The Secrets to Doing the Galapagos for Cheaper

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I just got back from the Galapagos where we stayed for five days, and I have the secrets to how to do the Galapagos for cheap. You don’t have to spend $4-5000 to enjoy the archipelago and see all the animals. No need to do a Galapagos cruise, buy a Galapagos vacation, or wonder which is the best island to visit. Here’s how to enjoy a Galapagos vacation on a budget by hacking the tour operators and seeing all you want to see for next to nothing.

Tip 1: Getting to Puerto Ayora

IMG_1620If you’ve been doing your research, you’ve discovered that you get to the Galapagos via either Quito or Guayaquil. We went to both, and I wouldn’t visit Guayaquil again, but I would visit Quito (see my post). Once you leave mainland Ecuador, you’ll land on the island of Baltra in the Galapagos. From the airport, put on your patience hat and your sense of humor. Get on the bus, take the ferry (have a $1 handy for the trip, per person) across the very narrow and small channel, and enter the island of Santa Cruz. When you get to the port on Baltra, there are taxi drivers just waiting to give you a ride.

So, trick number 1: Don’t prearrange your transfer at premium rates.

There are plenty off drivers looking to fill their trucks for the ride back into town. The trip into Puerto Ayora will cost you a fixed, non-negotiable $18.

Tip 2: Stay in an AirBnB

IMG_1992You will not be in your room for long. All you need is a bed to sleep and a hot shower. There’s no need to stay in a hotel. The internet throughout the island is horrible, and television reception is minimal. Don’t waste your money paying for a hotel that won’t be able to deliver on these premium items.

Tip 2: Find an AirBnB that is close to the port, which also means you’ll be close to places to eat and the grocery.

We stayed at this AirBnb. It was perfect for the three of us, and it could easily sleep 4. Convenient, clean, comfortable.

Tip 3: Book Your Tours When You Get There

IMG_1892Once you get to Puerto Ayora, you’ll see dive shops, travel agents and tour guide offices. Many of them will have white boards outside off their front doors promoting different trips. Go in and have a chat. Tell them how long you’ll be in town, what you want to do and which species you want to see. Identify if you want to just snorkel or dive. Go to 2-3 different places and get a feel for the offers. Basically, they’ll be offering the following:

cheap galapagosUplands tour, which goes to Chato 2 ranch where Galapagos turtles roam freely, and a stop at Las Gemalas, a geological feature
Bay tour, which takes you to see white-tipped sharks, float by blue-footed bobbies and snorkel with sea turtles, manta rays sea lions, and coral fish
Isabela boat tour,which puts you on a 2-hour ride to Isabela to see flamingos, penguins, sea turtles, to snorkel sharks, sea lions, and sea turtles, and to swim in the Crevices
North Seymour tour, which takes you on a 30 minute boat ride for you to snorkel off Baltra and then takes you to the North Seymour island to see frigates, boobies, sea lions pups, and land iguanas
Bartolome boat tour, which takes you on a 90 minute boat ride to see interesting geology and landscapes
Santa Maria boat tour, which puts you on a 2-hour ride to Santa Maria to see basically the same animals as Isabela
Pinzon boat tour, which is an hour boat ride to Pinzon to see flamingos and sea lions.
The other islands in the archipelago are not easily accessible within a day and require an overnight stay, driving the price up of the tours.

IMG_1771Once you get a feel for how much you want to pay and how long you’re willing to be in boats, you’ll know what you want to do for your time in the Galapagos.

Tip 3: it’s time to deal.

We were three people looking for a tour each day for three days. After shopping around, we decided to do the Uplands and Bay tours on Day 1, Isabela on Day 2, and North Seymour on Day 3. Individually priced, they ran a combined total of about $500. Each tour has a different price depending on what is charged on each island for the entry fee.

IMG_1628We settled on working with “Johnny” at Los Viajes de Darwin. His first price to us was $425 per person. I flat out told him that it was too much and said I’d be willing to pay $275 per person. He came down to $350. I stayed at $275. He came down to $325. I went up to $300, and he asked if I had cash.

Fortunately, the ATM was next door at the grocery. My husband and I withdrew the $900 cash from two accounts (the ATMs limit withdrawals to $600 a day), and we paid Johnny, very satisfied. I will review the tours elsewhere, but I just want to say that as we met others on our tours who had booked through travel agencies prior to arrival, we found that we had saved at least 50% if not 75% by booking in person at the Galapagos.

One last note about the tour operators. When you venture to the other islands, you’ll be put on the next available boat/ship/yacht. Regardless of the vehicle, the ride to the islands is quite bumpy. Many people get motion sick. Before leaving the port, be sure to stop in the farmacia and get two motion sickness pills–one for each way–they should cost about $.25 each. If you simply won’t buy medicine abroad, be sure to stock up before leaving your home country.

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Tip 4: Eating

IMG_1669Like many vacation areas, there are always rows of restaurants in the tourist areas which overcharge for pieces of fish, drinks, and meals. Puerto Aroya is the same. Although we couldn’t resist a nice sit-down meal after a long day in the sun, quicker and cheaper street food is readily available one block off the main drag in “the kioskos.” They may look a bit gritty, but step right up and grab yourself a cheap meal. In addition, right to the right of the super mercado is a dive joint where the tour guides eat.

Tip 4: A good meal and drink can be had for less than $5.

Finally, the super mercado is poorly stocked and pricey, so I wouldn’t count on it for stocking your AirBnb fridge with dinner foods. It’s best for breakfast, where you can grab fresh fruit, yogurt and pastries for half the price of the coffee shops.

Tip 5: Getting Around

IMG_1911For $1, the white truck taxi will take you around the center of town. If your AirBnB is newer or the sign for it is not obvious, be sure to write down your address and carry that with you. The streets don’t have signs, but the drivers know where everything else is if you can describe it or give an address. Our AirBnB was “behind the basketball courts”, which I was able to tell our driver in Spanish. By the way, your Spanish will go a long way here. Although the tour guides and waitresses speak English, using your Spanish will be well-liked and warmly received.

Tip 5: Finally, there’s a lot of graft in the Galapagos. Be sure to have $1 and $5 coins/bills on you to pay the ferry driver, the snorkel equipment owner, the dock master, etc.

Have a Great Time

IMG_1823When I first booked our flights for less than $2500 (including Machu Picchu), I was worried that we wouldn’t have enough time and that we wouldn’t find things to do. Neither were true. Three full days was a perfect length of time. We saw the major animals we wanted to see, spent less than we thought we would, and saw more than we planned. I wouldn’t change a thing about our trip. We did the Galapagos for cheap. Please post questions and post pictures from your trip! I can’t wait to see/hear your adventure.IMG_1765