Is it actually possible to travel the Galapagos on a budget?
Many assume a trip to the Galapagos will be a very expensive proposition. You wouldn’t be wrong to think so.
Even Googling “Galapagos Tour” may send could send someone into sticker shock. One of the first organic search results shows a National Geographic 10-day itinerary, with prices ranging from $7,000-$15,000 per person, plus flights to Ecuador! So realistically, that comes out to at least a $20,000 vacation proposition for a couple. Ouch.
Yet we’re here to let you know that it’s not necessary to take such a pricey Galapagos trip.
You can, in fact, tour the Galapagos on a budget and still maintain a relative level of comfort. Independent travel in the Galapagos can actually be an affordable reality! With a little planning, it’s possible to formulate a cheap Galapagos island hopping budget trip on your own. We wrote this post to help other travelers experience the rich wonders of the Galapagos on the cheap.
Overall, an entire trip to the Galapagos may not be entirely cheap. The flight alone can bust budgets. Added travel expenses once in the Galapagos can quickly accumulate for those who aren’t careful.
Yet this post explores proven money-saving strategies and the Galapagos budget travel tips you need to know to maintain low expenses without sacrificing the quintessential experiences one would expect to have in these famed islands. A budget trip to the Galapagos can indeed become an awesome reality for those who do a bit of advanced planning and research.
So while there are some significant expenses that can be incurred on a trip to these famed islands, it is indeed possible to visit the Galapagos on a relatively modest budget. Such a trip will certainly cost far less than that aforementioned $10,000 Nat Geo tour!
Come take a peek at our actual Galapagos island hopping budget too. We meticulously tracked all travel costs and all the Galapagos tour prices during our visit, as there isn’t much pricing listed on the web. Hopefully, this will provide a realistic look at what may be spent on a Galapagos budget trip.
So read on to understand exactly how to travel the Galapagos on a budget by pursuing a DIY Galapagos island hopping trip, among other cost-cutting strategies.
Galapagos on a Budget: Table of Contents
Two Ways to Do Galapagos on a Budget:
There are two tried & true methods to travel to the Galapagos on a budget:
1) Do It Yourself (DIY) Land-Based Galapagos Island Hopping
2) Last-Minute Boat Tour / Budget Galapagos Cruise Deals
DIY Independent Travel Island Hopping in the Galapagos on a Budget
Anyone can fly to the islands and explore them on your own, which makes for a great way to experience the Galapagos on a budget. There are three islands in the Galapagos that are connected by regular, twice-a-day ferries. These three islands are developed with loads of decent budget-friendly accommodation and restaurants serving reasonably priced meals. The three islands to go “island-hopping” on are:
- Isla Santa Cruz (Puerto Ayora)
- Isla Isabela (Puerto Villamil)
- Isla San Cristobal (Puerto Baquerizo Moreno)
Each of these islands has places to walk to, to enjoy hiking, museums, snorkeling areas, tortoise sanctuaries, and lots of wild sea lions & marine iguanas (among other wildlife), all for FREE. These three Galapagos islands also have plenty of tourism agencies to book day trips and excursions. During these day tours, even more islands can be accessed throughout the Galapagos archipelago.
There is also a fourth island to consider, Isla Floreana, which similarly has budget-friendly accommodation and restaurants. But ferry connections to Floreana change frequently and run irregularly (1-2 times per week). This can make it impossible to stay on Isla Floreana for just a night or two. But there are still plenty of sights to see and activities to do from the other three main Galapagos islands. Those three islands alone can easily keep a traveler busy for weeks!
Independent travel in the Galapagos is most definitely the most economical way to tour the islands, as it is realistically possible to get by on a budget of about $30 per person, per day, before factoring in the costs of optional day tours. More on that later.
This post dives into detail on how to travel independently in the Galapagos on a budget. But first, we’ll cover the possibility of scoring a last-minute Galapagos cruise deal.
Booking a Last-Minute Galapagos Boat Tour
There are many liveaboard Galapagos boat tours that ply multi-day routes throughout the Galapagos, where snorkeling, hiking, and wildlife viewing ensues.
During these liveaboard boat tours, at the end of each day passengers sleep in a cabin on the boat, while either anchored or moving to the next location. There’s a chef on board who cooks three meals a day. A naturalist guide accompanies passengers throughout the voyage.
These boats primarily range in size from about 12-24 passengers (some even larger) and vary from sailboats, to catamarans, to full-on yachts. The boats also range in comfort, which tends to be categorized by four classes of boats:
- $ Tourist Class – Lowest standard possible, often not recommended. Cabins may or may not have A/C or private bathrooms.
- $$ Tourist Superior – No frills yet comfy. Some cabins may be bunk beds, but has A/C. Good option for lower budgets who want to maintain some level of comfort.
- $$$ First Class – High standards, very comfortable air-conditioned rooms, and great meals.
- $$$$ Luxury – Super high end. Expect large cabins, jacuzzis, gourmet meals, spas, and pampering.
If booking any of these trips in advance, prior to arriving in the Galapagos, you’ll likely spend well upwards of thousands of dollars per person. But if arriving in the Galapagos with a flexible schedule to book a last-minute Galapagos cruise deal within a few days of departure, it is possible to find budget Galapagos cruise prices around $700-$1,500 for a 4-8 day itinerary.
So where can you find cheap last-minute Galapagos cruise deals?
The best last-minute Galapagos cruise prices will be found on the ground, after arriving in Puerto Ayora in the Galapagos. Many tourism agencies in Puerto Ayora slash prices on last-minute Galapagos cruises departing within a week or less. Visiting these Puerto Ayora agencies in person will yield the best prices.
There are also a number of travel agencies that can be contacted to begin an email exchange, inquiring about what last-minute cruises may be available. One website that lists some of these deals is Galapagos Cruise Links.
That site will give you some idea of the going rates being offered for last-minute Galapagos cruise deals. But just realize that it is NOT an all-inclusive list. There are many additional boats to consider which aren’t listed on this website. Also, it’s possible to negotiate prices lower than what is listed there. So consider those prices as a starting point. Despite this, we still find this website to have the most up-to-date listings with actual prices posted anywhere else on the web today. So it can be a good place to begin searching to get a gauge on last-minute Galapagos cruise prices.
Still, the lowest prices will be found in Puerto Ayora in the days just before these cruises depart. Yet scoring those deals will entail some effort, luck, and taking a bit of a gamble. Last-minute Galapagos cruises do sell out.
Cheap last-minute Galapagos cruises are no longer a secret among travelers. There are many other travelers arriving to the Galapagos, who are also trying to score to cheap last-minute Galapagos cruise deal. They may beat you to a deal or be willing to pay more. We regularly saw last-minute Galapagos cruise deals that became sold out, several days before the boat was embarking.
Another burden of attempting to get a last-minute Galapagos cruise is that it can be a time-consuming process. Doing so requires travelers to go from agency to agency in search of these elusive last-minute deals. The time spent shopping around can pay off. Yet with limited time in the Galapagos, time can be much more enjoyable in nature than on the city streets visiting tourism agencies.
So although the cheapest and best deals do await travelers on the ground in the Galapagos, it can be worth paying a bit more to organize a sure-thing in advance. If not wanting to deal with the uncertainty of a last-minute Galapagos cruise, it’s best to either make advanced reservations or pursue a DIY island hopping trip that is further detailed in this guide.
Where To Book Less Expensive Galapagos Tours in Advance
Because of the uncertainty and effort involved to seek out last-minute cruise deals while in the Galapagos, it can make sense to book in advance. Sure, it may end up costing a few hundred dollars more, but that can often be worth the time and effort that’s forgone.
Booking a non-last-minute Galapagos cruise with set departure dates can be the best way to go to the Galapagos for those who have limited time and/or set dates. While not quite as cheap as the last-minute tours and certainly more than creating a DIY independent trip, there are some decent deals out there on Galapagos cruise tours that can be booked in advance.
When making advanced reservations, expect to pay at least around $2,000 for a tourist superior (or above) ship. But do note that most of those tours with a $2k+ price tag also include airfare from mainland Ecuador. So that’s a $500 value that can help to justify the cost.
Here are a few booking companies offering liveaboard Galapagos cruise tours around that price:
- Viator – This Galapagos Island Cruise starting at $1,250 the lowest price we’ve seen bookable online. Airfare is extra. (Note: sometimes it becomes unavailable/sold-out. Check back.)
- GAdventures – starts at
$3,199$2,144 for a 7-day cruise, including flights from Quito. It’s a great deal, considering airfare from Quito is included, receives high reviews, and put on by this leader in adventure tourism. They’ve been running sales lately too, so check current pricing and availability.
- Intrepid – starts at $2,290 for 6-day trip (4-day cruise on the Daphne) including flights from Quito.
- Tour Radar – starts at $3,400 for 5-day cruise on a first-class ship including flights from Quito.
Which Is Better: DIY Galapagos Island Hopping or Last-Minute Cruise Deal?
This depends on personal preferences and what is valued more. Anyone who has gone on a Galapagos cruise tour loves it. A cruise is certainly a more convenient option of the two. Meanwhile, we can personally vouch that we loved our DIY island hopping trip across the Galapagos, using independent travel techniques. We were satisfied that we experienced all of the Galapagos’s highlights without spending a fortune.
So which is better? There are pros and cons to each method. It’s highly debatable and most people who have traveled to the Galapagos carry strong opinions on both sides of the debate.
Which cost less? That has more of a clear-cut answer. Any way it’s sliced, a DIY island hopping itinerary always costs much less than even the lowest last-minute cruise deal. It is even possible to do a backpacking Galapagos trip on a shoestring, given all the free things to do in the Galapagos.
Weighing the Pros & Cons of a Last-Minute Galapagos Cruise:
Galapagos Cruise Pros:
- A liveaboard cruise tour is the most convenient way to experience the Galapagos. Everything is planned. No thought or energy needs to be expended searching for day tours and finding somewhere to eat. Just sit back, relax, and enjoy.
- It’s not necessary to return to town each day. Instead, a liveaboard allows passengers to remain in a natural environment of the islands and drift off to the sound of the ocean.
- A liveaboard cruise also has the exclusivity of exploring some Galapagos islands that are not accessible to day tours.
- Another perk of a liveaboard is building camaraderie and making friends with travelers you’re cruising around with, sharing these incredible experiences together.
Galapagos Cruise Cons:
- To get a last-minute deal, it can be necessary to spend time and effort in the Galapagos inquiring with multiple tourism agencies. This comes at the expense of your time otherwise enjoying all the Galapagos has to offer.
- Not knowing in advance whether or not there will be a deal awaiting that fits your time & budget will prevent your ability to further plan out a Galapagos itinerary in advance.
- For those who become easily seasick, the inability to return to land each night may be a negative point to consider.
- It’s pricey. Even the last-minute “deals” tend to be much more costly than traveling independently throughout the Galapagos.
Last-Minute Galapagos Cruise Prices
In the name of independent travel research, we ducked into dozens of Galapagos tour agencies in attempts to find the lowest last-minute Galapagos deals possible. The best deal we found during our last visit in 2017 was $750 for a 5-day itinerary on a tourist superior ship.
Having returned to Ecuador in 2019, we sought out the most recent pricing to keep this article up-to-date. Here are some examples of some of the cheapest last-minute Galapagos cruise prices that were found on the ground in the Galapagos in 2019:
- $1,100 for 6 days on a tourist class ship
- $1,100 for 5-days on a tourist superior ship
- $1,300 for 8-days on a tourist superior ship
- $1,400 for 4-days on a first-class ship
- $1,550 for 5-days on a first-class ship
Beware that travel guidebooks or other blogs may cite these last-minute Galapagos cruise prices to be much less than some of the examples listed above. While it is most definitely possible to find lower rates than these listed prices (particularly during low season), we caution that prices have risen dramatically during the past few years. Last-minute Galapagos cruise prices listed in 2016 and prior are outdated and don’t reflect a major price increase what occurred that year. One Galapagos travel agent showed us his budget Galapagos cruise prices from 2014. They were about half the costs of what they are today for the exact same boats and itineraries!
🙋 Help keep future Galapagos travelers stay up-to-date on latest prices & last-minute deals: If you travel to the Galapagos and find prices have changed wildly from what is listed here (whether higher or lower), please let us know in the comment section. We will continue to update this article to further help other travelers who are planning a budget-friendly trip here. Gracias!
Considerations When Deciding on a Last-Minute Galapagos Cruise Deal
Some of the last-minute cruise deals will seem very enticing on the surface, but it’s important to scrutinize the deal carefully to decide whether it’s worth it for you.
Our best offer for a last-minute Galapagos cruise – a 5-day cruise for $750 – is normally priced around $3,000. So we found $750 to be a great deal and we seriously considered booking it. But it’s important to take a closer look at such bargains to fully understand what is involved.
Consider Ship Class, Configuration, and Cabin Location
Having a nice cabin with a window could be worth splurging on, compared to a tiny interior room with some bunk beds. Be sure to ask lots of questions about the ship itself. Here are some questions to ask about a last-minute Galapagos cruise deal:
- What is the bed configuration (bunk beds)?
- Is there a private bathroom?
- Is there air conditioning?
- Is the cabin an upper or lower deck?
- Does the cabin have a window?
- What additional expenses can be expected?
Enquire About Galapagos Cruise Additional Expenses
It’s also important to factor in additional expenses. It’s customary to tip the crew $10 per person, per day. So add that into the total liveaboard cruise budget. Also, some cruises will charge extra for snorkeling equipment and wetsuits. This hidden fee can reach $30 per day for these rentals. So mask rentals would add $200 to a week-long cruise. Be sure to understand exactly what is included and what is not.
Look Closely at the Galapagos Cruise Itinerary
Boats must obtain permits for each of the locations they visit in the Galapagos and each of these permits will cost the operator a different amount. Some of the popular landing sites have more expensive permits. Hence some low-cost itineraries avoid the best landings to save money. As a result, the cost savings can be passed on to passengers. That’s good. However, such itineraries may also pass right by some of the best sites in the Galapagos. That’s not good.
For example, the 5-day itinerary we examined completely bypassed arguably the most famed and photographed site in the Galapagos, Isla Bartolome. Instead, the budget itinerary went to neighboring Albany Rocks, which is a much less notable site in the Galapagos.
Similarly, this 5-day Galapagos cruise itinerary completely skipped the notoriously awesome birding and snorkeling island of Seymour to instead snorkel just a few kilometers away, next to the airport. This itinerary was going to B-list sites in the Galapagos instead of A-list sites. While even B-list sites in the Galapagos can still be amazing, an itinerary that skips some of the best sites makes it all the more difficult to justify splurging on.
Understand that “5-Day Cruises” Are Actually 3-Day Tours
On most Galapagos cruises, there isn’t much happening on the first and last day of the itinerary.
Let’s continue to use that 5-day last-minute cruise deal ($750) as an example. For that itinerary, the first and last day is void of much activity. Day 1 is really just a half-day of transferring onto the boat, then going to a beach. Day 5 simply tours the tortoise sanctuary on the inhabited island of Santa Cruz, which can easily be pursued on your own for $3 per person and a cheap cab ride.
So during 5-day Galapagos cruises, passengers are really only spending three full days out in the Galapagos islands. Similar scenarios are realized with longer tours too. 8-day tours are really 6 days sailing in the Galapagos, with seven nights of accommodation covered on the boat. These can still be awesome cruises, but the reality of what occurs on the first and last days is something to understand if attempting to perform a fair price comparison.
Last Minute Galapagos Cruise Deal vs. DIY Island Hopping
The agent who offered us the last-minute 5-day / 4-night cruise deal for $750 claimed: “it would cost more to stay on Santa Cruz and take day tours than it would to take his last-minute Galapagos cruise deal.”
So we decided to examine this claim more closely.
Let’s assume you stay in Puerto Ayora, Santa Cruz for four nights, five days, in a decent hotel room with air-conditioning. On Days 2, 3, and 4, you take expensive day tours on boats that return to Santa Cruz each night. This would be comparable to spending Days 2-4 snorkeling and touring islands during the 5-day liveaboard cruise tour. Meanwhile Days 1 and 5, you visit the tortoise sanctuary, go to a beach, tour the lava tunnels, check-out museums, free snorkeling, etc. (similar to Day 1 & 5 of the 5-day cruise itinerary).
Here’s what this 5-Day Galapagos independent travel budget looks like, as based in Puerto Ayora:
This would be an action-packed 5-day Galapagos itinerary based in Puerto Ayora all for less than $500 per person.
Now let’s compare that to the 5-day cruise itinerary, which was priced at $750. On the liveaboard cruises, it’s customary to tip the deserving crew $10 per day, so that adds another $50 to the $750 cruise. The last-minute cruise tour deal included snorkeling gear but not wetsuits. That would add even more to the total cruise tour price, but let’s assume we could get by without any wetsuits. This totals a price of $800 for the last-minute Galapagos cruise tour.
