Adding Up the Costs: The Galapagos Islands

galpsaOver the years we’ve watched several documentaries of the Galapagos Islands and have always thought, right along with millions of others, “Wow!  Would we love to visit there s-o-m-e-d-a-y!”  Upon our arrival in Ecuador we started researching affordable ways to visit the islands that were somewhere between the high-end luxury cruises and backpacker hostels.  Most flights embark for the 1½ hour journey from Guayaquil which was only a little over a three hour bus ride from Manta where we’ve been staying.  We  consulted a couple of travel agencies whose prices were roughly $999 per person, for a four day/three night stay in a four-star hotel with meals included, excluding beverages.   A five day tour, with the same inclusions and exclusions was $1299 per person.  Not covered were tourist/park fees and docking fees.  We read a few articles online, talked to friends about their visits and decided that we wanted to add extra days as well as select which islands we wanted to visit.  And so we planned our own “Indie” excursion.galapagos tortoise

Day One

We took an early morning cab to the bus station ($2) and boarded the bus line Reina Del Camino (Queen of the Road) to Guayaquil with our previously purchased tickets, $5.00 for adults, $2.50 for seniors for a total of $7.50. Upon our arrival at the major bus terminal in Guayaquil, a three-story affair, we claimed our bags and then cabbed ($4) to the airport.  The bus terminal and airport are actually adjoined but one-way streets necessitated an extended drive around the parameters of the two facilities.

Our plane fare on Avianca Airlines was $577 for two round-trip tickets from Guayaquil to Baltra Island in the Galapagos.  We were a little out of sync with the order of steps and procedures but they basically boil down to:

  • Stop by the Consejo de Gobierno del Regimen Especial de Galapagos for the control card for transit into the Galapagos ($20 for two people).
  • Next go to the Inspeccion y Cuarentena, a quarantine that checks to make sure you’re not bringing in seeds or other items that could affect the balance of the flora and fauna in the archipelago. Bags will be scanned, checked and stickered.  Some people elect to get their luggage wrapped in multiple layers of plastic but we’re not quite sure why.
  • Finally, we checked our two bags, proceeded through security and awaited boarding.

park ticketsWe landed without incident on Baltra Island at the small airport and claimed our checked bags.  Customs was a breeze and we were separated from another $200 for two people for the Galapagos Islands National Park entrance fee. Our passports received the requisite stamp for the Parque Nacional Galapagos.

We followed the crowd to the waterfront and deposited our suitcases with a man who heaved them on the roof of the covered launcha, clambered aboard and set off for the Isla Santa Cruz, the island we were staying on ($2 ). Upon disembarkation we reclaimed our carry-ons, and boosted ourselves and our luggage onto a bus for the 45-minute ride to Puerto Ayoro, the largest metropolis on the islands, with a population of perhaps 12,000 hearty souls. The bus, incidentally, was gratis. At the terminus we hailed a taxi (a bit of a price gouge of double the normal fare at $2 for the short trip) and proceeded to our hotel.

We had reserved our room through AirBnB previously and found The Hotel Fiesta to be charming, clean and quiet although the room was small. It was also very close to the “downtown area” and restaurants and was a great value at $100 per night, including tax and gratuity, for a total of $500. The room included an enormous breakfast of fruit, yogurt, granola, coffee/tea and juice which was then followed by eggs, bread, cheese and sausage or ham. The Hotel Fiesta also had a travel agent, a delightful woman named Deanna, who booked all our tours for us, including a lucky break on a highly desired island tour.Galapagos

Day 2

We explored Santa Cruz beginning with a walk of roughly 6 miles round trip from the hotel to Playa Tortuga on the island. The vegetation was remarkable and the ocean view was spectacular. Small birds showed no fear and wandered freely around us. Afterwards we went took another ambling walk around the Charles Darwin Center (free) to view rescued land tortoises and large multi-colored iguanas.iguanas

Day 3

blue footed boobiesWe joined a small group for a 4-hour tour of the Academy Bay ($70.00) and cruised by some of the smaller islands and rocky, jutting cliffs for up close glimpses of sea lions, sea turtles and blue-footed boobies. We beached at a rocky point for a walking tour where we saw marine iguanas emerging from the sea and heaving their large bodies over the lava rocks, finally gaining purchase on the sandy beach and hence into the sparse vegetation searching for warmth under the scorching sun.  A calm lagoon had at least twenty white tip sharks floating and sleeping.  Snorkeling was the final activity but only three stout hearts attempted it because, hey, the water was c-o-l-d!  The boldest swimmer made it no more than 15 minutes with only a few fish seen. On shore, following a late lunch at a wonderful Italian restaurant, we wandered over to a pier adjacent to the fish market. The vendors were gone but we were treated to very close encounters with large Peruvian pelicans.sea lion and cub

