The Galapagos Archipelago, also known as Darwin’s living laboratory, is home to an abundance of wildlife, both on land and underwater.
Thanks to their isolation from the mainland for millions of years, animals here evolved into their own species to come with their unique environment.
Galapagos has been one of the highlights of my round the world trip, and it is a place I would return every time I have the chance. These volcanic islands, while they are at the top of many bucket lists, they have the fame of being extremely expensive.
Many people see them as a dream destination, far away from reality, but the truth is that these islands can be visited on a budget and many backpackers like me visit them too.
Here I want to share with you everything I know about traveling Galapagos with a small budget.
How to Get to the Galapagos Islands Cheaply
The best way to get to Galapagos is by flying from mainland Ecuador – from either Quito or Guayaquil, with the latter often being cheaper. Check LATAM Airlines and TAME as they often have cheap flights, going for as low as $250 round-trip.
Normal airfares range from $300 to $500 round-trip (I paid $324 with LAN from Guayaquil). I would recommend following LATAM Airlines’ newsletter for deals, as they often offer discounted airfares throughout all of South America.
I also recommend using WayAway to find these cheap flights to the Galapagos (either from Ecuador or your home country).
Not only WayAway offers cheap flights on their search engine, but if you’re part of their WayAway Plus membership, they also offer cashback on your bookings for flights, hotels, car rentals, tours, and more.
This cashback is sent to you via PayPal, ranging from 3% to 10% of your bookings. When you do the math, you can easily save hundreds of dollars on your trip. Additionally, they offer premium support to help you navigate your questions and plan your trip to the Galapagos.
Now, regarding the flight schedule to the Galapagos, there are several flights a day arriving both at San Cristobal Island and Baltra Island. The airport in Baltra is the one that will connect you to Santa Cruz Island, which is the most developed island in all Galapagos.
In Santa Cruz, you’ll find Puerto Ayora, which is the most populated town, and while it is big and most things happen there, it is still quite small in comparison to mainland cities. It is also the main port from where most cruises and day tours depart.
San Cristobal Island, on the other hand, is less developed than Santa Cruz, yet it is the capital of the Galapagos and another departure point for cruises – located in the town of Puerto Baquerizo Moreno.
When flying to Galapagos, make sure to know from which island your cruise is departing – should you choose that option.
Entry Requirements to the Galápagos Islands
All national or foreign tourists must show the following documents prior to entering the province of Galapagos:
- A Return airline ticket or bus ticket proving you’re departing Ecuador. (it is preferred you have a return ticket departing the Galápagos Islands)
- Reservation in a hotel or cruise tour that matches the dates of your return airline ticket. If you’re only showing a bus ticket departing Ecuador, then you must also show a hotel reservation for any additional days in Ecuador until your bus departure. OR…
- A letter of invitation to enter as a guest of a permanent or temporary resident in the Galapagos Islands for no more than 60 days per year (a limit outlined in the Special Law for Galapagos). The letter must come from the resident – not from the visitor.
- A Transit Control Card (TCC), also known in Spanish as TCT Galapagos (“tarjeta de control de transito”). The TCC is issued by the Galapagos Governing Council and can be acquired at their INGALA booth at the airports in Quito or Guayaquil with your valid plane ticket to the Galapagos Islands. The current fee is $20, payable only in cash. Please make sure that the bills are not torn. At the end of your trip, you must turn in your TCC. If you’ve pre-booked your flights to Galapagos with your Galapagos cruise, it’s possible your tour company pre-booked the TCC too. Check with them.
- Upon arriving in Galapagos, you will pay a $100 National Park entrance fee, payable only in cash. Again, please make sure that the bills are brand new, crisp, and not torn. This fee is to maintain the national park, help local communities, and support projects focusing on education, environment, health, and more.
- Once in the Galapagos, your passport will be checked, as well as your luggage for organic goods (to avoid biohazards or infestations caused by fruit flies, bacteria, or similar). It is important you keep the receipt of the entrance fee, as you may need to show it before you go on board the ship.
For How Long Should You Stay in the Galápagos Islands?
It all depends on what you’re interested in doing and how much you want to see. But, in my opinion, you shouldn’t be there for less than five full days (not including travel days). I would suggest more like seven or eight full days.
Cruises range from 4-days, 5-days, 8-days, and more. But a thing you must know is that a 4-day cruise only has two full days in other islands because the 4-days includes the departure and arrival days too. So, I don’t recommend doing 4/5-days cruise.
Target for an 8-days tour (or longer) to enjoy a bigger variety of islands and some less visited, more pristine ones.
When is the Best Time to Visit Galapagos Islands?
December to May – Warm and Semi-rainy Season (THE OPTIMAL SEASON)
The best time of the year to visit the Galápagos Islands is from December to May.
While the Galápagos is gorgeous year-round, these months offer the best temperature, ranging from the mid-70s to mid-80s Fahrenheit (23 to 30 Celsius).
It’s normal to have frequent yet short showers during these months, but still, the weather is perfect for hiking and wildlife spotting since the sun is out most days.
April and May are the best months to see the blooming wildflowers and enjoy the beautiful spring weather.
Ironically, while this is one of the best seasons to visit the Galapagos, it is one of the lowest, tourism wise. You could take advantage of last-minute discounts.
June to November – Cooler and Dry Season
The months of June and November offer cooler temperatures thanks to the Humboldt Current, a current that runs north-westward along South America’s west coast.
But, with that current also comes the nutrient-rich water that attracts rare fish and birds.
The average temperature ranges in the low to high 70s Fahrenheit (21 to 26 Celsius)
This means you’ll be able to spot albatrosses and penguins during this time of year. On the other hand, it is common to have longer rain showers and stronger winds, resulting in rougher seas.
The months of July to September have choppier waters, with September being the roughest.
Best Months to see Wildlife in the Galapagos
If you’re really into penguins, nesting takes place between May and January, so make sure to visit during those months.
While you can see sea lions year-round, if you want to see baby sea lions you must go between August and January. This is the period when most of them are born.
The pups stay with their mothers for up to three years, so it’s common seeing a mother with two pups at the same time.
The mating season for most land birds, sea lions, and sea turtles happens between December and May. You’ll notice a lot of newborn wildlife around March and April, with the sea lions extending to August forward.
