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Galapagos Islands on a Budget

Galapagos Islands on a Budget

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If you know one thing about the Galapagos (aside from the fact there’s a tonne of cool animals) it’s probably that it’s really, really expensive. Well, what if I told you it didn’t have to cost you an arm, a leg, three fingers and a toe? Yes, that’s right, you can visit the Galapagos on a budget! Thom and I spent around one week in the Galapagos while we were backpacking for three months in South America. In this post I’ll show you how to travel to the Galapagos and how much our trip to the Galapagos Islands cost (spoiler alert it’s probably a lot less than you though traveling to the Galapagos cost!).

It is 100% possible to visit the Galapagos Islands but you can’t really travel to the Galapagos cheaply (it’s not a $10 a day place!). However, you can go to the Galapagos Islands on a budget if you know what you’re doing.

The key to doing a budget Galapagos Islands trip

Planning a trip to the Galapagos Islands but think Galapagos Islands travel is too expensive? Here's how you can visit the Galapagos Islands on a budget without a cruise. This guide to a budget friendly Galapagos vacation has everything you need for 8 days on Santa Cruz and Isabela islands in the Galapagos, Ecuador. #galapagosislands #southamericatravel #ecuador

If you want to plan your dream Galapagos Islands vacation you should forego the cruise. Yes, that’s right, do not plan a Galapagos Islands trip that involves a cruise if you want to visit these islands on a budget.

Galapagos Island cruises cost £2000 an upwards. They’re more commonly at least £3000/$4980 (and that’s for a “cheap: Galapagos cruise). This meant when we thought about doing a Galapagos Islands trip as part of our South American adventures, we ruled the cruise option out straight away.

The more I looked into Galapagos travel, the more I realised it was possible to do a Galapagos holiday without a cruise. I’d thought the islands were tiny and that there wasn’t much on them. Turns out several of them are actually big towns. They have shops, restaurants and everything else you’d need.

So, instead of doing a Galapagos Islands, Ecuador cruise we opted for a land based trip where we’d do some island hopping.

We didn’t to a Galapagos Islands tour or vacation package and spent 8 nights in the Galapagos Islands, using Puerto Ayora on the island of Santa Cruz as our base.

If you’re planning to go to the Galapagos with a tour company, your Galapagos holiday cost will sky rocket. A 6 day tour with the company Galakiwi costs about three times as much as we spent on our Galapagos vacation. An 8 day land based tour with Raw Adventures costs even more! As far as I’m concerned these tours didn’t do anything I didn’t do, and they probably didn’t see any cooler animals either. Here’s how to visit the Galapagos Islands on a budget!

About the Galapagos Islands

The Galapagos Islands are a volcanic archipelago in the Pacific Ocean and are part of Ecuador. They’re famous for the diversity of plant and animal species.

The Galapagos Islands population is roughly 25,000 and the main language is Spanish.

It’s also where Charles Darwin began to come up with his theory of evolution. If you’re interested in reading about Charles Darwin’s time in the Galapagos then check out this book LINK. I read it while we were over there and found it super interesting.

How many Galapagos islands are there?

The Galapagos consist of 13 major islands and 6 smaller islands. On top of this there are huge numbers of islets and rocks in the area that resemble tiny islands too.

Where are the Galapagos Islands located?

The Galapagos Islands location is about 1,000km off the coast of mainland Ecuador.

What’s the typical Galapagos Islands weather?

Whilst the Galapagos Islands are on the equator, the Galapagos weather isn’t tropical. Temperatures range from 69°-84°F / 21°-30°C. From June to December there tends to be a layer of high atmosphere mist in the sky.

Galapagos Islands map

Check out this Galapagos map to get your bearings.

map of galapagos islands showing the main islands

What Galapagos Islands animals will I see?

While we were in the Galapagos Islands we saw a lot of Galapagos animals. It’d be impossible to visit and not see any. The main Galapagos Islands species we saw were; both land and marine iguanas (these guys are EVERYWHERE!), bright orange crabs, rays, the Galapagos penguin, giant tortoises, sharks, SO many birds, and sea lions.

How to get to the Galapagos Islands

If you’re wondering “how do you get to the Galapagos Islands” here’s your guide.

Getting to the Galapagos involves catching a plane. You’ll need to get to mainland Ecuador first and then getting from Ecuador to the Galapagos Islands is super easy. You can take a plane from either Quito or Guayaquil. Guayaquil is closest to the Galapagos Islands and if you fly from Quito you’ll probably stop in Guayaquil along the way.

Most Galapagos fights tend to be early in the morning or in the evening. We were flying to the Galapagos via Quito from Peru so ended up sleeping on the floor of the airport for a few hours before our flight!

If you’re planning a similar Galapagos trip to what I’ve outlined below then look to fly into Baltra Island. From here you’ll take a bus and a ferry ride to Puerto Ayora on Santa Cruz Island.