Day 4

We’d scheduled a tour to North Seymour Island (cost $320 for a couple which included meals) and our day started at 8:00 AM when a shuttle picked us up to transport us to the north end of the island.  Here we caught our boat for the day, a 37 foot Bay Liner, for the 1 hour trip.  North Seymour Island is a flat-topped island, an uplifted piece of the ocean floor raised during one of the tectonic upheavals that created parts of the Galapagos.  Aridity was the hall mark of this island but here we saw sea lions with their pups, some suckling and some juveniles old enough to brave the waters for short periods. As for our avian viewing highpoint, the male Magnificent Frigate Birds were courting and in full display with completely distended air sacks – brilliant red with black spotting.  The Lesser Frigates were fun to watch but no competition for our admiration and the Blue Footed Boobies, while not in abundance, were sufficient enough to fill our quota.Magnificent Frigate Bird

Day 5

Our last tour, St. Bartolome Island, was a genuine score for Deanna, our hotel’s tour agent, ($340 with meals).  This island, especially, has a very high demand for on-shore tours and a daily limit of people allowed.  We started our day at 6:00 AM with the shuttle across the island followed by a 3-hour boat ride to St. Bartolome Island and an exciting sighting of a few manta rays.  The island shores are a combination of rugged bluffs, sandy beaches and pyroclastic lava flows from 1898 which almost resembled an elephant hide in places and served as a geological lesson in island building.  At a second drop site, we climbed 364 steps that circled the island’s extinct volcano for a panoramic view of the whole island.  On our way down we were lucky enough to spot sea turtles regally swimming by, penguins darting rapidly in and about the water with a couple on shore and curious sea lions cruising by the beach for a closer look.  However, the only apparent inhabitants appeared to be grasshoppers in this stark landscape. The long boat ride back was drowsy and filled with quiet talking and gazing out at the water, contemplating our visit.????

Saint BartolomeAnd on Day 6 we retraced our route of taxi, bus, launcha, bus, airplane, taxi, bus and taxi finally back to our apartment in Manta.  The final costs, $1,808, are summed up below:

Transportation (Buses, taxis, launchas, airfare) – $639

Meals – $219

Tours – $730

Park Fees – $220

We saved where we could but we didn’t skimp because this journey will be one of the highlights of our travels.  Going to the Galapagos Islands can be done for much cheaper with hostels starting out at $25/night or it can be done for a lot more money in luxury accommodations.

By Richard and Anita

44 comments

  • Love your photos, and thanks for all the detail. Traveling solo, I always thought I would go the organized tour route. However, after reading this, I’d probably do it on my own.

    Like

    • So glad you liked this post, Nancie. After we researched our trip to the Galapagos and discovered we could do it on our own we were quite happy to keep the money is our pockets! It wasn’t much more difficult to organize the travel ourselves and this fact might be something that tour organizers want kept quiet!

      Like

  • Thank you for the very informative post about visiting the Galapagos Islands. I’ve always gotten a little discouraged by how complicated it looks. Seeing your photos has made me realize just how worth it the visit would be. The baby seal is incredibly adorable ❤

    Like

    • Before we started our research a visit to the Galapagos really did seem complicated and expensive – I guess that is to encourage people to take the luxury cruise tours or book with other agents who make all the arrangements but charge a very HEFTY price for their help. Hopefully we’ve shown that travel to this area can be done independently and with the same opportunities for a great experience.

      Like

  • Loved this informative and beautifully illustrated visit to the Galapagos Islands with you. What I really liked was the cost breakdown; somehow I feel better knowing a writer has paid for the experience and can offer me suggestions on how to do the trip and what the cost will be. I will be back!

    Like

    • Thanks and we’re glad that you liked the cost breakdown. Since no one has offered to comp us yet in our travels we have to work creatively to find ways to travel to more expensive areas. The resulting post is exactly what we were looking for when we started to research affordable ways to get to the Galapagos. We may have to do more of these in the future!

