WHY YOU SHOULD AVOID BOOKING A TOUR
Our approach was a stubborn one, we decided to venture to the islands without having booked tours – all we had were our flights and accommodation.
We gave ourselves 7 nights and 8 days intending to see as much wildlife as possible with a focus on diving.
For these reasons, we chose to visit only two of the main islands, Santa Cruz and San Cristobal leaving Isabella for another time. If you want to see all islands, we recommend 3 nights on each and so 10 days will fulfill all your needs.
Our initial research looked at cruises but having spoken with people who had recently visited the Galapagos islands (word of mouth is, of course, the best source of information) we were encouraged by our plan to do it by ourselves. Again, these cruises range anywhere from $2,000 to over $6,000 for a 7-night tour and we really couldn’t afford to pay this but didn’t want to miss out.
Most tours offer free activities on the big islands as part of the tour to make it look like they’re offering more. In these cases, you are overpaying for the chance to stay on a boat and you’re overpaying by up to 6 or 7 times! We’ve made a big list of free activities to do on both of the islands here which you should read after this.
Now I won’t take everything away from the cruises, they do have their benefits. They are an efficient means of travelling to further afield islands and the rarer environments on the islands that aren’t inhabited. If we were wealthy men or were doing this as a solo trip, we would certainly choose this option, however, I think we saw more than 75% of what the cruises see and paid 5 times less for the experience.
OUR ONE WEEK BUDGET
To show you how we spent a week on the islands whilst keeping costs down, we kept a detailed list of all our expenses to prove that it’s an affordable trip.
Each day we chose free activities to do on the islands, went exploring by ourselves or sat on beaches enjoying the natural beauty and wildlife around us.
To stick to this budget, its necessary to follow our 6 tips for keeping costs down. Also, be sure to read our blog here in which we detail all the free activities on each island as this will be an essential part of keeping costs down.
Certain costs cannot be avoided if you want to travel to the Galapagos Islands and these will make up a sizeable chunk of your total expenses. These are the costs which often put people off but if you think about spreading some of the fees across the free museums, of which there are a lot, it makes them more palatable.
Here are the three non-avoidable costs related to travelling to the islands:
- Return flights from Guayaquil – £265 ($320)
- Transit Control Card – $20
- Eco payment on arrival – $100
We’ve only listed the cost of flying from Guayaquil as it’s cheaper than Quito. To see options from Quito as well as an explanation for the other costs, check out our blog on getting to the Galapagos here.
WHAT WE SPENT: SAN CRISTOBAL ISLAND
We spent 3 days on San Cristobal island.
Attempting to do a trip on a budget was new to us but we found the cheapest accommodation to stay in on each island. On San Cristobal, we stayed at Hostel Terito – run by a very kind mother and son.
The son is helpful, he will pick you up from the airport so you save money on a taxi and he also provided us with some helpful tips as to what to do and where to eat for cheap. The private twin room was very spacious with a bedroom and living room separate giving us a nice space to relax. It also has a small kitchen allowing you to cook breakfast.
Each day was spent doing a free activity. On our first afternoon, we visited the Interpretation Centre and watched the sunset on the beach. Our second day was a small cost for a taxi driver to take us to the other side of the islands to visit the tortoises which are free.
Every cost noted here is for a single person:
|Hostel (3 Nights)||60|
|Restaurant Meals (4 total*)||33|
|Groceries (eggs, bread and coffee for 2 days breakfast**)||5.25|
|Snacks (chocolate, water and fruit***)||7.15|
|Taxi Driver for a day||30|
|Total cost for 3 days||135.40|
|Cost per day||45.13|
*we had lunch one day on our dive which we haven’t included in the cost as most people don’t dive
**eggs and bread were cheap! Coffee wasn’t. One day we skipped breakfast as we were diving.
*** chocolate is expensive, don’t buy it!
Cheap eats with good menus of the day on San Cristobal include Rancho Manabita and Restaurant Comoran. For $5 at Comoran we were given a good soup (leak potato and lentils), egg crab beef and chicken special fried rice, melon juice and a sweet pastry!
Anywhere on this South American trip that would have been an amazing meal at such good value but on the Galapagos, we couldn’t believe our luck. We had one treat meal at Cris burgers – amazing burgers ranging from $8-$15, great if you are sick of the standard rice and beans!
One of the main reasons we went to the Galapagos is to dive. The animals under the ocean are just as diverse and rare as the ones on land. However, we haven’t included our dives in the budget breakdown as not many travellers are also divers so we didn’t think it would be helpful.
We also expect that if you’re coming to the Galapagos to dive, you’ve dreamed about this trip for a while and therefore the money is less of a consideration. If you are a keen diver, check our guide on diving in the Galapagos Islands here.
