Galápagos on a budget

A little about the Galápagos

This place, what a beauty. These islands are truly as amazing as we expected. Animals everywhere! Sea lions just lazing about the harbour on the seats, under the seats, shop doorways or just in the middle of the path.

The only this missing here is David Attenborough telling you about all the different animals with that posh british voice.

Before starting our research on the Galápagos we thought that the only way to visit the islands was via a boat cruise and that this needed to be booked in advance. How wrong we were! There is plenty to do on all the islands without needed to do a cruise, however if you do decide to book  a cruise then there is no need to book in advance. There are many last-minute deals to be found and mostly you will save more than half by not booking in advance.

Finding a Boat Tour

There are a lot of people who say that you need to book a Galápagos trip in advance. We found this not to be the case at all. There were a lot of tour agencies offering trips departing the next day. They also offered different options for the length of trip you wanted.

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Depending on the tour company, they will actually put you on tours with people who maybe doing shorter or longer trips and they just get off at different ports in the Galápagos islands.

The price of the tour depends on the type of tour, the boat you want, and how many days you want. We went on the tourist class of boat (the cheapest) and paid $650 for 4.5 days. Talking to some locals they seemed to think this was really good deal but to us it seemed like quite a lot.

Do you need to do a cruise?

No. You can boat taxi between the islands for $25-30 and then pick day tours or free activities from there. If you do a few day tours it actually ends up being a similar price as if you had done a cruise for the same amount of days.

What our cruise consisted of

We booked our tour with a company called Best Option Galápagos who are based in Santa Cruz. Our tour started in Puerto Ayora, Santa Cruz and looped up and around Pinzon island and Santiago Island doing 2 or 3 stops per day.

Our catamaran was called, El Solitario George (Lonesome George) and had room for 16 passengers. We had a private room with toilet and shower.

A typical day would include

  • Breakfast
  • a small walk/hike in the morning followed by snorkelling
  • lunch
  • drive to a new spot
  • snorkel again
  • Dinner
  • Few drinks and Bed

We really enjoyed the trip, the food was delicious, the guide spoke both english and spanish and was very friendly. We loved jumping in the water from the boat, doing the snorkelling and even doing a dive in Mosquera from the boat.

The Islands

There are plenty of islands in the Galápagos archipelago but we’ve just written about the 3 main ones

Santa Cruz

Santa Cruz is the main island and therefore also the place to book any potential last-minute cruises.

There are many restaurants and bars here with the prices ranging from a set menu for $4 including soup, main and a drink to expensive dinners costing $100+. We of course found out favorite $4 menu and ate there pretty much at every meal.

In terms of accommodation, we managed to bargain one hostel down to a $10 bed per night.

Free activities on Santa Cruz

  • Tortuga bay
    • This is a beautiful beach around 45min walk from the starting point which is 10min walk from the town (no need for a taxi to here). Once you get to the beach you can walk down to the end where there is a bay and a little further along another beach. The bay is perfect for snorkelling, here is possible to see sea lions, small sharks, turtles and lots of fish. Of course there are also marine iguanas all over the place. Since this was the first beach we got to we got slightly over excited by all the turtles and spent ages trying to swim with them. After a while here you almost start ignoring them since they are everywhere when you swim.
  • Charles Darwin research station.
    • This is the place to go to learn about the Galápagos islands and how it all started. There are many interesting reads here as well as some informative videos. There is also a couple of aircon rooms, which is greatly appreciated.
    • If you would like a Charles Darwin stamp in your passport you can ask the front desk inside the station
    • Giant tortoises. There also live in here along with iguanas.  We would recommend not going here to see them as it’s a lot more impressive to see them in the wild either in the High lands or on Isabela island by the wall of tears.
  • Las Grietas  
    • Take the taxi boat from the port $0.80 and then there is a 30min walk to the Grietas from the other side. This site is an interesting lava fissure formed by two giant walls crossed by an arm of brackish water that filters down from the highlands and mixes with seawater. We highly recommended enjoying its clear waters, but more for enjoying a fresh swim than for snorkelling (it’s a little bit colder than then the sea). Once you get to the end you can walk over the rocks and there is more clear water on the other side. There is also a view-point from the top from where you can see part of the island and Las Grietas. Remember to bring snorkeling equipment with you, no need to wear wetsuits. (you can also hire snorkeling equipment there from a local)
    • king8821Another fun thing to do was to go to the harbour in the evening and you will be able to see the tiny sharks swimming around in the light as well as stingrays. There is also a fish market down from the harbour and here you will see many pelicans and seals looking for some left over fish.
    • Almost free activity:  High lands. Here you can see lots of giant tortoises in the wild. We were very impressed with this place. As you drive in you will be able to see the giant tortoises on the road, not on the side but of course in the middle of the road. Sometimes its even necessary for them to be moved in order for the cars to get past.
      king9156
      Giant Tortoise in the high lands

      A taxi is around $30 return and the taxi driver will wait up to 2 hours for you to see the place. It’s also possible to hire a bike and cycle here, around 25km one way from the town. As it was very hot when we were there so cycling was the last thing we wanted to do. The entrance is $2 per person. Here you can also see impressive lave tunnels.

