No Filter Needed: How To Do The Galapagos On $2,688
Wander or Bust is an Elite Daily travel series that follows young women all over the globe to record their journeys as they experience the thrill of the far-flung and unknown.
They'll track their budgets, where they stay, where they eat and drink, and where they took that amazing Instagram that got them ~maximum exposure.~ The internet is full of travel advice, but none from women just like you. Read on for the tips no one else gives you, and when in doubt, get on the plane.
Here's Veronica Lopez's Wander Or Bust guide to the Galapagos, Ecuador.
My Name: Veronica Lopez
What I Do: Associate Dating Editor, Elite Daily
Where I Live: Brooklyn, New York
Where I Went: Galapagos Islands, Ecuador
How Long I Stayed: Seven days, six nights
My Spending Style: Frugal, but not stingy. I try not to overspend but I won’t deny myself another happy hour mojito.
Where I Got My Recommendations: I went on this trip with a travel group called Intrepid Travel, so I got most (if not all) of my recommendations from our tour guide JP, who’s a Galapagos native. All of my excursions were organized and paid for by Intrepid.
Exchange Rate At Time Of Travel: $1 USD = $1 USD. The Galapagos Islands and Ecuador use the same kind of currency we use in the United States, so I didn’t have to worry about converting money. Bless.
What That Looks Like IRL: $50 USD = $50 USD
Preferred Payment Method: Cash. Many places were quite small and didn’t always take cards.
Phone Bill: I already had the T-Mobile ONE Plus plan, which gives me unlimited texts, data (which was extremely spotty and unreliable on the islands), and calls for 25 cents per minute.
Luggage Type: A carry-on and backpack
What Shoes I'm Bringing: Sneakers for hiking and long walks, two pairs of sandals, and one pair of flip flops.
Mode of Transport: Airplane, economy class; public speedboat to travel between islands; subway to get to the airport in New York; public bus to get to the airport in Baltra, Galapagos.
Price: It was about $1,245 round-trip in flights, which Intrepid covered for me. (My departing flight stopped in Guayaquil, Ecuador, and landed in San Cristobal, Galapagos. My flight home stopped in Guayaquil again, then Panama City, then back to NYC.)
Extra Costs: It cost approximately $7.75 to take the NYC Subway and AirTran to JFK Airport, and $34 to Uber back to my apartment when I returned. My flight landed at 4 a.m. and I was too tired and muggy to take the train back.
The cost of the public speedboats between the Galapagos Islands we visited (San Cristobal, Santa Cruz, and Isla Isabela) was covered by Intrepid Travel, but are usually within the $30 range each way. We took one from San Cristobal to Santa Cruz, from Santa Cruz to Isabela, and then back to Santa Cruz, totaling about $90.
To get to the airport on Baltra Island from Santa Cruz, two friends and I split a $25 local taxi from our hotel to the seaport. Then, we took a water taxi from the port to Baltra Island for $1 each, and finally, a bus to the airport for $5 each.
Important to note: Before boarding your flight to the Galapagos from the mainland of Ecuador, you must pay a $20 fee for your Transit Control Card. This is how the Ecuadorian government keeps track of who enters and leaves the islands. There’s also a $100 Galapagos National Park Fee that you pay at the airport the minute you land, so make sure you budget accordingly. If you’re traveling to Isabela, you’ll also have to pay a $10 port fee when disembarking onto the island.
Transport Total: $1,520
Accommodation: The Intrepid package, which was about $991, included the cost of most activities (except some optional excursions) and accommodations. In San Cristobal, we stayed at the Hostal Andry. In Isabela, Hostal Gran Tortuga, and in Santa Cruz, the Grand Hotel Lobo de Mar.
Location: All our accommodations were located close to the seaports, so we could easily walk to and from our transportation. The populated areas of the Galapagos Islands are generally quite small, but everywhere we stayed was close to a main street.
Price: Hostal Andry (San Cristobal): $65 per night, two nights; Hostal Gran Tortuga (Isabela): $60 per night, two nights; Hotel Lobo de Mar (Santa Cruz): $168 per night, two nights.
Extra Costs: No extra costs
Would I Recommend It To Someone Else: Depends! Our Intrepid tour was in the “Basix” category, meaning the accommodations were basic but did the job. All the rooms I stayed in were single rooms, had AC, private bathrooms, closets, towels — basically everything you really need. If you’re traveling on a budget, this is a great way to go, but if you’re traveling on your own and can shell out a little more for more comfortable accommodations, do it. One of the rooms I stayed in featured a guest appearance by both a cockroach and a spider. SOS.
Accommodation Total: $586
Breakfast/Lunch Cost: Breakfast was included in our accommodations. Lunch was between $8 and $11 per day.
Dinner Cost: Between $15 and $30 a day, depending on how bougie you want to go and if you want to drink. (I did. The happy hour deals were too good to pass up!)
Average Total Cost: $35-$40 per day
Tip Situation: Tipping isn’t mandatory, but for most of my meals, I rounded my bill up and tipped about $2-$4, depending on the total bill.
Food Situation: We ate out for every lunch and dinner. Most places had specials that cost between $8 and $12 for a soup and a simple main course (usually some sort of fish or chicken with rice and beans). It was good, but generally pretty basic. I had the best meals on the nights that I splurged, but my priciest meal was $30 (including a drink!), which is considered affordable by New York standards.
Favorite Restaurant: Il Nuovo Giardino
Location: Santa Cruz
Price: $22.90 total for white fish in coconut sauce, plus a mojito.
