Galapagos on the superduper cheap cheap
A couple of days ago we returned from the Galapagos Islands, a place that, first of all, I never expected to actually exist and secondly, one (or more precise: me) could ever visit. For a long time we questioned ourselves whether we really want to afford to go to a place that so openly is categorized as being highly expensive. After doing a lot of research I found a couple of Blogs that wrote about affordable accommodation and the possibility of Last Minute Cruises and eventually we searched for a flight. When we stumbled upon a unmatched price we gave in.
This is our collection on how to travel the Galapagos on the superdupercheapcheap.
Finding a flight
Well, since we were in Ecuador already we checked the prices every once in a while over the stretch of about one month. In generally flights from Guayaquil are cheaper then from Quito, mostly for about $350. One fine day tho we found flights for $195 return and booked them immediately. The tickets for the Avianca flight were in about three weeks, so somewhat spontaneous. We found them on Skyscanner.
At the Airport
Before checking in you need to buy a Transit Ticket. It costs $20 and is only issued with your passport. Arrival and departure date as well as the used airport are printed on the ticket. What the Transit Ticket payed for exactly we never understood, but well, we got our boarding pass.
Your check in luggage will be thoroughly checked. You can hardly bring Fruits or Veggies, a couple of things however are possible to bring. Here you can find a list.
We mostly brought dry stuff (which wasn’t a problem at all) that costs between three to eight times more on the Galapagos than on the mainland:
- Rice noodles
- Soy sauce
- Tomato paste
- Honey-Mustard Sauce
- Peanut butter
- Sunflower oil
After the arrival
First thing after arriving in Baltra you will be asked to pay the entrance fee to the national park. At least you get a stamp in your passport for your $100.
From the airport a free shuttle bus brings you to the harbor, where a boat is waiting to bring you over to Santa Cruz. Baltra is an unpopulated island that only hosts the airport, there is really not much to see here. The first impression of the Galapagos is very rough and, to be honest a little disappointing. But wait!
The two minutes on the ferry costs $1. Some boats ask for $2 but quickly give up when you make clear that the normal price is half of that. From the other side of the canal a bus brings you to Puerto Ayora, the biggest town on the islands. The bus leaves when it is full. Coming back is a little harder because even though the boats run all day as soon as enough people are on deck, the last bus from Puerto Ayora to the canal leaves at 8.30am. If you want to leave a little later you can take a taxi for $25 or, like us, use your thumb. Hitchhiking from Puerto Ayora was astonishingly easy – after not even 10 minutes, a truck picked us up – we did not even have enough time to finish our fantastic banana bread!
To be honest, from all of the islands we visited, we liked Santa Cruz the least. But when you are hunting a last minute deal for a cruise tour, this is the place. The streets are packed with tour agencies that try to catch your attention. Don’t get me wrong, Santa Cruz is still part of one of the most beautiful places I have ever seen, so even here there is plenty of nice stuff to see. But let’s take it slow.
Last Minute Cruise shopping in Puerto Ayora
As I said before, there is definitely no shortage of travel agencies. In the beginning the amount of possible Cruises is completely overwhelming but after a while you can get a pretty good overview of what is on offer and what actually makes sense. In the end we decided against a cruise even though we found quite good offers. Unfortunately the routes where not super special and the animals we would have seen on the cruise where the same we could see if we just explored the islands on our own. Even the travel agents confirmed that it was a better idea for us not to book a cruise which we appreciated a lot. This is how we ended up visiting the islands on our own which turned out to be a beautiful possibility to get to know this place and its people much closer than on a cruise.
This is what we saw along the way
I guess now is the right moment to tell you that we brought our tent. Even though it is not allowed to camp in the national park (we only know of two spots where it might be possible but you would have to ask for permission two days ahead and are only allowed to stay for a maximum of two days) we planned to ask in hotels and hostels with a garden if it would be possible to set up a tent there. If you don’t ask you will never find out, right? The first hours of our stay we spent searching for a suitable home for our tent. By chance we met a nice girl that grew up in Puerto Ayora who invited us to stay in her garden. Easy as!
