The Galápagos Islands; a bucket list adventure for many travellers! Abundant wildlife, stunning landscapes, beautiful beaches, and tons of adventure opportunities! It is an amazing experience, but we know it can be incredibly expensive for many, especially backpackers. Here’s how we made it happen: We opted not to do a cruise and independently hopped around three of the inhabited islands (Santa Cruz, San Cristobal and Isabela). This decision and other money saving techniques allowed us to enjoy this unique and magical place on a backpacker budget! Here are our top tips for you to follow so your Galápagos dreams can come true!!!
- Try booking a few excursions at the same agency if you like said agency. All day trips, snorkel trips and dives are booked through travel agencies. If you talk to them about all the trips you want to do, and their availability works with your schedule, you can almost definitely get discounts on trips if you book more than one at a time. We loved the crew at Albatros Dive Centre (on Santa Cruz Island), and ended up booking two dives and a day trip through them, and got a good discount across the board.
- Make sure to look at multiple different travel agencies before making any decisions. Each travel agency has a deal with certain boats, and offers trips on certain days. These boats are grouped into categories: economy, tourist, tourist superior and first class (or variations of those). We generally aimed for tourist class, or tried to find good deals on tourist superior boats, as economy boats often had bad guides. Travel agencies only offer one boat, and if that boat happens to be first class the day trip they offer is going to be expensive. Shopping around will allow you to find a good deal on the class of boat you want.
- Look for freebies! If you’re not getting your tour down to the price you want, ask if they can include items that they usually charge extra for. This is usually a wet suit for snorkelling, or a mask and snorkel. We would often ask if we could rent a mask and snorkel from the agency the next day for cheap (usually $5 USD for both of us when it is usually $5/person) if we booked a tour. Also make sure that your transportation and meals are included on all day trips.
- Last minute deals! This is the only way you’ll manage to get a cruise on a backpacker budget. Booking a cruise a day or two before and bargaining hard can get you a decent 6 – 8 day cruise for $750-$1000 USD. You do have to be flexible on time however. This also applies for day trips. For example: we snagged our Los Tunnels day trip on Isabela for $85 USD by booking as the group was literally leaving the tour agency, and saved about $20 USD!
- Take advantage of those free activities! Free (or gratis in spanish!) is one of the best words you can hear as a backpacker. There are lots of free hikes, snorkels and info centres on the islands to check out. Take a look at our island posts on Santa Cruz, Isabela and San Cristóbal for a detailed outline on some of the truly amazing free activities we did while there!
- Extended hostel stays are always a good way to save some money. We stayed at Hostal Crossman on Santa Cruz for 6 nights, and negotiated a discount by booking all our nights at once. Plan ahead how long you will stay on each island (roughly) so you can take advantage of this!
- Free hostel extras! We love free things. Even something as free water can sway our decision when choosing a hostel. Hotel Crossman has free water to refill our water bottles (you have to buy your drinking water in South America!), and also had a kitchen where we could prep our own food which helped us save a lot of money! Brisas del Mar on Isabela has free water and free bananas!
- Cook your own food! Restaurants are relatively expensive in the Galapagos, and prepping your own food is the best way to save money. Since you’re in the middle of the ocean, groceries are also expensive here, so try to bring dry foods from the mainland to save money. If you don’t feel like making every meal, check out what we dubbed “Cheap Food Street” on Santa Cruz Island where you can get “menu del dia” (soup, rice, potatoes, your choice of meat, and a glass of juice) for $5 USD. Cheap food street is actually Charles Binford Ave. and runs parallel to the main road nearest to the harbour, just 3 blocks north.
- Plan your travel! If you’re travelling to both Santa Cruz and San Cristóbal, fly into one and out of the other (there’s an airport on both) to save yourself a $30 USD ferry ride between islands. We recommend flying into Santa Cruz to take advantage of the communal bus that greets flights, and out of San Cristóbal as the airport is within walking distance of Puerto Baquerizo Moreno.
- Get creative! On Santa Cruz, the pier with all the boats for day trips is on the opposite side of the island, so the companies would always taxi us 45 minutes out every time we went on a day trip or dive. One day, we saved money by asking our taxi driver to drop us in the Highlands near the tortoise reserves and lava tunnels on the way back from our dive. This spot was in the middle of the island and normally costs $40 USD round trip in a taxi. If we hadn’t stuck it on the end of our dive trip, we would have had to pay that. To get back, we simply found a taxi heading back into the port town of Puerto Ayora where we were staying. He drove us back for the price of $1 USD each! All we had to do was think outside the box.