Everyone wants to know: “Is it expensive to travel to the Galapagos?” YES. No question about it. But lucky for you, we’re going to share our best tips for traveling there on a budget because we believe it’s a place that not only the rich should experience.
Soaking up sunshine and frolicking with sea lions in the Galápagos Islands seems like a far-off dream, doesn’t it? But it doesn’t have to be.
But I bet now you’re wondering: “Isn’t it expensive to travel to the Galápagos?”
YES. No question about it.
But lucky for you, we’re going to share our best tips for traveling there on a budget because we believe it’s a place that not only the rich should experience.
We’ll even share exactly how much we spent, so you have an idea of what you’re in for.
Though not as budget-friendly as many other South American destinations, visiting this stunning archipelago is definitely doable even if you’re not a millionaire.
While backpacking in South America, we had no intention of visiting the Galápagos. From everything I had read, I knew it was hella expensive, and that was enough to keep us away. We had a pretty tight budget to stick to, after all. But after countless travelers we met along the way recounted stories of this magical place, we finally convinced ourselves that since we were already in Ecuador, going to the Galápagos would never be cheaper.
We thought of it this way: Sure, in 10 years we will (hopefully) have more dough in our savings account, but it’s highly likely that the ecological wonder will no longer be the same. The ecosystem on the islands is already being damaged in large part due to tourism.
Side note: When you do visit the Galápagos, please travel consciously. Don’t litter (go the extra mile and pick up a few pieces of trash while you’re there!), choose companies that treat the environment with respect, and don’t harm the animals!
Once we realized that there’s no better time to visit the Galápagos than the present, we bit the bullet and bought a last minute flight. We were fully aware that this excursion would break the budget we’d set for our 3-month trip, but we were determined to do our best of keeping our costs as low as possible. And we did a pretty good job of it!
So are you thinking of packing your bags?
Great! I promise this is a trip of a lifetime that you won’t regret. There are so many things to do on the Galápagos Islands, and you will be talking about this experience for years to come.
And we’re here to help you plan! We learned a lot along the way and are excited to share all we know about traveling to the Galápagos on a budget so you’ll be able to maximize each dollar!
And this includes having the right travel gear. Our friends at Practical Wanderlust have a great Galapagos Islands packing list to get you ready for any adventure on the islands.
Okay, let’s get started…
Come with a plan
I’m about to divulge all of our best tips for traveling the Galápagos on a budget, but first I’m going to get the bad news out of the way… Even if you follow these tips exactly, you will still spend a good chunk of money while visiting these islands. Yes, these tips will save you money (hopefully lots of it!), but it is still a very expensive place to travel. There’s no way around it.
What you can do, though, is come with a solid budget plan. This way, you’ll be prepared and will find it much more enjoyable than if you come with unrealistic expectations.
So let’s talk numbers:
First things first: you’ll need to book a flight. There are only a few airlines that fly to the Galápagos, and prices typically hover between $350 – $450 (round trip from mainland Ecuador) depending on how far in advance you book.
Tip # 1: The cheapest city to fly from is usually Guayaquil. And yes, this means you need to first account for the cost of getting to Ecuador.
Tip #2: If you can be flexible with your time, use Skyscanner’s “whole month” function to find the cheapest dates to fly. (When selecting departure and return dates, click on “whole month” instead of a specific date.)
Once you have accounted for the cost of the flight, add $110 per person. This is a conservation fee that each visitor must pay before stepping foot out of the airport. No bargaining here!
Now, add to this the cost of getting from island to island via ferry – $30 each way, which adds up fast. So if you’re like us and want to see the 3 main islands, you’re looking at $120 per person just in ferry costs.
I know you’re not going to want to hear this, but the cost of accommodation, food, and entertainment in the Galápagos is much more comparable to the United States than it is to the rest of Ecuador. Be prepared to spend at least 3 times what you would in the rest of the country.
If you already know that’s going to break your budget, consider a cheaper alternative: visiting Isla de la Plata (also known as the “poor man’s Galapagos”).
