What we spent in 11 days on the Galapagos Islands
Watching David Attenborough’s “Galapagos” years ago was our inspiration to visit these spectacular islands. We fell in love with the sights of Giant Tortoises, Marine Iguanas, Sea Lions and those weird-ass Flightless Cormorants. Fast forward a few years and we were 6 months into our 12 month trip of Central and South America and the umm-ing and ahh-ing began regarding whether we actually do visit these magical but EXPENSIVE islands. We believed the only way to visit would be to do a cruise which after a quick search was giving us results of $5000+ for 8-10 days each. That is what we spend in almost three months! The Galapagos Islands were about to be cut from the itinerary when I decided to really look into doing it ourselves. It turns out this is definitely an option and isn’t as difficult as one may think or anywhere near as expensive as doing a cruise. We saw so much wildlife it’s crazy. There’s no way to describe the feelings I got when swimming with sea lions, sea turtles and yes, hammerhead sharks! All this and more was experienced doing a trip on our own (with tours booked once we got to the islands).
The following is a detailed summary of our spending for 11 days/11 nights in the Galapagos Islands. I hope to encourage people who are tossing up whether to go, to go! Yes we did still spend a lot in comparison to our usual budget but after the first half an hour being on the islands which involved seeing dozens of sea lions, a couple of marine iguanas and a blue footed booby, we had decided it was already worth it.
Flights to the Galapagos Islands are going to be one of the biggest expenses for your DIY trip. We decided to make the trip a little longer as the price for flights is fixed so it’s going to cost you the same whether you’re there for three days or two weeks. Of course your daily spend will be more but we found days where we could spend very little once on the islands as there are a lot of free activities.
There are four inhabited islands, Santa Cruz, San Cristobal, Isabela and Floreana. Two have flights to and from the mainland. They are Baltra airport on Baltra Island, you get boat and taxi transport to and from the main town/dock on Santa Cruz island. San Cristobal airport, on San Cristobal is the other. I highly recommend flying into one island and out of another. This will hopefully save you money on flights as I found it cheaper to fly into one and out the other rather than getting return flights to one which was looking to be around $400 per person (we spent about $260 each). You will also save in transport costs once on the island because it means you don’t have to double back to the island you first arrived which costs $30 per person. You also won’t have to endure the rough two-three hour boat ride between islands, trust me, you will understand once you do one of these journeys.
I suggest flying from Guayaquil instead of Quito if it makes sense for you, as I believe this is cheaper and all the flights to Guayaquil were continuing on to Quito on the day we left so I think you’ll have to stopover in Guayaquil anyway.
We flew with Latam Airlines as they had the cheapest flights we could find. Each of the flights takes about an hour and a half and there is an hour time difference between mainland Ecuador and the Galapagos so you will gain an hour on arrival and lose one on departure.
$270 ($350 AUD) flight from Guayaquil to San Cristobal
$255 ($330 AUD) flight from Baltra to Guayaquil
We spent $525 ($680AUD) on flights for two people.
Entering Galapagos is another big expense. I guess because it is expensive to conserve the islands as well as perhaps a deterrence to people in order to make sure the islands don’t just become overrun with tourists.
The national park entrance fee is $100pp. This goes towards conservation efforts and preservation of the islands. We also had to pay $20pp at the airport in Guayaquil for an immigration transit control card which we had to show on departure. The islands themselves don’t have entry fees except for Isabela which was $10pp.
We spent $260 ($330 AUD) on entrance fees/visas for two people.
As mentioned before, there are four inhabited islands in Galapagos, we stayed on three of them, Santa Cruz, San Cristobal and Isabela. Finding affordable accommodation for these islands was surprisingly easy. I used booking.com and adjusted my search according to our budget and found three great places to stay with kitchens (two shared and one private) and private bathrooms. Having a kitchen was important for us as we were planning on cooking most of our meals because we had heard that eating out on the islands, like anywhere, is more expensive than eating in.
