Dream destination Galápagos has been on our list for a really long time. This beautiful island is part of Ecuador and only accessible from Quito or Guayaquil by plane. There’s an hour time difference but of course you’ll find yourself in a completely different time zone… island style.
Galápagos is especially known for its unique underwater wildlife and bird species. Taking a cruise is probably the best way to see the different smaller islands but traveling on a low budget we could not manage to fit this in.
For a long time we were under the impression it was only possible to really enjoy the Galápagos with loads of Dollars in the pocket. But now we’ve discovered this is far from true…
Galápagos is ideally suited for the small budget, you just have to know where to look.
We’ve stayed in the Galápagos Islands for 16 wonderful days without doing any tours and we absolutely loved it. Here’s our tips and tricks…
At the airport of the small island Baltra we arrive in a sort of moon landscape, bold, dry, not enormously attractive… but soon we will go to better places I’m sure.
After a thorough K9 baggage check with two different dogs, we can take our luggage and walk outside where the free bus to Puerto Baltra is already waiting. The bus takes about ten minutes, the road is interesting, the scenery is like a desert, including cactuses.
Arriving at the small harbor we see some huge pelicans and our first blue footed booby! Yeah cool!!
We have to wait in line for the boat that will take us to the other side, to the island of Santa Cruz.
On the boat we pay the boat guy a Dollar per person and after less than ten minutes we’re there. Alright, things are going smoothly…
There are taxis waiting to drive you to town for $25 but we’ll take the bus for $5 pp. Up to a few weeks ago it was only $3 so it’s quite a firm increase for a bus that is held together by a few pieces of rusty metal. Ah well, as long as we get there today…
The bus takes 45 minutes and eventhough the scenery isn’t as pretty as I hoped, looking outside is quite enjoyable.
The old bus terminal outside of town isn’t in use anymore, the bus now stops close to the town center so we only have to walk a kilometer to our Airbnb accommodation.
Isla Santa Cruz
We’ve booked a private room in a shared apartment through Airbnb. Our host Orlando has a hardware store next door to the apartment so we can reach him whenever we want. We pay €25 per night and have a private bathroom and a big shared kitchen. The apartment is about five minutes from the fish market where the seals and pelicans are doing their best to look cute so they might get some leftovers.
A visit to the large supermarket close to the pier makes us realize that we are not going to be making our own meals. Vegetables are scarce and expensive and everything else has its price too. We could put together a rice and bean meal for $4, or a spaghetti without veggies… hmm… we could do that one of the days.
Besides this supermarket there are some mini markets here and there that sell bread, fruit or vegetables much cheaper than the supermarket. We’ve found four delicious grapefruits for a Dollar 🙂
In the center of town there are many restaurants but there’s also one street with streetfood stalls. When we’re heading that way we walk along the small harbor where seals are lying around. We can’t get enough of them, this is so awesome!
From the many small restaurants in the eat-street we order a promotion meal at TJ, obviously a popular restaurant because within 30 minutes the place is full…
The grilled tuna is absolutely delicious and it’s a plate full with fries, rice and a salad is only $5! A half liter bottle of cerveza is $4. We are quite pleased to see the prices aren’t as idiotic as we expected.
In Puerto Ayora there are lots of free things to do. We don’t want to take a tour so we’ll try to enjoy the Islands for free as much as we can.
The Charles Darwin research station is only a 15 minute walk from town. Here you can find lots of huge turtles that are in rehabilitation. The whole research area is free and has some really interesting features. There is a small path to the ocean where you find a beach there an enormous amount of Marine Lizards.
These are so cool, looking like little dragons they can swim and walk on land… The sea is too rough to swim in but the views are excellent. We enjoy a few hours here before we head back to town.
In the afternoon we have some rain, great for some relaxing then.
A bit further away from town there’s the El Chato giant tortoise reserve. A big open park with as said enormous tortoises of different kinds that just walk around freely.
There are awesome lava caves which you can enter, although it’s quite tight and might give you a claustrophobic feeling 😉
There are nice paths to hike around the area and there is an opportunity to rent boots for if you want to explore of the paths…
You can take the bus that leaves to the north and ask the driver to stop at El Chapo. From here you walk about 20 minutes towards the west.
