Sunday, June 11, 2017

Galapagos Islands on a Budget

I have never really looked at the Galapagos islands as one of my destinations, mainly because of my perceived costs of the cruises going there. But a chance conversation with a friend pointed me to the possibility of a Galapagos trip in an "independent" fashion. And so, I made it to the Galapagos Islands on a "budget"!


The Galapagos Islands lie about 900km west of Ecuador (which it is part of), and consists of a couple of main islands, a dozen other smaller ones and many more islets. They are well-known for the biodiversity available only in this region, which contributed largely to the formulation of Charles Darwin’s famous theory of evolution.

Of these islands, only Santa Cruz and San Cristóbal have access to an airport. So, independent travelers can fly in/out of any one of two — you could also fly in one, and out from another, which can be a nice arrangement if you are doing island-hopping. Several airlines fly there from either Quito or Guayaquil, so check out your favorite airline booking site. Flights can get as cheap as US$350 return, so do buy your tickets in advance. My trip to the Galapagos was a last minute decision, so I could only afford 5 days, and so I limited myself to only 1 island, and got myself return tickets to Santa Cruz island from Quito. TIP: If you ever fly airlines on the oneworld alliance, it may be worthwhile to signup LATAM's frequent flyer program and clock your miles in there, esp if you have intention of going South America. On my flight to Iceland from Singapore 2 years back, I decided to do just that and got myself about 16k miles. And guess what? Return flights to Santa Cruz from Quito can be redeemed for 16k miles (so 8k 1-way). So I only paid us$50 taxes for my flight to the Galapagos! :) :)

Now, the airport is actually on Baltra island, a tiny island just for the airport, and then you'll get a free shuttle transfer to the ferry port. From there, a US$1 ferry brings you to Santa Cruz island proper where you will then take a US$2 bus transfer to the town of Puerto Ayora.

There are clear information in the airport on how to connect to the islands

From Puerto Ayora, there are many tourist agencies that can arrange all manner of activities - from wildlife viewing to scuba-diving. Now, one of the advantages of coming to Puerto Ayora for independent travel, is that Santa Cruz itself has quite a number of attractions that you can visit yourself! Of course, for more intimate encounters with wildlife, especially those underwater, an arranged tour with an agency would be inevitable. So set aside some budget for that. But you do have the option and flexibility to choose what and where to go. There are a variety of day tours in all the agencies you can choose from, so you can shop around. Various islands in the Galapagos offer different wildlife viewing opportunities, and most of the uninhabited islands can only be visited by official tour operators and cruises. This ensures that the delicate ecosystem within the Galapagos is not overly affected by tourism. A typical day tour costs from us$130-$180, and there are of course 2 or 3-day tours as well. Do readup on the various attractions in your favorite guidebook.

As for accommodation, options range from hostels with dorm beds to comfortable hotels, so there's something to cater for everyone. I got myself a hotel with private bathroom for us$30+ a night, so it wasn't as bad as I initially thought! (Tip: It can get quite hot during the day, so having air-conditioning is a good thing....)

And similarly for the food, there are actually budget options in the form of small local eateries offering set menu del dias (menu of the day) at us$5! There are also more upscale restaurants, as well as touristy night markets that offer fairly good seafood!

The other two islands (Isabela and San Cristóbal) that support independent travel infrastructure similarly has budget options, although it may be slightly more limited than Puerto Ayora. I did not have time to visit them, so I could not provide more info but the point I am putting across is that the Galapagos islands can be visited and enjoyed in some manner by budget travelers. And you could actually mix the independent budget travel with a cruise too, as many agencies on Puerto Ayora offer last minute discounted cruise deals!

And the Galapagos islands are indeed a destination worth checking out! In one of my wildlife encounters, someone was taking photos with an iPhone, and someone remarked that only in the Galapagos could someone shoot wildlife with a mobile. Indeed, one could get really close to the wildlife here, and as testament to that, all photos shown in this blog post are taken on an iPhone 7plus!!

Enjoy!



Getting real close to birds and wildlife


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