Galápagos Islands for Backpackers (Ecuador)

Galapagos-Turtle

Galápagos Islands for Backpackers

I know that Galápagos and Backpackers don’t seem to go together, but in this post I will show you how you can visit this incredible place even if you’re on a tight budget.

How to get to the Galápagos Islands?

The Galápagos Islands are an archipelago of islands situated 926km west of continental Ecuador. By the time I got to Ecuador I’d heard awesome stories from the Galápagos and I thought it was a dream land that I would never be able to visit, because it was so expensive. One day I was checking for flights from Quito to Santa Cruz (Galápagos) and I found an offer for 200USD. I almost fell off my chair and immediately called my friends and told them about the bargain. I ended up convincing them to join me and we bought the tickets the next day. We were so excited about the trip and we almost cried when we received a called from the agency telling us that the offer was only for Ecuadorian and not for foreigners. We thought of canceling the whole trip, but a few drinks down the line we ended up paying the difference and reactivated the excitement!

There’s two options when you book a flight to the Galápagos, you can either fly to Santa Cruz (the main island) or San Cristobal. I recommend you fly to Santa Cruz as all the agencies and tours leave from there. However you can always take a boat to Santa Cruz from San Cristobal, boats leave twice a day an cost 30USD.

Cruise or day trips?

There’s several ways to visit the Galápagos Islands, you can either book one of the many cruises that will take you on a trip to see the different Islands, or you can book one of the many day trips that will take you to the most exotic places. Cruises can be incredibly expensive, specially if you book them in advance from your home country. Agencies back home or online will charge huge amounts for this kind of trips. However if you feel adventurous you can just get to Santa Cruz and start bargaining with the many agencies that are around the dock area. You will find exclusive offers and a variety of cruises to choose from at even a quarter of a prize which you would pay back home. You may have to wait one or two days before the cruise leaves though, but there’s plenty of things to see in Santa Cruz in the meantime.

On the other hand, if you are on a tight budget, you have many options to visit the Islands on your own on day trips that will take you to the most magical places. And think about it, you don’t have to do trips every day, you can spread them out through your holidays and have the rest of the days to visit places in the island and to relax (remember you’re in a freakin’ island in the middle of the Pacific Ocean!).

The Galápagos Islands are not expensive!

Visiting the Galápagos Islands can be a very expensive holiday if you’re on a boat all day having lobster and champagne, but you can certainly cut costs if you’re a filthy-cheap backpacker like myself! Expect to pay 10-15USD for a room in Santa Cruz maybe a bit less on the other islands, and you can have a menu for as little as 4USD (I was paying that in Isabela Island) and up to as much as you want. There are cheap options you see!

What to do in Santa Cruz Island?

Here’s what you can do once you get to the main town in Santa Cruz. I stayed at a cheap hostel with 3 mates where I was paying 10USD a night for a 3-bed dorm. We left our stuff there and wandered around town. We found a really cool agency by the hostel and we made friends with “Tito”, the owner. I still keep in touch with him, if you ever visit the islands I recommend you book your trips with this guy he’s great! Oh and tell him Alex from Barcelona said hi, I might even get discount for future visits 😛 The name of the agency is “Galápagos Mocking Bird Tours”.

There’s many things to do in Santa Cruz. You can take a walk down to the docks and grab a little boat to “Las Grietas”, it’ll take you about 40 minutes to get there. This is a beautiful gorge with clear blue water where you can have a nice bath, do a little bit of snorkeling, and even jump from the top of the rocks if you’re brave enough!

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You can also visit Tortuga Bay, I would say it’s a must-see in Santa Cruz. Just grab a taxi in town that will take you to the entrance of Tortuga Bay. You’ll have to pay a little fee to get in and then walk along the path to the beach, it takes about 30 minutes. You’ll be able to snorkel and kayak! Bare in mind that the beach closes at 5pm.

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I recommend you do a little tour to the highlands to see the giant turtles, it only costs about 20USD and you’ll meet one of the most breathtaking creature in the island. The one we saw was bigger than all of us stacked together and it was over 100 years old. We even fed it fruit and watched carefully while it slowly move that massive shell a few steps. Beautiful! And if you are interested in learning about the turtle world you can visit the Darwin center in town.

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I also did a scuba diving tour to Seymour Norte in the north of the island. I paid 120USD for 2 dives in one of the most wonderful places in the world. We saw white tip sharks, galapagos sharks, hummer-head sharks, turtles, sting rays, and millions of fishes. If you’re a diver Galápagos is certainly a magic place to explore the sea and all it’s beauty.

What to do in San Cristobal Island?

One of the best tours we did was the one to San Cristobal Island. We booked the tour at Tito’s for about 90USD and it included 3 snorkeling sites next to the Island. First you get to Las Loberias, a beautiful beach where you will be able to swim with sea lions and giant sea turtles. How can I describe the feeling of swimming with massive turtles for the first time? Maybe the most peaceful feeling I’ve had next to a wild animal.

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Next stop is Kicker Rock (León Dormido) an enormous rock next to the island. If you’re lucky and the sea is clear this is one of the most incredible places to snorkel or scuba dive, and you’ll even see the shiver of sharks swimming right under your feet! And the final stop we did was next to a little rocky beach where we found a group of baby sea lions, something like an animal kindergarden.

