How to Visit the Galapagos on a Budget

The Galapagos Islands don’t need much of an introduction as they are probably one of the most desirable destinations for travelers. The wildlife and the amazing scenery are incredible and you won’t be bored even if you visit it more than once.

In fact, I’m actually dying to revisit the Galapagos again soon, whether it’s a luxury or budget trip.

While many people are turned away by the high price of the cruises offered by tour companies, I’ve done Galapagos without a cruise. It was totally a budget trip to the Galapagos as there are ways to visit different islands without breaking the bank.

How to Visit Galapagos on a Budget: Without a Cruise

Galapagos on a budget
Do you want to visit me?

Find Cheap Flights to the Galapagos Islands

If you’re planning on visiting the Galapagos Islands you shouldn’t skip the mainland of Ecuador as well. It offers plenty of attractions and you won’t be disappointed. Not without a reason, Ecuador is probably my favorite country in South America and I’ve been almost everywhere on that continent.

The only way to get to the Galapagos is to fly to one of two airports – Baltra and San Cristobal. Flights leave from Guayaquil or Quito (with a layover in Guayaquil), so my best tip would be to start in one of these cities.

The best way to score a cheap flight is a last-minute purchase 2-5 days before your departure. There are ALWAYS flights available and by making a last-second purchase at a local travel agency, you might be able to save up to $200.

The flights aren’t cheap and I’m not going to lie, the minimum you are going to spend is around $350, so every possible discount makes a difference.cheap trip to the Galapagos

Where to Go in the Galapagos on a Budget?

If you decide to skip a pricy cruise and explore Galapagos independently, you don’t need to be confined to just one island.

People actually do live in the Galapagos – about 25,000 of them! Many of them run guesthouses and hotels, so there’s plenty to choose from. 

You can easily maneuver between local islands by small boats. Ferries between the islands are only $30 each, and you can find accommodation and activities for a lot less on land.blue footed boobie


Getting to Puerto Ayora from Baltra Airport

Baltra is a tiny island located right next to Santa Cruz Island with nothing but an airport. No matter if you’re going on a cruise or want to stay on the mainland, you need to get to the capital of the Galapagos – Puerto Ayora.

After you pay your statutory $100 fee at the airport for entry to the national park, you can proceed to the minibusses that will take you to the ferry terminal. Both the 10-minute ferry ride and the minibus are $1. But right after you’ll have to pay $10 for transportation to Puerto Ayora.

There are a couple of big bus companies to choose from and the price is set, but if you feel like you don’t want to spend your first hour in the Galapagos on a big bus there are also many taxis waiting.

The whole process is very smooth and there is no need to stress about it. The bus can drop you off at your hotel or at the port, whichever you choose.

seals Galapagos
Interacting with friendly locals!

Where to Stay on a Budget in the Galapagos

Staying in Puerto Ayora will give you a unique opportunity to interact with the locals and see a town invaded by iguanas and seals. This cute little town has a great nightlife, a lot of local and international restaurants, and plenty of things to do in and around!

There are lots of places to recommend in Puerto Ayora, but Captain Max B&B is an affordable funky spot. Some rooms even have a hammock in addition to a bed.

There is also a lovely guesthouse called Galapagos Best Hostel which was basic but even cheaper. The Canadian owner and his local wife were both extremely helpful and he gave every new person a tour around town right upon arrival.

When in San Cristobal, there’s Galapagos Sunset House, just opposite the pier.  

For Isla Isabela, your best bet would be Hostal Cerro Azul. It’s a pretty good place to stay given that there aren’t as many options on Isabela, as elsewhere in the Galapagos.

Puerto Ayora


Enjoy Free Activities

There are plenty of free activities in the Galapagos. Not only they’re enjoyable, but also will save you a bunch. I was able to spend a few days without having to pay extra for anything but meals and drinks.

In Santa Cruz Island:

Wildlife Spotting

You’ll be amazed by the amount of wildlife just hanging out everywhere. You can stroll around Puerto Ayora and see seals and iguanas hanging out at random spots. 

