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.
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
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.
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
Items that can be expensive or hard to find in the Galapagos are:
- Insect Repellant
- Pharmaceuticals, such as sea-sickness pills
- Cash (There are many working ATMs on Santa Cruz, however they can run out of money in the peak season. Also, many places that do take card charge a whopping 10% extra for purchases. Better to have some money with you in case!)
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
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
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
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
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!
- Las Grietas
- Tortuga Bay
- El Chato Reserve ($3 US)
- Los Gemelos
- Charles Darwin Research Station
- Fish Markets
- The Malecon and Main Pier
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 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.
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!
- 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.
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
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
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!
- Concha y Perla
- Los Humedales (The Wetlands)
- Centro de Crianza
- Wall of Tears
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!
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!
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.
- Sierra Nevada and Chico Volcano
- Los Tuneles
- Las Tintereras (We didn't do this one personally as we'd heard Los Tuneles was much better, and after doing Los Tuneles we didn't need to do another!)
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!
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!
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
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.
- Cerro Tijeretas (Frigate Bird Hill)
- Tijeretas Bay
- Playa Mann
- Playa Punta Carola
- Centro de Interpretación (Interpretation Centre)
- La Loberia
- Playa de Los Marinos & The Malecon
- Centro de Crianza (Breeding Centre)
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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!