Galapagos Islands On a Budget (Shoestring)

Galapagos Islands On A Budget – 15 Shoestring Tips To Save!

The Galápagos Islands are an expensive place compared to mainland Ecuador. Don’t stress though, because there’s a way to visit without breaking the bank. Here are 15 great shoestring tips for visiting the Galápagos Islands on a budget.

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Can You Visit The Galapagos Islands On A Budget?

The simple answer is yes, you can visit the Galapagos Islands on a budget. 

 

It’s easy to stick to a daily budget of around $50 which will cover your food and accommodation. And don’t worry, you’ll be able to see a lot with the free activities on offer.

 

However, the expensive part is the flights and entrance fees which will cost between $400-500 in total. 

15 Tips To Visit The Galapagos Islands On A Budget

1. Avoid Package Tours, Cruises And Liveaboard Boats Completely

The best way to see the Galapagos Islands on a budget is to skip the multi-day cruises, package tours and liveaboard boats. 

 

These are all huge rip-offs! 

 

Cruises and package tours on the islands are advertised in a way to make you feel as if they are the only way to explore – but this is far from the reality.

 

A weeklong cruise or liveaboard boat will set you back anywhere between $1,000-$4,000.

 

And they’ll take you to most of the free sites that you can visit by yourself anyway.

Stick to a land-based DIY itinerary instead to save money:

 

 

Seal Pup on the Galapagos Islands

2. Visit The Galapagos Islands In Low Season For Cheaper Prices

You won’t be able to see the Galápagos islands on a budget if you go in the high seasons due to the increased prices for everything.

 

The high seasons are:

 

  • April (spring break)
  • July and August (school summer holidays)
  • December (around Christmas time)

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.

 

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 hotels, restaurants and tour companies drop their prices and offer deals to attract more customers.

iguana in Galapagos

3. Don't Book Expensive Day Tours On The Galapagos Islands

To stick to a budget on the Galapagos Islands, you need to avoid booking single-day tours as well. 

 

The single day tours are also expensive and start from around $100, with some of the most popular such as a day trip to Bartholome Island costing close to $300. 

 

Does this mean you won’t do or see anything on the islands?

 

No Way! There’s a wealth of free activities on the islands that can keep you busy from 3-7 days. 

 

Here are some of my favourite free activities:

 

  • Interpretation Centre (San Cristobal) – a small museum focussing on the political and economic history of the islands.  The exit then leads to a coastal paths with great views and a secluded beach filled with sea lions and marine iguanas.
  • Darwin Research Centre (Santa Cruz) – a museum highlighting the conservation projects ongoing on the islands.
  • Tortuga Bay (Santa Cruz) – a huge white sand beach where you can go snorkelling in the mangrove trees to find baby sharks, turtles and manta rays. 
  • Flamingo Lake (Isabela Island) – a nice walk to a huge lake filled with flamingoes.

For more free activities on each of the islands, check out our post:

 

 

Galapagos Islands Day Tours To Avoid

4. Haggle For Paid Tours To Get Discounts

If you are going to book a tour, make sure you haggle. You should be able to knock anywhere between 10%-20% off.

 

If you feel you can factor a paid tour into your itinerary, make sure you follow these tips to save money as much money as possible:

 

  • Visit in the low season – less demand means it’s easier to find better deals on tours.
  • 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 get down the price, especially if you book the day before.

TOP TIP: I used this method to get a Pinzon Island tour for half the price advertised online. These tours are usually around $200 and by shopping around and booking one last minute (the day before I wanted to go), I got it for $100

How To Get Cheap Tours On The Galapagos Islands

5. Book Affordable Tours

There are some reputable tour companies on the islands that offer good deals online too.

 

Here are some of the best affordable tours I’ve found between $50-100, which is reasonable for the Galapagos Islands:

 

  • Sierra Negra volcano (Isabela) – this volcano has the second largest caldera in the world, and you can spend a day climbing it if you want. This tour is great value for money starting from $60. 
  • Lava Tunnels / Highlands (Santa Cruz) – for $30, this tour is a great way to get transport up into the highlands to see the lava tunnels and the giant tortoises. 
birds in Galapagos

6. Visit For 4 Nights/5 Days To Stay Under $750

If you want to stick to a budget whilst visiting the Galapagos Islands, you’ll have to keep your trip shorter than a week.

 

You won’t miss out though as five days is the perfect amount of time to see the two main islands – San Cristobal and Santa Cruz. 

 

So with flights costing around $450 and sticking to a $50 a day budget, you can keep your trip to the Galapagos Islands under $750.

