How much does it cost to travel to Galapagos?
Charles Darwin once said that the archipelago was a little world within itself, or “rather a satellite attached to America.” This beautiful analogy couldn’t be more accurate: the Galapagos Islands are so much more than just white sand beaches, a turquoise ocean and fearless wildlife – they’re incredibly far away from the continent, and that’s why the average cost of traveling to Galapagos is not nearly the same as taking a cruise through the Caribbean.
You may not find this to be a fulfilling reason for why the cost of traveling to the Galapagos is so high, but it’s actually something you seriously need to keep in mind before we get to answering the principal question at hand. So, without further ado, follow along with us in this blog as we explain what the cost of traveling to Galapagos is and what this number actually means.
How much does it cost to go to the Galapagos?
If we keep Darwin’s analogy in mind, traveling to a place like the Moon – Earth’s natural satellite – would be really expensive. The first reason for the whopping cost of traveling to this rocky giant would definitely be its location. Well, dear reader, let me tell you that the same dynamic exists when it comes to the Galapagos Islands.
Cost factor #1: Location
The archipelago is located almost 926 km (570 mi) off the east coast of Ecuador in the Pacific Ocean. This may not seem like a large distance, but it definitely becomes huge when most of the things you need to get through your day-to-day life have to be flown in from the mainland. In fact, when you’re on a plane headed to the Galapagos Islands, you may very well be traveling with the same oranges you’re going to have for breakfast the next morning.
Locals pay the Ecuadorian Airforce almost $1 USD per kilogram (2.2 pounds) for groceries, personal hygiene products, clothes, etc. Other shipping companies charge almost $3 USD per kilogram! Ultimately, this fee adds to the average cost of any commercial goods that are sold on the inhabited islands. The main reason for why things are flown in and not locally grown or produced has to do with the preservation of the Galapagos’ fragile environment, as some foreign species or items might completely destroy the archipelago’s endemic fauna.
In fact, only a few things like coffee, bananas, avocados, tomatoes, papayas, and oranges can be grown on the islands.
So, next time you think the cost of staying in Galapagos is high, imagine the cost of actually living on one of the islands!
Fact: The blackberry crisis!
In 1968, a Rubus niveus strain of blackberries was introduced into the islands. Since then, these plants have grown freely across its terrain, occupying spaces intended for other species or vegetation. The eradication of blackberries is hard 0n the environment because it requires strong chemicals that can potentially hurt the wildlife.
Cost factor #2: You become a part of something bigger
Fact: When you travel to the Enchanted Isles, the amount of money you choose to invest does not go straight into your tour operator’s bank account. As a matter of fact, the biggest income for the islanders comes from tourism. The rules for guaranteeing this are pretty simple: all companies or individuals wishing to operate a hotel or a cruise in the Galapagos must, by law, employ and hire local people to work for them in order to help with the sustainable, economic development of the inhabited islands.
For many, this makes perfect sense, as the locals aren’t able to take the bus or commute to their job as simply as one would on the mainland. People that live on the Galapagos Islands instead need a reliable source of income that comes to them, and the aforementioned dynamic is the perfect way to give back to the community.
At Metropolitan Touring, we believe that one of the Galapagos’ most amazing highlights, right next to its flora and fauna, is the local community. Galapagueños are kindhearted and always willing to lend a helping hand. That’s why we take great pride in our naturalist guides, crew, expedition leaders, and hotel managers and staff. You can rest assured that they will go above and beyond your expectations in terms of service, safety, knowledge, and fun!
Cost factor #3: Preservation
Can you believe that, prior to the 1960’s, no one was interested in traveling to the Galapagos Islands? The wonders of its fearless fauna and breathtaking landscapes remained a mystery to the world until the 1970’s touristic boom! As a matter of fact, just this year, the archipelago celebrated its 40th anniversary as one of UNESCO’s most important World Heritage Sites.
In order to preserve the Enchanted Isles, the Ecuadorian government created the Galapagos National Park in 1959. Approximately 97% of the islands are under the Park’s jurisdiction, while the other 3% belongs to inhabited spaces in the archipelago like Puerto Ayora (Santa Cruz Island), Puerto Velasco Ibarra (Floreana Island), Puerto Villamil (Isabela Island), and Puerto Baquerizo Moreno (San Cristobal Island).
