I thing that Galapagos islands doesn’t need to be much introduced. This world famous archipelago is well known for its incredible nature and animal species which doesn’t live in any other place in the world. What probably made these islands most famous in the world was an English naturalist and geologist Charles Darwin who made alive his Evolutionary theory based on his visit and findings from these islands. What is also known that to get here is not the cheapest holiday destination. In this post I would like to show you probably the cheapest way how get to the Galapagos islands.
I had the chance visit these islands on my trip around the world (here is photo gallery). Probably everybody who ever thought about visit Galapagos had same two thoughts in mind as me:
“Yes I am so close. Lets go there and visit place I was dreaming about. Wait, yes I want to go there, but… This fun will be expensive and probably out of my budget.”
How I was getting closer and closer to Ecuador I started to feel higher desire to visit these islands what ever it cost. So I decided to find out all the options how I can get there and its price. Based on this I wanted to decide if I go or not.
At the beginning I didn’t even look much for the option “do it your self”, because I thought it is not possible. This changed quite shortly. When I saw all the agency offers for “cheap” trips to islands and in same time looked at my bank account I soon realized that agency is not the way. I had to look for other option. Option when I can avoid agency / help of external subject. That mean travel only myself, travel as backpacker. On the other hand travel as backpacker has from my point of view many advantages and more importantly it is more me. In same time after one and half year on the way there was one more personal reason. “There was no way I would give up traveling as cheap as possible. Not even because of Galapagos.” What more? Backpacking is more fun than organized trip with the agency.
After some Internet research and asking every single person I met about Galapagos I find out that it should be possible go without agency and most importantly it should be cheaper. Therefore I decided to go and find out on my own. Now I can tell you “Yes Galapagos can be reasonably cheap”. Still don’t count that it will be same price level as if you go to India or South American mainland. Galapagos are unique and you pay for it.
Below you can find some relevant information which can help you in your decision if or how get to Galapagos. I put here some questions and answers which you probably will search for if you decide to visit archipelago.
When is the best time to visit these islands?
Basically there’s never a bad time to visit the Galapagos. In general the peak season lasts from mid-June through early September and from mid-December through mid-January.
How can you get there?
First thing you would have to solve when you decide to visit Galapagos is buying plane ticket to one of the two islands which has airport.
First island is “Baltra” what is small island where is based only airport. From Baltra there is connection to “Isla Santa Cruz” (islands are connected by boat / bus) what will be in this case your final destination. Most people fly to this island and stay at Puerto Ayora where it all happens. The city is main tourist hub of Galapagos and therefore is easiest place to arrange all your plans for the islands from here.
Second airport where you can fly from Ecuador mainland is “Isla San Cristobal”. If you decide to fly here then plane tickets are little bit cheaper and welcomes you less touristy place.
To both islands flies three companies (Tame, Lan and Avianca). When all flights start in Quito with short stop in Guayaquil where board more passengers. In case you are traveling north / south or south / north of Ecuador it might be interesting to fly from Quito and back to Guayaquil or the other way around. There are no international flights to Galapagos islands. Your entry ticket to islands are only flights described above.
Now we are at the Galapagos islands, but how can we see it?
Basically you have two options.
First possibility is use one of the agencies and go with tour on boat around the islands which are 4, 5 or 8 days long. This can be arranged also from your home, Quito or Guayaquil. Prices for these tours are quite high (expect to pay at least 800 USD for four day tour when you buy it as a “Last minute”). Which part of archipelago you will see then depend mainly which tour you choose or better say where the boat sail (generally is north and south circle). With all boat tours you have to count that during first and last day of the tour you spend half day with traveling to and from the airport. The best deal you can get with Galapagos based agencies after your arrival. Second option is book your tour in one of Quito agencies and of course most expensive option is when you book your tour from home. For example guides approached me with offers for boat rides already at the airport after my arrival and with really interesting prices.
Second option is visit islands on your own. It is cheaper, but don’t expect it as backpacker paradise. Still it is not the cheapest destination on the earth. Most importantly you should take in consideration that this way you can’t see all the places as on boat tour. On the other hand still enough to enjoy and experience of this unique place. The reason for this is that for some places you need more than one day travel on the boat. That means bigger boat than what is used for a day trips. On the other hand you have your freedom and you can spend on every place you go as much time as you prefer. If you go on your own you can visit only three islands (Isla Isabela, Isla Santa Cruz and Isla San Christobal) which are permanently inhabited and offer accommodation. Plus few more small islands on day trips from these three islands. This way you can easily keep yourself occupied for even few weeks. Each of these islands offers lot of to see at a minimum a full day of almost free things to do. When you finish with visiting the islands on your own you can continue explore places around on day tours. You can start with snorkeling and finish with scuba diving. All this depends only on what you like or prefer to do / see.
How to move around and how much it cost?
Flights starts around 350 USD (cheapest I found), but normal price is around 500 or 600 USD return. Flight prices do not change a lot. What means that booking far in advance is not going to save a lot of money. Good side of high price is that changing return flight departure doesn’t cost much.
After arrival you need to pay entrance fee to the National park which is 100 USD (cash only). From info I got from some other self traveling visitors I met the cost are between 700 to 1100 USD for 10 days visit. In the price is not included flight and higher price was mostly influenced by participating more than once in dive trip during the stay.
Between three above mentioned islands you would probably like to visit are commuting speed boats (one leave 7 am and other 2 pm everyday in each direction) when each ride is around 2 hours and cost 30 USD. Only if you wish travel from Isla Isabela to San Cristobal (or other way around) than you need first get to Santa Cruz (which is between these two islands) and then continue to final destination.
On each island is lots of hotels easy to find for 10 to 20 USD. Taxis are for 1 USD anywhere in the ports (I managed even cross half of the island for same price. Only because I shared the right with locals). On the islands you can find a cheap breakfast or lunch for 3 – 4 USD and dinner for 6 – 8 USD (most of the times even cheaper). Day tours are quite cheap (relative to doing it on a cruise): a snorkeling day tour is $70-100 and scuba dive tour is $130-160. Every time when you go for some tour / scuba dive do bargain…
For how long should I go?
To really enjoy the islands on your own I would recommend at least 8 to 10 days. Advantage of quite expensive plane tickets is that they are easy to change. Cost for such a change is around 15 USD (even if you want to change it one day before departure). Same works when you would like to change your departure airport from islands.
What to bring with you?
Except good mood rest you can easily buy at the islands, but expect to pay more than on the mainland. In general you shouldn’t forget at home camera, binoculars for watching wildlife, swim suit and snorkeling gear. If you feel seasick then don’t forget seasick pills as the sea is really raw. Once when I traveled from one island to other the sea was so raw that we were only three who didn’t vomit during the ride… These are the most important things come with. For other stuff simply take all you carry for any other trip.
What animals can you see at the islands if you travel on your own?
Easy to spot are for example Sea Lions, Galapagos Tortoise, Blue-Footed Booby, Green Sea Turtle, Black-Browed Albatross, Marine Iguana, Galapago Penguin, Hammerhead Shark (if you dive), and many others. To have better idea you can have a look at my photo gallery from the Galapagos.
Yes it is possible get to Galapagos islands cheaper if you go on your own and it is probably the cheapest way how get to Galapagos islands. Only thing you need is to buy plane ticket and go. Still it is not the cheapest destination to travel. For 10 days trip to Galapagos except to pay something between 700 to 1100 USD. This depend what activities you plan to do (diving put the price higher).
I hope this info would be useful for your trip planning. If you have any comments, questions or some more advices feel free to post them below.