Certainly not a dirt-cheap destination, you’re bound to inadvertently clutch your pockets for a second when you first arrive to the Galapagos Islands. This tropical island nirvana is, indeed, far away, world heritage-listed, and yes, a little exclusive. That said, and since nobody likes a nasty surprise, we’ve prepared for all you budgeters out there a little Galapagos Islands price breakdown. Check it out!

Harbour of Galapagos Islands — © Instituto Superior de Español.
Harbour of Galapagos Islands — © Instituto Superior de Español.

Sale on the high sea

Unlike the dropping of jaws or the boggling of minds, prices are not guaranteed on the Galapagos Islands and vary according to the season. If in no other sense, this trend is most reflected in the cost of boat tours. During high seasons (July to September, December to January) these can sell out quickly, sending prices soaring. Meanwhile, all other times of the year are equally great for visiting, and more so if you’re looking for a little discount. Know this:

  • Luxury cruises are the top of the pyramid when it comes to sailing the seas around the Galapagos Islands. With excellent food and beverage options, private cabins with amenities like hot water and air conditioning, plus access to great guides and sometimes pools and Jacuzzis on board, they can cost from around US$2,500 upward for a 4-night cruise.
  • First-class services are much the same as their luxury-cruise counterparts, differing only in the quality and frequency of meals and the size of the rooms a passenger can choose from. Prices range from around US$1,400 to US$3,000 for a 4-night cruise.
  • Sailboats and catamarans are available through a few Galapagos Islands tour providers and are a brilliant way to enjoy the archipelago if you’re seeking greater privacy. What’s more, sailboats in particular have less impact on the environment, while they can also be docked closer to the islands where bigger vessels cannot. A 4-night Catamaran cruise with 16 other passengers or a similar journey on a sailboat will cost you at least US$2,000.
  • Tourist-class services offer private rooms that are often quite small and not serviced, with less-experienced guides who often have a relatively poorer command of English. Certainly no cattle-class cruise, this option is great for animal spotters wanting to save a little on their Galapagos Islands experience and not be too uncomfortable. Costs range from around US$1,000 upward for a 4-night cruise.
  • Economy tours fall at the very bottom of the cruise chain, and perhaps don’t quite deserve the title ‘cruise.’ Services aboard include shared dormitories and bathrooms, and not-so-great food or guides. Economy, or budget tours, can cost from as little as US$600 for a 4-night cruise.

Day trips

If you’re not one to enjoy even the slightest rocking of the boat, least of all when you’re trying to sleep, then day tours are a perfect way to see the Galapagos Islands. Granted, you’ll end up spending more time on board smaller passenger vessels in the morning and evening, but you’ll also have the chance to do things your way. A day tour can cost around US$150 including lunch, and will take you just about anywhere in relation to where you’re staying. Santa Cruz Island and San Cristóbal Island are great bases in this sense!

Hotel havens

Hotel to stay at Galapagos Islands — © Instituto Superior de Español.
Hotel to stay at Galapagos Islands — © Instituto Superior de Español.

And on that note… Hotels! Ailola Galapagos has chosen some of the best accommodation options on the Galapagos Islands where we offer Spanish courses. However we also understand you might want to move around. This is what we know about hotels on the Galapagos Islands:

  • 5-star: Few and far between, the Galapagos Islands’ 5-star hotel selection is as exclusive as you can get, with top beach access and a range of natural locations, plus all the trimmings you can imagine — private rooms, chalets, pools, spas, brilliant food. All this can set you back from around US$250 upwards per night.
  • 4-star: Now we’re talking! The Galapagos Islands are home to a few more 4-star hotels than 5, which means variety and prices range significantly, from around US$80 up to US$200 to give you an idea.
  • 3 stars: Fewer stars but hardly much difference in some ways, you’ll find a range of great 3-star hotels on the Galapagos Islands from as little as US$30 per night.
  • Hostels/guesthouses: Perhaps not for the big-spending Galapagos Islands visitor, hostels and guest houses are however ideal for those wanting to socialize. These range significantly in price and quality, but have a focus on the social elements of a holiday, with loads of shared open spaces for guests, costing as little as US$30 a night.

Fly high, spend big

Two and a half hours from Quito, and usually including a layover in Guayaquil, the Galapagos Islands are no hop, skip or jump away. What’s more, the high demand for flights and the eagerness of visitors who don’t want to slug out on a cruise westbound, mean you’ll pay around US$400 for a return flight. High season can see that cost fly northbound slightly.

Boats close to the coast of Galapagos Islands — © Instituto Superior de Español.
Boats close to the coast of Galapagos Islands — © Instituto Superior de Español.

Basic spending tips:

  • Pay up! Keep in mind the Ecuadorian government charges tourist a special Galapagos Islands visa fee (US$10) before boarding flights to the archipelago, plus a park entrance fee ($100) upon arrival, both paid in cash. Children under 12 pay US$50.
  • The not-so local currency: as is the case on mainland Ecuador, on the Galapagos Islands you’ll be expected to pay in the local currency, which is the not-so local US dollar.
  • Bring cash: telling your bank you want to withdraw a whole heap of cash for a trip to South America might raise eyebrows, so don’t! Instead, just bring with you a healthy amount of cash for on-the-side spending, and ensure you look into any inclusions in the tours or packages you purchase, as you might end up spending next to nothing!
  • Last minute: From July to September, and December to January, it’s no smart idea to take risks with your bookings on the Galapagos Islands. In fact, you’ll be watching cruises from the shorelines and hearing amazing tour tales at the lobby of your hotel if you don’t book in advance. For all other months of the year, last minute bookings that offer significant discounts are a possibility. But, again, if money’s not an issue, we don’t recommend risking it!
Pelican passing one of the boats at Galapagos’ harbour — © Instituto Superior de Español.
Pelican passing one of the boats at Galapagos’ harbour — © Instituto Superior de Español.

Originally published on Ailola by Jayson McNamara on December 13, 2016.