The tour included the boat ride to the island which took about 2 and a half hours, you got there in the morning around 8am, did the snorkeling, had lunch at the boat, and then the crew sailed back to Santa Cruz at 3pm. However, my friends and I chose to stay in San Cristobal for one night and did some site seeing the next day. I would have stayed an extra day in San Cristobal for it’s a beautiful island and there’s plenty to see.

What to do in Isabela Island?

It costs 30USD to travel from island to island and there’s only 2 rides per day, so plan carefully. Isabela is the most authentic of the three island I visited. It’s got a really laid back atmosphere, the main town is really quiet and made of long soil roads and few businesses and restaurants. We were very lucky to meet up with a family that offered us a room for 5USD a night. I ended up staying 4 days with them. The dad even did kayak tours for the guests, he’d been doing that for several years. So I had a dedicated guide who showed me the secret beauties of the island.

He took me to a hidden dock that he knew and we snorkeled together for hours. That place was magnificent, I was able to swim with a giant sting ray, all sorts of fish, but the most exciting thing was swimming with sea lions! I was staring at some starfish and this couple of young sea lions came by and started circling me. It was the most beautiful thing, I started dancing with them and they followed me for a some minutes. I was able to record it with my camera. I felt like a sea creature for while, free and wild!

I made a really good friend in Isabela too. I was playing my guitalele in the main square and Sebastian came by, he took my guitar and started playing one of his songs. I fell in love with his music, he’s such a talented dude. Check out the post I did about him.

How much did it cost?

And that’s the magic question. How much did you pay? And here’s the sum: 400USD for the flight, 100USD for the National Park, 230USD on tours, 90USD on boat rides, 200USD in expenses. So I ended up paying a little of 900USD for a wonderful 10 day holiday in one of the most beautiful places in the planet. I would recommend this to any traveller who wants to experience a unique wild life adventure. Here’s a clip about my trip to the Galápagos.

Please leave your thoughts below, and share the post if you enjoyed the story 😉

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21 Comments

  1. Hi there!
    I fully enjoyed your post! I have always wanted to go to the Galapogos and now I see it is reasonable to do! Thanks for the info!!! I will look up Tito when I go! I’ll tell him you sent me!!
    Jan

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  2. Such a helpful post! My friends and I are doing some backpacking this summer and plan to visit the islands. Thank you for all of your tips! Sounds like you had an amazing time.

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  3. Hey dude, thanks for these notes – heading over in June/July and great to know I can do it on a budget! Know the names of places you stayed!? Is it quite easy to find accomodation. If you have travelled to peru or bolivia any other tips would be amazing

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    1. Hi Tamara, glad it helped. I don’t remember exactly where I stayed, but it is easy to find cheap places. In Santa Cruz prices per person in a hostel room were ranging 10 to 18USD when I was there.

      If you get to Peru I would definitely recommend Machu Picchu and Cusco, there are many hikes and ruins you can visit. Absolutely amazing. Bolivia is also very cool and cheap, Salar de Uyuni is spectacular, especially if it’s the right season and rains turn the Salt desert into a breathtaking mirror. Enjoy your travels! 🙂

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  4. Hi, your website is very helpful!

    Did you book your flights into and out of the Galapagos (from Quito), once you arrived at Quito or did you pre-book the flights before you went to South America?

    The same question applies to your method of getting from Galapagos to the Macchu Picchu? And did you fly or bus to Macchu Picchu?

    Thanks for all your help!

    Tara

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  5. Thanks for this information. We’re using it as a guide to our backpacking budget and hoping to follow a similar pattern when we get to the galapagos.

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  6. I stumbled upon your blog while searching for a song from Sebas on youtube… it’s really taking me back to my time there! I spent 3 months in San Cristobal in the spring of 2013 and wow… so many memories coming back while reading your post! Thanks for sharing 🙂

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  7. Great blog,

    I just have a question about finding hostels in the Galapagos. Did you just catch a bus from the airport to the port and look around? I have been to some places where people wait at the port when you arrive and offer you great deals on rooms/dorms. Will one find that here or should you pre-book a hostel?

    Thanks!
    Rose

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  8. Hi,
    I’m planning a budget trip in the Galapagos in May 2014. Can you send me the contact information for Mockingbird tours? I cannot find a website.
    I cannot believe how cheap you did this trip. Good for you! I am too intimidated to go without reserving a hotel first, may I ask what time of year you went? And how hard was it to find accommodations? I bad at haggling too (people see a small blonde girl and tend to give me the highest possible price lol)

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  9. hey man awesome post! Just curious about your diving experience, $120 sounds amazing! My friends are heading out in 3 weeks to the islands, is there a way to get certified there (that doesnt take too long, or even just do some novice diving if we dont have a license?

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  10. Hi
    we went to the Galapagos on a short cruise and now want to return for a diy trip like yours

    do you have an email fir mockingbird tours?

    Also we cant book the flights from quito without
    a ecuadorian credit card so will have to use an agency is that what you did?

    Thanks
    jane

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  11. Hi! I loved youre post… it is very helpfull!!!
    If somebody wants to go to Maccu Picchu I recomend Kokopelli Hostel 🙂
    I will go to Galápagooooos!!!

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  12. thanks for all the info alex! I am looking to go next year and this information is very helpful. I was wondering if you had to book your tours or stays in advance or were you able to wing it throughout the trip? I keep reading that you must book things early since everything gets filled up. any help would be much appreciated, thank you!

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