Puerto Baquerizo Moreno, San Cristobal – 3 nights
We stayed at Hostal Nathaly for $45/night ($57 AUD) which had a balcony, private bathroom and shared kitchen, although we never saw anyone in there. They cleaned the room everyday and the location was only 5 mins walk to the main street and dock. We were also provided with 6L drinking water on arrival which is always a great inclusion.
TOTAL: $135 ($171 AUD)
Puerto Ayora, Santa Cruz – 4 nights
In Santa Cruz we stayed at Patty Hospedaje (Patty’s House) for $37/night ($47AUD) and had a private kitchen (not many utensils provided, would recommend staying elsewhere if cooking is very important to you), private bathroom and Patty also helped us organise a tour and told us all we could do for free on Santa Cruz. It was a bit out of town, about 20-25mins walk from the main street and dock or $1 taxi. There may be other options closer to town although this will probably increase room price.
TOTAL: $149 ($188 AUD)
Puerto Villamil, Isabela – 4 nights
Our last stay was at Hostal Punta Arena for $44.50/night ($57 AUD). We had a shared kitchen, private bathroom and there was a big tank for drinking water available. This place was a little out of town but only about a 5-10min walk from the main street. The dock is out of town in Isabela.
TOTAL: $178 ($225 AUD)
We spent $462 ($584 AUD) on 11 nights accommodation on the Galapagos islands, approx.$42/night.
As I mentioned previously we were looking to cook most of our meals on the Galapagos Islands to save money. This did mean we had to pretty much have the most repetitive diet and it mainly consisted of carbs. Access to most foods is not available in Galapagos and even groceries are expensive as a lot is imported.
For breakfast we made the most of the easily accessible eggs and bread, we also treated ourselves to some expensive imported Choco Krispis (Latin America’s version of Coco Pops). Yes we are still children!
Lunch was pretty much pastries and cakes from the local panaderia (bakery). We could get a couple of cheese roll things and a donut or banana bread for $2-$5. San Cristobal and Isabela had really good bakeries, couldn’t find one on Santa Cruz, don’t actually remember what we ate for lunch on these days, probably noodles in a cup.
Most nights we had lentils and rice, we managed to score some chicken for a few nights as well. We also brought over some packets of mac n cheese, our trusty lazy favourite and had mac n cheese toasties a couple of nights as well.
We brought over snacks too, these included things like Saladas (salted crackers), cookies and lollies. We also treated ourselves to beers and a tub of ice cream whilst there, these added a lot to what was supposed to be a cheap stop at the supermarket.
We ate out exactly four times, twice for lunch and twice for dinner.
Overall for 11 days we spent approximately $220 ($278 AUD) on food, snacks and water, $20/day.
Getting around the islands is relatively easy. Like I said earlier, you can only stay on four of the islands, the others you can visit by doing a tour however some can only be visited on a cruise. We only visited the three islands mentioned above. Getting around on these three islands can be done via air which I think is quite expensive and therefore didn’t even look into or by boat which is what we did. Each boat between islands costs $30pp. You can only go between Santa Cruz and the other two islands, i.e. Santa Cruz to Isabela and vice versa or Santa Cruz to San Cristobal and vice versa, you cannot go direct from San Cristobal to Isabela. This is also why I mentioned flying into one island and out the other, because you have to go back through Santa Cruz if on the other two islands. There is usually a morning departure around 6-7am and an afternoon departure around 2-3pm from each island. We booked the day before just to ensure availability. We also got around in taxis on the islands if it was too far to walk which was relatively cheap i.e. $2 from San Cristobal airport to accommodation, $1.50 within Santa Cruz town, $4 from accommodation to Isabela dock (increased rate because it was 5am). In Isabela and Santa Cruz you also have to pay for a water taxi from the boat to the dock, this was either 50c or $1 each.
Boats between islands x3 – $180 ($30pp)
Taxis on islands – $44.50 (the main spend here was $25 from Santa Cruz dock to the dock where a boat takes you to Baltra island, there is a bus but we missed it). I have not included taxis we got whilst doing activities/going to sights as I have already included them above.
