1. Avoid Package Tours, Cruises And Liveaboard Boats Completely
One of our biggest concerns before visiting was exploring the islands and seeing everything we wanted to without a tour.
Cruises and tours on the islands are advertised in a way to make you feel as if they are the only way to explore what the islands have to offer, but this is far from the reality.
A weeklong tour on a cruise or liveaboard boat will set you back anywhere between $1,000-$4,000. They also take you to most of the free sites that you can visit by yourself anyway.
- Intrepid Travels – 10-Day Cruise & Tour – $3500
- Galapagos Last Minute – 4-Day Land Tour (San Cristobal only) – $750.
This clearly isn’t an option for backpackers.
What you can do though, is book your own flights and follow a DIY itinerary when you arrive.
The Galápagos Islands are small, and exploring them by yourself is straightforward. There are several treks, museums and natural sights to visit which are all free. The islands are incredibly rich with land and marine life as well, meaning tours to see animals aren’t necessary.
Read our complete guide on visiting the Galápagos without a tour or cruise to see how it can be done:
2. Visit In Low Season
This one is essential. You won’t see the Galápagos on a budget if you go in the high season (April, July, August, and December).
These are the most popular times for tourists to visit and like any tourist destination worldwide, the high season means increased prices for food, accommodation, and tours. As the islands are already expensive, peak season prices mean your bank account will take a huge hit, so plan your trip around the low season.
The low seasons in the Galápagos Islands are springtime (May to June) and autumn (September and October).
During these periods, tourism declines substantially, and many cruises and tour companies drop their prices and offer excellent deals to attract more passengers to fill otherwise empty seats. This also means you have extra bargaining power and can lower the cost even further by haggling.
Accommodation and restaurant prices will also be cheaper. Hotels are likely to have last-minute deals if you’re flexible. If your heart is truly set on a tour, prices are significantly reduced during the low season so bear that in mind.
Check out our post on the best times to visit for wealth, tourist season and wildlife watching:
3. Don't Book Any Expensive Day Tours
To stick to a backpacker budget on the Galapagos Islands, you need to avoid booking single-day tours as well. This doesn’t mean you will be sat around doing nothing though.
There’s a wealth of free activities to do on the islands to keep you occupied and entertained.
On San Cristobal, you can visit the Interpretation Centre Museum, enjoy coastal trekking paths and enjoy the beaches filled with sea lions and marine iguanas.
On Santa Cruz, you have the Darwin Museum, the incredible natural wonder of ‘Las Greitas’ and several secluded beaches filled with wildlife. At Tortuga Bay you can go snorkelling in the mangrove trees to find baby sharks, turtles and manta rays and all it costs is the price of renting snorkel equipment.
4. Haggle For Paid Tours
There are some islands and types of animal you can only see via single day tours. For example, red and yellow iguanas are only found on islands accessed by tours. Pinzon island is a great place to swim with baby white tip sharks but can only be seen via boat tour.
So, if you feel you can factor a paid tour into your itinerary, make sure you follow these tips to save money on it
- Visit in the low season – less demand means it’s easier
- Don’t book online – paid tour prices are always inflated online, however, researching prices is still recommended.
- Go window shopping – tour companies will have signs outside advertising their tours and last-minute deals.
- Book last minute – The best time to book a tour is the day before it leaves as you’ll get the best and final price.
- Haggle – once you have seen a range of prices from different tour companies, pick the best one and then go and haggle with them. You should be able to knock $10-15 more dollars off the price.
There are several different day tour options on each island catering to everyone’s needs. We love marine life and alongside diving, decided to go snorkelling with turtles and sharks.
We found a Pinzon island tour online for $150, which we were going to book when searching online. Another tour company we visited offered us the trip for $140. Then, when we were walking into town for lunch the next day, we saw it advertised for $100 in a tour agency – $50 saved.
5. Visit For 4 or 5 Days
On a backpacker budget, you aren’t going to be able to spend longer than a week on the Galapagos Islands.
You don’t necessarily need to, however, as four or five days is the perfect amount of time to see two islands, see lots of amazing things and keep your spend down.
