Most people are under the impression that the Galapagos Islands have to be some kind of trip-of-a-lifetime thing that will cost a humongous amount of money. Before a chance meeting with another traveling couple who told us otherwise, we also thought it would be way out of our price range. Yes, you can blow a huge chunk of change on an 8-day cruise ($1,800, including round-trip flight from Guayaquil or Quito), but it is definitely possible to do the Galapagos for much cheaper, and stay longer.
The most important thing to note, is that to STAY in the Galapagos is not markedly more expensive than staying in mainland Ecuador. A private, double room in a hostel on Santa Cruz ran us $11.50 per person, and a single dorm bed would be even cheaper. Our hostel had a kitchen, and although produce is quite a bit more expensive, staples such as pasta noodles, dried soups, flour, soy sauce, etc. cost only a fraction more than on the mainland, so cooking definitely helped our budget as well. Nevertheless, there are restaurants in Puerto Ayora and Puerto Baquerizo Moreno (the largest towns in all of the islands) where you can get a $3 set lunch or a $4 set dinner.
Some islands, such as Isabela, are slightly more expensive since there is no large airport to shuttle in goods and as such is a bit more remote, but almost every hostel we visited there ran to about $15 per person.
The largest cost to contemplate is, of course, the airfare. June is the very beginning of the tourist season, so I would guess that our tickets were on the expensive side. Any trips to the archipelago outside of the tourist season is bound to be cheaper than our flights, which came in at $425 round trip, from Guayaquil to Santa Cruz island, and from San Cristobal island to Quito. (The different starting and ending cities ran us about $20 extra, but the different arrival and departure cities in the islands did not seem to affect prices.)
Once food/lodging and airfare are out of the way, you can begin to enjoy yourself with the rest of your budget!
There are many free activities on the islands, such as information centers, giant tortoise breeding centers, etc. Any good guidebook will outline all of these (and you can read about the activities that we did in our Galapagos posts). Beaches and lagoons in walking distance also have no entrance fees. So what are the things that cost money?
- Day trips to snorkeling or diving sites. These last from 3 to 8 hours, usually include snacks or lunch as well as snorkel equipment, and range in price from $45 upwards. Since Craig and I do not have diving certificates, I can’t really expound on the diving trips, except to say that I’ve heard they’re magical (swarms of hammerhead sharks, anyone?). Don’t forget to try and bargain prices down!
- Some worthy spots are quite far from towns and require either bicycle rentals (about $15/day) or hiring a pick-up taxi to drive you around. Craig and I hired a taxi to take us to three different spots on Santa Cruz island, spending about three hours total, and only paid $35.
- Snorkel equipment rental (for those beaches and bays that are free) cost $3 without fins and $5 with.
- Inter-island transport by boat cost $30 one-way. If planning on traveling to multiple islands, it’s possible to use that as leverage to bargain prices down to $25 per trip (which is what Craig and I managed to do).
And that’s it! Once you’ve paid the astronomical (not really) airfare out to the islands, you might as well spend as much time there as possible, seeing as so many activities and places are free, and room and board isn’t much higher than on the mainland. Obviously, this post is for other backpackers who are willing to stay in hostels and cook their own food most of the time. Those travelers who want nicer digs and to not have to worry about cooking or planning while on vacation, are obviously on a whole other budget level. Still, it’s not as if Craig and I were really roughing it. We always had our own room (half the time we had our own bathroom!), we ate out at least 5 times/week, and we treated ourselves to ice cream cones nearly every day.
Here is our budget, priced out per person:
- Round-trip flight = $425
- Galapagos National Park Entrance fee = $110
- Room and board – $22.50/day x 14 days = $315
- Three inter-island trips – $25 x 3 = $75
- Two snorkel day trips (Santa Fe and Los Tuneles) $75 x 2 = $150
- Six snorkel rentals (two without fins) = $26
- Taxi ride (cost divided by 2 persons) = $17.50
- Miscellaneous transport costs to/from airports = $3
- TOTAL COST = $1,121.50
Not bad, eh? Craig and I are trying to do $1,000 or less per person per month, so to get back on budget, we did a two-week work exchange in the Andes. Even if we hadn’t planned the work exchange, I think the Galapagos would still have been worth the added costs. It’s unlike any other place in the world, after all, and, for us, there’s no point in traveling if you’re going to skip all the worthwhile sights. Even with some rainy days and cold seas, the Galapagos is definitely worthwhile!
Here is the link again to our individual posts during our stay on the archipelago, which have all the details about our doings and goings-on, including whether those activities were free or not (and there are lots and lots of pictures). If you stick to your guns and carefully plan everything (again, a traveler with a different budget might not want to put in that work), you might even be able to do everything for slightly cheaper. There are also opportunities to volunteer on the islands, which would drastically cut costs down and extend stays.
I hope this post is helpful to any other backpackers out there contemplating heading out there! I can’t emphasize enough what a wonderful experience the Galapagos islands were for us. If we had had more money, we could have done more trips and tours, but I’m not positive that we would have seen much more wildlife than we did. The archipelago is so chock full of exotic animals that you’re almost tripping over them. Luckily for us, costs were still relatively reasonable, even at the start of high season. So good luck to all you travelers, and may your trip be as amazing as ours was!