Galapagos Island Hopping – Stay on Land or Take a Cruise?

Posted By Jeremy in South America | 3 comments


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Love the crabs in the GalapagosWe spent quite a bit of time researching Galapagos island travel options before deciding to travel the islands by land on our recent trip.  Ultimately we went for the most budget conscious option as two friends wanted to come visit us on the islands and we did not want to subject them to exorbitant spending during the 7-day trip.

While you could look at a trip to the Galapagos and say “I want to do this as cheaply as possible,” there are many factors to keep in mind that may persuade you to do otherwise.   Depending on what you want to get out of your trip, your travel choice just may surprise you!

How Much is a “Budget” DIY Tour?

Gorgeous mangroves on the beach

For those who have been reading us for a while, you should know that our definition of budget is a bit different in that we look at it as spending what we set out to do.  In this case; however, we’re going to look at it from the thrifty side of the spectrum.

Just how cheap can you make a week long trip to the Galapagos via land?

Well, we spent just over $2,500 for the two of us combined (roughly $360/day), inclusive of $775 in airfare from Guayaquil and back.

We were pretty impressed with this figure because we got quite a bit with it, including the following (all prices cover both of us):

  • Airfare: $775
  • Accommodation: $335
  • Day Tours: $700
  • Food: $415
  • Park Fees: $220
  • Transfers and Taxis: $80

As you can tell, a big chunk of our spending was a whopping $700 on day tours.   These included a snorkeling trip to Santa Fe island ($80 each), a highlands tour via taxi on San Cristobal ($60- split with our friends), a day trip to Isabella (Angie only, $120), Galapagos scuba diving to North Seymour (Jeremy only, $150), and a combo snorkel/dive trip to Kicker Rock (snorkeling, $80, and diving, $160).

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HDR Galapagos Beach

Since most of the attractions on the islands themselves are free, you could easily go to the Galapagos and not do any day tours and still have a decent time.   But who are we kidding, if you’re going to travel to the Galapagos and spend all the money to get there, you better plan on doing some day tours.

Why?  Well, had we not done any day tours, we would never have snorkeled with sea lions, dove with turtles, saw hammerhead sharks or eagle rays, or likely even spotted the famous blue footed booby.

So if going on a DIY trip may offer a great option for a budget traveler, why would you look elsewhere?

You Can’t Go Everywhere Via Day Tours

Galapagos sea lions can't be bothered.

Upsetting, we know.  The day trip options from the main islands in the Galapagos can be limited!

Now, these tours are not limited so much in the quantity or availability.  We managed to get on every tour we wanted but one by just showing up and booking 1-2 days in advance.  Instead, these tours are limited in what you can see and do in the other destinations.

A good example of the limitations comes from our Santa Fe island snorkel.

We couldn't go onto this beach.

On our second snorkel site we came into a secluded bay that had a few gorgeous beaches that were filled with sea lions.   It could have been quite easy to swim to shore, but we were forbidden.  Only yacht tours with conservationists on board could land.

Those happy tourists on a zodiac that zoomed by?  They got to land no problem as they were with a boat that was licensed to visit that site on that particular day.   But as a part of the conservation effort there has been a significant limitation to the number of land excursions, and day trip companies have some of the strongest rules to follow.

In the big picture these limitations aren’t necessarily a bad thing.   The only thing those travelers got extra was some up-close time with sea lions (which we had tons of on San Cristobal) and some more information from a guide.  But there is more to it than just that.

Day trip options are also limited because it is simply impossible to travel around to all of the islands in the Galapagos in just a few hours!  Even the shortest boat rides, like going from Santa Cruz to North Seymour or San Cristobal to Kicker Rock, take over 40 minutes, and the journey between larger islands takes well over 2 hours at the best of times.

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Most day trip operators are not equipped to cover such distances, and if they were the prices would be inflated to match.   Want to go to a far out island to explore?  A boat tour may be your only option.

Our Ideal Schedule

Oh let's name the zones, the zones, the zones.

We’re not going to lie.  We loved the Galapagos.  If we had an unlimited amount of money we would want to stay for a least a month to see it all (especially the amazing Galapagos animals).   That would be a week on a boat cruise, two weeks on land (hitting Santa Cruz, San Cristobal, and Isabella), and a week on a dive trip to the furthest islands of Darwin and Wolf.

Unfortunately we have to be realistic as even the best prices for a trip like that would cost well over $20,000 for two.   Even if we had that kind of cash floating around, we would probably want to break it up over multiple trips as a solid months of the Galapagos may get somewhat repetitive in one burst.

So how can you get a nice cross-section of the Galapagos for the best bang for your buck?  Well, to be honest, you’ll need at least 10-14 days and a little bit higher spending than us.

We thoroughly believe that a balance of land and water based itineraries is needed to get the full experience in the Galapagos.  The boat cruises will get you to the far off islands and setting foot on more protected habitats, while the land based DIY options offer flexibility, cost savings, and the ability to do things as you like.

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With boat tours being as short as 3 to 4 days, and a lot of good deals to be had, those with higher budgets may be able to swing both for a truly epic itinerary.

But if you are not able to get out for a boat cruise during your travels in the Galapagos, don’t fret.  Doing it by land is a very enjoyable option that we highly recommend.

Jeremy

Jeremy founded Living the Dream in 2008 to chronicle his long-term trip around Asia. Since then he has been on two long-term trips, visited 69 countries, and is just getting started. He is now on a Lifestyle Design quest to build businesses to pursue a life of travel.

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3 Comments

  1. What company did you use for the Santa Fe day trip?
    Thanks!

    Post a Reply
    • Hi Crystal,

      Unfortunately we don’t remember the exact name of it. We just booked at one of the operators on the island itself.

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  2. Great detailed article! This is very helpful for everyone who plans on going to Galapagos. I’ve been there 2 years ago – one week diving from a liveaboard ($5000 including flight, no discount for last minute booking) and one week on land ($1000) which was similar to what you did. It was awesome but with regards to the non-diving activities – my friend who did an 8 day cruise at the same time ($1800, last minute offer) saw so much more….

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