Galapagos Islands

Published on May 13th, 2015


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+?

Think again.

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, 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!

(Click on any of the thumbnails to start the slide show…)



What could be better than Geocaching in the Galapagos Islands? How to do the Galapagos Island on the CHEAP!


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About the Author

Off-the-beaten-path travel is my passion,and I’ve always lived life “like-a-kid-in-a-candy-store” – eager to sample as many flavors as I can. Indeed, my life motto has long been: This ain’t a dress rehearsal, folks!

10 Responses to Cheap Galapagos? Yup, Youbetcha!

  1. Amber says:

    Do you remember what agency you booked with in the Galapagos islands?

    • Dyanne says:

      As I said Amber, I really didn’t use any particular “agency” to pre-book my 11 day stay in the Galapagos. But rather – I saved HUNDREDS of dollars by simply booking my air and my first 2 nights lodging in Puerto Ayora independently, then shopping around to the multitude of small tour agencies there in Puerto Ayora once I arrived.

      I negotiated with several different ones to get the best cruise price to the places I wanted to visit, and I ended up with a 5 day/4 nt. cruise around Isla Santiago for $680 (if you view the slideshow, there’s a photo of the receipt from “Galapagos Evolution Dreams”).

      But… that was nearly 2 years ago, and the last-minute cruise deals vary from day to day, so any one of the many agencies lining the streets of PA will no doubt have a wide variety of options when you land there. It’s just a matter of how long of a cruise you want, what class of service, where you want to go, etc., and what last minute cruises are available at that particular time.

      In short, even if you’re negotiating skills are minimal, I can guarantee that you’ll find something for at least HALF the price that you’d find online or at any of the agencies on the mainland.

      The only thing I might add – remember, I booked my rt. air for an 11 day stay, so as to deliberately allow an ample window of time for a day or two’s wait for my cruise’s departure, plus plenty of time to visit Isabella and San Cristóbal, etc. on my own.

  2. gayle says:

    Fabulous that you can DIY for such a reasonable price. We will be straying in Cuenca for 6 months and will have to schedule this trip. Thank you so much for sharing your idea’s , tips and resources.

    • Dyanne says:

      Yes gayle – you can save oodles by DIY. Give me a holler when you get here to Cuenca, and I’d be happy to give you all the details of my trip (in exchange for a cerveza at Fabiano’s!) 😉

  3. Yvonne says:

    Thanks for sharing Dyanne
    After perusing all those tours we were beginning to think that we could never afford it too.
    We love DIY so thanks for the inspiration. Have shared your post on our Facebook page.
    Hoping to visit Ecuador early 2016, any other must sees?

    • Dyanne says:

      Glad I could inspire you to go for it Yvonne – at verily half of those breathtaking prices that (sadly) abound. It’s really quite easy and most certainly doable DIY – whether you choose to negotiate a last-minute cruise or just ferry to Isabela or Cristobol and/or do many of the cheap/freebies on all the isles.

      “must sees” in Ecuador? Sorry, but I’m ashamed to say I’ve explored little around this magnificent country so far (in 1.5 years, yikes!) I guess I’ve been too busy flying cheaply to Easter Island in Chile, and soon head to Cuba. But there’s surely a wide variety of terrains to choose from here (plenty of playas – read my posts on EC beaches), the Andes (needless to say I a.dore. Cuenca plus some nice day trips from here). And then there’s Quito, et al and the Amazon… Little by little I hope to explore all.

  4. David Billings says:

    My wife and I would like to do the same kind of thing. We live in Cuenca. Do you recommend Galapagos Evolution Dreams and are there any others you might recommend?

    • Dyanne says:

      Yes David – I highly recommend DIY. Easy-peasy and you can save a goodly bundle. And yes, Galapagos Evolution Dreams happens to be the company I negotiated my cruise with.

  5. Heidi Swartz says:

    Always an inspiration, can’t wait to hear about the Easter Island adventure.


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