Air Travel

Part 3: Machu Picchu and Galapagos Planning

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After months of planning and organizing, our planning for our Machu Picchu and Galapagos Islands trip is finally complete.  We have been doing our best to take you along with us during our planning process so that we can demonstrate to you how our unique planning process works.  Hopefully this information has been helpful for you and you and you will be able to use some of this process to plan your future trips.

During Part 1 of our Machu Picchu and Galapagos Planning series, we discussed the What, Where, and When of our planning process.  We showed you how we typically determine when it would be best to visit a specific location by looking at the average temperatures, precipitation levels, and tourist numbers throughout the year.

For Part 2 of the planning series, we focused more on the How and the How Long by looking at how it would be best to visit these areas.  We took a look at the Tour Package, the Solo Planning, and the Combination approaches to planning a trip.

In this final segment of our planning process we are going to finish answering the question of How as it pertains to our transportation options and accommodations. In Part 2, we were able to outline a rough itinerary of our trip, and in this article we are going to fill in the blanks. The good news is that this will ultimately allow us to answer the final question in our planning process, the How Much.

Rough Itinerary Review

Before we get into the planning of our transportation and accommodations, let’s review the rough itinerary that we outlined in Part 2 of our planning process. As you can see below, we are set to fly to Lima, Peru on Monday, September 3, 2018 and return from Quito, Ecuador on Friday, September 15, 2018.

 September 3 Fly to Lima, Peru
 September 4 Spend the day in Lima
 September 5 Fly from Lima to Cusco, Peru and spend the day in the Sacred Valley
 September 6 Tour Machu Picchu and Huayna Picchu
 September 7 Travel Day
 September 8 Galapagos Tour Day 1 – Pick-up at Baltra Airport in Galapagos
 September 9 Galapagos Tour Day 2
 September 10 Galapagos Tour Day 3
 September 11 Galapagos Tour Day 4
 September 12 Galapagos Tour Day 5
 September 13 Galapagos Tour Day 6
 September 14  Travel Day

Booking Flights

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You can also see on the itinerary that we have a number of travel dates that we have to fill in transportation for.  These dates are as follows:

  • On September 5, we need to get from Lima, Peru to Cusco, Peru
  • On September 7-8, we need to get from Cusco to Baltra, Galapagos
  • On September 14, we need to get from Baltra to Quito, Ecuador to fly home

At first glance, this may not look too difficult. We only have 3 travel dates that we need to take care of, so booking airfare should be a breeze. In reality, it wasn’t all that simple. We are flying to-and-from some small airports in isolated locations, so the number of flight options isn’t as great as it would be if we were flying to-and-from major cities. We also want to make sure we build some buffer time into our travel so that we have some flexibility to overcome a delayed or cancelled flight without missing our scheduled tours. In this end, this required quite a bit of thought and planning, but I think we have a pretty solid plan.

Flight from Lima, Peru to Cusco, Peru

For the flight from Lima to Cusco, there wasn’t as pressing a need to build in flexibility as we aren’t scheduled to begin our tour of Machu Picchu until September 6. However, we are planning on spending September 5 in the Sacred Valley to assist in acclimating to the altitude, so we wanted to make sure we got an early flight to Cusco. We ended up booking a flight that gets us to Cusco early in the morning on September 5 and it only cost us $122 a person, so we feel good about our flight choice.

Flight from Cusco, Peru to Baltra in the Galapagos

Planning our transportation from Cusco to the Galapagos proved to be a bit more challenging. We have to be in the Galapagos before noon on September 8 if we don’t want to miss any of the tour. If there were direct flights from Cusco to Baltra Airport in the Galapagos, this would be pretty simple. We would just book an early flight and be done with it. Unfortunately, there aren’t direct flights from Cusco to Baltra.

Instead, we needed to look at booking connecting flights thru Lima, Quito, and\or Guayaquil to get to Baltra. If this didn’t complicate the logistics enough, many of the flight combinations that were available had a twenty-nine hour duration or more. This means that many have a long layover in an airport. I don’t know about you, but we don’t really like to be spending a lot of time sitting in an airport when we are traveling.

This also presents a problem with timing because many of these flight options with long layovers depart Cusco on September 7, but don’t get into Baltra until late morning or the afternoon on September 8. This leaves us very little flexibility in getting to our Galapagos tour on time should a flight get delayed or cancelled. In Tanzania, we had a flight from Arusha to Zanzibar cancelled on us multiple times, so we know first-hand the importance of building some flexibility into your flight schedules.

In the end, we ended up booking a flight out of Cusco early in the morning on September 7 that arrives in Quito early in the afternoon on September 7. Instead of sitting in an airport overnight, we are going to spend the night in a hotel in Quito on September 7. This will allow us to spend the day exploring Quito and not have to worry about dealing with a long layover.