Best time to go to the Galapagos Islands

The Galapagos only really has two seasons. Those are: cool and dry (June to November) and warm and wet (December to June). We visited at the end of July and I don’t remember it being too wet.

In general the warmer season is the best time to visit especially since the seas are calmer with good underwater visibility if you plan to snorkel or scuba.

How much does an 8 day Galapagos Islands trip cost?

galapagos islands sea lion resting

Here’s a breakdown of how much our Galapagos Islands vacation cost.

Cost of flights to the Galapagos Islands

Cost of flying to the Galapagos Islands:: £278.58/$462.53

This was at the end of July (high season) for return tickets. This price includes all the taxes and extra bits airline companies add.

This involved taking a flight from Quito to the Galapagos with a stop in Guayaquil. We landed at Baltra Island which is one of the main Galapagos airports.

I used (and always use) Skyscanner to book my tickets to fly to the Galapagos Islands. It makes it super easy to find cheap flights to the Galapagos – well cheaper anyway!

Galapagos Islands National Park Entry & Visas

Galapagos islands turtle

$110 (£66.27) each

Since the Galapagos is a National Park you need to pay to enter. You also have to buy a visa. There’s no avoiding these charges either.

Before you leave Quito or Guayaquil you must make sure you’ve had your check-in bags scanned and that you’ve paid $10 for a form you have to fill in. This form is your visa while you’re on the Galapagos Islands.

You also must take an extra $100 in cash to pay once you’ve landed at your chosen Galapagos Islands airport.

There are no cash machines at the airports and you cannot pay by card. We found this out the hard way.

Transport from the airport to your accommodation

Taxi/Bus from the airport: $16/$2 respectively + $1 for the boat (£10.24 or £1.81)

If you’re flying to the island of Baltra you have a bit of a journey ahead of you until you actually get to a town.

First, you should take the free shuttle bus from the airport to the small port where the Galapagos ferry leaves from. The ferry takes 2 minutes (it basically crosses a canal, not a section of ocean) and you’ll land on the island of Santa Cruz. The ferry costs $1 each.

When you arrive you then have the choice of taking a taxi ($16 per taxi), or hanging about until one of the buses to Puerto Ayora leaves ($2 each).

The taxi drivers will try and tell you that there’s no buses into Puerto Ayora; that’s a lie. There’s no timetable for the buses though, they work on a “we’ll go when we’re full” policy.

Cost of accommodation in the Galapagos Islands

£70/$116.20 for 8 nights

I travelled with my boyfriend and the two of us paid £70 each for eight nights (£140 total) in an Airbnb rental. This Airbnb doesn’t seem to be available anymore but I have suggested some alternative accommodation of a similar price below.

Our accommodation was about a 15-20 minute walk from the port in Puerto Ayora making getting around pretty easy. The rental had three bedrooms and the owners lived upstairs. The room was also cleaned everyday with fresh towels and linen provided every other day. All in all a fantastic deal, definitely one of the best places to stay in the Galapagos Islands if you ask me!

Where to stay on the Galapagos Islands

Since our Airbnb is no longer available here is some of the best budget Galapagos accommodation. All these places to stay in the Galapagos Islands are a similar price to what we paid back in 2014 (roughly £20/$25US a night for two people).

Cheap Galapagos Islands hostels

A lot of the Airbnbs available in Puerto Ayora is also hostels. These Santa Cruz, Galapagos hostels get great reviews and offer cheap Galapagos Islands accommodation too.

If you’re trying to stick to a budget then you’ll find the cheapest accommodation in Santa Cruz is pretty much all hostels. However, if you get a double or single room then it basically feels like a hotel anyway! Galapagos Islands hotels tend to be much more pricey and I honestly don’t think they’re worth it.

Save money on your first Airbnb booking here!

Food costs in the Galapagos

Roughly $7/£4.22 a day

Obviously it depends what you want to do for food. If you eat out at touristy restaurant the cost will be a lot higher.

We ate out along a small street of restaurants in Puerto Ayora. I’m not sure there’s a road name but if you walk up Avenue Baltra, away from the port, you’ll see the street on your left hand side. At night it comes alive with tables outside and lots of hungry tourists and locals. You can find a two course dinner, with a drink for less than $3.

Compared to the more tourist-y restaurants where one main course will set you back about $15, this is a way to keep costs down and eat traditional Ecuadorian food at the same time.

If you opt to stay in a hostel, or Airbnb then you’ll probably also have access to a kitchen. The biggest supermarket is right by the port and cooking for yourselves keeps costs even lower!

Since our Airbnb had a kitchen we’d make breakfast there, take a packed lunch and then sometimes cook dinner at home too. This is the best way to travel on a budget!