1. Rethink the cruise
The absolute cheapest way to explore the Galápagos is by basing yourself on land. You can take day trips to the ocean and hop from island to island. If you are on a tight budget, this is definitely the way to go!
Another way of seeing the islands is on a cruise. Though I don’t have personal experience with seeing the islands this way, we met both travelers who had great experiences and terrible ones. If cruising seems more your style, there are a few things you’ll want to consider.
Sure there are “budget cruises” advertised, but remember, you get what you pay for. Why come to one of the most spectacular places in the world, only to have your experience tainted by staying in a stuffy boat with subpar staff and sketchy food. There are some great medium-priced companies out there and there are some pros to traveling this way, but make for sure you’re going with a quality, ethical company before you make a reservation.
Be sure to look at reviews and rankings for any cruise you take. We’ve done a little research for you and we really like Liveaboard.com. They have quality boats from all over the world in their network and can hook you up with the best trip in the Galapagos. They specialize in scuba diving trips so if you want to see this magical place underwater, look no further.
Remember that you can see everything you would on a boat, by basing yourself on the islands and taking day trips to sea. This way, even if you wind up staying in a bad hotel, you only need to sleep there. If you are on a cruise, you’re stuck.
2. Book accommodation in advance
We found that there were many luxury and mid-range options for accommodation, but inexpensive hotels were seriously lacking.
If you’re looking only for budget rooms, you will have a limited number of places you can stay. I will tell you, some of these budget places are absolutely disgusting. Think rude owners, rooms with stained sheets and rotting ceilings… oh, and waking up in the middle of the night with a cockroach scurrying across your face is not enjoyable either.
We stayed in two such places when we first arrived on the islands because we hadn’t done our research.
The good news for you is that you can avoid the duds. The bad news is that decent, inexpensive hotels book up quickly. Plus, the Internet in the Galápagos is terribly slow, so doing your research ahead of time really is a must.
Below is one hostel we recommend from personal experience:
Galapagos Best Homestay (Santa Cruz Island)
An all-around great place to stay, each room has a kitchenette and an unlimited supply of purified drinking water. This place is it is a bit out of the way – about a twenty-minute walk to the town center. Taxis on the island are cheap though, and it will only cost you $1 to get downtown if you really don’t want to walk.
Here’s how we find other affordable accommodation on the Galapagos Islands.
3. Time your trip right
You may not always have control over the time of year you visit, but obviously peak season (June – September, and December – January) will cost more than off-season.
In addition to the time of year, consider how many days you will spend in the Galápagos. Visiting for a short amount of time does not always mean you will save money. Generally speaking, the longer you stay, the less you will actually spend per day.
It goes without being said that a month in the Galápagos will cost you a small fortune. You’ve got to find that sweet spot where you have enough days to travel slowly, but not so many that you spend unnecessary money.
We spent one week in the Galápagos, which was enough to see the three main islands. We did have to rush around a bit in our last couple of days though, costing us more money than we would have spent otherwise. In my opinion, 10 days would be ideal.
4. You need to search, but there is cheap food
While most tourists flock to the Italian pizzerias and Western joints, follow the locals for some cheap, Ecuadorian cuisine.
On Santa Cruz Island: At night, look no further than Binford Street for great people watching and even better food. The seafood looks delicious and is no doubt very fresh, but it is still expensive. Instead, sit at one of the many open-air restaurants and order the Cazuela de Camarones – a traditional “stew” of plantains, spices and shrimp. This $12 dish was delicious and more than enough for two of us to share.
On Isabela Island: Head outside the main drag to Restaurante el Tropical where the locals gather.
5. Buy (most of) your drinks at the supermarket
As with most of our travels, we bought our drinks at a market to avoid paying top dollar at bars.
There are countless restaurants that advertise “happy hours” that last nearly all day. Despite being discounted, the drinks are still not cheap. Too rich for our backpacking blood!
