Galapagos Isabela Lacrimas Tortoise Selfie

How much does it cost to visit the Galapagos Islands as a solo traveller?

In Ecuador, Travel Planning by Jaclynn Seah6 Comments

The Galapagos Islands off the coast of Ecuador are an absolutely beautiful place for nature and animal lovers, but its remote location and the need to limit tourism from exploding means that getting here is both a bit of a journey and kinda expensive. But it is still possible to go there and and not spend too much – I put together my research based on my 2-week trip there in February 2017 of my Career Break to give you a sense of how much you will need to budget to visit the Galapagos Islands solo.

Pin it: The Guide to Planning and Budgeting for a trip to the Galapagos Islands

Most important question: Is it worth it?

That really depends on what you are looking to get out of the trip. The Galapagos has been a dream destination of mine for a long time, and I thought the experience of up close encounters with such unique animals and pristine island paradise scenery was unparalleled, so while I spent a lot more than I usually do, I was prepared to and found it completely worthwhile – I’d do it again in a heartbeat!

It’s also why the general age range of people visiting the Galapagos tends to be older with a bit more spending power and less budget backpackery types because there is a pretty big sunk cost you can’t avoid no matter how you scrimp.

Galapagos Espanola Searching

Looking for a good deal?

That said, you can do the Galapagos for cheaper if you are smart about it. There’s no need to splash out on luxury everything, just be prepared that it’s unavoidably more expensive than Ecuador as a whole. Here’s a rough estimate of costs to get to Galapagos and around the major islands as a solo traveller. All prices in USD (that’s the currency used in Ecuador) and accurate as of Feb 2017 based on my own experience travelling there for 2 weeks as a solo indie traveller.

I’m only recommending you places and things that I did experience for myself – none of this was sponsored. There are some booking.com affiliate links in this post, an app which I use very frequently myself – making a booking through these links doesn’t cost you any extra, but it helps me earn a small % which is great in helping me keep this site going.

PLAN YOUR TRIP TO THE GALAPAGOS ISLANDS

Quick links to help you navigate:


GETTING TO GALAPAGOS ISLANDS
estimate $600 for flights, $120 for entrance fees

There is opportunity to save here if you land a good flight deal, but beware of hidden costs and time needed in taxi fare and land transfers depending on the airport you fly or land in.

Return Flight needed : You will need to give the return date when you get your tourist card (more below) – I don’t know how strict exactly they are about it, because they just asked me for my return date verbally and didn’t ask for me to show them my ticket for confirmation, but better to play it safe

Galapagos Baltra Airport Plane

Landing on the tarmac at Baltra airport!

Airlines that fly to Galapagos : I got my Guayaquil-Baltra flight from TAME at US$405. In general the flight prices range around $600, though promo prices can drop to $200-$300 if you are lucky. Here’s a list of airlines that fly to Galapagos:

Land in Baltra (GPS) or San Cristobal (SCY) :

  • Most flights land in Baltra (Also sometimes just called Galapagos), with the closest city being Puerto Ayora on the island of Santa Cruz about an hour’s drive south
  • However you could fly into the eastern island of San Cristobal which is much closer to the main town of Puerto Bacquerizo as compared to Baltra and Puerto Ayora, but note that flights direct to San Cristobal only go on certain days (I remember it as Tuesday, Friday and Sunday, but do double check to be sure)
Ecuador Guayaquil Iguana Pigeon

The one weird thing in Guayaquil – a park filled with an equal number of green iguanas and pigeons, sometimes coexisting. Do NOT stand under a tree because those iguanas climb high and pee like waterfalls. Read all about that in this blog post

Transit through Guayaquil : All flights will transit through Guayaquil – it takes about 1hr 40mins to fly from Guayaquil to Baltra. Even if you fly from Quito, you will stopover in Guayaquil though you probably won’t even have to get off the plane, it’s mostly to pick up the passengers flying from Guayaquil.