Compare that $800 to the $475 spent on a packed DIY-itinerary outlined above. For couple travelers, that’s an expense of $1,600 for the cruise compared to $950 while staying on the island to pursue day tours.
Traveling independently instead of a 5-day tour adds to a cost savings of $650 for a couple. For some, the $650 difference may be negligible. In which case, take the cruise! A last-minute Galapagos cruise can be a sweet deal and a great experience!
But, personally, we’d rather have that extra $650 in our pockets to further spend on more awesome travel adventures throughout South America, like all of these.
Can You Really Experience the Galapagos Without Taking a Cruise?
Opinions circulate in online travel forums of people claiming that it is not possible to really experience the Galapagos unless taking a cruise around the islands. That is simply not true.
Again, Galapagos cruises can be a fantastic option if you have the budget for it. We can’t argue that. But you should know that it is possible to have all of the following experiences without taking a liveaboard cruise tour:
✔️️ Swim with sea lions
✔️️ Gaze upon wild flamingos
✔️️ Watch wild penguins frolicking in the ocean
✔️️ Stumble across marine iguanas & land iguanas
✔️️ Snorkel with loads of sharks
✔️️ Glide past dozens of sea turtles
✔️️ Hike up an active volcano
✔️️ Visit with wild Galapagos tortoises
✔️️ Be alone on a remote island with only a small group
✔️️ Dive with rays
✔️️ Climb through (and swim through) lava tunnels
✔️️ Come face-to-face with blue-footed boobies
✔️️ Tour around deserted islands with a naturalist guide
✔️️ Spot Galapagos hawks, finches, frigate birds, among other endemic species.
These quintessential Galapagos experiences can all be pursued without going on a liveaboard Galapagos cruise. We know this because we were fortunate to enjoy every single one of those above highlights without spending the extra cash on a liveaboard cruise tour. We saw and experienced all of this simply by independent travel in the Galapagos in addition to a few day tours. Later in this post, we’ll show you exactly where in the Galapagos you can experience each of these activities and wildlife encounters, even for free!
Further Advantages of Traveling Galapagos Independently
There are even a few additional benefits that come with forgoing a liveaboard cruise tour to travel the Galapagos independently:
- Price: This is the biggest advantage, as a DIY island hopping tour will always cost less than taking a liveaboard cruise.
- Flexibility: Independent travelers can do whatever they want, when they want. Sites are picked and chosen based on personal preference or how you’re feeling that day. There’s also no strict agenda to follow.
- Sites Visited: Day tours often visit some of the same amazing sites that cruises go to. Naysayers will mention that there are further flung islands liveaboard cruises can reach, in which day tours do not. That is true. But there are also some sites day tours visit that the liveaboard cruises do not go. Los Tuneles on Isabela Island is one example of that and it is an incredible place! Just take a look at our video below:
A DIY Island Hopping Example Galapagos Budget: Two Weeks
So what does a DIY Galapagos island hopping trip cost? Below shows sample prices that we incurred firsthand during our island hopping Galapagos trip in 2017. Update: costs in 2019 have mostly remained the same.
- Roundtrip flights to/from mainland Ecuador: $364 (including taxes & baggage)
- Mandatory fees to Galapagos: $120
- Breakfasts: $2-$5
- Lunches: $3-$6
- Dinners: $3-$10
- Day tours: $40-$135
- Scuba, 2 dives including equipment: $150
- Beer in a restaurant: $4
- Budget accommodation with A/C: $30 per night
Below shows our complete Galapagos island hopping budget for a 13-day trip. Note that prices listed here are per person and accommodation is based upon double occupancy.
Island Hopping Galapagos Budget Per Day
We were able to keep our daily expenses in the Galapagos less than $100 per person, per day ($1,129 spent ÷ 13 days = $86.85 per day). This included decent private accommodation, local seafood meals, splurging on a day tour about every other day, and even pursuing a full day of scuba diving.
Within this average, there were days that cost about $200 when we went scuba diving. On other days, we managed to spend less than $30 per person, going snorkeling from shore and relaxing on the beach. These two extremes averaged out to about $90 per person, per day.
Spending nearly $100 per day is certainly higher than typical travel expenses throughout South America and in most places around the world. Yet we are quite content at everything that a budget of $100 per day can attain in the Galapagos!
Do know that you can easily spend a lot more or less than this sample Galapagos budget outlines. This Galapagos island hopping budget is shared simply to offer some actual prices and guidance on what is possible. It’s achievable to maintain an even lower Galapagos budget than this for those who don’t splurge on as many day tours and scuba diving. Read on for more detail about that.
Island Hopping Galapagos Budget Breakdown: Day Tour Prices
The biggest expense with a DIY island hopping Galapagos trip is day tours. Including the scuba dives, we each spent about $700 on Galapagos day tours total. Ouch!
Day tours alone compose nearly half (43%) of our entire Galapagos budget. Accommodation and eating in the Galapagos can be cheap. But these pricey day tours really add up. Yet we found them to be largely worth the splurge.
Galapagos day tours tend to average about $100 per tour but do widely vary in price, higher and lower.
While Galapagos day tours can be expensive, they can prove to be extremely worthwhile experiences. We’d suggest budgeting to take a minimum of one day tour for each of the three main islands. For longer trips and bigger budgets, consider more, particularly so for the many day tours that depart Puerto Ayoro.
Finding the Best Deals on Galapagos Day Tour Prices
There are plenty of tour agencies all in each town in the Galapagos, particularly so in Puerto Ayora. This is where you go to inquire about day tours.
Similar to finding last-minute cruise deals, it’s worthwhile to price compare around a few different agencies before booking. Doing so can really help to stretch your Galapagos budget! Different agencies will offer the exact same day tour, often even on the same boat, at completely different prices. We found the price you’re offered can come down to how much commission the agent is willing to forgo to achieve the sale.
So how can you get the lowest prices on these Galapagos day tours?
Here are some tried and true methods we can recommend:
Book last minute day tours. We found the agencies tend to offer good prices the afternoon/evening before each tour began. Shop around from about 3:00-6:00 pm. Just be careful with this, because popular tours do fill up. So if there’s an in-demand tour that you’re really excited about, you may want to book further in advance. This holds particularly true during high season.
Ask for a deal. When entering a travel agency, be straightforward and ask if they have any promotions for tours tomorrow. This is a polite way to let the agent know immediately that you’re price-sensitive. Hopefully, they’ll offer you a good price.
Be flexible. Particularly with last-minute bookings, sometimes operators are anxious to fill particular boats, rather than do a tour with a few empty seats. As such, you’ll often find deals on a tour one day, but it may unavailable the next. So when a day tour deal comes up, jump on it even if it may alter what you had initially planned.
Book in numbers. Agencies tend to give bigger discounts to larger groups since they’re collecting multiple commissions. So if you make some friends who all want to take the same Galapagos day tour, visit an agency together and book as a group.
Book multiple tours. Some agencies are willing to cut you a deal if you book multiple tours together at once.
Book direct if possible. Most of the tour operators don’t have a way to book direct, which is why you rely on the tour agencies. But occasionally they do, particularly for scuba diving. Book your dives directly with the dive shop rather than through an agency.
Know the Galapagos day tour prices. It’s good to have some sort of idea how much each Galapagos day tour costs. We saw some Galapagos day tour prices to vary greatly between agencies. One agency quoted us a Bartolome day tour price of $200, while another offered it for $130. That’s quite the difference in price!
Galapagos Day Tour Prices & Best Tours To Take
Below are the most common day tours you’ll find offered on each of the main islands and the associated lowest price offered, updated for 2019 prices:
Isla Isabela Day Tour Prices & Advice
- Tintoreras half-day tour: $45
- Sierra Negra half-day volcano hike $35
- Tuneles (The Tunnels): $100
The Tunnels day tour is Isabela’s most expensive for a reason. It’s pretty incredible. The unique environment of the otherworldly sea tunnels is such an interesting sight to see. Yet standing on those rocks reveal blue-footed boobies atop the surface as sharks swim below. The nearby snorkeling spot further reveals some sharks, turtles, seahorses, and possibly penguins for those who are lucky. If only doing a single tour on Isabela, this is one to splash the cash.
See video below to get some idea of what the Tunnels day tour is like.
Yet with Isabela’s other two main tours being less than $50, these are both worth pursuing too. The half-day snorkeling tour of Tintoreras boasts an environment with some of most turtles we encountered in the Galapagos. Trekking the Sierra Negra volcano can prove to be an invigorating diversion away from the many oceanic activities. And it’s a deal well-worth pursuing at $35.