      Like

  • Anita and Richard, This is THE BEST do-it-yourself guide to the Galapagos that I’ve ever seen. We’ve wanted to go forever, but balked when we looked at the cost. You’ve shown that’s it’s absolutely doable for a reasonable sum. Thanks to you two it’s back on our must-see list! Yay! 🙂 ~Terri

    Like

    • Thanks! We also thought that a visit to the Galapagos would be horrendously expensive (and were just going to clench our teeth and jump!) so we were glad that we were able to find reasonable alternatives between a luxury visit versus a backpacker/sketchy hostel visit. So glad that this information has resulted in you adding the Galapagos Islands back to your “must see” list!

      Like

  • We’ll be the ones at the hostel 🙂

    Like

  • You make it sound very plausible to do the Galapagos trip on your own. I enjoyed reading your post very much. I’d love to reference it on my website as an itinerary, http://berkeleyandbeyond.com/Way-Beyond/Miscellaneous/Travel-Itineraries/travel-itineraries.html Let me know if you would like that.

    Like

    • So glad you enjoyed this post! Hope this shows that it is entirely possible to visit the Galapagos Islands on your own and keep your costs in check at the same time. We’d love to have you use our post as a reference on your website. We tried to write a post that would contain the info we were looking for when we started researching. We’ll have to do more like it!

      Liked by 1 person

  • What a fabulous post. I loved your breakdown of costs. The Galapagos really is one of the last pristine, un-developed outposts for travellers and as your pictures show the wildlife is incredible. The Iguana looks positively prehistoric. When we lived in South Africa we nearly went, but sadly didn’t. I’d still love to get there.

    Like

    • There is talk about placing stricter limits on the numbers of tourists visiting certain islands in the future and the quarantine screenings as we embarked on this adventure left us appreciative of the isolated and wild beauty of the Galapagos and its’ inhabitants. Getting there was something we never doubted but how nice to be able to visit without dipping too deep into our travel cache!

      Like

  • Great ideas on how to see the Galapagos on a reasonable budget. I especially liked your nature pictures. Hope I get to travel there someday. It’s definitely on my list.

    Like

  • This was just the refreshing information I needed to convince myself that the Galapagos Islands are “doable” on less than a 5-star budget. On the list they remain! Thank you.

    Like

    • One of our main goals with this post was to explain to our readers that a visit to the Galapagos doesn’t necessarily have to wipe out your travel budget. A five-star room isn’t really necessary when most of your time is outside hiking around or visiting other islands and a three star budget can give you the very same experience! We’re so glad that we convinced you to keep this special place on your list!

      Like

  • Gracias for this really helpful Galapagos planning article. Now that we’ve been on a wildlife viewing safari in South Africa, the Galapagos are high on our list of places to visit—-before we’re too old. I’ve been a bit staggered by the cost of all inclusive Galapagos cruises, but overwhelmed when thinking of planning it myself, so this post gives me some very welcome direction.

    Like

    • We also thought that the Galapagos would be a huge chunk of money but were determined that we would see this gem at whatever the cost. However, I read a lot of travel blogs and file away info as I come across it that’s specific to each region we know we’ll visit. Anyway, I ran across a couple of articles about people who also arranged their own trips and it seemed that one of the big costs was getting to Guayaquil (and almost everyone makes their own ticket arrangements now) and finding a nice but reasonable hotel (airbnb and tripadvisor are helpful). Meal costs are always variable. The tours are fixed prices and the number of people able to visit particular islands per day is limited. Many hotels have tour desks and, if you’re set on visiting a particular island like St. Bartolome you might want to contact them beforehand. I believe they can also arrange cruises around the islands of a few days. Hope this helps and saves you some planning steps – Feel free to contact us if you have more questions!

      Like

  • A fantastic detailed account! I was very interested in the total cost when I got to the bottom of the post! I love the way you think and I really enjoyed your Galapagos trip – super cool!

    Like

    • Since we try to avoid our former Type-A personalities as much as we can it was really nice to see all the details fall neatly into place! We were prepared to fork over the big bucks for the excursion and we were so surprised to find out there were other ways to see the things we wanted to see and have the same experience for a lot less money.

      Like

  • Galapagos Islands is certainly a trip a life time. Fantastic photos. I enjoyed reading how you did a do-it-yourself excursion. Well done.

    Like

    • So much of our travel is do-it-yourself mostly because it’s nice to make up our schedules as we go along and join tours when we decide that they’re worth being a part of (and on the Galapagos that’s the only way you can get on many of the islands). A definite bonus of slow travel is all the research that we love to do as well as have time to do. We’re so glad you liked this post and the pictures.