  • Guayaquil is the biggest city in Ecuador in the southwestern end, but honestly not the most exciting place – 1-2 days is more than enough time to see the main tourist sights here. What’s notable is that downtown Guayaquil is very close to the airport (15 mins by taxi) and the airport is quite modern and swanky, which may make it a more convenient jumpoff point if you intend to hit the Ecuadorian coast in the west or are in the central/southern bits. The airport in Quito is quite a distance from the downtown area and definitely not as convenient

You Can Make Flight Changes : There’s a chance you might need to change your flights if you are doing a last minute cruise and need to accommodate the dates. Mine cost $49 to shift back a few days – I made the changes at the TAME office in Puerto Ayora, but the changecost really depends on your flight details

Mandatory Entrance Fees for Tourists : These mandatory costs are one-off and the same regardless of how long you spend in the Galapagos, so logically it makes more financial sense to spend more time in the Galapagos!

  • Tourist card : you get this from the Galapagos counter at the Quito/Guayaquil airport before you check in. It’s a piece of paper with a big QR code and costs $20 – this paper is scanned on entry and exit
  • Entrance fee : Foreigners need to pay $100 per person to enter Galapagos. This you pay at Galapagos immigration when you land.

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MOVING AROUND THE GALAPAGOS ISLANDS
estimate $32 per trip for ferries, $170 per flight

If you are not doing a cruise, you will probably spending time on the 3 main islands: Santa Cruz, San Cristobal and Isabela, and will need to move between the islands as they each offer different flora and fauna. You can fly little domestic planes as well which is quicker, but I mostly travelled by public ferry which was much cheaper.

Galapagos Santa Cruz Sealion Sleeping

It’s hard to get a seat at the ferry piers because all the sealions are hogging them!

Santa Cruz Hub : There are only 2 ferry routes available – between Santa Cruz and San Cristobal  to the east, and Santa Cruz and Isabela to the west. You can’t go from San Cristobal to Isabela directly by public ferry. There are also fixed times to catch the ferries as below – make sure to arrive 30minutes before your ferry leaves to allow for security checks (which they take quite seriously) and so you don’t get left behind!

  • From Santa Cruz: 7am and 2pm to both Isabela and San Cristobal
  • From Isabela: 6am and 3pm to Santa Cruz
  • From San Cristobal: 7am and 2pm to Santa Cruz

One Flat Fee for Public Ferries : Any water transfer you take between the main islands (Santa Cruz-San Cristobal and Santa Cruz-Isabela) costs $30 by the public ferry, which is really a largish speedboat that can sit around 30+ passengers without any fixed seating. It’s a flat fee I’ve heard sometimes you can bargain down to $25 but it really depends on your agency, but $30 is pretty standard

Get your ticket from a Tour Agency : Get your ferry ticket from any tour agency – they’ll take your name and contact details and give it to the boat operator, and then tell you what time you need to report.

At the pier you’ll need to be there half an hour early to get your luggage inspected. Look out for people wandering around with clipboards – these are the people manning the boats and they’ll need to tick your name off a list to check that you made the trip. Some companies are a lot more organized about and will give you a pass to identify you, or call yoru name, but in general they just need to know that you’re there to catch your boat

Additional Costs – Small boat transfers from land to ferry : sometimes you will need to transfer from the pier to the ferry via a smaller speedboat which usually costs 50 cents to $1 depending on where you are (more in individual island breakdown). I suggest to budget in another $2 to your 1-way island ferry cost and not be too surprised when the boatman asks you for money

Galapagos Public Ferry

A shot I took from sitting inside the cabin. Each ferry is different – I had one with a proper door of sorts, and some have a bit of an upstairs deck as well

Prepare yourself : The comfort of the ferry ride really depends on luck, weather and where you sit. Remember it’s a speedboat and not very large – ferry is a bit of a misnomer honestly. Santa Cruz-Isabela was really bumpy and not comfortable at all and I was just hoping it would be over quickly. But the San Cristobal-Santa Cruz one was surprisingly smooth and I read most of the way back without a headache though I was stuck in direct sunlight because there were no more seats in the sheltered cabin area. Arm yourself with sunblock, sunglasses and a scarf just in case!