Between June to November, you’ll see Blue-Footed Boobies and Frigate Birds getting busy with their excentric courtship displays and nesting.
Best time to go diving in the Galapagos Islands
For diving, you can do it year-round too, but what you see will vary depending on the season.
While January to May falls within the rainy season, this season has the calmest weather and seas. This is also the best time to see Hammerhead sharks and Manta Rays. The water temperature is usually between 68 to 77 Fahrenheit (20-25 Celsius).
On the other hand, July to December -the dry season, also known as “garua”- sees less rain but offers cooler water temperatures between 62 to 68 Fahrenheit (17-20 Celsius).
Visibility is usually poorer due to the increased nutrients in the water, but it’s usually a 50 feet+ visibility (15+ meters).
The months of June to November are the peak season to see the Whale Sharks.
When to Avoid visiting the Galapagos Islands
As I mentioned, you can go year-round and will have an amazing time there, having said that, there’s the peak tourism season and key dates you should skip if you want to avoid the crowds.
July to August are the peak tourism months in the Galapagos, as they coincide with the US’ school vacation. Christmas, New Year’s, and Easter are also peak dates in the Galapagos.
If you’re looking to visit during those months, I highly recommend booking everything at least 4 to 6 months in advance.
Now, you must know that the government limits the number of travelers permitted on the islands at any given time, so keep that in mind and book things ahead of time, even if you’re visiting outside the peak season.
Galapagos on a Budget: What Are The Cheapest Ways To Travel Galapagos?
Here I’ll go from the cheapest to the most expensive, but at the same time these go from the “most restricted” to the “most varied.”
Volunteering in the Galapagos
You can volunteer in Galapagos! If you’re looking to spend a decent time on the islands and help with conservation efforts, then this might be a good opportunity to be there without necessarily spending a lot of money.
Some programs might include your room and board while others might not. You must check directly with each program to see what they offer and for how much.
It will be expected of you to work a few hours a day, but then you’ll have some time off to explore around. Of course, this means that you will spend most of your time on one island and only visit the other islands when you have a day or two off.
You can check the Galapagos Conservancy site and Go Overseas to search for current and recommended volunteering programs.
While this can be the cheapest way possible, the price range can go from almost nothing (if you couchsurf or find a cheap program) to a couple of thousand dollars.
Full DIY (Do It Yourself) Trip
A full DIY trip is the cheapest way most tourists do Galapagos. I recommend you don’t book your accommodation in advance unless you feel like you must do it or are going to the peak of high season or holidays (like Christmas or Easter week).
We arrived in Puerto Ayora with no accommodation booked and simply walked a few streets to scout for options.
I recommend walking along Av. Charles Darwin, Thomas de Berlanga Street, and Isla Plaza Street, which were the ones where I saw most budget accommodation options.
We found several that ranged from $20 a night per person with A/C to $10 a night per person with a fan. This is cheap for Galapagos, but if you book online, you’ll find nothing lower than $25 per person.
Still, whether you book walk-in or online, I recommend at least checking and reading the reviews on Booking’s list of best-value hotels in Puerto Ayora.
Among the most popular hotels and hostels I can recommend are:
- Semilla Verde Boutique Hotel – While more upscale, you get a lot of value for your money (Read TripAdvisor reviews here | Book Here!)
- Hospedaje Germania – This one is very budget-friendly without sacrificing quality. (Read TripAdvisor reviews here | Book Here!)
- Hotel Coloma Galapagos – Mid-range price, but also great value for your money. (Read TripAdvisor reviews here | Book Here!)
In addition to these previously mentioned Puerto Ayora hotels, I also recommend checking Booking.com’s best-value hotels in San Cristobal, Isabela, and Floreana.
While it is possible to find cheap accommodation, know that prices can go up to $500+ per room if you want to go fancy.
When searching around (both in person and online), make sure the room includes a fan or a/c and hot water in the price, as some of them don’t include hot water for the most budget rooms.
The same applies to San Cristobal, Isabela, and Floreana, which are the other three islands you can visit when you go full DIY. You can take speedboats between these islands, with Santa Cruz being the central connecting island.
The cost is $30 each way and the journey takes from two to three hours depending on the island, and sea conditions.
Usually, there are two scheduled speedboats to each island, with one in the morning around 7:00 am and one in the afternoon around 2:00 pm.
Eating Cheap in the Galapagos
Most sites say that you’re not allowed to take produce and fresh food into Galapagos. That’s not true for the most part.
There are certain restrictions on which kind of food you can bring, but, in general, you’re able to take most fruits, snacks, and other foods listed on this page.
Pay attention to the green list, which includes the items allowed into Galapagos. The yellow list is restricted, which means you can take them, as long as they comply with certain regulations. The red list is simply forbidden.
Dining out can be a bit expensive, but you can still find decently cheap eats at street markets and local restaurants.
In Santa Cruz, the street called Bordados El Alquimista is full of street-side restaurants with meals starting at $5.
I ate there a few times, and it was not only cheap but also delicious and they served good portions. Other restaurants might range from $10-$25 a meal.
There’s a supermarket by the port, and while it has moderate prices, it is not cheaper than bringing food from mainland Ecuador. Only buy there what you can’t bring yourself.
Doing Free or Very Cheap Stuff!
Contrary to popular belief, there is a lot of free and cheap stuff to do in Galapagos. Many of these can be reached walking, so your total cost will be $0 while others will require a taxi or ferry ride, but these are not too expensive.
Some activities, though, will require you to either hire a guide or pay for a tour, since they are located in protected areas. But, in some cases, guides can be avoided if you ask for permission in the national parks office on the island.
Budget and Free Activities for your DIY Trip to the Galapagos
Santa Cruz Island
- Charles Darwin Station: Located a short hike from Puerto Ayora, it has a turtle breeding area and interesting information about the conservation of the unique biosphere of the Galapagos. Free.
- Tortuga Bay: You can enjoy a 2.5 kilometers long trail from Puerto Ayora to reach this beautiful beach. There are two beaches in Tortuga Bay. One is Playa Brava, which is beautiful to see but not good for swimming due to the strong current; and the other is Playa Mansa, which is calm and perfect for snorkeling with small white tip sharks, as well as spotting a few marine turtles, pelicans, marine iguanas, and Blue Heron. It is open from 6:00 am to 6:30 pm. Free.
