Galapagos is not a cheap place, and it will most likely not be on your list of cheap destination any time soon, but there is a way to minimize the cost of traveling there while no sacrificing the experience. This article will list all the techniques I have acquired trying to negotiate prices when I was there so you don't have to.
Why is Galapagos so expensive?
First off, if you are on the fence about Galapagos, let me say this: Galapagos is one of the best experience I had in South America and even though, it was expensive, there is no other place on earth like it.
The reason why it costs so much is because most of the money we paid goes to the protection and maintenance of this fragile ecosystem so that the future generations can experience the true beauty of nature unaffected by mass tourism. There are few places on earth that shows that we can really both enjoy and protect wildlife sustainably and Galapagos is one of the best example. The animals there perceive us as simply guests, and go on with their days without being interrupted and that is how we should be traveling.
Imagine the south of Thailand with all the beaches, marine life and nature but without the crowds, loud parties, obnoxious tourists and trash all over the place.
Galapagos is not for everyone but if you have a chance to do, do it proudly and without regret!
Why go there?
Sea lions, sea turtles, iguanas, sharks, rays, birds, all giving absolutely zero f*ck about us visiting, going on their days while we observe to true essence of wildlife. If this is not enough of a reason for you, I don't know what is!
When to go?
Galapagos is good all year round but you might see different vegetation and certain marine animals depending on the season you visit. For example, July - November is good for whale watching whereas the water is perfect for snorkeling during March and April. That said, I was there in October and even though the water was a bit cold, I had no problem snorkeling for an hour every day there.
How to get there cheaply
The cheapest way I found is to book a flight from Guayaquil to Isla Baltra, Galapagos via LATAM or TAME, for US$351 round trip. The further in advanced you booked, the cheaper it gets. You can also book a flight from Quito for a bit more but if you are traveling down from north to south anyway, Guayaquil is your cheapest choice. To book a cheap flight, I would recommend browsing through Skyscanner or Momondo to compare prices and pick the cheapest one for you.
Ferry? No there is no way to get to the Galapagos except by air.
How long to stay there?
Seven days is a good start. Keep in mind that if you plan to do an overnight last-minute cruise, which could range from 4 - 9 days, you need to spare a few days more since the cruises run on schedule.
Ten days is my recommended duration as it gives you some buffer days in case the cruise you wanted to do goes later in the week.
Changing your flight is very costly! So do give yourself a few buffer days, otherwise, you might have to pay 150 USD like I almost did but thankfully I found a cruise that fitted my schedule.
Galapagos (Puerto Ayora) - El Descanso del Petrel - 17USD/Nights
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Independently or with last-minute cruises?
Pros: It's cheaper because you have more control of your budget and you do it at your own schedule.
Cons: You don't get to see the most beautiful and remote parts of the island where animals strive as you are bound to the 2 towns on the shore of Isla Santa Cruz and Isla Isabella. A day trip could cost you somewhere from 100 USD to 250 USD per trip and it might be more expensive than the cruise to do the same amount of activities.
Estimated Cost: 100 USD - 1500 USD
Pros: Get to see the best and most remote parts of Galapagos. More animal encounters and see more landscapes. Full day activities and amazing food on board.
Cons: More expensive. You have zero control of budget and your schedule. Not great if you often get sea sick.
Estimated Cost: 600 USD - 1500 USD
My recommendation is to go with the cruise, hands down. With a cruise, you have access to all the places you can't normally go independently and you get to see much more wildlife than doing it on your own.
Which last-minute cruises to pick?
Most cruises have a similar standard, with some charging you more for a better accommodation and bigger deck. Other than that, you will likely have a similar experience no matter which cruise you decide to go on with.
So it all comes down to the route you want to take and the duration. Here are some options available:
Central loop - Isla Isabella and Isla Fernandina: this is one I picked as it worked best with my schedule and it gave us access to the remote part of Isla Isabella and a peek at Isla Fernandina.
Cost: ~1100 USD, Time: 6 days
Northern Loop - Isla Genovesa and the outer islands : I didn't do this one but I heard it's good if you want to see birds. I prefer marine life so I passed up for the central loop.
Cost: ~960 USD, Time: 4 - 6 days
Southern loop - Isla Floreana and Isla Espanola People said that this area is better than the north loop in terms of wildlife spotting. In Isla Espanola, you will find the exclusive red foots boobies.
Cost: unknown, Time: unknown days
Complete loop This combined the central loop and shorter versions of south and north loops to create the ultimate trip. If you have the time and money, I would highly recommend this.
Cost: ~1500 USD, Time: 9 days
Tips on how to save cost
- Do not book the cruise from abroad or somewhere else other than from the island. I heard the cruise could be as high as 3500 USD if you book it from abroad.
- Go with the last-minute cruise provided by the local travel agencies in Puerto Ayora.
- Do spend some time asking around the travel agencies in Puerto Ayora. Even, if you found the perfect one, tell them that you will look around some more and they will likely reveal a cheaper price for you.
- When you are about to buy a cruise, ask them to throw some free stuff in like wetsuits and snorkeling goggles etc. I found that they are likely to give you free stuff than to reduce the offered discount price. So while negotiating, force them to throw in a wetsuit for you so you don't have to rent it on the boat for 10 USD per day!
And that is the cheapest way to travel to the Galapagos. Do let me know if I miss anything or if you have some other tips in the comments below.
The Solo Traveler’s Journal is a series of posts by BucketListly where we will follow our founder, Pete Rojwongsuriya around the world as he singlehandedly travel alone and experience different cultures, people, and historical locations one country at a time.
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