WHAT WE SPENT: SANTA CRUZ ISLAND
We stayed at Galapagos Best Hostel costing $149 for four nights for 2 people and included breakfast ($18.63 per person per night).
A standard twin private room and simple breakfast but not bad for the price. The only downside is that it’s 1.4km from the centre so we were walking quite a lot each day which is good for exercise but bad for our hunger levels!
The Ferry to Santa Cruz costs $30. Usually, you have to take a smaller water taxi to and from the boat either side – (50c) as the boats usually can’t dock directly in the harbour.
|Hostel (4 Nights)||75|
|Restaurant Meals (7 total*)||90.50|
|Groceries (coffee and bread)||3.35|
|Ferries (from and returning to San Cristobal)||55|
|Taxi to airport||6|
|Total cost for 4 days||232.95|
|Cost per day||58.24|
*we treated ourselves one night which is why this is a bit expensive, it’s tough to eat menu of the day every day for dinner and lunch! We also had two dive/tour days when we were fed for lunch.
Cheap places for menus of the day include Fusion Grill ($7) – pumpkin soup followed by a choice of Tuna, Grilled Beef or Grilled Shrimp and a drink – a decent price for the meal.
Again, proving we aren’t great at sticking to budgets, we ate out twice at two more expensive restaurants – so you can probably spend even less than we did if you are stronger willed! Most meals at these restaurants cost between $12-18 per main dish. We recommend Isla Grill or Midori for mid-range options. On our last night, we treated ourselves for a successful trip to the Galapagos and went to or Il Giardino. The food here was delicious with lots of fresh fish options.
Two of our days on Santa Cruz were spent diving and visiting Pinzon Islands. We are counting these as tours and therefore not including them in the price.
Again, there are even more free activities and things to do on Santa Cruz islands so you will be able to keep busy without tours! We also realise that if you don’t do the tours you will still have food expenditure but this is not going to be a huge amount if you seek out the lunchtime and dinner specials so we’ve not added on those extra costs.
OUR TOTAL SPEND FOR ONE WEEK
We understand that everyone travels differently. This isn’t an exact breakdown and guide to be followed religiously – it’s more to show you what’s possible with real pricing.
Avoid spending money on big tours, eating at fancy restaurants all while choosing the cheapest accommodation and the Galapagos islands are well within a backpacker budget.
Those breakdowns of our spending should give you an idea of what your daily expenses will be on the Galapagos Islands. As you will have guessed we aren’t big cookers so you can save even more money if you cook your food. Hopefully, this gives you a clearer picture of what to spend your money on and where to save money.
|Overall Breakdown||Cost ($)|
|3 Nights on San Cristobal||135.40|
|4 Nights on Santa Cruz||232.95|
|Total Cost Over 7 Days||368.35|
|Average Cost per Day||52.62|
|Flights + Entrance Fees||440.00|
|Total Cost (including fees)||808.35|
As mentioned, most days were spent doing free activities, but we did do a couple of tours which we haven’t added to the total. If you are looking to spend less than a week or longer, then we also have some alternative DIY itineraries.
We hope that our budget breakdown gives you an idea of what to plan for and then you can always fit in a tour if you want. Our Pinzon island tour cost $100 each and was worth it swimming with baby sharks and turtles as well as being fed for lunch.
A QUICK APOLOGY
We apologise. Whilst we may have been a bit cheeky and sucked you into the article with the click bait title of ‘under £500’, obviously it turns out a bit more expensive than that.
Flights and travel are an assumed cost of travelling if you want to keep seeing things. That being said even with flights included (which count for half the cost) our actual total cost for a week came to £652 which we don’t think is that bad. And if you can’t afford that then just cut a couple of days off of your itinerary.
After you’ve been you won’t even be thinking about the price because of all the incredible things you’ve been able to see whilst there. Some backpackers will be able to survive an entire month on that amount of money, but that’s not our aim or how we travel. We hope you look at our budget and see that it is possible to visit the islands on a backpacker budget.
If you’re like us, the Galapagos Islands will be somewhere to come back to more than once. It has all the wildlife we love and is a sanctuary for diving that it unquestionably requires more than one trip.
This guide is an introductory tour to the main islands and how you can see almost everything the Galapagos has to offer in exchange for much less than tours will charge you. We hope it helps you reach the islands in one way or another.
Now, this isn’t to say that tours aren’t great and there’s a lot to be learned from them as well as gaining from local experience and advice. And, when we return, I’m sure this is something we may do to ensure we continue our exploration differently. But we’ve written this guide to ensure that you venture to the islands for a life-changing experience.