 

Here’s my 5-day DIY itinerary suggestion:

 

  • Day 1 – San Cristobal – visit the Interpretation Centre, take a coastal walk to Playa Punta Carola 
  • Day 2 – San Cristobal – rent bicycles and visit the Giant Tortoise Sanctuary in the highlands
  • Day 3 – Santa Cruz – explore the town and visit the Darwin Research Centre 
  • Day 4 – Santa Cruz – swim at Las Greitas and then go snorkelling at Tortuga Bay
  • Day 5 – return ferry to San Cristobal and then flight back to mainland Ecuador

TOP TIP: Skip Isabela Island! You don't need to see all three islands to get a full experience. Visiting all three will cost you another $50 in ferry fees. Isabela has a lot less free activities as well so you'll have to pay for tours to visit popular places like the Sierra Negra Volcano.

This full Galapagos islands itinerary along with a 7-day and 10-day plan that include Isabela island can be found here in more detail:

 

 

seal in Galapagos

7. 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 food spend should be below $20.

Check out our Galapagos spend and budget to give you a better idea and help you plan:

 

 

 

Example of a 'Menu Del Dia' on the Galapagos Islands

8. Book Accommodation With Free Breakfast

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. Or just skip it all together!

 

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.

For more great reasons to visit the Galapagos islands, head to the post below:

 

 

Playa Mann, San Cristobal (Galapagos Islands)

9. 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 all the chocolate bars, ice creams, sweet treats etc are expensive!

 

I treated myself to an ice cream and chocolate bar one day, and it cost over $10.

 

Skip the snacking if you want to save money.

10. Stay In Hostels Or Cheap Hotels

Finding cheap acccommodation is a great way to stick to a shoestring budget on the Galapagos Islands.

 

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.

 

I stayed at Hostal Terito on San Cristobal and Galapagos Best Hostel on Santa Cruz. Both were clean and comfortable and provided breakfast.

 

Here are the other cheapest places I’ve found on each island: 

Cheap Accommodation On Isla San Cristobal

Cheap Accommodation On Isla Santa Cruz

Cheap Accommodation On Isla Isabela

Sea Lions On San Cristobal Islands (Galapagos Islands)

11. 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 a purified water tank).

 

Bring your filled up bottle along with you at lunch and dinner as well to avoid paying an extra couple of dollars on top of your set menu. 

Hydro Flask Trail Series

This is my favourite water bottle for travelling South America for several reasons: 

 

  • Lightweight 
  • Durable
  • Stays clean 
  • Keeps drinks cold for 24 hours

Check it out here. 

Best Water Bottle for South America: Hydroflask Trail Series
Giant Tortoises In The Highlands of Santa Cruz (Galapagos Islands)

12. Avoid Taxis And Rent Bikes To Explore The Islands

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, you’ll need your own 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.

 

Instead of paying for an expensive taxi, 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 these bike rental places on San Cristobal:

 

Or this bike tour is a cheap option on Santa Cruz. 

Galapagos Islands : Bikes vs Taxi

13. Budget $50-60 a day

On the Galapagos Islands, my average daily spend came to about $50 for food and accommodation.

 

  • Hostel – $25-30 – stick to my cheap suggestions in the previous points
  • Food – $15-20 – have breakfast at your hostel, one ‘menu del dia’ and then one meal at a restaurant

If you follow my free activity and itinerary suggestions, then this is all you need to spend. 

Kicker Rock, San Cristobal Island (Galapagos Islands)

14. Rent Snorkel Gear (Or Borrow From Your Hostel)

Going snorkelling is another fun free activity and great way to see lots of animals.

 

Skip the tours and do it yourself to save money!

 

You can see baby sharks, turtles and rays whilst snorkelling in the mangroves around Tortuga Bay (Santa Cruz). 

 

Shops will rent them for the day for around $10.

 

Or if you are savvy and book the right hostel, they will have their own gear which they may give you for free or for cheaper than the shops. 

To  see how you can combines a visit to the Galapagos islands with a trip to Machu Picchu, check out the post below:

 

 

15. Find Cheap Flights Through WayAway

If you can be flexible with the days you fly, you should be able to find cheaper flights on weekdays. 

 

I’ve been using WayAway Plus to book almost everything whilst travelling around South America.

 

You get cashback on:

 

  • Flights – finds the cheapeast flights and gives you 5% cashback on all flights booked
  • Accommodation – up to 20% cashback on selected deals with Booking.com and 6% with HostelWorld
  • Tours – up to 8% cashback with GetYourGuide and 6% with Viator

So if you booked your entire Galapagos trip through them, you’d make a decent amount back with their cashback scheme. 

Leave a Comment

4 comments

Jinan Nasser 30 May 2020 - 1:27 AM

Such an awesome post!!! Although a trip to the Galapagos has been on my bucket list for years, it has now moved up higher on the list. Thanks for the post! You guys are the best✌🏻🌎

Reply
Joe Bayfield 30 May 2020 - 10:40 AM

Brilliant! So glad it’s moved up on your list – we want to try and get as many people to visit this wonderful place for as cheap as possible!

Reply
Solange Delgado 30 May 2020 - 1:13 PM

Me encanta!

Reply
Joe Bayfield 30 May 2020 - 1:43 PM

Perfecto! gracias por tu comentario!

Reply

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