Isla San Cristobal Day Tour Prices & Advice
- Kicker Rock snorkeling day tour: $90
- San Cristobal 360 Tour (includes snorkeling Kicker Rock): $135
Kicker Rock is a premier snorkeling and dive site in the Galapagos accessible by day tour. Some say it’s the best and we can’t argue. The famed rocks jutting out of the ocean are awe-inspiring on their own. Yet it’s the vast marine life that can be found while snorkeling though them that further amazes. Kicker Rock is one of the only day tour snorkeling trips where hammerhead sharks are known to frequent. We suggest a visit to Kicker Rock as a must-do. There are two different day tours to get there.
While on San Cristobal, choose either the Kicker Rock day tour or the San Cristobal 360 tour, not both. The San Cristobal 360 Tour is a boat trip that goes entirely around the island, with several interesting stops along the way, culminating with snorkeling at Kicker Rock for about 30 minutes. Yet the Kicker Rock tours allow much more time snorkeling at Kicker Rock, which may be preferred. So decide if you’d rather have more time at this awesome site or a more full day tour to see more of the island. You really can’t go wrong either way.
Isla Santa Cruz Day Tour Prices & Advice
- Isla Pinzon: $100
- Sante Fe day tour: $110
- Seymour day tour: $130
- Plazas day tour: $130
- Bartolome day tour: $130+
- Floreana day tour: $150
- Diving: Seymour/Daphne (2 dives) $150
- Diving: Gordon Rocks (2 dives) $180
Puerto Ayora on Isla Santa Cruz has, by far, the most day tours on offer. We’ve gone on most of them and they’re all great. It’s tough to suggest one over another. Additionally, the marine life experienced will vary with each trip. Rather than steering people towards one tour over another, we’d suggest for those traveling the Galapagos on a budget to pursue a good day tour deal that may be offered. The agencies in Puerto Ayora are happy to sit down with travelers to explain the details of each tour, along with up-to-date pricing for a last-minute sale.
🙋♂️Help other travelers! Those who are venturing to the Galapagos are relying on this price information to help plan their trip. So please come back by to help them with the small effort of chiming in the comments section with the day tour prices you found while in the Galapagos. Gracias!
Take Advantage of the Many Free Things to Do in the Galapagos!
The best way to cut Galapagos expenses is to not take a day tour every day.
Thankfully for those trying to experience the Galapagos on a shoestring, there is a surprising amount of free things to do in the Galapagos. These free activities can really help to lower costs. Below is a roundup of what we found to be some of the best free things to do in the Galapagos:
Free Beaches in the Galapagos
Visitors can find amazing free beaches in the Galapagos to bask on, snorkel, or even go surfing! Scheduling some beach days into a Galapagos independent itinerary can be a nice relaxing break in between many excursions. And it can also be a nice break for your budget!
Best Beach in the Galapagos: The beach at Tortuga Bay made Tripadvisor’s list in for Top 10 Beaches in the World, and deservedly so! Pictured above, Tortuga Bay is a pleasant 45-minute walk down a path from Puerto Ayora on an easily-traversed trail. It’s never very crowded either. Beach bums in the Galapagos should not miss this place!
Here are some other Galapagos beaches you can easily access for free:
More Free Beaches on Santa Cruz: Playa de La Estacion (on the way to Darwin Center) and Playa Los Alemanes (take a quick $0.80 water taxi from the ferry docks) are small but easily accessible beaches from Puerto Ayora.
Free Beach on Isla Isabela: Puerto Villamil Beach. Just walk towards the ocean from anywhere in town to find this long sandy stretch. Puerto Villamil Beach also boasts a lookout and marine iguanas.
Free Beaches on San Cristobal: La Loberia is a forty-minute walk from town to this beach that has many sea lions and surfers. Playa Mann is closer to town with cheap food vendors and nice sunsets. Punta Carola is a pretty beach that’s a short hike into the National Park area. Yet continue further to find the secluded Playa Baquerizo.
Free Snorkeling in the Galapagos
Visitors can also find some great free snorkeling in the Galapagos. Isla San Cristobal has most free snorkeling sites. (And the best, in our opinion.) Yet all of the three main islands have some great snorkeling sites that you can jump right into, entirely for free!
On Isla Santa Cruz, be sure to go snorkeling through the lava canyon that is Las Grietas. It’s just a 1-minute water taxi ride ($0.80) across the harbor, then a quick walk, to experience what is the most unique free snorkeling site in the Galapagos.
On Isla Isabela, try the Concha de Perla. By snorkeling in this lagoon, visitors often encounter penguins, sea lions, rays and even sharks!
On San Cristobal: Be sure to take a peek under the surface at both Las Tijeretas and Playa Loberia in San Cristobal. We saw sea lions, turtles, octopus, and lots of fish. This video gives an example of what the marine life you can see for free doing shore snorkeling in San Cristobal.
Free Hiking in the Galapagos
There are some nice free hikes in the Galapagos to embark on. Most hikes through the Galapagos are fairly short, but some do extend beyond a few kilometers. Hiking in the Galapagos is a nice reminder that there’s much beauty to see above the surface too!
On Isla Santa Cruz there are a few short hikes you can take from Puerto Ayora:
- Just North of Puerto Ayora, you can find El Mirador de Tuneles which is the only free lava tunnel site in the Galapagos we know of (usually they’re on private property and ~$3 admission is charged).
- Los Gemelos in the highlands has a few kilometers of trails to view the collapsed craters.
- There’s a very short stroll along the boardwalks of Lagunas de las Ninfas.
- The trail to get to the aforementioned beach at Tortuga Bay makes for a nice 40-minute walk to the beach.
- Also, the Darwin Center has a mile-long trail just before its entrance.
On Isla Isabela take the short hike across the boardwalk at Lagunas Salinas where you’re almost certain to come across some flamingos. Trek along further to see the Wall of Tears.
Isla San Cristobal has the most hiking opportunities, easily accessible from town. We recommend the rocky and rugged hike (shoes required) from Playa Loberia to Barranco, where you’ll step over marine iguana until reaching a steep cliff where blue-footed boobies hang out. The well-maintained network of trails that climb atop Cerro Tijeratas begins at the San Cristobal interpretive, which you can use to trek to free beaches, free snorkeling, and a fantastic lookout point.
Free Tortoise Breeding Centers
Each populated island in the Galapagos has its own tortoise-breeding center that can be toured for free. The breeding centers on Isabela and Santa Cruz can be easily reached by walking, so those are perhaps best for those traveling to the Galapagos on a budget since no taxi expense is incurred.
Free Tortoise Breeding Center on Santa Cruz: Go to the Darwin Center to see the giants from Puerto Ayora.
Free Tortoise Breeding Center on Isla Isabela: Centro de Crianza Arnaldo Tupiza can be easily reached from Puerto Villamil by taking the trail that crosses Lagunas Salinas.
Free Tortoise Breeding Center on Isla San Cristobal: The Galapaguera de Cerro Colorado is the breeding center on San Cristobal but it requires a taxi to visit.
Free Museums in the Galapagos
There are also a handful of museums to check out with an entry cost of $0! A bonus point is that many of the Galapagos museums are air-conditioned. This can provide some much-needed relief while walking around the islands in the hot afternoon weather. The Darwin Center is the most famous of the free museums. Yet our favorite was the information-filled interpretive center on San Cristobal.
Free Museums on Isla Santa Cruz: The Darwin Center is a must-visit museum in the Galapagos. There’s also a little, lesser-visited museum of renewable energy just before the trail to Tortuga Way.
Free Museum on Isla Isabela: The tortoise breeding center contains a small museum all about these gigantic reptiles.
Free Museum on Isla San Cristobal: The San Cristobal Interpretive Center is the most informative free museum of them all in the Galapagos.
Where to Find Wildlife for Free in the Galapagos
There are many free wildlife viewing opportunities, even near the towns throughout the Galapagos. Sea lions and marine iguanas are most present. Yet those who know where to look may even be able to find penguins and blue-footed boobies, without spending on a tour.
Here’s where to find some of the Galapagos’s more notorious residents without spending a dime:
Sea Lions: Everywhere. They can easily be found lying around the docks and beaches of all the Galapagos islands. Yet they were most thick in San Cristobal. You can even swim with sea lions at Playa La Loberia and Las Tijeteras on San Cristobal.
Penguins: Among the three main islands, Isabela is the only one where these tuxedo-clad birds hang out. We saw them swimming around the ferry docks of Puerto Villamil, but they’re also known to frequent Concha de Perla and Puerto Villamil Beach.
