Galapagos on a budget ?

The Galapagos islands: An Enchanted World

My trip to the Galapagos islands was definitely not on a budget. But I had originally intended for it to be. And if you are trying to find out if traveling in the Galapagos on a budget is possible: well I would say it is.

Whilst I was traveling around Ecuador I met so many people that had decided to skip the Galapagos because it was overly expensive, I began wondering how to do it on a budget.

An Ecuadorian friend of mine had told me that the one place I could not miss out on when I went to Ecuador was the  Galapagos Archipelago. So I just listened to him and booked myself a flight.

However, once in Ecuador, after hearing how expensive it was,  I began to worry about what this may represent in terms of budget.

This is how I traveled to the Galapagos Islands on my budget and I hope my trip may inspire you when you create your own itinerary!

Your essentials checklist

  • As you are so close to the equator in Ecuador, make sure you do not forget your sunscreen, I have never seen worse sunburns than those I saw some travelers walking around with.
  • Swimming suits
  • Anorak
  • Cash
  • Walking shoes
  • Goggles, snorkel, and flippers
  • Waterproof bag
  • Camera and/or underwater camera or case
  • On every one of the speedboat trips I went on, there was always people sick, seasick pills could come in handy for some of you.

Getting there and around and about

The only way to get to the Galapagos Islands is to fly from Ecuador through one of the only 3 airline companies to offer flights to this destination.

I believe all of them take off in Quito and make a stop in Guayaquil on the way. There are 2 airports: Santa Cruz airport and San Cristobal airport. You then go from one island to another by speedboat.

To save yourself a boat ticket and a 2-3 hour speedboat ride I would recommend flying into one airport and out of another. 

You basically have 2 travel options when you go to the archipelago:

  • A fancy or less fancy cruise
  • Stay mainland on Galapagos Islands and DIY on a better budget

However you chose to organise your trip to the Galapagos islands, the flight to the Galapagos seems to never be included into the tour packages.

Also, the entrance to the Galapagos national park is a 100$ fee.

I chose to organise my trip to the Galapagos myself on a more reasonable budget. First of all, I could not find a cruise I could possibly afford on internet before hand, but also because I like to do things at my own pace.

Reading through the cruise programs, many of the activities included are some you can do for free…

Day tours

Being that the Galapagos islands are a national park it is not allowed to visit certain areas without a guide. As a result, this means that some of the places to see will have to be as part of a day tour or a cruise.

You have to do some of the day tours if you are not going on a cruise.

Check out all the stuff you can do on your own and chose day tours to discover the rest of the island. Buy your tickets at a specialist tour shop. You will find an astronomic amount of tour offices on these tiny islands. If you are going diving go to one that sells only diving tours or looks at least the most specialised.

Chances are you will get a better price because the other offices are selling their tour, and will naturally add their margin. Consequently, remember to bargain in Ecuador! It is expected of you.

If you buy all of the boat tickets at the same office you should also be able to get a good price for them.

Food and accommodation

Food and accommodation are relatively cheap on the islands although they are more expensive than on the mainland, as you would expect when going to an island.

You should be able to have an “Almuerzo” from 5$ in the Galapagos. An almuerzo is a lunch menu, often including soup as a starter, the main dish with a choice of fish or meat, a juice and sometimes a small dessert.

As far as accommodation is concerned, you will have a reasonable choice of places to stay between 15$ to 20$ for a hostel room and private rooms.

In may 2017 a new entry rule was created requiring for accommodation to be booked before arrival in the national park as well as an obligation to have health/travel insurance. Although I did not have to prove this on arrival it is important to be aware of this regulation which will surely be implemented more strictly in the future.

How to organise your days

Keep in mind that the sunrise is around 6 am and the sunset around 6 pm all year round. The opening hours of the national park are in accordance to these hours.

When I went for a hike up to El Muro de las Lagrimas (The wall of tears) on Isabella Island I got caught out by the sunset because I wanted to go all the way there before heading back to the village.

I then had to walk back quite a long way in the dark with no battery on my phone or torch and this was not particularly fun!

I had met a couple on the way back, they were not going to go all the way to the wall. As they were on bicycles, I told them it was not that far and was definitely worth the extra little push. Fortunately, they found me walking my way back into Puerto Villamil and insisted on walking back with me as they were so happy to have gone to the end!

Meanwhile, I was extremely lucky to have some company and light to finish my route into town. However, you may not come across anybody, so just be careful and equipped for these kinds of situations!  A torch could come in handy but the best would be to get back on time!

To fit as much into my days I chose to do the half-day tours or boat trips from one island to another in the morning for an early start. This then leaves the afternoon for free activities.

I spent 10 days in the Galapagos Islands which meant I could spend pretty much 3 whole days on each Island. To me, this certainly seems like the minimum stay to take advantage of what the islands have to offer.

Santa Cruz

View over Santa Cruz from Las Grietas

Santa Cruz is the most inhabited island in the Galapagos

  • Chill on Tortuga Bay. Tortuga bay is a beautiful stretch of sand, you can watch the surfers, iguanas and sea lions surf the blue waves and rest in the sun. Above all, make sure you bring your snorkel! FREE
  • Tortuous breeding center : Learn all about the Galapagos tortuous and Darwin’s evolutionary theory. FREE
  • Snorkel in las Grietas, a canyon formed by lava. FREE
  • Diving: Galapagos is a paradise for divers. I heard that 70% of what there is to see in the Galapagos is underwater.
  • Los gemelos: twine craters FREE
  • Visit El Chato tortuous farm.
  • Wander through the impressive underground lava tunnels. FREE

Where to eat in Puerto Ayora:

Lo & Lo is a small Ecuadorian restaurant that serves typical food. I had the best “Bolon de Verde” there! Typically, the locals eat this dish for breakfast. However, they make lots of different savory bolones that are delicious at lunch and dinner as well.

