Making a travel budget is an important part of planning a trip, especially if you go to the Galapagos Islands. Of course, it depends on everyone’s style for traveling, but you shouldn’t miss the opportunity to take advantage of everything this incredible place has to offer. Visit several islands on day trips, eat fresh-caught tuna from the ocean, and visit as much as possible. Plan your trip ahead and keep in mind that is not very cheap to visit the most famous islands in the middle of Pacific.
The only two international airports in mainland Ecuador from where you can depart are José Joaquín de Olmedo International Airport (GYE), in Guayaquil and Mariscal Sucre International Airport (UIO), in Quito. Both flights are operated by Tame, the national airline of Ecuador within the same price range. Depending on your itinerary, you can either land on Baltra Airport (north of Santa Cruz Island) or San Cristobal Airport (on San Cristobal Island).
If you land in Baltra you will discover a small but unique airport, that prides itself in the full use of renewable energy. At the counter where the tourist visa is granted, you have to pay in cash the Galapagos Entrance Fee (currently, the amount of the fee is USD100 for adults and USD50 for children under the age of 12) and a bus ticket to Itabaca Channel. The ride takes about 10 minutes, then you’ll have to get on a ferry to Santa Cruz Island. Crossing the canal only takes a few minutes, and the boarding cost around USD10.
Don’t worry if your hotel doesn’t provide transportation. As soon as you get off the ferry, you will see a few buses that depart according with the flights arrival time. But if you cannot find a seat or prefer a more convenient means of transportation, the parking lot is also full of taxi drivers offering to take you to Puerto Ayora. However, you should always negotiate with them, because is hard to tell apart those who work independently from the local taxi company. You could end up paying for a ride even double than normal.
Tips&Tricks: We preferred to go by bus and pay USD5 for a ticket, instead of USD80 (yes, it’s the price that drivers usually ask). We used the GPS on our phone to find the hotel where we were staying and got off within a 5 minute walking distance.
Accommodation on Santa Cruz Island
There are 18 main islands in Galapagos but only 4 are inhabited, so you’ll find accommodation only on Santa Cruz, San Cristobal, Isabela, and Floreana. Among them, Santa Cruz is one of the most popular, and by far the most developed. Due to its central position, the island is the starting point for many day-trips and cruises in the Archipelago. In Puerto Ayora, its main town, you will find the best places to serve traditional Ecuadorian dishes, souvenir shops, bike rental centers, travel agencies for various last-minute trips, but also pharmacies and a fully stocked supermarket.
From hotels to hostels, apartments or holiday homes, the accommodation on the island fits guest with all kinds of budget. Prices per night may vary depending on the facilities, from USD25 to over USD200.
If you are thinking of spending your vacation on a cruise, most likely Puerto Ayora will be the place to embark. Depending on the onboard facilities, prices start from USD400/day and can reach up to USD1000/day. Itineraries are usually set in advance, so you have many options to choose from. However, before you decide, make sure that a cruise is the type of trip that suits you, because every morning you’ll have to wake up really early and regardless of the type of boat, you will share a small space with quite a few people.
Tips&Tricks: Knowing that the waves are unpredictable, we decided to stay at a hotel in Santa Cruz and visit our favorite islands through day trips. We chose to stay at El Descanso del Guia, a nice hotel with a beautiful ocean view. With breakfast included, the price for one night is USD95.
Where to stay on Santa Cruz Island (our favorite choices)
In Puerto Ayora, you will find a wide variety of culinary delights. Most restaurants on the island offer dishes cooked with locally sourced ingredients or freshly caught fish from the ocean. On the pier, you will find many great places where you can try both Ecuadorian and international cuisine (if you are a burger or pizza fan). As for prices, almost everything on the menu starts at USD25 and includes the tip.
Tips&Tricks: Our favorite restaurants in Puerto Ayora are Il Nuovo Giardino for its fabulous location and their food diversity, and La Garrapate for the most delicious sesame tuna.
The simplest and most convenient way to explore Santa Cruz is by taxi. It can help you travel around Puerto Ayora and discover the island through various half-day trips. Some of the drivers understand English, and they can even act as a guide and show you around. However, keep in mind that some drivers work independently from the local taxi company. They ask slightly different prices, so don’t forget to always negotiate before getting in their car. A great alternative to taxis are bicycles and electric scooters, that you can rent from various places across the town.
Tips&Tricks: After a few days on the island, we discovered that to avoid being overcharged for a ride, it’s better to ask the hotel staff to book a taxi for us. Usually, the price per km is about USD1.
Visiting the Archipelago
If you are planning to visit more than one island in Galapagos, you should start planning your trip in advance. After many weeks of following several travel bloggers, we decided to visit North Seymour, Bartolome, Santa Fe and Floreana. The first three islands are uninhabited, so we booked online our favorite guided day-tours, and to Floreana, we decided to go on our own with the ferry. The price for a one-day tour from Puerto Ayora is around USD300 (plus tips), but it might vary depending on the season, and usually includes a guided hike and a few snorkeling stops, as well as lunch on the boat.
Top Guided Tours and Activities (our favorite choices)
The ferry tickets for a self-guided tour from Santa Cruz Island to one of the other inhabited islands of the Archipelago costs around USD80 for the round-trip. We recommend to purchase them online in advance, as they may not be available on the day of your visit.
Between the islands Baltra, Isabela, and San Cristobal there is a simpler option for traveling by a private plane with EMETEBE. A flight ticket purchased online in advance for the Baltra-San Cristobal route costs around USD250 and for Baltra- Isabela costs around USD200, with the possibility of getting a discount for last-minute offers.
Santa Cruz Island Half-Day Trips
For visiting the popular tourist attractions on Santa Cruz Island, you can book in Puerto Ayora various half-day or last-minute trips from local travel agencies. But, if you’d prefer to avoid being part of a large group of tourists, there is also the option to go on your own. The price for a tour with a taxi starts from USD30 and depending on the places you visit, you can also agree with the driver to return later to pick you up at a preset time.
Right at the docks in Puerto Ayora you’ll find a fully stocked supermarket (the only on the island). If you’re looking for authentic souvenirs or gifts to bring home, here you will find Galapagos coffee, Ecuadorian cocoa beans or traditional Ecuadorian chocolate.