Soon we decided to take a boat to San Cristobal because Puerto Ayora is full of people and we came for the nature and the animals. Adding it up we still spend five days in Puerto Ayora: Arrival and departure day, one day to switch boats while coming from San Cristobal to go to Isabela (because there is no direct one), one working (because we did not come completely without obligations) and one to spend time in beautiful places.
On Santa Cruz we went on these free excursions:
Las Grietas, a small creek with crystal clear water. Snorkeling through it you can see big fish, climbing over the rocks between the first and the second „lake“ (which I highly recommend, because the second is much more quiet and beautiful) you could find some Iguanas.
On top of Las Grietas you can find a small path to a breathtaking viewpoint.
Darwin Center, a very informative Center about the work of the Darwin Foundation and the flora and fauna of the islands. Also you can find Lonesome George here.
Other excursions that you could do for free: Tortuga Bay, Laguna de las Nifas, Tuneles de Lava, Playa el Garrapateo
Costs Puerto Ayora
- Bus from the harbor to the town: $2
- Accommodation in the tent: $10 / night
- Coffee (the best you can find at Il Giradinoca): $3
- Water (unfortunately the water from the tab is salty and does not taste good even through a filter): $1.50 / Gallon
- Ferry to San Cristobal/Isabela: In fact Christine, who has her shop right next to the only supermarket in town, is the only one who, without discussion, sells tickets to the ferries for $25. Everywhere else they are being sold for $30 / person. If you have a fixed plan (unlike us) do yourself a favor and buy them here. With 4 rides it will save you $20 / person.$30 / person
- Beer (for the big bottles you get between $0.50-$1 if you return them to the store, this is not well communicated) $3.50-$4.50
- Almuerzo: Menus consisting of soup, main dish and juice, sometimes even dessert: $4-5
- Las Grietas: $0
- Ferry to Las Grietas: $0.80 / Person
- Groceries: Don’t buy fruit and veggies in the supermarket. There are two markets in town where the prices are a lot less and the quality seems higher. Keep in mind that you are not allowed to transport some of the fruit from one island to the other, this is mainly true for all sorts of citrus fruits. Bananas for example don’t seem to be a problem. However, the baked goods from the supermarket are the best we could find in Puerto Ayora.
- We prepared our dinner and breakfast ourselves
By the time I left the pier and the first seal crossed the street in front of me, I knew I would never regret coming here. What a funny, unlikely place! Finally I have found the place of my favorite children’s book (that I have read every two years since my childhood): „the happy islands behind the wind“, where everyone and everything lives together in harmony.
We stayed at Casa Mabella, a nice little hostel. A big plus for us was the spacious kitchen, which we used extensively.
On San Cristobal we made these free excursions:
Playa Mann, a pretty town beach near the center. From time to time, a seal swims into the bay and floats around the delighted children. In the evening barbecue stalls are set up nearby, in the midday heat it’s likely that an ice cream seller comes by. If you don’t want to be in complete nature, this is the place to be.
Playa Punta Carola is a short walk from Playa Mann through a pretty forest. An incredible number of turtles and huge rays float through the water and you can marvel at beautiful sunsets with a small lighthouse in the background. Parts of the beach are cordoned off for iguanas, a pelican keeps dropping by. At low tide, it is a bit tricky to get into the water, because you have to climb over many slippery rocks to be able to actually snorkel. I recommend to wait for the flood. It is more fun.
Tijeretas, a stunning view point! From here you can look down to a beautiful bay where you can also snorkel wonderfully (see next paragraph). In fact, there are a number of view points from which you can watch many pelicans and blue-footed boobies (yeah, haha, the souvenir marketing department figures this to be super funny too).
Snorkel point at the foot of the lookout, where you can swim with seals in clear water surrounded by huge swarms of sardines. Every now and then a turtle hovers by, maybe even a baby shark if you are lucky.
It is a great pleasure to enjoy the sunset at the pier with the seals. If you are lucky they even make room for you on one of the benches.
Other excursions that you could do for free: Centro de Interpretaciones, La Loberia
In addition, we decided on the 360 day tour that circumnavigated the island once. We went snorkeling at different beaches and lagoons, spotted Red Footed Boobies, and birds whose names are less catchy (and I therefore don’t remember) pulled a mighty tuna on board (from which we were allowed to take home a small part which fed us for the following two days) and snorkeled at Kickers Rock with so many sharks that even the guide was speechless.
