Explore the Galapagos Islands with limited budget

Sea lion at the beach in Santa Cruz, Galapagos Islands

Getting to Galapagos

My trip to the Galapagos Islands was included in a trip from Colombia via Ecuador to Peru. We were very lucky to find return flights from Ecuador mainland (Guayaquil) to Galapagos for only 200€. Frequent checks on scyscanner.net helped us find these incredible rates. The flight to the Galapagos Islands takes around 2,5 hours.
Read here for more tips on finding great flight deals!

Airports and arrival

There are two airports on the Galapagos Islands: one on Isla Baitra, which is closely linked with Santa Cruz island, and one on San Cristobal. From Guayaquil, most flights go to the Baitra airport.
Landing at this airport is an adventure in itself, as the airport is a separate island, not much larger than the landing area itself. Upon arrival, there will be luggage checks, as the islands have a strict policy in order to preserve the natural habitat – it is not allowed to bring fruit or animals into the country. After this, a bus takes all passengers to the port area. Here, people and luggage will be loaded on small ferry boats, and brought to Santa Cruz island. This is also a good spot to get into contact with fellow travelers.

Galapagos Islands on a budget

Traveling the Galapagos Islands on a budget requires you to make some choices that are not the most common ways to travel the islands. While many people are opting for a boat cruise of several days to see as many islands as possible, staying on land in a hostel is a more wallet-friendly way to explore the islands. The Galapagos Islands consist of a number of Islands, with Santa Cruz, Isabela and San Cristóbal being the main islands for possible overnight stays on land. Hostels can be found on hostelworld.com.
If you do not require star meals, Puerto Ayora offers a good choice of mid priced eateries and supermarkets.
Puerto Ayora in itself offers a great deal of close by destinations and day trip possibilities that will all not crush your budget.

Where to stay

In Puerto Ayora, we stayed in Galapagos Best Hostel, which was an easy walk into town, and a good place to meet some fellow travelers & organize tours together.

Things to do around Puerto Ayora

Puerto Ayora is a wonderful starting point to explore the area, and you will definitely not get bored if you stay there for a couple of days!

Cliffs at Santa Cruz island
No matter which exact place you are starting from, doing a boat tour is definitely the best thing to do in the Galapagos Islands!

We went on a day trip around Santa Cruz from Puerto Ayora, which we set up the same day with the help of a girl speaking fluent Spanish. The cost was around 30€, we took several stops, including Las Grietas, a shark feeding stop on the water with sharks passing by right next to the boat, cliffs with beautiful plants and the famous blue footed boobies, and deserted beaches full of iguanas and seals. The group we went with was mostly Ecuadorian and a lot of fun – after the tour, we stayed in the harbor and went for a drink altogether.
This was an amazing way to see the wildlife of the island and explore the area.

The Charles Darwin Foundation Research Station is located directly in Puerto Ayora, so you can walk there from any location in the city. It is a great place to learn about the conservation activities on the island, get insights into the scientific work, and see the animals and plants living in the center. It gives you also a great overview of the wildlife you can find on the islands, however it does not live up to the experience of seeing the same animals roam around freely.
Tortuga bay and Las Grietas
Literally translated this means “the cracks”, and links to the fact that it was formed through a series of volcanic crevices that formed during the cooling process of lava.
This place contains a crystal clear mix of river and salt water, which makes it easy to explore the underwater landscape. It is great for a refreshing swim, snorkeling, and jumping off the rocks. If you can, go at unusual times if you want to avoid large crowds.
Tortuga bay, Galapagos islands
This is still one of the most beautiful beaches I visited in my life. From Puerto Ayora, there is a walking track to this beach, which will take you around 1hr to get there. Avoid walking it in midday sun, as there is no shadow available in large parts of the journey. The beach itself is white, splendid, and full of animals to discover – birds, iguanas, and colorful fish will all make their appearances here. I was also surprised how the beach was not crowded at all – we would meet nice people here and there, but you can also keep your silence if this is what you want. It is a good idea to bring snorkeling equipment and some snacks & drinks for this tour, as generally in Galapagos Islands you cannot expect any shops in areas outside the city.
Tortoise in El Chato reserve, Galapagos Islands
This is the place to be for everyone who wants to see the giant tortoises up close.
It is best to go there with a taxi, your taxi driver can also help with the communication at the reserve, and maybe even show you around a bit. What you can see here is a lot of huge tortoises, depending a bit on weather conditions and time of the day – but you are guaranteed to meet them up close. It is also a great place for bird watching. Next to the reserve, there is a lava tunnel to explore as well.
Even though I did not expect this, partying in Puerto Ayora is a thing.
We went to Discoteca La Panga one night and had a lot of fun dancing there.
The party evening ended with many guests sitting around a street food stall eating beans and rice, which was probably the most authentic meal I had during this trip.
If you are into snorkeling and diving and like to explore beautiful underwater landscapes, the Galapagos Islands are definitely a good place to do that.
Boat tours are usually offering snorkeling equipment and frequent stops to explore the underwater scenery (or some sharks swimming by).
For diving, you need to organize separate tours.

Stay at Isla Isabela

Another great location to spend a couple of days is Isla Isabela – unfortunately we didn’t have the time to stay for more nights, but I would definitely include a stay on this island in my next trip.
Many travelers I met went there for 2-3 days and also left their main luggage in Puerto Ayora.

Isabela is the largest of the Galapagos Islands, with an abundance of wonderful nature to explore.

Stay at San Cristobal Island

San Cristobal is the third of the Galapagos Islands that offers hostels at a good price to stay in.

The island is maybe a bit less popular with travelers staying on land, so if you are looking for quiet evenings in wonderful nature, this is probably the place to be!

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