Backpacking on a budget in Galapagos

The Galapagos Islands were initially not planned to be part of our trip as they are considered very pricy, especially the flights. Two weeks ago, we chatted with an Australian couple in Colombia who couldn’t stop talking about the islands, so we just checked flight prices again, just for fun. Luckily, and surprisingly, the flights were only 207 dollars both ways, an insanely good bargain compared to the standard 400. And so we booked…

Three weeks later, we are back from our 1 week adventure. It was not cheap, you don’t go there to save money, but it was so definitely 100 percent worth it! A preview:

We went to two of the many islands, Santa Cruz and San Cristobal, didn’t go on a cruise as most higher budget (and aged) travellers do, but we went diving 4 times. And it all (including flights and 120 dollars national park tax) cost us exactly 888 dollars and two cents per person.

  • Flights 207
  • National park tax 120
  • Hotel 115
  • Food and water 65.57
  • Transport 32
  • Diving 300
  • Other excursions and snorkling 26.10
  • Souvenirs 17.50
  • Sun screen 4.85 (buy it before you go! 9.70 was the cheapest package)

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    Sun screen for 23 dollars…. This can be Galapagos if you don’t look out

Our budget shows that, if you are not a diver, you could actually go to Galapagos for a week at about 700-750 dollars, depending on what kind of other tours you do. Here is how we did it:

Before coming to Galapagos, we checked many travel blogs, our favourite being BobAroundTheWorld. This blog contained detailed information on the free activities on the inhabited islands which was what we mostly did. Based on land, you might see fewer uninhabited places and don’t feel as exclusive as on the cruises probably, but you see the same animals and can have an amazing time as well.

We took the flight to Santa Cruz, the island with the biggest population where we stayed in Puerto Ayora for the first four days. The day of our arrival, we could not believe the amount of animals we just saw lying around as well as the very different climates we saw when driving to town from the airport. We then just strolled around town and to the Charles Darwin Center, seeing marine iguanas, sea lions, pelicans, red crabs and giant tortoises (those at the center, not in the wild). These animals are just about everywhere on the islands and we couldn’t stop taking pictures.

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Arriving at Baltra port on the way from the airport
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First sea lion
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First iguana

Our other activities included mostly going to different beaches, our favourite being Tortuga Bay. At the small bay next to it, we enjoyed watching the different finches (the ones that inspired Darwin to come up with evolution theory) and were amazed at how unimpressed they are by humans, as all the animals on the islands. They would climb our legs trying to get some of our bread! We also did some sand castle building on the beach. IMG_6012

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Cologne cathedral?
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Cologne mosque??

Another day, we also rented snorkling gear from our hotel for only 3 dollars. Snorkling was really great, once I came even close to a sea lion in Playa de los Alemanes (yes, the name is no joke). If you are lucky, they might even play with you we heard.

 

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Tortuga Bay

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A marine iguana coming out of the ocean

Another day, we took a trip to the highlands where we went to one of the giant tortoise farms, the “twins” which are two volcano craters, and really long lava tunnels which we had to crawl through at one point. The tour was 30 dollars plus 3 per person entry for the tortoise farm. Wilma, the owner of our hostel, Hostel Elizabeth, was very nice and organized the driver for us which saved us about 10 dollars. Her hostel was really fine, 15 dollars per person for a private room with a bathroom. She even gave me earrings with dolphins on them as a good luck charm when we left!  A very recommendable place.

 

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Hostal Elizabeth
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The giant tortoises at Ranchos Primicias

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We as giant tortoises…

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Chris’ feet in the lava tunnels’ tightest point
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At one of the “twins”, volcanic craters

Another thing we did quite often in town was going to the dock in the evenings. We went to look for sharks in the illuminated waters but only saw those after three days of looking… On the first two days, we saw many more sea lions and pelicans, also great!DSC_2105

Concerning food in Santa Cruz, we always had a big lunch (almuerzo) for 4-5 dollars a day, one of the Menu del Dia that most restaurants offered. For breakfast, we bought bread and jam and an occasional fruit to keep the budget low. For dinner, we bought snacks or shared a dish. Our favourite dinner place was in the street next to our hostel (just keep walking straight past the school and you see a BBQ outside, the street is called Islas Plaza). There, we had yucca or cheese rolls for 1.25 or empanadas for a similar price. If you avoid the touristy pizza or sushis places and of course the lobster, you can eat for as little as 10 dollars a day! We were quite proud of ourselves to manage, we also only had one beer while on Galapagos… Back at the mainland, it makes more sense to spend that money.

For the last three days of the trip, we went to San Cristobal, the island furthest to the East. Our flight back was from there which was very convenient as we only had to take the 30 dollar uncomfortable boat ride once. It took 2 1/2 hours and we were very happy to have bought the local anti-seasickness pills (Anautico, 5 cents per pill in the pharmacy).

