1. It Can Be Done On A Budget
Cruise ships, luxury hotels, expensive restaurants and return flights. None of these things makes a backpacker jump with joy when planning a trip to the Galápagos Islands.
But contrary to popular belief, the Galápagos Islands can be done on a travellers budget.
Yes, you may go over your weekly or monthly budget a bit by visiting but probably not as much as you think. And our travel philosophy is that there’s no point travelling to these incredible countries if you aren’t going see the best sights while you’re there.
Eat at inexpensive local restaurants, explore the islands by bicycle and foot, and find the cheapest tours by booking last minute – these are all some of the ways we managed to save money whilst seeing the islands.
We worked out how to do it on a budget, spending under $900 in a week and you can too by reading our guide:
2. You Don't Need To Book An Expensive Cruise Either
Most travellers get put off thinking they need to purchase an expensive liveaboard cruise or naturalist guide to see the islands. Neither of which is true. You can explore the islands by yourself without a guide, travel between them easily by ferries and see almost everything for free.
Our full step-by-step guide has everything you to know to visit and see the islands without a tour:
3. The Animals Are Everywhere And Easy To See
Animals are quite literally all over the place and often get in your way.
The Islands are unmatched when it comes to abundant wildlife. There’s a real sense that the Islands are their home rather than humans.
It’s a cliché, but you feel at one with nature. There’s no need for an expensive weeklong cruise to travel around and you could avoid tours altogether.
Sea lions and marine iguanas are the easiest to see and can often be found chilling on the beaches. Walking paths will lead you to blue-footed boobies and frigate birds nesting among the volcanic rocks and cliffs. You will see the Galápagos giant tortoise strolling through the highlands and watch Darwin finches bounce around the paths watching you curiously. The best part is, it’s all free.
Check out our DIY land-based itineraries to see how easy it is to explore and see the animals. We’ve outlined a 5-day, 1 week, and 10-day option to suit every type of traveller:
4. The Free Activities Are Excellent
Pristine beaches, free museums, hiking trails and some of the best snorkelling in the world. You don’t need to spend money on the Galápagos Islands to have a good time.
The Darwin Centre on Santa Cruz island is a fantastic museum filled with information on all the species living on the islands, along with an enclosure raising baby giant tortoises.
Tortuga Bay is a great place to go snorkelling among mangrove forests where you will find baby white tip sharks, manta rays and green sea turtles. You can spend 4-5 days filling your days with free activities and not get bored.
For a list of all the free activities on each island:
5. The Paid Tours Are Just As Good
Whilst you can only stay on 4 of the islands in the Galápagos, there are several others to visit via day trips. And as you get further away from the main towns, the landscapes become even more unique.
The unique rock formations pictured below are found on Bartolome island. Pinzon Island is surrounded by shallow reefs full of baby sharks and turtles, perfect for a day of snorkelling.
Isabela has some of the most exciting day tours due to all the volcanos on the islands. Sierra Negra volcano has the second largest caldera in the world, and you can spend a day climbing it if you want.
Las Tintoreras, a guided kayak tour on Isabela takes you through the islets and mangrove trees on the island to see Galápagos penguins, blue-footed boobies, marine iguanas, sea lions, blue herons and crabs. You can also snorkel to see white tip sharks and sea turtles.
All-day tours on offer are incredible, and you can even get them on the cheap if you follow a couple of our tips.
6. There Are Cheap Hostels And Hotels
Whilst luxury hotels dominate the islands, there are a handful of hostels and smaller hotels that cater to backpackers.
You can find dorms from around $18-25 which are at the top end for Ecuador but remain affordable. Hotel rooms are available from about $25 (we researched prices in the low season, which are cheaper).
This means you can visit each of the islands without having to worry about paying for expensive accommodation.
We would recommend:
7. The Incredible Natural History
Aside from the jaw-dropping wildlife experiences you are bound to have, the islands are most famously known as the place that inspired Charles Darwin and cemented his theory of evolution.
Each of the islands has a museum or centre dedicated to teaching Darwin’s work, highlighting the conservation efforts on the islands and the importance of looking after our planet.
You will leave the islands with a greater understanding and appreciation for the natural world.
8. The Insane Landscapes
Along with having some of the rarest animals in the world, the Galápagos Islands will be unlike any other landscape you’ve come across on your travels.
The islands formed because of the powerful volcanic activity in the region. These new land formations were seeded with plants and animals from the mainland for millions of years, creating a melting pot of fauna, flora and geological activity that has produced a place unlike any other on earth.
