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Question from A Reader: How Do I Go to the Galapagos Without Going Broke?

Galapagos Birds

I  recently got an email from my friend, Laurel, who is a serious traveler. She asked:

Do you have any recommendations or ideas for good deals to the Galapagos Islands? Been dying to spend my 40th there, but it quickly approaches and the trip is looking prohibitively expensive. Figured it was worth a quick email to see if maybe you had any good insider knowledge?

Since I had recently answered the same question recently for another friend, I figured it was time to write a post about how to do the Galapagos without going broke. Here’s my advice: go with a land-based tour and focus on just a few islands.

Land-based Tours Save Money

I LOVED the Galapagos. LOVED IT. It was funky and cool and just really unique. At first I was hesitant because  you pretty much have to go with tour company, and I prefer to be independent when I can.

Me and some of the Friendly Locals I met in the  Galapagos

There are tour operators to pick from, but I needed the “entry level survey course” not the once-in-a-lifetime Sanctuary Retreats Dream Trip. Also, I’m not a huge fan of boats and many of the tours (especially the expensive ones) are based out of boats.  I also wanted as much wifi as possible, and the ability to seek privacy from my tour mates in the event I found them annoying.

Sea lion sunning himself

I decided to do a “land based tour” and went with Red Mangrove because I had a friend who had had a positive experience with them and they had what I needed at a comfortable price point.  Overall My outfitter was good, not great. They had pretty good value for the money and all the people were cool. I wouldn’t recommend them for honeymooners because some of the lodges (especially on Floreana) are really rustic. Still wicked cool, though.

The Giant Turtle & The Japanese Tourists

It’s worth noting that most Galapagos tours start out of GYE (Guayaquil, NOT Quito, which is in the mountains). I got there via American connecting through MIA and stayed at the glamorous Sheraton Guayaquil, which has everything you’d expect from a South American Sheraton, including a view of Hooters.

Approaching Isabella Island, Galapagos

Don’t Try to See Everything

I only hit 3  of the islands: Santa Cruz, Isabella, Floreana on the Darwin’s Triangle Long Tour, but felt I got a good feel for the place. I found Isabella Island particularly charming and would have liked to stay there a day or two longer. There was an exceptionally cool bar– the kind of hole-in-the wall beach spot was called Bar Beto in Puerto Villamil and it’s worth throwing back a few beers there. If I were going again I’d probably see if I could stay an extra day or two on Isabella.

I also have a friend who spent  more money than I was willing to who used a company called Quasar Expeditions and had a positive experience with them.

Here’s a video I made of  of some of the giant tortoises I met during my trip to the Galapagos.