The large pier is town is very enjoyable and lively. During the day you can watch the pelicans drop themselves into the water like a clumsy sack of potatoes or watch the Blue Footed Boobies do the same thing as a graceful bullet.
At night sea lions take a nap on one of the wooden benches and below the pier the small reef sharks gather around, attracted by the blue light under water.
Tortuga Bay beach
At about 20 minutes walking from town there’s the Tortuga Bay beach park. Entering is free, we just need to register at the reception. The path to the beach takes another twenty minutes through cactuses and dry vegetation. We see some small curious birds and tiny lizards. The sky is filled with clouds and we feel a drizzle that is getting heavier. In the end of the straight 2 kilometer path we get rewarded with a gorgeous white beach. It’s huge too! Whoah…
The clouds dissolve as fast as they came and suddenly it’s hot and sunny. No problem, water nearby to cool us down.
The beach is long and it takes us a good 15 minutes to walk to the end where there is another smaller beach.
The first beach is breathtaking but has a permanent red flag for swimming. The sea is too rough and there is an unreliable undercurrent. We walk with our feet through the water, oh this is the life! Pelicans fly over like a battleship and drop themselves in the water like a bomb.
The next, smaller beach isn’t too attractive and smells somewhat. There are quite a few people here so we decide not to stay too long. Between the beaches there is another path that takes you to the Playa peninsula. Blue Footed Boobies and lots of Pelicans.
The cacti and different bird species here are beautiful and obviously unique!
Another fantastic (almost free) thing to do in Puerto Ayora is a walk to las Grietas. At the big pier in town we take the first platform on the right and take a small boat to the other side of the bay for only 80 $cents. From here you walk in ten minutes to Playa de los Alemanes, a small beach with some fish and restaurants surrounding it. If you continue the path you’ll get to the entrance of Park Las Grietas.
Passing a salt drying lake and a collection of incredible cacti, we walk up to the path and take the way to the left that leads along the gorge. Yes a gorge! It’s impressive and beautiful and in the end of the path we get rewarded by a breathtaking view over the blue bay of Puerto Ayora.
About ten minutes back we enter the other path and walk down to enter the gorge. This is impressive ehh… transparent blue water with huge blue fish swimming around. Whoah! Fantastic place to cool down on a hot day like this.
We want to go to Isla Isabela and we’ve seen the boat tickets cost about $30 each. Now we’ve seen there is a small booking office close to the big supermarket that has a sign with last minute tickets for $25, so we’ll pay them a visit. They say boat tickets in Isabela cost $30 too and there aren’t any cheaper offers, so we immediately buy a return ticket for $25 as well. It’s an open ticket, we just have to call the office a day before our departure back to Santa Cruz.
Isabela island doesn’t have an ATM so we make sure we have enough cash.
Our boat to Isabela leaves at 14:00 and we have to be at the office at 13:40. It is very crowded at the pier but we get a card around our neck stating the specific boat, for there are many boats leaving at about the same time. We enjoy the view of a sea lion sleeping on one of the benches until we can board the small boat that will take us to the bigger boat just three minutes away. We have to pay the captain of the small boat 50 cents for bringing a to our ferry. Ridiculous of course and everybody agrees. We’ve just paid $25 an now we need to pay extra to get to our boat… as it’s not a lot of money we decide to choose the easy way and just pay up.
There are about 15 people on the ferry to Isabela. We’ve heard the two hour trip is relentless and that appears to be more than true. So when we finally arrive just off shore of Puerto Villamil nobody has the energy to speak up when we need to pay a Dollar to get to shore with another boat. Feeling bruised we enter the pier and there another surprise awaits us. We need to pay a municipal fee of $10 each. STOP IT! Eventhough I know it has no effect I try to start a discussion about what we’ve already paid and what the money is for. I am pissed!
Knowing there is no other way we pay the fee and enter the island.
Small and only town Puerto Villamil is obviously the least touristic of the island towns. This island consists of volcanoes that are attached to each other by lava flows. The volcano close to Puerto Villamil erupted just a month ago spitting lava, but this appears to be no biggie… this happens regularly.