So grab a box of wine or a bottle of rum, head to the beach, and enjoy the sunset with class!
6. Choose your tours wisely
You could easily spend a month on the islands, taking a new excursion every day. But eventually they will start to blend together… and take a toll on your budget because they ain’t cheap!
Do your research and pick a few tours that interest you and stick with those. Hiking, SCUBA diving, snorkeling, sunset cruise, sailing… pick your poison. Expect to splurge, but go in knowing that you can’t do it all if you’re trying to stay on budget.
Our top tour pick: If you are on Isabela Island, the Los Túneles tour is a must! At $95 per person, it is a splurge, yes, but totally worth it.
Tip: Ask the tour agency if they will give you a discount for booking multiple tours with them. Sometimes it pays off to be loyal to one company instead of booking each excursion through a different operator.
7. Bring cold, hard cash to Isabela Island
Although the Galápagos thrives on tourism, it is less developed as a whole than we were expecting. This was a pleasant surprise after having traveled to many places that have lost their luster due to a surplus of visitors.
The island of Isabela, with its sandy streets and lack of infrastructure, is seriously charming. It was my favorite place in the Galápagos, but there was one tiny – well, actually huge – problem.
There is not a single ATM on the island. And apart from one crazy expensive restaurant, no place on the island accepts credit cards.
So there we were, stuck on the island without any money. So there I am thinking, The only way I’m going to be able to eat is to shell out $25 per meal at this Western restaurant that also charges a 7% credit card fee. Holy sh*t… there goes all of my money!
And then there was the issue of getting off the island. Turns out we didn’t even have enough cash on us for us for a ferry ticket back.
If it weren’t for the generosity of the manager at our hostel (and the wonders of PayPal), I don’t know how we would have gotten off the island. One of us may have had to stay. Which wouldn’t have been too bad, after all…
Don’t get yourself in this situation. Learn from our mistake and bring plenty of US dollas to Islabela!
8. Take advantage of free activities
On Santa Cruz Island:
Las Grietas: More popular with locals than tourists, Las Grietas is a unique place to spend an afternoon. Observe teenagers jumping off the jagged cliffs into the crevice filled with crystal water below. Better yet, join in the fun and take the plunge yourself!
Tortuga Bay: It’s a bit of a walk to reach this secluded beach, but you’ll be glad you made the trip. Head out in the morning to avoid the scorching afternoon sun. If you’re lucky, you might even see baby sea turtles scurrying away from their nest and out to sea!
Fish Market: Watch as fishermen bring in their fresh catch to be fried up for a long line of hungry customers. A crowd of pelicans will likely be waiting for scraps to be thrown in their direction, making for a great photo opportunity. The nearby dock is usually crowded with local children pushing each other into the water, which is a sight in itself!
On Isabela Island:
Concha de Perla: This wooden boardwalk is home to many lazy sea lions getting their tan on! Be careful not to step on any of them as you make your way to the end of the boardwalk, where you will find a shallow bay. Put on a snorkel and fins, and swim with schools of fish, sea turtles, and manta rays.
Enjoy a sunset: Yes, the token “free sunset” tip. But seriously, the sunsets on Isabela are spectacular. They are made even better with some boxed wine. I’m classy, I know.
On San Cristobal Island:
Swimming with sea lions: Totally free! Just bring a snorkel and mask so you can see these friendly creatures up close. (Many hotels or tour agencies rent them out for $5.)
How much did we spend?
To give you an idea of what to expect, we spent $1,000 each for one week. This includes our flights, ferries, tours, accommodation, food and drinks. We did it just about the cheapest way possible, so expect to spend at least this much per person per week!
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We want to hear from you!
Have you traveled to the Galapagos? Did you find it hard to stick to a budget? What are your best money saving tips? Comment below!
Comments (38) on “How to Travel the Galápagos Islands on a Budget”
great article.. thanks for the information…
Thank you so much for your insight! I have always wanted to go to the Galapagos, but didn’t think we could ever afford it. You have given me great hope!