The Galapagos National Park – also known as GNP – is in charge of keeping things regulated and under control. Nothing slips under their radar! They monitor virtually everything that happens throughout the islands and keep track of the way tourists interact with the wildlife and scenery. Every itinerary or exploration must be approved by the Park and follow a set of specific rules to ensure both the safety of the islands and its visitors.
This tremendous initiative wouldn’t be possible without the help of tourism. Each time a person arrives to the Galapagos, they have to pay two fees: One goes to the Galapagos National Park and the other one is for immigration purposes. Remember that the entrance to the Galapagos Islands is strictly regulated and controlled, even if you’re an Ecuadorian! Here’s a quick breakdown of the costs:
Foreign tourists over the age of twelve: $100 USD
Foreign tourists under the age of twelve: $50 USD
National or foreign tourists currently residing in Ecuador, over the age of twelve: $6 USD
National or foreign tourists currently residing in Ecuador, under the age of twelve: $3 USD
Transit control card (TCC): $20 USD
These fees may seem a bit high, but they really aren’t: your money goes directly into important matters like the conservation of marine and terrestrial fauna and flora, and the improvement of basic services for locals like education, health, sanitation and so much more.
If you’re interested in knowing more about the GNP’s ongoing projects, be sure to check their official website!
Cost factor #4: The way you experience the islands
The Galapagos Islands are all about exploration, as each island offers you different landscapes, wildlife, and experiences. The most important thing is that you keep in mind that there’s no such thing as the “best way to experience the islands.” You have to choose the option that works for you and fits the type of vacation you want to have.
There two ways of making your way through the Galapagos Islands: land-based tours and expedition vessels.
In terms of cost, this may be a budget-friendly option, but it definitely comes with some sacrifices. Hotel costs per night in Galapagos range from $30 USD to $300 USD. But don’t get too excited just yet! If you feel tempted by the cheapest options, keep in mind that you’re only paying for the bed you’re going to use – literally! These options don’t include a tour per se (sometimes, breakfast is not even included).
Booking a hotel that offers or includes an island-to-island tour will always be your best option if you want to get to know the archipelago a little bit better. Some of the options include traveling to islands that are close to your accommodation by boat or even exploring the island you’re currently on by foot (or bike, depending on your hotel and your preferences).
Nevertheless, you need to keep in mind that these trips are done during the day. In the afternoon, you’ll have to return to your hotel because the Galapagos National Park does not authorize visits to its protected areas during nighttime.
We strongly recommend a land-based tour if you want a more relaxed vacation, as you have the added benefit of being able to choose whether you go for exploring the wonders of Galapagos or just relaxing by the pool at your hotel.
The choice is entirely yours.
If you’re considering this option, make sure you check out the Finch Bay Galapagos Hotel, our very own hotel in Puerto Ayora and one of National Geographic’s Unique Lodges of the World™!
Imagine yourself waking up to a new landscape every morning, or feeling the wind caress your face as you witness the exact moment where the sun (and all its magnificent shades of orange), melts into the ocean. As poetic as this may seem, these are some of the common things you’ll get to experience when you travel on board an expedition vessel.
If you want to have a proper and in-depth experience of the islands and make the most out of your time in Galapagos, then cruises and yachts may very well be the best option for you.
Time and distance
Believe it or not, the Galapagos Islands are really big. It may not seem like it, but if you take into account the distance between each island, the miles just keep adding up! Traveling from one visitor site to another takes time, so any itinerary that lasts less than 5 days is just not worth it. Why? Well…
Picture this: You book a 4-day cruise. Arriving at Galapagos, boarding your vessel, and getting settled in will eat up half of your first day. Leaving, on the other hand, will make you lose a whole day due to early-morning checkouts and transfers to the airport! This means you’ll only have 2.5 days to explore and interact with the islands after you’ve taken all this into consideration. Your entire tour will feel rushed and supremely underwhelming!
If you choose an itinerary that offers you 5 or more days, on the other hand, you’ll get to travel further and actually enjoy the islands without the much-dreaded fear of missing out. These options are certainly more expensive, but worth remembering is that you ought to consider this as an investment rather than an expense.
