Tips & Tricks to help you plan your next adventure
We arrived in Montañita mid afternoon after a roughly 3 hour and $6 bus from Guayaqil. Petrol prices (along with plenty of other fossil fuels) are heavily subsidised by the Ecuadorian Government. Gasoline costs on average $0.58 US per litre, and hence transport is ridiculously cheap, with buses costing only $1-2 per hour of travel.
We had booked a weeks worth of well needed spanish lessons at Mar Azul spanish school, and were pretty excited to extend our skills beyond ordering lunch or asking if this was the correct bus stop.
We got off the bus and wandered around town for a while before finding “Hugo’s Place,” a nice little hostel near the centre of town. This was a good little spot just far away enough from the centre of town that you could sleep. That is until some jerk pulled up across the road from our room in his hotted up honda civic and began blasting reggaeton around 2:30am on a Thursday. I absolutely love this part of the world, but the one thing I don’t think I will ever grow to love… or even tolerate for that matter is reggaeton. I know I probably sound like some 1960’s parent talking about their kids listening to the Beatles, but I just don’t get it!
Anyway, first morning in town we began our spanish lessons at Mar Azul with our new teacher Miguel. Miguel was awesome! Super patient, thorough and great at explaining translations. And the best thing is that after a couple of lessons we could hold decent conversations with him all in spanish! After 2 lessons we booked an extra week of lessons.
After 2 days in town we stumbled on Hostel Sole Mare just across the road from our lessons. This was a 5 minute walk from town situated right on the point, and only cost $30 per night for a double room right on the beach with breakfast included. We could literally open our bedroom door and check the surf, so needless to say we stayed here for the remainder of our time in Montañita.
We ended up spending 2 weeks here. 4 hours of spanish lessons per day along with early mornings and afternoons filled with sun, sand and surf - the time flew by. This was helped along even more so by us catching up with some friends from Uni - Caelum, Caley, Mitch and Steph - Hey guys!
On our second last night in town we got invited to a party by Miguel. This wasn’t just any party, but his niece’s daughter’s 15th birthday party. Yep that’s right. Ecuadorians have very big families. Oh and it didn’t start until 10:30pm. On a Monday night. Anyway a girl’s 15th birthday in many places in Ecuador is a gigantic occasion, and in this case the family had blocked off the entire street with a huge stage and marquis to celebrate.
We got to sit with the family and watch some super elaborate entrances and choreographed dances done by the birthday girl and her closest friends and family of a similar age. The 14 boys and girls involved were wearing matching dresses and suits. Oh and there were plenty of 3-5 year old boys and girls running around in mini suits and ball gowns.
After plenty of beers shared between us, Miguel and his Dad, we had a boogie and before we knew it, it was 2:30am and I was starting to fall asleep. We left the kids to party and headed back to the hostel. Later on we found out it had kicked on until about 8am! Luckily the kids were on school holidays.
We had an awesome time in Montañita, thanks largely to Miguel! It was also great to be able to stay in the one spot for a while and not have to constantly repack our bags.
We’re heading back inland now, next stop - Cuenca.
Our ultimate DIY guide to 2 weeks in the Galapagos Islands on a budget. How to do it and what it’ll cost!
When booking our trip to the Galapagos we were incredibly excited, but also a little worried about how much it was going to cost. We'd been told by almost everyone we spoke with that it was going to be very expensive.
Eventually we decided we were going to go no matter what the cost, so we began working out how to do it as cheap as possible, but of course without missing out seeing or doing any of the important things.
Here’s our step by step guide on what you need to do before you head to the Galapagos and how to explore the islands on a budget!
For less than $1200 you can spend 2 weeks in the Galapagos eating 3 meals a day, eating snacks, doing tours and visiting other islands. The best part is that amount includes your return flights to mainland Ecuador! When you exclude flights, we spent LESS THAN $50 A DAY per person.
We've got information on cheap accommodation options, food and restaurants, cheap activities and tours for Isla Santa Cruz, Isla Isabela and Isla San Cristobal.
If you don't find the information you're after feel free to shoot us an email via our contact form or messaging us on Facebook at Facebook.com/looktheworldintheeye
GETTING TO THE GALAPAGOS ISLANDS - FLIGHTS AND ENTRY FEES
First things first, you need flights.
The 2 main airlines that fly to the Galapagos are TAME and LAN. Both have almost daily flights from Quito and Guayaquil and the flight prices tend to hover around $400 US return. These however can fluctuate depending on dates and deals, so if you have time spare ensure you check multiple dates to scoop up the best price possible.
The next thing to do is decide which island(s) you want to go to and resultantly where you’re going to fly in and out of. There are 2 airports on the Galapagos Islands, one on Isla Baltra (very close to Santa Cruz) and the other on San Cristobal. By flying into one island and out of another you can save money on the $30US ferries between islands - but more on ferries later.
We paid $398US each to fly with TAME from Guayaquil into Isla Baltra and out of Isla San Cristobal.
TOURIST ENTRY CARD & NATIONAL PARK FEES
Galapagos Tourist Card (TCT): $20US
National Park Entrance Fee: $100US
Grand total of: $120 USD
You will pay $20 at the airport in Quito or Guayaquil when your luggage is checked and then you will pay the National Park entrance fee of $100 once you arrive in the Galapagos. Note that both of these fees must be paid in CASH.
So by this stage, you’ve got your flights and you’ve paid your fees and you’ve already spent around $520 USD and you’ve only just left the airport!
