Is the Galapagos Islands for the Budget Traveller


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“Galapagos Islands a journey of a lifetime, see wildlife that you won’t see anywhere else in the world”,  are some of the statements you may read from the many Galapagos tours to this region.  As we were in Ecuador for three months we thought how could we not visit these incredible islands and experience a journey of a lifetime and the unique wildlife that the islands boasted of. We wanted to see the blue-footed boobies, the sea lions and the turtles. As we were on a budget the question is: “Is the Galapagos Islands for the Budget Traveller?”

Galapagos Islands

Blue Footed Boobie

At first glance, it seemed expensive and when we delved deeper into the costs of travelling to the Galapagos Islands and what the options were we became totally confused and it appeared to become even more expensive.  We enquired of others who had travelled there, we asked questions as to how they travelled, did they use Galapagos Islands tours and would they do anything differently next time, what was their experiences, we even inquired on an Ecuador Expat Forum on Facebook, still, confusion reigned.  We knew that our daily travel budget of AUD100 would not make it and we would have to cut back on other areas of travel if we really wanted to travel there.  So we considered three different types of itineraries with the help of two travel agents in Cuenca, Ecuador.

Where is the Galapagos Islands

The Galapagos Islands belong to the South American country of Ecuador and are located in the Pacific Ocean about 1000km off the coast.  The archipelago consists of 13 main islands and 6 smaller islands.

Galapagos Map

Galapagos Islands for the Budget Traveller

Galapagos Islands Map

Travel Options: the Galapagos Islands for the Budget Traveller

Our dates of travel were flying from Guayaquil on 22 May 2015 to San Cristobal and depart from Balta Island on Saturday 30 May 2015 – 8 nights in total

 Option One: the most expensive Galapagos Cruise tour to the Galapagos Islands:

Dates for Cruise 23 – 27 May Last Minute Cruise Sailing from San Cristobal to Santa Cruz, Eastern Islands (vessel not given by the agent in the quote)

Price: $1300 per person

Itinerary:

  • Starting at San Cristobal
  • Visit to Punta Pitt
  • Santa Fe Island for hiking, panga ride, snorkelling
  • Wild cliffs of South Plaza – cactus, land iguanas and marine birds
  • Santa Cruz and a visit to the Charles Darwin Research Centre (free entrance), chance to sea kayak, hike or mountain bike
  • Espanola Island and Punta Suarez – home of marine iguanas, sea lions, marine birds, albatrosses (at certain times of the year)
  • Gardner Bay for swimming or snorkelling

Inclusions: all meals, island sightseeing, naturalists and lecture services, snorkelling gear and transfers.

Extra nights accommodation:

22nd May – San Cristobal, Posada Turistico Territo – USD40 per night double room private ensuite (taxes not included) breakfast not included

27th – 29th May – Santa Cruz, Lava House 3 nights – USD80 per night double room private ensuite (taxes not included) breakfast included

Flights to Galapagos Islands:

Lan Ecuador 22nd May Guayaquil to San Cristobal returning 30th May Baltra to Quito

USD457.78 per person

Other:

USD10 per person tax from Guayaquil Airport

USD100 per person Entrance Fee

 

Total: USD 4015.56 for two persons, excluding food and drinks and transfers.

 

Now let’s look at Option Two a budget Galapagos cruise: 

Last Minute Cruise on the vessel Xavier Departing 24 May from San Cristobal finishing at Santa Cruz on 27 May

Price: USD816 per person

Itinerary:

  • Transfer to boat in San Cristobal
  • El Junco Lagoon – freshwater lagoon for diverse vegetation
  • Punta Pitt and Kicker Rock – volcanic cones, lava flows, 3 species of boobies and frigate birds, snorkelling at Kicker Rock
  • Playa Espumilla – flamingo and turtle nesting sites
  • Buccaneer Cove – cliff wall formations
  • Santa Cruz – Charles Darwin Centre (free entrance)

Inclusions: all meals, island sightseeing, naturalists and lecture services, snorkelling gear and transfers.

Extra nights accommodation:

22nd and 23rd May – San Cristobal Posada Turistico Tiertro – USD 40 per night double room with ensuite (taxes not included), breakfast not included

27th – 29th May – Santa Cruz, Lava House USD80 per night double room with ensuite (taxes not included), breakfast included

Flights to Galapagos Islands:

Lan Ecuador 22nd May Guayaquil to San Cristobal returning 30th May Baltra to Quito

USD457.78 per person

Other:

USD10 per person tax from Guayaquil Airport

USD100 per person Entrance Fee

Total: USD 3087.56 for two persons, excluding food and drinks and transfers.

