Visiting The Galapagos on a budget is challenging; mainly because the best day tours are over $100 each and basic necessities are marked up. It also depends on your definition of budget travel. In other words, you can’t visit The Galapagos Islands on the cheap like one would for Guatemala or Nicaragua.
However, it is possible to travel The Galapagos on a budget like an actual traveller, but not like a tourist or person that lives to work. You should perfectly understand the previous sentence; otherwise stop reading this travel blog post that took me weeks to write. I’m joking, but you get the point.
How To Visit The Galapagos on a Budget
I’ll point out how you can budget for The Galapagos Islands. But first let me disclose that I stayed on The Galapagos Islands for 86 days. I volunteered in The Galapagos for 4 weeks and also took an additional 2 weeks to obtain my scuba diving certification. The rest of the time I was wandering and trying to figure out if visiting The Galapagos on a budget was possible.
This place is a dream of mine, so I wanted to be here as long as possible. I saved some money and I blew some money; but I always looked for a deal. I like helping other travellers save money and see the world’s masterpiece.
The most important thing about travelling The Galapagos is to try and stay as long you can. I really don’t want you to do a 7 or 10 day trip. Try to stay at least a month. And embrace it.
You can stay on the Galapagos Islands for at least a month with $1000 and doing only one tour, not including the cost of flights and park fees. If you have $2000, then you can splurge a bit and maybe even get on a cruise.
The Galapagos is the greatest place on the planet. You’ll absorb its bliss on day one. But it’ll take time to breathe its life.
1. Flights to The Galapagos
Most flights to the Galapagos depart from Guayaquil or Quito. The flights from Quito sometimes stopover at Guayaquil.
There are two main airports on The Galapagos: Baltra and San Cristobal.
From Baltra Airport, you have to take public transportation (free bus, paid water taxi, and paid bus) to get into Puerto Ayora, Santa Cruz, which is roughly $4. A taxi instead of the paid bus would cost about $20.
From the San Cristobal Airport you can walk 15 fifteen minutes to Puerto Baquerizo Moreno or take a taxi for $1 or $2.
The cheapest way to fly to the Galapagos is if you’re already in Quito or Guayaquil, or a nearby country. A round-trip flight to the Galapagos is around $400 if you’re flexible with your schedule. But avoid staying overnight in Guayaquil due to its unsafety.
Most international flights to The Galapagos are going to hit your bank account: starting at $700 round-trip, even more if you’re on the other side of the planet.
Have a flexible itinerary if you can, and use Skyscanner to search flights to The Galapagos for the whole year.
Checked luggage does not directly go to The Galapagos. It will have to be re-checked in Guayaquil or Quito. I’ve met travellers that were told their checked luggage goes directly to The Galapagos. Then they lost their luggage. Luckily, it was found and delivered later.
As of August 22, 2016, The Galapagos National Park entrance fee is $100 and the Transit Control Card is $20. Both only payable by cash at the airport.
2. Where to Stay
There are only four inhabited islands: Floreana, Isabela, San Cristobal, and Santa Cruz. Depending who you ask or what you read, some consider Baltra an inhabited island because of its airport and other facilities. I’m sure some locals sleep there but there really is no town.
Puerto Velasco Ibarra, Floreana: I only took a day tour here for $115 because I didn’t want to pay the $30 to $40 per night for a room. The rooms are not that great for the price according to TripAdvisor reviews. There are fewer than 200 residents on this island. However, you can meet the Wittmer family who runs one of the hotels. See the documentary The Galapagos Affair.
Puerto Villamil, Isabela: I stayed at Casa Rosada (it’s pink) or also called the iguana hostel. Unfortunately, they wouldn’t budge on the price and I paid about $24/night including tax. They have hot showers with a great view of the beach. There is a lively bar at night with volleyball. But I wouldn’t stay here again because a lot of the locals hang out here at night. A traveller’s belongings were stolen by opening the window. There are several other options on the main road where you can get a room for $15 or $20 a night.
Puerto Baquerizo Moreno, San Cristobal: Hostel San Francisco has small private rooms for $10/night. They include a private washroom. You can also get rooms with two beds, but the price is usually $15/night per person for these rooms which are bigger. Hostal San Francisco is located on the malecon (main walkway along the waterfront), Charles Darwin Avenue. You can see the sunset from the main entrance or terrace.
Puerto Ayora, Santa Cruz: I was able to get a private room for $15/night at Sir Francis Drake Hostel. I told the attendant I was a volunteer and asked if he can give me a discount. He also mentioned it is $12/night in a shared room.
Generally, San Cristobal has the cheapest accommodation.
It’s easier to get a discount if you stay longer or with a group.
3. Where to Eat
The cheapest way to eat-out is to order the menu-of-the-day. They cost between $4 and $7 for breakfast, lunch, or dinner; and come with a variety of food. Consider it like a hamburger combo, but healthier, delicious and more ROI.
For example, lunch includes soup, and a main dish with rice, meat and vegetables, plus fresh juice.
Puerto Villamil, Isabela: The menu-of-the-day restaurants can be found on the main dirt road, Antonio Gil. They cost $4 to $7 here.
Puerto Baquerizo Moreno, San Cristobal: You can find complete breakfasts on the malecon. It usually includes eggs, toasts, juice, coffee, fruits, butter, and jam at price range of $5 to $8. They also offer the Ecuadorian version with a plantain ball and cheese.
The $4 menu-of-the-day breakfasts or lunches can be bought at the market located on 12 de Febrero and Juan Jose Flores. In the market you can also find the cheapest fruits, vegetables, and meats for some home cooking.