On September 8, we will get up very early in the morning for a flight from Quito to Baltra. We are going to catch the earliest flight to the Galapagos, that way we have options for catching a later flight should our flight get delayed or cancelled. To further validate our choice before booking, we took a look at the on-time history of this flight on flightstats.com to see how often this flight has been delayed or cancelled. With a 100% on-time history, we felt confident enough in our choices to book these flights. Combined, these flights cost us approximately $550 per person, which isn’t bad.

Flight from Baltra to Quito

Our last in-trip flight that we had to book was a flight from Baltra to Quito on September 14 to catch a flight home. At this point we hadn’t booked our flight home yet, so we had some options. Our Galápagos Islands tour wraps up in the early afternoon on September 13. We could have looked for a flight home from Quito on the evening of September 13, but that would be really tough to do and build in some flight flexibility. The last thing we want to do is miss our flight home from Quito.

So, instead of pushing our luck, we decided to spend the night in Quito on September 13 and then book a flight home from Quito on September 14. This would give us plenty of flexibility should our flight from Baltra to Quito get delayed or cancelled, and it would also give us some more time to explore Quito. It’s a win-win. We ended up finding a flight for roughly $200 that was reasonable that gets us to Quito in the early afternoon, so we are pretty happy about that.

Booking Hotels

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In addition to flights, we also had to find accommodations for quite a few days. Our Galapagos tour takes care of our accommodations from September 8 thru September 13, so we don’t need to worry about finding a place to stay on those nights. However, there are some nights where we have chosen to take care of accommodations on our own.

  • On September 3-5, we need a hotel in Lima, Peru
  • On September 5-7, we need a hotel in Cusco, Peru
  • On September 7-8, we need a hotel in Quito, Ecuador
  • On September 13-14, we need a hotel in Quito, Ecuador

Here is where saving up your hotel points really comes in handy. We have accumulated a large amount of Marriott points thru our other travels, so we plan to use these points to save on hotel bookings as much as possible for these dates. In the end, we were lucky enough to book all of these dates at Marriott properties.

Hotel Accommodations in Lima for September 3-5

When we arrive in Lima on September 3, we are going to need hotel accommodations until we depart from Cusco on September 5. Lucky for us, there is a Marriott Courtyard Miraflores in Lima that we can use our hotel points to book. Thus, cost for this hotel ended up being $0.

Hotel Accommodations in Cusco for September 5-7

We are flying from Lima to Cusco on September 5, so we need a place to stay in Cusco until we depart for Quito, Ecuador on September 7. Again, we got lucky in that there is a Marriott property in Cusco. We were able to make a reservation at the JW Marriott El Convento Cusco for both nights, which we are very happy about. We did look at possibly booking a night or two at the Belmond Sanctuary Lodge, which sits just outside the gates of Machu Picchu, but it was way outside our price range. During the time we are visiting, the hotel so charging roughly $1,200 a night per room. It would have been very cool and convenient to stay right outside of Machu Picchu, but we just couldn’t justify that cost. Instead, we booked our stay at the Marriott for a total cost, with points, of $0.

Hotel Accommodations in Quito for September 7-8

The next night of accommodation that we needed to take care of was for the night of September 7, checking out the morning of September 8. As I mentioned earlier, this is the night that we will be spending in Quito on our way to the Galapagos instead of spending the night in an airport. We were happy to discover that Marriott has a hotel in Quito. Instead of spending an uncomfortable night in an airport, we will be spending the day exploring Quito and then spending the night at the JW Marriott Hotel Quito. With points, the cost will be $0.

Hotel Accommodations in Quito for September 13-14

The last night that we needed to worry about finding accommodations for was our final night of the trip. Remember, instead of opting to try and find a flight home from Quito on September 13 when our Galapagos tour is finished, we are building some flexibility into our flight schedule and not flying home from Quito until September 14. Lucky for us, we already know that there is a Marriott property in Quito for us to take advantage of, so we booked a night at the JW Marriott Hotel in Quito for the night of September 13 with Marriott points. Again, with points, the cost was $0.

Flights to Lima and Home from Quito

The last logistical task we had to sort out was our main flights to Lima and then home from Quito. In addition to Marriott points, we have also accumulated a number of Delta Airlines miles that we can take advantage of. We ended up finding a Delta Airlines flight that departs in the late evening of September 3, arriving in Lima, with a return flight from Quito that gets us home in the early afternoon on September 14. With points, including taxes and fees, the tickets will cost us approximately 81,000 points and $106 per person.

