6 TIPS ON HOW TO VISIT THE GALAPAGOS ISLANDS ON A BUDGET
Here are our 6 main tips on how to visit the Galapagos Islands on a budget:
- Avoid package tours, cruises and liveaboard boats completely
- Visit in low season
- Don’t book any day tours in advance or online, only book them last minute when you’re on the islands
- Stick to the cheap ‘menu of the day’ in restaurants
- Cook for yourself and avoid treats
- Take your own water everywhere
1. AVOID PACKAGE TOURS, CRUISES AND LIVEABOARD BOATS COMPLETELY
One of our biggest concerns before we went was whether we could actually do and see everything we wanted to without a tour.
It seems that the islands are promoted as tour only packages that are difficult to visit without – but this is far from the reality. Listen to us when we say – you don’t need a cruise to visit the Galápagos Islands.
First of all, if you are worried about missing out on seeing all the animals the Galápagos has to offer then don’t be. The islands are so rich with land and marine life that you won’t need to book tours to see them.
Read our free activity guide on the Galápagos to see how you can see all the animals and keep yourself busy without paying for a single tour.
Paying for a week long tour on a cruise or live-aboard diving boat will set you back anywhere between £1000-£3000 at a minimum. For an example, Intrepid Travels 10 Day tour aboard a cruise ship costs over $3500 and Galapagos Last Minute 4 day Land only tours still start from the eye watering price of $750.
Secondly, if you are worried about island hopping and getting around the islands – again, don’t be.
Travelling between each island and around the islands themselves is super easy so you don’t need a package tour. All you have to do is be sure to book a space a day in advance on one of the ferries which cost $30 each.
Save the money, avoid the tours and enjoy the freedom and independence of doing it by yourself.
2. VISIT IN LOW SEASON
This one is essential. You won’t do the Galápagos on a budget if you go in high season (the most popular season for tourists to visit).
Like any tourist destination around the world, 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. One of the best times to visit the Galápagos islands is in low season.
The low seasons in the Galápagos Islands are in 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 amazing deals to attract more passengers to fill otherwise empty seats. Because of this, you are in a position of power and have the ability to haggle and barter with tour companies to get prices down even lower.
On top of all this, accommodation and restaurant prices will also be cheaper. You will most likely be able to find major discounts on hotels if you search around and your total spend for food will be significantly reduced.
We visited in October which is a great time to visit as it rains less than other months and is ideal for those looking for cooler temperatures and gorgeous natural landscapes.
3. DON'T BOOK ANY DAY TOURS IN ADVANCE OR ONLINE
Although you can do a lot for free, there are particular islands, tours 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 and Pinzon island is a great place to swim with baby white tip sharks but can only be seen via a boat tour.
Assuming you’ve followed our previous tip and gone in off-season, if there is a tour that you have your eye on then wait until you arrive and book in person on the islands.
The best time to book is the day before as the prices will be the best and final price. This will only work in off-season though as boats and tours just want to sell seats.
This may take a little bit more time as you need to shop around and may not sit well with the control-freak planners among you, but it’s worth it.
We had a spare day to fill and budgeted a paid tour into our plans. There’s lots of options for day tours on the Galápagos which cater to everyone’s interest. For us, we love marine life and alongside diving, decided we wanted to go snorkeling one day with turtles and sharks. After speaking to a few tour companies, we found that Pinzon island was the best place for this.
When searching online, we found a Pinzon island tour on lastminuegalapagos.com for $150 which we were going to book. We then had one tour company in person offer it to us for $140 whilst searching around. Then, when we were walking into town for lunch the next day we saw it advertised for $100 in a tour agency – $50 dollars saved.
4. STICK TO THE MENU OF THE DAY IN RESTAURANTS
Food will be one of your biggest expenses when visiting.
Restaurants are expensive here so if you are eating out two or three times a day then you will break your budget within a couple of days.
The trick is finding where the locals are eating and not looking at menus. When checking out a restaurant just ask for ‘almuerzo’ (pronounced ‘al-moo-air-zo’), for lunch and ‘cena‘ (pronounced ‘sen-ah’), for dinner.
Asking for this will get you the set menu of the day. Depending on which restaurant you go to, they 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).
Once you know this, then your food costs will be massively reduced.
5. COOK FOR YOURSELF AND AVOID TREATS
$5 a meal is fairly reasonable for us when travelling.
As we usually eat twice a day, we tend too not cook that often. However, on some days we cooked ourselves breakfast if we were up early diving.
Our hostel included breakfast which is also something to consider when booking as it saves you the cost of a meal. However, just be careful. Most items are imported to the Galápagos Islands.
The islands are 600 miles from the Ecuadorian coast or 2-3 days by ship so as a consequence everything from food, clothes, electronics and household goods are much more expensive compared to the main land.
We bought some bananas and apples one morning along with eggs and bread which cost over $10.
Another day we treated ourselves to an ice cream and chocolate bar and again it cost over $10.
If you are cooking breakfast, keep it simple stick to eggs and bread. If you need a treat, just be wary as it will cost!
6. TAKE YOUR OWN WATER EVERYWHERE
This last tip is an obvious one for hardened travellers who probably bring their own water bottles with them wherever they go.
If you haven’t 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 anywhere between $1 and $2 dollars 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 $5 set menu.