LIVE-ABOARD CRUISES VS. STAYING ON THE ISLANDS
The next decision when going to the Galapagos is whether you’d like to do a cruise or not. The 2 main ways to see the Galapagos Islands are; firstly jumping on a live-aboard yacht and doing a 3,5,6 or 8 day all inclusive cruise, or secondly by staying on the different islands and exploring what they have either by yourself and/or doing day trips.
If you choose to do a cruise then you should definitely book it last minute! Leave a day or 2 either side of your planned cruise dates on the island to allow you to shop around for the best deal on an itinerary that fits for you. The prices of cruises are often discounted by half, if not more when booked in Puerto Ayora on Isla Santa Cruz. We saw many deals for cruises of all lengths. We even saw multiple 8 day cruises on sale for $800, and these can be $3000+ if booked in advance!
You can also book cheap tours from Quito or Guayaquil, and the operators often include return flights. So if you like to be a little more prepared and want something booked before arriving in the islands check out tour operators in the city.
It is also important to check the cruise itinerary! Many cruises include day trips and stops at places that are free (and easy) to access by yourself. We met lots and lots of people who visited sites on their cruise that we had easily visited by ourselves for free or for very cheap.
So check out our list of free activities below and cross-check it with your cruise itinerary, you don't want to be spending upwards of $100 a day to do something you could easily do for free by yourself.
That being said, a huge plus of some cruise itineraries is the ability to reach uninhabited remote islands or remote sections of populated islands that you are unable to reach by yourself or on a single day trip. Also majority of your travelling is done overnight, so you don't have to waste hours of precious daylight getting from "A" to "B". There are big pros and big cons with cruises, so really look into your specific itinerary before handing over your hard earned cash.
STAYING ON THE ISLANDS
Accommodation on the islands is abundant! There is something to suit every budget with everything from cheap dorm beds for backpackers to luxury hotels for families.
We were a little nervous when flying in about whether it would be easy to find places, however in Puerto Ayora, Puerto Villamil and Puerto Baquerizo Moreno, the main towns on Santa Cruz, Isabela and San Cristobal respectively, there are plenty of cheap options!
For $15 per person you can easily get a double private room at many hostels and cheap hotels, and for as low as $10 you can get dorm beds.
As we wanted to save cash we chose to stay on the islands instead of booking an all inclusive multi day cruise. Now that it’s all done and dusted, we are extremely glad with our choice! This worked really well for us for multiple reasons, but each to their own. If you're interested in exploring the Galapagos without taking an all inclusive cruise, read on to see how little you can spend!
WHAT TO BRING
To ensure you don’t spend any more than you need to on the Galapagos it is important that you pack correctly. Everything is more expensive on the Galapagos as it needs to be flown or shipped from mainland Ecuador. So resultantly you should bring some items with you to save a little (or a lot) of money.
Items that can be expensive or hard to find in the Galapagos are:
To travel between the Islands in the archipelago (Santa Cruz, Isabela, San Cristobal and Floreana) it costs $30 US each way on the ferry (a return trip being $60US), and all ferries start from and return to Santa Cruz.
Having the central hub of Santa Cruz makes travel between the different islands expensive if you are visiting more than one.
If you wish to travel between 2 islands, both of which are not Santa Cruz, I.e. between, Isabela, Floreana or San Cristobal, you need to first leave the island you are on and return to Santa Cruz (for $30 US) and then get another ferry (for another $30 US) to the next island.
I.e. To get from Isla Isabela to Isla San Cristobal or Isla Floreana you need to get 2 separate ferries and it will cost you $60US.
So by booking our flight into Santa Cruz and out of San Cristobal we had already saved $30US by not needing to return to Santa Cruz from San Cristobal to catch our flight.
What this also means is that when booking your trip you should really, really look in to what you want to be doing on the islands, because each extra island you visit is a $60 return trip, and this adds up quickly!
ALSO, if you're prone to motion sickness then grab some sea-sickness pills as the rides can be very bumpy!
SPENDING THE BARE MINIMUM
If you want to visit the Galapagos for as cheap as possible then staying on the islands is for you.
For a mere $35 per person a day you can easily get a private room (dorm rooms are generally even less) and 3 meals a day. You should also be able to get in a water taxi trip or two and snacks as well if you spend carefully!
As soon as you add in day trips, or inter-island ferries the price per day obviously rises significantly.
FREE (OR VERY CHEAP) ACTIVITIES
As we were doing our trip as cheaply as possible we took full advantage of exploring what the islands had on offer for free, and there was loads!
We saw marine iguanas, sea lions, sea turtles, giant tortoises, pelicans, reef sharks, lizards, penguins, boobies, colourful crabs, eagle rays, sting rays, frigate birds and more all without spending a cent!
On all of the islands that you can reach by ferry there are multiple free (or very cheap) activities.
These activities include swimming at beautiful white sandy beaches, visiting baby newborn tortoises in the breeding centres, hiking, snorkelling with sea lions, visiting reserves with giant tortoises and much, much more!
TOURS AND DAY TRIPS
On all of the islands there are multiple agencies (heaps and heaps of agencies) offering all kind of tours, be it day trips or multi-day trips to the surrounding islands.
When looking for day tours it is important to read up on the company you are booking with, and shop around for prices. Generally the price they offer you when you first walk into an office is not what the tour is worth, and is most likely the "gringo" price. Also if you book multiple trips with the same company try and get a deal, as most agencies are happy to knock a few dollars off the price of each tour if you book more than one through them.
