With sharks, sealions, giant turtles and crystal waters these iconic islands are high on many traveller’s bucket lists. Backpacking Galapagos on a tight budget however is a challenge. All inclusive cruises are way out of most backpackers’ price ranges and even day tours can quickly add up to a small fortune.
We spent 10 days backpacking Galapagos in April 2018 and threw cash at a few different tours, but ultimately some of the free activities were our favourites! If we were to do it again here’s how we would spend 7 days making the most our time in the Galapagos.
Flights leave from Quito or Guayaquil and from our observations prices were set around $250 – $350. Prices are higher in peak season – February – April.
There are two airports in the Galapagos: Santa Cruz or San Cristobel. We recommend flying into Santa Cruz and then out of San Cristobel as if you are going to visit both islands it will save you a return ferry trip between the two.
There’s nothing wrong with booking accommodation in advance, but if you book it when you get there you are likely to get a better deal. Expect to pay $15/night for a dorm room and $30-£40/night for a double room. We weren’t blown away by our accommodation in Santa Cruz, but we had fantastic experiences at Punta Arena In Isla Isabella and Casa de Jeimy in San Cristobel. Both had excellent cooking facilities so we could save money on eating out.
Most flights arrive in Santa Cruz in the morning, so after getting your bus to Puerto Ayora, checking in and dropping your bags off you’ve got the afternoon to make the most of your time there.
The Charles Darwin Research Centre is a great place to get your bearings around the islands. It is an active scientific research station working towards on a number of different conservation projects in the Galapagos. After reading about their work you can visit the Giant Turtles they are breeding.
The following day get up early to beat the crowds to Las Grietas for a snorkel in through this crevasse in the rocks. To get there take a short taxi boat from the port to Angermeyer Point (50c/person) and then follow the hiking trail around 1km to reach it.
If you’ve got time after heading back to Puerto Ayora take a bus from Avenue Baltra to Santa Rosa ($1) where you can walk the rest of the way to El Chato (2km) ($5 entry). Along the way keep an eye out for stray giant tortoises (we saw 3!).
Inside the reserve are a number of footpaths, some of which go through some interesting lava tunnels, which you can wander round on the hunt for a giant tortoise. If your anything like us you’ll probably spot one hiding in plain sight. At first glance they are easy to mistake for a rock!
In the afternoon take a short walk through the shady mangroves surrounding Lagoon de las Nimfas.
TIP: There’s a great $1 ice cream place on Avenue Baltra just before the turn off to Las Nimfas.
Tortuga Bay has to go down as one of the most beautiful beaches in the Galapagos. The 1km stretch of sand is famous as a turtle nesting site, so you have to be careful where you tread. Although gorgeous, the waves are big and rip currents are often rife. If you walk right to the end of the beach and round to the other side of the peninsula headland though you will reach a much more sheltered area, which is perfect swimming and snorkelling territory. I spotted a few very cute white tipped sharks here.
On day 3 get up early to catch the 2 hour ferry to Isla Isabela in the morning (note there is also an afternoon option). Book the day before from one of the ticket offices near the port.
When you arrive in Isabella consider booking any tours you plan to do before doing anything else. If you have the money we highly recommend Los Tuneles tour.
After checking into your hotel head down to Concha de Perla for an afternoon snorkel. This sheltered cove, just to the right of the ferry port, is free and well protected for snorkelers. Here we spotted a number of tropical fish, black iguanas swimming in the water and numerous sea lions. When we went all the sea lions were having their afternoon naps in the sunshine, but if you’re lucky they might dive in to play with you.
Once you’ve exhausted yourself in the water take a late afternoon walk around Laguna Salinas, just by Iguana Crossing Hotel, to see the pink flamingos paddling and fishing in the water.
Get up early the next day to avoid the heat for this adventure! The Wall of Tears is a reminder of the Galapagos’ more harrowing past. The path to the wall is about 6km long and takes you through some of the most stunning scenary in the whole of the Galapagos. Along the way keep your eyes open for the Giant tortoises which we spotted just chilling in the middle of the path. Just before you reach the Wall of Tears you will see Cerro Ocho viewpoint on your right. It’s worth climbing these steps for magnificent views across the bay.
If walking isn’t your thing the path is also easy to do on a bicycle. Bikes can be hired in Isabella for around $15/day.
This was, without a doubt, the highlight of our backpacking Galapagos experience. It’s not cheap, but if you can stretch your budget this is definitely the best value tour in the Galapagos. Whilst floating and snorkelling around the Lava Tunnels we spotted blue footed boobies, many many sea turtles and numerous different sharks. It was so fantastic that we wrote a whole blog post about it, check it out here.
Getting from Isabela to San Cristobel will take up most of Day 5. You will need to take an early morning ferry from Isabella to Santa Cruz and then an afternoon ferry from Santa Cruz to San Cristobel. Apart from spending a night in between in Santa Cruz to break up the journey there is no alternative way to do it.
Getting your bearings in San Cristobel is best done in the Centro de Interpretacion. They have a really interest exhibition about the history of the Galapagos, whch I knew little about before visiting. Entrance is free.
Behind the centre is a delightful circular walk which initially takes you up to Mirador Cerro Tijeretas for views of Kicker Rock and then follows the coast back past Tijeretas point and Playa Punta Carola. The walk itself is beautiful and without stops only takes around 40 minutes, however it’s well worth taking a break at Tijeretas Point for a snorkel.
This is where my ‘snorkelling with sea lions’ experience really happened. Whilst swimming along staring at the fish 3 young playful sea lions decided to join me. They were playing with each other whilst chasing a feather!
1 mile south of the main town is Playa Loberia. Walking there takes around 40 minutes. If the soft sand of the beach itself wasn’t enough to tempt you down here then the snorkelling definitely should. There is an area in between the rocks which is sheltered from the waves where the snorkelling is fantastic. Alongside the many schools of fish we saw here were a large number of huge sea turtles, mooching around, totally unpassed by us swimming alongside them.
|Tourist Tax||$20 + $100|
|Ferries ($25-$30 each trip depending on haggling skills)||$75-$90|
|El Chato ($1 bus, $5 entrance)||$7|
|Isla Isabela dock Tax||$10|
|Water Taxi’s (50c on Santa Cruz/San Cristobel, $1 on Isabella)||$4|
|Food and Drink ($10/day)||$70|
|Los Tuneles Tour ($100 – $120 depending on haggling)||$110|
Remember your going to be Island hopping when backpacking Galapagos so you really don’t need much stuff. Pack light. We bought a 30l rucksack between 2 of us for our trip. Essentials you must bring though are:
We are Nic and Kingsley… we married and now we are Kic (sic). We are currently taking some time out of our busy careers to travel Central and South America. This blog will detail our adventures from the volcanoes of Nicaragua down to the mountains of Peru. Hope you enjoy reading and let us know what you think!