- German Beach: A very small mangrove beach good for snorkeling or just lying in the sand. Take a water taxi ($0.80) from Puerto Ayora to cross the docks (just a 2 minutes ride). It will leave you at the trail entrance that leads to the beach and Las Grietas.
- Las Grietas: A very cool natural swimming pool in a canyon. People used to jump from the top of the walls into the deep water, but it is no longer allowed. BUT, if you swim far from the guards, you might “get away with it.” Or if you show up around 9:00 am, before the guards arrive, you might be able to jump from near the entrance (where people used to do it). Of course, do it with caution. Free.
- Lava Tunnels: There are several lava tunnels that you can visit. The longest (up to 3 kilometers) are located on private property off farms near Bellavista or Santa Rosa. It cost $5 to visit. There is a small one about 2.5 kilometers out of Puerto Ayora on the road to Baltra, which can be visited for free.
- Los Gemelos: These are two sunken volcanic craters located in a cloud forest. Should you not want to stop there, you can still see them briefly from the car/bus window on the way to/from the airport as they are close to the road. Free.
- El Chato Tortoise Reserve: This reserve area has a few gigantic tortoises in the wild, unlike the ones at the Charles Darwin Center, which are enclosed. You can get up close to the giant tortoises and even try out wearing a tortoise shell! There’s a $3 entrance fee.
- Garrapatero Beach: A 35-minute drive from Puerto Ayora, then a 20-minute trail leads to this beach consisting of black lava, white sand, and a turquoise sea. Very good for swimming and snorkeling. There you can see blue-footed boobies, pelicans, crabs, and marine iguanas, as well as Bahama ducks and pink flamingos in the small lagoon and mangroves behind the beach. Camping is possible with a pre-arranged permit from the National Park office in Puerto Ayora.
From Puerto Ayora, you can hire a taxi for $30 to $45 to take you to El Chato, Los Gemelos, and the Lava Tunnels. Same applies to Garrapatero Beach, but there you must arrange a price and return pickup time.
- Concha de Perla: This is a natural pool good for snorkeling with manta rays, sea turtles, and playing with sea lions. You can even see penguins!
- Las Tintoreras: Las Tintoreras is a lagoon where white tip sharks come to rest. They can be seen from the trail, but it’s not allowed to go snorkeling in the lagoon. However, the snorkeling at the beach behind is excellent, and eagle rays and sea turtles can be seen here. It has also been declared part of the national park, so you need a guided tour to get there.
- Volcan Sierra Negra and Volcan Chico: Sierra Negra is one of five volcanoes on the island. It has the second largest crater in the world, and, when the weather is clear, the views of the crater rim are impressive. Tours can be arranged in Puerto Villamil for $75+ or if you want to camp or go without a guide, ask for permission at the park office in Puerto Villamil first.
- Los Tuneles: These are canals in the lava rocks with bridges and caves. Several big turtles, rays, and fish can be seen swimming in the canals and pools filled with seawater. Tours usually cost $70+ and include snorkeling at a similar nearby site where seahorses and sharks can be seen.
- Laguna Salinas: A pristine spot where you can view wildlife, including flamingos.
- Wall of Tears: A historical site created by prisoners who were forced to build this wall from 1945-1959. Thousands died during its construction, and their ghosts supposedly haunt the site.
- National Park Tortoise Reserve: Here, you’ll be able to see a species of tortoise that isn’t found anywhere else in the world.
San Cristobal Island
- Interpretation Center: An informational museum on the history and ecology of the Galapagos.
- Las Tijeretas: Located close to the Interpretation Center, it has an excellent lookout point at the top of the mountain and a cove below with great snorkeling spots to see turtles, sea lions, and various birds.
- Jacinto Gordillo Breeding Center of Giant Tortoises: A similar center to the Charles Darwin Center located in Santa Cruz.
- Playa Mann: One of the most popular beaches due to its central location and calm waters. There are many playful sea lions here.
- La Loberia: Located about a 30-minute walk from town, this beach has one of the largest colonies of sea lions in the Galapagos.
- El Junco: A freshwater lake inside an active volcano. You can hike around the rim of the volcano and explore some of the forest trails. A guide is required to visit it.
- Puerto Chino: A white sand beach with calm, clear waters and a lot of wildlife surrounded by unique rock formations. From the top of the big, black volcanic rock formation you’ll get aerial views of the clear water and marine life.
There are barely 125 inhabitants in Floreana, so the highlight there is to feel surrounded by nature. As in the other islands, there are great hikes, excellent wildlife spotting, and unique flora.
But, also, Floreana counts with a rich history. Post Office Bay is a great example.
The post office barrel you see there today has been in use since 1793; originally by whalers, now by tourists. Tourists leave a handful of postcards and in turn, they collect postcards left by others to be delivered in person (not mailed!).
Travelers often pick postcards from people living in their city or cities they will visit during their trip.
TripAdvisor has a more extensive list of things you can do on all islands, both free and paid.
A full DIY can cost you from $35 to $70 per day on average depending on how many activities you do, but as you saw, there are many budget-friendly options on each island.
DIY with Day Tours in the Galapagos
This is the way I did it since I wanted to visit some islands I couldn’t do on my own. While this type of trip allows you to go to more islands, you still cannot visit the islands further from Santa Cruz, due to the lack of time to tour them in a day.
If you’re going during the low season, you can play it by ear and wait to get to Galapagos to book your day tours. Bargain with the tour operators, especially if you’re doing more than one tour. This is what I did.
Day tour prices range from $80 (if you’re excellent at bargaining) to $200+.
The only time I’d advise to book online is if you’re going during high season (mid-June to early-September and mid-December to mid-January) since the number of tours running is limited to minimize the potential damage to the ecosystem (more on that below).
In that case, I’d recommend checking Viator, which has a few day and multi-day tours available, but yes, they are slightly more expensive than if you bargain in person.
Why would you pay for a day tour?
As beautiful as Santa Cruz, San Cristobal, Floreana, and Isabela are, there are other islands that are even more beautiful or that provide other snorkeling/diving and wildlife spotting opportunities.
