Travel the Galapagos on a Budget

8. April 2020

Most people associate luxury cruises they could never afford with the Galapagos and that’s exactly how the majority travels the crown jewel of Ecuador. But there is a way to travel the Galapagos on a budget without missing the best parts of it.

When to travel to the Galapagos

The Galapagos can be travelled all year round but of course weather and tourist masses differ. High season is from Jan-May when it’s the sunniest and warmest but also the most tourists are there. Jun-Dec are cooler and drier and sea mammals and birds the most active but the sea is also choppier. To travel the Galapagos on a budget we recommend the later season.

How much it costs to get to the Galapagos

As the Galapagos are a group of Islands off the coast of Ecuador you have to fly to Mainland Ecuador first. Most likely your international flight will land in Quito or Guayaquil and from there you can take your flight to Isla Baltra, which is right next to Isla Santa Cruz.

You can travel the Galapagos on a budget but trying to save money on this flight can be quite expensive. Inhabitants of the Galapagos pay about $100 for a return flight, other Ecuadorians $200 and foreigners $400. If you try to trick the airline by booking your flight via an Ecuadorian travel agency you risk a fine of $170 per way or an involuntarily upgrade to the most expensive booking class at the airport. Other fix costs are a $20 fee for tourist control and a $100 entrance fee to the Galapagos national park.

Michel poses as captain - Travel the Galapogos on a budget

How much are Hotels and Restaurants

Once on the islands it gets better. Accommodation and food on Isla Santa Cruz, Isla San Cristobal and Isla Isabela are not particularly expensive. A basic double room is about $40 per night and a delicious seafood dinner about $10. On Santa Cruz there is an entire street full of restaurants that serves fresh seafood that has been caught the same day for a bargain prize. Those low food and accommodation costs make it possible to travel the Galapagos on a budget.

Our Hostel on Isabella - Travel the Galapogos on a budget

Pre-booked cruises, last minute cruises or day tours

Pre-booked cruises

The big advantage of those cruises is, that everything is organized for you and you don’t risk losing any of your travel days to find the best offer. The disadvantage is, that they are very expensive. Those cruises will cost you at least $400 per day and mostly also include activities like the Charles Darwin research center that are actually free.

Last minute cruises

When you have the luxury of some extra time and you are not travelling in high season, then you best fly to Santa Cruz first and then shop around in Puerto Ayora for the best last-minute cruise deal. They are willing to go down by up to 50% to fill up their boats. But even then, those cruises are not particularly cheap. We got offered $1’500 per person in a bunk bed for an 8d/7n cruise. And when we looked at the itinerary, we realized that all the activities that were included in the cruise we could also do either on our own or on day tours.

Day tours

The advantage of day tours is, that you can completely customize your itinerary. In our case it was important to include dive days which are not part of any of the cruises except on pure dive cruises – but those have a completely different price tag. Another advantage is that you can include activities that don’t need a tour and some of them are completely free.

Probably the only disadvantage of day tours is, that you can not reach the really remote islands of the Galapagos. But if you want to do that, then you should book a remote island cruise for a part of your vacation and do day trips for the other part.

There are many travel agents in Puerto Ayora that can help you to create and book your itinerary and the good ones even tell you about all the activities you can do on your own. We created our itinerary with Andrea from Viajeros en Galapagos and can’t recommend her enough for her fantastic service. She truly made it possible for us to travel the Galapagos on a budget.

She mapped a plan for our 11 full days on the Galapagos, reaching the same points as the cruise including all boat transfers, three full days of snorkeling and animal watching trips, two full days of diving, a volcano hike and free experiences we could do on our own for “only” $900 per person.

What to do on Santa Cruz Island

As Santa Cruz hosts the largest airport of the Galapagos it is the starting point for most travelers. It has so much to offer that a bit of orientation is helpful:

Diving the Gordon Rocks

A full day dive tour and costs about $170pp including equipment and lunch. Gordon Rocks is the best place to dive with Hammerhead sharks on the Galapagos. It is an absolute surreal experience to get close with those elegant creatures with their characteristic T-shaped heads.