For many, the Galapagos Islands are a once-in-a-lifetime kind of trip. Traveling to this remote location is pricey, but if you’ve already decided to embark on this adventure, you might as well make the best of it.
Some expedition vessels not only offer greater area coverage but a greater variety of experiences, too. Take our ships for example! The Santa Cruz II, Yacht La Pinta, and Yacht Isabela II (which received an upgrade earlier this year) offer multi-guided expeditions, which means you’ll get to experience the islands at your own pace and preference. If you don’t feel like hiking is your thing, you can do some snorkeling, or even have a ride aboard a magnificent glass bottom boat. Our guides will always make sure every group is having the time of their lives, regardless of the activity they themselves choose to partake in.
Also, you will have time to learn new and interesting things during our daily lectures or find the perfect time to relax in one of our ample social areas. In the case of our Santa Cruz II, you don’t even have to worry about taking the perfect selfie as we have an onboard photographer that’ll capture all your best angles!
What do you want to see?
In terms of cost, this aspect is something you’ll definitely want to consider. The first thing you need to keep in mind is that each island is like a world within itself: they have different wildlife, landscapes, and dynamics.
Let’s take Red-footed boobies for example! This magnificent species can be found in Punta Pitt on San Cristobal Island and Darwin Bay on Genovesa Island. While San Cristobal is closer to the central islands and easier to travel to, keep in mind that making it all the way up to Genovesa to see this species is definitely worth it.
At this island, you’ll find the largest colony of Red-footed boobies in the entire archipelago! Also, due to its secluded location and complete absence of human presence, these birds interact differently with the environment. They seem freer, fearless and confident. It truly is an amazing thing to observe if you’re lucky enough!
Due to the fact that not all ships reach Genovesa Island (as it is located in the upper region of the archipelago), an itinerary that includes this island may last longer than average and be a bit pricier as it is located in the upper east corner of the archipelago. The operational cost (food, maintenance, and fuel) for traveling this distance is higher, and you’ll need a big vessel to fight the roughness of the sea.
If you want to do more research on what to see or where to go in the Galapagos Islands, make sure you check out our Galapagos Big 15 of iconic species, our ranking of the top islands to visit in the archipelago, and how to choose the best itinerary!
Why do prices range so much?
When it comes to Galapagos expedition vessels, you get what you pay for. It’s as simple as that. You can find options ranging from $1,200 USD per guest on a 5-day/4-night itinerary all the way to $6,000 per passenger on the same itinerary. Nevertheless, when it comes to choosing the best expedition vessel, the price isn’t the only thing you should consider. Keep in mind that the best option is the one that fits and caters to your particular needs and also makes the most out of your time in the archipelago, regardless of the price.
Altogether, a great vessel will most certainly guarantee a great vacation, and traveling aboard an expedition vessel will add more time to your journey! Give that your sleeping hours are when the ship moves from one island to the next, and that you don’t need to go all the way back to a land-based hotel after your excursions, you can go further and make the best out of every minute.
Should I pick the cheaper option?
Cheaper prices always come with a sacrifice of some sort. Let’s break it down just so you can see what we mean:
A cheaper price will get you a smaller boat that has room for, let’s say, 16 passengers. This doesn’t sound so terrible, right? You might even think that it will give you a more intimate experience of the islands.
Dear reader, I regret to inform you that this is not true.
Size matters: a glimpse inside smaller vessels
Imagine sharing an 88 foot (28 meter) long boat with 16 other people! Wouldn’t it feel a little bit cramped? Not only will your room feel like a matchbox, but the boat’s social areas won’t be as comfortable as they should feel. This lack of space will also mean that your cabin will be very close to sea level, where the not-so-quiet engine is situated. In addition to these problems, you need to consider that smaller vessels tend to rock more in open waters due to their reduced stability! So, all in all, you’ll be hampered, sleepless, and seasick. That sure sounds like one hell of a vacation!
Now, if you’re thinking that comfort isn’t one of your top priorities in a destination that’s supposed to be adventurous, you might be in for another treat.