Active volcanoes, lava fields and lava tubes. Untouched fine sand beaches dominated by sea lions and highland lagoons full of nesting birds. Crystal clear blue waters to snorkel among mangrove forests in search of baby sharks and sea turtles. It truly is a once in a lifetime experience.
The Galápagos Islands are an incredibly unique and necessary sight to behold for any traveller searching for the best natural wonders.
9. The Islands Are Easy To Get To And Navigate
With a consistent schedule of flights from either Guayaquil or Quito – getting to the Galápagos Islands is easy.
Yes, there are additional admin and fees, but this only adds an hour to the standard check-in time. Once you land, you’re a short taxi journey away from any of the main towns and the free activities we’ve mentioned within walking distance, so you’ll be exploring in no time.
Travelling between the islands is stress-free. Small ferries leave each island daily in the morning, cost around $30 and take between 2-3 hours to transport you to your next destination.
The full step-by-step guide to booking flights and completing check-in can be found here:
10. Five Days Is All You Need
Five days is the perfect amount of time to see two of the islands and leave feeling like you’ve had a complete experience. You can be in and out before you know it, leaving with unforgettable memories.
We saw San Cristobal and Santa Cruz island in 6 days and were fully satisfied with our trip. We’ve outlined this itinerary along with a 7-day and 10-day itinerary if you do want to stay longer to see Isabela island:
11. The Diving Is Some Of The Best In The World
The Galápagos Islands are host to some of the rarest animals under the sea as well as on land. The volcanic rock formations and ocean currents around the islands attract a diverse range of creatures, both large and small.
If you love diving, like we do, then diving in the Galápagos Islands is a must. Some of the world’s best dive sites are here such as Gordon Rocks where you can see schools of hammerheads or Kicker Rock where sea turtles and sea lions are in abundance.
12. The Snorkelling Is Also Great
If you’ve never dived before then don’t worry, the snorkelling is some of the best in the world as well.
At most beaches you can go snorkelling, and you will soon find yourself swimming with sea lions. Try Playa Mann on San Cristobal to swim with sea lions. On Santa Cruz, Tortuga Bay is the best spot for snorkelling between the mangrove forests searching for baby white tip sharks, rays and turtles.
Concha de Perla on Isabela is a quiet bay with crystal clear waters perfect for swimming, and you can even swim with the penguins if you’re lucky.
13. The Beaches Are Unreal
The beaches on the Galápagos Islands are untouched.
You have Playa Punta Carola or Mann on San Cristobal for some of the best sunsets watching on the islands.
Playa Estacion on Santa Cruz feels as if you’ve found a hidden beach no one else knows about with only marine iguanas warming themselves on the black volcanic rock for company.
And Tortuga Bay for a long, white sand beach to stroll along and observe marina iguanas coming out of the sea for a rest.
14. The Weather Is Great Year Round
The Galápagos Islands have two seasons – the dry season and the wet season.
The wet season is from January to June, the temperatures are warmer with a higher chance of rain. The dry season is from June to December, and the temperatures are cooler with a higher chance of a midday shower.
We doubt you’d notice a difference between the two seasons. Because the islands are on the equator, it means that the weather hardly fluctuates much. We visited in October, and it rained a couple of days but not enough to ruin our plans. Just come prepared and remember the rain brings life to the animal kingdom.
For more information on when to visit the islands for specific animals and tourist seasons:
15. It's A Once In A Lifetime Trip
The reason we’re happy to lug oversized backpacks around the world and leave the comfort of home is to see new places and enhance our experiences.
We left home to experience deserts, mountains, and other landscapes worlds apart from England’s dull green hills (don’t get us wrong, it’s beautiful, but when you’ve grown up around it, it certainly isn’t exciting anymore.
We nearly didn’t go to the Galápagos Islands due to the extra admin and cost, but that would have gone against why we went travelling in the first place.
If you are in Ecuador and debating whether to go then just do it. You won’t regret it. We certainly didn’t. And now some of our best memories from our year-long trip around South America were on the Galápagos Islands.
When will you be back in Ecuador again? It’s a once in a lifetime opportunity. Go now.
Are the Galápagos Islands worth visiting?
The Galápagos Islands are well worth visiting. It’s one of the most unique landscapes on earth, and there’s nowhere else in the world you can find the incredible endemic species such as the Giant Tortoise, Darwin Finch, and Galápagos Fur Seal.
And whilst the price of a visit can be off-putting, it can easily be done on a budget if you avoid the expensive cruises, haggle for tours, and enjoy all the free activities on the islands.