ISLA SANTA CRUZ ON A BUDGET
Isla Santa Cruz is the second largest island in the Galapagos archipelago after Isabela and the main town of Puerto Ayora is the most populated of all the islands, being home to around 12,000 people.
Majority of the accommodations, restaurants and tour agencies are located around the main pier. The island is home to many friendly locals, both people and animals. Just a short stroll from the pier you can find sea lions, eagle rays, pelicans, crabs and more. Many of the streets are decorated with large, bright murals and mosaics, adding to the special vibe of this place.
In Charles Binford street in the centre of Puerto Ayora you will find the tourist information office.
We recommend visiting here and grabbing a free map of the town and surrounding areas. It includes recommendations of what to do and see (there is loads of information on the free activities!) The brochure is also written in Spanish and English.
The office also has maps and information for all of the other islands you can access by ferry if you are leaving Santa Cruz. Very helpful for planning!
FREE (OR VERY CHEAP) ACTIVITIES ON ISLA SANTA CRUZ:
Las Grietas is a large and incredibly clear natural pool surrounded by towering walls of volcanic rock. The water here is the clearest and bluest we’ve seen in a long time.
There is a small wharf jutting out over the pool that you can jump off. This place is magical! Photos just do not do it justice.
Head to the main pier at the Malecon and jump on a Water Taxi to “Las Grietas.” It’ll cost you $0.60 each way and takes about 2 minutes. Once off the water taxi walk onwards to Las Grietas, it’s very well sign posted. It’s only a 700m or so walk along the path and passes by a small beach, Playa de los Alemanes, where you can have a quick dip and cool off. Along the path you’ll see lots of huge cacti and tiny lizards.
Try go early in the morning to avoid the crowds and bring your snorkel as there are lots of big fish to look at!
To get to Tortuga Bay follow Charles Binford street toward the edge of town (easily found on every map of Puerto Ayora). At the end of the street you will find a footpath that runs for 2.5km through native forest and sand dunes to Tortuga Bay and the adjacent lagoon.
The beach is beautiful. There’s plenty of white sand, blue water and lots of local wildlife including, but not limited to - marine iguanas, small reef sharks, fish, rays, crabs, and the odd marine turtle.
There is also an average beach break if you can be bothered carrying a board down the long trail for a surf.
We advise heading here early in the day before it gets too crowded and too hot for the long walk. The path opens at 6am, and although free you are encouraged to sign a guestbook at the rangers station on entry and exit.
Most drivers on the island will charge $40 per car for a round trip to the next 3 destinations; Los Gemelos, El Chato Reserve & the Lava Tunnels.
The driver will take you to each destination and either wait in the car, or accompany you to each place. We were lucky enough to get a driver who came into El Chato Reserve with us and told us information about the tortoises, including their amazing (OLD) ages!
The trip will take around 2.5 - 3 hours, and if split between four is only $10 each, plus $3 for the tortoise reserve!
Roughly located in the centre of Isla Santa Cruz, Los Gemelos is two big adjacent and dormant volcanic craters. Both are surrounded and filled with beautiful green vegetation.
Very pretty place to have a walk and explore the tropical island “highlands", but please - as with the rest of the islands - stick to the paths.
Located inside El Chato Reserve are several underground lava tunnels, formed naturally by volcanic activity. We went into two that were well lit, but pretty slippery. Definitely grab a pair of the complimentary gumboots at the gate!
The tunnels weren't huge but still impressive and definitely worth checking out after seeing the amazing tortoises.
EL CHATO RESERVE:
El Chato Reserve is home to many of the islands iconic Giant Galapagos Tortoises. Admission is $3 paid when leaving, and includes complimentary tea, coffee and gumboots if you desire.
The reserve has a path marked out to walk around and see the different tortoises living there.
These amazing animals seriously look like living dinosaurs, and to see them in the flesh is absolutely breathtaking. You really can not appreciate their size until you see them up close.
CHARLES DARWIN RESEARCH STATION:
Very close to town (at the end of Avenue Charles Darwin) is the Research Station. The research station is a nursery for many giant tortoises as part of the islands rehabilitation program.
There are 14 subspecies of Galapagos Tortoise, and many eggs and hatchlings are brought here and protected until they are of an age and size that they can be safely released back into the wild. Most are kept until they are about 5 years old and 30 cm long. Giant tortoises are thought to live to 160 years old, but they don’t reach sexual maturity until 20-25, hence the importance of them surviving their younger years.
You can also see some of the beautiful, bright and endangered land iguanas here!
Now this isn’t an activity… but it is still fun to check out.
On Avenue Charles Darwin around from the main wharf there is the local fish markets. In the morning the fishermen arrive and drop off their catches to women running the market. There is plenty of fish being scaled, gutted and prepared for sale.
As well as the huge amount of fresh fish on show, there are plenty of cheeky locals animals hanging around. There’ll be pelicans, marine iguanas and the cheekiest of all, sea lions. All of whom are waiting to catch any bits of fish that are dropped or thrown away.
They also set up plastic tables and chairs in the evening for dinner. You choose between a $12 and $15 fish with which you get rice, salad and plantains. Delicious!