Cost of tours and trips on the Galapagos Islands

galapagos islands sea lion swimming visit galapagos on a budget

There are actually quite a lot of free things to do in the Galapagos, especially on the island of Santa Cruz, and it’s a great place to use as your base for Galapagos day tours and activities.

As we didn’t do a cruise, we did our own version of Galapagos island hopping by doing several day tours. Below is an outline of everything we we got up to during our 8 days in the Galapagos Islands on a budget. This includes trips to some of the best islands to visit in the Galapagos and shows you how to do Galapagos tours on a budget.

Santa Cruz Bay Tour $35/£21.08

If you’re wondering what to do in the Galapagos I’d highly recommend the Santa Cruz bay tour. You’ll get on a small boat and head out on the water around Santa Cruz checking out some of the bays, snorkelling and seeing plenty of wildlife.

Santa Fé Snorkelling Tour $60/£36.15

This Galapagos Islands day trip takes you over to Santa Fé island which is great for snorkelling with sea lions.

You also get to visit “Hidden Beach” which very few tours, and no cruises, have access to.

Lunch is included along with full snorkelling equipment. Wetsuit hire is $10 extra.

Bike rental $15/£9.04

We hired a bike for an entire day which came with helmets, maps and a tool kit (just in case!).

The bikes were extremely well looked after and we had no problems at all. We used the bikes to head over to some caves, explore the backroads of Santa Cruz that we hadn’t seen yet and visited a more remote beach.

This was one of the best Galapagos tours we did and the cheapest too!

Day Trip to Isabela Island, Galapagos $60/£36.15

Day tours to Isabela Island cost upwards of $90 and include transport, lunch and a couple of activities. Instead we just paid the cost of a boat ticket and did our own tour of the island which cost substantially less.

The ticket for the 2 hour ferry journey from Santa Cruz to Isabela cost $30 each way and then we spent $3 each on a set menu lunch and visited the tortoise breeding centre (the main attraction) for free. While we waited for our boat back I also swam with penguins in the sea: free!

Free things to do in the Galapagos Islands

You’re in luck if you’re wondering what to do in the Galapagos Islands for free. There’s plenty to keep you entertained and you’re bound to see some interested animals along the way.

We spent some afternoons at the beach where we saw sharks in the surf and iguanas on the walkover. We visited the Darwin Research Centre and saw some giant tortoises, wandered around the port where the birds were waiting to be fed fish from the fishermen’s latest haul and visited the beautiful Las Ninfas (some beautiful green pools with a boardwalk where we saw some rays).

Scuba Diving

We didn’t go scuba diving in the Galapagos Islands but if you’re looking to Scuba dive then the best scuba diving company in the Galapagos is Tiptop Diving.

Tiptop Diving charge approx. $150 for a full day, all equipment, 2 tanks and lunch (not included in totals as we didn’t scuba dive).

Getting around Santa Cruz Island

If you’re staying in Peurto Ayora then it’s easy enough to walk from place to place. The main hub is pretty small. You can also rent a bike (as above) or take taxis if you’re exploring further afield.

Taxis

You can expect to pay about $40/£24.10 for a taxi to the highlands (price per car) which includes paying for the taxi to wait while you explore.

All rides within the town of Puerto Ayora cost $1. Some taxi driver may try and charge $2 as a “night rate”, don’t pay the extra.

Total cost for 8 days on the Galapagos Islands

£569.06/$944.73

This is based on getting a taxi to and from the port for the airport on Baltra, Galapagos.

On top of the fact that doing it yourself is clearly loads cheaper, you also get the freedom to decide what you want to do and when. Want a lie in one day? That’s fine. Want to cook for yourselves? You can!

Steph of Big World Small Pockets

Thursday 30th of July 2015

I missed out Galapagos when I was travelling in Ecuador, because I couldn't afford it. Sadly £569.06 would still have been too much for me, but I do agree that this is a lot cheaper then the organised tours and probably worth it due to the incredible sights the islands offer.

Hannah

Monday 3rd of August 2015

It is definitely still expensive yes but a great experience too. Mainly the taxes and the flights that make it cost so much.

Live Learn Venture

Tuesday 10th of February 2015

Wow, it really does add up, but it seems like you made it work planning it your own way! I would love to visit someday! :)

Hannah

Saturday 14th of February 2015

It really does. The cruises cost so much more though! I hope you get to go someday too! :)

Kerri

Wednesday 3rd of September 2014

I often prefer to make my own plans instead of ones from a tour. Just a little bit of research can go a long way to having a great time at a fraction of the cost.

Hannah

Thursday 4th of September 2014

Definitely! Tours can be fun sometimes but the costs are also so much higher!

Dante Harker

Tuesday 2nd of September 2014

Thanks so much for these costings, they are really helpful and another great post!

Hannah

Thursday 4th of September 2014

Thanks Dante! I hope you get to visit the Galapagos soon!