Summary: Instead of spending all of your budget on an expensive cruise, here are a few tips that will help you plan an affordable trip to the Galapagos.
While the Galapagos Islands in Ecuador are known for being extremely expensive, we have figured out a way to enjoy the stunning views and wildlife on the Galapagos Islands on a budget. In this post, we aim to share our experience and design a tour that can be done in one week without breaking your budget—and that allows you to enjoy most of what the Galapagos can offer.
You may want to consider buying Lonely Planet Ecuador & the Galapagos Islands (Country Guide)
The fastest flight to the Galapagos leaves from Guayaquil. We booked our tickets and paid $500 each upon our arrival into Guayaquil. We then left the next morning. You can get a good bargain if you book in advance or from the United States—some manage to get tickets for as low as $400.
All flights leave in the morning—only—and take two hours. There are three local companies that you can fly with: LAN, Tame, and Aerogal.
Puerto Ayora—the capital of Santa Cruz—is located on the other side of the island. You have to take a boat (because you will land in Baltra with the free island service) and then a local bus ($1.80 one way) to cross the island. The ride takes 45 minutes.
Before checking your bags and heading to the Galapagos Islands, you will need to pay for the Galapagos visa, which costs $10. You can get it at Guayaquil airport. Note that you will need to scan your bags before checking in for your flight. This is done in the same place where you get the visa (it was beside the check-in counters).
Then, upon your arrival at Santa Cruz—or any other island—you will pay $100 (the National Park entrance fee) in cash and US dollars only.
In Santa Cruz there are a lot of different types of accommodations, from the big budget killers to the hostels where you’ll have little more than a good mattress and a door. You can even rent an apartment or share a room with someone—or, if you prefer, you can camp on the beach.
Disclaimer: Camping is permitted in certain places, but not everywhere.
We stayed in Santa Cruz for two months and made a deal with a hostel for the first month. Then we rented a flat for the second.
Nevertheless, we had to spend three nights at three different hostels because we arrived earlier than planned. We easily arranged a deal for $20 for a double room with private bathroom, which is $10/person.
Santa Cruz is well known for its restaurants and bars. It is the most inhabited island in the archipelago, which is why you can find different types of restaurants that suit different tastes. There is also a wide variety of local restaurants that serve the locals, and the prices in these restaurants are sometimes half of what you will pay in the tourist restaurants. This will save on your budget and allow you to enjoy the tasty cuisine of the Galapagos.
We cooked most of our own meals, as we were in apartments or hostels equipped with kitchens. But even if you prefer to dine out for lunch or dinner, it won’t cost you more than $11 a day, including snacks.
Breakfast starts from $2.5, lunch costs around $3.50, and dinner is typically $5.
The tap water in the islands is salty and not drinkable, so you have to buy mineral or purified water. There are different sizes of bottles, and the best option for your money is the four-gallon refillable bottle that costs $2. This option requires you to leave an $8 deposit, which you will get back when you return the bottle.
Being in Santa Cruz allows you to enjoy the variety of sightseeing options that are for the most part free. You will only have to pay for your transportation to some places. To visit the other islands, you can take day tours.
Taxi ride inside towns costs $1 for the cab and not per person.
In addition, you will find many other free attractions at Puerto Ayora like Las Ninfas mangrove laguna, the pier of Puerto Ayora (which is very active) and the fish market.
We did all these activities and had a great time in the archipelago. We saw almost all the wildlife of the islands, land and marine turtles, sea lions, blue-footed and masked boobies, iguanas, pelicans, fregatas, herons and a lot of other birds. We swam with sea lions, marine turtles, sharks and even a hammerhead. It was absolutely incredible.
The beaches and landscapes are terrific—you just need a good camera, a hat, sunscreen and good walking shoes.
If you want more information about the Galapagos Islands, please check our related posts.
Do you think it’s affordable to visit the Galapagos Islands? Is it in your bucket list?