Galapagos Complete Cost Breakdown
Cruise vs Land-based
The Galapagos Islands – truly a once in a life time experience
We spent a total of 6 nights – half on the mainland and half on a cruise ship.
There’s a lot of argument online about what’s better: a cruise, which costs a lot more, or the cheaper land-based stays. I recorded every penny and in this article I’ll breakdown the costs of a Galapagos trip, both the cruise and the land-based island hopping versions.
All the info in this article can be watched instead of read
Arriving to the Galapagos
It doesn’t take long to see wildlife in the Galapagos. The plane lands and you walk to the terminal, passing by land iguanas. We landed at Seymour Airport (GPS) on Baltra Island. The other airport option is San Cristobal Airport (SCY) on San Cristobal Island, but we chose the former because 1) it was cheaper to fly there, and 2) it seemed to be the more convenient location for what we wanted to do.
Traveling to the Galapagos during the pandemic
You should keep in mind that we traveled in the middle of the covid-19 pandemic, so there were less options when it came to booking cruises, and there were restrictions like wearing a mask and getting a covid test a minimum of 3 days before your departure to the islands. Overall, the pandemic actually improved our trip. We got a really good deal on the cruise, and there were less people on the islands, so most of the places we visited were pretty much empty.
Standard Costs for Visiting the Galapagos
Flight – from $250-$450 round trip from Quito (probably a bit cheaper if you fly from Guayaquil)
Fee in airport before departure – $20
Galapagos entrance fee (paid at arrival airport) – $100
Covid test – $75 each (hopefully a temporary requirement)
Total: $445 min
After doing all the airport stuff, we headed to the most populous city in the Galapagos, Puerto Ayora. There is nothing on the island of Baltra (where the airport is), if you don’t have a cruise booked with an airport pickup, you have to go to Santa Cruz island.
Getting to Puerto Ayora
Airport bus to ferry – $5
Ferry – $1
Ferry terminal to Puerto Ayora – $5 each by bus (or $25 for a taxi)
The bus dropped us off downtown, and from there we walked to our guesthouse.
Land-based Only Galapagos Trip from Puerto Ayora, Santa Cruz
Where to Stay in Puerto Ayora
There are a lot of options. I recommend going through Booking.com and Airbnb.com to find a place you like, and then contacting them directly if it is possible. Use WhatsApp, the favorite messaging app in Ecuador. It’s not always possible to find the guesthouse’s number, but check Google Maps, Facebook, and of course just do a Google search. If you can find a cell number (they usually start with 099 or 098) and you’re able to send them a message on WhatsApp, you might be able to avoid some fees and get a better deal.
We stayed at Galapagos Morning Glory, which was pretty much exactly what we were looking for. It was in a good location, the rooms were simple but clean, the common area was very green and quiet.
We paid $30/night for 3 nights. A total of $90 (or 45 each)
Where to Eat in Puerto Ayora
Our guesthouse usually provides breakfast for a small fee, but during the pandemic they decided not to serve food. Instead, they allowed us to use their kitchen, so we actually saved some money by buying some yogurt, fruit, and granola for an easy breakfast. If you can find a guesthouse that includes breakfast, you should probably do that. Otherwise, you’ll be spending around $5 per breakfast. Not a huge amount, but this is definitely a good way to save some money.
One of the best restaurants we found was actually right next to Galapagos Morning Glory. They did a $5 almuerzos (lunch of the day) that included soup, a drink, a main, and a small dessert. It’s a big filling lunch that will easily keep you going for the day and allow you to save some money by eating a smaller dinner. This is the way they do it in Ecuador – big lunch, small dinner.
Of course, there are plenty of other restaurants, many of which are located along the main street that follows the coastline. Most of these establishments are going to cost you more than if you get off the main road, but they offer better views and possibly better quality food. More local and cheaper restaurants can be found on Baltra Ave. Basically, the further away you get from the coast, the cheaper everything gets.
We had a great $5 lunch at Laguna Beach Restaurant.
I’d also recommend the pizza at Pizza Italia, the best pizza place in Puerto Ayora. You can definitely sit down and order a whole pizza there, but if you have a nice place to sit at your guesthouse, you can save some money by just getting some slices to go.
Coffee is always a bit of a problem when it comes to traveling. I need a good cup of coffee when I wake up. Sometimes I’m a bit of an early riser and I find myself wandering the streets looking for a place that’s open. Luckily, I was able to get a decent cup of coffee 24/7 in Puerto Ayora. Along Charles Darwin Ave there are a couple of coffee machines in and around the seafood market. It’s a dollar for a basic coffee. You can adjust the sugar levels, they also have cappuccinos and hot chocolate, it’s a great cheap option, especially in a town that has a lot of cool public places to sit and people watch.
