GALAPAGOS ON A BUDGET
The ultimate travel guide for Galapagos on a budget
The Galapagos Islands are famous around the world and known for its incredible variety in flora and fauna. It was definitely one of BoBs and our highlights on our travel around the world so far. The nature and especially the wildlife is just amazing and as we want YOU to have the chance of seeing this beautiful archipelago at the Ecuadorian coast without spending thousands of dollars for a cruise, we decided to write the ultimate travel tip for Galapagos on a budget.
At the bottom of our blog you will find a guideline how to spent five days or ten days on Galapagos on a budget.
YOU DO NOT NEED MORE THAN 760 DOLLARS!
With our guide you will see almost EVERY animal of Galapagos like sea lions, giant turtles, marine iguanas, land iguanas, blue footed boobies, penguins, frigate birds, galapagos sharks, giant green sea turtles, lots of fish, and if you are lucky hammerhead sharks, octopus, bullet fish, sea horses and many many more! A cheap journey to Galapagos is possible!
BEFORE YOU TRAVEL
The best time for a cheap travel to Galapagos are definitively the shoulder seasons:
From February to May and from September to December you have a good chance to get a cheaper flight, last minute cruise, and affordable rates in the hostels.
If you like to snorkel, you should think about buying your own snorkeling gear in advance. You can sell it afterwards and it will be cheaper this way instead of renting it on the islands. They charge 5 to10 dollars a day (sometimes even on the cruise ships) and they often look very dirty, you really don’t want to have these snorkels in your mouth 🙂
Here are some things you really should pack in your backpack for Galapagos:
(this is NOT a full packing list 🙂
– Snorkel gear
– cash (hard to get money from the ATM’s)
– Camera (if you have, also a waterproof camera)
– Motion sickness remedies
You can also safe a lot of money when you prepare your trip before you start travelling. Where do I want to go? What is my focus? Do I really need to surf on Galapagos or do I prefer to see some animals during that time? Do I really need to see as many islands as possible? Do I have enough sunscreen, shampoo etc. with me? If you start to plan everything on the island you will loose time and money!
Also, try to avoid weekends. The locals love their beaches too 😉 .
HOW TO GET TO GALAPAGOS
The most expensive part of the trip to Galapagos are the flights but there is a possibility to get a cheap flight to Galapagos. There are three airlines that go to the islands: LAN, TAME, and Aerogal. You can safe a lot of money, if you follow some rules. The more flexible you are, the easier you find a cheap flight. But also the last minute rates are often very good as the planes are sometimes not fully booked.
On the LAN website it is very easy to compare prices for different dates as it shows you a table with different combinations. Here you will see that you can save up to 200 dollars when you just choose the right dates.
If you want to safe at least 50 dollars per flight, you should book a flight from Guayaquil instead of Quito. Every plane from Quito flies to Guayaquil anyway.
Next to the flight costs you have to consider the 100 dollars national park entrance fee and the 10 dollars for the Galapagos “visa”. The 10 dollars have to be paid at check in on the mainland and the 100 dollars are due upon arrive on the island. Keep the small ticket they give you after you have paid the 100 dollars until the return flight. Otherwhise you will have to pay a small extra fee.
By the way, you should NOT try to pretend to an Ecuadorian and reserve a flight as a local. We heard that some travellers tried it because you can safe 50 to 100 dollars but if they find out that you tried to fool them (and they usually will as they control the passport) you have to pay the regular rate AND an extra fee of approx. 190 dollars.
CRUISE… YES OR NO?
This is probably the part where you can safe most of the money. Cruises are very expensive and even the last minute deals on the island (which are usually 50% less than the official prices you find in the internet) are still expensive. A good offer for a tourist class boat is 1,500 dollars for a 7 day cruise excluding flight and entrance fee. The first class boats start from around 2,000 dollars (last minute). If you want to book a cruise, ask the agencies the following VERY important questions:
– How is the itinerary?
– Which class offers the boat? Economy, tourist class, first class, or luxury class?
– What experience has the guide on board? Which class does he have?
– What is the boat name?
– What is included? (snorkeling gear,wet suite, drinks, meals, flights, entrance fee)
Some agencies tell you wrong boat names, tours, itinerary etc. Double check your contract!
Of course a cruise can also have some advantages: Here are some pros and cons.
You don’t have to organize anything
Food and water are usually included
You don’t need accommodation as you sleep on the boat
You see more islands (except for short or bad itineraries)
You have always people around you (no real Galapagos feeling)
You cannot do want YOU want to do
Many day tours on the islands would be for free anyway
If you are not a landscape fanatic or a birdwatcher, we think it is not necessary to book a cruise
Depending on how much time you have and when you are still not sure what to do, you can still check the cruise prices when you are on the islands. Book the flights to the islands and contact some agencies on your first day. Then you will hear the prices and you might realize that you are better of without a tour.
FOOD ON GALAPAGOS
Another myth about Galapagos is that food is so expensive. BUT Food on Galapagos is NOT expensive. The food is just expensive, if you want to eat pizza and pasta in the restaurants along the waterfront with ocean view or if you need a lobster every day etc.
On every island you will find local restaurants that offer breakfast, lunch, or dinner for less than 5 dollars.
Usually lunch and dinner include a soup, a main dish (chicken or fish with rice), and a glass of juice. We tried many different restaurants on the islands (you find the ratings and prices on the island blog post of Isla Isabela, Isla Santa Cruz, Isla San Cristobal). We also bought water in 5 litre bottles for 2.75 to 3 dollars. Expensive?