Flying : you can also fly between islands instead of taking the ferry. The flights generally take 30-45 minutes compared to 2 hours by boat but accordingly more pricey. Not much advice I can give here since I didn’t fly between islands at all!

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TAKING A CRUISE AROUND THE GALAPAGOS ISLANDS
estimate $1,000/5-days or $1,700/8-days for last minute bookings. Double that at least if you book in advance

A popular way to see the Galapagos is to do a cruise around the various islands – it costs more than just staying on the islands, but it gives you the opportunity to visit more far flung islands where you cannot take a day trip to.

Types of Cruises : Most of the cruises are naturalist cruises – that means everyday you visit an island for nature walks and some swimming and snorkelling with a certified guide to point out the flora and fauna for you. I asked about scuba diving, but you need to do a dedicated Live on Board dive cruise which very few companies offer, and you are looking at a cost of around $4,000-$5,000.

Galapagos Cruise Schedule

A typical day’s itinerary – usually briefed the night before so we know what to pack and expect the following day! There are strict rules on timings to prevent overcrowding, so you have to follow these fully, no changes allowed

 

Last Minute is Cheapest : Last minute cruise options are the cheapest you can get. The good news is that prices are usually at least half of the rack rate, sometimes even more. The tours are being sold by different tour agencies who may give you different prices even for the same boat, so spend a little time shopping around a bit asking about prices, itinerary and what exactly is included if you want a good deal. It can be pretty mind boggling and overwhelming just because of the sheer number of options though!

  • A decent 5-day cruise is really only about 3.5-4 days worth of activity and usually goes around $900-$1000
  • I was on an 8-day cruise with the Aida Maria boat which cost me $1600 last minute. We started from Santa Cruz, visited Genovesa, saw Bartolome and Santiago, back to Santa Cruz to drop off the 5-dayers, then to Floreana and Espanola, and finished in San Cristobal. My cruise cost was $1,600
Galapagos Genovesa Boobie Sign

Genovesa is the island of a gazillion boobies and one of the few pristine ones that never saw any foreign animals introduced to its ecosystem

Galapagos Bartolome Island Pinnacle Rock Sunset

Pinnacle Rock is a distinctive geological feature of Bartolome Island

Galapagos Santiago Lava Fields

The lava fields on Santiago island are quite fascinating and really old!

Galapagos Floreana Stingrays Group

While snorkeling at Floreana Island, I discover a huge group of at least 15 stingrays basking in shallow waters

  • Online prices usually start from $2,000+ (5 day) or $3,000+ (8 day) and up. While you definitely save money doing the last minute option, you will have to settle for what’s available that fits your schedule
  • You can knock more dollars off if you opt out of some of the itinerary – our itinerary included Santa Cruz which some of the people had already explored previously, so they opted to have their own free time on these days and knocked some $$ off the price. You will need to settle this when you book and pay for the tour with your agency as the boat will just follow the instructions given to them and are quite rigid about this
Galapagos Cruise Room

Our room on the Aida Maria – we mostly used it for sleeping. There is an attached toilet to the left with room for a toilet and a surprisingly decent shower

Additional Costs : Room and all meals are usually included in your tour price, along with rental of snorkelling masks and fins. But there are other little costs that you need to fork out for, so make sure to set aside some budget for this

  • Tips for the Crew to share – my boat said the customary was $12/day for the crew, but I don’t think there’s a real standard rate, you should just give what you can afford
  • Tips for the Guide – my boat said the customary was $8/day
  • Drinks and additional snacks on board usually aren’t included in the full board, so bring your own or check first!

The Best Candidates for Last Minute Bookings : here’s what you need to be able to score a last minute cruise

  • Flexibility in timing : You usually need a return ticket for Galapagos so make sure you give yourself some buffer time if you want to do book a cruise last minute. Be prepared to possibly shift your return date – I shifted mine back to accommodate my cruise dates
  • A bit of research beforehand helps : know what islands can only be reached by an organised cruise and not on your own, and whether there are particular things you want to see or do. It’ll help you see if the cruise is value for money and narrow down your choices because the amount of options can be boggling
  • A lot of patience : and expect disappointment as previously available cruises get booked up quickly
  • 1 or 2 pax max : This is probably the best number to fill spots last minute – you might have to share a room as a solo person or you could luck out and get a bunk for your own.