One last tip, byob. Everything is more expensive on the islands, so if you like to partake in the drinking of alcoholic beverages, I recommend bringing your own booze. We packed a bottle of rum and a bottle of vodka that lasted our whole trip. That kind of sounds like it lasted a long time, but I just realized we drank 2 bottles of booze in 6 days. The local beer on the island isn’t too expensive, but we definitely saved some money by bringing booze and just having to buy mixer.
Food budget while on land
3 lunches, 3 dinners, 3 breakfasts, plus coffee, snacks, and mixer – $50 each total
Things to do in Puerto Ayora
Charles Darwin Research Station
Sara is a biology teacher. She’s been learning and teaching about Charles Darwin since she was a little dweeby girl. This was a must-go for us. Before we arrived we read that it’s possible to get a guided tour for $10, but you don’t have to do it. When we arrived we found that you did in fact have to take the tour. I’m not sure if this was a pandemic thing – it certainly seemed like it was – but we were pretty pleased with the guide and all the information he was able to tell us (in English). You learn about the islands, the giant tortoises that live there, you see the babies and some of the older ones up close. They also take you into a temperature controlled room to show you the preserved body of Lonesome George, the 100+ year old tortoise that was the last of his species.
Beaches in Puerto Ayora
There are a few local beaches around the Darwin Research Station area. To be honest, they weren’t great. The waters are a beautiful blue, but the sand is so soft that it’s easily disturbed and visibility in the water isn’t good. There are also some rocks on the ocean floor that you have to be careful not to step on. I found these beaches to be a good place to cool off, but if you want to go for a swim close to downtown Puerto Ayora, I recommend taking a quick and cheap (I think around 75 cents) water taxi over to the German beach. It’s a quiet little cove with calmer waters. The water taxi can be caught at the very southern end of Charles Darwin Ave. The boat will drop you off in less than 5 minutes and then it’s a 3 minute walk along the obvious path to the beach.
Get up early, grab breakfast, and head to Tortuga Bay for an amazing mix of hiking, beaching, and wildlife. At the end of Charles Binford road you’ll find the entrance to the area. You have to sign in, but it doesn’t cost anything. The hike to the beach takes about an hour, but the path is easy and beautiful. It’ll probably be hot though, so bring water. When you reach the end of it you arrive at a beautiful beach. A lot of locals surf this beach, but it’s not great for swimming. Take a right and walk the length of the beach until you reach Tortuga Laguna. This is one of the best swimming spots in Santa Cruz. As you walk to the laguna, you’ll see a bunch of marine iguanas. These aren’t the most beautiful animals in the Galapagos, but they’re one of the coolest. They’re the only iguanas in the world that feed on algae at the bottom of the sea. They’ll stand in the sun, trying to soak up as many rays as they can, and when they reach a certain temperature they’ll head into the sea to feed. At the end of the first beach, there’s a little spot on the left that you can detour to before heading to the laguna. Go check it out. There will probably be a ton of marine iguanas hanging out, maybe digging nests, or mating.
When we got to Tortuga Laguna we went to the far end of the beach where no one was. We got into the water and could see some heads popping up from the sea in the distance. We got closer and closer and discovered that it was a collection of green sea turtles feeding. It was frickin magical! We floated watching them pop their heads up, let out a spray of carbon dioxide, and go back under for another bite of algae. We seemed to be the only ones that knew they were there. It was one of the coolest experiences we have ever had.
We also swam along some iguanas, saw a small reef shark jump out of the water, and saw plenty of birds fishing along the shores. Tortuga Bay might be the best free experience in the history of all time.
One of the best swimming experiences in my life was at Las Grietas, which means “the cracks”. It’s a grotto that’s a mix of salt water and fresh water. To get there you need to take a water taxi- the same one that takes you to the German beach. Walk past the beach and you’ll reach the entrance. Again, I had read that it was free to go swim there, but they had a booth setup and they told us we needed to pay for a guide. It was $10 each, and the guide spoke English. She told us about the flora and the fauna, I asked her questions about growing up in the Galapagos, she took us to some view points, and we eventually ended up at the grotto where we had 30 minutes to swim.
There’s a small dock you can jump from. The waters are a perfect temperature. The sun shines down on it. The colors, the surrounding rock walls, it was just beautiful. We got there fairly early and we pretty much had the place to ourselves. After our swim, a huge group of people arrived, which would have totally changed the experience, so get there early.
I also wanted to give a shout out to the fish market in Puerto Ayora. We walked by it a few times and it was always bustling with wildlife. One day I even got up before it opened and made this video about the vendors setting up and an assortment of animals arriving.
That pretty much covers our 3 days on land. We got up on the 4th day and took the bus back to the airport (you can catch it at the southern end of Charles Darwin Ave across from the grocery store) where we met up with the guide who would take us to our cruise.