Arriving at the pier of Isabela we immediately see what the Island is known for: sea lions! And not just a couple, they are everywhere. Big mamas and cute puppys.
We walk a kilometer to our Hostal Cerro Azul but the man behind the desk immediately let’s us know he doesn’t have a room available. WHAT?! But we have a reservation… the man has a big NO on his forehead and whatever we say, he is not going to help us. I call him some names and we quickly look for another hostel online. There is one just a few blocks from here with the same price.
Hostal Sula Sula is a bit further from the center but upon arrival we are very happy with our choice…
the twin room is nice, clean and quiet and has a private bathroom.
Puerto Villamil lies along a large white beach, we stroll from one side to the other with our feet in the cold water. A seal is lying on the beach and there are a few Marine Iguanas hanging around. Such weird creatures, they walk like a dragon and swim like a snake…
There are some penguins in the shallow water, they’re playing with each other and doing acrobatic tricks around the rope of a boat. I’m standing in the water just a meter away from them, this is awesome!
In this town there are a few restaurants but the’re actually all overrated. It’s a bit more expensive here than in Puerto Ayora but most restaurants offer daily menu for $8.
We haven’t been sick of any food since we are traveling (which is almost 500 days now) but let’s say we got a subscription to the toilet since we’re on this island. The meals, a salty rests soup, a main course consisting of rice, badly baked fatty potatoes, some salty fish and if you are lucky some ‘vegetables’ being a few slices of tomato and onion. One day we ordered a meal with chicken, the waiter said it would be filet, but when we got our plate there was a tiny shrunken piece of something on our plate, more cartilage than meat and it definitely did not look or taste like chicken.
The texture, the taste… could have sworn it was Iguana… have you seen any chickens around here lately?!
Vegetables and fruit are generally hard to come by, some supermarkets sell this, others sell that. Eventually we managed to make a fantastic spaghetti for $5 total with red onion, tomato, a small pepper and some paksoi leaves (which they sell separately). We had some leftover herb butter and the expensive tomato sauce turned out to be Marsala spices but DAMN that was excellent!
Flamingos and tortoises
A few kilometers north west from the town there is a tortoise rehabilitation center with different kinds of land turtles. They adults are huge and wrinkly and the younger ones look adorable. These ancient animals are so interesting to see, they must be full of history. Some being over a hundred years old and still not a care in the world. They are very interested and walk towards us in slow motion looking at us with their beady eyes… right… seen enough.
Just a few hundred meters further down the road there is a small lake with (sometimes) flamingos.
Today’s our lucky day because we see four of them. They are all the way in the back of the lake so we need the zoom of our camera to see them up close but they are pink, that’s for sure!
The road isn’t very attractive but well, it was a fun timespender and on our way back we even see a small snake cross the road, weehooo cool!
In the town of Puerto Villamil there is also a small lake, it’s pinkish and looks nice and if you’re lucky like us today, you can even see flamingos there too! Two of them… a bit closer than the other ones so we check them out a lot better.
On the east side of the town and very close to the pier there is Pearl Shell. You walk five minutes over a wooden path and find a deck from where you can easily enter the water basin in between the lava rocks and the mangroves. Snorkeling there is great and sea lions, rays and sometimes even turtles and penguins are known to enter the basin to join you. The seals love to play. They circle around you and do tricks for you. Sometimes it looks like they will attack, they swim towards you very fast but it’s really just for fun.
The beach on the other side of the pier is full of sea lions too, especially the pups are so cute and very curious… we could spend a whole day here just looking at those amazing animals here.
Isabela to San Cristobal
We’ve send a message to the tour agency where we booked our open return ticket so our name is on the list to go back to Santa Cruz. The first boat leaves at 6 am and our stomachs aren’t in the best shape early in the morning ánd we like it slow and easy, so we decide to take the afternoon boat which leaves at 3. Expecting another rough trip we wait for our hellish ride to arrive. From the pier we spot a big Manta Ray slowly swooshing through the water.