I enjoyed my day tour to Bartolome, which has an iconic view that represents the volcanic nature of the Galapagos. It is not great for wildlife, but it is quite nice for snorkeling and diving.
I also visited North Seymour to see the Blue Footed Boobies, Frigate Birds, and other animals found there.
This tour, though, I wouldn’t recommend unless you want to see big colonies of such animals. I believe the price ($150+) is not worth it (unless you’re a naturalist).
Other Islands you can visit with day tours are Isabela, Floreana, Santa Fe, Pinzon, and San Cristobal.
In my opinion, it is not worth doing day tours to the islands you can visit on your own since they are best experienced by staying there at least a day or two.
How Day Tours Work?
Something you must take into account when planning your trip is that companies have a restricted schedule.
The National Park allows only a limited number of visitors per island, so each tour company can visit X or Y island a few days a week. So, if one company is not going to Bartolome today, another one will.
Additionally, tours are strict on what you’re allowed to do according to the permits they got from the National Park. If it is a land tour (land permit), you’re not allowed to touch the water, and vice versa with a water permit.
For example, during my diving tours, we were not allowed to stand even on the rocks by the shore of one of the islands. And on my North Seymour tour, we were not allowed to swim in the water since we were walking on the island to spot the birds.
A snorkeling tour by the beach, of course, allows you to walk on the beach and surrounding areas.
Based on personal experience, if you want to go to Bartolome, book it first thing after you arrive, as this tour is very popular and fills up quickly (sometimes days in advance).
A DIY with Day Tours kind of trip will cost you around $115 to $200 per day on average, depending on how many tours you do. I averaged $122.42 per day, including two dive tours and two land tours.
Best Tours in the Galapagos Islands
The following are some of the best Galapagos tours I did and I highly recommend doing if you’re booking things ahead:
- A Day Tour to Bartolome, with snorkeling! (Don’t miss visiting Bartolome, and book this one ahead of time or at least the very first day you get to the Galapagos. It gets fully booked all the time!)
- A Day Tour to Seymour Island (As I mentioned, this one is great for those interested in birds and wildlife)
- A Day Tour to Floreana Island with snorkeling and fishing.
- A Snorkeling with Sea Lions Tour!
There are a few budget multi-day tours available that while I didn’t do myself, seem to have pretty good reviews. These are some good options to see the Galapagos on a budget without having to plan everything yourself:
- 4 Days Galapagos on a Budget
- 4 Days Galapagos Express
- 6 Days Galapagos Island Hopping on a Budget
- 8 Days Galapagos Adventure
Don’t miss the diving tours…
Diving was the highlight of my trip to Galapagos. I did two dives in Gordon Rocks and two dives in Floreana. It is said that Gordon Rocks is one of the best, if not the best, dive you can do as a day trip.
There are better dives in Galapagos, of course, but these can only be reached with liveaboard cruises (which are awfully expensive).
On Gordon Rocks, you can see loads of marine life including marine turtles, manta rays, whitetip sharks, hammerhead sharks, and more. Close to it, you can also snorkel with sea lions (my favorite part of this particular dive trip).
In Floreana, I saw similar wildlife, except for the hammerhead sharks, and had a marvelous time diving with several playful sea lions.
Dive trips go for an average of $150 for two dives, and in the case of Gordon’s Rock, you must be an experienced diver (20+ dives) due to the strong currents there.
I did my dives with Albatros Tours, and I highly recommend them. Another company that I was recommended was Scuba Iguana.
The Gordon Rocks dive was one of my favorites and one that I highly recommend.
Last-Minute Cruises in the Galapagos Islands
Cruises fall on the higher end of the cost scale, but should you do your proper research and outreach, you might find affordable last-minute cruises worth doing.
Cruises are also the best way to reach those further islands day-trippers can’t visit and to see some of the most beautiful and untouched sceneries in Galapagos.
Expedia has a really good selection of last-minute Galapagos cruises.
I originally intended to see Galapagos by cruise, but after contacting a few agencies, the itineraries I got did not fully fit my interest in places I wanted to see.
Still, I got some pretty good quotes from them. Also, cruises don’t include diving in their activities though they do a lot of snorkeling.
Through emails and calls, I managed to find 4-day cruises from $730, 5-day from $780, and 8-day from $1,300. These prices didn’t include the airfare nor the park’s entrance fee.
It is said that you can find the best last-minute deals between a month and three weeks before your departure date, so have that in mind when searching for deals.
If you’re flexible on time, it is recommended just to arrive in Puerto Ayora and search there for a cruise, as it will be much cheaper. I did my “test search” and I didn’t find them much cheaper than from what I found through emails and phone calls.
These are the companies I called and emailed:
- Galapagos Tours Co.
- Imagine Ecuador – Of all the companies I contacted, they gave the best last-minute deals.
There’s also Galapagos Cruise Links, which is a site where you can contact the cruise owners directly, not an intermediary tour company. You can bargain with them for lower than what you see on the site. This site is a hit-n-miss depending on how willing the cruise owner is to discuss prices.
Also, Viator has a few last-minute cruises listed on their site. They may not be the cheapest, but they aren’t that expensive either.
Keep in mind that not all cruises are the same, and service varies depending on the category – from budget to luxury.
There are also other criteria you must have in mind when choosing a cruise, so to better understand them, check out the “Get Around” section of this Wikivoyage page.
Lastly, should you not want to fuss too much with planning and figuring things out with transport and cruises, then I highly recommend checking the excellent cruise tours offered by G Adventures and Intrepid Travel.
I’ve traveled with both companies several times (not to Galapagos, though), and both have an outstanding reputation all around the world and some of the best tours you can ask for.
A Few Extra Things You Must Know
- There’s a park entrance fee of $100 charged right at the airport in Galapagos.
- There’s an additional $20 “transit control” fee charged before checking in your flight in Guayaquil or Quito.
- Smoking is technically not allowed in the islands (since they are all a national park) though some people do discretely.
- It’s not possible to buy a one-way ticket without proof of transportation from the islands. While this is true, I spoke with travelers who managed to fly into Galapagos with only a one-way ticket (but maybe they were lucky). Buy a round-trip, and should you want to extend your time there, it is easy (and free if the price is the same) to change the date of your return ticket or to switch your departure to another island. This is true only if you bought your tickets directly at LATAM.com or Tame.com.ec (and not through an aggregator site like expedia.com and such).