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 STAYING ON SANTA CRUZ / PUERTO AYORA
estimate $50/day for accommodation and food only

Galapagos Santa Cruz Sealion Sleeping

A common sight at the ferry terminal in Puerto Ayora – sealions hogging all the seats!

Transfer from Baltra Airport : Most flights from Quito and Guayaquil will fly into Baltra Island and you will then head to Puerto Ayora in the south of Santa Cruz Island. Baltra and Santa Cruz are separated by a small canal/channel which boats pass through. This airport is not the most convenient though as it takes about an hour in total to drive from the airport to downtown area. Estimate $25/round trip to be safe, though I managed to pay just $9 in total!

  • Baltra Airport – Canal Station : from the airport there is a short bus ride to the ferry terminal at the canal – that’s free!
  • Baltra Canal Station – Santa Cruz Canal Station : There’s a channel between Baltra Island and Santa Cruz where you have to take a boat transfer that costs $1. It’s a large ferry where your luggage is put on the roof of the boat and you wait for the boat to fill up before it crosses. You can’t avoid this cost unless you’re being picked up directly from the airport and it is already factored into your transfer fee
  • Santa Cruz Canal Station – Puerto Ayora : From the canal in the north, you either take a bus for $2 or a taxi for $20 across the island to get to the main town of Puerto Ayora in the south. Unless you have a big group or a lot of luggage, take the bus. Oddly enough there doesn’t seem to be a way to catch a bus back to the Baltra airport, so rather than fork out the money for a cab on my own, I ended up hitching a ride with a couple who was also headed to the airport already from the main port area. They had already prepaid their transfer but I managed to bargain the taxi driver to charge me just $5 for hitching the ride!
Galapagos Baltra-Santa Cruz Channel

The channel that separates Baltra and Santa Cruz

 

Where to stay : Hostels/guesthouses are not cheap relative to the rest of Ecuador, but probably your cheapest option here in the Galapagos. I’d estimate about $25-30/night to be safe if you are travelling on your own and want somewhere nicer. Many of the hostels/hotels don’t have online booking, so if you are feeling lucky, consider just walking around when you reach because you might be able to score cheaper rooms. Don’t risk it during high season though!

  • The cheapest hostel accommodation prices I saw in February were around $17/night for a dorm in El Descanso de Petrel which was really central in the main downtown strip, but you had to climb 3 storeys to the dorm on the top floor!
  • I stayed in a private room at Hostel Morning Glory on Puerto Ayora for $30/night. I highly recommend this place – a little bit off the main stretch so it’s quieter but still walking distance to everything else. It was really clean, had air conditioning, ensuite bathroom and a pretty stellar breakfast too along with FREE LAUNDRY (long term traveller jackpot ding!ding!). They have a lovely shop upfront that does custom hand-painted T-shirts, not cheap, but definitely unique.
Galapagos Puerto Ayora Morning Glory

Hostel Morning Glory – Very spacious room with air-conditioning and ensuite bathroom

What to eat : If you are eating out mostly like me, you can get lunch and dinner set meals here for about $6-$7, which usually includes a soup, main dish and a drink. A la carte options in restaurants tend to cost more though, around $10-$20 at least. One place I liked was the open air food street in Puerto Ayora where I shared a decently sized grilled fresh fish, beer and some ice cream with a friend for about $10 each in total.

Galapagos Puerto Ayora Food Street

Food Street in Puerto Ayora – lots of yummy seafood options here!