In the ferry back to Santa Cruz we are the first to enter the boat and therefore we can sit wherever we want. All the way in the back this time for a much easier ride… we sit on the side and not in the middle.
Unfortunately I get some spray from the waves but the guy on the other side in the back is wet to the bone. The sea isn’t as rough as the last time so we arrive quite dry and in one piece. This can not be said of the people in front of the boat. Shaken and stirred… and somewhat greenish.
If you take the early boat from the harbor in Villamil you’ll be able to go to San Cristobal the same day. We’ve decided to stay one night in Puerto Ayora and take the afternoon boat at 2 to San Cristobal the next day. As I said, we like it slow and easy 😉
We spend a night in Hostal Morning Glory, which is fantastic.
Our room is huge and the communal courtyard has hammocks! Breakfast is cooked in the outside kitchen and is the best we’ve had in months…
We can leave our bags until we need to go to the pier so we walk around town freely this morning. Always great to check out the fish market again!
We need to be at the pier an hour in advance which appears to be much too long. But, we are in the right place to get in front of the taxi boat and when we get to the ferry we are the first to get into the boat.
Again we can choose wherever we want to sit! Anything for a place in the back. This time we sit in the middle, which proves to be a good decision because the girl next to us on the side of the boat gets the full load and is totally soaked when we arrive in San Cristóbal. This must be the easiest boat ride ever!
Isla de San Cristóbal
The boat arrives in the center of Puerto Baquerizo Moreno a.k.a. San Cristóbal, the sun is shining and the town looks very inviting. We’ve made a reservation at Hostal Gosén, which is only a few minutes walk. The hostel looks great, colorful and it has a nice garden and a big kitchen. Our room upstairs even has a balcony!
We start with some food, Cri’s Burgers appear to have the best burgers in town so we’ll definitely need to try. A burger with guacamole can feed an orphanage and salty as the sea, but our body happily welcomes it. Obviously thirst follows… Beer here is expensive, in the 3 for $9.99 add they appear to be talking about small beers… while in Puerto Ayora we paid $4 for a big bottle. Ah well. In the supermarket a beer is $1.50 so we’ll buy some there.
In a short walk over the boulevard and through some small streets we find a big fresh market and a supermarket with lots of vegetables! Hooray tomorrow we are cooking veggies!
From the boulevard you can see lots of seals hanging around. And when we walk over the pier we see three large turtles in the water.
In town there are two small beaches full of seals, it smells terrible but its awesome to watch the sea lions do their thing. We see a tiny baby seal that must be one or two weeks old, he can hardly walk, too cute!
A thick fur seal has draped itself dramatically over the rocks and growls away every other seals that dares to come near. Men… huh.
In San Cristóbal there are a few tour you can do, we hear some people are the hostel about a ‘360 degrees tour’ around the island for $130 per person, but nobody has seen more than they already saw without the tour. Doesn’t sound very inviting… we’ll just do our own tours!
Swimming with the sealions
The town in San Cristóbal has a pleasant ambiance, not too touristic and the locals are very friendly. This is already our favourite town in the Galapagos ánd there is lots of free stuff to do. The beaches around the main town are absolutely filled with sea lions and turtles and if you’re lucky you can even see hammerhead sharks while snorkeling.
On the north side of the town there is a path leading to three places that are great for swimming or snorkeling.
First you will find Playa Mann, a small nice beach with good waves. It is suitable to swim and you find lots of seals here. The beach is a bit smelly because of the many seals hanging around under the trees, but the water is very ok.
Punta Carola is a nice white beach with lots of boulders, the sea is a bit rough but as soon as you put your feet in you’ll have some seals checking you out. The water isn’t too clear because of the waves but you’re probably not going to swim here.
Muelle Tijeretas is a bit further away, it’s a blue bay surrounded by rocks, there is no beach but you won’t see many tourists either. There is a platform from which you can climb into the water. Snorkeling is ok, there aren’t many fish but the water quite calm and very clear so you can see the sea lions coming from a great distance. They love this place and so will you! Walking back to town takes about 20 minutes.
On the south of the island, just half an hour walk there is a nice coastline with some small beaches and a lot of wildlife.