Isabela

The biggest island which looks a little like a sea-horse. There is an additional $10 entrance tax to get to this island. The town here is slighty less developed than the other towns on the islands, however this was why we liked this place so much. The island is slightly more expensive than the other islands in terms of food and drinks. We did however manage to find the $4 set up menu in one of the back streets.

We absolutely loved the hostel we stayed at on this island. Hospedaje Jennifer, this place is one the cleanest place we have ever stayed and was more like a hotel than hostel. The cleaner sorted our room each morning with new linen and white fluffy towels. The kitchen was also super clean and impressive with everything you need for cooking.

Free activities 

  • Wall of tears  
    • There used to be a prison on this island and the wall of tears is the last remaining evidence of this. To be honest this is not very impressive, but going there is still worth it. We saw a lot of giant tortoises on the way there, since this was the first time we saw one we probably took slightly more pictures than necessary but they are very impressive animals. There is also a great viewpoint at the end of the wall, from here you can see the town and the beaches down the costs. The wall is around 6km walk from town, we walked in the heat with no shade, other people hired bikes and cycled there which seems slight more sensible.

      king8884
      Wall of tears
  • Concha Perla
    • A snorkelling place right next to the main pier, 10 min walk from town. We loved this place, we went back here for snorkeling 3 times and each time we saw different animals. There are lots of turtles, fish, stingrays, eagle rays, marble rays, sea lions and if you are lucky you might even see the Galápagos penguins. The sea lions are literally everywhere. Since the platform for the snorkelling has been built the sea lions obviously think the this is purpose built for them to hang out on. They are under all the benches and on the path. We even had to jump over them just to get to the end of the platform, which makes it hard to follow the keep 2 meters distance away from animals rule.

      DCIM100GOPRO
      Marble Ray at Concha Perla

Days tours

Volcano tour. We didn’t go on this tour however we have heard it’s a great day out and you see the second largest crater in the world. Price is around $35

The tunnels tour. This is rated as the best day tour to do in the Galápagos. Our good friend went on this tour and absolutely loved it. You get to snorkel in the tunnels and see lots of sharks, turtles, sea lions,  a ton of fish, seahorses, blue footed boobies and many other animals. Price for the tour is around $110-125 including lunch.

San Cristobal

This island used to be the capital, however somewhere along the way Puerto Ayora in Santa Cruz took over. It is cheaper than the other two islands. As soon as we arrived with the speed boat we were offered accommodation for only $10 per night without even needing to haggle. Fragata home, no 67 on the big map on the front. Run by an american who had fallen in love with the island 27 years ago and have lived there ever since.

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Free activities 

  • Sea lions
    • Go down to the beachfront and check out the hundreds of sea lions. There are literally hundreds of them, cuddling, fighting and just lazing about.
      We have learnt that sea lions are just like dogs.. in the water. The  ways the play with you in the water, get aggressive towards the other sea lions once they enter their territory and the way the walk on land. We like these small creatures a lot more after spending so much time admiring them.
  • Playa Mann
    • This beach is not far from town, very small but beautiful beach to hang out for a few hours.
  • Interpretation centre
    • Here you can learn about the Galápagos as well as go the beaches.
  • Tijeretas
    • This has the best free snorkeling spot on the island. When we were there we had 20+m visibility and had some sea lions playing around us. It’s about a 20-30min walk from Puerto Baquerizo Moreno

The 360 Tour, day tour

This is the most popular tour to do from San Cristobal. We were very excited about this tour as we had only heard good things about it. We spent a lot of time trying to find a tour, going between all the agencies before we realised they all worked together for the boats. After a while we booked the boat trip for the next day.

The boat left at 7.30am and we started by going to a couple of Laguna’s where we swam with turtles before we found the white tip sharks and marble rays in the other Laguna, then we got bored with the turtles. We spent a bit of time on a white sandy beach before returning to boat for the next destination.

We stopped for lunch in the middle of the sea with a view of both blue and red footed boobies flying above our heads. I think it hard to find a better lunch spot than that.

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The last stop for us was Kicker rock. Going to this last was great as this means the day finished on a high with 10 white tip sharks and a two metre long Galápagos shark. I was following the Galápagos shark for a while not knowing that this little fella was dangerous but nothing happened and I got to see a Galápagos shark very close up, so I was pretty happy (don’t worry mum)

The price for the day was $125 however going around town this ranges from $120 – $150 and the boat trip was worth every single dollar.

This was our last day in the Galápagos and what a memory to finish on. We would love to return there one day, however for now the budget will not last for that.

Flying out from different Islands

There are three main islands. Santa Cruz, Isabela and San Cristobal. The is a speedboat the goes between the islands for $30 ($25 if you are lucky) one way. You can not go directly between Isabela and San Cristobal, so here the fare is $50-60 as you to stop on Santa Cruz.

We were not aware about all this when we booked our flight and therefore booked return from Santa Cruz. This meant that we would pay to go to Isabela, Santa Cruz, San Cristobal and back to Santa Cruz.  We would advise to fly into one island and out of the other to avoid paying a return taxi. You can find airports on both Santa Cruz and San Cristobal. We ended up changing the flight as this was both more convenient and cheaper than getting the 2 hour boat back to Santa Cruz from San Cristobal.

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