Experience Galapagos on a Budget
The Galapagos Islands are a popular bucket list destination. This volcanic archipelago is located in the Pacific Ocean approximately 1000km (600 miles) off of the coast of Ecuador. It is an exclusive reserve for a large variety of plants and animal species not found anywhere else in the world. Although the Galapagos Islands are considered an exotic destination, you can experience this beautiful retreat on a budget. Read on for budget-friendly tips and exciting experiences!
How to Reach the Islands
There are two airports in Galapagos when booking your flight itinerary. It is typically less expensive to fly into Baltra instead of San Cristobal. Both airports do not receive direct international flights — all flights are connected in Guayaquil or Quito on the mainland in Ecuador. On the Ecuador mainland, you will be required to pay a $20 transit fee prior to your departure to Galapagos. Upon arriving on the islands, you will pass through migration where it is required to pay up to a $100 park entry fee. Be sure to bring cash with you, the migration office only accepts cash payments for these fees.
Take a Cruise
Once you arrive on the islands, you will be enamored by the shimmery blue water, desert land, and natural greenery. The best ways to enjoy the islands are by cruise or “a la carte.” You can book a cruise in advance starting around $3000 per person. This option is not the most budget-friendly, but if your schedule is flexible, you may be able to book a last-minute cruise for under $2000. There are several last-minute cruise-booking agencies available online.
Explore A la Carte
I opted to discover Galapagos “a la carte,” which saved me hundreds of dollars versus taking a cruise! I stayed on the main island of Santa Cruz, easily accessed from Baltra for around $15 with a mix of buses, ferries, and shared taxis. Santa Cruz features a variety of complimentary attractions for everyone to enjoy.
Start your morning around 6 AM and take a quick trip via water taxi to Las Grietas. This blue-water cove is on a small island near Santa Cruz. The morning sun illuminates the water to an exquisite turquoise, and you will beat the crowds if you visit early in the morning.
Continue on your outdoor adventure by heading back to Santa Cruz to Tortuga Bay. The sea lions playfully swim around you as you wade in the sparkling blue ocean. After relaxing on the beach, make your way to the Charles Darwin Research Station where you can learn more about the famous Galapagos tortoises, research, and conservation efforts achieved by the scientists from around the world that work there.
Venture off of Santa Cruz Island and delve into the exciting biodiversity and marine life throughout Galapagos. Book a guided tour upon arrival and be sure to negotiate the price down to around $90-$120. My favorite tour was to Isabela Island, where I snorkeled with Galapagos penguins, sharks, stingrays, sea lions, and an array of fish and saw the renowned Blue-footed boobies, flamingos, tortoises, iguanas, pelicans, and bright red crabs. If you decide to explore on your own, you will not have access to all of the areas featured on a guided tour.
Where to Eat
A great way to save money on dining is by visiting traditional restaurants instead of the mainstream restaurants frequented by tourists on Santa Cruz Island. A short ten-minute walk past the tourist center and into the local neighborhood of the island will allow you to enjoy classic dishes of meat or fish with rice, beans, and natural juice for around $4 per meal at the small restaurants for locals. You will also notice fresh fruit stands along the side streets. The most exciting part about venturing into the local neighborhoods was connecting with the Galapagos’ culture and experiencing the everyday pace of life.
I was able to enjoy this exotic destination on a four-day trip for less than $1200 including airfare. The incredible biodiversity, natural coexistence of wildlife and humans, and glistening blue-green water are like nothing I have seen anywhere else! Final travel tip: bring a waterproof Go-pro camera to capture spectacular underwater videos of the Galapagos marine life. ¡Buen viaje!