Visiting the Galápagos Without Breaking the Bank

For people around the world, a visit to the Galápagos Islands is a common “bucket list” destination. Unfortunately, visiting this unique but out-of-the-way spot can be a very expensive proposition. For example, a family of four visiting from North America may find that between airfare to Ecuador and then on to the Islands, entry fees, accommodations, tours, meals, etc., that the cost of a Galápagos trip can easily approach or even reach five figures, forcing it to remain a dream for many.

Rita and I are no exception – we also wanted to visit the Galápagos. Actually, it was becoming a source of embarrassment that we had not done so already. After all, we lived in Ecuador for six years and in that time traveled all over the country. In fact, we know Ecuadorians who tell us we have seen more of their country than they have. We’ve visited Buenos Aires, Uruguay, Peru and even hiked the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu, but had yet to take the relatively simple hop over to the Islands.

So last August, we decided to take advantage of a trip to the capital city of Quito for an International Living conference to finally make our dream a reality. We had a great time, and learned so much that we never saw in our research that I decided to write a book about planning and executing a self-guided, affordable Galápagos expedition.

We found that you can reduce the costs of getting from island to island on your visit by flying into one airport and out the other. The airlines charge the identical rates whether you use the same airport or both, so this means you don’t have to waste money backtracking to an island you have already explored just to catch a flight.

There are some other ways to save money in the Galápagos and still have a rewarding and full experience. You can book some very nice accommodations in advance via online resources like Expedia and Booking.com at hotels and hostals for as little as $40/night, most of which include Wi-Fi and breakfast. You will find meals to be a little pricey at many restaurants, especially those connected to hotels or along the beaches. But if you look to see where the locals are eating, or explore a block or two off the beach, you can find meals more in line with typical Ecuadorian prices.

This lunch of fresh fish, rice and menestra de frijoles (beans in a sauce), plantains and a little salad was less than $6

Of course, the biggest expense once you are in the Galápagos is in taking boat tours around the island or off to the unpopulated ones, dive tours, snorkeling expeditions, and guided inland tours. If you are a diving enthusiast, of course you want to take advantage of this wonderful opportunity. But if like my wife and me, you are mostly interested in hiking and exploring, seeing some seals, tortoises, boobies, and the other unusual animals that got Darwin thinking almost 200 years ago, you can do all of that (and save a bundle) by visiting just two or three islands and setting off on your own.

Everyone has different ideas of the perfect Galápagos vacation, and there is no right way or wrong way to do it. You can take a boat tour, where you live onboard and travel to a new island overnight so as to visit as many as possible; you can stay on just one island, and take day trips to others; you can spend some time on some or each of the four populated islands; or some combination of all three.

We chose to fly into Baltra and spend four nights on Santa Cruz, then take the Emetebe flight to San Cristóbal for another four nights before returning to Guayaquil.

Our total cost for the trip for two including roundtrip airfare to the Islands, the short Island hopper flight, four nights accommodations on each of two islands, entry visas, National Park fee, ferrys, and cabs totaled only $1935.85. It could have been $400 less if we had shuttled from Santa Cruz to Isabela by boat instead of plane (more on that later). I did not keep track of our meal costs, as almost all were paid in cash. However, breakfast was included at one of the hotels and I would estimate we spent about $70 a day on average, including beers and cocktails.

All of the sites and activities we enjoyed were available to the public at no charge.

Would you like to learn more about how you can plan a dream visit to one of the natural wonders of the world – without creating a financial nightmare?

Well then, good news! The full account of our trip is now available via Kindle and KindleUnlimited in electronic form, or as a paperback with color photos from Amazon. In “The Galápagos Islands:On Your Own and On a Budget” you can get real-world practical information on some of the things you can see and do with a simple (and affordable) trip to one of the most incredible destinations in the world; the Galápagos Islands.

The Journey Begins!

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4 Comments

  • Kathryn Jones says:

    Hi Jim, good information as always.
    Just a note….if you would be interested in learning more about Mr. Darwin, I would
    point you to the book “The biology of belief” by Dr. Bruce Lipton, head of the Genome
    project. It’s a fascinating look at the bio-chemical aspect of our ability/need of belief systems.
    Also has a lot to say about Mr. Darwin. I found it a lot of food for thought! As you are a thinker
    I thought I would pass that along.
    Thanks again for the trip info, always enjoy your insights.
    Still here in Ecuador, still loving it and have made my home in Cuenca, do in large part to the generosity you
    have shown in sharing your experiences. Thank you again!

    • Jim Santos says:

      Thanks for the kind words, and I will certainly look for that book. I’ll have more to say about Darwin and the Galápagos eco-system in the rest of the series. BTW, Richard Dawkins’s book “The Blind Watchmaker” is also excellent for learning how the process of evolution works.

    • Jim Santos says:

      Oh yes, speaking of the need for belief systems – “Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind” by Yuval Noah Harari lays out a good case that sapiens won out over other Homo species because of our ability to make stuff up and pretend that it is real.

  • Mary Riley says:

    great information as usual. thank you for your tips…filing this for future reference….we have been here 5 years and haven’t made it there!!!

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