Hammerhead shark - Travel the Galapogos on a budget
Daphne Island

It’s a full day animal watching and snorkel tour and costs about $120pp including lunch. It’s an amazing tour with a chance to see Blue Footed Boobies, Frigate Birds with their big shiny red chest, white and black tip reef sharks, sea turtles and playful seals.

Frigate Birds - Travel the Galapogos on a budget
Charles Darwin Research Center

It is located right in Puerto Ayora and free of charge. Here you learn everything about the conservation of this fragile ecosystem and meet some of its oldest inhabitants.

Tortuga Bay

Maybe the most beautiful beach on the Galapagos and completely free to access. It takes about a 45min walk from Puerto Ayora to reach this perfectly white, Caribbean style beach.

Marine Iguanas - Travel the Galapogos on a budget

El Chato Ranch

Only about a $5 entrance fee and easily accessible by taxi for about $30 return. Perfect to spot wild Galapagos Turtles and to explore lava tunnels.

Galapagos Turtle - Travel the Galapogos on a budget

Laguna de las Ninfas

Located in Puerto Ayora and free of charge. A relaxing place to watch jumping fishes and playful seals.

Laguna de las Ninfas - Travel the Galapogos on a budget

Las Grietas

About a 30min walk from Puerto Ayora and also completely free. A great spot to snorkel in the crystal clear water of the canyon and spot some pretty big fishes.

Best Things do do on Isla Isabela

A 2-hour speedboat ride ($30pp) from Santa Cruz sits the beautiful island of Isabella. All of the Galapagos islands are volcanic in origin but on this one you can see it in particular. And here are our highlights:

Isabella Tortuga Dive:

This full day dive trip costs about $190pp including lunch and equipment. Unfortunately, the sea was too rough during our stay on Isabella and we therefore missed this exceptional dive.


This full day animal watching and snorkel tour costs about $130pp and is worth every cent. On this tour you can meet the only penguin in the northern hemisphere, get close with Blue footed boobies, snorkel with white tip reef sharks, green sea turtles, seahorses and a tiger eel.

Blue footed booby - Travel the Galapogos on a budget
Sierra Negra

It’s a half day tour and costs about $50pp. You hike up the second biggest crater in the world and get amazed by its colors and all the stories surrounding it.

Sierra Negra - Travel the Galapogos on a budget
Pearl Shell lagoon

This lagoon is right next to the pier where your speed boat arrives from Santa Cruz. It is free of charge and a great place to snorkel with Marine Iguanas, Sea Turtles and Seals.

sea turtle

Playa del Amor

Completely free to access and only about a 40min walk from Puerto Villamil. There you will find hundreds of Marine Iguanas and Sally lightfoot crabs at a beautiful beach.

Sally lightfood crab
Posada De Flamengos and Centro de Crianza Tortugas Gigantes

Another free activity on Isla Isabella. As the name indicates you can actually find pink flamingos at this place. And when you keep walking you will find another nursing and research station for the Giant Galapagos Turtles.


Highlights of San Cristobal Island

To reach the smallest of the three big islands you have to return to Santa Cruz by speedboat first ($30pp) and then take another 2h speedboat ride ($30pp) to Puerto Baquerizo Moreno. The island can be circled on a day trip and this trip is also the absolute highlight of this island. But there are also some other places worth visiting:

Playa Mann, Playa Punta Carola, Cerro Tijeretas and Playa Baquerizo

On this completely free beach hoping day you can observe the cutest baby seals, blue footed boobies, Sally lightfoot crabs, marine iguanas and snorkel with sea turtles.


360-Tour with Leon Dormido

This full day animal watching and snorkel tour costs about $150pp and is so worth its money. You can snorkel in a shark tank, observe all sorts of rays, find the red footed booby and get close with a humpback whale while you circle the entire island.

white tip reef sharks

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