🐒 Backpacking Galapagos: How to Travel Galapagos on a Budget

Backpacking Galapagos on a Budget blog cover graphic.  Text overlaying an image of a Galapagos sea lion sleeping on a bench.

Backpacking the Galapagos islands is an easy and affordable way to see one of the most incredible places this world has to offer.

Contrary to popular belief, you do not need a tour, guide, nor permit to visit the inhabited islands of the Galapagos. All that is required is a plane ticket, an INGALA transit control card purchased at the airport, and $100 for entry upon arrival.

Sophie and I visited the Galapagos on a self-guided adventure in April 2023. With careful budgeting, we spent less than $1000 per person in our two weeks on the islands!

In this guide, we will teach you how to travel Galapagos on a budget. This includes advice on the cheapest restaurant and accommodation options, which island(s) to stay on and visit, and a breakdown of typical expenses for budgeting purposes.

πŸ’° Galapagos Travel Budget Overview

A marine iguana sits down next to a female in a bathing suit as both soak in the sun at one of the best free beaches in Galapagos.

The primary costs of visiting the Galapagos are flights, tours/activities, accommodation, meals, and travel fees in that order.

We have not included international flights to Ecuador in these approximations as many backpackers will visit Galapagos as part of a larger trip. This is something you will need to take into consideration depending on your starting point.

Including flights from Quito or Guayaquil on mainland Ecuador, the minimum cost an individual should expect to incur is between $800-$1000 for a one-week visit. This breaks down as follows:

Roundtrip flights to Galapagos from mainland Ecuador$450
Galapagos National Park Entry Fee
*children 12 and under are half-price*
INGALA Transit Control Card$20
Meals @ 3 per day$15
Taxis / Transport / Misc Fees$5
Total Minimum Cost Per Day$35

We will discuss each budget item included in the table above, as well as additional items worth considering, in dedicated sections below.

In addition to learning about the average costs and pricing, we will discuss tips for minimizing your expenses while backpacking Galapagos.

πŸ—ΊοΈ Map of the Galapagos Islands

A color coded map of the Galapagos Islands showing inhabited islands and those accessible by day trip or cruise, plus ferry routes custom made by We Dream of Travel.

The map of the Galapagos Islands above shows the archipelago in its entirety.

It has been color-coded to indicate the islands that are inhabited and can be stayed on, those accessible by day tour, and those that are accessible via cruise ship only.

In addition, ferry services and airports are indicated by the appropriate symbols.

As you begin to plan your Galapagos itinerary, it is helpful to understand the layout of the islands and how each can be visited.


🏝 Cheapest Galapagos Island(s) to Stay On

Peaceful photo of San Cristobal and Playa de Oro; one of many free and easy to access beaches on the island.

Key Takeaway
San Cristobal is the best Galapagos island for backpacking and budget-friendly vacations.

There are 4 inhabited Galapagos islands you can choose to stay on, but the only two worth considering for a budget-friendly holiday are Santa Cruz and San Cristobal.

These are also the only two islands that you can fly to from mainland Ecuador.

San Cristobal is the best Galapagos island for backpacking and budget-friendly vacations as you will find slightly lower average costs than on Santa Cruz. It is also the easiest island to fly in and out from as the major airport (SCY) is located on the island only 10 minutes from town.

Conversely, the major airport for Santa Cruz (GPS) is actually located on the adjacent island of Baltra and requires a lengthy journey involving a ferry and multiple buses to reach the main town of Puerto Ayora.

Santa Cruz is the more popular island for tourists, but this leads to a slightly higher average cost. If you do not speak at least basic Spanish, however, Santa Cruz will be the better option.


🎟 Entry Fees for Galapagos National Park

Family photo in front of the Galapagos National Park sign at the Charles Darwin Research station.

Key Takeaway
It will cost about $130-$150 for Galapagos entry fees and airport transport.

Understand that the entirety of the Galapagos archipelago is part of a national park.

While you do not need any pre-arranged permit or visa to visit, there are a few unavoidable fees you will incur for entry. These are the INGALA transit card, national park entry fee, and taxi/shuttle services from the airport to town.

INGALA Transit Control Card ($20)

You must purchase your TCC at the airport on mainland Ecuador prior to departure.

They cost only $20 per person and are available at a kiosk in Quito and Guayaquil, which are the only two airports that fly to Galapagos.

Galapagos National Park Entry Fee

Once you have arrived in the Galapagos, you will need to pay the national park fee in order to leave the airport.

The cost is $100 per adult and $50 per child, and is cash only.

This is a one-time fee regardless of how long you stay and how many islands you visit.

Airport Transport Costs

View of San Cristobal showing Kicker Rock from plane window flying into Galapagos.

