get an American Visa to the US Consulate in Quito they don't charge me the USD 200 non-refundable fee for the interviewing....That's one of the most expensive dates in the world.

In my opinion paying USD 110 to go to Galapagos is a bargain! Considering is the only place in the world that has what it has.....If I would be a gringo I will pay it with no hesitation no matter how many times I go, because is cheaper than a clubing night in the US....

Saludos cordiales desde Tucumán,

Dennis Yepez

Edited: 17 April 2012, 15:30
Philadelphia, PA
Level Contributor
957 posts
1,081 reviews
4. Re: There's a two-tiered pricing structure in the Galapagos

The purpose of this thread is not to complain about official two-tier pricing -- although it certainly is true that Ecuadoreans pay only $6 to visit the Galapagos while most foreigners pay $100. And I certainly would encourage the USA to adopt similar reciprocal pricing structures at our own national parks for the citizens of countries that jack up the prices for visiting Americans.

Instead, what I'm writing about here is that, other than official entry prices, lower "non-gringo" prices are available in the Galapagos to EVERYONE who is willing to step beyond the cocoon of the overpriced gringo circuit. Anyone can get good value on hotel rooms, restaurant meals, transport and sightseeing (except to those sites where the Ecuadoran gov't restricts access). Indeed, I would say the Galapagos is not a particularly expensive travel destination if you can get there affordably and are willing to forego some of the overpriced tours to the "restricted" areas.

veraz
Level Contributor
55 posts
30 reviews
5. Re: There's a two-tiered pricing structure in the Galapagos

Looking forward to your write up, Dave. Been following your discussions in this forum which I have found pretty informative and would like to hear more details about your trip. Thanks!

Ottawa, Canada
Destination Expert
for Galapagos Islands
Level Contributor
3,607 posts
19 reviews
6. Re: There's a two-tiered pricing structure in the Galapagos

This is an interesting thread.

Dave highlights what AZ indicates is a relatively common situation. I lived in Puerto Ayora for 4 years, and very much enjoyed eating at "Los Kioskos" for instance (e.g. $5 for a simple one course meal, cooked on a sidewalk kitchen, fold out tables, eating under fluorescent light bulbs, plates washed and re-used between diners...). If we wanted a fancier place, with nicer tables, good ambiance etc... we were paying $20 or $25. There is a value for money curve that start's out pretty linear - e.g. doulbe the price, double the value, but then flattens out after a while (e.g. quadruple the price, triple the value type of situation). There is a market out there for people who have the capacity to pay, and are willing to accept a little less "value bang" for those extra dollars at the top of the currve, and the sensible service providers out there recognize this market and are tapping into it. Just like in any restaurant here in Paris - the wine list includes plenty of wines for $20 - $30 per bottle, a handful for $50-$75 per bottle, and there will be invariably be the $200 or more bottle of wine on offer, for the occasional patron who wants the best of the best, and is willing (and able!) to pay for it. Everybody is happy.

I don't think it's a major discovery that you can get cheaper accommodations in the islands - though a room with a private bathroom, bathtub and hot water for $50 - that's pretty good! Please let me know which hotel offers this.

Warmest regards,

Heather Blenkiron

Philadelphia, PA
Level Contributor
957 posts
1,081 reviews
7. Re: There's a two-tiered pricing structure in the Galapagos

What surprised me about the Galapagos -- and IS a little different from most places in the world, even developing countries -- is the ENORMOUS price gap betweeen what I'd call 3-star and 4-star services. If you just show up and ask, you can easily get comfortable accomodations on all 3 of the islands for under $50 per couple. I've already reviewed a couple we stayed at: I'd recommend the Hostal Tintorara on Isabela ($50 for a huge family room for 5) and I'd particularly recommend the excellent Casa de Laura on Cristobal (I need to get this one listed on tripadvisor; she gave us 3 rooms for a total of $75, but I suspect a single room would be about $35). I found the Sir Francis Drake in Puerto Ayora ($75 for a 5-bed room) simply to be a good choice; I think somebody might find better at that price!

