Mi lindo Ecuador
Por Niels Olsen

23 de Abril del 2014

galapagos on a budget

So… Planning a trip to the Galapagos Islands but you are on a budget?

As a champion for the preservation of the Enchanted Islands I will first put three golden rules on the table for you to understand.

Rule #1 Don’t be a dickhead

The Galapagos Islands have a very delicate ecosystem. Essentially this is a self-policing policy whereby ‘the dickhead’ is not praised on the islands (or Ecuador). Those involved in dickhead behaviour will usually find that a solid native will firmly but politely inform them that their behaviour is not appreciated. The Dickhead will usually realise they are being ridiculous and pull their head in. If not, the staff of the National Park will discreetly intervene.

Dickhead Behaviour includes touching any alive being (corals included), walking outside the marked trail, bringing prohibited food, fishing and littering. Read the park rules before you book your ticket here.

So if you are a Dickhead, this place isn’t for you.

Rule #2 Please be a traveler, not a tourist

Immerse yourself in the Galapagos Islands. Avoid intentionally plopping yourself in Ecuador just to say you went there. Try new things (cebiche mixto perhaps), meet natives and you’ll be surprised by the ‘kindness of strangers’, and look beyond what’s right in front of you. As a wise man once said, those are the keys to understanding this amazing world we live in.

These magic words will take your trip to the next level. Learn them, but most importantly, use them:

Hola - Hi

Chao - Bye

Gracias - Thank you

Por Favor - Please

Rule #3 Enjoy Every Minute

Use your mind. Remember. Observe. Be present and aware. You are about to embark on a trip to one of the most pristine and magical places in the world. It is the perfect escape to connect with nature and let go of all the stress. Rejuvenate your soul and replenish your body with positive energy. This will be a journey you will remember forever.

Alright, if you have made it this far, thank you. I will share with you all the information I believe is useful for your trip to the Galapagos Islands.

Main Islands:

  • Santa Cruz
  • San Cristobal
  • Isabela

Which islands should I visit?

This is really up to you. If you can afford it, visit them all. What makes Galapagos so special is that each island has a different flora and fauna. Animal species vary from one island to another. My favourite is Isabela. Although it doesn’t have an airport with direct flights from mainland Ecuador, the ‘hassle’ to get there is worth it. Isabela will mesmerise all those travellers who are seeking adventure and nature. Even though Isabela is the biggest island in the archipelago, Puerto Villamil (a small port village located on the southeastern edge of Isabela) is the least populated out of the three prevoiusly mentioned. Flamingos Lake, The Charles Darwin Centre for Research (where you will see the the amazing Galapagos tortoise sanctuaries), and the Port are all within walking distance from most of the hotels. An abundance of white sandy beaches are also close by, as is the pristine bay Concha Perla, which is an idealic spot for snorkelling.

Santa Cruz’s port town Puerto Ayora, on the other hand, is the most populated town in the Galapagos, but at least an hour away by foot from the closest white sand beach (Tortuga Bay). With numerous restaurants, bars and clubs, Puerto Ayora is the best bet for those ‘travellers’ interested in staying inside their comfort zone. But don’t get me wrong. Santa Cruz is still a great island

Lastly, San Cristobal. It has been ages since I stepped onto this island, so consequently I’ll refrain to comment anything other than, from what I have heard, it feels less of a town than Santa Cruz but still has that ‘off the beaten track’ feeling many travellers are keen to experience. A big plus is that it has an airport with direct flights from mainland Ecuador.

My suggestion Get a flight from Guayaquil/Quito to Santa Cruz. Stay a night or two before you catch the taxi boat to Isabela. Spend at least three nights in Isabela.

How do I get to the Galapagos Islands?

Flying. These are the three airlines that fly daily to the islands:

I would suggest booking directly through their websites. If you are interested in booking through a real travel agent I encourage you to contact Isabela Carvajal. She owns and operates her own travel agency called Vanderviajes which I have used in the past. She is a lovely woman and might be able to help you with hotels in case you are not into planning.

How much does it cost to get into the National Park?

