When friends heard that we’d just visited the Galapagos islands, most of their reactions were ‘How could you afford it?’ Truth betold, it was the most expensive leg of our trip through South and Central America. But armed with our determination to save every buck we could, the wildlife buffs in us came up with a strictly-budgeted way of seeing the islands without burning a big hole in our pockets.
Planning your Budget Trip – DIY
Most travelers go on liveaboard cruises that bring them all over the islands, sailing at night and arriving to a different island every morning. This way, they save time and get to explore every single island. A 1-week cruise, however, sets you back around US$1,000 or more, depending on the level of luxury. This includes all expenses, food and snorkeling equipment.
A quick look at our tight budget (especially since we were travelling for four months), we knew the cruise was not an option for us. We did some research, and found out that we could actually see the islands on our own, without too much difficulty and trouble. Here’s how:
1. Find a Base
From Guayaquil (you can also fly from Quito), we flew in to Baltra on TAME, the Ecuadorian national airline. All flight prices are the same, at US$117.90 each way, regardless of date/day. AeroGal also does the same route, with similar airfares. Whether you are taking a cruise or DIY, you still have to catch a plane to the Galapagos islands due to its distance from the mainland.
From Baltra, the only way to get accommodation is to take an airport bus (free) to the crossing, where you can catch a boat (US$0.80) to the neighboring island Santa Cruz. From there, it is a 1-hour bus ride (US$1.50) to the port, Puerto Ayora.
During the entire week that we spent on the Galapagos islands, we based ourselves in Puerto Ayora, and from there, we took excursions to other islands. We’d heard beforehand that Puerto Ayora has more budget accommodation and is generally cheaper than other islands.
2. Get Cheap Accommodation
We found our reasonably-priced hostel, Hotel España (us$30 per double room) after looking around for 15 minutes. We usually prefer to turn up and hunt for a good bargain rather than book it online. There tend to be cheaper ones, other than those online and in guidebooks.
Most hostels are located on the main street of Puerto Ayora, where the bus/boat drops you. There are definitely hostels cheaper than US$15 per person per night, it really depends on what you’re looking for. If you’re the no-frills type of traveler who doesn’t give a care in the world where you stay, then you will definitely find something cheaper.
3. Make Your Own Food
To cut down on food expenses, we made our own lunchboxes. There is a big supermarket right by the port, where taxi boats dock. Many small grocery stalls along the main road also sell yogurt, bread and other basic food products.
Restaurants in Puerto Ayora can be quite expensive, at double the price of usual Ecuadorian food on the mainland. Most of them cater to tourists, and serve international food. Check out small local joints along the alleys. The food street opposite the hospital, is the best budget eating-out spot with economical burger stands and barbeque joints.
4. Island-hopping on Day tours
To see the other islands, we went on day tours organized by operators (cost around US$70). These tend to be easier to arrange and cheaper than going on a cruise. Most of the islands are impossible to visit on your own, except for big islands like San Cristobal and Isabela which rightfully deserve a few nights’ stay.
MoonRise has an excellent reputation for reliable and reasonably-priced tours. Although our boat broke down in the middle of the open sea, MoonRise still managed to get us onto a different boat and continue with our day tour.
Academy Bay Diving S.A. (Av. Charles Darwin, firstname.lastname@example.org) offers affordable diving packages (around US$110 for 2 dives) that includes lunch, all equipment and even underwater photos.
5. Take Public Transportation
Puerto Ayora is a small town, and everywhere is within walking distance. However, most interesting sites require a certain amount of walking, eg. tortuga bay is about 20 minutes’ walk from the center.
Public water taxis are a cheap and fast way of getting around Santa Cruz island, eg. when you want to visit Las Grietas.
6. Keep Track of Your Expenses
By keeping check of what you spent on a daily basis, you are definitely more aware and conscious on what you will spend on.
In our 1 week on the Galapagos Islands, we spent a grand total of US$500 each, including food, day tours, hostel accommodation (except dive trip & airfare). Compared to the price of the cruises, we spent half the price! Honestly, ignore what they say about Galapagos being a rich man’s playground, because you, a budget backpacker, can make it there too!
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