Free / Cheap Things to Do : Not everything will cost you! Here’s what you can do for free, or relatively cheap

  • Charles Darwin Research Station : This little spot is about 20 minutes walk east from downtown Puerto Ayora, or you could cycle here too. The parts you can visit in the research station include a tortoise breeding centre where you can see how they protect and breed the various species of tortoise found only on the Galapagos Islands. It was undergoing some revamp when I was there so I missed out on the museum display which includes an impressive whale skeleton, but look out for the new museum exhibit featuring the famous Solitary George! [open everyday 0800-1230, 1430-1730]
Galapagos Santa Cruz Charles Darwin Tortoise

Yes that tortoise does have a weird neck! One of many tortoises found in the breeding centre

  • Playa de la Estacion / Station Beach : This little beach is right next to the Charles Darwin Research Station and apparently quite popular with locals and for snorkelling, especially in the late afternoon. It was pretty hot at midday when we were there for a breather, our only company a couple of sunbathing marine iguanas.
Galapagos Santa Cruz Charles Darwin Beach

Some of those black lumps are really iguanas, not rocks!

  • Puerto Ayora Fish Market : this is en route from the downtown area to the Charles Darwin Station, and it’s really just a small open air area where you can buy fresh seafood, but the best part is the sheer number of pelicans and sealions all around the stalls – that’s how you know the fish is really that fresh because the animals are all trying to get a piece of the action!
Galapagos Puerto Ayora Fish Market

Local natives queuing up for fish!

  • Alemane Beach + Las Grietas : Just a short 3-minute water taxi ride across the Puerto Ayora port is a little beach and some snorkelling points at Alemane aka the German beach. This beach is surrounded by mangrove trees and is a marine iguana nesting area, so expect to see them all over the beach and even swimming past you in the water! The beach is free to visit, but the water taxi costs 80 cents/1-way and you need to rent some snorkelling gear too. I didn’t manage to walk further on to Las Grietas which is a picturesque little swimming grotto, the perfect finish to a short but sweaty walk. For those who don’t mind even more walking, head to Tortuga Bay, another beach along this peninsular that’s also free but a bit more of a hike away!
Galapagos Santa Cruz Alemane Beach

Watch out for marine iguana nesting areas! This is such a lovely beach to chill out on, but be prepared that there is very little shade so either bring your own or cover up appropriately!

  • El Chato Reserve: This patch of land up in the hills is about 30 minutes from downtown Puerto Ayora by taxi and surprise, has giant land tortoises on it, and you are provided boots so you can walk around the property freely to discover these animals in their sanctuary! Also, check out the craters and lava tubes – narrow caves of sorts made out of really old volcanic lava. It’s just $3 for entry, though it will cost you around $30-50 on average to take a taxi here and back again – best to find some other like-minded people to split the costs with you.
Galapagos Santa Cruz El Chato Tortoise Mating

Erm, we came across these tortoises mating. There is a lot of loud grunting and it is very… slow…

Not so cheap stuff : aka paid tours you need to arrange that tend to cost a bit more

  • Black Turtle Cove: You need to arrange to go on a tour to get to Black Turtle Cove as it is only accessible by rubber dinghy, but it is definitely well worth the trip. This shallow mangrove has extremely clear water and is a bit of a nursery, so we saw a ton of baby sharks (even baby hammerheads!) in the water swimming by, as well as lots of turtles and stingrays swimming past our boat. Also, blue footed boobies dive-bombing the water galore!
Galapagos Santa Cruz Dinghy Photographers

I did this as a part of my cruise itinerary – as you can see we got pretty up close with the wildlife!

  • Scuba Diving : The Gordon Rocks are one of the most popular dive sites where there are opportunities to see hammerhead sharks among other creatures, and North Seymour as well. I missed the chance to dive here but I saw some pretty amazing footage from my friends! Definitely do this if you have your license and have the resources for it.

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STAYING ON ISABELA / PUERTO VILAMIL
estimate $50/day for accommodation and food only

Galapagos Isabela Entrance

Welcome to Isabela!

Entrance Fee : Isabela is the largest island of the Galapagos and also the only one you need to pay for to enter – for foreigners it costs $10 which you pay as you disembark from the ferry. From the port, you could walk to downtown if your bags aren’t too heavy as it’s not too far, about 20mins or so. If not hop onto the shuttle bus for $1 and just tell the driver where to drop you.