Once you have exited the airport, you will need to reach the major towns of Puerto Ayora (Santa Cruz) or Puerto Baquerizo Moreno (San Cristobal).

Santa Cruz

From Baltra airport to Puerto Ayora, you will need to take the “Airline Bus” ($5), then a water taxi ($1-$2) to reach Santa Cruz.

Once on Santa Cruz, you will need to travel south to Puerto Ayora. You have the option of a public bus ($5) or a taxi (~$25). The taxi can be split by up to 4 people making it an affordable option if in a group.

San Cristobal

From SCY airport to town (Puerto Baquerizo Moreno), you have the option of walking or taking a taxi. It is approximately a 15-25 minute walk (0.6-1.2 miles/1-2km) from the airport to town, depending on where exactly you choose to stay.

A taxi will typically cost $8 – $10 and can be shared by up to 4 passengers.

✈️ Budgeting for Flights to Galapagos

A view of the coastline from an airplane window flying over the Galapagos islands on a sunny day.

Key Takeaway
Fly first to Quito ($ = variable), then Quito to Galapagos ($450 roundtrip)


The Ecuadorian Government has lowered airfare for Ecuadorian residents in an effort to make it more accessible to locals. You need to be very careful not to book a resident rate as a tourist.

Flights to Galapagos are only available from the Ecuadorian cities of Quito and Guayaquil. Three airlines offer these flights: Avianca, Latam, and Equair.

While modern flight booking platforms will allow you to set your final destination for San Cristobal (SCY) or Santa Cruz/Baltra (GPS), it is recommended you book your flights to mainland Ecuador first (usually Quito), then book separately to Galapagos.

This is to avoid any issues with the residents-only fares, provide a cushion in case of delays or cancellations on layovers, and to break up a lengthy journey.

Flights to Galapagos from Quito or Guayaquil start at $450 roundtrip for tourists.

If you see anything cheaper than this, you are booking a resident-only fare and will not be permitted onto the airplane without buying a new ticket! This is an expensive mistake many backpackers make!

This post does an excellent job explaining the different airfare classes and how to identify them for each airline.


Be cautious of accidentally booking a locals-only fare!

Flight comparison sites may pull up cheaper flights than those listed above, but these are for locals only.

As a foreign visitor, you must book the higher price point or you will be charged an additional $150-200 at the airport.

The fares you need to purchase for each airline are:

  • L” fare for Avianca
  • Top” fare for Latam
  • Cacao-Premium” fare for Equair

Unfortunately, this is not clear on airline websites and we met many people on the islands that had made this mistake.


🏠 Backpacker & Budget Accommodation in Galapagos

At no cost to you, we receive a small amount for any bookings made using the links below.

A sea lion sleeping on a bench by Playa Mann San Cristobal.

Accommodation in the Galapagos is surprisingly budget-friendly.

As it has the most options, you will typically find the cheapest accommodation in Puerto Ayora on Santa Cruz island. However, San Cristobal and Isabela still offer several budget-friendly options.

The starting price for a bed in a shared dorm start at $15-20 per night and a private room starts at around $20-30 per night.

Most prices you’ll see for accommodation online will exclude a 12% VAT charge so be sure to click all the way through to see the final total price.

Below are some recommendations for highly-rated budget-friendly accommodations on each island.

Best Budget Accommodation on San Cristobal

Best Budget Accommodation on Santa Cruz

Best Budget Accommodation on Isabela


🍽 Cheapest Food & Restaurants in Galapagos

Night photo of Los Kioskos, the most budget friendly place to eat on Santa Cruz island in the Galapagos.

Key Takeaway
Local Ecuadorian food (“comida tΓ­pica”) is plentiful, costing $5-$6 per meal.

Each of the main inhabited Galapagos islands will have a variety of food and restaurants to choose from, but it is important to remember how remote they are. Most food and spices that need to be imported come at a premium and are often mediocre in flavor.

If you are backpacking or planning to travel Galapagos on a budget, you will want to look for the local restaurants advertising “comida tΓ­pica” for $5 or $6.

These restaurants offer limited lunch and dinner menus for a set price that typically includes rice, beans, salad, soup, and your choice of protein. Some may offer plantains and/or potatoes instead of rice or beans.

Be sure to brush up on your Spanish as these places will rarely speak English. The most common items listed are:

  • Carne (beef)
  • Pollo (chicken)
  • Pescado (fish)
  • Arroz (rice)
  • Sopa (soup)
  • Menestras (beans)

Any non-local food will automatically cost a bit more and likely be smaller portions. It will be easy to find common American and European foods at an affordable price between $8-$15 per person on the major islands (Santa Cruz, San Cristobal, and Isabela).


