How to Travel the Galapagos Islands on the Cheap

Posted on October 13, 2009 by

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.

Baby sealion

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.

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.

Affordable local food for US$4

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, [email protected]) offers affordable diving packages (around US$110 for 2 dives)  that includes lunch, all equipment and even underwater photos.

Galapagos turtle

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.

Blue-foot booby

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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About Nellie Huang

Nellie Huang is the co-founder of WildJunket. As a professional travel writer with a special interest in offgrid destinations and adventure travel, she scours through the world in search for a slice of undiscovered paradise. In her quest, she's climbed an active volcano in Guatemala, swam with sealions in the Galapagos and built a school in Tanzania.

61 Responses to “How to Travel the Galapagos Islands on the Cheap”

  1. Migration Mark October 13, 2009 1:40 pm
    #

    I was in Ecuador a couple of years ago and really wanted to see the Galapagos Islands but ran out of time and money. Looks like you had a fantastic time there. When I get back to that side of the world, I will use your advice.
    Thanks!

  2. Colin Wright October 13, 2009 1:41 pm
    #

    Okay, I think I might have to drop by the Galapagos now! Very helpful article!

  3. Jen Laceda October 13, 2009 4:08 pm
    #

    I agree. This is a very helpful article. I will be bookmarking this!

  4. @Got Passport October 13, 2009 5:01 pm
    #

    This is awesome Nellie. Very helpful. Really want to go there while we're in Ecuador.

    Aye

  5. JoAnna October 13, 2009 5:34 pm
    #

    Great advice! I'd love to visit the Galapagos, but it always seemed so cost prohibitive. I appreciate you breaking down the scary price tag down so that people can see it on the cheap. Thanks!

  6. Gray October 13, 2009 11:56 pm
    #

    This is fantastic advice, Nellie! Thanks for doing all this research for the rest of us. :-)

  7. AdventureRob October 14, 2009 2:06 am
    #

    Excellent tips! Going to Stumble this one.

  8. Nellie October 14, 2009 8:04 am
    #

    Thanks all! Glad it was useful to everyone!

  9. tom November 2, 2009 6:31 am
    #

    Absolutely great tips, thank you.

  10. Maya January 29, 2010 1:45 am
    #

    This is so reassuring to see that a trip to Galapagos wont bust the budget!

    I have heard there is a fee to get into the Galapagos National Park (~$100), and that they limit how many people can go to the Park at a time – did you run into any of these??

    • admin February 1, 2010 5:38 pm
      #

      hey Maya, though Galapagos did take up a big part of our travel budget, it really didn’t completely bust it! ;) Yes, there is an entry fee of $100 (think I mentioned it in my post) and they limit the number of people entering – but once you get your air tickets flying from Guayaquil or Quito, you’re good to go. Unfortunately flying is the only way to get there, even if you wanted to take a cruise, you’ll have to fly and then board the cruise. Hope this helps!

  11. Deise March 10, 2010 10:45 am
    #

    Thanks for the tips! I live in Brazil and I've always wanted to go there. Now I think I can go there this year!

  12. Mankinimalph March 10, 2010 5:56 pm
    #

    The Sulidae is also a good backpacker boat (1912 wooden sailing ship) to go on. We had awesome food and a great crew and guide. The benefit of going on a boat tour, as oppose to what you did, is that you can get to islands that are farther away and that have different wildlife on. You're a little more limited if you stay on one of the main islands.

    Booking from Quito with Rainforestur.com I paid US$950 for 8 days (inc all accommodation, food, soft drinks, guide etc). You only pay for the airfare and tourist visa on top (as everyone does). Friends also paid US$400 for 5 days on the same boat and US$850 for 8 days by booking their own flights and negotiating with the boat owner/captain directly when they arrived. This is often a better way to do it, especially in May – the only month of low season in The Galapagos.

    • Nellie March 11, 2010 12:27 pm
      #

      hey thanks for sharing! You got a really good deal there, I also met quite a few people who nabbed excellent last-minute deals. These boating tours definitely allow you to see more of the Galapagos and explore deeper. I unfortunately didn't have the budget for it, but I'm sure I'll be back in the future to go a boating tour.

  13. robertmcleft March 23, 2010 4:33 pm
    #

    A great resource for booking a trip to the galapagos is http://www.galapagoslegend.com. They offer customized packages, rather than standardized menu packages. I spoke with Chris when booking my trip. I had the best experience in planning my trip with their company Wildlife Vacations. Let me know your thoughts if you speak to them!

  14. genny March 27, 2010 6:50 am
    #

    hi nellie,

    where/how did you buy your plane tickets to galapagos? at the airport?

    aerogal website doesnt work for international bookings..
    thanks

    • admin March 29, 2010 1:48 am
      #

      hey Genny, I bought it through a dive operator in Montanita, Ecuador. Yeh, it’s quite difficult to book it online in advance. Tour operators usually sell the tickets the same price as the website, so I basically got mine a day before my actual flight. ;) No worries, it shouldn’t be a problem to get it when you’re there.

  15. Backpacker Boy September 22, 2010 11:25 pm
    #

    Hi Nellie

    Great advice – unfortunately too late for me. I visited on the cheapest 5 day tour i could find as i thought it was the only way and it was a real disappointment, we didn't get to see any of the other islands and most of the stuff we did was very basic and didn't give much insight into what the islands offer which i know is amazing.

    Will have to go back and follow your tips this time around!

    Tom

  16. Lisa December 28, 2010 4:26 am
    #

    Hi Nellie,

    Thanks for sharing your excellent tips on how to see the Galapagos Islands on the cheap! Good to know that it is possible to go there on a small budget. I will definitely keep this in mind for when I am in South America.

