Many people have the idea that Galapagos is an expensive destination due to the high prices on cruises but in reality you could visit the Galapagos on a budget if you follow the following itinerary. You do not need to hire a tour to visit the Galapagos Islands as the islands are serviced by ferries you can take on your own. The best thing to do in Galapagos is to take day tours as it is the most affordable way to see the Galapagos.
Our flights from Guayaquil to San Cristobal round trip cost only $20 each thanks cashing in 18,000 kilometers on LAN Airlines. In that time we visited the three main islands: Isabela, Santa Cruz and San Cristobal.
➳ Read More: What to do in a layover in Guayaquil
Flights are tricky as you can only fly from either Quito or Guayaquil and there is a price difference for the same flight depending if you are from Ecuador or a foreign. Tickets range between the $200 to $600 round trip depending on the season. The cheapest way to get to Galapagos from Ecuador is between Quito to Baltra Airport (Santa Cruz). From Baltra you will have to take a boat or bus transfer to Puerto Ayora. The transfer cost a few dollars.
You will need to buy a Park Pass for Galapagos at the airport. It cost $100 for Foreigns not living in Ecuador over 12 years old and $50 under 12 years old or foreigns part of the Comunidad Andina o Mercosur. If you are under 12 years old and belong to either the Comunidad Andina o Mercosur the fee is $25. $3 for Ecuadorians and foreigns living in Ecuador under 12 years old and $6 over 12 years old. $25 for students (Ecuadorians or not) who go to an Ecuadorian school. Countries that belong to the Comunidad Andina o Mercosur: Bolivia, Colombia, Ecuador, Perú, argentina, Brasil, Paraguay and Uruguay.
We have provided an in-depth itinerary which can be used as your own Galapagos travel guide to visit the Galapagos Island on the cheap.
➳ Leer más: Las mejores cosas que hacer en Quito
Things to do in Galapagos travel video:
Tips and things you should know before visiting the Galapagos:
- The main islands to visit without a cruise are: Santa Cruz, San Cristobal, Isabela, Bartolome and Floreana.
- You can fly to Santa Cruz (Baltra) or San Cristobal.
- You can visit the islands bellow by ferries. You can book these yourself in person by showing up at the relevant dock. Make sure to check out the times for the ferries are there is normally only two ferries a day; one in the morning and one in the afternoon. The price for a ferry one way ranges from $25 to $30 USD depending where you are planning on going.
- There are two entry fees for a total of $120 USD which goes to conservation if you are international.
- You must book all your accommodations and outbound flight before getting to the island and have travel insurance and show proof of that before checking in.
- Flights are either from Quito or Guayaquil to Santa Cruz or San Cristóbal.
- The main island is Santa Cruz from where the majority of the tours leave.
- Bring plenty of cash with you, especially if going to Isabela Island has they have no ATMs at all.
- Credit cards are accepted sometimes but they charge very high commissions.
How much does it cost to visit the Galapagos on your own?
It all depends on the activities you choose to do, the type of accommodation and where you eat. For instance, in our case we spend $30- $40 on a budget double room and it is half for a single private room. In food we spent around $12 per person eating breakfast, lunch and dinner. We recommend to look for locals “comedores”. This place have delicious food and are meant for locals to buy their lunch or dinner. It will be always the cheapest option yet not the most comfortable experience. Tours can get pricy but once again it all depends on what you choose to do. We took day tours, rent a cab for the hour with another couple to visit each island by land, walk and took water taxis to go to other places in the island not accessible by car or foot. Ferries are a great option to go from island to island without having to hire a tour. Prices ranges from $20-$150 USD per person. Scuba Diving is always the most expensive tour ($150 USD).
We spent $600 USD per person for 8 nights excluding the airfare from Guayaquil to Galapagos. We stayed in budget friendly accommodations, took several tours including one scuba diving immersion, and dine as a local.
When is the best time to visit The Galapagos?
The best time to visit the Galapagos is during the months of November to February although there are benefits to visiting in different months as animals have different breeding seasons so there is always something special going on regardless of the month you choose to visit.
- December to June is the rainy season, when the water and the climate is warmer. It is the perfect time to enjoy the Islands although there is a higher chance of sporadic rain.
- July to December is considered the dry season, when the water and climate are colder. It is also the breeding season for sea lions, shore birds, fur seals, marine iguanas, which is exciting for wildlife viewing.
The Ultimate 8 Day Itinerary for Galapagos on a Budget
Day 1: Mainland to Galapagos
We arrived in San Cristobal via plane right after lunch. Forgoing the $1/person taxi ride, we walked the one kilometer to our hostel, Hostal San Francisco. Locals recommend it for its cheap price and prime location on the pier.
A double room cost us $25/night. They also offer single, double and triple rooms at $15 per person per night. My wife highly recommends this hostel, being the second time she has stayed. It is a no frills room, but includes hot water, a private bathroom, a fan and a TV (not hooked up to cable).
