I decided to blow a huge part of my budget on a trip to the Galapagos. I knew what I was in for – compared to the rest of South America, the Galapagos is REALLY expensive. When you are given a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, however, you should probably take it. You can always find more money later (that’s the best philosophy when traveling, in my opinion!)
I did want to be a little frugal on my trip, because I still needed to get to Peru, and I really didn’t have that much money left. So, I did a little research, and got a little help from my volunteer country coordinator. She took it upon herself to book my plane ticket, which I was not so pleased with, as I have an ISIC card (or did, until my wallet got stolen later that month) and could have saved $75 bucks booking myself. There are only two airlines that operate flights to the Galapagos, so unless you are an Ecuadorian citizen or have an ISIC card (and go directly to the airline offices), you won’t find that much difference in price. It will probably be about $350.
Now, cruises are the most popular way of seeing the islands. This makes sense…because they are islands and therefore not very easy to get to. Unfortunately, they are very expensive and the quality is all over the board. I decided that I would do a more unconventional visit and stay on individual islands. I got hooked up with affordable housing with meals included (about $20 a night with 3 meals a day) because of my volunteer connections. All I had left to pay for were day tours to other islands – which usually run between $50-150, depending on where you are going.
The first 4 days I stayed in Puerto Ayora, Santa Cruz, the capital of the Galapagos. This town is bustling with touristy restaurants and about 200 Galapagos gift shops. You must stop at this island, mostly because the majority of flights go here, but it is also the headquarters of the Galapagos. You can organize any tour you want, try to snag a last minute reduced spot on a boat, and most importantly, see Lonesome George, the 100-year-old tortoise who is the last of a Pinta Island species and the rarest creature on earth.
From Santa Cruz I took a day trip to Bartholemew Island, an island that looks more like a moonscape with streaks of red, orange, black, and green volcanic formations, and the occasional cactus. You see thousands of Sally Lightfoot Crabs and an occasional marine iguana, until you reach the small beach. There are a few sea lions sunbathing, a couple reef sharks swimming by the shore, and some penguins whizzing through the water. It’s a great island to do a day trip to, as you can pretty much see almost every amazing species of the Galapagos in one trip.
I spent the rest of my trip relaxing on Isla Isabela. Staying with a great host family, I enjoyed my time wandering around town, lounging with the giant iguanas, and enjoying a hot shower with good water pressure. I snorkeled in La Perla with sea turtles, sunbathed with sea lions, hiked volcanoes, and swam through water channels with hundreds of reef sharks. I spent a week here, which is completely unnecessary. Most tours do a one to two night stay, complete with all the volcano tour and shark swimming tour. However, I enjoyed the lazy approach to the Galapagos and the ability to really get a feel of what it was like to live on the islands. I ate incredibly fresh seafood grill and ceviche, enjoyed overpriced Coca-Cola, and got to catch up with my family and friends.
The beauty and wildlife of the Galapagos is unparalleled. Boat tours are a great way to experience this, but I was lucky enough to experience the friendliness of Galapagians as well.