Phew, this was a long post, but I shared here all my knowledge about Galapagos. And hey, it’s a once in a lifetime experience, so I want you to enjoy it just as much as I did!
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This is great! I’ve been wanting to visit for so long and seeing that it can be done independently makes me even more excited!
Thanks, Kristin! Yes, it can certainly be done independently. Worth every penny!
wow!I wanna be there 🙂
And you should go!
Amazing post. I have been planing to visit galapagos from long days. It is one of the best islands i have ever heard. Your post made me more intresting to visit the place in a very cheap way. Infact the underwater diving found pretty much intresting. The santha cruz island and isbela island are most stricking places. And found it marvelous trip advice for me. i make sure next time to visit the galapose in cheap budget plan.
This is so helpful, especially for younger people who want to travel on an entry-level salary! Great post.
Thanks for provide this blog!
When I decided to volunteer in Ecuador I knew that the Galapagos islands were a must-see, but I didn’t want to spend a large part of my budget on an expensive cruise. So I decided to try out the cheaper, less practiced option: fly to the archipelago, stay on the main island of Santa Cruz and do day trips to the surrounding islands.
While this can start off as a good idea, it’s very easy for the money to start vanishing. We met people who were spending two weeks on Santa Cruz and taking day trips almost every day: when you add up the $70+ day trip price, plus nightly dinners and accommodation, it starts to look like an all-inclusive cruise would be more economical!
My friend Sherri and I were certain we could get the majority of the Galapagos experience without the huge price tag – but obviously that comes at a price of its own. We didn’t eat a huge amount and when we did it wasn’t fancy meals; we walked most of the time and we hungrily searched out every free activity we could. But it worked!
Sounds pretty much like my experience! Once there I discovered that there are a lot of free things to do, so why not take advantage of them!
I’ve been wanting to go to the Galapagos for so long, but it’s so expensive! I’m thrilled I found your post to give me some insider tips to save some money.
Superb Posts- Galapagos minute deals are best for the travellers – Galapagos tours & trip planning. We provide the affordable prices and last minute deals for your Galapagos travel packages await you!
I am an Ecuadorian living in the states who loves to travel. Yes, you could travel to the Galapagos on your own, but from personal experience, a cruise is the way to go. Of course a very cheap cruise. The reason? cruises will take you to beaches or places only shown on National Geographic documentaries. There are beaches such as sombrero chino, las bachas or Gardner Bay (one of the most beautiful beaches in the world) which can only be accessed by cruises. Also cruises will take you to places where wildlife is abundant such as Punta Suarez in Espanola Island. If you are young, consider a cheap cruise since you will almost pay the same as if you were doing a budget backpack trip
How much could cost a budget cruise?
Great Post! Is it possible to travel cheap like this at the beginning of high season, mid june to mid july? Is it still possible to arrive on the islands without a reservation at this time of year?
Also, my spanish is limited, do enough of the tour office speak english? I try my best and my kids are more fluent than i am, but i find it can be intimidating.
Hi Greg –
When it is high season, you might have some luck, but be aware that there may not be a lot of availability like I had in May. When I searched around I found several options that could fit 5 people (my group), so if you’re traveling solo or just a couple, I guess you might have better luck. Still, I might recommend booking the first night or two if you still want to go with “no reservation” for most of the trip to save money.
Regarding Spanish, yes, most of them speak English. Tourism moves the economy in Galapagos, so most people there speak at least basic English to form a conversation.
Hope this helps!
hi – you mention the lava tunnels but I’ve read you need a guide for the main ones. do you know if you can taxi there and then pay for a guide on the spot or is this something you need to pre-arrange? thanks
Hi Abby –
We went to the tunnels along the main road from the airport to town, and all we did was pay for a taxi to get there. The driver (who said was a tour guide too, as everyone else there says) just told us to go through one entrance (where he dropped us), and exit through the other (where he picked us up). It was simple and there was no need of a guide.
If you feel like you want/need a guide, you can do it right in town the day before or even the same day if you do it early.
By the way, we got our taxi driver literally on the street around 1:00pm when we decided to go to the tunnels. If you’re going during high season, you might want to plan it a bit ahead (a day or two) since it gets very crowded there.
Hope this helps!
Thanks so much for coming back to me so quickly. Really appreciate the info. Cheers! 🙂
You’re welcome! If you have any other question, feel free to let me know. 🙂
Thanks for a great post. I have just a few quick questions! I can’t seem to find the list of restricted foods for the Galapagos – that link doesn’t seem to work anymore, and I was having trouble finding it even by google search. Any idea how to find it?
My friend and I are going in 1 week, very excited! We are only going to have a few days there and from what I understand it is currently high season, so I’m expecting things to be busy. When you suggested planning a taxi (to the lava tubes) a day or two in advance – how does one go about that?
Great page, very good information, thank you so much for doing this and sharing it. my husband and I are planning to go next year but we need to find the cheapest ways to be able to make, great tips. thanks a lot!
Hi, great blog! Can you tell me the name of the company where you found an 8 night cruise for 1300 per person?
Really enjoyed this blog well written and very informative. Everything you want from a travel blog. Good work.
Great article and very informative.
One question regarding your cruises and prices. For 8 day you said it was about $1400USD. Which cruise was this as I have been unable to get a quote anywhere near this.
Hi John –
Sorry for the late reply. I guess it all depends on the season and how last minute are you willing to buy them. I called the companies while I was in Ecuador, so I was pretty much just a week or two away from starting the trip. By this time, they offer whatever they have at a lower rate to fill their cruises.
Please be aware of less than professional behavior in travel specialists. We booked with GalapagosIslands.com on 7/27 and placed our initial 20% deposit and were told balance was due by 10/1. One week later they turned around and said our ENTIRE balance was due or we would forfeit our spot AND our deposit. Talk about driving a hard bargain! Buyer Beware!
Hey I realy liked your post ! Its very interesting becauese you describe both ways, the cheap and the expensive option. When I was in Galapagos I booked a tour with the Astrea Yacht and it was totaly worth the money. I realy enjoyed the time on the boat.
how much costs your tour?
thank you so much for this informative post!. We are planning on visiting the galapagos independently in late october . We are arriving into Baltra and have 5 full days/nights on the islands.. Our plan is to explore santacruz island itself at our pace.
