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2. Re: Which tour company?

I would nuance this with the fact that many (most?) locally owned companies have bank accounts in the US, leading one to wonder how much of the funds are actually re-invested locally. In the end, you book with whom you feel most comfortable with. Fifteen years ago, most locally owned agents were pretty shoddy mom & pop / fly by night affairs - but they have come a long way now in terms of service quality, good web-based presence, and follow-through. The most successful agents are based in Quito.

You can also look to book directly with the ship owner (they may own 1, 2, 3 or more ships) - that way, all the funds stay with the ship owners. Some are truly family owned (e.g. Samba, Beagle, Tip Tops, and many more) and some are more corporate owned (e.g. Grace, Santa Cruz - most of the bigger ones) and some are really part of global companies (the National Geographic branded ships, Silversea). When you book with the ship owner, there will be one less intermediary to deal with if anything might go wrong.

Using a ship owner as your agent will invariably have him/her direct you to the ships they own - limiting your options.

Then there are agents who are not linked to any particular ship, and who can search among all of the 65 or so ships to see which best meets your specific requirements / interests / limitations. Agents will sell the ship you choose for the same price the ship owner would sell it (if they sell it for lower, it's because they are undercutting the retail price to make the sale - and the ship owner won't like that) - and in exchange for all of the hard work dealing with the clients (thousands of questions, over weeks and weeks, and sometimes months, and occasionally years!, then the paperwork etc..), the ship will give the agent a commission on that price. There are hundreds of such agents, many based in Ecuador, and many spread around the world. Some specialize only in Galapagos, and some sell Galapagos as one among many destinations.

So, take some time to look for someone out there to help you make this important decision.

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