Single-guided vessels: not much of an adventure
A smaller vessel usually comes with just one naturalist guide, which means you’ll be bound to a single activity during your visit to the islands! Remember that the Enchanted Isles are a National Park after all, and one of its most important rules is that visitors must be accompanied by a guide at all times. So, unfortunately, you can’t just wander alone around a visitor site.
Another important thing to notice is that the archipelago has a maximum number of visitors per island. If you travel aboard a small vessel, you’ll most likely find 4 other groups at the same location, which can get a little crowded and noisy. Also, you won’t have as wide a range of activities like kayaking, paddleboarding, and glass-bottom boat rides since the boat has no space to actually transport all this equipment.
Should I pick the most expensive option?
By any means, don’t! A more expensive expedition vessel won’t be uncomfortable or cramped, but you may find yourself surrounded by a lot of things you don’t actually need and you are paying good money for. Features like onboard pools, butlers, and balconies may seem great on paper, but do you really need them?
The Galapagos Islands are an expedition destination. This means that, as you make your way through the archipelago, you’ll disembark on a new island every day to go on an adventure. Unlike a Caribbean cruise, you won’t be spending every minute of your day aboard the boat! I mean, who needs a small pool when you can swim in one of the world’s most beautiful oceans?
The thing is, luxury cruises in the Galapagos Islands shouldn’t focus on trivial aspects like butlers or piano bars, but making the best out of your time on the islands. A truly rich experience should have a well-balanced itinerary, beautiful and breathtaking visitor sites, an abundance of wildlife and a magnificent space to relax after your excursions.
If you want to find out more about the true definition of luxury in the Galapagos Islands, make sure you read this blog!
How should I purchase my Galapagos trip?
Now that you’ve seen all the options and you’re sure that the Galapagos Islands are the place you want to go to, you need to make sure you book your trip the right way.
In terms of booking options, you can contact your local travel agency or try buying directly from an Ecuadorian tour operator. We recommend you try these options before booking through websites. After all, there’s nothing more reassuring than talking to a travel expert that will tell you what it is exactly that you’re paying for.
You can contact us directly by calling this number:
First things first, there’s no such thing as a “peak season” when it comes to the Galapagos. Unlike other popular destinations, prices remain steady throughout the year, just like the weather! In the Enchanted Isles, there’s only hot season and dry season. The biggest difference between them is that hot season tends to be sunnier, while dry season gets a little bit windy.
All in all, there’s no big weather variation or hurricane season, so prices don’t get affected by these features! The only dates that have a surcharge are Christmas and New Year’s Eve, but this has a perfectly reasonable explanation: During these special dates, expedition vessels tend to host special dinners, events and parties for its guests, just like you would do at home!
Another pricing variation you might find is in the form of last-minute deals. If your dates are flexible, and you’re ready to embark on an adventure, this could very well be the right option for you!
Last-minute deals happen when cabins are not sold for a specific departure date or a guest has canceled his/her reservation. In this case, cabins are sold at a very tempting price. You can even score a 5-day/4-night itinerary for $1,000 USD! But don’t get too excited just yet! You’ll need to make sure this offer won’t turn out to be ridiculously misleading (a.k.a. a colossal disappointment).
Wrapping Up: The True Cost of Traveling to the Galapagos Islands
When you’re choosing a destination to visit, the first thought that comes to mind is definitely not the price. Rather, you focus on imagining yourself there. The vision is so clear that you can almost hear the earth crunching under your shoes or the warm embrace of sunlight on your skin. You think of your feet moving across an unknown path that leads you to an unknown destination that you’re already in love with.
You think of all the laughs, the sunsets, the taste of the food you’re going to eat, the softness of bed you’re going to sleep in. You’re not just paying for a cabin or a room, you’re paying for the full experience, memories and emotions you’ll get out of your trip. This is what the cost of traveling to the Galapagos truly pays for.
Isabel Espinoza (1994) was born and raised in the beautiful cradle of mountains we call Quito. She has a degree in Journalism from Pontificia Universidad Católica del Ecuador. People and their stories have always been her thing (as well as traveling, nature, astronomy, and photography). Her love for Ecuador and its wonders is immense and blogging allows her to share a glimpse of this affection with the rest of the world.