Fun + Lifestyle

Thrifty or Fancy: The Galapagos on a Little or a Lot


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  • The Galapagos Islands have the reputation of being an expensive place to vacation—but that doesn’t have to be true
  • To save, plan your trip as far in advance as possible
  • When price is no object, see the Galapagos by yacht and take day trips led by naturalist experts

The Galapagos Islands of Ecuador are a popular vacation destination, especially for the animal lovers among us.

The beaches are beautiful, the turtles are giant, the people are friendly, and the food is yummy. It can be expensive to get there, though—in fact, many people have this destination on their daydream list, and don’t think of it as a realistic possibility. But you really don’t need to be a top-earning partner to go to the Galapagos and still have an amazing time if you know how to keep your costs down. There is no bad time to visit; it just depends on which animals you are interested in seeing and which activities you would like to participate in.

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Accommodations: This is where you can save quite a bit of money. Between hostels and Airbnb offerings, you can stay for as little as $25-$30 a night. There are even budget-friendly hotels with rooms available as low as $50 a night. Try the Galapagos Best Hostel or Hotel Mar Azul. Many of these lower-cost options include staff who will assist you in arranging tours.

Transportation: The flight is where many budgets end up busted—traveling to the Galapagos islands actually requires two flights. You must first fly to either Quito or Guayaquil and then fly to the Galapagos. Flying to Guayaquil is the cheaper option, and if you have the time, why not spend a day or two there to see the city’s sites? You’re likely to get the best deals to the Islands from January through early May (as long as you avoid the week before Easter), when the island is not only at its hottest but experiencing its rainy season; the daily rains are usually very short so you’ll still have most of the day for sun and warmth. From September to November, during the dry season, you can also get good travel deals. The most important thing to do is to plan as far ahead as possible to get the best price. Once you’re there, the price for transportation from island to island by ferry is $25 to $30, and a water taxi for intra-island travel is only a buck or two.

Things to Do: The variety of beautiful, unafraid, unique wildlife on the Galapagos Islands is amazing, and there are plenty of free or low-cost ways to enjoy it and the islands’ other natural gifts. A few of them require a guide (a service which is always very reasonable priced) but many of them do not, so hiking and seeing the sites on your own is always an option. Each island has its own attractions; here are some (mostly free) on the three main islands:

  • Santa Cruz Island
    • Charles Darwin Station: Houses a turtle breeding area and interesting conservation information about the Galapagos.
    • Tortuga Bay: There are two beaches in Tortuga Bay. One is Playa Brava, which is beautiful but not good for swimming due to the strong current. The other beach is Playa Mansa, with calm waters perfect for snorkeling—you might see small white tip sharks, marine turtles, pelicans, marine iguanas, and Blue Heron.
    • Garrapatero Beach: This beach has black lava, white sand, and a turquoise sea. It’s great for swimming and snorkeling. This is where you’ll see blue-footed boobies, pelicans, crabs, and marine iguanas. You’ll also see Bahama ducks and pink flamingos in the small lagoon and mangroves behind the beach.
  • Isabela Island
    • Concha de Perla: In this natural pool, you can snorkel with manta rays, sea turtles, and sea lions. You can also see penguins.
    • Volcan Sierra Negra: One of five volcanoes on the island. It has the second largest crater in the world and the crater rim view is amazing when the weather is clear. Tours can be arranged for about $75.
    • National Park Tortoise Reserve: See a species of tortoise not found anywhere else in the world.
  • San Cristobal Island
    • Las Tijeretas: Has an excellent lookout point at the top of the mountain and a cove below with great snorkeling spots to see turtles, sea lions, and various birds.
    • Jacinto Gordillo Breeding Center of Giant Tortoises: Similar to the Charles Darwin Center located in Santa Cruz.
    • Playa Mann: One of the most popular beaches. The water is calm and attracts plenty of sea lions.
    • El Junco: You can hike around the rim of this active volcano and swim in the freshwater lake inside of it. A guide is required to visit.

Food: The seafood on the Galapagos is plentiful and cheap. Small, local spots serve dishes featuring fresh-caught lobster and tuna starting at around $5—splurge on a $12 or $15 dinner if you’re feeling prosperous. If you go to Santa Cruz Island, you must visit Los Kioskos, a street lined with “kiosk” restaurants, most serving delicious fresh seafood dishes. The street closes to traffic in the evening and seating is set up down the middle. K. F. William, a famous kiosk, is known for the unique sauces included in their lobster dishes. To save in general, always eat at these small, local places rather than the bigger, touristy restaurants at the hotels.

Fancy Senior Lawyer

It’s never difficult to plan a trip when money is no object. There’s a reason why many people often think of the Galapagos as a place to only dream about going—it can easily cost a pretty penny if you’re willing to spend. So what’s the Galapagos like for the luxury set?

Accommodations: There are swanky digs for you to enjoy on both land and sea during your visit to the Galapagos.

  • Visiting these islands by cruise ship is popular, but try a yacht for more personalized service. You’ll have a luxury suite on the yacht and flit from island to island for day trips.
  • You will find hotels that provide different levels of luxury on every inhabited island. Try the Angermeyer Waterfront Inn, or for an eco-friendly experience, Pikaia Lodge on Santa Cruz. San Cristobal Island boasts the Bo Hotel and Isabela offers Iguana Crossing Hotel.

Transportation: The best way to get around the islands is by boat, and they can vary in their luxury level.

  • Boat tours. You can get boat tours from half a day to eight or ten days, and they will typically include snorkeling and sight-seeing excursions. The luxury tours include fewer passengers and ritzier digs.
  • You can choose an inter-island ferry or a public ferry—they cost anywhere from $25 to $35 per person.
  • You can charter a small propeller plane between a few of the larger islands for about $170 to $190.

Things to Do: Many of the sights to see are free, but taking a tour led by a naturalist expert can add a new dimension and deeper understanding to your trip. The more exclusive companies often have access to rarely visited areas that are generally off-limits to other travel companies, so this is where spending the extra money will really benefit you.

Food: For fine dining, the hotel restaurants are the place to go. Try Finch Bay restaurant or the offerings at Angermeyer Waterfront Inn. However, be sure to also sample the cheaper, local restaurants for authentic, fresh dishes that are just as good and sometimes better than meals double the price.