Honorable Mentions: Cesar’s Restaurant in Isabela
We had just gone to the beach and I was hot, sunburned, hungry, and craving a cold juice. Thankfully, there’s no lack of tropical fruit options in the Galapagos. I paid $11 for a guava batido (smoothie) and a ham and cheese sandwich.
Food Total: About $325 in total
Nightlife Situation: The happy hour specials in the Galapagos were unreal. Almost every bar had a two-for-$10 special going on (some even offered three!) all night. We usually got drinks before dinner every night. In Santa Cruz, we took free salsa dancing classes at Bongo Bar (the best music and sweetest cocktails), and on our last night, we sang karaoke at Karaoke de Wilfredo.
What People Wear Out: Casual-cute attire. I usually wore a denim mini skirt with some sort of T-shirt and sandals, but plenty of people wore jeans, rompers, or sundresses.
Average Cost Of A Pint: $6-$8 for a bottled beer
Extra Cost To Know About: None! There was no cover charge anywhere we went — not even for karaoke.
Last Call: Several restaurants closed around 10 p.m., and Bongo Bar in Santa Cruz closed at 2 a.m. The times seemed to vary by island/season.
Average Total Cost Of A Night Out: $10-$30, depending on how much you want to party!
Cheapest Bar I'd Actually Go Back To: El Faro Pool Bar in Isabela
It had a two-for-$10 special with tons of options, delicious daiquiris, great music, and ping pong, pool, and foosball tables.
Going Out Total: About $90 for the entire week — which is usually what I’d spend in one weekend in New York.
What I Spent A Lot On That Was Totally Worth It: A day trip to the rock formation known as Kicker Rock, or León Dormido, in San Cristobal. Most of our activities were included on our Intrepid tour, but this one was optional. For $120, we got on a nice, big, comfy boat that took us out to the Kicker Rock rock formation — about two hours Northwest of San Cristobal.
We sunbathed on the deck, lunch and snacks were included, and a guide led us on a snorkel that brought us up close and personal with sea turtles, parrot fish, sea lions, blue-footed boobies, and even a small white-tipped shark.
What I Spent A Lot On That Was Totally Not Worth It: It’s hard to pinpoint one thing that was totally not worth it, because everything we did in the Galapagos felt worth it to me. I learned something everywhere I went. But if I had to pick, it was probably the optional excursion we went on to the Tintoreras Islet. For $47, we went on a small boat about five minutes off the coast of Isabela. According to the tour guide who took us, you can usually see tons of sharks, but we definitely went on a slow day. There wasn’t too much to see, and our walk on the actual islet was hot. The water we snorkeled in was murky that day, but even then, we managed to see a stunning school of golden rays and a very playful sea lion. Again, almost everything on the Galapagos is worth it.
All jokes aside, if there’s one thing the people of the Galapagos take seriously, it’s conservation. Even Intrepid, as a company, makes it a point to offset carbon emissions from its trips by seeking less carbon-intensive alternatives and purchasing carbon credits from carbon reduction programs.
So, it was no surprise that the itinerary put an emphasis on teaching us about all the work the Galapagos National Park is doing to ensure the safety of the wildlife on the islands, including the protection of the endemic tortoise species. The naturalists and guides really want you to learn about what it takes and why their home is so special, and that’s something I definitely took to heart during my visit.
Favorite Thing I Did, Regardless Of Cost: Chilling on the beach in Isabela. Of all the islands we visited, Isabela was definitely the most sparse, but IMO, by far the most beautiful. The 4.5-mile beach was a high point for me. Lined with tiny, colorful bars, I indulged in a Coco Loco — an actual coconut filled with coconut water and rum — at Beto’s Bar. I also loved Tortuga Bay in Santa Cruz, another practically pristine, miles-long beach with white sand and crystal clear water. We kayaked ($20 per kayak rental) and snorkeled ($8 per mask) with marine iguanas, sharks, rays, and sea lions.
Hidden Gem I Found: Not so much a “hidden” gem, but you must check out Los Kioskos at Puerto Ayora in Santa Cruz. It’s essentially an entire street lined with food kiosks and tiny restaurants, with tables packed all down the middle. Go for traditional eats and music. One of the best meals I had was a $15 churrasco steak with a fried egg on top and, of course, another two-for-$10 special at Las Delicias Del Pirata. I cannot make this up.
The Photo I Took That Got The Most Attention:
I rarely (read: never) post swimsuit pics, but I truly felt like the best version of myself on this trip — sunburn and salty hair included.
Excursions/Extras Total: $167 for both the Kicker Rock and Tintoreras excursions.
Best Galapagos Hack: You can’t drink the tap water on the Galapagos. It’s brackish water, meaning it’s salty AF and not suitable for drinking. Either budget for plenty of bottled water, or bring your own reusable bottle and fill up from fresh water tanks at your hotel or hostel. I also highly suggest bringing nausea relief medication, even if you don’t think you’d get sea sick. Those public speedboat rides are rough.
Advice For Anyone Traveling Alone: Ask the locals for suggestions. The people on every island we went to were some of the nicest, most welcoming I’ve ever met. Also, bring tons of sunscreen! I’m naturally olive-skinned and I burned like never before. You are basically on the equator, so make sure to hydrate and protect your skin. Apply, reapply, repeat.
Total Trip Cost: $2,688
Worth It? Yes! This is truly a place like no other. It’s so easy to get caught up in the hustle and bustle of everyday life, but getting away from the city and connecting with the natural world made me rethink so many factors of my own life. The Galapagos Island life is a simple one, and it’s really lovely to see how friendly and happy the people are with so few materialistic luxuries.
If you love wildlife, beaches, cheap drinks, and friendly folks, run — don’t walk — to the Galapagos.