In the afternoon we found a cab driver, Mr. Eduardo, who took us on a tour of the east part of the island, stopping at Puerto Chino, La Galapaguera, Cerro Colorado and El Junco. The tour cost us $50 total, but the price was per car, so try to go in group of four. There was enough time to do the short walks at each location and be back to the hostel before dark. If for any chance you do not get a taxi, you can take a beach hopping tour through San Cristobal.
We bought round trip ferry tickets to Isabela and back, for a total of $240. All ferries travel through Santa Cruz, with the cost of each leg costing $30/person. $30 x (4 legs) = $120 x (2 people) = $240.
Puerto Chino is a beautiful white sand. It is a great place to relax, enjoy the sea and watch the birds feeding.
Galapaguera Cerro Colorado is a small interpretive center built to breed the endemic giant tortoises of the island. Here you can get up close and photograph the turtles, just make sure not to touch! There is information about these unique reptiles and the programs used for their preservation and reproduction.
Note: You cannot use flash on the islands as this can affect vision of animals.
El Junco is a freshwater lagoon located inside a dormant crater. San Cristobal is the only island with fresh water in the Galapagos archipelago. There is a path all the way around the crater if you have time, or just follow the signs for a picture spot, at the entrance, which quickly takes you down to the closest point to the water that visitors are allowed. You can enjoy the diverse vegetation that covers the islands.
Total cost day 1: $315 for two people + food
Day 2: San Cristóbal to Isabela
We left at 7AM for Santa Cruz via a two-hour boat ride. Both the islands of San Cristóbal and Isabela require you to pay an additional $0.50-$2.00 for a water taxi from the boat to the dock! Upon arriving we immediately checked in for the ferry to Isabela, four hours later. They allowed us to leave our luggage while we saw the island of Santa Cruz.
During the layover we visited Las Grietas. To reach the trail you must take a water taxi, charging $0.50-$0.60/person each way. The crystal clear waters and colorful fish make for a perfect snorkeling adventure.This whole trip took about three hours, before we had to pick up our bags at 1:30 pm and board the boat to Isabela at 2:00 pm.
Isabela is my favorite island, as is has the largest variety of marine and terrestrial life. Tired from the long day, we opted to pay the $1/person taxi from the docks to town, about one kilometer away. The hostal, Gladismar, is located only two blocks from the beach and two blocks from downtown. The double room was only $25/night and an additional $5/night to use the A/C. Singles and doubles are available at $15/person/night. The rooms have air conditioning, fan, television and a communal area with a kitchen.
The island’s infrastructure is lacking at best. They are just starting to build a paved road from the port to the city, while being the only Island to charge visitors additional fees to enter.
The main dirt roads of Isabela Island turned to ankle deep muddy water even with a short rain. There were large construction related holes in the middle of one of the main intersections in town.
For our two days on the island we could only find one store selling water, another store with meat and no stores with chicken or fish. All the other stores where waiting for the next cargo ship to bring supplies in a “a day or two”.
Another unmissable thing to do in Ecuador is visiting the Bartolomé Island.
Total cost day 2: $30 for two people + food
Day 3: Taxi Tour in Isabela
We joined another couple we met at the hostel to do a tour around Isabela with a taxi driver, Mr. Juanito. He took us to the Cave of Sucre, Mirador el Mango, flamingo pools, and the Arnaldo Tupiza Tortoise Breeding Center. The tour cost $30/car, which was split with the other couple, a great way to save money on taxi tours.
The tour ended at the tortoise breeding center, only 1.5 kilometers walk from town along a nice trail. The trail ended at the edge of town at Iguana Crossing, a boardwalk where marine iguanas cross the street towards the rocks to sun after feeding in the water. From there we walked to the dock to watch animals in the shallow bay. Off the dock you can also snorkel and see sea lions, iguanas, fish, penguins, stingrays and turtles. If you do not find a taxi, you could also take a wetlands tour.
Cave of Sucre is a cool little lava tunnel at the end of a half a kilometer path. The cave has a short loop path and makes for a great underground experience. Flashlights are recommended, but the flashlight function on a cell phone is sufficient.
Mirador el Mango is a high overlook hill that provides spectacular views of the southern part of Isebela and several nearby islands. It is only a short walk from the road up to the top of the hill.
The Flamingo Pools are several small pools near what looks to be an industrial plant. During our visit, there were only about a dozen flamingos in total. It is located in between Mirador el Mango and the tortoise breeding center, making it worth the quick stop and photo opportunity, but does not warrant its own trip.
The Arnaldo Tupiza Tortoise Breeding Center has giant tortoises of varying ages, being bred to recover the wild populations. There is also an information center where you can learn about the breeding process and local threats to tortoise populations.
Total cost day 3: $55 for two people + food
Day 4: Snorkeling in Isabela
We started the day with a snorkeling tour to “Los tuneles“, a vast landscape of lava formed arcs in the water. We snorkeled at two locations, los tuneles and another just as beautiful point along the way. We were able to experience many exotic animals up close, including sharks, blue footed boobies, tortoise, penguins and a seahorse. Another great tour you can do in Isabela is to the Tintoreras to see sharks and Concha Perla Tour to see some of the coolest wildlife in Galapagos.