Land-based only total costs
Transportation to/from airport – $22 each
Hotel – $30/night for 2 people – $90 for 3 nights or $45 each
Food – $50 each
Attractions $10 for Darwin Research Station, $10 Las Grietas plus an 80 cents water taxi
So our total for those 3 nights and pretty much 3 full days was $137, plus the $445 that’s standard with any current visit.
So $582 total.
I’ll say right now that the cruise was a better experience. You always have a guide, you are staying close to all the attractions, you don’t have to worry about the logistics, the food is better, the timing for everything is better, and you’re always surrounded by amazing scenery.
We found our guide, who was holding a sign with our cruise name on it, at the airport. We waited for the rest of the passengers to get off the plane and then we all took a bus to an area where the cruise ships hangout, and then a zodiac boat from there to the ship.
Cruise ship in the Galapagos
Our ship was the M/Y Bonita Yacht. It was really nice. Our room had a massive bed in it. The dining area was beautiful. The upper deck had loungers with great views. I was really impressed by the food. We ate 3 giant meals a day and they had free water, coffee, and tea all day. We didn’t have to buy any additional food or drinks. The generator that always fed power to the ship made a noise, but it was a dull noise that faded into the background.
Most of the time we were parked. The ship only cruised for a couple hours at a time. Because of Covid-19, we were required to wear masks when we weren’t eating, however, after the first day everyone started getting a bit relaxed with their mask wearing. After all, we were all tested just a couple days earlier.
I was a little worried about sleeping on the boat, but I didn’t have any problems at all.
I believe there were 12 people on the cruise (including us), plus 10 crew members. We were the only non-Ecuadorians. In fact, more than half of the tourists were actually from the Galapagos. I’m sure it was because they got a really good deal in order to fill up the ship. It was great to be fully surrounded by Ecuadorians everyday. They’re good polite people that like to have a good time. At dinner we would have to share a table and we kind of cycled through the passengers, talking to the ones that spoke English and struggling to talk to the ones that only spoke Spanish. It was probably really good for my language learning.
The guide said everything in Spanish and then English (which was also very good for my language learning). He was a nice guy that I felt comfortable joking around with. I also asked him questions about Ecuador that weren’t related to the Galapagos, and he was happy to answer them. We developed a relationship, which isn’t something you’d have time to do with a guide on a day trip.
Galapagos Cruise Itinerary
DAY 1: El Chato Giant Tortoise Reserve
After getting settled on the boat, we had lunch and then took a zodiac to a waiting bus. The bus took us to the Giant Tortoise Reserve on Santa Cruz Island. This is essentially a big piece of land that the owners have made into a resort for giant tortoises. They planted vegetation that the tortoises can eat, and just made it a great place for them to hangout. The results speak for themselves. We saw probably 10 giant tortoises and were able to get within 2 meters of them for some great photos.
After that, we went to an underground lava tunnel. Basically, lava flowed and the top layer cooled faster than the bottom layer so it created a tunnel underground.
We headed back to the ship for dinner and that was the first day (really a half day).
DAY 2: North Seymour Island & Snorkeling
After breakfast we headed to North Seymour Island, which is the go-to place to see birds. The highlight has to be the blue footed boobies, which were mating at the time we were there. I heard a lot about the boobies before our trip. Everyone gushes about them, and I thought I got it – they are funny looking, they have bright blue feet, the word ‘boobies’, but seeing them do their mating dance was just amazing. The delicacy of the whole thing, the way they seem to truly love one another – you have to see it.
We also saw frigates, which have a large red sack on their chests that they use to impress the ladies. They do a funny dance complete with a weird noise.
We saw sea lions, land iguanas, and a lot of other cool birds.
After lunch we went snorkeling and I was lucky enough to have seen a hammerhead shark. It was amazing. Sara and I were in deeper waters, away from the group, and I saw the outline of about a 5 foot shark. It turned and swam away and I could see it had the hammerhead. That blew my mind.
We also saw a smaller shark, lots of fish, and a sting ray. I’ve snorkeled in Southeast Asia a lot and you tend to see a lot of bright colorful fish in bright colorful coral there. In the Galapagos there’s a lot less coral, but the wildlife tends to be better.
The tour included the snorkeling gear and a wet suit, which I wasn’t too keen on wearing but it ended up being a good idea as it kept me warm and also made me feel a bit protected from the various creatures of the sea.
In the late afternoon we went to a beach where a research group was camping. They briefly talked to us about their jobs – to protect the nesting sea turtles. You could see the giant holes the turtles had dug to lay their eggs in. We also saw some flamingos on the island. We did a bit of swimming there too, but I mostly watched the birds catching fish in the waters before heading back to the ship for dinner then bed.
