How to Visit the Galapagos Islands On a Budget
The Galapagos Islands are volcanic islands known for the endemic species that Charles Darwin studied. The Galapagos Islands are made up of 13 main islands and 7 small islands, about 600 miles west of mainland Ecuador. Visiting the Galapagos Islands is an incredible experience. This guide will help you determine how to find a cheap(er) flight to the Galapagos, which islands to visit, how to plan your trip, what to pack, and so much more. Make the most of your trip to the Galapagos Islands by following this guide.
How to Find a Cheap Flight to the Galapagos Islands
Finding cheap flights directly to the Galapagos Islands is very rare. Instead, you should look for a flight deal to Ecuador and then buy a separate flight from Quito to Baltra Airport or San Cristobal Airport in the Galapagos. You can find deals from the United States to Ecuador for under $400 round trip, and the flight from Quito to the Galapagos will be about $200-$300 round trip. We were able to find a flight from LAX to Quito for about $400. If you are determined to find cheap flights to Ecuador I recommend searching on google flights regularly and also signing up for Scott’s Cheap Flights. You should also consider flying from another nearby city if they have better flight deals.
Is It Worth Booking a Cruise in the Galapagos?
The biggest dilemma we had when we visited the Galapagos Islands is do we save money and do day trips or splurge on a cruise. What we found out is that day trips can get very expensive at around $100-$200 and are limited to certain islands. Food on San Juan island can be expensive, and descent accommodation can cost about $30-50 a night. If you add up the costs of the day trips from the main islands, transportation between the islands, accommodation, and food, you will end up paying almost the same amount as a cruise but with a lot more planning and you will see a lot less. We saw people leaving for a day trip and they looked very uncomfortable, with way too many people squished on a small raft or boat. A cruise is the best way to visit the Galapagos Islands and is definitely worth the money, especially because it is not that much more than the day trips would add up to. Cruises are usually 5-8 days long and include all meals and a tour guide.
How to Find a Cheap (Less Expensive) Cruise in the Galapagos
If you go during low season, skipping summers and holidays, you can find much cheaper last minute rooms on cruises. In order to find these deals you will need to wait to book a cruise with a travel agency in Quito or in the Galapagos. Often the deals in Quito and San Juan end up being similar, so if you are too stressed to wait until you get to the Galapagos to book your cruise you should still find good options at tour agencies in Quito. A recommended tour agency in Quito is Carpedm Adventures.
If you can wait until you get to San Juan to book your cruise, there are many travel agencies along the main street in Puerto Ayora that will provide you different offers. Know your budget and checkout different agencies to find the best option. Often there will be cruises that just started in San Juan that day, so expect to be ready to leave as soon as possible (that night or the next day). When you book the cruise, try to get a wet suit included by the travel agency or you will most likely need to pay to rent one on the boat. We waited until we got to San Juan to book a cruise and got an east island cruise for $1,000 a person for 6 days.
Note that last minute tour agencies in San Juan, Galapagos will only take cash. Make sure to bring extra cash with you and notify your bank that you will be taking cash out so they do not put a hold on your card. The ATMs typically have a limit on how much you can withdraw each time, and also charge you about $5 for each withdraw.
How to Choose Which Galapagos Islands to Visit
Most cruises typically cover either the East Islands or the West Islands. The east islands have more plant life, warmer water, offer shorter cruises, and are smaller. The west islands have lava landscapes, colder water and most of the cruises are typically 7 days or more. The oldest islands are the eastern islands, and more islands continue to be created in the west.
Typical East Island Cruise Itinerary: Santa Cruz Island, South Plaza Island, Santa Fe Island, San Cristobal Island, Espanola Island, Floreana Island
Typical West Island Cruise: Isabela, Fernandina, Santiago, Bartolome
How to Visit the Galapagos Islands Without a Cruise
If you choose not to do a cruise there are only a few islands that you can visit on your own. The only islands you can visit alone are Santa Cruz Island, San Cristobal Island, and Isabela Island. To get to these islands you can book a public boat and then take a taxi to get around the island. The other option if you decide not to do a cruise is to book day trips. Most of the day trips you can find leave from Santa Cruz Island, and typically cost about $100-$200. The day trips have limited time on the islands and don’t include all the islands you can see on a cruise. If you do decide to stay on the islands, I recommend booking your stay with booking.com which has many options including hostels, guesthouses, and hotels.
Where to Stay in Puerto Ayora, San Juan
Most likely you will end up staying in Puerto Ayora on San Juan at least for one night before or after your cruise. There are many hotels and hostels in Puerto Ayora, the main town in San Juan. I recommend staying in a hotel or hostel closer to the water, because that is where most of the restaurants, shops, and tourist agencies are. We stayed in Hotel España which is in a great location and was very comfortable but still a budget price. They have a pool and also offer optional breakfast which is convenient so you don’t have to try to look for a place for breakfast. After our cruise we stayed at Galapagos Native which is a bit more expensive but has nicer rooms.
How to Get From Baltra Airport to Puerto Ayora, San Juan
Most people fly into Baltra Airport, located on an island near San Juan. A majority of cruises leave from either Baltra Airport or Puerto Ayora, San Juan. In order to get to San Juan there is a bus to a ferry that will take you to San Juan. Then from the ferry stop in San Juan you can either take a public bus or a taxi to your hotel in Puerto Ayora. There is a set bus schedule, so when you are going back to the airport after your trip, make sure to check the bus schedule at your hotel or guesthouse.
Things to Know For Your Trip to the Galapagos Islands
- When you arrive in the Galapagos you will need to purchase a $20 tourist transit card and a $100 entrance fee to the Galapagos in cash.
- Each boat has a limited time on the islands as they are assigned certain time slots. This means that you will be spending a lot of time on the boat.
- The waters can be very rough. If you get sea sick make sure to bring Dramamine with you. I always get sea sick so I took the 24 hour Dramamine during the entire 6 days and felt fine on the medication.
- If your cruise does not include a day in San Juan, I recommend spending an extra day in the Galapagos so that you can visit the Charles Darwin Research Station for the Giant Tortoise and Tortuga Bay.
Things To Do in the Galapagos Islands
If you book a cruise in the Galapagos Islands there will be a specific schedule each day that will typically consist of hiking and snorkeling. You will most likely snorkel for part of the day and explore an island for part of the day. Having time to sit on the beach is pretty rare, because each boat has a limited time on each island. Snorkeling in the Galapagos is an incredible experience. Each time we snorkeled we saw so many different fish, sea turtles, penguins, sea lions, and more.
Animals You Can See in the Galapagos
The Galapagos has diverse wildlife with incredible stories. We were lucky to see so many different animals while we were in the Galapagos, even a penguin swimming. Some of the animals you can see are giant tortoise, sea turtle, sea lions, blue footed booby, masked booby, iguana, and many more.
What to Pack for the Galapagos Islands
Packing for the Galapagos will largely vary depending on the type of cruise that you booked. If you go on a lower tier budget boat, you can dress very casual the whole time, but they will also provide you less toiletries, amenities, etc so you need to bring more with you. If you go on a nicer boat you will most likely need nicer clothes for the evenings. Continue to our article Galapagos Islands Packing List to see our recommendations for what to pack for the Galapagos Islands.
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The Galapagos Islands are incredible volcanic islands with animals that you won’t find anywhere else. Packing is always hard, but for the Galapagos Islands it