TOURS ON ISLA SANTA CRUZ:
GORDON ROCKS SCUBA-DIVING:
One of the best spots to dive in the Galapagos is Gordon Rocks, which is off the north of Isla Santa Cruz. Every dive company offers this site for obvious reasons, and all cost around $160 US for a 2 tank dive including snacks and lunch.
This site was awesome, and here it is possible to see schools of hammerhead sharks, galapagos sharks, sea turtles, eagle rays and schools of golden rays just to name a few. This site can be tricky at times due to strong currents and depths of +30m. Most companies require you to have at least 15 logged dives to complete this dive, and many require you to dive with the company at another safer site beforehand before they will take you to Gordon Rocks.
We chose to go with Eagleray Tours who were professional, attentive and had both english and spanish speaking dive guides.
FOOD AND RESTAURANTS ON ISLA SANTA CRUZ:
Due to the isolated location, groceries available in the Galapagos are fairly limited and also quite expensive. Resultantly cooking your own meals (for lunch and dinner) is not quite as cheap as it is when travelling on the main land.
That being said, we were still able to buy things cheaply enough to make a meal for less than $4 each and we saved lots of money on breakfast by buying a bag of oats (1kg for $1.30) and a bunch of tiny bananas ($1 for 12) and making porridge with banana and sugar in the morning. Resultantly breakfast ended up costing us about $0.40 a few days.
Also there are many small markets up the main street from the pier, Avenue Baltra. The further you walk, the cheaper the prices and, we found, the better the choice of products.
In the town centre of Puerto Ayora is a street very close to the main dock called Charles Binford. Along this strip there are many local eateries selling meals from $3 - $15 for lunch and dinner - much cheaper fare than the ritzy super touristy restaurants and bars along the main street.
For $3 - $5 at lunch or dinner time you can get the ‘Menu del Dia' (Menu of the day) consisting of a soup entrée, a main (usually of rice, salad and some form of meat) and a juice. Yum!
There is also a large variety of dinners for $4 - $12, depending on what you choose. There are lots of cheap seafood options available
WHERE TO STAY ON ISLA SANTA CRUZ:
We stayed at 2 places on Isla Santa Cruz, and from the 2 we would highly recommend one, Hostal Elisabeth. For only $30 a night we got a private double room with private bathroom. The internet was quick and location could not have been anymore central! It was across the road from the wharf and right next to many restaurants and tour agencies.
The other hostel we stayed at was Galapagos Best Home Stay. It was $17 a night for a dorm bed in a 5 bed dorm and it was a 2+ kilometre walk in to the main town. There were also no restaurants nearby. It was a nice place, however we found that as it cost more than our private room right in town it was very overpriced.
ISLA ISABELA ON A BUDGET
Isla Isabela is the largest island in the Galapagos, however it has a population of only 2200, much less than that of the other 2 main inhabited islands.
To get to Isla Isabela you will need to get a ferry from Isla Santa Cruz, which is actually a large speed boat. The ferry leaves twice daily, at 7am and 2pm. Tickets are sold all over town and cost $30US (no negotiating possible). If you are heading there from Floreana or San Cristobal you will first need to get a ferry to Santa Cruz.
As well as the $30 Ferry ticket you will need to pay $0.50 to get a small boat to the ferry from the Santa Cruz wharf, and another $1 to get a small boat from the ferry to the wharf on the other side in Isabela. Make sure you have the correct amounts of change!
Once you arrive on the wharf you will need to pay an entrance fee to the island of $5US.
Hence, the total cost of getting to Isla Isabela from Santa Cruz is $36.50
As with Isla Santa Cruz there is a tourist information office located on Isla Isabela.
You will find it on the main strip, Avenue Antonio Gil. Drop by here to grab a map of the island and get information on available activities!
FREE (OR VERY CHEAP) ACTIVITIES ON ISLA ISABELA:
CONCHA Y PERLA:
Concha y Perla is a swimming and snorkelling location right next to the main pier. You will pass the entrance when you disembark your ferry from Santa Cruz.
Here you will find lots of fish, marine iguanas, rays, possibly turtles and sea lions! We went nice and early in the morning and were lucky enough to swim with a playful and inquisitive sea lion!
It gets very busy in the afternoon with lots of the local kids, so if you want to go and have an undisturbed snorkel we suggest going in the morning!
Hire a bike from one of the many stores in town for only $2 an hour to go visit the next 3 locations.
All 3 are very close to town and walking is also possible, however in the heat we thought a bike would be nice to spend less time trudging along in the sun!
Los Humedales consists of a series of boardwalks and trails that lead you through surrounding mangroves and lagoons. You can spot lots of different bird species here.
Following these trails you can end up at any viewpoints and also a couple of beaches.
Oh and you can also see Flamingoes here!
CENTRO DE CRIANZA (BREEDING CENTRE):
Here you can learn about the reproduction and breeding of galapagos tortoises, as well as the multiple conservation and repopulation efforts being made throughout the entire archipelago.
And there are baby tortoises!
WALL OF TEARS:
The Wall of Tears was built by convicts on Isla Isabela both as a punishment and as something to keep them busy. Many men lost their lives building the wall due to the heat and exhaustion.
TOURS ON ISLA ISABELA:
SIERRA NEVADA VOLCANO:
We did a half day trip up to the caldera of the Sierra Nevada Volcano. It was a 16km return walking tour up to the rim of the Caldera and down into the lava plains.
We both really enjoyed the scenery here and were lucky enough to find a giant tortoise who had been born and raised in the wild! Although our tour was really enjoyable, we both found the $35 price a little steep considering the only costs involved were a short taxi ride to the start of the walk, a small packed lunch and our guide.