Here’s our 5-day DIY itinerary:
Day 4 - Santa Cruz
- Snorkelling at Las Greitas
- Kayaking or Snorkelling At Tortuga Bay
day 5 - Santa cruz
- Rent Bicycles
- Ride To El Chato Tortoise Reserve
- Visit The Lava Tunnels and ‘Los Gemelos’
6. Stick To The 'Menu Of The Day' At Restaurants
Restaurants are expensive on the Galápagos Islands, so if you are eating out two or three times a day, you will break your budget within a couple of days.
The trick is finding where the locals eat and not looking at the menus. When checking out a restaurant just ask for ‘almuerzo’ (pronounced ‘al-moo-air-zo’), for lunch and ‘cena‘ (pronounced ‘sen-ah’), for dinner. Or you can simply ask for the ‘menu del dia’.
Depending on which restaurant you go to, the price ranges from $5-7 dollars and will include a soup, a main dish (usually meat or fish, rice and salad) and a drink (juice).
If your hostel or hotel provides breakfast, you only need to eat out twice a day, and your spend should be below $20.
7. Find Accommodation With Free Breakfast or Cook For Yourself
Booking a hostel or hotel with breakfast is critical for sticking to a budget.
If you can’t find accommodation with free breakfast, then cooking breakfast for yourself is also a good idea.
Keep breakfast simple as most items from the supermarket are still expensive. Eggs and bread with some instant coffee should be a couple of dollars per person. Eggs and bread are cheap because they aren’t imported to the islands like everything else.
8. Avoid Snacking
Almost all food items in the supermarkets are imported to the Galápagos Islands.
The islands are 600 miles from the Ecuadorian coast and 2-3 days by ship, so therefore everything from food, clothes, and household goods is much more expensive than on the mainland.
We treated ourselves to an ice cream and chocolate bar one day, and it cost over $10. Skip the snacking if you want to save money.
9. Stay In Hostels Or Cheap Hotels
There are one or two backpacker hostels on each island and their prices range from $18-30, meaning you don’t have to worry about spending loads on accommodation either.
Here are the cheapest places we found on each island:
10. Take A Refillable Water Bottle Everywhere
This is an obvious one for hardened travellers who bring their own water bottles wherever they go.
If you haven’t invested in one already though, make sure you do before visiting the Galápagos Islands. Tap water isn’t drinkable anywhere in Ecuador, including the Galápagos and bottles of water will cost between $1 and $2 from shops and restaurants – and that’s just for the small ones.
Save cash during the day by filling up your bottle at your hostel or hotel (they should have purified water).
Bring your bottle along at lunch and dinner as well to avoid paying an extra couple of dollars on top of your set menu.
11. Rent Bikes Instead Of Taking Taxis
Most of the activities on the Galapagos islands are within walking distance of the main towns. But if you want to explore the island’s beaches and highlands further afield, you’ll need transport.
Taxis on the island offer their services under the guise of “tour”, but really they just cart you around all day, drop you off at sights and wait until you return.
To visit the highlands where the giant tortoise sanctuary is on San Cristobal, a taxi will cost $60.
This is a fixed cost, and every taxi driver on the island offers the same thing. If you are with a group of 4, you can split the price ($15 each which isn’t too bad), but this is a significant expense if you are on your own.
From the town of Puerto Baquerizo on San Cristobal, it’s a 22km journey to the tortoise habitat. You should be able to rent bicycles in town and ride there instead. The distance should be coverable in an hour but be prepared as the islands are hilly. This is a much cheaper option compared to the taxi ($10-15 for a full-day bike rental).
Check out Galakiwi for bike rentals on San Cristobal.
12. Budget Around $50-60 a day
When backpacking around Ecuador, we suggest budgeting $30-40 a day for food, accommodation, and activities.
On the Galapagos Islands, our average daily spend came to about $50 for food and accommodation (this is with free activities, budget a bit more if you are going to do a tour).
For more information on budgeting and backpacking Ecuador:
13. Save Up Before
If you know for sure you want to visit the Galapagos islands when backpacking Ecuador, then the best way is to plan ahead and save, so you don’t have to worry about money as much.
Aside from the $50 a day budget, we’ve suggested above, here are the three non-avoidable costs related to travelling to the islands:
- Return flights from Guayaquil – $320 approx
- Transit Control Card – $20
- Eco payment on arrival – $100
- Total – $440
If you save this up before you start backpacking and tuck it away, then you won’t be stressing as much about visiting and spending too much.
Trust us, you won’t regret it: