Everyone dreams of visiting an island with turquoise lagoons, white sandy beaches and endless wildlife. But the archipelagos that first inspired Charles Darwin’s theories on evolution and natural selection have long held the reputation of being expensive and unobtainable for most.
Whilst visiting mainland Ecuador we thought this to be the case too with many 4-5 day cruises costing upwards of US $1000. But seeing The Galapagos by boat isn’t the only option, and you can do it by spending a lot less than $1000 too.
Flights from Quito and Guayaquil in mainland Ecuador run daily and transport you to one of two airports in The Galapagos, either San Cristobal or Baltra. Prices start at around $200 return but can go as high as $600 depending on when you book. It’s best if you’re flexible with your dates.
In 2010 UNESCO removed The Galapagos from the List of World Heritage Sites in Danger, but the number of invasive species on the islands is an ongoing threat. An increasing number of visitors choose to volunteer with local farmers, working for a few hours each day in return for board and accommodation. It’s a rewarding way to see the islands and nice to be able to make a contribution. There are a number of organisations offering volunteer opportunities in haciendas run by local famers. We arranged a three week stay with *Eco Volunteer UP and were welcomed into the home of Eduardo and Lucia. For $200 pppw we had a basic room with private bathroom and three meals per day. The work is varied with a mixture of farming and gardening duties for 4 hours per day Mon-Fri, afternoons and weekends are free to explore the island or visit neighbouring ones. You can read more about our personal experience *here.
If a luxury yacht or expensive cruise ship isn’t within your budget, you may be surprised to learn that there are a number of budget hostels on the larger islands. These vary from trendy beach front locations to more basic hacienda style venues. Prices start around $20pppn, check out booking.com for more details.
If you have a little more cash to play with you may prefer a hotel to a hostel or homestay. La Zayapa on the promenade is a top choice with rooms available from $90pn. Even the 4* Galapagos Sunset Hotel won’t break the bank with rooms from $125pn.
We were surprised to learn that camping in The Galapagos is free, yes you read that right, you can get accommodation in The Galapagos for free. There are a few restrictions to be aware of before planning a trip; you need to seek permission from the National Park first and it’s usually limited to 2/3 nights.
DAY TRIPS & EXCURSIONS
The downside to budget options in The Galapagos is you’ll probably be land based. Whilst this didn’t restrict us, we still saw all the wildlife we we wanted to by visiting various beaches and trekking on Isla San Cristobal, there’s a lot more out there. You can arrange day trips or weekend cruises which will take you snorkelling out in the Pacific or drop anchor near beaches which simply can’t be accessed by road. Prices start at around $100 and increase depending on the length of the trip. If you happen to be volunteering you should be able to negotiate a discount, particularly in low season.
Taxis are everywhere and are the most common mode of transport for both tourists and locals. You won’t see too many cars or buses on the road but you might spot a family of four clinging onto a moped together. In Isla San Cristobal taxis around town will cost $1 with journey’s slightly further afield costing anything from $3 – $40. If you can find others to share with you’ll save yourself a lot of cash as the taxis are all pick up trucks and can accommodate up to 10 people.
We were completely spoilt by the three meals prepared for us each day by the wonderful Lucia. With dishes like pancakes and fresh fruit, chicken satay and even lobster we had no reason to go anywhere else. However we found that restaurant prices in The Galapagos weren’t too different from mainland Ecuador. For the budget traveller you’ll find plenty of stalls on the street serving BBQ’d chicken, chorizo and verduras for a few dollars. Isla San Cristobal also has a small bakery which you can smell from about two blocks away, their donuts are an absolute must. There are also a handful of small supermarkets if you’d prefer to cook for yourself.
So The Galapagos isn’t just for the super rich. All you need to do is book that flight and get practising your David Attenborough voice!