Summary: While the Galapagos Islands in Ecuador are known for being extremely expensive, once you pay for the flight and entrance fee, it becomes affordable. This is how we did it, we saw almost everything in the archipelago and stayed much longer than people usually do in this gorgeous place. If you liked that so far, follow us on Twitter or join our Facebook Page.
You’ve probably already checked out our 11 Activities on a Budget in The Galapagos. The aim of this post is to help you plan your trip to the Galapagos without spending a fortune. It contains tips and advice on how to enjoy the Galapagos and save your money.
You may want to consider buying Lonely Planet Ecuador & the Galapagos Islands (Country Guide)
Why are the Galapagos Islands considered expensive? Because people who visit the archipelago usually don’t have much time and want to see everything, so they book a cruise (which is not less than $1000 for 5 days as a starting price).
How can you do the Galapagos on $845/month per person?
We spent two months in the Galapagos Islands while most people usually spend only one or two weeks maximum, and sometimes just a few days. We spent $3500 during these two months (63 days exactly), and this included everything: plane tickets, accommodation, entrance to the national park, food, activities, and outings.
In this post we present some tips and advice for a cheaper journey to the Galapagos
If you want to save money on your trip to the Galapagos, you will need two things: time and flexibility.
There are also two things that you’ll have to pay for no matter what: your transportation to the islands (we took a plane for $500 each from Guayaquil, but we heard that you can also go there by boat) and the entrance to the national park, which costs $100/person.
We chose to visit the islands during the low season, which is from February to May and September to mid-December. We visited the archipelago in February and March.
For the first month we had contacted several hotels in advance in Toronto, in order to get a good deal (because it is difficult to find an apartment from abroad). We finally got a deal at $500 for the month. We made sure that we’d have a place to cook. For the second month, it was easier because we were already there (in Santa Cruz) so we had time to look for an apartment. We paid $450, which was not much cheaper than the hotel, but way more comfortable. For both places we had a Wi-Fi connection. You can easily find an apartment or a room for rent in Santa Cruz. There are classified ads on the boards situated next to the port and next to the main supermarket.
We like cooking our own meals—it is cheaper and also healthier. We’d been told that meat is expensive in the islands, and especially chicken. This wasn’t a major problem, since I’m a vegetarian and Bassel is used to this when traveling. There is a market on the main street—you have to walk 20 minutes in the opposite direction to the pier—that has many kinds of fruits and vegetables, even some that are ready-to-cook. If you like plantain and manioc, they are the cheapest. For the other supplies, there are many supermarkets in town. The main one is on the pier, and it has almost everything. You can buy fresh fish in the port and it is quite cheap, though we felt locals paid even less.
You will have to buy soft water, as the tap water is still a little bit salty and not good for cooking. The cheapest option is to buy the biggest bottle (four gallons) for $8 and then refill it for $2, and you get your $8 back when you return the empty bottle.
Focus your outings around lunchtime, as eating out for almuerzo is always cheaper than dinner. An almuerzo (set lunch) in Santa Cruz costs between $3.50 and $4, while dinner starts from $7. We typically went out for lunch once a week, while we only went out for a drink or dinner three or four times during the two months.
Try to do any site visits on your own.We visited all the places in Santa-Cruz by ourselves. It costs around $30 to rent a taxi to visit any place on the island (you can make a deal with the driver), and sometimes you can go to two or three places with the same taxi, as many sites are on the same main road. The cheapest option is to take the bus that goes to the airport, which costs $1.80. It can only drop you off on the main road. You have to do the rest on foot, and for the ride back, don’t be late to catch the last bus (around 2pm) or you’ll have to stop a taxi. Places to visit and other beaches are usually for free, except the “Rancho Manzanillo,” where you can see the giant turtles. This costs $3.
We had to take day tours to visit the other islands, and this requires a guide companion. You can do these visits on your own, but you have to stay overnight, as there is only one ferry back each day at 6am. The ferry costs $30.
Good news: wildlife watching and budget travel are not incompatible! Unless you want to see absolutely every species in the region (note that you will see animals according to the season you’re traveling in), you should be able to check out the wildlife for relatively cheap. We saw almost all the animals that live in the archipelago, except for the penguins and the red-footed boobies. The only trip you have to take is the Kicker Rock (next to San Cristobal Island) day tour, which is a must-do if you like snorkeling.
In town it is cheaper to walk, although cabs are not very expensive. A cab costs $1 for all downtown areas, but we usually walked to go to the beaches. If you don’t want to walk, you can buy a bike for $100–120 and sell it when you leave.
Don’t miss buying Lonely Planet Ecuador & the Galapagos Islands (Country Guide)
That’s it! If you want more information about our spending, you can check our monthly expenses for our seventh month of travel