What a great blog, thank you for the tips. Do you have any recommended hotels/hostels in Santa Cruz and San Cristobal? Thanks!
Hi Jade, we recommend Galapagos Best Homestay for Santa Cruz (link in the article). It’s a nice hostel/guesthouse but it’s a bit far and you’ll need to take a taxi there or a 20-30 minute walk from the city center. Unfortunately, we did not stay on San Cristobal Island, so I can’t personally recommend anything. Hope this helps!
I am traveling with my 15 year old son. We are vegetarian and looking forward to going in July or August. Any advice or great places to sleep, eat, and see. We hope to be on the islands for 8-10 days and would love to know if you can recommend days and which islands would be best. We love snorkeling, wildlife and sunsets. 🙂 We are planning to stay in Quito for a few days prior so also looking for central affordable places to stay before flying to Galápagos. Look forward to your advice!
Hi Bina. What a great trip you have planned with you son. As you can see from this article, we recommend Santa Cruz Island because there are many things to do there. We also recommend Isla Isabella, because it has an untouched feel in certain places. We also like the Los Tuneles Tour because you get to snorkel around underwater arches that were formed by lava. Please check out our details in this article and our other Galapagos articles to see what places we recommend on each island.
We also have a Quito article where we show you what we did in the city and where to stay. Feel free to check it out.
I was curious if you stayed on one island the whole time and did day trips from there, or did you stay in a few different places? If you were to do the trip again (as a first timer), would you stay in the spots? Not meaning the same hostels or hotels, but the same towns?
Hey Laura. We stayed in two hotels on Isla Santa Cruz and two hotels on Isla Isabela. Day trips can become very long days if you base yourself on Santa Cruz. I would recommend, if you have time, to choose an island in addition to Santa Cruz, and stay there for a few nights. That way you are able to explore around that island easier.
I am planning 2 weeks trip to ecuador in July with a 12 yr old. Thinking of going to Quito, Guayaqil, and the Galapagos islands. How shall I divide the days of our trip? How many on the islands? We want to connect local people, expand on our Spanish speaking, food, soccer etc.
I am going to Galapagos in February so this was useful. Thanks!
Wonderful read, so glad I came across your blog. Wondering how one travels within the island? taxi cabs? tuck-tucks?
Hey Angela! There are tuk tuks throughout the entire island and they are easy to flag down. They typically cost about $1 per ride anywhere within the city. Happy planning!
Thank you very much for this review and we have found it most helpful. We are planning a trop to the Galapagos within the year 2018. thank you.
Hey Stephanie. You’re welcome! Happy planning!
Just want to say, what a great guide!! I am planning on doing a month in every country in south america starting in March, never been travelling before and I am from Northern Ireland so I am going to stick out like a MASSIVE sore thumb, think it might have something to do with the ginger hair and freckly skin, I will be using this guide religiously!! it just seems like one of them places whilst expensive….I JUST CANT MISS IT!! thats the problem I’m having at the moment when trying to plan my trip is seeing everything at the right time, because i want to do EVERYTHING in south america from iguazu falls to seeing Patagonia to taking samba lessons in brazil haha so this sort of guide is tremendously helpful!! 🙂
I’m glad you found our guide helpful. It is super tempting to do everything when traveling in South America, but remember it is a HUGE continent. So if you don’t do everything that is okay. It sounds like you have an incredible trip planned and I wish you the best of luck. Take in every moment.
Hi Katie i was just wondering if you went on your travels I am planning to go to Columbia and Ecuador in November 2018 I am also from Northern Ireland so would be grateful of your advice
Hey Mary, we first traveled to Colombia and Ecuador in February and March, and we have been back to Colombia in Dec and July and have had great weather. For more information check out our Colombia and Ecuador pages in our Destinations Page.