However, we and would like to visit Isabella island-couple of questions:
1)Is it possible to do this trip independently and will we be able to visit sites on our own or do we need to book with a tour company to enter these sites.
2) should we do it as a day trip or an overnight would be better?If overnight can recommended places to say on isabela island.
Thanks again for your time and help:)
Hi Kate –
You can go to Isabela on your own by taking a boat transfer. If I remember correctly it departs twice or up to three times a day and takes around two hours each way. I think you should stay there overnight as there’s a lot to do and see in Isabela. Unfortunately I don’t have any place I can recommend, but if it’s not high season, I’m sure you can spot a decent place by just arriving there and walking around. That’s how I found mine in Santa Cruz.
THANK YOU!!! This was such a thorough and helpful post. We are planning to DIY a week in Galapagos next year and I can use all the help I can get! 😉 Great photos, too.
Love your blog , so detailed!!
we cannot wait for it,
just 1 Q???
if we are flying there on the end of December,
should we book the hotels now,
or should we just get there and go with the flaw and book there…?
and if you can help – what will be cheaper?
Thanks, Elad! Well, It’s usually cheaper if you just “walk-in,” as there are many hotels there that are not listed online. Having said that, take into consideration the season, if it’s high season, then I recommend booking in advanced. If you find something online for $25 to $40 per person per night, I’d say book it if you want to go sure you have a place to stay.
Great post Norbert, I am traveling with my girlfriend and do plan on doing a lot of the activities mentioned on your post. I do have my flights prearranged. On the other hand, any suggestions on how to book a cruise to the western islands last minute with knowlegeable guides that speak English. Any suggestions on a particular line or website to read about. I do speak fluent Spanish so this may help. I will be there first week of Dec 2016.
Thank you in advance for your assistance.
Hi Jaime –
Sorry for the late reply. Honestly, I’d recommend to just contact the local companies I listed here on the post, either by email, or even better by calling them via Skype or Google Voice (which is much cheaper – that’s what I did). They will be able to give you any last minute quote available. Usually, they recommend to hunt for those last minute deals around three weeks before departure.
Thank you so much for the great article. I wanna know how many days to stay for self-tour (stay without tour) for these EACH island are the best. Santa Cruz, Floreana, Isabela, San Cristobal, and Baltra?
Hi Claire –
Well it depends on your pace, but I’d say at least 3 in Santa Cruz, 2 in Floreana, 3 in Isabela, 2 in San Cristobal, and Baltra only has the airport, so no days for that one.
Of course, you could choose to stay longer or less days on each island depending on your interests. In my opinion, these amount of days will allow you to travel round those islands, and even do a few day tours (which you might still need to do if you like diving or would like to go to other islands), and even relax for a day or two. The total of days comes to 10, but I’d maybe push it to 12 or even two weeks depending on how much you want to do. But for sure, don’t go to Galapagos for less than a week.
Thank you so much, Norbert.
Do you know any cruise that can go to other places after I finish those 10 days in four islands without duplicating? And I don’t see speed boat from Santa Cruz to Floreana, do you know how to go to Floreana? Appreciate your further answer.
About the cruise, to be honest, you’ll have to dig in with some research as their schedules change all the time and the islands vary. I’d recommend to start with the list of companies listed in the post.
The transfer between islands is not a speedboat but a ferry. To Floreana is the same (a ferry), though I believe you can hop on diving tours to Floreana to catch a ride there for a fee. (Don’t quote me on that, though).
Most of the information I shared on this post I got to know once in Galapagos. As you may have discovered already, there’s not a lot of transportation options info on the web, but, having said that, once you are in Galapagos, you can just hop in a tour shop and they will sort you out with all your transportation and/or tours. (even if last minute)
Thank you for so much fantastic information. As I am not qualified to dive I was hoping to do some snorkelling trips, my dream is to snorkel with the hammerhead sharks. Do you know if it isn’t possible to snorkel at the sites you mentioned?
Hi Sacha –
Yes, you can snorkel some of them, and there’s one place by Gordon Rocks where you can snorkel with the sea lions. Having said that, I think it’s hard to see hammerhead sharks on a snorkel because they tend to stay pretty deep. My recommendation would be to go to the dive shop and ask them for the snorkel version of their dive tours. They do have them for most of them.
Galapagos is magnificent especially when tortuga bay displays warm breezes and shimmering sand with infinite blue sky above it. Just lovable!
Magnificent indeed! Glad you enjoyed your experience there!
Do you the reason why I go through each and every single word and line of yours?
Well because, I enjoy reading the time you take which is basically related to the research which you have done after actually chilling out in the places. Also at the same time, you do give us reasons for humor.
For example, the amusing picture of how you are chilling with sea lion is something which is top notch
Thanks, Afzal! Glad you enjoyed it!
Greetings!!! Thank you for the great detailed information! We are arriving Nov 5- departing Nov 11, 2017 from Guayaquil. To see the most, what airport should we fly into? Baltra or san cristobal? Also, do you have information on beginners dive? We plan to be certified by the time we arrive but obviously won’t have 20+ dives. Thank you!
Hi James –
I recommend flying to Baltra if you want to see the most as it is the biggest base in Galapagos. I don’t have information on beginners dive, but I know they offer “Discovery Dives” which are dives for people interested in diving but that don’t have a diving license. One of my friends did it when I was there with her. All you have to do is ask right at the dive shop to see if they can accommodate you and give you the “crash course” before going into the water. Most companies do. If you’re certified by then, you definitely don’t need 20+ dives to go diving, that’s for “advanced” diving spots like Gordon Rocks or other deep dives. But, there are tons of places where you can dive with a basic certification and just a handful of dives.
I thoroughly enjoyed reading through your adventures and it has made me want to leave even sooner! I just have a couple quick questions if you wouldn’t mind. We are looking at flights to Baltra from Quito, but they are are quite expensive currently. Do you think we could buy our flights in Quito for cheaper? Or do you think they would be around the same price? Thank you so much for the help.