🚀 Day Tours & Activity Costs

A woman stands at a fence gazing out toward Isla Bartolome from the island's iconic viewpoint during a day tour.

Key Takeaway
Day tours are the most expensive budget item, but the easiest to avoid.

You will be shocked at the sticker price of day tours from any of the Galapagos islands. The most affordable will be between $50-$100 and will only be local half-day tours, with snorkel trips and visits to some of the sister islands starting between $120-$250!

The good news is that you do not need to book any tours whatsoever! The wildlife is plentiful on Galapagos and much of it can be seen right from a local beach or pier.

This is another reason that San Cristobal is the best island to stay on for budget travel. You can snorkel right off the nearby beaches of Playa Mann, Playa Oro, and Playa Punta Carola and expect to swim with sea lions and marine iguanas while all sorts of avian species soar overhead.

There are, of course, some experiences worth considering that can only be done via tour. Of those available, the Kicker Rock and 360Β° Tour offer the best value.


Booking your Galapagos Day Tours

Over / under photo of a sea lion swimming in the crystalline waters off the coast of Sardina Bay in the Galapagos islands.

You will get the best rates for Galapagos day tours by booking locally on the islands.

For any tours you don’t mind missing out on, you will save money by waiting to book your tours once in Galapagos; just know that many will not have last-minute availability.

For example, booking a 360Β° tour online will cost you around $220-$260, compared to just $170-$180 at a local tour office in town, but it is also usually selling out days in advance.

You can sometimes get a further reduced rate by booking multiple tours through the same operator.

It is worth noting that most tour companies don’t have websites, and even the ones that do will not typically offer online bookings. Instead, you’ll be directed to a local WhatsApp number to arrange your tour or be redirected to book through Viator.

You will, therefore, need to decide on the best option for you:

  1. Arrange the tour once on the island for a cheaper rate, but risk the tour being sold out.
  2. Book online through Viator for an easy and guaranteed tour at a higher price.
  3. Reach out to tour operators directly, but navigate complicated systems and pay a slightly higher price.

πŸ’΅ Miscellaneous Expenses to Budget For

Night photo of the main street of Puerto Ayora on the popular island of Santa Cruz.

There are a few other miscellaneous expenses that are mostly unavoidable and should be budgeted for. While these can add up, they are unlikely to break the bank.

  • TIPS: Up to 20% gratuity is often expected for guides, servers, and drivers.
  • INSURANCE: Due to its remote location, travel insurance is essential for a visit Galapagos.
  • TAXIS: Be prepared for $1 water taxi fees to come up any time you leave any pier.
  • INTER-ISLAND TRANSPORT: $30 for transport between inhabited islands.
  • ALCOHOLIC BEVERAGES: $3-$5 per beer, $5-$10 per cocktail.

πŸ™‹β€β™€οΈ How to Travel Galapagos on a Budget FAQs

A girl stands behind a Galapagos tortoise at El Chato Ranch on Santa Cruz island.

Below are answers to some of the most frequently asked questions on how to travel Galapagos on a budget.

Use the dropdown arrows to reveal answers.

How do you travel Galapagos for cheap?

A self-guided visit is the cheapest way to travel Galapagos. The cost of a one-week visit including airfare from Quito can be less than $1000 USD if budgeted accordingly.

How much does it cost to get to Galapagos?

Roundtrip airfare from Quito to Galapagos starts at $450 USD for non-residents. There is also a mandatory $20 INGALA Transit Control Card and a $100 entry fee.

Can you backpack in the Galapagos?

There is plenty of backpacker-friendly accommodation in Galapagos. Basic accommodation is available in family-run “hostals” for as little as $15/night and fixed-menu meals can be easily found for $5.

πŸ“š More Galapagos Islands Travel Guides

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Hopefully, this guide has answered all of your questions, now it’s time for the rest of your planning!

These guides will help you through the process step-by-step, providing insight on everything from finding flights to top activities and so much more.

Planning Guides

Local Guides

Things to Do Guides

πŸ’¬ Final Thoughts

A marine iguana enjoys. the sunshine in this photo of Playa Mansa in Tortuga Bay in the Galapagos islands.

The two of us work very hard to create these free travel guides to help you plan your dream vacation. If you think we’ve done a good job and would like to say thanks, please consider clicking the donate button below πŸ™‚

We truly hope you have found this guide useful as you plan your backpacking or budget-friendly travels to Galapagos.

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Written by
Adam Marland is a professional travel blogger and landscape photographer from Oregon. After over a decade of experience as a freelance travel photographer, Adam found national acclaim when he became the National Park Foundation's β€œChief Exploration Officer” in 2021.

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