      Liked by 1 person

  • Well done! The Galapagos are probably worth a trip no matter what the price, but nice to see it done at a reasonable cost.

    Like

  • You did very well for keeping costs in check. We did a splurge a few years ago and went with our two grown children and friends before Christmas. It was one of the best holidays we’ve had but kudos to you for getting there and enjoying it in an affordable way.

    Like

    • Since this trip was something we’d looked forward to for a long time we tried to find a middle ground between scrimp and splurge as this is such a unique place to visit. By planning our trip ourselves we maintained some flexibility to make changes or additions to our schedules and visited the places that we wanted to see. When we totaled up our costs at the end we were surprised to find out how far under our estimated budget of $2500 we were!

      Liked by 1 person

  • The Galapagos are truly a once-in-a-lifetime experience! Not to be missed! With some luck and patience you can also score a last minute place on one of the island cruises for around the same cost. I know a few people who got them for just under one thousand Dollars (plus flight and the $100 National Park entry fee). Unfortunately this doesn’t work for people on a short vacation because last minute bookings are too much of a gamble…

    Like

    • Wow, that’s a great deal and something very useful to pass on to people who want to find a more affordable way to visit the Galapagos. A luxurious cruise would be lovely, especially at bargain prices!

      Like

      • These aren’t necessarily the “luxury cruises” on fully decked out high-speed catamaran boats. We went on a small wooden boat, rather basic, bunk beds in private cabin with private bath, excellent food and a really good atmosphere, with only 16 passengers = that’s as many as one guide is allowed to bring onto any of the islands. Larger boats need more guides, the embarking and landing procedure on individual islands is more time consuming, so you don’t gain anything (you rather lose: we sometimes arrived after a big boat and sailed on before them = we saw more!).
        But larger vessels provide a smoother ride on the sometimes choppy seas, good to consider for people who might get sea sick.
        The knowledge and reputation of the guides used are a rather important aspect for choosing a tour, too. Our entire crew was fantastic, which helped a lot and probably gave us much more in-depth information.

        Like

  • Wow! Thanks for the detailed account of your costs. I wish we would have read this before we opted for the “Poor Man’s Galapagos.” But, we were there in May. Isla de Plata was small and interesting and we got to see lots of Boobies and mating Frigates. We may have to return some day because we just assumed the cost would be prohibitive. We always plan our own tours and use AirB&B. It pays to explore your options and you did a fantastic job of researching.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Since traveling has become our lifestyle we try to get as “big a bang for our buck” as we can and research alternative ways to visit an area while keeping our costs down. So many articles are aimed at a younger, backpacker and party crowd; we really wanted to write about how people in our age group could visit a place like the Galapagos and see what they wanted to see at a reasonable cost. However, it looks like we missed out on enough time to visit Isla de Plata – it also sounds amazing!

      Like

  • Thanks for the glorious trip. Even if you are out of the country do you still celebrate Thanksgiving?

    Like

    • It was fun to share one of our “bucket list” adventures with you, Maida. As for Thanksgiving, this year we’ll be lucky enough to spend it with the Manta Expat group in Ecuador. Thanksgiving is our favorite holiday and we’re really looking forward to spending it with new friends – forget about the turkey, I can’t wait for the pumpkin pie! Anita

      Like

  • Planning for our RTW trip is at times overwhelming – this post is wonderful and informative – we might follow in your footsteps! – Ginette

    Like

    • I can’t imagine planning for a RTW trip with all the details and I can see why it would be overwhelming at times. I’m looking forward to seeing what itinerary you come up with! You may have found this website already but there’s a lot of excellent and useful information on bootsnall.com and it has some great RTW tools, too. Luckily, we don’t have either the time constraints and, besides visas, few things to make us hurry so we try not to get too far ahead of ourselves… Anita

      Like

  • What a wonderful trip!!!! Loved this blog entry and the photos are great. You will have these wonderful memories forever.

    Like

  • interesting & informative!

    Like

  • Nice! We didn’t do the Galapagos as all the cruises and tours we saw looked like way too much money. Next time we’ll follow your lead.

    Like

    • We also thought that a visit to the Galapagos would be very expensive but we were prepared to plunge in regardless. However, we stumbled across a few blog posts that suggested a do-it-yourself excursion was possible and that we could design our own trip and way to visit this amazing place. As you can see, it’s not only doable but cheaper too!
      P.S. We’re reading up on Spain now so we’ll have lots of ideas to trade with you for our meetup in May!

      Like

We'd love to hear from you. Please leave a comment.

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s