I highly recommend visiting a fish market in the morning to see a bunch of giant pelicans trying to catch a piece of fish.iguana in Galapagos

wildlife Galapagos Islands

Tortuga Bay

I was advised to go there by a friend and it was easily my favorite spot on the island. I saw some people doing tours there, which was absolutely not necessary. 

Tortuga Bay is an isolated white-sand beach with turtles and iguanas swimming around. You can even meet blue footed boobies there. The hike there is long and has no facilities, so don’t forget to bring a bunch of water, snacks, a towel and everything else you might need.tortuga bay

Las Grietas

Las Grietas is just a short detour from Tortuga Bay. It’s a geological formation of natural pools. The water is freezing there if you ask me, but if you’re jumping in like local boys you’ll get used to cold temperature pretty quickly.

It gets pretty busy in the afternoon with groups, so you might want to come early enough. 

Personal Tip: Walking away from Las Grietas you’ll see a pier full of boats. On the left side of it there are many sea lions and turtles swimming around and this is where local companies offer tours.

If you bring your own snorkel, you can ask some locals where is the best spot to jump in. No need to go far to experience it!

free things to do in the Galapagos

Charle

A walking distance from Puerto Ayora downtown you’ll see Charles Darwin Research Station. It’s your to-go spot to see the giant tortoises, that Galapagos is known for. 

Unfortunately, Lonesome George has passed away in 2012, but there are other big guys to see there, along with a museum.

giant tortoise

In San Cristobal:

La Loberia

Imagine a beach full of sea lions sunbathing! La Loberia is easily one of the top favorite spots of many travelers. You can swim, snorkel, even surf there if waves are big enough. 

You can walk there for about 30 minutes, or take a $3 taxi to reach the beach. If you want to swim, you might want to rent a wetsuit.la Loberia galapagos


Book Last Minute Excursions

A lot of travelers come to the Galapagos without a plan, so purchasing a last-minute 1 or 2-day cruise isn’t a problem. Moreover, booking them in Puerto Ayora and not on the mainland will save you a lot of money. Sometimes up to 50% off!

Tours range from $80 to $150, including lunch and snorkeling or kayaking. The bigger cruise ships usually stop on the bigger islands but smaller day cruises will allow you to visit the tiny uninhabited islands with even more fascinating scenery.

During my excursions to Isla Plazas I had a chance to wander around the wildlife with only 10 other people. Isla Plazas is an amazing place with a surface resembling Mars – red sand and rocks, with plenty of blue-footed boobies that are not as easy to spot as one might think.

Isla Plazas
Isla Plazas – very Mars looking place!

 


Total Budget for Galapagos Islands Trip

It’s hard to say exactly how much one would spend in the Galapagos Islands. Including the flight, I suggest having at least $850 for 5 days, excluding diving (diving is between $150-200 per dive, so keep this in mind).

The most expensive thing on the islands is food, but it’s still only 70% as expensive as in Europe or the US. If you’re still considering opting for a Galapagos cruise instead of the mainland on a lower budget, do it. 

Perhaps include a few more days at the end of your trip and take some time to explore the local towns.SDC12671


Other Important Tips for Visiting Galapagos

1. Get Yourself Some Good Sunscreen

My most important tip for visiting the Galapagos Islands may sound a bit silly but believe me, you’ll thank me for it later. Use sunscreen everywhere! The intensity of the sun in the Galapagos is different than anywhere else in the world.

I actually did use SPF-50 sunblock! I wasn’t sunbathing, I wasn’t even fully exposed to the sun. It was just a simple walk around town in my t-shirt, plus an hour or two of kayaking at Tortuga Bay. It seems like my sunblock didn’t matter as I had severe burns pretty much all over my back and arms!

My skin looked horrifying! Because of my tight schedule, I had to spend over 20h on planes with my back stuck to the seat. Every time I got up it looked like I left another human on the seat – that’s how much skin I was losing!

sunburn Galapagos
Blame Galapagos! 😉

2. Arrange your Travel Insurance

For sunburns and other complications, it’s useful to have travel insurance. The easiest and the most reliable travel insurance is World Nomads Travel Insurance. Get it before your trip to avoid unnecessary troubles that might ruin your holidays!