DAY 3: Sullivan Bay & Bartolome
Sullivan Bay is like no place I’ve even been. It’s an island that is covered in calcified lava. It’s called pahoehoe lava, which I believe means ‘rope lava’ – named that because it actually looks like lines of rope. On the island we walked around a giant hill which was partially made out of ash.
After the walk we snorkeled on the shores of Sullivan Bay and I had 3 snorkeling firsts: 1) I snorkeled alongside a sea turtle, 2) a couple of sea lions swam through the waters around me – almost begging to play with me, and 3) a penguin swam past me.
The sea lions were probably the most impressive. The way they flew through the water, their size, their lack of timidness. It excited me, scared me a bit, and really impressed me.
The penguin is probably the most unique experience. Very few people can say they swam with a penguin. The Galapagos penguin is the smallest penguin and therefore the one that can be found in the warmest waters. The rest of the world’s penguins are in waters that are too cold to swim in.
We snorkeled for over an hour and every second of it was exciting – the best snorkeling I’ve ever done.
After going back to the boat for lunch, we went over to another snorkel spot and spent an hour in the water. This time we saw about 5 sea turtles, including some that were having sex at the surface of the water. We saw one deep in the algae feeding, and came across one swimming closer to shore. I had always wanted to swim along a sea turtle and now I can say I’ve done it multiple times.
At around 4PM, when the sun was starting to come down, we went to Bartolome viewpoint. This is one of the iconic shots you always see of the Galapagos. We walked up steps to a view point that looked over the area that we had previously snorkeled. The sun was setting behind some rain clouds. It was breathtaking, and one of the best photo spots in the archipelago.
Then it was back to the boat for dinner and some Galapagos trivia. We had a little party as it was our last night.
DAY 4: Back to the Airport
In the morning we had breakfast and headed back to the airport where we caught a flight back to Quito.
Cost of Cruise
The total cost of our cruise was $950 each and that included the flight, all the meals, and a private cabin with private bathroom. On top of that was the entrance fee ($100) and transit fee ($20), and covid test ($75). So in total, if we had done the cruise only, it would have been $1145.
Land-based vs Cruise
Let’s compare the 2 costs first: Cruise – $1145 VS land-based – $582. That’s a difference of $563. Almost half the price.
I think it’s obvious that the cruise itinerary was better though.
That being said, it is possible to go to all the locations we did on the cruise by taking day trips from Puerto Ayora.
The cruise itinerary but from land
$20 each taxi to El Chato Tortoise reserve which includes the taxi waiting and taking us back, plus $3 entrance fee.
$250 for a day trip to North Seymour Island (looking online right now – you can probably get it cheaper at travel agents in Puerto Ayora)
$250 for a day trip to Sullivan Bay and Bartolome
$45 for accommodations
$50 for food
$22 for transportation to and from the airport
$250 minimum for a round trip flight from Quito
$20 Transit fee
$100 Galapagos entrance fee
$75 covid test
*Versus $1145 for the cruise – that’s only a difference of $60.
For that extra $60 you’re getting a better experience, better food, a guide that you develop a relationship with, less travel time, and you’re getting to things at a better time of the day. This last point was made clear to us because our guide would tell us “we aren’t allowed to go here until this time… it’s reserved for the day trippers until then”, which told me: 1) we were going to be there at a better time of the day and 2) that we wouldn’t be mixed in with boat-loads of day tour people.
I talked to one lady that did a day trip and she said they picked her up in the morning, she drove to a bunch of other hotels and picked up more people, they got on a boat and rode for a couple hours. They finally reached the snorkel spot in the middle of the day, which is not the best time to see things. She said it was a great experience, but she felt rushed and was a bit disappointed.
So the cruise was totally worth it, but keep in mind the price we paid when you’re doing your own calculations because I feel like we got a really good deal on the cruise.
The very cheapest way to do it
But I also want to mention that probably the cheapest way to do it would be to arrive on the island, head to Puerto Ayora, and try to book a last minute cruise from there, which we did see advertised on signboards.
The problem with this is the timing, you’re taking a risk that you might not find anything, plus you can’t book any plans ahead of time, or even a guesthouse. If you got there and there was nothing then you’re pretty much stuck to day trips.
However, if it does line up, we saw last minute 3 night cruises for $450 a person, so if you can get that $250 flight that I mentioned earlier, that’s $700, plus whatever extra time you need in Puerto Ayora.
Numbers are yucky, but there they all are. At any (literal) rate, the Galapagos is expensive, but it’s totally worth it. It really was one of the best places we’ve ever been, and that’s coming from a couple that usually spends a third of their year traveling.
In total, our 6 days cost us $1350 each all in, including the t-shirt I bought, the $10 breakfast at the airport, my covid test, everything! A bargain for a lifetime experience.