Galapagos On A Budget – 11 Sites and Activities

Posted by on Apr 8, 2013 in Countries, Ecuador | 17 comments

Santa Cruz is the second largest island in the Galapagos archipelago. It is also the most populated and the most central. In this post you will find a list of activities you can do on the island without spending a lot of money.

We stayed two months in Santa Cruz because it is not every day that you have the chance to go to the Galapagos! Santa Cruz is quite a big island and offers a lot of activities and sightseeing that don’t require a guide or a special tour. You can actually visit most of the island on you own. Here are the places we visited, as well as information on how to go there and what you will see.


1) Charles Darwin Station

Level of difficulty: low


Land iguana at the Charles Darwin Station

Situated 1.5 km/0.93 miles from Puerto Ayora (the principal town in Santa Cruz), you will find there an interpretation center with interesting information about the Galapagos Islands. You will also find a breeding center and corrals where endangered giant turtles can roam safely before being returned to their islands of origin, as well as endangered land iguanas. This is all for free.


2) Playa De La Estacion Charles Darwin

Level of difficulty: low

On your way to Charles Darwin Station a short trail will lead you to this very popular beach frequented by both locals and tourists. The beach is quieter during the week and a bit busier on weekends. You can snorkel at this beach, but you will find more fish at the small beaches a few meters beyond Charles Darwin Beach. However, this further beach it is rocky and the water is not very deep.


3) El Chato Giant Tortoise Reserve

Level of difficulty: low with a taxi, high on your own

In the highlands of Santa Cruz, giant tortoises roam freely in and out of farms and at the El Chato lagoon. Also called “El Rancho Manzanillo,” this farm is the place to visit if you want to see giant tortoises in their habitat. Tortoises are very sensitive, and will typically withdraw into their carapaces as soon as they see you coming close. You are not accompanied during your visit, but it is yourown responsibility not to bother, touch or feed these beautiful animals. The farm is located 3km/1.86 miles from Santa Rosa (a village on the road to the airport). To go there from Puerto Ayora you can take the bus to the airport for $1.80 and disembark at the ranch entrance. You will then have an hour walk (2.8 km/1.73 miles) until you reach the ranch. If you don’t want to walk, you can take a taxi from Puerto Ayora and ask the driver to wait for you. This will cost between $25 and $30. The ranch entrance costs $3 and they offer coffee or tea and a snack. They will also lend you plastic boots to walk around in.


4) Tortuga Bay

Level of difficulty: medium


Small shark at Tortuga Bay

This is one of the largest white-sand beaches in the archipelago and an excellent place for swimming, snorkeling, kayaking or walking. Marine iguanas, small sharks, sea turtles and migratory shore birds can all be seen here. Tortuga Bay is a gorgeous beach, especially in the early morning during the sunrise. They open the beach at 6 am and close it at 6.30 pm because the it is a sanctuary and a nesting area for the marine turtles, which shouldn’t be bothered at night. You have to walk 2.5km/1.55 miles on a trail to reach the beach and then another 1 km/0.62 miles to reach the laguna. Access is free, but you have to register at the entrance.


5) Las Grietas

Level of difficulty: low

This site is an interesting lava fissure formed by two giant walls crossed by an arm of brackish water that filters down from the highlands and mixes with seawater. We highly recommended enjoying its clear waters, but more for swimming than for snorkeling. To get there you have to take a taxi boat from Puerto Ayora for $0.60 and then follow the trail.


6) Punta Estrada Beach

Level of difficulty: low

A small beach on the way to Las Grietas (so you will also need to take the water taxi) that is quite good for snorkeling.


7) El Garrapatero Beach

Level of difficulty: low


Garrapateros beach

A 35-min drive from Puerto Ayora ($25 by taxi) and then a 20-min walk along a trail. This is a beautiful beach featuring white sand, black lava and turquoise water where you can swim and snorkel. you will see blue-footed boobies, pelicans, crabs and marine iguanas. Behind the beach there is a small lagoon with mangroves where you can see flamingos, black-necked stills and white-cheeked ducks.


8) The Ninfas Lagoon

Level of difficulty: low

A 15-min walk from Puerto Ayora pier, this very quiet lagoon is surrounded by three different types of mangroves. The entrance is free.