We did a 1/2 day tour to Los Tuneles with Rosedelco for $80, and we thought it was fantastic!
The tour is commonly reviewed as the best snorkelling trip on the islands and with the amount of wildlife we saw, we can see why!
During the trip we saw multiple reef sharks, sea turtles, manta rays, fish, sea horses, penguins, blue footed boobies and more!
If we could only recommend one paid trip to do whilst on the Galapagos it would be this one! It was awesome!
FOOD AND RESTAURANTS ON ISLA ISABELA:
As Puerto Villamil, the main town on Isla Isabela is much smaller than those on Santa Cruz and San Cristobal there are less options for food. However along the main street there is a row of restaurants all of which offer breakfast, lunch and dinner for anywhere between $5 and $10 (more if you want) per person!
ACCOMMODATION ON ISLA ISABELA:
We stayed at Brisas Del Mar Hostal on Isla Isabela and it was great. For $30 we got a private room with a private bathroom and a window facing the ocean (no view, but a great breeze). The hostel had wi-fi and a kitchen, however the kitchen was shared with the family who ran the hostel so we never used it.
ISLA SAN CRISTOBAL ON A BUDGET
San Cristobal is the the 2nd most populated island with roughly 6000 people living there.
To get to Isla San Cristobal you can fly from Quito or Guayaquil, or get a ferry from Isla Santa Cruz. The ferries from Santa Cruz leave twice daily at 7am and 2pm, and the trip takes a little under 2 hours. As with all the inter-island ferries in the Galapagos the ferry costs $30US one way.
FREE ACTIVITIES ON ISLA SAN CRISTOBAL:
Lookout point over cliff and bay below. Lots of frigate birds flying over head. Good view back towards Puerto Baquierzo Moreno. 2.5 km easy walk from town.
Large protected bay just below Cerro de Tijeretas. Great place for snorkelling with easy water access. Plenty of sea lions, small crabs, fish and marine turtles.
Beach on the edge of Puerto Baquierzo Moreno. 5 minute walk from the dock. Able to snorkel around rocks on both sides, although beach itself tends to be crowded in the afternoon.
PLAYA PUNTA CAROLA:
Only a 5 - 10 minute walk past Playa Mann, and much less crowded. Here you are able to see marine turtles, sea lions and marine iguanas. The beach also apparently handles big swell!
Also a beautiful beach to watch the sunset, but don't forget bug spray!
The interpretation centre is located only a 10 minute walk from town, along the same road to Playa Mann and Punta Carola.
The centre has lots of information regarding the islands, their past and how the people are working to make the islands more sustainable.
The centre also contains a series of trails that link up to Cerro Tijeretas, Tijeretas Bay and Punta Carola..
It is well worth a visit!
La Loberia is a large protected lagoon with pelicans, fish, sea lions and sea turtles.
There is also a good surf break just beyond the lagoon, for those with a bit of experience.
To get here it is a 30-40 minute walk from town or a $5 cab and a 5 minute walk.
PLAYA DE LOS MARINOS & THE MALECON:
Just down from the main pier in town is a small man-made tidal pool that at all hours of the day is filled with sea lions. This little pool appears to be used as a nursery for mothers to leave their pups whilst they go fishing. In our 5 days on San Cristobal we have easily accumulated a couple of hours here watching the comical pups play with each other and explore their surroundings
Further down the malecon is a beach which at night gets packed with sleeping sea lions. Head down at dusk to watch them crawl out of the water and try find other family members amongst the masses.
ACCOMMODATION ON ISLA SAN CRISTOBAL:
In San Cristobal we stayed in Hostel Albatross. This cost $25 per night (i.e. $12.50 each) for a private room with private bathroom and a fan. This hostel was located across the street from the water and was a 1 minute walk to the main pier. Anita the owner is super friendly. Wifi is great (the best we have had yet on the islands) and rooms are cleaned daily. Some rooms are quite dark - without external windows - so if this bothers you ask to see the room first.
FOOD AND RESTAURANTS ON ISLA SAN CRISTOBAL:
As with both Santa Cruz and ISabela there are plenty of cheap eating options on San Cristobal.
There are multiple restaurants along the second street Ignacio de Hernandez that serve cheap almuerzo lunches for $3.50 - $5, and for dinner too. There is also a great chicken shop and burger shop up street Teodoro Wolf.
SUMMARY OF SPENDINGS
Now the fun part. How much does it cost to visit the Galapagos for 2 weeks on a budget?
Below is our summary of money spent for one person for 14 days island hopping in the Galapagos.
When deciding to head to the Galapagos we knew it was going to be expensive. We had already decided that whilst in South America we just couldn't miss the Galápagos Islands no matter what the cost. However we obviously wanted to do it as cheap as possible, without missing out on what the islands have to offer.
Upon researching how to do it cheaply we found out that there was just NOT enough information out there! Minimal hostels information, minimal island or town maps, no listed tour prices, minimal activity information (free and paid) etc!
So we decided to break down our 2 weeks spent in these amazing Islands. To show how cheaply it can be done for, without skipping all the good stuff. We'll also tell you where you can do it differently to us and save money!
The prices listed below are the total spendings of one person for 2 weeks in the Galapagos.