3. Bring Your Own Snorkeling Equipment

Galapagos has wildlife everywhere. In many spots, including entrance free places there will be people who rent snorkeling equipment for a fee. If you want to save up, you might want to bring your own snorkeling equipment. You can get a cheap foldable one like this on Amazon.

Any questions about visiting Galapagos on a budget? 

62 thoughts on “How to Visit the Galapagos on a Budget”

  1. Totally agreed. The Galapagos doesn’t have to cost a fortune. I lived and worked there for 2, 5 months for a tour operator and there is definitely a lot to do without having to book a cruise.
    In terms of airport transportation. On San Cristobal, you only catch a taxi into town which costs you 2USD.

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  2. It’s not only the sun in galapagos it is whole Ecuador! Becaude of the equatorial buldge it is closer to the sun and hence the sun is stronger. I burned my face whilst trekking in Quito on a cloudy day! I ended up buying sunscreen with 80 SPF! Before coming to Ecuador I didn’t even know that sunscreens like that exist! 😉

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  3. I was thinking of going to Galapagos when I was travelling in Ecuador – the costs seemed high but I checked my account and then I thought that it wasn’t that I always dreamt of visiting the place, I dreamt of diving there and that I couldn’t really afford it then.
    I was afraid that if I go, I might not return in the future, so I decided to wait. I’m still waiting, but I’m sure I’ll get there ine day.

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  4. I burn even with 100 SPF. So I will be packing it when I finally make it to Galapagos. Thanks so much for this post, I am bookmarking it. I am pretty positive this will be my next BIG trip.

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  5. Hey, love this post. Very helpful. I’m looking at going next year. Just wondering how much was your accommodation? Was it expensive?

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  6. Thank you for this post. The Galapagos (without a cruise) where on my list for a while. Your article helped to see what’s possible. Oh, and the sun: when I was in Costa Rica it only took 30 minutes between two scuba dives to recolor my back.
    Be safe & happy travels!

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  7. First I’ve heard about booking Galapagos tours yourself while you’re there already. I long to go but the costs have seemed extreme. This sounds like a more authentic adventure too. Thanks!

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  8. Te foczki i iguana wyglądają bardzo sympatycznie… 😀

    Galapagos brzmi bardzo egzotycznie i kojarzyło mi się zawsze z bardzo niedostępnym miejscem, ale po tym jak opisałaś jak się tam dostać może warto spróbować… tym bardziej że planuję Amerykę Południową za jakiś czas i w tym Ekwador…

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    • I’m sorry Marcin, but since Anna lives abroad and (if you would see her other stories and places visited) her target, I mean, readers, are not only Poles, I don’t understand why couldn’t she write in English? It’s a bit like you would live in Manitoba province in Canada and decide to start a blog about farming in cold Canadian areas. You would like more Canadians to see your stories, but since your routs are Polish, you would persist to write in Polish. Your audience back in Poland would not really be interested in farming in far Canada and your fellows Canadians would not understand what you write, because you write in Polish. You know… vicious cirle!

      I actually think that it’s good that some Poles write in English as people around the world can see that Poles are not only work immigrants, but also enjoy their life, wherever they are. Thank you.

      Reply
      • Thanks Marcin! I also want to add that I speak Polish, but after over a decade spent abroad my written Polish isn’t as good as my English anymore, so I’m pretty sure noone would ever read this blog in Polish 😉

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  9. I enjoy reading your post so much! Your tips are valuable indeed! Gonna bookmark it as my reference! Thanks for sharing these great tips with us here

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  10. we are just flying to Ecuador this weekend from Panama. Thanks Anna for your short info.
    We’re planning to stay in Quito 3days and then definitely to fly to Galapagos. Did you by any chance , take a ferry to any of these islands? How much time do we need to see all the interesting things on Santa Cruz Island? Is it really only 2 miles from the hotel you stayed, to Darwin Research Center and Tortuga Bay?

    Reply
    • Yes, I took a ferry – it wasn’t an issue. Darwin Research Center was a walking distance away. To get to the Tortuga Bay it’s quite a hike, so don’t forget to bring water as there’s nothing once you enter the national park.