You can also go to Lucky’s at Jose de Villamil and Ignacio Hernandez. They have $4 menu-of-the-day for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. I wasn’t able to figure out their schedule, I should have asked them. But they’re open most of the time.
There is also a delicious chicken-and-fries (Papi Pollo) joint at the corner of 12 de Febrero and Alsacio Northia. The price is $3.50 and tastier than KFC in Canada. There are other similar joints like this on The Galapagos, but this one is the best. The restaurant is only open in the evenings starting around 6 p.m.
Probably the best and cheapest bakery in The Galapagos, Cuencan Taste can be found at the corner of Isabela and Alsacio Northia. They bake bread with pineapple, blackberry or cheese filling for $0.60 each. Basic breads sell for $0.30. Cuencan Taste is closed on Saturdays.
Puerto Ayora, Santa Cruz: This town has a lot of decent restaurants at higher prices. But you can still find the menu-of-the-day at the kiosk, which is on Charles Binford. They cost $4 here as well.
There is also a really great empanada place on the malecon, across from the fish market. They cost $1.50 each and are a decent size, but one won’t fill you up unless you’re a smurf.
If you decide to cook your own meals, remember that all the prices of food are marked up with the exception of fruits, vegetables, and freshly baked goods. Products are marked up as high as 100%.
I usually buy flavoured instant noodles between $0.20 and $0.40, here they cost $0.80. A 1-litre chocolate milk container is self-priced at $1.85, but I ended up paying $3.00.
Many travellers try to buy pasta sauce here but accidentally buy ketchup. Don’t make that mistake. Salsa de pasta is spaghetti sauce and salsa de tomate is ketchup.
The transportation costs for food from the mainland is the main reason for the markup.
It’s better to bring your own non-perishable food if you have space in your luggage (e.g., pasta sauce, spaghetti, canned tuna, peanut butter, salad dressing).
4. Galapagos Day Tours
Doing the Galapagos day tours on a budget is difficult because they range from $30 to $200. The truth is, the more expensive, the better. I didn’t go on all the day tours, but I spoke with people about them and received advice from the locals.
The Best Galapagos Day Trips and Diving With Starting Prices and Locations
The Tunnels Tour, $95 snorkelling, Isabela – sharks, seahorses, penguins, sea turtles, stingrays, eagle rays, blue-footed boobies, underwater tunnels
Kicker Rock, $100 snorkelling, $150 diving, San Cristobal – sharks including hammerheads, sea turtles, stingrays, eagle rays, sea turtles, sometimes sunfish and dolphins
Gordon Rocks, $150 diving, Santa Cruz – the main reason to go on this scuba diving tour is for the nearly guaranteed chance of see hammerhead sharks
It’s hard to reduce the tour prices. The main reason is the tour operators have to pay a permit for each location they visit on a per person basis. There is a schedule of when the tour operators can visit a certain location. Plus gas or distance travelled adds more to the price.
You can still save $10 or $20 on the tours if you bargain. It’s easier to reduce the tour prices with a group. You’ll hear the saying, “how many people?” often from tour operators.
5. Galapagos Last-Minute Cruises
Surprisingly, Galapagos last-minute cruises do exist. You can save hundreds or thousands of dollars off the initial price. The best way to save on cruises is to book in person through the tour operators or travel agencies on Puerto Ayora (where most of the cruises depart from).
The Galapagos last-minute cruises are cheapest the day before or the morning of departure. Forget searching online for last-minute deals, the website prices aren’t updated regularly. Internet is horrendous on The Galapagos.
Unless it’s Christmas or New Year’s, Galapagos last-minute cruises are readily available, even during the high-season.
I was able to get a six-day last-minute cruise on the Aida Maria for $1050. The starting price for this cruise was $2300.
Of course, the best Galapagos cruise or tour is the Darwin and Wolf liveaboard. This is a scuba diving tour and you see plenty of hammerheads and whale sharks. I haven’t been on this tour, yet, because I don’t have enough diving experience. This cruise starts at about $5000 for 4 or 5 days. I did inquire at a travel agency for a last-minute price and they quoted me $3500. Keep in mind I didn’t inquire about the full itinerary or service grade.
6. Stay 1 Month in The Galapagos for $1000
Let’s assume you only visit San Cristobal Island, which by the way is my favourite island and you’ll stay for one month (30 days).
Example: One-Month Galapagos on a Budget
Accommodation: $450 in Puerto Baquerizo Moreno ($15/night)
Food: $300 ($10/day)
Day Tours: $150 or $200 ($150 for Kicker Rock Diving Tour, $200 for Espanola Snorkelling and Hiking Tour)
Misc: $50 (medication, snorkel rental, bike rental, taxi)
Even though the above budget doesn’t include flights or park entry fees, it is an overestimate. You should be able to get a room at $10/night instead of $15. If you spend $10/day on food, you can eat two full meals at restaurants for $4 each.
Keep in mind you don’t have to spend money on tours or do something expensive every week. You can relax at the beach, live like a local, or work from home. A lot of the wildlife is easy to see, free, and nearby town. Of course, Kicker Rock is a beast.
Remember, this is The Galapagos; you’re going to be surrounded by greatness.
Like I already said, travelling The Galapagos on a budget isn’t possible if you’re a tourist, but hopefully, you’re a traveller and you’ll explore The Galapagos, experience its tingling magic, and save a bit of money here and there.
I’ll try to return in a year or two and dive in Darwin and Wolf. I’ll update this blog post at that time.