Inter-Island Ferries: $98.50 (Incl. $3.50 worth of ferries and $5 dock fee at Isabela)
Thats an average of $85 per day, and when you take out the "getting there" money (flights and taxes) we were spending less than $50 a day a day on average! It's also important to note that this is inflated due to ferries and tours, when you take these out the cost of "existing" in the Galapagos falls below $35 a day!
We still feel that this is not an excessive cost per day for the amazing place that the Galapagos is. The 2 weeks we spent there were incredible and we would definitely do it again.
Beneath is a document consisting of a day-by-day breakdown of exactly what was spent so you can check it out and see where you can save money!
Hopefully this helps you plan your cheap trip to the Galapagos!
If you don't find the information you're after feel free to shoot us an email via our contact form or messaging us on Facebook at Facebook.com/looktheworldintheeye.
Saturday morning we woke up early and headed off with a tour to see Volcano Sierra Negra and Volcan Chico.
The trek was 16km and begun with us walking up to the rim of Volcano Sierra Negra, and traversing the rim of the caldera along the east side, before heading into the Volcan Chico lava fields north east of the main crater.
The walk was quite easy as it was mostly flat with only a very slight incline in some sections. The first section was through some very green areas, covered in plenty of local plant life.
Our first stop was the caldera of Volcano Sierra Negra. And it is huge. Our guide said it was the 2nd largest in the world (may want to fact check… but it was big!), with a diameter of 10km and a circumference of 32km… The pictures don’t do justice to how huge it really is!
After taking some snaps we headed onwards to Volcan Chico. Along the way we saw a wild Galapagos tortoise that our guide said that he had been in the wild his whole life. We were very excited as majority of the tortoises on the island are not born in the wild, they are born in breeding centres and kept there until age 5 to ensure they have a much better chance of survival when they are released. This guy however was between 30 and 40 years old, and was looking really healthy!
Once we reached Volcan Chico the scenery changed entirely. The ground was all hardened lava flows from previous eruptions, some older than 1000 years! Some of the older lava flows had sparse cacti, but all of the newer ones had no plant life at all.
We walked through this eerie landscape for a few kilometres, finding several mini vents from the volcano along the way until we reached the end point. Here we could see the rest of Isla Isabela and several other of the Galapagos islands - Islas Fernandina, Santiago, Pinzón and Santa Cruz - spread out before us.
It was pretty cool to see more of Isabela too, as even though it is easily the largest island in the chain, only a tiny portion of it is inhabited.
We had some snacks here and enjoyed the packed lunch sandwiches provided by the tour company before heading back on the 8km return leg. We were super lucky with the weather and got a clear morning to see over the caldera and the final view point, and we were even lucky enough to get some nice cloud cover to walk back under in the afternoon.
Although the trip was $35 - which we thought was a little expensive for what it involved - we really enjoyed it, and our guide Julio was really informative giving us a great lesson on volcano geology.
Our 6th day in the Galapagos started out pretty lazily. We were going to go grab some breakfast in town at one of the few restaurants that was open (difficult as it was Easter Sunday) and then head out for a snorkel off one of the nearby wharves.
On our way down to the wharf we stopped in to a shop to enquire about snorkelling trips to a well known spot on Isabaela - Los Tuneles - for the next day. They told us they had no spots tomorrow, however they did have 2 spots left on the trip today, that was leaving right now... We deliberated for half a minute and then decided to jump on the boat.
The people in the store made some calls and within 30 seconds a guy was there picking us up in his ute and taking us down to the dock.
Getting on that boat was the best decision we've made to date on our trip. Hands down. You’ll see why.
The trip was from 8:30am to 2pm and included planned snorkelling at 2 different locations and a walk around on the lava tunnels formed during the last ice age.
As soon as we left the harbour after the days briefing from our guide, the captain opened the engines and we began to fly west around the bottom of the island bouncing over some decent size swells. The first stop was at Union Rock, where we took some photos of the nazca boobies and sea lions lazing about on the large rock formation.
From here we head onwards to our first snorkelling location, which we think was called El Finado (we were too busy looking at all of the animals to write down the names of all the places… oops).
From the boat we could already see lots of turtles sticking their heads out of the water to catch some breath. We were super excited and jumped in the water with the go-pro ready to go.
At this stop we found reef sharks, turtles, fish, sea horses, eels, octopi and much more!
There was so many animals around it was awesome!
I’m not going to go into too much depth about the snorkelling site as I feel the photos speak much louder than words for this one.
After around an hour of some serious exploring and photo taking we hopped back on the boat. We were headed for the next snorkel location, but before we had even been out in the open water for 5 minutes we came across multiple gigantic manta rays!
The captain killed the engines, and we jumped in again and swum around with the huge creatures. Some of them must have had a wing span of at least 5m!
This was incredible and the absolute highlight of our trip so far. At one point there was at least 4 of these amazing animals around me. I can’t even begin to explain the feeling but it was so beautiful to see them in their natural habitat.
Around this time of year (March-April) the islands have lots of manta rays off the coast as they gather to breed. However it is still rare to come across them, the ocean is a huge place!
We all climbed back on the boat unable to stop smiling and not believing how lucky we’d been. The thought of seeing manta rays hadn’t even crossed our minds, and to be able to swim with so many of them was like waking up on christmas morning as a kid to find out santa had brought everything you had asked for and more. Sean and I were so amazingly surprised and extremely grateful considering we’d only jumped on the boat at the last minute that morning!
