We knew we couldn’t leave Ecuador without a visit to The Galápagos Islands. We had to do it on a budget though, which we thought would be tricky as the Islands have a reputation for being a luxury destination.
95% of the Galápagos Islands are national park, which can only be accessed with a licensed guide. That means you cannot go wandering around everywhere on your own. Furthermore, the majority of the islands can only be accessed by organised cruises. The Galápagos make up 18 islands, as well as tens of other smaller rocks and islets. The main tourist islands are Santa Cruz, Isabela and San Cristóbal. These, along with Floreana Island, are the only inhabited islands and the only islands that you can travel to independently.
Luckily there is so much to see, that even within the 5%, you can see plenty of wildlife and stunning landscapes. Despite what people may say (and we read plenty of people’s comments stating the contrary), it is absolutely possible to have a once-in-a-lifetime trip to the Galápagos without a cruise and paying for expensive tours. There are plenty of things to do for free or that will not break the bank.
That’s not to say though that the Galápagos Islands are the cheapest destination. Prices are a lot higher than its mainland Ecuador and you will have to allow extra than your standard backpacking budget.
We had an incredible 13 nights on the Islands. Travelling as a couple, we spent about $2700 (£1700) in total between us, which included our flights, accommodation, food and tours. We split our time, spending 5 nights on Santa Cruz, 4 nights on Isabella and 4 nights on San Cristobal. We visited many places for free, but also paid for some tours.
The Islands, of course, are famous for its varieties of wildlife, both above and below the sea. It really is a unique experience and you are simply spoiled with the number of animals you will see. You do not have to make much effort to spot an abundance of wildlife. The animals do not hide or run away from humans as there are few predators on the islands. You will find that Darwins’ Finches will fly up to you and settle on your foot or head. The iguanas will not make any effort to move off the path so you must tip-toe over them, sometimes having to jump over piles of them curled up together! The enormous sea lions will continue to sleep on the bench next to you and will swim up to you playfully when you are snorkelling.
For us, the best things to see were underwater, so it really is worth paying for snorkelling or diving trips. In my opinion, it would be a waste to go all that way without seeing the marine life. On our snorkelling trips, we saw hundreds of sharks: White-tipped Reef sharks, Galápagos Sharks and even a Tiger Shark on our Pinzon Island tour! We were even lucky enough to see dolphins near Kicker Rock! On several occasions, we swam along beautiful sea turtles, penguins, and sea lions. We encountered schools of rays of different varieties: Diamond, Speckled, Golden, Stingrays and even the gigantic Manta Rays! And the variety, colours, shapes and sizes of fish is spectacular! It is impossible to be disappointed!
In this section, I will describe how we managed to visit the beautiful Galápagos Islands on a budget. I will provide information about the Islands, accommodation, food, tours, and places we visited with an idea of costs. Please continue reading to find out more. It really would be a shame to miss these islands out of your journey…