Budgeting your 2019 Galapagos vacation

When planning your dream vacation to the Galapagos Islands, figuring out a budget is an important step – Columbus Travel is here to help guide you through this planning process so that you don’t leave any details out.

The Galapagos are very remote and notoriously more expensive than traveling on the mainland of South America. Here are tips on how to plan your budget and find the perfect trip for you without breaking the bank.

Step one: Cruise or Land-based tour

The biggest part of the budget and the biggest decision to make is whether to take a cruise or a land-based tour of the Galapagos.

Most people choose cruises because of their comprehensive tours of the Islands and the exclusive access they have to otherwise isolated visitor sites. Cruises usually end up being more expensive than land-based tours.

In recent years, land-based tours have also gained popularity as a way for travelers to save some money and have a more flexible itinerary. However, the National Park is very strict about visitor sites, so all land-based tours should be planned through an agency, like Columbus Travel so that you can make sure your itinerary includes everything you’re hoping to see.

When shopping and budgeting for a trip to Galapagos, it’s important to understand what’s included in the displayed price. A low price may mean that fewer services are included than a comparable more expensive trip. Read the fine print of the trip carefully, add up each component of your trip, and ask your agent if anything isn’t clear.

Tour prices usually do not include:

  • $100 National Park entrance fee (paid in cash upon arrival in the Galapagos)
  • $20 tourist transit card (paid in cash at the airport in mainland Ecuador)
  • Entrance fees into private reserves ($3-10, budget maybe $20 total)
  • Flights to and from home to either Quito or Guayaquil
  • Flights from Quito or Guayaquil to the Galapagos
  • Tips for guides and crew
  • Beverages

Tour prices may or may not include:

  • Transportation to and from the airport to your hotel in Quito or Guayaquil
  • Hotel and food costs in Quito or Guayaquil
  • City tours
  • Rental of wetsuits and snorkeling gear

Tour prices almost always include:

  • Airport transfers to/from your cruise or hotel once you arrive in Galapagos
  • English speaking guide while you’re on the islands
  • All food and lodging while you’re on the cruise

Budgeting for Cruises

Cruises range in length from 4-days all the way up to 2 weeks and will likely be the most expensive component of your trip. Once you are on board, they are all-inclusive, making budgeting pretty straightforward. That means that they include all meals, your room, and any transportation that is part of your cruise.

If you are looking for the most comfortable, highest quality experience, then consider one of the higher-end cruises. If your finances are a bit tighter, no worries – there are some good deals on Galapagos cruises for boats in the budget category.

Galapagos Cruise prices start at

Class 4-Day/ 3-night 5-day/ 4-night 8-day/ 7-night 15-day
Luxury cruise ship $1745 $2326 $3786 $6668
Luxury yacht $2939 $3965 $6235 N/A
First-class yacht $1620 $2190 $3786 $6278
Mid-range yacht $1249 $1875 $2563 $4875
Budget yacht $935 $1249 $1999 $4141

Last Minute Cruises and Other Discounts

If you’re a bargain hunter, then consider booking a last-minute cruise. All cruises operate on a fixed schedule, so if they have unsold cabins in the weeks and days before a cruise departs, they will most likely offer major discounts. Every operator would prefer to sell a cabin at a discounted rate than to not sell it at all. Many travelers have saved up to 50% on the original ticket price by using this strategy.

However, it is a relatively risky way to plan your trip. There is always the chance that all of your top choice boats will fill up, leaving you without a cruise. In this case, you might have to settle for a cruise that you didn’t originally prefer or even a land-based tour of the Galapagos Islands. If you are planning to use this strategy, it’s best to keep some flexibility in your schedule and be ready to travel at the last minute.

The key with this is to do your research. Columbus Travel updates their Galapagos Deals page daily and is a reliable source for last minute availability and discounts. It’s important to contact an agent quickly if you find the right deal, as the last spots can fill up quickly and your agent can hold a reservation without making a deposit and can confirm your booking for a couple of days while you make a final decision.

This approach works best during the Galapagos low seasons (April / May & September / October). During the high seasons of Christmas/New Years, late November, July, and August, there are very few last minute options and it’s recommended to book your trip many months in advance.

Land-based tours

If you’re not much of a sea-goer, then a land-based tour of the Galapagos Islands will be your best bet. There are only four inhabited islands. On shorter trips, you will want to base your vacation in one of these towns and travel from there. If you have the luxury of more time, then consider staying on several of the islands to get a true taste of each region.

Hotel Price (US Dollars), starting at
5-star hotel $420
4-star hotel $100
3-star hotel $60
2-star hotel $95
Other items Approximate price (US Dollars)
Food Per meal, per person: $3-$35
Speedboats/ water-taxi between islands $25-$30 one way
Inter-island airplanes $160 one way ($260 return)
Taxis on the islands $1-$5
Taxi from airport to Puerto Ayora (Santa Cruz hotels only) $20

Combining your cruise with a land-based tour

If you can’t decide between a cruise and a land-based tour, why not do both? Many Galapagos travelers choose to split their time between a shorter cruise (4D/3N8D/7N) and a few extra days on one of the islands. If this sounds good to you, then here are a few different scenarios that mix and match cruises and island hopping to optimize your value.

Option A:

4-day cruise $2000
4 days in a hotel $2000

Option B:

8-day cruise $3500
3 days in a hotel $1800

Option C:

4-day Land & Sea tour $1800
8-day Land & Sea tour $4000

Staying in Ecuador

All flights to the Galapagos pass through Quito or Guayaquil en route to the Galapagos. We strongly encourage anyone traveling to the Galapagos to arrive to these cities at least one day in advance, just in case one of your flights gets delayed. This is especially important for anyone who plans to do a Galapagos cruise.

If you miss your flight to the Galapagos, your ship will leave without you, as all navigations are controlled by the National Park and therefore inflexible.

While you’re in mainland Ecuador, depending on how much time you have, it’s a great opportunity to get to know a truly beautiful part of South America’s rich natural and cultural history.

Hotels in Quito range from $30/ night to $600/ night, and you really do get what you pay for. Quito offers hotels that range from the pinnacle of luxury to some cheap hostels that may be better to avoid. You should figure out how much you are willing to spend on a hotel before your trip and then start your search there.

In Guayaquil, the prices are a little cheaper than Quito, with the cheapest hostels usually starting around $8/ night and the most luxurious hotels around $400/ night.

Other items Price (US Dollars)
Food Per meal, per person: $3-$35
Taxis $5-$30, depending on distance


Depending on when you book your ticket and with which airline, flights can fluctuate a lot. If you book later, it’s likely that the price will be higher. Booking earlier also has other advantages, like a greater flexibility with seat choice.

Region Prices (USD) starting at
(From Frankfurt, Germany)
North America
(From Miami, Fla.)

Article writen by Brian Bayer

dolphin approaching a boat in galapagos
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