If you want to safe some money, do the following:
– don’t cook 🙂 the groceries are a bit more expensive than on the mainland and the local restaurants are cheaper
– only eat the ‘Menu del dia’ in the local restaurants
– don’t buy anything in the ‘big’ super mercados. The smaller local stores that are not located on the main tourist roads are often cheaper!
– Don’t spent too much money for alcohol in the bars 🙂
A PLACE TO SLEEP ON GALAPAGOS
No no, you do not need to sleep on a bench 🙂 . The Galapagos islands have more than 30,000 inhabitants. They live on Santa Cruz, San Cristobal, Isla Isabela, and a few hundreds on Isla Floreana. Some people are scared that they will not find a hotel or hostel on the islands, if they don’t book in advance.
No worries, you will find a bed for sure, there are many hotels and hostels on the main islands. If you are looking for something cheap, don’t look for hostels in the first row at the waterfront! The hostels in the second or third row without ocean view are a lot cheaper.
You should also look out for cheap ‘posadas’ and private rooms! If you stroll around in the towns with your backpack, locals may ask you, if you need a room and you can negotiate the price very easily.
If you are travelling on your own, try to find someone else to share a room. A lot of hostels don’t have dorm rooms. You should be able to spend not more than 15 dollars per night on every island.
CAMPING ON GALAPAGOS
Yes, it is possible to camp on the Galapagos Islands and it will not cost you a single dollar!
You can camp on the three main islands Isla Isabela, Isla Santa Cruz, and Isla San Cristobal. However you have to ask for permission as there are just one or two camping spots on every island and these are located in national parks. National park offices or tourism informations of the single islands can help you.
Normally you need a copy of your passport and maybe you have to write a short informal letter to the national park authority. But they will tell you what you have to do and where it is allowed to camp. Sometimes it is not allowed because of the flood cause the camp sites are all at a beach. You cannot get a permission for all islands at the same time, you will have to get permission on each single island.
In terms of low budget travelling, it is NOT the best idea to camp on Galapagos as the camping sites are far away from the main areas and you always need a taxi which will cost you more than a night in a hostel. But if you want a unique Galapagos feeling, you should give it try!
IT’S FOR FREE
The best about the Galapagos Islands:
There are sooo many things which are totally free!
You don’t need to spend hundreds of dollars for a cruise to see animals and beautiful landscapes. There are so many things that we cannot list them all in this post. Please have a closer look where you can find huge sea turtles, playful sea lions, or beautiful sunsets on our detailed island blogs Isla Isabela, Isla Santa Cruz, Isla San Cristobal.
Short tip: Many signs and also the information in the Lonely Planet show you irritating distances, especially when it comes to visits of national parks. Very often only the distance to the entrance of the national park is given but not where the actual attraction or sight is. From there you sometimes have a few kilometres to walk. Take that in mind for your time schedule!
TOURS ON GALAPAGOS
You already paid a 100 dollars entrance fee but that doesn’t mean you can stroll around as you like 🙂 97 % of Galapagos are natural reserve and are prohibited to be visited.
Anyway, some places can only be visited with a guide. Especially for some snorkeling and definitively for diving spots you need to book a tour.
There are many agencies on the islands and they all offer the same rate BUT never forget to negotiate! You can easily save 5 to 10 dollars for every tour just though negotiating. A good reason for example is to say you have your own snorkeling gear or just say you have just a certain amount of money.
You don’t need to do every tour. The best ones for snorkeling are Los Tuneles on Isabela and Kicker Rock on San Cristobal. Details here: Isla Isabela, Isla Santa Cruz, Isla San Cristobal.
Don’t be ashamed to ask for a lower price. Especially in agencies and hostels you can often get a discount. We saved almost 100 dollars per person in 10 days just by asking. Give it a try and you will see, it is not that difficult.
GALAPAGOS ON A BUDGET IN 5 DAYS
What to see:
Beautiful landscape, sea lions, marine iguanas, land iguanas, blue footed boobies, frigate birds, galapagos sharks, giant green sea turtles, lots of fish, and if you are lucky hammerhead sharks, octopus, and bullet fish.
For detailed information and how we negotiated the rates have a look at our island posts
GALAPAGOS ON A BUDGET IN 10 DAYS
What to see:
Beautiful landscape including an impressive caldera of a volcano, sea lions, giant turtles, marine iguanas, land iguanas, blue footed boobies, penguins, frigate birds, galapagos sharks, giant green sea turtles, lots of fish, and if you are lucky hammerhead sharks, octopus, bullet fish, sea horse and many many more!
For detailed information and how we negotiated the rates have a look at our island posts
THE RIGHT TIME IS NOW!
If you want to visit Galapagos on a budget, you should visit the islands now. All prices in our blog are from 2014. We are pretty sure the rates will raise quickly in the next years.
The Ecuadorian gouvernment knows they earn a lot of money with the tourists and it is unbelievable how many construction sites you see on the islands, especially besides the normal tourist paths. We were scared when we realized how fast the population and the tourist numbers have raised in the past years. We really hope that money will not again win against nature. More people means more rubbish, more cars, more polution, less nature.
Please Ecuador, find a way to limit the tourist and population numbers or this unique and beautiful place called paradise will disappear forever!
We hope you like our tips about ‘Galapagos on a budget’ and that they will help you to plan a trip to these beautiful islands. Don’t forget to check out the other Galapagos blog posts for:
Safe travels and thanks for reading!
BoB, Liane, and Lars