Exploring the Galapagos Islands on a tight backpacker’s budget is possible! For just $1,000 including airfare, lodging, food and excursions, you can visit the islands without sacrificing experience.
A lot of people have been asking me how in the world I was able to afford an 8-day adventure to the Galapagos on a teacher’s-stipend budget. My parents paid thousands of dollars for a luxury boat and a top-notch naturalist guide, and were both amazed and skeptical of budget travel. The majority of people view the Galapagos as an enormous splurge– my mom has been talking about visiting the Galapagos for over ten years. The idea of visiting a secluded, untouched island chain, thousands of miles from any mainland, containing animals completely unique to the islands is exotic, that is for sure. I had honestly not considered visiting the islands based on my perception of its expenses.
However, after further research my roommate and I decided to take the plunge. We were confident that we could visit the islands for around $1,000. Did I think that I would sacrifice some of the authenticity by not affording all of the excursions? Absolutely. But, I figured that just being on the islands would be a remarkable experience in itself.
I am so pleased to report back that I did not sacrifice a single thing by traveling on a budget. I consulted with my parents after their live-aboard boat experience, and we saw the exact same things! The truth of the matter is that the wildlife and landscape is what makes the Galapagos such a unique place, and both of those things are free. The water is teeming with life, and the landscape is begging to be explored.
We flew Avianca (which I am convinced is the absolute best airline in the world) and got a pretty good deal—most of the flights were over $400, although our friend paid only $300. Expect to pay somewhere between $350 and $450 for the flight. We flew Quito—Guayaquil—Baltra. There are no direct flights from Quito to the Galapagos.
Park Entrance Fee– $100
This is a non-negotiable fee to enter the national park. Upon arriving at the airport, be sure to have $100 in cash ready! For Ecuadorian nationals I believe that the fee is only $30. In reality, $100 is a small price to pay for the preservation of the islands.
There are TONS of budget lodging options available on Santa Cruz! We arrived hot and exhausted from a day of travel, ready to explore, so we grabbed the first hostel that we could find (Hotel Salinas). This hostel served our purpose. It was $20 a night, provided a very large although basic private 3-person room with hot water. That was absolutely all that we needed. The location was also perfect, as it was a mere block from the central drag of restaurants and the port. Puerto Ayora was our home base for the duration of the trip, so it was nice to have somewhere to unpack for a few days.
Although the majority of our time was spent on Santa Cruz, we did venture for a few nights to Isabella. We booked a three-day, two-night excursion that included our lodging, so it is listed under excursions.
When we returned after a few days on Isabella, we stayed at a smaller family owned hostel that was a mere 5-10 minute walk from town. This hostel was only $15 a night and was quite a bit nicer than the other hostel.
We ate very simply throughout our trip, and I think that is what made the difference.
Our breakfasts were a croissant from the local supermarket and a Nescafe coffee. We snacked on granola bars that we had brought with us, and had a few almuerzos, or lunches that include a juice, soup, chicken and rice for around $4 (which is more than most almuerzos are on the mainland). Food was more expensive on the islands, for the obvious reason that many of the products are imported. Our dinner’s cost between $5-$8 with the exception of our last night on the island when we splurged for lobster! Lobster was in season, and an enormous one cost us $30 that we were able to split 3 ways. We really avoided the touristic restaurants on the main street by the water, which were all very expensive.
This was the part of our trip that we found the most important, and thus the most expensive. There are so many free things to do on the islands (check out my other blog posts for more information on exactly what I did), however each island is unique. We thought that it was important to visit a few other islands to really get the feel for the Galapagos. I do not think that I could have spent an entire 8 days on Santa Cruz—there were just too many other things to do!
$100—Pinzon excursion. For me, the most interesting pieces of the islands are in the water. We were able to see quite a few things snorkeling from shore, but I really wanted to explore some different water with a snorkel excursion. We initially saw this excursion offered for $120-$140 so we were able to talk the company down quite a bit.
$60—Ferry from Santa Cruz to San Cristobal. This is a pretty non-negotiable price. To get from Santa Cruz to either San Cristobal or Isabella the price is $60 round trip. After paying this, we explored San Cristobal without a tour.
$200—Three-day, two-night excursion to Isabella. This excursion included almost everything, from a very nice hotel room, to two excursions (one half day of the bay area and one trek to the Sierra Negra volcano) and most meals. We did have to pay for a few meals, but that was really it. Again, in our down time we found other free things to do. We did this with the same company as our Pinzon excursion, so they gave us a $20 discount on it as well.
You could easily cut all of these excursions out and save quite a bit of money. However, I think that you would really miss a lot. There is so much more to the Galapagos than Santa Cruz!
Additionally, do try to barter your excursions! We went to many different agencies to try to see what their excursions looked like (they were pretty much all the same) and what the prices were. By booking more than one through the same company you can save some money, and you can also customize your trip.
We spent a few extra dollars on things such as alcohol, snorkel gear, a surfboard, water taxis, and a docking fee on Isabella.
** When visiting the Galapagos, do have lots of $1 coins ready. Every time you get on a boat, even just to get onto your ferry, you will have to pay a water taxi. I found this extremely irritating.
So, there you have it—we were able to do everything that we wanted on the Galapagos for only $1,080. There are obviously some things that you could cut out of the itinerary, but I would not change a thing. Visiting the Galapagos on a tight budget is completely possible!