In San Cristobal, even more sea lions welcomed us. The whole town is FULL of them, they are really everywhere. DSC_2213IMG_6087IMG_6084IMG_6085DSC_2351

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At the dock
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Enjoying a San Cristobal sunset

We swam and snorkeled with some of them at La Loberia, one of the two great free places on the island you can walk to. The second one is the Interpretation Center and La Tijereta Hill, a museum on the Islands’ history (very interesting!) and a viewpoint from which you can take a nice hike downhill to the shore (bring good shoes!) and see a lot of frigate birds. Also snorkling is possible, even though the tide can be rough. Nice places in the area are Playa Mann (good for swimming and observing the locals on the weekend) and Punta Carola with the light house. Here, you can apparently see also blue footed boobies (which we didn’t, to my disappointment) and you can observe surfers.

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Chris about to snorkel at La Tijereta
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At the viewpoint
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During the downhill walk to the shore
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“Iguanaying” at Punta Carola

The highlight of our Galapagos trip was however the diving. We learned diving only two months ago in Panama so we were very eager to try it out again! The Galapagos Islands are supposed to have some of the best diving in the world, because different currents of warm and cold water meeting, leading to a high density of marine life. And we weren’t disappointed!

On Santa Cruz we went to North Seymour and Mosquera.The dive sites were amazing and very calm under water, no currents at all. We saw so many animals, loads of white-tipped sharks on the ground, sea turtles, rays, the bottom covered with starfish and eels, and even several hammerhead sharks (even on the surface from the boat, I could see them!). Only the surface was super wavy so we both got very seasick. Best advice: buy some Anautico before you go! These pills are like a miracle.

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These are eels, not plants!
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One of the many rays
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Joining the fish
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Our dive group for the day
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The bottom at Mosquera
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Posing with the sharks
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Decompression stop with… a hammerhead!

On San Cristobal, we informed ourselves about the snorkeling trip to Kicker Rock, one of the most famous places, which we definitely wanted to see. It was 110 dollars for only snorkeling! As diving was 150, we couldn’t help it but agree to go diving one more time! This time, the dives were rougher with quite some currents and waves, not as calm and easy as at Seymour. But we were rewarded for the efforts with loads and loads of sharks, many turtles, sea lions, and even a giant (and I mean giant) swarm of fish that was literally all around us. It must have been thousands and thousands of them, like a black wall. Both diving trips were amazing, I especially enjoyed the Mosquera dive, but as they were all different it is hard to advice which one to do. But if you have some diving experience (you could even try it here for the first time!), definitely go diving here, wherever. It is just incredible to swim with all this marine life!
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Kicker Rock
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Sharks above us
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Posing with a turtle
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A sea lion going up to the surface for breathing

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In front of the wall of fish

Before returning to the port, we went to a beach to relax. From the boat we could even see marine turtles mating…DSC_2346

After the diving, we went for our only special meal on Cristobal, hamburgers! DSC_2366Those were 7.50 and the only time we spent more on a meal than 5 dollars. Also on this island, we kept the budget lower than 10 for food and on 15 for accomodation. Our hotel was Grand Hotel Paraiso Insular and we still can’t believe the price for the night. The room was big, with a very nice bathroom, TV (even Bundesliga), fan, A/C and a fridge. We could also use the kitchen including coffee, milk, oil and other basics and got free drinking water. Just amazing! A bonus: The walk to the airport took 8 minutes…

Today, it was time to leave the island. We were very satisfied with our Galapagos time, I was only a tiny bit disappointed that I didn’t see the blue footed boobie up close, we only saw them hunting (very impressive, they basically crash into the sea to dive for fish). Before going to the aiport, we strolled around at the shore to watch the sea lions one last time.

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A couple from our diving trip saw us and informed us that a bit further down the shore, there was one boobie on the rocks! So we hurried there and I finally saw even two of them and could take pictures! I actually sat there and watched the animals for an hour. Just by sitting in this one spot, I saw five different types of animals that Galapagos is famous for. Sea lions, boobies, crabs, pelicans, and one iguana.

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A blue footed boobie!!!
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Three of the island animals together

This was a great end to our trip, together with Chris buying a Galapagos t-shirt: The shop owner gave us two Galapagos bracelets for free, showing once again how friendly and nice the population of these islands is. We were impressed, not only by the wildlife, the landscapes, the beaches, and the closeness of the animals but also by the safety, the relaxed atmosphere and the friendly inhabitants of this very special place on earth. And we could prove, this is not only something for luxury travellers. You can visit this beautiful place also on a smaller budget!DSC_2199

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