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  11. Anna,
    We are planning a trip in June. I am so excited after reading your posts. I actually booked the airfare first, then started looking at the tours. I thought, oh no, I can’t really afford to go to these islands. But now, I feel like we can definitely explore. The cruises are so expensive and I didn’t think we would be able to see as much of the natural terrain, if we were only cruising. Do you suggest staying on the one island and taking day trips, or moving to different islands? We are planning to be there 6 days.

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      • We visited Galapagos December 2016. We did not use the cruises. It is much cheaper to take a daily trip or 2-3 days trips to different islands, you need 2-3 days for Isabela (they have some motels there). We stayed mostly on Santa Cruz Island in Puerto Ayora. In the Marina, there are every day different trips to different Islands. You can book by yourself when you arrive there! You have to pay $10 the entrance fee per person, when you arrive on every island, besides the $100 entrance fee to the Galapagos Park. All only in cash. You need a cash on the Galapagos everywhere, but they have an MTA in Puerto Aroya. When you arrive to Isabela Island, for example, there are guides there, or you can request a guide before you leave your island, which is the best, so you know for sure, you have a place. The best way is to fly to Baltra ( airport of Santa Cruz Island), visit what you can there and close by Islands , then take a boat to San Cristobal Island, stay 2-3 days and go back to mainland from there.

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        • Hi,
          Did you book your accommodation and island trips ahead of time. I am used to booking my accommodation ahead of time. But your suggestion of visiting other island 2-3 days is something I would really like to do. Just wondering if you book hotel for the entire trip in Santa Cruz and then book another hotel in island you are visiting on day trips.

          Thank you.

          Reply
  12. Thank you for the great suggestions! I was so worried about not shelling out $$$$ for cruise tours ahead of time. But, we traveling off-season and will take our chances.

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  13. I am assuming I would fly into Baltra and stay in Puerto Ayora. How many days would you budget to get a good picture of the the islands-diving, snorkelling, tortoises, other islands, etc.? I would look into staying in a private house.

    Thanks for an excellent article.

    Reply
      • It depends how many Islands she wants to visit. I would say at least 4 days, but a week is a more realistic if you want to spend some time on diving and snorkeling and to not get yourself exhausted.

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        • I see your point and of course, it depends on many factors. But to be completely honest if you want to visit everything, snorkel, dive you might spend a month there and still feel like it wasn’t enough 😉 I recently had a friend visit Galapagos and I recommended him a week. He told me later that he regretted staying a week because everything was too expensive for him out there. That’s why I started recommending 4 days for a limited budget.

          Reply
  14. Nice post, sorry about the sunburn!

    I would suggest adding a little information about park rules, especially for people who are not working with guides on the inhabited islands. The main rule to be concerned with is that of not touching animals or getting too close or feeding them. Even if locals ignore this, they are still breaking the rules inside the park and put the animals and the environment at risk. You must not be closer than 2 meters (about 6 feet) at any time from all wildlife. I’m sure we all want this wonderful and fascinating paradise to last – don’t feel that you don’t make a difference, because you do! We all do.

    So with that in mind, I hope everyone has a wonderful trip!

    Reply
  15. What time of year did you visit? Do you think November is a good time? Or should I stick to the more reliable January?

    Thanks

    Reply
  16. Hi Anna;

    Thank you for the information.

    Me and my husband are planning a budget trip to Galapagos Islands and we are looking for information on how to get to smaller islands (the ones that do not have an airport) like Isla Fernandina, Floreana and Pinzon.

    Are the boats to get us to smaller islands or we have to book day trips?

    Thank you.

    Reply
    • I know that it’s not possible to visit Fernandina Island from a land-based tour I’m afraid. Not sure about others, but technically you could ask around whether someone could take you there.

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  17. It’s been a long time coming and a lot of planning but we’re finally going to Galapagos this June and after reading your blog my excitement levels have just rocketed!! Your info regarding the sun is invaluable to me as I’ve had skin cancer so have to be very careful. Looks like I’ll be using the SPF ‘blanket’ for this trip!! Thank you Anna for all your blogs and tips, they are always so informative 🤗

    Reply

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