How to Visit the Galapagos Island on a Budget

A national park colonized by sea lions and prehistoric giant tortoises, the Galapagos Islands are truly unlike anywhere else in the world. Visitors have a once in a lifetime opportunity to see endemic wildlife species up close and personal without them so much as batting an eye lash or a fin. If you need more proof check out my Top 10 Galapagos Moments in Photos.

Sea Lions in Galapagos Islands
Watch your step and your seat, sea lions rule around here!

A trip to this magical place is not cheap but that doesn’t mean there aren’t affordable ways to arrange a last minute trip to the Galapagos Islands that will leave you with enough memories to last a lifetime. There are a number of options available depending on your time and budget to see the islands. No matter which option you choose the following costs apply:

  • Round trip flight from Quito/Guayaquil: Approximately $400-$450 regardless of which island you fly in to. There are no boat options for reaching the islands.
  • Park Entrance Fee: $100 USD payable in cash upon arrival. This may double in coming years.
  • Transit Card: $10 USD payable in case upon arrival.
    • TOTAL: Minimum $510 USD per person just to reach the islands before you’ve booked anything else.

Keeping those costs in mind, you want to make the most of your time in the Galapagos since there is a high fixed cost just to get there.

Sunset in Galapagos
View available fro the islands will take your breath away

Option 1: Flying to the islands and travelling independently

Four of the islands are inhabited and can be reached by independent travel. Flights can also be booked arriving into one island and flying out of another to save on both transport time and cost. All the islands offer great beaches, hikes and some terrain that is accessible without a guide. Food and accommodation are more expensive than anywhere else in the country and day trips for snorkeling and diving mirror North American prices. Here is a sample price list of what to expect:

Accommodation per day: $10-$15 per person, basic dorm or double room

Food: $15-20 per day per person. Stock up on supplies on the mainland before you depart to help keep costs down.

Snorkel Day Trip: $50 Double Dive: $150

Boat transfers: From $30 per island

Total one week budget: $535 USD per person assuming 2-3 boat transfers, 1 snorkel trip and 1 dive.

A grand total of $1145 USD per person with the flight cost etc. mentioned above.

While this is the cheapest way to see the islands, you’ll only scratch the surface. Also, without a guide to explain the history, terrain and about the native plant and animal species, you’ll likely come away without a true understanding of what sets these islands apart. If it’s all you can afford or you’re short on time, then go, you might never get another chance.

Snorkelling with turtles, Galapagos
These guys won’t mind if you join them for a snorkel

Option 2: Booking a last minute cruise By far the most popular and best way to visit the islands, last minute cruises can be arranged from Quito, Guayaquil and on the islands themselves. However it’s recommended to book a cruise from the mainland to secure a better boat, also, you might find yourself stuck on the islands for a week or so before a last minute spot opens up adding to the overall cost of your trip. Shop around as prices vary dramatically from travel agency to travel agency. Here’s what to look for on a last minute cruise:

  • Quality of the boat – will you have your own room, or is it dorm style? Is there a common area to relax in?
  • How many passengers total? Bigger boats mean less sea sickness but also less personalized service.
  • Do the guides speak English? This is very important as you will spend hours with your guides on walk around the islands learning about area. If you can’t understand what they are saying you are going to miss out on a huge part of the experience.
  • Quality of the meals on board
  • Cruise route and itinerary – each boat has a locked in itinerary to manage the number of visitors at each site. Be sure to look over the route to see how many different islands you get to visit, what the beaches and snorkeling opportunities are like and what wildlife you can expect to see.
Galapagos Last Minute Cruise
Luxury 90 passenger boat, just one of many options available in the Galapagos

Costs range anywhere from $800 for the lowest class of boat to $1300 and upward for a luxury cruise for 5 days and 4 nights. Often the price difference between the lowest class of boat and a first class boat may only be a few hundred dollars and if this is the case, spend the money for the better boat. We were fortunate to secure a luxury boat with a private double room and three buffet meals a day for $1100 USD per person, compared to a last minute offer of $900 for the lowest category of boat available. This represented a savings of almost 65% off what we would have paid if we had booked in advance from home, plus the savings on flights from Canada.

Luxury dining in the Galapagos
Luxury dining at it’s finest

Last minute deals are truly last minute with offers being booked up within the hour so you need to be ready to book and pay in cash when you arrive. If you’ve got enough time it’s worth doing a cruise and then spending a few extra days on one or more of the islands to make the most of your Galapagos experience. Here’s a look at our total budget for 7 days/7 nights in the Galapagos per person:

  • Cruise: $1100
  • Flights: $450
  • Park Entrance Fee: $100
  • Transit Fee: $10
  • Tips for cruise staff: $50
  • Wet Suit Rental: $16
  • 3 Days Accommodation on San Cristobal: $30
  • Double Dive: $130
  • Food: $20 (we purchased most of our food from the mainland and brought it with us)
  • Other: $10
  • TOTAL: Approximately $2000 USD per person

    Galapagos Cruise Itinerary
    Example Galapagos Itinerary with 3 extra days in San Cristobal

While the amount above represents more than we spent in a whole month in Peru for the two of us, it was a truly incredible experience and something that will be hard to beat for the rest of our lives. Life is short and booking a trip to the Galapagos Islands is one decision you won’t regret.

Luxury Cruise Boat, Galapagos, Ecuador
Pondering life from the jacuzzi on our luxury cruise boat

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