Hi Skyler –
I may be wrong, but I think they might be around the same price, especially if you wait last minute to buy them. If your trip is still way ahead in the future, try waiting until one or two months from the date to see how they are priced. If your timeframe is less than that, then I might recommend buying them soon. While I didn’t personally check for flights when I was in Guayaquil and Montañita (where I spent some time before heading to Galapagos), I don’t remember seeing any agency offering them for such low prices that would have made me question why I got them online instead of there.
Two Seniors are going to Santa Cruz in February ,we have literally 3 days to explore this Island before joining a group tour from Guayaquil.
.Where is it best too stay,what small group day trips could we do ,and perhaps visit an Island for a day..any contact website appreciated
Hi Slim – Three days is enough to get a good sense of Santa Cruz. I recommend staying in the town of Puerto Ayora. Regarding day trips, you will have to check there directly (or online) as that will depend on what they have available for the days you’re there. You can walk around Puerto Ayora and pay a taxi driver to give you a private tour to some of the most famous sights in the island (I have them listed here in the post). It’s not expensive and it’s easy to arrange. A good day trip to another island could be Isla Isabela and Bartolome Island, among other. It all depends on what you’re interested in seeing and what you’ll visit with your group tour after your days in Santa Cruz.
I have a flight to Guayaquil on May 13 (in 2 weeks!!) my return flight is May 22.
This is the only thing I have booked thus far. I am traveling alone, a little nervous because I have nothing organized.
I know I will want to spend several days exploring Galapagos, I just don’t know where to begin.
would love some comments / input from anyone who has done this trip and things I should see, where I should go, etc.
You should probably start at Santa Cruz and Puerto Ayora, which is where most businesses are and where most of the free attractions are. From there, you can plan your day trips or last-minute cruise to go anywhere you want/can according to your budget and time. But, even if you decide to spend most of your time in other islands, I recommend flying to Baltra (Santa Cruz) and staying in Puerto Ayora one or two nights to get your bearings and play it by ear.
Great Suggestion. I will be there on the 16th May until 23rd may 2018. No idea or plans yet. Kind of confused though. Again, sounds repetitive, any excellent suggestion to see Galapagos and at least i can tell my family and friends about my “bucket list” travel in Galapagos. I am on a tight budget though!! At least i can tell them i have seen most of it…giving justice of my travel expenses from Hong Kong to London to Quito to Isla Baltra.
If you’re on a tight budget, I’d suggest concentrating mostly on Baltra, Santa Cruz, San Cristobal and Isabela Island (or pretty much the main islands you can travel by local ferries). They have free or cheap things to do that don’t require a tour.
Only pay tours for things you really want to see and can’t do on your own. Instead of diving, do a snorkeling tour, as it’s cheaper.
Also, barter as much as you can. Some tour companies there give last minute discounts, so test your luck there.
Can you give me any information about chatering an entire budget yatch for 20 to 24 people (excluding crew) from one of the main Islands. for about a week.
I would suggest going to the site I recommended here where you can email the captains directly. Each captain has their own requirements, so it’s best to speak to them directly.
Great article! Very useful and totally my style.
I booked my flight tickets to go for July, so far nothing else. I was planning to book/bargain the rest on the islands, however I found there is a new law in place since the 5th of June stating you need to show your hotel bookings upfront in order to be allowed into to park. See: http://www.galapagos.org/travel/travel/planning-a-trip/
Does anyone have any experience with this ?
That is correct. It’s a new rule they have in place. Should you want to “play it by ear” once in Galapagos, as I did (pre this rule), you could book a fully refundable hotel reservation via Booking.com, print the “proof of reservation,” then cancel it to find a cheap place once in Galapagos. It might work, but technically you’re cheating the system, so do it at your own risk. Besides, it’s quite possible you might find equally cheap accommodation online, so maybe it’s not worth taking that risk.
I can’t find anywhere else that says anything about needing proof of hotel reservation. Where did you find this? What exactly do you need?
I am planning to take this trip by the end of the year and this has been incredibly helpful!! Thank you for taking the time to put this together!
This is the most useful blog post for Galapagos I’ve ever read. I would definitely go diy!
A quick question: is it cheap (around how much) and convenient (availability and frequency) to take ferry (or any transport) between each islands (including those small island)?
Because if doing DIY-way, we would like to join as less tours as possible X)! All we need it is transport to take us to different islands.
Thank you so much
Hi, Monica –
As far as I know, the public ferries/speedboats only go between the four inhabited islands and they come and go twice or thrice a day, depending on the island. Usually at least once in the morning and once in the afternoon. If you’d like to visit any other uninhabited island, it must be done with a tour. The current schedule and price can be found there when you get to Santa Cruz, as it varied depending on the season.
Thank you for reply, its again very helpful 🙂 !!! do you recommend booking the tour when we arrive (last minute deal) to get the cheapest price? or would you say we can still get the tour cheaply when book in advance online?
If you’re looking for day tours, you can book them last minute once you get to the islands. I’d recommend, though, to try to book all your tours on the first day once you’re there. Not all tours run every day, so you should make a list of what you’re interested in, and then organize them based on your (and their) schedule. Regarding price, I believe they are slightly cheaper once in Galapagos. If you’re booking more than two tours with the same provider, you can ask for a “bulk” discount. That worked for me when I booked 4 trips with the same company when I got there, but we were also 5 travelers, so we had some bargaining power there. Give it a try, anyway! Just so you have an idea, if prices are still the same, most day tours between $100 and $150 (including the diving tours). The ones that are slightly more expensive are around $160-170 and are for further islands that are still doable with a day trip.
Hello there 🙂
Just wondering if you found that there are multi-day tours available that take you to the further islands that you can book when you arrive in Santa Cruz? Or if those are ones that should be booked in advance/ online? We will certainly book day tours to the closer islands, but I would also like to see the further away islands as well!
Thank you for all your helpful info! It’s inspired me to not be lazy and to plan a trip to do ourself rather than with an expensive tour operator 😛
Hi Bronte –
Yes, there are multi-day tours (which are the cruises or live-aboard trips, actually) that you can book directly in Santa Cruz. Just be patient and flexible in Santa Cruz as cruises/trips might not depart until a few days after. Unfortunately for the further islands, you need a cruise, as they are too far 1 or 2-day trips. But, if there is new development on these type of trips, I really don’t know.