Costs San Cristobal
- Double Room at Casa Mabella: $25 / night
- Coffee: we liked Fresco Cafe the most $3
- Ferry to Santa Cruz and straight to Isabela: $50 / person
- Playa Mann: $0
- Playa Punta Carola: $0
- Tijeretas: $0
- 360 Tour: $140 / person
- Water: There is free water in the hostel, but since San Cristobal has a fresh water supply, you can drink the tap water through a water filter without hesitation.
- Groceries: Again, there is a covered market, with affordable fruits and vegetables.
- Again, there is a indoor market, with affordable fruits and vegetables.
The best baked goods are available at the bakery “Sabor de Cuenca”.
- We prepared our dinner and breakfast ourselves
Isabela greeted us with unexpected expenses. You pay some sort of „welcome fee“ on arrival, from which we had not heard until then. This, we learned, is collected by the community and used to turn the sandy roads into volcanic rock roads, to install an awning on the pier, and the like. At least.
We arrived at Casa Solei, whose owner allowed us to camp in the yard after a short conversation. You could see that he had never received this sort of request and hesitated a little before agreeing to this arrangement but then was very welcoming.
On Isabela we made these free excursions:
We walked through a flamingo area to a turtle refuge, which was very enlightening.
We borrowed bikes and rode to the Wall of Tears. On the way there is a lot to see: huge tortoises, tons of iguanas, a lava tube and a magnificent view from a lookout.
Snorkeling in the Concha Perla is a blast. We saw seals and lots of fish.
On the beach of the pier you can spend endless hours watching seals while iguanas swim through the water as well as swarms of rays.
The town beach invites you to splash and surf, on the pier you can celebrate the sunset with Iguanas.
Unfortunately, we could not take part in the most popular day trips, as unfortunately the currents for the Tuneles tour were too strong (the cost for this tour is around $100) and the volcano showed activity and therefore the tours did not take place (potential cost: $45).
- Overnight in tent: $10 / night
- Coffee: At Casa Solei, we liked it a lot. $2
- Rent a bike: $3 / hour
- Ferry to Santa Cruz: $25 / person
- To eat out: Eating out on Isabela seems a bit more expensive here than on the other islands. Our dinner set was disappointing so we cooked ourselves the following days. In small side streets you can also buy cheap and good fresh fish, just ask around a bit. $8
- Water: There is free water in the hostel. Isabela has a water treatment plant, so you can drink the tap water with a water filter.
- Groceries: On Isabela as well you can find a small market, here we found the cheapest fruits on the islands.
- Flight Guayaquil <-> Baltra: $195 / person
- Entry National Park: $100 / person
- Transfer Ticket: $20 / person
- Accommodations: $155
- 360Tour: $140 / person
- Ferry tickets:
- Santa Cruz <-> San Cristobal & Santa Cruz <-> Isabela $100 / person
- Other transport costs: Bus, water taxis $10.60 / person
- Rent a bike: $3 / hour
- Entry Isabela: $10 / person
- Coffee: about $40
- To eat out: 2x lunch, 1x dinner, 1x breakfast $25
Total cost per person for the 10 days we spent there: about $690 = about 560€
That’s far below the budgets I’ve read about so far. As I said, we also thought about a cruise. The cheapest we found would have cost $600 / person for four days (but note that the cruise always starts at 12:00 pm and ends at 10:00 am, but these half days count as whole ones when they try to sell it to you), which still is a lot of money. Especially if you are traveling for a longer time.
Of course, we had planned to look after our money otherwise we wouldn’t have brought neither the food nor the tent, but to get away as cheap as we did, we would not have dared to dream of. In fact, the dishes we ate in restaurants did not particularly please us, otherwise we would not have cooked so often. The only exception: the breakfast at Casa Solei with delicious, homemade jam and fresh fruit.
At some point our ambition was awakened to undermine the prevailing mentality of simply paying for everything without asking questions of what the money is used for. In addition, we wanted to disprove the myth that this wonderful place is only accessible with a certain purse size.