Travelling to your dream destination without breaking the bank.
I want to tell you this but I kind of don’t.
Of the entire list of destinations we travelled to around the world (20+ countries in 8 months), the Galapagos islands reigns as THE top destination for our entire family.
We started off considering it our “special treat” on the trip, believing that it would have a pretty serious impact on our wallet.
It absolutely can be that. There can be some pretty hefty price tags on cruises that navigate the islands but there is also a number of ways to do Galapagos on a budget. In fact, our budget for one of the most beautiful places on earth came in below what it would have cost us to do an all-inclusive for 4 for a week down south. I will base our budget in US considering that is the currency Ecuador deals in.
Here is how we made our dream a reality.
When to go to the Galapagos
If budget is a concern, considering shoulder season is an opportunity to get a bigger bang for your buck. Venturing to the Galapagos in late October/November allowed us to negotiate and find open tours much easier than the full tourist season of December, January & February. The tours were still full but not insanely busy. The sun was beautifully hot, the water cool but refreshing and the wildlife was truly amazing.
How to get to the Galapagos
I can’t recommend highly enough the use of a travel agent if you can. Ruth, our amazing agent at Goliger’s Travel was able to find flight for 4 of us from Toronto to Quito for $1300 CDN/$1000 US. Yes that was for all 4 of us.
An alternative option we use often is Skyscanner as a way to see the best prices offered on flights. Searching from a destination to “everywhere” shows you the cheapest flights around the world in those time frames. For us, we kept watch on flights from Toronto to Quito and ended up getting great prices to head there in October.
A great start to your planning is to set up a Fare Compare to get to Quito or Guayaquil, Ecuador and from there keep watch on one to the Galapagos. We saw a trend that ultimately showed weekly when and how far out from departure dates airlines were discounting their flights.
Where to stay for cheap in the Galapagos
By far choosing a land stay on one of the islands is a more budget-friendly plan than a cruise. It’s up to you in what you are looking for in the Galapagos. For us, it was as much exposure to wildlife and nature as possible. We chose to stay in Puerto Ayora, the main town on Santa Cruz Island. The entire town is quite easily walked across in less than 30 minutes so really anywhere you stay is an easy jaunt down to the harbour and beaches. Not only that but there are white pick-up trucks constantly roaming around the town that you can pick up and go anywhere for typically $1US/trip.
We stayed at the Hostel Azul Verde and can’t recommend it enough for a clean, well-priced hostel on the island. Breakfast was included and it was a fabulous space for down time during the hot afternoons when we got back.
Things to do for free or almost free in the Galapagos
Charles Darwin Research Station – Great for teaching kids evolution, invasive species, repatriation of the giant tortoises and our involvement in carrying & nurturing the environment. FREE (Suggested donation)
Mass amount of Marine Iguanas – If you want to delight your kids, take them down the beach path at the Research station. There you will come across dozens and dozens of marine iguanas sunning themselves and ever so cutely sneezing salt water while they relax. FREE
Reserva El Chato – Take a full tour or alternatively negotiate with one of the white pick up truck taxi drivers to take you up to the giant tortoise reserve and wait for you. A fantastic place that allows you to get within metres of giant tortoises and has you exploring the intriguing design of Lava tunnels on the reserve as well. FREE (suggested donation). Cost of taxi $30US return, your driver will wait for you there.
Fish Market – The kids could have hung out here every day. It is sheer joy watching pelicans and sea lions mischievously attempting to steal fish from the stands. FREE
Las Grietas – Take a ferry across the harbour for $0.75 and spend the day adventuring around German beach and Los Grietas (a Grotto to snorkel in). Bring snorkel equipment with you or rent along the main strip for $3/day.
Tortuga Bay – A short 2km walk in to Tortuga Bay and you enter upon one of the most stunning sandy beaches you have ever seen. Hang with marine iguanas, sea turtles and enjoy the opportunity to see a bevy of fish in a perfect clear water environment – FREE
Art Walk- The main strip along Puerto Ayora has a few art galleries and garden that make for a fun afternoon of getting your creative juices flowing.
Two full day excursions booked:
Isla Isabella – Two hour boat ride over to the island, exploring a turtle hatchery and flamingo lagoon, local lunch, sunning shark islands and snorkelling with (are you ready for this?) manta rays, sea turtles, penguins, sea lions and incredible varieties of the most colourful fish. $350US for 4 of us including transport there and back, lunch and snorkelling gear. In hindsight, we would have enjoyed staying overnight here. Leave your main bags at the check-in of your hotel/hostel and jaunt there for a night in paradise. Something to consider when booking your accommodations.
South Plaza Island – Nicer boat, luxury lunch, snorkelling with sharks, eagle rays, manta rays, sea lions, sea turtles and again fish that defies your expectations. Stop at South Plaza to explore a sea lion and boobies colony. The frigate birds that catch the wind current will make you believe you are in a scene from Jurassic Park. $800US
If we were booking a mid-range all-inclusive in the Caribbean, it would easily cost us $1500-2000/person which nets out to $6000-8000 for the week at your standard resort.
Instead we followed our hearts and spent the below *
Getting to Quito $1000 US
Quito to Galapagos $1000 US
Hostel Stay for 8 days $1000 US
Big Excursions $1150 US
Food – Average spend $20-40 for lunches/dinner $700 US
Miscellaneous (Taxi’s, beer, donations, entrance fees) $300
TOTAL $5,150 US
(*Prices based on US exchange price at the time we travelled)
Travelling to the the Galapagos Islands feels like a dream and it most definitely is. To visit a place that is still relatively untouched by the throes of tourism is special. To connect and observe animals and nature in a way that feels so organic feels kind of magical. So yes, I want you to know it’s possible and affordable to go but I also want you to consider how to help preserve this precious eco-system as best as we can.