That’s great to know! Thank you so much! We were trying to avoid several days on a boat as my partner gets so sea sick :S
… but! You gotta do what you gotta do! 😉
Great information mate, thanks again
Thanks! Yeah, once you go there, just shop around to see their current prices. If your partner gets seasick, try picking a short cruise. But, shorter cruises tend to stick to the closer islands. Or, see if there’s one that has a happy medium of a short amount of days but focusing on further islands (sort of ignoring the closer ones, I guess?)
Thanks for such a detail information!
Hey! Great post and beautiful pictures. This post helped us a lot when planning our own trip for November 2017.
Awesome blog Norbert and much appreciated! My question is about sharks….would love to do some diving and have read there are tons of sharks but they are well fed and don’t bother humans but that is counterintuitive. Your thoughts? Thank you!!
Hi Michole –
Not sure about the fact that sharks are well fed (at least not by humans). The Galapagos is a natural reserve and these sharks are wild animals, so they take care of themselves naturally (as far as I know). Having said that, most sharks don’t attack humans just because. I’ve dived several times with different kinds of non-dangerous sharks and they have never bothered me or any other diver I know. They simply mind their own business as long as we don’t bother them directly.
Hope this helps.
You mentioned “high season” a few times. Can you tell me “when” high season is? Is it the mid-jun to Sep and December only?
Correct, High season is basically the summer months in the northern hemisphere (June to August/September) and December/January. These coincide with the school vacation times in the US and most northern hemisphere countries. Having said that, the best months to visit are January to May (with April and May being the top months due to the migration of the Waved Albatross – if you’re interested in seeing them).
Thanks Norbert for the wonderful post – you truly are a good Samaritan helping your fellow travelers.
So I am planning a DIY trip from 12/25 – 12/31 to the Galapagos (Santa Cruz) myself with my wife and 2.5 year old daughter so did not want to make it too hectic with tours every day .
However, I would like to do a 1 day trip to Bartolome island but can a 2.5 year old do that walk? Is it a very taxing long walk? Can i wait to book my Bartolome island trip until I get there since I am unable to find any availability for that week online?
I also wanted to do the South Plaza island for its colorful flora but would they be colorful in December – is that island worth doing?
Otherwise I was planning just taking the ferry to Isabela or San Cristobal (any suggestions based on which animals I would not get to see in Santa Cruz but would see in either of these islands)? Do you have a preference between these two islands? I was then planning to get a hotel once I arrived in Isabela or San Cristo but would it be easy enough to find a hotel once we get there at that time of the year?
Finally, I am presuming I can get the tickets for the ferry once I get there and I understand it is $30 one way and takes about 2 hours – is that right?
Thanks and happy travels
Hi Neel –
Thanks! Yes, a 2.5 years old can do that walk. It is not too long, but it’s uphill (mostly stepped). Just take your time going up. I booked my trip to Bartolome while in Santa Cruz, so you might have a similar luck, but if you’re already seeing it all booked for that week, then it could be quite risky.
I haven’t been to South Plaza, so can’t say anything based on experience.
In Isabela and San Cristobal you’ll get to see more seals. Personally I think Isabela offers more, but that’s just a personal opinion.
Yes, the ferry you can book there. It’s pretty easy to do. There are also speedboats, should you want to save time.
Regarding booking hotels in Isabela/San Cristobal once there, I’m sure there could be options to book last minute, but have in mind that you’re going during X-mas holidays, so it could be quite busy. In that case, I’d try booking online, or at least keep an eye on booking.com, which tells you how many rooms are available at any given hotel for those days. Booking.com also offers free cancelation on many hotels, so it’s another option should you want to play it safe.
Hope this helps!
Hey Norbert, great post! This was really helpful!
Do you know if one has to book accomodations for all days before arriving at the islands? As per my understanding of the new ruling, you have to provide reservations of accomodations for your whole stay before you are allowed to enter the Galapogos. Wouldn’t this make it difficult to spontaneously plan day trips, or stays at other islands?
Hi Maya –
Thanks! And yes, your understanding is right. This is a common question and while I do think there’s a workaround, it a “grey area” workaround.
There’s two ways of doing it, in my opinion. The first way is getting two hotel bookings with free cancelation. One should be for the first day or so, and the second for the rest. You’ll show both of them if asked for during entry.
Booking.com allows you to get bookings that you can cancel up to a few days before the trip (or even up to the same day – double check the free cancellation dates!). So, you’ll have to use the first one since you’ll have to show it the date of arrival, but you can cancel the second one right after you get there and wing it.
Alternatively, and again this is a grey area, but you could simply make a reservation via booking.com, print the booking confirmation, and cancel it immediately after. Then just book a place as a walk-in once you get there. I highly doubt they will check the validity of the booking confirmation printout before letting you in.
Even though I went there before they imposed the new regulations, I’m sure lots of guesthouses still welcome walk-in guests. (People can change plans or maybe extend once there, so I’m sure there’s some flexibility there)
Great post for trekkers in Ecuador. I thought I would update your followers on the reopening in the Galapagos covid-19 the past few weeks. Entry and Exit Requirements:
Are U.S. citizens permitted to enter? Yes
Ecuador has moved to a Level 3 Travel Advisory: Reconsider Travel. Ecuador approved resumption of commercial flight operations on June 1, 2020. All travelers arriving in Ecuador should provide proof of a negative COVID PCR test taken no more than ten (10) days before entering the country. As long as the traveler does not present symptoms of COVID, the traveler does not need to perform mandatory preventive quarantine (“aislamiento preventativo obligatorio”, or APO) and they may freely move within the continental territory of Ecuador (NOTE: Special rules apply for the Galapagos Islands; see below). The Government of Ecuador requires all travelers who do not provide the results of a PCR test to undertake, at their own expense, a PCR test upon arrival. The traveler must then proceed immediately to quarantine in a hotel, hostel, motel or other temporary accommodation authorized for such purpose. If the traveler receives a negative test result, the traveler may terminate the quarantine. If the traveler receives a positive test result, the traveler must continue the quarantine and necessary health care will be provided. While the Government of Ecuador does not require travelers with a negative PCR test to quarantine, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control notes that travelers (including children) pose a risk to family, friends, and community for 14 days after potential exposure to the virus.
Thank you for this COVID update!