Sorry meant to say Lee
I assume you completed your trip – i am from NI too and heading off next month for a month – did you have an itinerary or any tips
Hey Mary! Sounds like you have some fun travel plans coming up. Most of our tips are in this blog article so feel free to have a look. We would recommend to have a few days on at least two different islands. We spent about a week in total and spent 4 days in Santa Cruz and 3 days in Isla Isabella. We also took a day trip to San Cristobal. Hopefully this gives you a start. Let us know if you have any more questions!
Whilst it’s great to save money by staying on land and "rethinking the cruise", just be aware that by doing this you are limiting where you can go and what you can see.
Some of the more out of the way islands (Genovesa and Espanola to be specific) which are also some of the most amazing islands can only be reached on a small ship cruise (large cruise ships are too big to reach them and it’s illegal/not possible for day trips from the main islands to go here).
One company that is really big on environmental sustainability AND giving back to local communities of the countries it goes to (pretty much any country you’d want to visit) is INTREPID! They have a great range of Galapagos tours, most of which are on board the Daphne which is a really good, small ship (8 rooms total).
this is such an awesome blog, i am planning our trip and this is very helpful
Thanks Jane for the kind words! Happy planning!
Thanks for these great tips! There are so many options that it is important to investigate a lot before choosing the best option for you! if you decide to book a cruise, ask if you will have different activities to choose, so that you won’t have to stick with the same group all the time, and be able to choose depending on your interestes.
Thanks so much for writing this great blog! I am planning a trip to the Galapagos and was wondering which day tours you used for your activities? It seems to me like most of the tours are several days long. Thanks in advance!
Hey Victoria, we actually only did day tours while we were in the Galapagos. We asked out hotels/hostels for recommendations, and shopped around a bit. There’s no need to book in advance unless you’re really limited on time. We usually just booked each tour the day before and didn’t have a problem. Hope this helps!
Thanks for the great info! You didn’t mention which tour company you used for your snorkel tour, I would love to know! Thanks!
Hey Catlin, good question… We actually can’t remember the name of the company. Our hostel recommended them and booked it for us. And we can’t for the life of us find the name. Sorry! But it didn’t seem like you needed to book far in advance. We just arranged the tour for the next day, so I’m sure you could do the same and get recommendations from the hotel you’re staying at. Sorry we couldn’t be more help! Best of luck!
I hope this post will inspire more people to explore Galapagos on their own. I just was there for three month and I know from the locals how much they hate the cruises. Most of the money will go the the cruises operators based in Quito.
But the Galapagos are so safe and easy to travel. Never really cheap but also not that horrendously expensive as the agencies are trying to sell it to you.
People listen to this and explore the Galapagos independently!
Thanks Céline for your thoughtful comment. We are big advocates for traveling independently because not only do you get to support local people financially (instead of large tour operators), but you also get a much more authentic experience. It’s fun connecting with like-minded people like you 🙂 I’m so glad you had a great experience in the Galapagos!
Thanks for all these tips and for a well designed, easy to read site. We are heading to the Galapagos on Friday so will take your tips in my back pocket. 😉
I am also reading your Philippines section as we will be there in Dec / Jan.
Nice work! Keep it up.
Hey Astrid, thanks so much for the kind words. Have an amazing time in the Galapgos – threes no other place quite like it! Let us know how your trip goes. And how exciting to be going to the Philippines too! It’s one of our favorites 🙂
I booked my accommodation by AirBnB and it was great! Half the price and excellent local free advice. Highly recommend to do the same, check for reviews and prices
Yeah, we love AirBnB too, Flor! And if you sign up through our site, you’ll get $25 free toward your first stay! Such a fun way to see a "local" side of a new place!
Any specific AirBnB recommendations?
I will strongly recommend your readers to really pay attention while selecting your day tour operator. They lack safety control from any entity and it shows. Be careful!
Hi Manuel, Thank you for taking the time to comment. I think it’s good to shop around and read reviews online to help you choose tour companies, and by doing this we were very pleased in our choice in tour companies.
The company we went with for the Los Tuneles tour on Isabela Island was 100% safe, reliable and had great service. They have top ratings on TripAdvisor, and we were very pleased in our experience.