Swimming with huge turtles and cute seals, or spotting blue footed boobies… easy! The walk goes past the airport after which you’ll follow a straight somewhat boring road. The reward awaits as the views are excellent.
The water can be quite wild on medium or high tide so check the tides in advance and only go when the tide is low. When you walk passed the beaches there is a nice hike where you have a big chance of seeing some blue footed boobies!
We fly back to Quito with Tame with is a short stop in Guayaquil.
After 16 wonderful days filled with:
American Yellow Warblers
Galapagos Fur Seals
Galápagos Sea Lions
Galápagos Manta Rays
Green sea Turtles
Sally Lightfoot Crabs
and Whitetip Reef Sharks
without any tours, sweet people and a very pleasant atmosphere we have to leave…
Adiós Galápagos you were extraordinary!
You need to pay different fees when you enter Galápagos, which we totally understand. Galápagos is a unique protected area with wildlife some of which you only see on the Galápagos Islands.
You pay an park entry fee of $100 per person which is used for the conservation of the national park.
A departure fee of $20 per person which you pay at the departure airport before you enter Galápagos. You’ll receive a card, hold on to it you will need it when you exit Galápagos. This fee is used to do research on which people can actually enter Galápagos or are banned after misbehavior. Not quite sure why good hearted travelers need to pay for this.
Last, you pay a municipal tax of $10 per person when you enter Isla Isabela. This purpose of this tax is unknown.
What we don’t understand is that plastic is still not banned here. Bags and drinking straws are freely provided. On the other hand garbage is separated and the sea looks very clean.
Fresh water in Galápagos is scarce, some islands have a limited fresh water flow of two hours per day and save their water in tanks so that you can take a shower at night.
Currency: 1 US Dollar = € 0.88
In our 16 days on Galápagos we’ve spend:
- Transportation: €879 (flights and ferries)
- Accommodations: €337
- Food and drinks: €347
- Entrance fees: €223
- Other: €0
That brings us to a daily budget of: €111.60 / $126.50 for two persons including flights to the main land and conservation fees.
Excluding fees and flights this would be €52 / $59 for two persons.
Entering Galápagos you’ll need proof of an outward flight to the mainland, they check this at the airport of departure.
When you book a flight to Galápagos you need to check if you are on the right website. Airlines have two rates, tourists (extranjeros) and residents () which can differ pretty much. You don’t want a hundred Dollar surprise at the airport so please check on forehand if you see the right tariff. On most sites you fill in your country and language before you start your search and then you’ll only see the right prices. Having doubts? Send them a message, we did and this cleared things up.
We first checked Avianca, but the website popped up a message saying there is $150 added to the tariff at the airport. This made Avianca almost twice as expensive as the others.
So, for our first flight we booked a ticket with LATAM from Quito to Baltra and paid €185 ($215) per person.
Our return flight we chose TAME from San Cristóbal back to Quito and paid €177 ($210) per person. The tickets are free to change dates with both airlines. Both companies met our needs and standards, were on time and included a lot of luggage.
If the prices are much lower than this you probably have the wrong tariff…
We’ve stayed in big double rooms with private bathroom, rarely including breakfast but almost always use of a kitchen. We used Airbnb a couple of times. Eventhough they can be scarce, vegetables aren’t very expensive. Cooking a nice spaghetti or making a fresh salad has cost us about €1.80 / $2 per person.
The most expensive in the island are the tours which differ from $40 for a land tour of a few hours up to $130 for a snorkeling daytrip.
Two scuba dives are around $150 and of course the cruises and liveaboards are limitless…
Here are some products and prices in € and $:
- White buns in bakery: €0.22 / $0.25
- Hamburger in restaurant: €4.40-7 / $5-8
- Coffee latte in a lunchroom: € 3.50 / $4
- Beer (250 ml) in a cafe: € 2.65 / $3.00
- Beer (250 ml) supermarket: € 1.30 / $1.50
- Coca Cola in restaurant: €1.75 / $2.00
- Menu of the day in restaurant: €4.40-7 / $5-8
- Tasty fresh oranges: 8 for €0.88 / $1
- Simcard with 10 gb data: €13.20 / $15