One of the most asked questions after I came back from the Galapagos Islands was, “How much did it cost?”. As Galapagos is one of the top destinations in South America, I understand why people have the idea that the final price is more than what they are willing to pay; it’s basically the same idea for Machu Pichu and Patagonia. However, if you are willing to do a little more research and hard work, you will see that (just like any other place) there is a way to do the Galapagos Islands on a budget. I was there for 7 days and I managed to spend around 600 USD in total (including the 100 USD entry fee and 20 USD fee for the Transit Control Card). Curious on how I did it?
Before we continue, I think it is important to point out that Galapagos is one of the world’s top destination and guarded tourism site. That being said, do not expect to get the same budget prices that you will find in mainland South America. Also, this break down does not include the flight tickets. Why? Because flight tickets vary from time to time. I went there during high season, because I specifically wanted to celebrate New Years in the Galapagos Islands (best decision ever!), and my flight ticket from Guayaquil to Baltra came out to be 400 USD.
Cruise or DIY tour
There are 2 main ways to explore the Galapagos Islands: cruise/organized tour and a DIY tour. If you pre-book a cruise, chances are the prices will be around 2000 USD and for 5-6 days only. However, if you are willing to arrive in Quito or the islands directly and book a last minute cruise, the prices will be lower and you can get the best value. But…that wasn’t my style.
I took the second option; I DIY-ed my one week trip, and I would definitely recommend the same for you. The main reason to this is the ability to stay on any island you choose, for as long as you choose. I spent my week in Isabela and Santa Cruz. Why did I choose these islands in particular? Isabela is the largest island in the archipelago, but it has the least amount of population. Therefore, less people and more animals. Santa Cruz was the main island, and by staying there, I got to see more of the commercially local side of Galapagos. I was also there for the New Years celebration; had it not been the New Years, I might have skipped that island altogether and stayed in San Cristóbal instead.
Accommodation and food
There are plenty of hotels and hostels to stay in during your travels in the Galapagos Islands. For me personally, I stayed in shared bedrooms in hostels. The average price that a traveler might get for a shared room in the Galapagos is 12-25 USD. For my hostel in Isabela, called Posada del Caminante, I payed 15 USD for the shared room. As for the one in Santa Cruz, Hostal Gardner, I payed 22 USD for a shared bedroom, but it also included a nice breakfast. I met travelers who actually paid cheaper for their rooms, but I was happy with what I got. If you’d like a more budget friendly option, you can go around and ask the prices. Who knows, maybe there are better offers?
When it came to food, I always tried to stay on a budget and ordered los menus (consisting of soup, main dish and juice). In Isabela, menus cost 5-7 USD. In Santa Cruz, there are menus for 4 USD. Note that the budget friendly food in Santa Cruz are mostly located in a street called Los Kioscos. As for Isabela, there is not as much options for food compared with Santa Cruz. So, I tried to buy ingredients and cooked at my hostel some of the time.
Side note: If you stay at Santa Cruz, head to the ice cream on Los Kioscos. You can get an ice cream for a dollar, and I swear it’s worth it. To the 3 guys that introduced me to that ice cream shop, if you’re reading this, thank you 🙂
Things to do in the Galapagos Islands
When I was doing my research, I searched for the free things I could do on the islands. It turns out that there are many activities that you can do for free on each island! Some days I would rent snorkel gears for 5 USD, other days I would just walk around to lagoons and beaches. During my whole trip, I only took one organized tour to the lava tunnels (los tuneles) in Isabela, which cost 120 USD. It was an amazing trip, because I got the chance to see penguins, sharks, sting rays, etc. Anyways, what I’m trying to point out here is that there are many budget friendly options and being in a tour is optional (unless you are there to scuba dive, maybe).
Now you know
Based on my experience and experiment, now you know that doing the Galapagos Islands on a budget is indeed possible. So, don’t let the price tag scare you! Go and explore this magnificent archipelago, because it will be one of the most amazing experiences of your entire existence. I hope this article helps, and as always, happy travels!