Tortoises: The only place that we saw truly wild tortoises while in the Galapagos was in the Santa Cruz Highlands. You can easily explore this area with an inexpensive bike rental. Otherwise, you can find semi-wild tortoises in the El Chato sanctuary which has a mere $5 entry fee.
Marine Iguanas: Everywhere. You’ll almost trip over them at most beaches and even the ferry docks.
Flamingos: You’ll find these pink birds feeding in the shallow waters of Lagunas Salinas on Isla Isabela.
Sea Turtles: While it’s possible to see them at any of the free snorkeling spots, the only free snorkeling site we saw a sea turtle was at Playa La Loberia on San Cristobal.
Blue-footed boobies: The only spot we found these famed Galapagos birds without a day tour was on San Cristobal at the end of the trek to Barranco. Take a look around the edge of the cliffs to find those funny birds.
Galapagos Budget Breakdown: Food & Drink Prices
Eating in the Galapagos can be surprisingly affordable for those who know where to look.
Cheap Eats for Dinner in the Galapagos
Most restaurants in the Galapagos appealing to tourists are on the pricier spectrum. Expect to pay about $20 per person for a decent meal at a midrange restaurant. There is plenty of American/International/Western food from pizza to cheeseburgers to sushi. It’s all rather expensive. Instead, we suggest enjoying the delicious local seafood found throughout the islands!
By sticking to the local seafood, it’s easy to find plentiful dinners around all the populated islands for well under $10 per meal. A well-known area to partake in cheap eats in Puerto Ayora is the food kiosks that are strung all along Charles Binford street. Here, you’ll find delicious full fish dinners starting at $10. Any of the greeters with menus will eagerly give you some suggestions, vying for your business. But instead of taking menu holders suggestions, look for the set dinner deals written on whiteboards, and cost even less!
Know About Meriendas for the Cheapest Local Dinners
These set meal specials on the whiteboards are called “meriendas.” These meriendas are 2-course dinners that include juice for $4. The greeters with menus generally don’t like to point out the meriendas, so be observant to look for them and seek them out.
Also, if opting for the merienda, diners are sat at a table inside with the locals, rather than out on the street with other tourists. Merienda options usually range among fish and shrimp, which are either fried, grilled, or smothered in a tasty garlic sauce. They are always filling, delicious, and of exceptional value for a mere $4!
On Isla Isabela, meriendas can also be found on the main street, Antonio Gil, for slightly more than in Puerto Ayora. The going rate for a set dinner on Isabel ranges from $4-$8.
The merienda dinner deals are less prevalent on San Cristobal, although there are plenty of cheap eats on San Cristobal too. Yet instead of eating meriendas in San Cristobal, try the food vendors at Playa Mann who grill up a variety of things-on-a-stick around lunchtime and sunset.
For Cheap Lunches in the Galapagos: Eat Almuerzos
Any day tour in the Galapagos includes your lunch. Keep that in mind to help justify the high costs of day tours. Sometimes lunch may consist of a mediocre tuna fish sandwich, while other instances you may be delighted with some delicious freshly prepared ceviche like this.
Yet when not on a day tour, you’ll want to find a way to keep your lunchtime expenses low. For that, you can find set menus referred to as “almuerzos.” These almuerzos are composed similarly to the meriendas mentioned above.
For prices starting at $3.50, you’ll get an enormous bowl of soup, a main dish with seafood & sides, and a fresh-squeezed juice! These are excellent lunchtime meal deals that can also be a great way to immerse with the local crowd, rather than the overpriced tourist restaurants.
Budget Breakfasts in the Galapagos
It’s important to eat a good breakfast in the Galapagos before those long day tours. Often lunches during tours tend to be later in the afternoon, so don’t skip on the breakfast. Many of the restaurants serve typical American and English breakfasts for $10 and up. Instead, eat local.
First off, there are some decent bakeries throughout the Galapagos that have interesting pastries. Go the night before and grab some sweet chocolate bread or cheese-filled rolls to snack on the following morning. Restaurants tend to open late in the Galapagos (after 8:00 or 9:00 am), and many of the day tours and ferries leave well before that. So bakeries are not only an economical option. It may be the only option for breakfast. So plan accordingly to stock up on the croissants on the night before.
For Isabela, there’s a bakery on the main street, $1 per item. In Puerto Ayora, the supermarket may be your best bet with pastries $0.50-$0.80. On San Cristobal, the Sabor Cuencano bakery has the best baked goods in all of the Galapagos and prices each item at about $0.60.
There are some local restaurants offering more complete breakfasts in the $4-$6 range. Be sure to get the set breakfasts for the best value. The only problem is that these cafes and restaurants often aren’t open early enough before a day tour or morning ferry. So such places are better options for leisurely mornings. Try the bolon, a ball of plantains & cheese that is a local specialty in coastal Ecuador and a personal favorite of ours!
Descanso Del Guia (by the ferry docks in Puerto Ayora) sells delicious bolons to-go in a plastic bag for $2, which is nice if in a hurry. Or sit down there for a full breakfast for just a few bucks more.
Another cheap breakfast option we can recommend in Puerto Ayora is the outdoor café at the ferry docks. The friendly guy behind the counter will make you a simple, yet great, grilled cheese sandwich (toastie) plus a coffee for $2.50. It’s the perfect pre-ferry breakfast snack.
How To Drink in the Galapagos on a Budget
One expense not previously meticulously itemized in the Galapagos budget is the cost of drinking, whether that be for water or beers. That’s because drinking can be a great place to scale back when traveling Galapagos on a budget, as you don’t need to spend much at all in this area. There is usually free water at most (not all) decent hotels and hostels. And booze in the Galapagos can be pricey, so it can best to save the partying for back in mainland Ecuador.
Although we love to drink around the world, drinking alcohol in the Galapogos can become an expensive proposition. Boozing isn’t really what you come all the way to the Galapagos for. Aside from the occasional cold cerveza or two at the end of a long hot day, there’s really not a strong urge to party on the islands. Personally, we were exhausted from a full day’s worth of activities and fun in the sun and would want to be fresh for the next early morning of adventure.
Use Happy Hours to Save on Cocktails
It’s not unusual to see $10 cocktails at Galapagos bars and restaurants. Drink prices can be much higher than that at swanky places. Thankfully some bars in the Galapagos do have long happy hours. Two-for-$10 drinks are the most prevalent happy hour deal in the Galapagos. The cheapest cocktail prices we found was a three-for-$10 happy hour at a handful of places in Puerto Ayora.
If you’re a real boozer, it could prove worthwhile to bring a bottle with you from the mainland. Although liquor is sold at the supermarkets at the Galapagos, expect to pay at least $50 for lower-end bottles.
Beer in Galapagos is More Economical
Beers tend to be a more thrifty way to wind down the day. $4 for a cerveza grande (large, 750-ml, bottle of beer) is fairly standard at most restaurants, although some charge more. Better yet, go to the supermarket to get a cold beer for even less and enjoy it on the beach. When you’re finished, just be sure to return the bottle and you’ll get back a $0.50 deposit for each one.
On Isla San Cristobal, you’ll find what is the first microbrewery in the Galapagos. Endémica brews up a blonde ale that is a refreshing change from Ecuador’s two main national beers you’ll see everywhere throughout the Galapagos. It’s possible to visit Endémica during daytime hours to buy this Galapagos craft beer to-go for $2 per bottle. It’s a tiny operation and not really a place to hang out and drink beer. Yet it can be an interesting detour for any beer nerds out there or to get some decent local beer on the cheap. Otherwise, Endémica beer is priced $4-$7 in most restaurants throughout the Galapagos.
Drinking Water Adds Up But Doesn’t Have To
Drinking water is often provided complimentary from big jugs at hotels and hostels in the Galapagos. Meanwhile, the price of a liter bottle of water can range around $1-$2. You’ll go through many of those plastic bottles during a hot Galapagos day, so having access to drinking water can help to save money and be more environmentally-friendly.
Refilling bottles at your hotel can accrue a savings of $5 per day. It may not seem like much but that adds up to a net savings of $140 for a couple on a two-week Galapagos trip.
Don’t fret if your accommodation doesn’t provide drinking water. You can find the big 6-liter bottles for less than $2 in the supermarkets in the Galapagos. Since the 1-liter bottles are often nearly the same price as 6-liter bottles, it can be well worth it to buy the 6-liter bottles and use them to refill smaller 1-liter bottles.
