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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
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.
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.
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!
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.
In San Cristobal:
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.
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.
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.
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!
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?