As soon as you land in the Galapagos Islands you will be required to pay USD 100 as the entrance fee. If you are ecuadorean, USD 6 will make the cut.

What are the best months to visit the Galapagos Islands?

January to march you can expect very hot and sunny days with great visibility in the ocean. April to june it starts getting cold (ecuadorean standards of cold). July to december I would try to avoid, but if you have no other option, then yes, GO!

Could you suggest an itinerary?

I sure can (how kind).

5-Day Itinerary

Perfect for travellers on a budget looking to do plenty of activities.


If you can afford to stay more than 5 days I would definitely suggest spending an extra day in Santa Cruz or Isabela to make this itinerary less full on.


Day 1

Las Grietas

Grab a taxi boat from the port at Puerto Ayora and head to Las Grietas. Walk along the marked trail (bring proper shoes, not thongs… trust me on this one) for 15 minutes. Definitely jump from the top of the cliff but be warned, it’s a little bit hairy. Jump too close or jump too far and you’ll hit the rocks. Game over.



Day 2

Los Tuneles

These are underwater volcanic tunnels formed thousands of years ago. They are home to different reef sharks, penguins, rays, sea turtles, sea lions and fish.

Aprox. Price: USD 60 / Person



Snorkel at Concha Perla

Concha Perla is a natural pool home to lazy sea lions, fish, marine turtles, penguins, manta rays and rays. This is a perfect spot to relax, swim and snorkel. Don’t be afraid of swimming beyond the ‘pool’. This is where the marine turtles and penguins hang out.



Day 3

Rent a Bike

Cycle from town up to the Muro de las Lágrimas for a great view of the island. On your way back stop at El Estero for a quick swim and make sure you visit the Charles Darwin Research Station to learn more about the Galapagos Tortoise and the archipelago.

Aprox. Price: USD 6 for the Bike




Bay Tour and Lobería Menor

This is a walking tour where a guide talks to you about the different species found in the island. Expect to see a lot of lava iguanas, sea lions and sharks.

Aprox. Price: USD 40



Hang Out at the beach

Relax at the beach with the company of sea lions and lava iguanas. Just don’t get too cozy with the bulls.


Day 4

Isla Tortuga and Loberia

Isla Tortuga is an islet very close to Isabela by boat. Here you can expect to see more fish and sea lions. On the way back, you will stop at Loberia where more penguins, rays, and sea lions hang out.



Horseback Riding to Volcan Sierra Negra

This is a half day tour. You will hop onto a bus and drive to the highland where you will pick your horse and ride it to the crater. It’s a bit of a hike and it can get very hot up there. Bring plenty of water and proper hiking clothes.

Aprox. Price: USD 60


Hotels in Isabela

I strongly recommend staying in locally owned hotels to prevent economic leakage. Hotel San Vicente Isabela and Hotel La Laguna are independently owned. The Wooden House is a little bit more expensive and not locally owned. But if you are after comfort then I would suggest it. Google makes it easy to find other hotels options. If you want to be uptight about being a real traveller, ask them if they are locally owned.

Tour Guide

Rolando Moncayo’s cellphone number is +593980978980 (If calling from Ecuador dial 0980978980). Try calling him before 9am or after 4pm- He owns his own boat so you don’t have to go through a travel agency that will not only inflate the price but will also take a cut from the owner’s profit. He does not has an email. I am not sure if he speaks english but give your spanish a go. He is a trustworthy and awesome bloke. I hang out with him every time I visit Isabela, which is quite often. Tell him you are my friend for special rates.

Leave your comments below and help fellow travellers have an experience of their lifetime.

Additional tips provided by readers:

- Bring sunscreen. Even if its not sunny, wear sunscreen. Keeps the sharksskin cancer away.

- Bring plenty of cash. Keep it safe.

- Bring a hat. A panama hat.

- Bring a backpack with snacks with you when touring.

- Bring a bottle of water. Refill it. Hydrate yourself. Two litres a day. Minimum.

- Bring insect repellent. Good luck with the prehistoric flies.

Note: You need to take everything back with you. Remember, don’t be a dickhead. Don’t litter and be aware of the products you consume. Be a conscious traveller– eat, sleep, and consume locally.

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