The Galapagos, the place that so impressed Charles Darwin and led him in his journey of evolution, are a quiet, humbling archipelago in Ecuador. This group of islands is one that must be seen once in your lifetime, but prices, like many island destinations, are quite high. So if your budget is tight, here’s how to see the islands without breaking the bank.
First off, do remember that your visit will have an environmental impact. You cannot plan going to the Galapagos as if it were a weekend destination, and visits from tourists have tripled in recent years, making it one of the main threats to the ecology here. Make sure you take your trash home with you—trash collection is a huge issue on the islands—and try to at least stay a night on each island, if not longer. Demand for more ferry rides means the increased traffic causes more pollution into the sea.
A budget-efficient option to get here is by airplane. You can fly with airlines such as Tame, Avianca and Latam which all fly to the islands, arriving at the main airport on Baltra. From the Baltra island you’ll need to take a bus to Santa Cruz, which takes around 45 minutes. Alternatively you can fly to San Cristobal.
Before you pack, remember to bring snacks and water—you can fly with liquids on national Ecuadorian flights—as water is scarce on the island, and goods imported to the islands from the mainland—namely food—are expensive. Stick to fish dishes as those are lower priced, and the menu of the day (almuerzo) is a good value deal which you can find for less than US$5.
The price for a flight is around the US$300–450 price range and you should look for deals in advance when prices tend to be on the lower end of the scale. When you arrive at the Galapagos, be aware that there is an “entry fee” to pay to get into what is in fact a national park. The cost is US$100 (US$50 for kids under 12) and can be paid at the airport.
Once on one of the inhabited islands, food can range between US$5–15, but keep in mind tours sometimes include a lunch box or breakfast, so make sure you only eat if meals aren’t provided. Make sure to go for a shared room or a basic room that can range from US$15 for a bunk bed, hostel-style, to US$25 for a basic room.
Transportation within the island can be mostly done on foot, unless you want to go to specific sites. Set prices for taxis are the norm and there are set prices for half days or entire days. Ferries between islands are US$30 one way, and the trips between islands take approximately three hours. Make sure to go on the top deck to avoid seasickness.
You can also snorkel off any island. If you book a tour, snorkel rental will be included in the cost. If you are to strike out on your own for the day, rental of a snorkel mask is approximately US$5 per day.
You can find tour operators on many of the islands for a day or two, or if you are feeling adventurous and have time, head to an island and stay for a few days, exploring its sites and beaches. Last-minute deals are also available; do make sure to ask for those as some include last-minute prices for islands that are uninhabited and can only be visited by cruise. Tours range from US$80 for a day lasting from sunrise to sunset, or one of the priciest—but worth the cost—Bartolomé Island which is staggering US$280 for a day if you’re willing to blow your budget.