Where I stayed : I shared a twin room with a friend at Casa Rosada aka Caleta Iguana for $28/pax/night including tax. It’s got a great location right on the beach but the room we had was really hot (with shitty fan and no aircon) and cleanliness is pretty basic. Be warned as well that it’s called Caleta Iguana for good reason – there are a TON of iguanas all over the hotel’s premises, so watch your step when you are walking around as the iguanas tend to like suntanning on the balcony and staircase.

Galapagos Isabela Casa Rosada

That pink building is Casa Rosada! You’re right on the beachfront which is perfect for chilling out. It’s not a far walk to the downtown area either, perhaps about 10mins at most?

Galapagos Isabela Casa Rosada Room

The room was decent but it didn’t face the sea so good lord there was on ventilation whatsoever. You can’t see but on the wall to the right above the bed there is the world’s shittiest fan. Like hardly any air moved when it was on, so basically being in the room during the day was not a comfortable affair!

What to eat : If you are eating out mostly like me, you can get lunch and dinner set meals here for about $7-$9, which usually includes a soup, main dish and a drink. A la carte options in restaurants tend to cost more though, around $10-$20 at least. It’s a little more pricey than Santa Cruz and San Cristobal. Most of the time I was eating in the downtown area – there’s practically just one main road with lots of little restaurants lined up together.

Isabela is also where I discovered a local ice cream called Los Coquieros which is sold at a number of convenience stores – it’s not particularly cheap at $2.45 per popsicle, but it’s really flavourful and I love the chocolate flavour omg.

Free / Cheap Things to Do : Not everything will cost you! Here’s what you can do for free, or relatively cheap

  • Concha Perla: this is a little jetty right next to the ferry port where you can do some snorkelling and you might find a sealion or two here – ours was taking a nap underneath the bench, unconcerned with the gawking tourists. Bring a dry bag or stuff you don’t mind getting wet – there are one or two benches and poles to hang your things on but not much space, and it can get crowded! We rented snorkeling gear for $3 from a hotel along the main road. Close by is a beach which sees many sea lions – we caught some napping and jumping into the water.
Galapagos Isabela Concha Perla Snorkeling

There was a sealion on the dock but it was more concerned with sleeping. You can see some fish and coral but this place can get crowded

Galapagos Isabela Sealion Beach

Here’s J pretending to be a sealion

  • Centro de Crianza de Tortugas Gigantes: The tortoise breeding centre here is also quite large, and see all the land tortoises as well as teeny tiny baby ones here! It’s a short but manageable hike here from the downtown area where you’ll pass by the flamingo lagoon along the way. A little further down the path from the breeding centre is a lovely lake where you might spot some birds too.
Galapagos Isabela Flamingo Lagoon

The flamingo lagoon was kinda quiet that afternoon. More iguanas than flamingos!

Galapagos Isabela Tortoise Breeding Centre Comparison

Here’s my friend J alongside a tortoise so you can see the size comparison!

  • Wall of Tears – this is a pretty long 5km walk – I’d highly suggest cycling instead of walking as there’s not much shade and most of it is relatively flat so you cover ground a lot faster. What’s cool is that you might run into large land tortoises wandering around. The wall itself I feel is a bit anti-climatic , but it is a memorial of a time when the Galapagos was a rather corrupt prison – building the wall was a pointless menial task meant to torture prisoners rather than serve any purpose. There is a nearby viewpoint which offers some excellent views of the surroundings, and there are some beaches along the trail worth checking out too.
Galapagos Isabela Lacrimas Wall

The wall of tears – you can climb up the slope for a better viewpoint

Galapagos Isabela Lacrimas Tortoise Selfie

Yup seriously these tortoises were just wandering around wild!

  • Iguana Viewpoint : This viewpoint near the Malecon is right in the middle of an iguana breeding area. Look closely at the black rocks and you will realise just how overrun the place is with iguanas! Tread carefully when you are here!
Galapagos Isabela Iguana Lookout

I lightened the pic a bit so you can see the iguanas in the rocks better. Know that there are way more than your eyes can make out here!