Il Giardino has an almuerzo which was just more than twice as much as the ones found on the main strip but I had the best fresh tuna there and it was worth the extra.

Isabella

View from the rim of Sierra Negra Volcano

Isabella is the largest Island of the archipelago and is in the form of a seahorse.

  • Concha Perla is a natural seawater clear pool, I would recommend visiting both at low tide and high tide as you will have a very different experience. Concha Perla provides amazing snorkeling. FREE
  • Los Túneles is quite an exceptional site formed by the lava flows. It offers an amazing snorkeling experience. You will have the opportunity to closely observe black tip sharks, turtles, seahorses and more!
  • The Muro de las Lagrimas stands some 7 kms away from Puerto Villamil. The wall was built in the most horrendous conditions by the prisoners held on this island. The majority of whom died whilst building this wall now named wall of tears. They shut the penitentiary colony in 1959. Most people ride bikes to the wall. I walked. It is quite an easy hike but you need to make sure you have enough time to do it. There are many stops to make along the way. It’s a lovely walk or ride. FREE
  • Sierra Negra Volcano rises to an altitude of 1124 m and is one of the largest active craters in the world. It offers a spectacular view of Isabella Island and of the lunar landscape. The 8 kms hike is relatively easy. This expedition requires a guide in order to access the area.
  • Visit the flamingo lagoons around Villamil and do some bird watching. FREE

Where to eat in Puerto Villamil:

Shawerma Hot is a little restaurant that serves shawarmas and falafels along with delicious milkshakes!

San Cristobal

View from the hike up to las Tijeretas
  • Walk to las Tijeretas viewpoint, admire the view of the Kicker rock and snorkel in Las Tijeretas bayFREE
  • Learn about the history of the Galapagos Islands, the evolutionary theory and the effect of tourism on the archipelago at the Center of interpretationFREE
  • La Loberia beach is a small walk away from town to a very long stretch of beach. A large population of sea lions lay along the whole rocky beach. FREE
  • The 360-degree tour takes you around the entire island. The tour includes a complete circle around the island, we made a stop at the Leon Dormido (Kicker Rock) to snorkel. This spot is popular for watching hammerhead shark. Unfortunately, I was not able to see them on that day. We watched the Red-footed boobies at Punta Pitt and had a fishing session. We made a stop at Bahia Rosa Blanca, a beautiful beach. The tour also includes snorkeling at Sardine Bay where you will see many black tip reef sharks. In addition, we stopped at Cerro Brujo where we could observe Kicker Rock through a window in the rock formation.
  • Scuba diving: I enjoyed going scuba diving. However, I preferred the experience of Santa Cruz Island being that I am a beginner diver. This said San Cristobal has some exceptional diving sites for experienced divers.

Where to eat in Puerto Barquerizo Moreno: 

Midori Sushi had some great sushi and delicious fresh fish.

Galapagos on a budget – The price of Paradise

Although the Galapagos have a cost, they are all the same priceless.

I do not usually count my expenses while traveling, but I am careful with how I spend it. Exceptionally, I decided to keep count to convince everyone to visit the Galapagos islands because it is the most magical place I have been to so far. You can visit the Galapagos on your own budget.

The flight cost is from Guayaquil to the archipelago and the Lancha are the speedboat tickets from island to island. I spent 3 days on each island. Some the day tours included meals.

These are the day tours I decided to go on along with an indication of what they cost.

Santa Cruz :

Seymour island scuba diving trip (half day tour) $140 for a discovery dive. The taxi and entrance fee to El Chato, Los gemelos, and the lava tunnels was $19.

Isabella:

Los Tuneles snorkeling (half day tour) cost $90, this includes lunch, and sure seems expensive for snorkeling but one of the most amazing snorkeling trips.
Sierra Negra volcano hike (half day tour) cost $30 and included hotel pick up and lunch. You can only visit the Volcano, part of the national park, by going on a day tour with a guide.

San Cristobal:

The 360 tour takes you around the whole island, you will snorkel, watch wildlife and spend some time on the beach (day tour). The tour was a total of $120 and includes lunch. Diving (half day trip) $120 – I have to say that this trip was not necessary and not as interesting as the one in Santa Cruz for a beginner diver.

 

If you were trying to reduce your costs to travel the Galapagos islands on a better budget I would choose not to go scuba diving on San Cristobal. But I believe all the other day tours are necessary to get a real feel of the Islands.

The allocation to treats for the mind and body refers to unnecessary treats like ice cream, milkshakes, drinks … That is to say that you can easily avoid them if you are looking to spend less and travel Galapagos on a budget!

The meal budget can also be reduced as I had quite a few expensive meals such as Lobster or sushi… But it was scrumptious!

The Price of Paradise

 General ExpensesSanta CruzIsabellaSan CristobalTOTAL
TOTAL572,2309,5223383,51491,2
Accomodation806067
Meals533948.5
Treats for the mind & body 🙂17,5428
Trips159120240
Flight360
Entrance100
Transit control20
Lancha (Speedboat)90
Water Taxis5,2
Now set your Galapagos budget. If you need to reduce this budget for your Galapagos trip, think about staying longer to spread the cost and reduce your average daily budget. You could even volunteer to further reduce it.

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