The boat headed on for another 5 minutes before navigating through the entrance to "Los Tuneles”. Piloting the boat here was a little sketchy because of many submerged rocks and a reef with some 4 foot waves breaking over it.
We jumped in the water again (still both grinning like idiots) and got to explore the outskirts of this area. Here the water was much clearer due to the sand bottom, and we got to see some larger fish, some awesome swim through tunnels, penguins and sea lions sunning themselves on rocks, and plenty of blue footed boobies.
Back in the boat once more and under the skilful guidance of our captain we moved further into the flooded rock maze of the tunnels. We tied up to a small natural lava “bridge” and hopped off onto the rocks. Here we were unable to swim to avoid disturbing the numerous sea turtles swimming along the narrow “turtle highway” through the rock maze. We are led to believe that now is the beginning of turtle nesting season, so were happy to stay dry here and not interfere with them.
We still got to explore a little on foot, crossing several natural lava bridges, seeing plenty of large sea turtles swimming by underneath us, and were able to take plenty of snaps of the comical blue footed boobies. One little guy was even practicing his mating dance for us, which was about on par with watching Sean dance.
Back onto the boat and out through the sketchy channel, we began the 40 odd minute return voyage towards Puerto Villamil.
Many thanks to Rosedelco - our company for the tour, for showing us an awesome time. The guide, captain and crewman helped us to find absolutely every animal we wanted to see (and more), with the minimal disturbance and maximum respect possible to these awesome critters. The lunch of fruit, bikkies and a sandwich wasn’t bad either!
This day has set a seriously high standard for the next 8 months of our trip.. I don't know how anything will compare!
On our 3rd day on Isla Santa Cruz we decided we would return to Tortuga Bay to go for a swim and have a look for some baby reef sharks. We headed off from our hostel at around 7:30am in an attempt to beat the crowds and the heat.
Once we arrived at the beach we walked down to the far end and again got a couple more photos of the Marine iguanas.. I just can't get enough of these animals, they seriously look like baby dinosaurs!
We also saw a couple cheeky birds and some beautifully bright red crabs.
We went for a swim and had a little explore around before heading back up the beach to head back in to town. On the way along the beach Sean spotted a baby reef shark swimming in the shallows, and then another, and then another! We rushed over and into the water to about shin height and just watched these tiny creatures chasing around schools of fish!
They were much more scared of us then we were of them however if we stood really still they would come very close to our legs! It was awesome!
We headed back to town, again getting a big slice of watermelon for a snack and carried on to the Charles Darwin Research Station.
The research station is a nursery for many giant tortoises as part of the islands rehabilitation program.
There are 14 subspecies of Galapagos Tortoise, and many eggs and hatchlings are brought here and protected until they are of an age and size that they can be safely released back into the wild. Most are kept until they are about 5 years old and 30 cm long. Giant tortoises are thought to live to 160 years old, but they don’t reach sexual maturity until 20-25, hence the importance of them surviving their younger years.
Hatchlings are kept together in a litter and aren’t mixed with other subspecies until they are a few years old, when they are put into a kind of tortoise training facility designed to “toughen them up” before being released into the wild. After seeing how big they can grow to the day before, the babies were super cute.
This program along with eradicating introduced species such as rats, cats and goats that both eat tortoise eggs and take their food has helped to significantly increase the wild population in the last 40 years.
Also at the station is the habitat that used to belong to Lonesome George, the last of of the subspecies of the giant tortoises on Pinta Island. In his last years, he was known as the rarest creature in the world. There are many documentaries on him and his life, he passed away in 2012 and was thought by some to be over 100 years old!
That afternoon we booked a ferry ticket to Isla Isabela (the largest island in the Galapagos), did a little research and cooked a tasty tuna pasta dinner back at the hostel. An early night was needed before the 7am ferry to Isabela the next morning.
In the afternoon of our second day in the Galapagos we planned to meet up with a couple we met in Huanchaco, Peru and head out to Los Gemelos, El Chato Reserve & the Lava Tunnels.
We had heard that for just $40 per car (only $10 a head when split between 4) we could get a taxi driver that would take us to the 3 destinations and wait whilst we explored! Excellent!
After another tasty lunch for just $4 each in Charles Binford Avenue we headed down to the main pier, met the couple and jumped in a cab.
The first stop was Los Gemelos, or in english “The Twins”. Los Gemelos are 2 huge craters formed by now extinct volcanoes. The craters are now overgrown with greenery, and it was nice to walk around the edge in the cooler "highland" region of the island. This was only a short stop to check them out. They’re huge and cool to look at however you don’t need more than 10 minutes.
From Los Gemelos we headed to El Chato Reserve, one of main areas to see the giant Galapagos tortoises on the island.
The reserve is a large area of grassland where the tortoises roam free and you can walk about and have a look at them. You are requested to not touch the tortoises (obviously) and to keep a distance of 2 metres. The tortoises are good at letting you know when you get to close by hissing.
We were lucky enough to have chosen a taxi driver who came into the reserve with us and told us information about the tortoises, including their ages (some over 80 years old!).
There are at least 14 subspecies of tortoises in the Galapagos, and they can live to be 160 years old! You really have to see these guys in real life to understand how huge they are.
Due to hunting, introduced species and habitat destruction since the islands were settled, the population of tortoises declined rapidly to a low point in the 1970's where there was thought to be only 3000 tortoises left on the islands. Today there is now closer to 19,000 due to the islands multiple conservation and repopulation efforts.