Where to Buy Cheap Ferry Tickets for $25 Instead of $30
Ferry tickets cannot be purchased directly with the ferry at the dock. Instead, ferry tickets must be purchased from an agency. It’s a set price of $30 one-way, regardless of the island being traveled to.
But there’s one and only one agency throughout all the islands that book ferry tickets for $25 instead. Go see the ladies at the kiosk, right between the church and the supermarket, located right about here. That’s conveniently just across from the ferry docks in Puerto Ayora. There’s a sign that says “Cristine” below another sign that says “Operadora Turistica Travel Agency.” The picture below to help you find it. It saves you $5 per ferry ticket, so booking these tickets for $25 instead of $30 will ultimately save a couple $50 if taking multiple ferries throughout the islands.
(Note: a reader has reported that the Cristine sign may longer be there, but the $25 tickets at this booth are still available as of July 2019.)
Galapagos Budget Breakdown: Accommodation
It is very possible to find decent and inexpensive places to stay all throughout the Galapagos. $30 per night can achieve a clean room in a great location in Puerto Ayora with air conditioning, private bathroom with hot water shower, and even satellite TV. Wifi was usually pretty bad or non-existent, so don’t expect to stay connected. Despite that minor annoyance, we were pretty impressed with the budget accommodation in the Galapagos.
You can just as easily find some rather expensive places if you do want to spend more, but we found the budget-friendly accommodations to be very adequate. We always prefer to spend more on doing things, rather than sleeping.
For those who are backpacking Galapagos on a shoestring, you can find dorm beds around $10/night or even free couchsurfing. Yet, given that you can share a decent hotel room for $15 per person, per night, we recommend going that route.
Is Air Conditioning Necessary in the Galapagos?
Some of the budget accommodation in the Galapagos are equipped with air conditioning. Others only have a fan. So are those fan rooms viable in the heat?
Despite the extremely hot temps during the day, it usually cools off to about 66-70° F (19-21° C) at night. Having air conditioning is nice. Yet we felt comfortable at night in a few of the non-A/C rooms that had fans only. You’ll have to decide that for yourself. Rooms without A/C tend to be the least expensive. So choosing a room without A/C can be a good way to save and there are still some nice affordable places with fan-only rooms. So don’t rule them out entirely.
Booking Hotels in Advance vs Booking Upon Arrival
It can be possible to find slightly cheaper room rates by booking upon arrival, rather than booking online in advance.
However, there are some very compelling reasons to book in advance. For one, all of the best do get booked up full in advance, particularly so during busier periods. It’s imperative to book in advance to lock in a good rate at some of the Galapagos’s best budget accommodation.
Yet perhaps an even more dire reason to book in advance is that as of 2017, a new Galapagos regulation requires visitors to have accommodation reservations. When showing passports and filling out the necessary entry paperwork at the airport, it is now also mandated to show proof of accommodation reservation.
This new regulation mandates visitors have advanced bookings for the entire length of stay in the Galapagos. In practice, many Galapagos travelers report that officials are only checking for reservations for a least the first night. Still, it’s best to follow the official rules and book for the entire stay, just in case. If you want travel plans to remain flexible, book Galapagos accommodation that has a free cancelation policy.
With this new hotel reservation requirement, we have scouted out a few of the most economical and best value places to book online, as of 2019. So you don’t have to scour through all the different website to find the best deals. But first, let’s examine the best booking sites to use in the Galapagos.
The Best Sites to Book Cheap Accommodation in the Galapagos
Most regions around the world seem to have a dominant site that is best for booking accommodation. But in the Galapagos, the best deals really tend to vary across different booking sites and across the different islands. Here’s what we found:
Booking.com seems to have the biggest inventory of places to stay in the Galapagos and often the lowest prices. (In only a few instances Expedia/Hotels.com offers lower prices.)
Airbnb is an interesting option for the Galapagos. While we typically only use the site to rent rooms or full apartments, there are quite a few hostels and actual bed & breakfasts listed on Airbnb in the Galapagos, with some great prices. And if you’ve never used Airbnb before, you can use this coupon to save $40 off your Galapagos booking!
Hostelworld has only a few good deals that make the most sense for solo travelers. Couples are often charged double the price for the same room. We use Hostelworld in many places around the world, but it’s not the best in the Galapagos.
Budget Accommodation in Puerto Ayora, Santa Cruz
Hotel España – We stayed here for 5 nights and recommend.
I don’t think you can find any centrally located hotel in the Galapagos with A/C, private bathroom, hot water shower, and even satellite TV for only $35 per night. This hotel is a steal. It’s also in perhaps the best location in Puerto Ayora. It is surrounded by restaurants & tour agencies. It’s also just a few blocks from the ferries and supermarket. The $35 nightly rate is the current price for economic rooms, which are pretty small but suited us just fine. Standard and deluxe rooms (nicer) are also available online but at a slightly higher price. Currently, the best price to book an economic room is on HostelWorld: Check prices here.
Yet for a nicer Standard Room, we’ve found the best rates on Hotels.com, starting at $42/night.
It’s such fantastic value in the Galapagos for a centrally located hotel w/ air-conditioning included!
🏨 Inexpensive Apartment Rental: Patty Hospedaje – The big rooms at these private apartments are spacious and having a kitchen can help to keep meal costs low. The onsite pool can be heavenly to return to in the afternoon heat. The only downside to staying here is a somewhat inconvenient location. But free bikes help to make up for that! Yet perhaps the best thing is the value – they often offer deals for private one-bedroom apartments for less than $35 per night. Check prices for your dates.
🏨 Affordable Comfort: La Mirada del Solitario George – If you don’t mind a 15-minute walk to the main part of town, this is an excellent option for inexpensive private rooms with air conditioning that receives stellar reviews. Booking.com tends to give discounts on certain dates – check current deals here.
🏨 Great Find: Hospedaje Germania: Boasts a prime location, consistent rave reviews, nice rooms, low-ish prices of about $40/night and even has air-conditioning. What more do you need, really? Check rates for Germania on Booking.
Cheap Accommodation in Puerto Villamil, Isla Isabela
🏨 Cheapest Rates: Hospedaje Neptuno currently has the lowest rates for anywhere on Isla Isabela that can be booked online. It’s a good location and decent rooms. Travelers requiring no-frills will likely be plenty comfortable here. But there have been some complaints about the lack of staff presence, hot water, and minor cleanliness issues. So those who want to ensure comfort may be best spending more to book elsewhere. Check the latest reviews here.
🏨 Great Guesthouse: Hospedaje Sarita is a great centrally located guesthouse to stay at on Isla Isabela with affordable rates and local touches. Yet there’s only one single room here. So once it’s booked, it’s gone. Check availability.
🏨 Cheap Hotel w/ AC: Cerro Azul – For an economical hotel with A/C in Isabela, we suggest Cerro Azul. You’ll pay a bit more than the other recommendations, but it may be worth it. Check Cerro Azul rates on Booking here.
Cheap Accommodation in Puerto Baquerizo Moreno, San Cristobal
🏨 Hostal Suiza – This lovely place has among the lowest rates on the island. We stayed there and recommend Suiza without any hesitations. It’s centrally located, very clean & comfortable, and has friendly hosts. The $30 room has no A/C but we kept perfectly cool with the ceiling fans. A $40 room has A/C and even a full private kitchen. Hostal Suiza is listed on Booking, but the lowest rates can be found here on Airbnb. (Those new to Airbnb can save $40 with this coupon.)
🏨 Hostal Terito – This is another great option on Isabela. We met travelers staying here who said it was their favorite place they’ve stayed in all of South America and it has hundreds of similar reviews to back that up. This is of particularly great value for solo travelers who can find private rooms on Booking for just above $20. Couples will pay more, but it’s still good value. Search your dates here on Booking.
🏨 Casa de Jeimy – For a budget room with A/C, consider Casa de Jeimy. It receives similarly great reviews, is about the same price, and has an awesome rooftop terrace to watch the sunset after a long day in the sun. You can find the best rates for Casa de Jeimy on Booking.
Sample Itinerary for a DIY Galapagos Budget Trip
Now that you understand the free things to do from land, the worthwhile Galapagos day tours to take, where to find cheap, accommodation, the lowest ferry tickets, and where the cheap eats are, lets now put that all together to form a land-based Galapagos itinerary.
Use the following Galapagos itinerary suggestion as a base for idea formation. Then tailor to your specific interests and your budget. The following example Galapagos itineraries are budget-friendly and less expensive than liveaboard cruises of the same length. Yet those who are really attempting to travel the Galapagos on a shoestring may want to consider fewer day tours than what’s proposed in the following land-based itinerary.