9) Lava Tunnels

Level of difficulty: low with a taxi, medium on your own

While visiting El Chato you can take an indicated trail that will lead you to lava tunnels. You need a good flashlight, as it is totally dark inside.


10) Los Gemelos/The Twins

Level of difficulty: low

The twins are two collapsed craters that were formed by a series of eruptions when the islands were still active. This is also the only place in Santa Cruz where you can see a forest of the endemic Scalasia tree. The place is gorgeous and worth seeing. You can take a taxi for $25 to $30. The site is a few kilometers beyond the Rancho Manzanillo, so you can do both in one ride.


11) Puerto Ayora Pier

Level of difficulty: low


Sea lions at Puerto Ayora pier

We visited the pier almost every day towards the end of the afternoon for sunset. This is a very good place to take photos of the amazing blue-footed boobies in action. You can also see marine turtles, different kinds of sting and manta rays, small sharks (it just takes a little bit of patience), sea lions, marine iguanas, crabs, pelicans, cormorants, herons and seagulls, so you don’t need to take an expensive tour to see all this wildlife!

Do you have any suggestions on things to do on a budget in The Galapagos? Contact Us or leave a comment below.


  1. Wow, this is wonderful information! I’m participating in a study abroad experience this May and wanted to extend my experience to the Galapagos Islands. I was checking out the different types of tours and they were all in the $1000’s. I experienced a bit of sticker shock. I’m totally going to check out the locations above!

    • You will enjoy the Galapagos, guarantee! Check our other posts about the Galapagos too.

  2. Thank you so much for this information. Websites can be so overwhelming, but you have “hit the nail on he head” with the extraordinary key features of Galapagos Islands and how they can be accessed.

    We (mature party of 4) thought we had to do formal tours/cruises. This gives us an impression of what is accessible and we will do organised tours for the difficult parts.

    Fantastic info.

    (Melbourne, Australia)

    • Thanks again Rimo, we hope you enjoy your time there.

  3. Thanks for the great information. We will be doing some sort of tour but this has opened the door for a relax and good look around before the tour. Just wondering where you stayed during your 2 month stop on Santa Cruz.
    Thanks again.
    Neil (Melbourne, Australia)

    • Neil, thanks for your comment. Galapagos have a lot to offer, you will enjoy every minute. Where we stayed and these two posts will give you a better understanding on the accommodation options in the Galapagos (Santa Cruz).

  4. I’m visiting Quito in January 2015 and will have 3 days to see Galapagos. What do you recommend for such a short amount of time? What’s the cheapest means of transportation to and from Galapagos?

    • The cheapest would be hopping into a private yacht for free transportation, but I don’t think you have the time to do that. Airplane would be your faster option in this case! Three days are very little time, for us we would suggest to stick to one thing to do so you can appreciate what the Galapagos have to offer and maybe chose to do the kicker rocks, the Giant tortoise or Tortuga bay.

      • Thanks for your response, our group arrives on Jan 19 and we will be attending a convention Jan 23-25. We already have plans for Jan 26-28 and our flight leaves on the 29th. We’re trying to do a lot in a short while and your suggestion sounds good:-)

  5. Love this information! I am traveling in May with a group of 4. We are staying 4 days on Santa Cruz and 4-5 days on Isabela. Are the places mentioned above places we can go to without a guide?

    We really don’t want to do any formal cruises and are getting worried we won’t be able to experience it all without joining one.

    • Almost everything in Santa Cruz can be done without a guide, you just need to respect the environment and ask the locals or even taxi drivers.

  6. How much does day trips cost? And which one would you recommend?
    Will take all the information abkve, very usefull!!

    • Thanks, Cynthia 🙂 day trips started around $50 pp as I remember, not quite sure how things are now. The more important than the price is the location and the guide. The guide will either make your trip unforgivable or you will wish you didn’t go. For example, our trip to Isabella wasn’t as pleasant to Kicker rock. Safe travel!

  7. Hello, can you recommend a day trip tour company? That seems to be a difficult thing to locate. Some friends and I have the hotel and flight set up, but no day trips booked and are at a loss as to how and find a good company. Everything I find seems to be an “all inclusive” trip (i.e. hotel, flight, etc) … not one off day trips to the other islands.

  8. Are there any local ferry to the islands? if so where can i find this info
    your website is great
    thank you

    • as far as we know, there are no public ferries, at least, during the time we were there.


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