 

Not so cheap stuff : aka paid tours you need to arrange that tend to cost a bit more

  • Los Tuneles Tour : Explore lava formations and snorkel in the tunnels – this is apparently pretty cool but I didn’t get a chance to do it
  • Volcano Tour : Isabela is the biggest island and it is actually made up of 6 different volcanoes. I would have loved to spend a day checking out Sierra Negra, one of the largest volcano calderas and apparently still very active. From what I’ve read you may be able to do this on your own, but definitely check first.

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STAYING ON SAN CRISTOBAL / PUERTO BAQUERIZO MORENO
estimate $50/day for accommodation and food only

Galapagos San Cristobal Sign

San Cristobal – if you look closely at the letters, they are each painted with a different animal that you can find on the island.

Where I Stayed : I had a double bed room for myself at Hostal Terito for $27/night including tax with a shared toilet. There were some other people around the house but I mostly had the level to myself. It’s a lovely family-run guesthouse with a really friendly family running it (mostly Spanish speaking though), and it’s a short but walkable distance from the main strip in Puerto Baquerizo, I’d recommend staying there!

Galapagos San Cristobal Terito

A room all to myself! No air conditioning but a proper fan blowing at me works just as well

What to eat : If you are eating out mostly like me, you can get lunch and dinner set meals here (known as Meriendas) for about $4-$6, which usually includes a soup, main dish and a drink. A la carte options in restaurants tend to cost more though, around $10-$20 at least. This is probably the cheapest meal you can get in the Galapagos!

Free / Cheap Things to Do : Not everything will cost you! Here’s what you can do for free, or relatively cheap

  • Stalk all the sea lions : You haven’t seen sea lions until you’ve seen those on San Cristobal – the beaches in the downtown area are home to huge colonies of sea lions beaches – you can hear (and smell) them in the evenings when they flop down on the beach to rest. Quite a sight to behold, and absolutely free! When I was there in February there were tons of babies as well flopping around and bleating – just be sure never to get between a baby and its territorial mother!
Galapagos San Cristobal Shore Sealions

This is just a very, very small proportion of sea lions in San Cristobal

  • Playa Mann : This is the beach closest to the downtown area, about 15 minutes walk from the main port. Not particularly spectacular, but it’s convenient and en route to the Interpretation Centre
Galapagos San Cristobal Playa Mann

Lots of families – it drizzled a little bit when I was there just sitting on the sand and chilling out

  • Centro de Interpretacions : If you want a complete history about the Galapagos, this little museum is very well presented and gives you a great overview of Galapagos’ past, present and possible future. It’s a nice little walk up here en route to Tijeretas.
Galapagos San Cristobal Interpretation Centre

Ok this is a terrible photo because I was pretty busy reading most of the signboards.

  • Hike to Tijeretas Lookout : The outdoor area of the interpretation centre is like a beautiful manicured garden with paved boardwalks that lead you towards the coast where there’s a lovely lookout point on top of the cliffs – it takes some stair climbing to get to, but the view of the bay and surroundings is worth the effort! There are several view points along the coast you can go to – one of them has a giant Charles Darwin statue for your photo opps.
Galapagos San Cristobal Tijeretas

Tijeretas is the Spanish name for the Frigate bird. It means ‘scissors’ and refers to the forked scissors-like tail of the frigate bird!

  • Chill at Punta Carola : This beach is on the Tijeretas trek and definitely worth spending some time at. Bring along some shade or be prepared to get lots of sun as there isn’t very much overhanging brush – you’ll have to compete with the marine iguanas for the shady shrubbery… Spotted a sea lion family playing in the water, and there’s a great bay view here.
Galapagos San Cristobal Punta Carola

Galapagos San Cristobal Punta Carola

Not so cheap stuff : aka paid tours you need to arrange that tend to cost a bit more

  • Scuba Diving : the must-see site here is Kicker Rock or Leon Dormido on the western side of the island. This is hands down one of the best dives I’ve ever done! I saw a small school of hammerhead sharks in the wild, Galapagos sharks, a big ball of fish, and even spotted 2 Minky whales and breaching manta rays on the boat ride back. It cost me $160/day (2 dives) with Wreck Bay Diving Centre (very professional, great company) including lunch, gear, transport and a side trip to the nearby beach Cerro Brujo where I got to play with a friendly sea lion. I also dived the day before nearby in Tijeretas but honestly if you’re short on time and money, just spend on a day at Kicker Rock. Punta Pitt in the north is supposed to be a pretty nice dive spot and good for bird spotting too.