We spent $224.50 ($285 AUD) on transport once in Galapagos with the bulk of the cost going towards transport between the islands.
And now the fun part! Doing tours is definitely the most expensive part of going to the Galapagos Islands. We tried to minimise the amount of tours we did by combining them with free activities or going to places we could go on our own. Of course you can choose to do as little or as many tours as you want, we just generally chose the one we thought we’d enjoy best and were mostly looking to do snorkeling to see marine wildlife. With regards to snorkel equipment, a lot of blogs will suggest you buy/bring your own however we forgot about this and decided to look once on the islands where the cheapest we could find we at least $60 each. We ended up renting snorkel equipment 3 times and in total only spent $31. All the tours we did provided the equipment so we really didn’t feel the need to have our own however if you don’t plan on doing any tours and only want to snorkel on your own then maybe bringing or buying some on the mainland would be more cost effective.
Interpretation Centre – free
Punta Carola – free
Snorkelling at Las Tijeretas (this was our absolute favourite place, I will go into more detail in a later post) – $5 snorkel rental
Tour 360 – $300 ($150pp)
Taxi to and around the highlands for 4 hours (includes visits to Laguna Junco, Galapaguera Tortoise Reserve, Puerto Chino beach, all free) – $60
La Loberia – $16 ($3 taxi each way, you can walk 40mins but we were on a time limit, $10 snorkel rental ($5pp))
Tortuga Bay – $1.50 (taxi from our accommodation)
Las Grietas – 9.20 ($3.20 taxi boats to and from, $6 snorkel rental)
Charles Darwin Research Station – free
Pinzon Tour – $200 ($100pp)
Wetlands bike ride – $24 for bike rental ($3 per hour per bike)
Tintoreras tour – $80 ($40pp)
Los Tunneles tour – $240 ($120pp)
Concha de Perla – $10 snorkel rental ($5pp)
We spent $945.70 ($1199 AUD) on four tours and the rest were DIY activities. I think that’s pretty good considering we saw pretty much all wildlife we wanted to see numerous times. This included a variety of activities as well as information centres and a dozen snorkel locations including two or three in tours. See following posts for more detailed information of activities we did.
What the hell! We bought souvenirs! We do not usually fall for this stuff but we thought we’re in Galapagos, why not! So we got ourselves some matching Galapagos long sleeve tops. And yes we will wear them, I’m wearing mine as I type this!
We spent $53 ($67 AUD) on two tops.
OUR TOTAL SPEND FOR 11 DAYS IN GALAPAGOS???
Flights: $525 ($665 AUD)
Entrance Costs: $260 ($330 AUD)
Accommodation: $462 ($584 AUD)
Food: $220 ($278 AUD)
Activities: $945.70 ($1199 AUD)
Transport: $224.50 ($285 AUD)
Souvenirs: $53 ($67 AUD)
TOTAL: $2689.50 ($3408 AUD)
So there you go, we managed to spend a quarter of what a cruise of the same length or less would have cost us and still managed to have an amazing time! This wasn’t difficult to achieve as there is information everywhere regarding all the things we did and if you’re willing to have a shitty diet for a week or two you can save a lot of money. You can also do less tours than we did and save even more. Of course doing a cruise is going to allow you to see a lot more untouched environments and wildlife but I believe doing it ourselves still allowed us to see all the animals we wanted to see (bar an albatross) and gave us the experience of a lifetime! I hope this post can help you make a decision on whether to go to these beautiful islands. Have you been? Do you think it’s worth it? I DO!!!!
*All prices quoted above are from our visit in August 2017 in USD unless stated otherwise. Prices in the Galapagos Islands can increase quickly as blogs and guidebooks I read from two years ago had a price difference of $50 for some tours. The exchange rate for USD/AUD is also from the time of writing so please take these prices as a guide and not as exact 🙂