The Galapagos Islands on a Budget

Posted by on May 14, 2013 in Countries, Ecuador | 27 comments

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)

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a blue-footed boobie

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.

Here are a few tips and things you can do to make your stay more affordable.

See also ~ Galapagos Islands Budget Tour, One Week for $975

When to go there:

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.

Accommodation:

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.

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Our apartment at Santa-Cruz

Meals:

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.

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A bottle of water of one gallon

Outings:

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.

See also ~ Things to do in San Cristobal: Check out 4 San Cristobal Attractions

Visits:

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.

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A turtle t the Rancho Manzanillo

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.

See also ~ Galapagos On A Budget – 11 Sites and Activities

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.

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A baby sea lion

Transportation:

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

 

27 Comments

  1. All great tips. The Galapagos Islands is high on my list of places we want to sure. However the cost of it does make me hold back a bit. I’m glad to see that there are options to make it cheaper to visit.
    Kimmy @ AfterGlobe recently posted…Eat Like a Local in Los Angeles, CaliforniaMy Profile

    • Yup, it sure can work if you have time and flexible schedule.

  2. I’ll bookmark this post as I would love to go one day, those photos are gorgeous!

    • Thanks Becky. It’s a great place and worth visiting.

  3. You will love the these giant creatures, amazing!
    Vacation Wanderer recently posted…TRAVEL TO ROCKPORT, MASSACHUSETTSMy Profile

  4. That is awesome you spend two months there. That is the way to do it and definitely makes you the authority to write this post. I am off to look at more Galapagos posts.
    Traveling Ted recently posted…A Red River Gorge zipline tour adventureMy Profile

    • Galapagos is an awesome place. Let us know if you have questions, we’d love to help.

  5. Amazing! It’s always cheaper to travel slowly. Thanks for the great advice – am gonna share this on Twitter.
    eemusings recently posted…Cambodia, where my heart cracked openMy Profile

    • Thanks! Agree, slow travel is much cheaper and will allow you to see places that difficult to do on budget.

  6. Hello,

    Thanks for this great piece of advice.

    I’m wondering if September/October is a good time to visit the Galapagos. I read it’s the dry season, the sea’s a little rougher and there usually is garúa (mist), so I’m worried this mist won’t allow to see the landscape. And also, how rough is the sea, and how cold (for snorkelling) ?

    Thanks in advance for your help !

    • Glad you like it :) We know someone who lives there, will call him to ask about your weather condition for you.

      • I am looking to go there as well in Mid-September and from what i can gather, the weather does not look great

        • It’s not that bad during this period, I will send you an email with more details about the weather from a local there.

  7. Great post! I just booked a spur of the moment crazy cheap airfare to GPS ($400s rt from FL) for September. Nice to get some info on independent travel, since my initial research is slim on that, even Lonely Planet. Any recommendation for a reputable day trip provider for the Kicker Rock or Bartolome?

    • Thanks Liz, check your email as I will send you a contact number for a trip provider.

      • I am on my way to Galapagos next October. Please send to me the information regarding the weather at this time of the year and also of the day trip provider in Santa Cruz. We will stay there for 6 days and intend to go to Bartholome and other places nearby.

        • Hey Cecilia, check your mail for answers to your questions :)

          • Hello, We will be staying in Puerto Aroya for one week in February 2014 and wanted to do some day excursions to other islands. Do you have any tour operator recommendations? Thanks for all the great tips.

          • Thanks Judi for your comment. We only did two day trips during our stay in the Galapagos. Basically all the tour operators offer almost the same services for the same prices as well, still you can bargain. What makes the difference is the guide, but you can never know if you will have a good one or not. The guide we had for Isabella was pretty bad but when we went to San Cristobal we had a great experience with a passionnate guide. What you could also do is to take a boat without a tour and stay over night to have more time on the island. Though this is not doable on all islands. Enjoy your stay anyway!

  8. Thanks Bassel.

    Awesome blog/interaction … so helpful and so enthusiastic.

    Arriving from Australia in September. OK, not the best time to visit, but just have to see such a unique place during the only extended holiday in 2014 that our group of 4 friends can all link-up.

    Cheers,
    Rimo

    • Thanks Rimo, we’re glad you enjoyed our posts. In the Galapagos I can find it difficult not to enjoy your time whatever the month was. We were there in the wet season and still with the heavy rain we had a marvelous experience.

  9. Excellent post I will be traveling to the Galapagos with my family 2 kids and my wife in March so this was very helpful. Can you send me information on the house you rented for $500? Also how was the internet speed and dependability? (this is important coz i will be working online while in the Islands)

    • Glad you liked the post. We found our apartment through “Galapagos Dreams Hostel” and the rate depends on different factors e.g. how many person. Internet sucks, totally unreliable. You can find it almost everywhere but very slow. Will inbox you w/ more details.

  10. Hey! This is an amazing blog! I’m planning on traveling to the Galapagos early to mid-July. Do you have any recommendations for a day tour operator to Kicker Rock (from San Cristobal), Bartolome, and Seymour Island (the last two from Puerto Ayora)? Do you also think we should book these tours in advance or can we just book them once we arrive on the islands? I keep reading comments that July is the busy season….

    Thanks so much!

    • Thanks Tracy, we hope you enjoy it there. In peak/busy seasons–only–you should book in advance as site visits are limited and controlled. There are a lot of tour operators and they all almost the same, what really matters is your guide. So I would suggest you ask for a good guide in advance.

  11. This is a particularly informative post. Thank you for sharing. I am planning to go during the month of May with my husband. Unfortunately, we only have about 10-15 days to spare. Are there good apartment rentals for that period of time, do you think? What you described as your studio while there seems ideal for us. We want to be able to cook and access the markets and beaches by foot. Cheers.

    • You should give it a try, there are plenty of ads near the fish market once you are there. Try also visiting Hostel Galapagos Dreams and ask them for a studio, they might have one.

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