In the afternoon we took a walk along a road starting at Iguana Crossing ending at the Wall of Tears. We took detours to view the playa del amor, the tunnel of estero, the pools of devils, and Orchilla hill. The entire path took us through a variety of complex wetlands and features a section roaming with wild tortoise. The entire walk was approximately 14 kilometers, including all the side paths we took.
Note: This road was only accessible via foot, bike, and motorbike at the time due to ongoing road construction.
The Wall of Tears is the lasting impact from Isabela’s not so positive past. Isabela was a Penal Colony from 1946 to 1959, and this wall was built of lava rocks by the prisoners there. It is now kept as a memorial to all those prisoners who lost their lives building the needless wall.
Playa del amor is the best place to view and enjoy marine iguanas. The rocky waters provide a small calm lake-type beach to swim.
The tunnel of estero is just several meters off the main path. It is a tiny volcanic tunnel near the beach, that you can duck into during low tide.
The pools of devils are a handful of wetland lakes that are the prime sites for flamingo breeding. While we did not see any flamingos on our trip, locals said they are often full of birds.
Orchilla hill is an overlook of the town of Isabela and surrounding hills. It is a short but moderate walk to the top of the hill and the perfect spot to get a shot of the city and the bay.
Total cost day 4: $125 for two people + food
Day 5: Isabela to San Cristóbal
We got up at 5:40 am to catch the boat to San Cristóbal, again with a four-hour stopover in Santa Cruz. In Santa Cruz we took a taxi tour of the highlands. There were five of us in the taxi, so the $25 total cost came out to $5/person. We went to the Fausto Llerena Breeding Center, Los Gemelos, and lava tunnels.
Fausto Llerena Breeding Center has various species of both turtles and tortoise from around the Galapagos, before they are released back into the wild at a young age.
Los Gemelos are are pair of craters formed by the collapse of magma chambers. They are very green, making them the perfect spot to view a variety of flora and fauna of the island.
The lava tunnels consist of long underground lava tunnels. You can experience the rich history of how the Galapagos islands formed.Flashlights are recommended, but the flashlight function on a cell phone is sufficient.
After the tour we had to go straight to the boat to San Cristobal, where we checked back into Hostal San Francisco.
Total cost day 5: $35 for two people + food
Day 6: Snorkeling in San Cristóbal
We had a relaxed day and walk around Tijeretas Hill. We went through the interpretive center, Playa Mann, Playa Punta Carola, and snorkeled in the bay of Tijeretas Hill. The water is full of huge schools of small colorful fish. Near the rocks we had the chance to snorkel with some playful sea lions. If you are lucky a mantaraya might make an appearance. We spent the afternoon at Loberia, a coral sand beach known for its sea lions and iguanas.
Playa Mann is a white sand beach with water suitable for snorkeling. We only saw several small fish, so don’t head here to be “wowed.”
Playa Punta Carola is a more secluded beach, still with plenty of sea lions. It is a great place to relax in the sand or swim in the refreshing waters.
Tijeretas Hill is a short walk from town. It starts with an interpretation center with the political and physical history of the islands. From there we walked along a path up to the top of Tijeretas (Frigates) Hill with a nice overlook of the whole area and bay where we snorkeled. At the bottom of the hill, there is a dock to go snorkeling from. There are local boat tour companies who charge pricy amounts for snorkeling trips to this bay. If you do not mind a few kilometer roundtrip walk, it is worth going on your own.
Total cost day 6: $25 for two people + food
Day 7: Scuba Diving
We made reservations on day one to go scuba diving in León Dormido this day. What we did not take into account was the food poisoning I got the night before. This put a negative note on the end of our trip and caused quite a problem with the dive tour company.
We made reservations with Galapagos Fishing Adventures S.A. (aka Gustavo Tour S.A.), the friendliest and best-priced tour we found in town at $150 per person. There would have been no problems had I not gotten sick.
Having spent the whole night in the bathroom I was in no condition to get in a wetsuit and sit on a boat. First thing in the morning, an hour before we were told to arrive, we called them to explain my condition. Their response was to eat a pastry and see if I feel better. I did not.
We went to the store to cancel my reservation. They did not want to help, I was told I can go snorkeling at the same cost, while the thought of sitting on a rocking boat did not help my stomach. Declining this, we were offered $50 of the original $150 for cancelling. They finally agreed upon a $75 reimbursement.
My wife still went on the dive, not wanting to miss the well advertised underwater wonders Galapagos has to offer.
The diving equipment was not in good shape either. My wife’s face mask broke during the dive and one of the group members air tanks had a leak, along with the backup equipment. The divemaster ended up with the leaking equipment in exchange.
It turns out there was not much to offer that snorkeling could not provide and on this specific tour, the snorkeling group actually saw more wildlife.
Needless to say, we do not recommend this tour company!
Total cost day 7: $325 for two people + food
Day 8: Back to the mainland
After a busy and tiring week, we spent the last half-day relaxing along the boardwalk and meandering through the gift stores. With plenty of time we walked the kilometer back to the San Cristóbal Airport to catch our 2:00PM plane back to Guayaquil. Make sure to check our travel blog again soon for more exciting adventures, travel guides and suggested itineraries for trips around Ecuador and the world!