Comparing the Cost of This Trip to Full Tours

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As we mentioned in Part 2 of our Machu Picchu and Galápagos Islands planning, we decided to use a combination on self-planning and destination tours to travel to Machu Picchu and the Galápagos Islands. We cal this the combination option. The reasons we prefer to use this option when traveling are the flexibility and moderate cost savings this option provides.

While this way of planning a trip doesn’t afford the flexibility and cost savings that planning your entire trip on your own does, it does afford quite a bit more flexibility and cost savings then taking a full blown tour does. As a reminder, here are some of the full tours that cover both Machu Picchu and the Galápagos Islands that we were able to find.

By taking care of some of our transportation and accommodations, but using tours to see Machu Picchu and the Galapagos, we still get the advantages that go along with using a tour to see a destination, but we saved quite a bit of money relative to using a full blown tour. Here is a break-down for the costs of our trip. This is the total cost for all flights, all hotels, all tours, and all extra costs for visiting Machu Picchu and the Galapagos.

 Delta Flights to Lima and home from Quito $0
 2 nights hotel in Lima $0
 Flight to Cusco $122
 2 nights hotel in Cusco $0
 Machu Picchu Tour $430
 Flight to Quito $300
 1 night hotel in Quito $0
 Flight to Baltra $250
 Galapagos Tour $1,200
 Flight to Quito $230
 1 night hotel in Quito $0
 Total Cost:  $2,532

Granted, we are saving quite a bit of money by using hotel points and airline miles. However, even with the full tours, most tour costs do not include the cost of flights. We like to pay for our flights on cheaper trips even if we have the miles to use so that we can cut costs on bigger trips like this. Flights are such a big piece of the cost of a trip and it helps significantly if you can cut that price out of the equation.

The same thing applies to hotels. We like to pay for our hotels on smaller trips, even if we have the points to use, because it allows us to further cut costs on these big trips. If we paid for our hotels on this trip, at $150 a night it would add up to an additional $900 in cost. That would put the total cost of our trip per person at $3,432. That is still significantly below the cost of a full tour that visits both Machu Picchu and the Galápagos Islands.

With this, we have answered the final question in our trip planning process. We now know How Much it will cost us to take the trip. Should the cost be too high when doing planning for your trip, you can go back and make adjustments before booking your tours, accommodations, or flights. With the information you have gathered in your planning, you will know which costs you can cut that will have the biggest impact on the bottom line for your trip.

Summary

Now that we have been thru our entire trip planning process using a real-life example, you should have a good understanding of how we strategically plan our trips to maximize our time at our destinations and minimize the cost of our trips. Below is a recap of some of key aspects of our planning process.

The What

Determine what you want to see. In our case, we wanted to see Machu Picchu and the Galápagos Islands.

The Where

Determine where you will need to travel to see those things. In our case, seeing Machu Picchu and the Galapagos would require us to travel to Cusco, Peru and Quito, Ecuador.

The When

By looking at the average monthly temperature, precipitation level, and tourist numbers, you can determine what the optimal time to visit your location would be. For us, early September gave us the best conditions to visit.

The How Long

Before you can determine how long you will need to travel, you will need to determine the logistics of your trip. The biggest decision you will need to make is whether you will plan the trip entirely on your own, use a tour company, or use a combination of self-planning and tour. After figuring this out, you will be able to start putting together a rough itinerary. For our trip, the rough itinerary we put together ended up being a 12 day itinerary.

The How

With a rough itinerary in hand, you can start to fill in your transportation, accommodation, and tour needs. We recommend banking any hotel points and airline miles you accumulate for larger trips and pay for flights and hotels on smaller trips even if you have the miles to use. In our case, this saved us tremendously as we were able to use hotel points and airline miles for our main flights and many of our hotels. This allowed us to afford transportation between multiple locations within our trip and two wonderful tours.

The How Much

Once you have filled in your transportation, accommodation, and tour needs, you will have a pretty good estimate of how much your trip will cost. If the price is too high, you will have a lot of information to use to adjust your trip to lower the cost. Lucky for us, we were able to plan our trip at a cost that is well below the cost that tour companies are charging to see both locations.

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10 replies »

  1. The thought and planning you’ve put into this is immense, but I hope it makes for an excellent trip! I once researched how to travel to the Galápagos Isles (as it’s been somewhere I’d like to go since I was a child), but was defeated somewhat by the difficulty, the expense and also the travel time. Perhaps when I am a more experienced traveller I’ll try it!

  2. Looking at this post again because I may be joining a group going to Peru in November. It doesn’t include the Galapagos which is my dream trip, but it seems like a good opportunity anyway. I know you’re there now and am sure it is wonderful!

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