Whilst at the farm we observed a couple of tortoises making their own population conservation efforts. Bom chicka wow wow.
Next we headed onwards in the reserve to visit the lava tunnels, damp caves large enough to walk (or in some cases crawl) through, in which lava used to flow!
After this we headed back to town.
That evening we got dinner at the local fish markets. For $12 we each got a BIG, whole fish, rice, salad and some plantains. Delicious.
We still can't believe how much wildlife there is on these islands. It's incredible!
For our second day of adventuring around Puerto Ayora and Isla Santa Cruz we decided to head to Tortuga Bay in the morning and El Chato tortoise reserve in the afternoon.
Tortuga Bay is a picturesque white sand, turquoise blue water beach known for the tiny reef sharks in it’s shallows, the marine iguanas that laze about in the sun and the occasional tortoises that can be spotted on the shores.
To get to Tortuga Bay we followed a 2.5km paved path from the edge of town. The path is surrounded by plenty of bushland, cacti and as always, lizards.
N.B. Try and do this as early in the morning as possible to escape the crowds, and the heat! Majority of this path is in the sun and it is a killer walking back in the middle of the day!
Upon arriving at the beach we both needed to get in the water ASAP. We turned right and headed up the beach towards a small pool with a few people snorkelling. We planned for a quick dip before setting off to try and find some animals…. However little did we know ‘finding’ the animals would not be necessary.
Right there on the edge of the water, basking in the sun were multiple Marine Iguanas! They were so relaxed and docile, slowly wandering about and then lying down again to soak up more energy from the sun. It was awesome! And to top it off as I was checking out the iguanas Sean spotted a baby reef shark in the pool, darting about after tiny fish.
After spending a good while admiring these dinosaur-like lizards and getting plenty of photos we headed onwards to the lagoon, located just past the mangroves.
Upon reaching the lagoon we came to a tiny bay with a couple of bright red crabs on the shore.. As I was taking a photo of the crabs, a group of 4 rays swum into the shallows right up behind me! Sean and I were beyond speechless. More wildlife!
We’d been here less than 2 days and had already seen more animals than we could’ve hoped for!
We headed back to town after a quick swim in the lagoon. It was getting towards lunch time and just kept getting hotter and hotter.
We bought a big slice of watermelon for $1 and a packet of banana chips and headed back to the hostel. We got lunch before heading in to EL Chato Reserve to see the gigantic Galapagos tortoises!
Our first stop in the Galapagos Islands was Isla Santa Cruz and the town of Puerto Ayora.
Our flight went from Guayaquil to Isla Baltra. From the airport we were shuttled down to a wharf from where we hopped on a ferry for 10 minutes and crossed onto Isla Santa Cruz.
Arriving in the Galapagos was everything we’d hoped for. From the plane we could see the turquoise crystal clear waters, and once on the ferry we watched seals swimming alongside us. It was incredible. This place is EXACTLY as it appears in the documentaries.
Once on Santa Cruz you can take a public bus ($2 per person) or a Taxi ($18 for 4 people) into the main town of Puerto Ayora. We opted for the taxi with a couple of girls we met, meaning it cost only $4.50 each and we were dropped right at our hostel door!
NB: The islands taxi’s are all white pick up trucks with no signage.
We were staying at Galapagos Best Home Stay, a hostel that was recommended to us by a friend. It cost $17 a night for a dorm bed. It was quite a walk from town, roughly 15 minutes (and we’re not slow walkers). We personally wouldn’t recommend it. It was a nice hostel with all the facilities you need (air con, kitchen, towels and free drinking water), but you could definitely find something cheaper and closer to town.
After dropping our stuff at the hostel we headed out for lunch and an explore.
On the way to lunch we passed by the local fish markets, where woman were cutting up and weighing the mens catches from the morning. To our delight right beside the women were 2 incredibly friendly sea lions, 15 huge pelicans and a marine iguana, all waiting for the off cuts of the days catch.
The sea lions were so much like dogs it was hilarious. Nuzzling up to the women to try and get some food, rubbing their legs and barking at them if they were ignoring them. It was amazing!
After watching them for about 10 minutes (which the locals laughed at, this is obviously just every day life for them) we headed on in to town to find food.
We ate on Calle Charles Binford, a road known for its cheap and tasty local eateries. For only $4 each we were served a soup entrée, and a rice, salad and meat main with a fresh juice included. Awesome!
After lunch we headed out to explore the island a little. We hopped on a water taxi and for $0.60 one way we were taken across to the entrance to “Las Grietas”, one of the MANY free activities/sights the island has to offer.
Once off the water taxi we walked 700 or so metres onwards to Las Grietas. On the way we passed by one of the many beaches, Playa de Los Alemanes.
Las Grietas is a large and incredibly clear natural pool made from and surrounded by towering walls of volcanic rock. Once we arrived at the the pool we could not wait to get in. There is a small wharf jutting out over the pool with clearest and bluest water I’ve seen in a long time (photos just do not do it justice). The water was the perfect temperature, refreshing but not too cold. Magic!
After exploring around for a bit, spotting some big fish and a cheeky eel we headed back to our hostel.
We returned to the same street for dinner, spending $6 for me on chicken and $10 for Sean on a seafood bowl (they were both HUGE portions).
We went to bed exhausted and ready for the next day. Already the Galapagos was more than meeting our expectations!
An Aussie who loves travelling, hiking, trail running and pretty much any activity you can do outdoors.