Finally Option Three our actual itinerary without a cruise 22nd May – 30th May

Flights to Galapagos Islands:

USD457.78 per person

Accommodation on San Cristobal:

22nd and 23rd May – Posada Turistico Tietro – USD40 per night for a double room with ensuite (taxes not included) breakfast not included

All around the harbour front you can see colonies of Sea Lions and many Blue Footed Boobies and Pelicans.  Free

San Cristobal Tour – USD60 for guided taxi tour for 4 hours visiting

  • Centro de Crianza “Jacinto Gordillo” – tortoise breeding centre
  • El Junco – freshwater lagoon
  • Playa Chino
  • La Loberia

24th May – 7AM Ferry from San Cristobal to Santa Cruz – 2 hours USD30 per person

Accommodation on Santa Cruz:

24th May – 29th May 6 nights at Lava House – USD80 per night double room with ensuite with breakfast included

  • Taxi to visit Los Gemelos – where you can see the subsidence formed by series of eruptions and the Scalesia forest.  Next stop is El Chato 2, where you can walk through lava tunnels and see the giant tortoises in the wild.  USD35 for the taxi – approximately 3-4 hours.
  • Charles Darwin Research Centre – free entrance
  • Tortuga Bay – one of the largest white sand beaches of the islands, great for swimming and snorkelling. We saw marine iguanas. – Free
  • Galapagos Aqua Tours – glass bottom boat trip for 4 hours. We would not recommend this trip, you can check out our Trip Advisor Review. USD45 per person
  • Santa Cruz surrounds – you can view Marine Iguanas around the harbour front, Sea Lions at the Fish Market.  At night go down to the port and in the fluorescent lighting you can see sting rays, turtles, fish etc – FREE

Other:

USD10 per person tax from Guayaquil Airport

USD100 per person Entrance Fee

To compare our DIY itinerary to a cruise itinerary we must not forget that we had our meals to purchase, based on option 1 the 4 night here are our meal costs:

23rd May – Breakfast USD10, Lunch USD6, Dinner USD33

24th May – Breakfast USD16, Dinner USD23

25th May – Lunch USD5, Dinner USD30

26th May – Dinner USD 28

Some of these dinner costs did include beers which on a cruise would be an extra charge as well.

Total USD (excluding food and drinks and transfers) USD1940.56

Total USD (including meals for 23,24,25,26 May) USD 2091.56

Breakdown of daily costs:

Option One Cost per day: USD501.94

Option Two Cost per day: USD385.94

Option Three Cost per day: USD242.57 (without our meals included)

with meals included USD261.44

Can you do Galapagos on a shoestring?

In summary, if you are a keen scuba diver or snorkeler taking a cruise may be the way to go, but if you are not planning an itinerary similar to ours where you choose the activities that interest you the most could be the way to go. The lay of the land currently is that cruises are allowed to go to certain spots on the islands for activities where day cruises are not allowed and vice versa.  The Ecuadorian Government has just passed a bill allowing large cruise ships to operate smaller vessels themselves for cruise activities around the islands which in fact means that the local operators will suffer as a consequence.

Of course, this depends on the type of accommodation as well that you want to stay in which could range from the cheaper option of hostels to the luxury hotels on the islands.

Galapagos Islands

Afternoon siesta time

What we wanted to see on the islands were the Blue Footed Boobies, the Sea Lions, the Tortoises and the marine and land iguanas.  We saw all of these at little cost.

We were chatting to some travellers after arriving in Santa Cruz from San Cristobal and asked them for their recommendations.  The first and most obvious question and one which should always be asked – What do you want to see? Your time on the Galapagos Islands will depend on your answer to this question.

We also chatted to a traveller from our hostel in Santa Cruz who had travelled in from the UK.  It was a once in a lifetime trip for her so it was important that she got the most from her stay.  She eventually booked a cruise in Quito whilst she was there.  The same cruise would have cost her USD3,000 in the UK, in Quito she paid USD2,400 and she felt that she may have been able to reduce the price by booking once she arrived in the Galapagos Islands at around $2,000 but it would all depend on availability.  The agent in Quito was very knowledgeable about the Galagapos Islands and she was very happy with his recommendations.

To Travel Too Tip for the Galapagos Islands:

If you are booking the airfares to the Galapagos Islands beware there are fares for Ecuadorians and fares for International Travellers on some of the airline websites.  If it looks too good to be true, you have a local airfare and will be asked to pay more for the ticket than you would have normally when checking in.

Examples of Galapagos Trip Packages, budget and luxury:

From Santa Cruz: Galapagos, Excursion to Tortuga and Tour

4 Day Cruise: Santa Cruz, Genovesa and San Cristobal

5 Day Cruise: Santa Cruz and Isabella

Full day tour to Isabela Island

For a complete range of Galapagos Island Tours click here.

Galapagos Islands Hotels

For our research into where to stay in the Galapagos Islands, we used booking.com who had over 200 properties to choose from.

For more stories on the Galapagos Islands click here.

 

Before travelling to the Galapagos Islands we did quite a bit of research, we have included our recommendations on books that will help you.

 



As always we recommend that you take our travel insurance when you book your tickets.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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5 Comments

  • This was really helpful to understand your expenses from your Galapagos trip. We’re headed there soon and have been debating between doing a DIY trip or booking a last-minute cruise. We’re leaning towards doing a DIY trip like you but we might be swayed if there is a good last-minute deal. Seems like you can see the Galapagos for a lot less doing DIY but I sure would like to get out to some of the snorkeling and dive sites. Hmm… decisions, decisions. Anyways, thanks for giving us a good idea of what to expect in terms of costs. 🙂

  • Cheryl Garcia says:

    Such great info and so very kind of you to share. We have close friends considering going but scrapped the plan upon learning how expensive it is. They may now reconsider – and we might now plan a trip based on your money-saving tips, Thank You!

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