    Lisa

  17. Christy August 24, 2012 4:59 am
    #

    Thanks for the great advice! I’m wondering if its possible to jump in a cruise from the islands if once I get there I wasn’t to venture further out? I’d like to try to find a last minute deal.

    • Nellie August 25, 2012 8:54 am
      #

      Yes Christy, in fact the best way to save money is to book a last minute cruise once you are there. Some people I met there managed to book a four-day cruise for around $400.

  18. Trivi November 8, 2012 2:38 am
    #

    Very interesting article. Was searching online for Galapagos islands tours and all of them very super expensive. And then I found this article. Made my day! Thanks for such a useful write up. Thank you, thank you and THANK YOU!!!.

  19. chrisontour84 February 15, 2013 5:21 am
    #

    Hey! Thanks for this – I will go to the Islands this July and would like to do something similar. Can you really go to all the islands by day cruises because I heard that this is only possible for the main islands but not for the small uninhabited islands which I would like to see as well!

    • Nellie February 18, 2013 4:51 pm
      #

      Hey Chris, glad you find this post useful! You\’re right to say that the day cruises are only for the bigger islands. You won\’t be able to visit the smaller islands on these daytrips. But you\’ll still be able to see islands like Floreana, North Seymour, Bartolome etc. If you want to see it all, a multi-day cruise is the best option. Enjoy your trip and let us know how it goes!

  20. Ally February 26, 2013 5:35 am
    #

    I'l be going here next year and I think I'll be doing it without a cruise, the things I want to see look like they can be done without one – seeing sealions, tortoises, a dive at kicker rock. Good to know it can be affordable!

  21. Church Travel February 26, 2013 8:29 am
    #

    Hi Nellie – My wife and I travel quite a bit. The tip about eating in or cooking your own food is huge. We learned a long time ago that eating out was one of our biggest expenses.

  22. Sean March 18, 2013 9:27 pm
    #

    Hi Nellie,

    This post is great and really reassures our decision to book trips when we are on the islands and not go for a cruise deal.

    We are going in early April, so 2 weeks, and have flights booked, so really want to explore Santa Cruz, San Cristobal, and Isabela. It’s good to know this is possible.

    Thanks
    Sean

    • Nellie March 20, 2013 2:37 pm
      #

      Thanks Sean! We\’re so glad you found this post useful. The Galapagos remains one of our favorite places in the world, and we really want to head back there to explore more! Have a great time on your trip and please do share your experience with us.

  23. Marr April 28, 2013 9:50 pm
    #

    Hello! Thanks for the article. I am looking at going to the Galapagos for 2 weeks at the end of January and have a couple of questions:

    1. I am not confident in water so don't really do scuba diving- I know that there are many animals to see on land, but is this a major issue? Are there any other ways to see the marine life i.e submarines, trips where they lower you down in a glass box via a thread (I read this somewhere!) etc?

    2. In terms of the islands that can be accessed through day trips- can you still see the majority of flora and fauna on these trips? Is it possible to go to Genovesa, Marchena, Española and Pinta this way?

    Thanks very much!

  24. Gabriella Fraser May 19, 2013 12:05 pm
    #

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  25. Serena June 27, 2013 9:35 pm
    #

    Thanks so much for this post! I notice that prices have changed a lot since you were here. For example Hotel Espana is now $45-$50 for a private room for 2.

    We have found the accommodation in Santa Cruz to be quite a bit more expensive than San Cristobel. Heading to Isabella soon, did you stay there? Any recommendations?

    • Nellie July 3, 2013 5:14 am
      #

      I forgot to mention that we didn\’t book our accommodation in advance. We just wandered around Santa Cruz asking for prices, and Hotel España gave us a last-minute discount. We didn\’t go to Isabella unfortunately, nor San Cristobal. We hope to go back to the Galapagos soon, let us know how your trip goes! :)

  26. Not Without My Passport July 21, 2013 2:26 pm
    #

    Agreed – a trip to the Galapagos can indeed be affordable! I've done both a cruise and day trip, and I have to admit that the day trip was a disappointment (especially after an incredible cruise) but I understand that not everyone has the budget for a cruise. You're absolutely right that each of the larger islands (Isabela, Santa Cruz and San Cristobal) deserves at least a couple days of exploration and I would definitely recommend doing that over inter-island day trips.

  27. chan chan August 1, 2013 3:55 pm
    #

    How much would the above trip cost today?

  28. Chloé & Murvin August 16, 2013 8:00 pm
    #

    Hello Nellie,

    We are doing a round-the-world tour and we nearly removed this wonderful destination before reading your article which was very inspiring. On our side we choose to do only two islands in 8 days and we spent 480 euros for two (excluding airfare and taxes). For the "french-only" travellers, we have also given some advices following our unforgettable experience there. So to all: don't book a cruise and GO !
    Cheers,
    Chloé & Murvin

    • Nellie August 20, 2013 7:26 am
      #

      hey Chloe and Murvin, great to hear that you didn\’t miss the Galapagos! Glad that we played a small part in there. Which two islands did you go to? I cant wait to return to the Galapagos, it\’s definitely still one of my favorite places in the world.

  29. Andrew October 18, 2013 1:31 pm
    #

    Very helpful traveling tips!! I'll travel upcoming December to celebrate Christmas season and hopefully suggested tips would be quite handy in my traveling. Thanks.

  30. sovina November 15, 2013 12:38 am
    #

    Very good and informative post and I remembered my own tour of Galapagos island and we have a 3 day tour and missed some places to visit. Different place and views are discussed very beautifully.

  31. Claire December 11, 2013 9:31 pm
    #

    Thank you such a helpful post, I have always wanted to visit The Galapagos :)

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