So how much time to spend in the Galapagos? If spending the money and time to get to the Galapagos, we’d suggest a bare minimum of at least five days. Yet a one-week or two-week itinerary in the islands is much more ideal and possible to do on a budget.
Five Days in the Galapagos DIY Land-Based Itinerary
Day 1: Fly into Baltra airport by mid-day. Take a series of ferry, taxi, bus to Puerto Ayora. Get situated at your hotel, explore the town, visit tourism agencies to book a day tour for tomorrow, and eat a merienda for dinner.
Day 2: Eat a quick breakfast and take a day tour to Pinzon, Sante Fe, Bartolome, or Plazas ($100-$150).
Day 3: Pursue free activities! Visit the Darwin Center, have a cheap almuerzo for lunch, go snorkeling at Las Grietas, and if time permits take the 45-minute walk to the beautiful beach of Tortuga Bay (closes at 5:00 pm.) Book another day tour for tomorrow.
Day 4: Take another day tour. Again, consider the trips to Pinzon, Sante Fe, Bartolome, or Plazas ($100-$150).
Day 5: Pursue cheap activities on Isla Santa Cruz. Get a half-day bike rental ($10) and have a truck taxi ($20) take you and your bikes to Los Gemelos, a collapsed crater in the middle of the island for a look. Bike down to El Chato – Giant Tortoise Reserve ($3). Then cycle to the Lava Tunnels of Bellavisita before returning on bike to Puerto Ayora. With any extra time in the afternoon, hit up a beach or relax.
One Week in the Galapagos DIY Island Hopping Itinerary
With one week in the Galapagos, follow the above itinerary in Santa Cruz, basing yourself in Puerto Ayora, then head to San Cristobal island. We suggest 4-5 nights in Puerto Ayora and 2-3 nights in Isla de San Cristobal.
Day 6: Take the morning ferry ($25-$30) to Isla de San Cristobal. Drop bags at hotel/hostel and pursue free activities. Walk or take a taxi to Playa Loberia ($2) to trek from there Barranco to find blue-footed boobies. Return to Playa Loberia for snorkeling in the bay. Have lunch in town or a Playa Mann before continuing onto the San Cristobal Interpretive Center. Hike to Las Tijeretas for more snorkeling. (Note: this is an aggressive plan.)
Day 7: Take the San Cristobal 360 tour or the Kicker Rock day tour. Depart directly from the San Cristobal airport in the late afternoon or next day.
Two Weeks in the Galapagos DIY Island Hopping Itinerary
With two weeks in the Galapagos, follow the 5-day itinerary for Santa Cruz, and spend one more day there before taking a ferry to Isla Isabela and ultimately departing from San Cristobal. In total, 6 nights in Puerto Ayora, 4 nights on Isla Isabela, and 4 nights on San Cristobal.
Day 6: For Scuba divers, consider booking a dive to Daphne ($150) or Gordon Rocks ($180) for a good chance to see hammerheads. Or take another day tour you haven’t done yet. Or just relax and pursue some of the aforementioned experiences you may not have had a chance to do.
Day 7: Take the morning ferry to Isla Isabela. Do the Tintoreras half-day boat tour ($45) to snorkel with loads of sea turtles.
Day 8: Spend the morning on the Sierra Negra half-day volcano hiking tour ($35). In the afternoon, cool off at the beach.
Day 9: Pursue free activities! Take a short hike across the boardwalk at Lagunas Salinas to spot wild flamingos, visit the tortoise breeding center, trek further to see the Wall of Tears. In the afternoon go snorkeling in Concha de Perla for a rare chance to possibly swim with penguins.
Day 10: Take the Los Tuneles Day Tour. ($100)
Day 11: Long travel day. It requires two separate ferries ($25-$30, each) to travel from Isla Isabela to San Cristobal. So take the morning ferry from Isla Isabela back to Puerto Ayora. Then transfer to the afternoon ferry from Puerto Ayora to Isla San Cristobal. Relax at the beach for sunset. (Alternatively, there’s a small plane flight between these islands, which will save time at the trade-off a much higher cost.)
Day 12: Free activities! Walk or take a taxi ($2) to Playa Loberia to trek from there to Barranco, where you can find blue-footed boobies. Return to Playa Loberia for snorkeling in the bay. Have lunch in town or at the Playa Mann food stalls before continuing onto the San Cristobal Interpretive Center. Hike to Las Tijeretas for more snorkeling.
Day 13: Take the San Cristobal 360 tour ($135) or the Kicker Rock day tour ($90).
Day 14: Final day! Use this as a flexible day to pad your two-week itinerary. Maybe it rains one day, seas are rough, or you just grew tired. So you’ll need an extra day to fit in everything. It’s a good idea to have an extra day to use however you may deem fit. San Cristobal has what we find to be the best and most free activities, so it can be a good idea to plan a flexible day here. Go slower and split up some of the aforementioned suggestions. Enjoy the magical Galapagos Islands!
Pack These Things Before You Arrive in the Galapagos to Save!
You can find just about anything you may need in the Galapagos. But you’ll pay a premium for it since almost everything has the added expense of being flown in.
If you’re trying to do the Galapagos on a budget, it pays dividends to stock up on essentials in advance and bring them with you. This holds particularly true for sunscreen, which is crazy expensive in the Galapagos! Be sure to pack lots of it. Meanwhile, masks & snorkel sets tend to cost about $100 on the islands. Even on mainland Ecuador, expect to pay close to $60 for a questionable-quality mask, like the one below we saw in Quito.
So here’s a packing checklist of things to ensure you bring to the Galapagos so you don’t overspend once you’re here.
*Biodegradable* Sunscreen – The equatorial sun is intense and you’ll need to lather up very often. We never saw a bottle of sunscreen under $20 while in the Galapagos and we even saw it priced at $30-$35 in many places! But it’s been found that sunscreen is killing the reefs in the Galapagos! Environmentalists aboard some boats are now asking snorkelers to wash off their sunscreen before entering the water. Instead, bring reef-safe biodegradable sunscreen like this Alba Botanica SPF 45 that receives great reviews and is only $9 on Amazon. ⚠️ Whatever you buy, ensure that it does NOT contain oxybenzone and octinoxate, which studies have shown do harm to reefs. Alba Botanica is free of those ingredients.
Mask & Snorkel – There are a lot of great snorkeling sites you go to directly from the shore. Many dive shops in the Galapagos charge $5-$10 per day to rent out masks and snorkels that have been in hundreds of tourists’ mouths. Instead, buy a mask & snorkel set before you go. This US Diver’s Mask & Snorkel is a great quality mask for a low price, usually around $20. You’ll get your money’s worth after just a few uses, when compared to daily rentals. And if you wait to buy a mask & snorkel in the Galapagos, you’ll pay about $100. Or consider one of these cool new panoramic full-face snorkel masks!
Motion Sickness Medicine: You can find sea sickness medicine throughout the Galapagos and it’s actually quite inexpensive. But it’s the kind that makes you drowsy. Instead, we find that Bonine has far less of that unwanted sleepy side-effect, so stock up before you go if you get seasick.
Natural Mosquito Repellent – There are mosquitos in the Galapagos, but don’t come here with strong DEET repellent. Although it’s very functional, when you wear it in the water DEET becomes harmful and even kills marine life. Instead, consider a natural repellent to do your small part in keeping this pristine environment alive. We like this REPEL natural spray. You won’t find that on the islands.
An Inexpensive Underwater Camera: If you travel all the way to the Galapagos, you may want to capture those amazing memories in the water. GoPros are fantastic, but the $400+ price tag is not. Did you know that you can find knockoff GoPros on Amazon for only $50? We shot all the videos in this post using a $40 action cam and found it to be even better than our old (way more expensive) GoPro. Search action cams on Amazon and check the latest reviews. And whether you bring a GoPro or a less expensive alternative, be sure you have a float attachment because it will otherwise sink if dropped. We use this GoPole which attaches to both real GoPros and similar action cams.
Waterproof Your Phone & Camera: For photos above the surface, be sure you have a waterproof phone case like this. If your phone gets splashed or dropped overboard, this will save you from a major headache. For bulkier items like a professional camera, consider buying a dry bag like this. It’ll keep your towels, electronics, and anything else dry.
Microfiber Travel Towel: Most hotels in the Galapagos don’t permit you to take towels on day excursions and some hostels don’t provide towels at all. Pack a lightweight quick-drying towel like this to throw in your bag during day excursions in the Galapagos.