None of these places required any real bargaining to reach these prices, although it certainly is possible to bargain for accomodations (when I would reject other accomodations, the innkeeper sometimes offered me a lower price). Frankly, given how affordable these hotels were, I was looking to see if I could do better -- get to, say, a 4-star level -- for a little more. That's where the problem developed. It actually became funny how just MODESTLY nicer accomodations would be 4, 5 or even 8 times as expensive as the 3-star accomodations. It became pointless to even try to stay at these nicer places, because the value equation was awful.

Restaurant pricing was similarly odd. Western-style food is simply two or three times as expensive as Ecuadoran food for similar quality. Pizza is the classic example of this. It's actually pretty good in the Galapagos, but it's crazy expensive compared to the local food. Everywhere. Even a local bakery on Isabela which was serving really cheap and tasty local foods (like bread pockets stuffed with chicken for a dollar), wanted $16 for a personal sized pizza.

It's very easy for a tourist to find good cheap food in Puerto Ayora (just head to the kioskos -- pick K.F, William for dinner, look around at the specials elsewhere for lunch). On Cristobal and Isabela, it's a little harder, because many of the cheaper restaurants look more 1 star or 2 star than 3 star -- and a lot of the 3-star restaurants can be surprisingly expensive. But good cheap options do exist. In Cristobal, Deep Blue on the Malecon (the main seaside drag) has great dinners for about $8. On Isabela, on the restaurant row across from the main plaza, there are a lot of $5 or less "almuerzo" lunch deals. Try Cesear's -- everyone recommends it, and the $5 lunch (soup, main, juice) was good. For dinner, Los Delfines has an astonishing dinner deal. For $6.60, you get soup, main (steak, shrimp, fish or chicken) desert (usually flan) and juice. Oddly, most of the folks were saw in the restaurant were ordering off the rest of the menu, which was comparable but twice the price.

And as I've mentioned in another post, if you don't pick the value hotels and restaurants (where tax/service is included), you get hit up for another 22% in addition to the already inflated prices.

Edited: 22 April 2012, 16:23
Seattle, Washington
Level Contributor
148 posts
12 reviews
8. Re: There's a two-tiered pricing structure in the Galapagos

I enjoyed Laura immensely and have to wonder if you 'found' her in part through my review of our stay there? It really doesn't matter because that experience wasn't about Laura or her hostel/hotel.......it was about you and the rooms you got at the price you paid....... I hope you haven't created a false published price for Laura as her rates are usually NOT the rates you posted.....Yes, you got a 'good' deal, but that was Laura's decision, not yours......I guess I learned a LONG TIME ago that if I'm comfortable with what I pay for things......that's the only person who needs to be comfortable with it, and yes, travel decisions are made with costs in mind-----this isn't news!.

Philadelphia, PA
Level Contributor
957 posts
1,081 reviews
9. Re: There's a two-tiered pricing structure in the Galapagos

Some how I missed your review, 2True. I wish I had seen it as it might have made my search easier! I did have a review of what I think was called the Casa Mabel (2 blocks in front of the pier) and I went there first. It was more than OK, but Casa de Laura is much nicer (especially because of her garden). As I said, we'll have to get this place listed on tripadvisor to make it easier for other travellers to find. I wound up just stumbling upon it as I walked down the malecon.

As far as "revealing" the price I paid, I actually HATE when folks say things like "I got a good deal at so-and-so" but don't tell you the price! That's useless. The value of tripadvisor is to find out ACCURATE travel information. I didn't even negotiate with Casa de Laura: I asked her what price she could offer my family; she named a price, and I said "OK." Why should this be my little secret? Now others know what they can get, and I'm sure the Case de Laura will do a lot more business because of it.

Edited: 22 April 2012, 18:18
Seattle, Washington
Level Contributor
148 posts
12 reviews
10. Re: There's a two-tiered pricing structure in the Galapagos

Casa de Laura is well known by locals and the international community. Don't kid yourself that you are the person who 'found' it.

Here is the link for Casa de Laura................the PUBLISHED information (BTW the rates are reasonable for what you get!).......I notice that you were bent out of shape on another post because someone allegedly took $125 from you for a service you didn't receive. Can we say..........Karma?

www.sancristobalisland.com/San_Cristobal.html

Edited: 22 April 2012, 18:47
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