Galapagos San Cristobal Cerro Brujo

A very beautiful headland with 2 coves side by side – one of them has more coral in it, but this is the one with the extremely white sand

 

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MY EXPENDITURE
a breakdown of my own expenses for your reference

So I thought I’d give you a rough breakdown of my own expenditure for comparison if you are planning to do your own budgeting for this trip:

*DRUMROLL*

I spent about $3,000 for 14 days in Galapagos, which works out to around $215/day (Note costs are in USD not SGD) which is frighteningly high for a backpacker. Even if you omit the flights for a more even comparison, it’s still about $175/day. A closer look at costs:

  • ~$1,700 for 8-day cruise + tips
  • ~$570 for flight + tourist entrance fees from Guayaquil
  • ~$240 for scuba diving x 4 dives
  • ~$170 for accommodation in private rooms x 6 nights
  • ~$140 for food and drinks on the Islands x 6 days
  • ~$90 for transport on and between islands by ferry x 3 trips
  • ~$75 for souvenirs (I bought 2 rashguards as souvenirs which took up the bulk of this cost, the rest of the stuff were trinkets)

As a comparison, my expenditure in the rest of Ecuador was about $45/day – Ecuador as a whole is pretty cheap, it’s just Galapagos that is much more expensive. Looking at the cost breakdown now, I don’t regret doing any of these things though I kinda wish I had more time to explore Isabela especially. It might have been expensive on paper but this trip was totally worth every cent to me!

Some money saving tips:

  • Bring enough supplies like sunblock and mosquito repellent because it is really expensive on the islands – all these items have to be imported from the mainland. One little tube of sunblock was going for $18! If you are stopping over in Guayaquil for a night, stock up there so you don’t have to splurge in Galapagos. I highly recommend Detar as an insect repellent
  • Bring your own snorkelling or wetsuit gear – you can rent it pretty cheaply, but if you are going to do a lot of snorkelling in your time there, it might be more worthwhile to just buy a fairly cheap mask and snorkel of your own so you don’t have to rent every time you need one… it adds up!
  • Getting cheap stuff for the Galapagos is an exercise in timing – going in early doesn’t always mean you’ll get the cheapest deal:
    • Go in early for: Flights – look out for promos
    • Book last minute for: Cruises, tours, accommodation

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If you have tips on travelling the Galapagos Islands, do drop them in the comments below! If Galapagos has always been a dream for you to visit but you are concerned about costs, I hope this guide helps you out a little in terms of figuring out the costs and nitty gritty. Do share this little guide with anyone you know who’s heading there!

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Galapagos Isabela Beach Jumpshot

You know I have to jumpshot on a perfect beach – this one is on Isabela right outside Casa Rosada. Galapagos is also where I killed my trusty Casio FR100 in the water >_<

Comments

  1. Hi Jaclynn,
    thank you a great report. I like to add a tour which I have made/booked when I was on Isabela.
    “Las Tintoreras Day Tour”. Las Tintoreras is covered in lava and you can see many sharks and iguanas.

  2. Great article! My husband and I have been on the fence about visiting when we are down in Peru next Spring…you have definitely motivated me to look more into it!

  3. Woot~ Thanks for putting up the informative post! All the cost stated are in USD? Generally, is booking a 2 weeks trip enough to offers enough flexibility for last minute bookings there?

    1. Author

      yup everything in USD! for the last minute cruises I think it gives you enough time to have a few more options – the thing is there are boats coming and going on different days so if you do the standard 5/8 days and settle your booking on the 1st day in, you have a bit of room to shuffle around your itinerary. So what I ended up doing was 1 night in Santa Cruz, 2 nights in Isabela, 7 nights cruise, 2 nights in San Cristobal, mostly planned around the dates and departure/arrival ports of my cruise.

      worst case is having to fork out a little bit more to extend your trip :p

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