These Athletic Sandals Are Perfect for the Galapagos: In the Galapagos, you’ll constantly be changing from beaches to walking over rough terrain like rugged lava rocks. Rather than continue to change back and forth between shoes and flip-flops, these Columbia Athletic Sandals make for the perfect hybrid between the two. They’ve got the traction, durability and grip of sneakers, yet the comfort of a sandal. I was so glad I had these and highly recommend. They’ve become my favorite pair of flip flops I’ve ever owned.
More Packing Tips: See our Ultimate Packing Checklist, which shows everything that we traveled to the Galapagos with.
⚠️ And Don’t Forget To Buy Travel Insurance!
We always recommend travel insurance whenever roaming around South America. And for the far-flung Galapagos, it can prove to be particularly useful. There is even discussion in Ecuador politics about having mandatory health insurance and emergency medical coverage a mandatory requirement for entering the Galapagos. For now, such an insurance requirement has been delayed, although it is expected to potentially be enforced in the future.
Still, don’t travel to the Galapagos without it. Given all the outdoor and water-based activities, there’s certainly plenty of room for risk of injury way out in these remote islands. But having travel insurance will also protect you by covering other unexpected heavy expenses such as tripping on a rock, dealing with lost baggage, emergency evacuation from way out there, trip cancelation, an unexpected illness, missed connections, theft, and so much more.
During our trip, we thwarted off a sea lion attack (see video below!) Thankfully we were not injured and I departed the Galapagos with all my fingers. But medical expenses from a sea lion attack would add up quickly if we did not have coverage from travel insurance!
We use World Nomads as we find they tend to have the best mix of coverage and cost. We’ve been happy with the outcome of the many claims we filed with them too. For the Galapagos, we recommend their Explorer plan, since snorkeling is not a covered activity in their Standard plan. Just enter your travel dates here to get a quick quote.
How To Find a Cheap Flight to the Galapagos
In addition to the expense of day tours, the other pricey line item to try to minimize is airfare to the Galapagos. There are three airlines and only two airports to book a flight to the Galapagos, without the need for changing planes:
- Guayaquil, Ecuador, and
- Quito (which stops at Guayaquil in route to the Galapagos)
There are many things to consider when attempting to book the lowest-priced flight to the Galapagos:
- Book a Flight to Galapagos or Fly To Ecuador First
- Book Round-trip or One-way
- What Airports to Fly Into and Out Of
- Which Airlines to Fly
- What Site Is Cheapest to Book On
- When To Book
Book A Flight to Galapagos or Fly To Ecuador First?
Don’t only search for a flight from your home airport directly to the Galapagos. While sometimes that can yield attractive, usually you can find lower fares by booking a flight to Ecuador, specifically to Quito, then booking a separate flight to the Galapagos. Plus, it’s worth doing it that way to spend a few days in Quito. There’s so much to do in Ecuador’s capital. (Read in a new tab: 20 Best Things to Do in Quito.)
However, just realize that when attempting to book flights directly from the US, Europe, and elsewhere to the Galapagos – you are likely going to sustain at least 2 (possibly 3 or more) layovers. For this reason, we instead recommend flying to Quito first and spending a few days there if you have the time.
What Airports to Fly Into and Out Of
There are two airports in the Galapagos that serve flights from mainland Ecuador:
- Seymour Airport (AKA Baltra, airport code: GPS) and
- San Cristobal Airport (airport code: SCY).
Seymour Airport (GPS) is technically on Baltra Island but serves as the airport for Santa Cruz. This is the airport that is used to reach the biggest city in the Galapagos, Puerto Ayora, where you can find the most tours and last minute cruises. As a result, it receives the most flights into the Galapagos.
This is also the island that acts as a ferry hub, as it is the only island that has ferry connections to the other three islands we mentioned earlier. For this reason, we recommend flying into GPS.
If you’re planning to do a cruise tour of the Galapagos, most tours begin and end on Baltra / Santa Cruz, so it would make sense to fly in and out of GPS.
If you’re planning to do a DIY island hopping trip around the Galapagos, it can make sense to fly into GPS and fly out of SCY. That way, if visiting San Cristobal, you’ll save yourself the time and money of a return ferry trip from San Cristobal to Santa Cruz.
Do note the ground transportation costs and logistics flying into GPS (Baltra). It requires a bus ($5) + ferry ($1) + either another bus ($5) or taxi ($25) to get from the airport to Puerto Ayora. Getting to/from the airport in San Cristobal is much more simplistic, as it’s close to town and a taxi to the airport costs just a few dollars.
Book Round-trip or One-way to the Galapagos
If breaking up your flights by flying to Quito first, you’ll likely find a cheaper fare by flying round-trip to Quito.
But when booking your airfare from Quito to the Galapagos, consider booking two separate one-way tickets. Here’s why:
First of all, you can mix and match airlines this way. Perhaps one airline has a cheaper fare or a better time on the way to the Galapagos, but a competing airline has a lower-priced or more convenient return fare. There tends to be no cost savings when booking round-trip from Ecuador to the Galapagos. So it can prove very beneficial to book two separate one-way tickets on two separate airlines. We saved a few hundred dollars on our airfare doing it this way.
Secondly, by booking two one-way tickets, you now have the ability to fly into and out of two different airports, which is ideal for a DIY island-hopping itinerary as it will save time and money of backtracking using ferries.
Which Airline to Fly to the Galapagos
There are three airlines that fly from mainland Ecuador to Galapagos.
- LATAM (formerly LAN)
All three are fairly comparable in terms of quality of service. For those traveling to the Galapagos on a budget, we simply suggest choosing whichever airline has the best price and/or schedule for your Galapagos trip. Yet if prices are similar across the board, we’d suggest Avianca and LATAM over TAME, based on our experience flying with these airlines.
Lowest Price Flights to Galapagos
Each of the three airlines fly from Ecuador into both Galapagos airports. Prices do vary depending on dates, booking time, and general rate fluctuations. Yet aim to spend about $200, each way, on flights from mainland Ecuador to either airport in the Galapagos.
At the time this article was last updated (July 2019), here are the lowest airfare prices from mainland Ecuador to Galapagos for each of the four routes:
- Quito to Baltra (GPS): $213 | Return: $230
- Guayaquil to Baltra (GPS): $189 | Return: $215
- Quito to San Cristobal $176 | Return: $168
- Guayaquil to San Cristobal: $182 | Return: $175
Search Skyscanner for up-to-date prices.
What Site Is Cheapest to Book a Galapagos Budget Flight
For the Galapagos, we found searching with Skyscanner to provide some of the best real prices. Often searching Skyscanner yields lower prices than searching the airlines directly. Note: Skyscanner is just a metasearch and will ultimately link to a booking site (Expedia, the airline, etc.), where you can complete your transaction.
Also, Skyscanner conveniently omits the misleading lower Ecuadorian-only prices that the searches on Kayak and Google Flights show.
When To Book A Cheap Flight To Galapagos
We recommend booking your flights to the Galapagos as soon as possible in order to secure the best rate. The airfare prices tend to rise based on demand. Typically, booking at least a month or two in advance will still achieve getting the lowest available price, except for high-demand periods such as dates around Christmas.
Why Plan Stopovers in Quito and Guayaquil?
It can be a very wise idea to plan stopovers in mainland Ecuador on the way in or out of the Galapagos. If booking separate tickets, having at least a night or two in mainland Ecuador can be a safeguard to unexpected canceled or delayed flights. These do occasionally happen!
But also, the connection cities of both Quito and Guayaquil are actually very interesting and fun places with lots of things to do on a budget. For more info, be sure to check out our complete travel guides to these two fascinating Ecuadorian cities:
Galapagos on a Budget Travel Tips
We hope that this detailed Galapagos on a Budget Travel Guide has helped to show that it is possible to have a budget-friendly trip to the Galapagos while still being able to experience what makes these islands so special. Now go stretch your Galapagos budget as far as you can and experience this incredible ecosystem in the world!
If you have any questions, please chime in the comments section below. And after your trip to the Galapagos please do stop back by our little space on the web to let us (and other travelers) know how your trip went.
And for more travel ideas and trip inspiration throughout all of Ecuador, be sure to check out our big post about the 20 Best Things to Do in Ecuador & Interesting Places to Visit.
We realize this was a lot of info to take in, so feel free to bookmark this page or save it to your Pinterest boards and check back later. Until then, happy travels and we wish you an awesome trip to the Galapagos on a budget!
Publishing note: This article was initially written in February 2017 and was last updated in July 2019 to reflect up-to-date information and prices.