Published on May 13th, 201510
Cheap Galapagos? Yup, Youbetcha!
And not just some land-only, couple of day-trips quickie. We’re talkin’ 11 days/10 nights including a 5 day / 4 night cruise!
Indeed, that was my goal. How to do a full-blown land and sea exploration of those legendary Galapagos Isles – ON THE CHEAP. On… turns out I dare say, less than one-THIRD what most pay for the same. So you think 11 days amid the splendor of the Galapagos Islands has to cost what? $3, no wait, $4,000+?
It honestly pains me that for many, the legendary Galapagos are but a dream. A magical place to go – only if you happen to be lucky enough to win the lottery. But I am nothing if not a life-long veteran of following any and all of my travel dreams – on a dodderin’ retired lass’ minimal fixed-income pension.
Granted, it helped that I now live in Ecuador, and I did save a bundle on the $100 park entry fee because I have my sweet permanent resident “cedula”. But no matter. I tell you, even for backpackers, pensioners living in the States or wherever – you’d be surprised at the boatload of money you can save by…
Yup, simply Do It Yourself. Granted, if you’re in a hurry and you’ve only got a verrry specific window of but 4 or 5 days, then it might be best to pre-book an online tour package that’s on sale. But even that will run you near a grand (even the cheapo of the cheapos) and… it most certainly will NOT include even a short cruise. Plus likely it will offer but the most ordinary activities and excursions – many of which you can do on your own for free.
But for those with even a week or so, my advice is this: Don’t bother pre-booking some multi thou$and packaged tour (neither online, nor at a tour agency in Quito, Cuenca, etc.) Trust me. You’ll save a bundle by simply arranging your own air, booking your 1st night’s hotel, and spending a single morning negotiating a cruise at less than HALF the price once you’re on the ground.
Which brings me to the universal dilemma of whether to do a Galapagos cruise or simply day trips from a base on Santa Cruz. I opted to do both for my trip last January, so as to see what each option offered. And of course by DIY, I paid less than either option pre-booked with a tour company would have cost. I’ll be pecking more details on my cruise as well as my island-based day excursions in a separate post, but for now here’s my advice in a nutshell:
If you have the time I strongly recommend a bit of both. There’s certainly plenty to do from a land base in Puerto Ayora on Santa Cruz Island (including easy-peasy ferries that allow day trips to Isabela, San Cristóbal and many other isles). BUT, in my opinion the Galapagos are all about the sea. And thus at least a 2 night cruise will give you a peek at some of the more remote isles, as well as… honestly? There’s simply nothing like living on the water for a few days, waking to the dawn amid one of the World’s most gloriously untouched corners. Spending carefree days visiting remote isles, hopping in a zodiac to snorkel tiny coves and swim with sea lion pups and penguins, and swaying to the gentle slosh of the ocean as you sip a cerveza and watch the sky turn crimson as the sun slowly descends into the sea.
That said, hard to know just where to begin with the details of my own trip. I’d actually planned to write an entire e-book on how I did it, but alas – all my notes and penny-by-penny digital expense account went glug… glug… glug – when my beloved Galaxy Note got dunked in sea water off the coast of San Cristóbal. This btw, just moments after I snorkeled among a boatload of SHARKS at Kicker Rock so… sacrificing my phone seems kinda worth it. Kinda.
But losing the notes and data of my day-to-day expenses makes it difficult to recall every detail. Nonetheless, I can at least give you a a rough synopsis here of the expenses:
|My 11 Day / 10 Night DIY Galapagos Trip In-a-Nutshell|
|$198 rt. LAN airfare||A HUGE savings off the usual $400+ airfare from Guayaquil or Quito. True, I happen to have Ecuador residency, but even if you don’t, or aren’t dodderin’ (> 65) like me – most every week LAN has a sale and anybody, anywhere can grab a $250 or so fare. Nothin’ tricky nor mysterious about it – simply keep your eyes peeled for sales, be flexible with dates, and you too can grab a rt. fare under $300.|
|$3 Park entry fee||Note: for folks without a cedula (those on a tourist visa) the fee is $100 no-two-ways-about-it. For those with a cedula (Ecuadorian natives and foreigners with a permanent resident visa), the fee is just 6 sweet dollars (and we dodderin’ folk get it for half-price, thankyouverymuch!)|
|$10 Transit Control Card||Payable at the airport before you check-in for your flight to the G’s|
|$120 Santa Cruz lodging||4 nts. @ $30 sgl. a/c room (trust me you’ll need it)|
|$40 Isabela lodging||2 nts. @$20 sgl. a/c room|
|$680 5 day/4 nt. cruise||Negotiated down from $750 (likely would cost 2-3 times that if arranged online or in Quito). Tourist class, dbl. with private bath – shared with a new pal from Argentina. All inclusive, bountiful meals, fantastic bi-lingual guide, great group of just 12 of us. Only additional was for beers.
While I’d originally planned to do but a 2 or at most 3 nt. cruise, I chose this cruise because the itinerary was a bit different than the others – a full circumnavigation of Isla Santiago including 9 excursions (North Seymour, Bachas Beach, Rábida, Puerto Egas, Sullivan Bay, Bartolomé, Chinese Hat, Black Turtle Cove, and Mosquera Islet). That and… well the price was certainly right. 🙂
Note: In short, note that those “last minute” cruise deals that you see advertised online and at travel agencies in Quito or Cuenca aren’t such great “deals” after all.
|$140 Kicker Rock day trip||Highly recommended – I snorkeled with SHARKS including a HAMMERHEAD! Needless to say, quiiite the coup for this dodderin’ lass “of a certain age”. The price included the round trip ferry from Santa Cruz to San Cristóbal (normally $30 each way) so the all day excursion itself was just $80.|
|$60 rt. ferry||Santa Cruz ‹—› Isabela Island|
|$80 Los Tuneles day trip||From Isabela Island. Seriously, not.to.be.missed. I snorkeled with HUGE sea turtles and rays; but the B.E.S.T. was: I saw a SEA HORSE!!!|
|$25 El Chato Highland Tortoise and Lava Tubes excursion||Via private taxi, I negotiated it down from $35 by offering to teach the driver English en route. 🙂|
|$150 meals for 10 days||Generally $5 for a full breakfast, $3 for a couple of empanadas for lunch, and one night I splurged on a HUGE lobster tail for dinner ($9)|
|$12||Misc. local transport (taxi/bus to/from Baltras airport)|
|FREE||The Darwin Research Station and (even better) the Tortoise Breeding Center on Isabela Island. And lots more that I didn’t have time to sample.|
11 Days / 10 Nights for a total of but a smidge over $1,500
Poking hither and yon around the www. it seems a similar 11 day / 10 night pre-booked packaged trip including round trip air, visiting all 4 of the major Galapagos islands, a full day snorkeling Kicker Rock off the island of San Cristóbal, as well as Los Tuneles off Isabela Island, AND a 5 day/4 night cruise would run… close to $4,000 or $5,000 easy.
In short, visiting the legendary Galapagos Islands needn’t cost an arm and a leg. Indeed, no more expensive than most any other South American destination, and far cheaper than a whirl around say… Sydney, Paris or New York.
Ah but enough of this number-crunching. Let’s bring on a few of the 1,500 photos I snapped amid those incredible islands!
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