Ballin' On A Budget: Galapagos Islands For Under $800
I admit it. I was part of the backpacking community that thought it was too expensive. Honestly, the trip probably would have been had it not been for a little good luck.
On Thursdays in Baños, I hosted a Couchsurfing meetup at Casa Hood that usually had a nice mix of backpackers and backpackers who planted themselves in the town for a bit. At the first meetup, I met two brothers, Jay and Bennett Waxse, who were doing a Workaway up in the mountains. As a side note and pure coincidence, we all attended TCU (Texas Christian University) (Go Frogs!) but they had graduated a few years ahead of me. We quickly became friends and they told me they were heading to another Workaway on Santa Cruz Island in the Galapagos after their time in Baños ended. As a bird and nature lover (I am actually pretty nerdy and know too much about birds ), Galápagos Islands might as well be heaven on earth. I was intrigued to say the least and asked if they could talk to their host and see if they needed more volunteers.
Two weeks passed and honestly the thought of the Galapagos had drifted out of my mind until Jay sent me a WhatsApp text saying I was more than welcome to come volunteer if I was still interested. I immediately started looking up flights and booked a round trip ticket ticket the next day! 3 weeks on the Galapagos sounded good to me! I found a flight for just over $300 round trip.
I arrived March 2nd and was immediately greeted by a man picking me up for Galapagos Safari Camp, the "glamping" hotel where I would be working with the maintenance team. The deal was work 5-6 hours a day in exchange for three meals a day and accommodation. How hard could this work be I thought. Man, I was wrong! From digging trenches to filling in the potholes with gravel to washing tents with power hoses, I came to appreciate what my coworkers did on a daily basis for over 8 hours a day. It was a great workout and I think making this city boy do some manual labor was a positive thing. You always need to be humbled and this experience certainly did that! Katrien, the camp director, and the rest of the staff were amazing, making sure I was happy and comfortable. Special shout to my guys Edwin and Segundo for helping me learn Spanish and how to dig badass trenches! Of course, it was awesome to work with Jay and Bennett for two weeks. The safari camp was absolutely beautiful as well, located in the highlands of Santa Cruz Island and about a 35 minute drive from Puerto Ayora. I was able to do some special activities with the whole staff such as a day trip to Tortuga Bay. I saved my off days for the end of my time at safari camp and decided to take a trip to Isabela for a long weekend.
I had another bout of good luck as I had no plans for Isabela and was going to arrive then find a hotel and figure out the rest. However, I decided to take a glance at Couchsurfing. I figured there would be no couchsurfers at all, but to my surprise there were 7. I messaged all 7, heard back from 2, and got accepted by 1. His name was Cristian and said he would pick me up at the port.
When I took the boat over from Puerto Ayora to Isabela, the largest of the islands at 120 KM long, Cristian was there waiting for me as he said and we walked two minutes to his beachfront house that he shared with his roommate, Ricardo. They had two other American girls staying with them too. Their house was amazing as it was completely open air and had an amazing view from the roof of the beach and ocean. I hit the Couchsurfing jackpot! Not only were these guys really cool and laid back, Ricardo cooked healthy, vegetarian food and insisted on sharing. I don't use Couchsurfing to save money, I use it to meet locals and have unique experiences, but this was a nice bonus on the Galapagos as the cheapest hostels are priced at $20 a night. If this wasn't already enough, Cristian lent me his bike as I was able to tour a lot of the island and was able to join Ricardo's kayaking tour for half price. Isabela was a huge success as I met some incredible people, had delicious food, saw amazing sights, and saved a crazy amount of money in the process.
Overall, the Galápagos Islands are incredible, but be ready to spend a bit more money.I am a young solo traveler and don't need luxury, the adventure is half of the fun anyway! I got incredibly lucky, but if you are looking to go see the Galapagos on a budget it is entirely possible! Look at Workaway or any work-travel site. I am always a huge fan of Couchsurfing so always look at that as an option. Expect to be a little uncomfortable if you go my route, but at the same time it was an incredible experience and you do not need to wait until you are older and have more money as many travelers say. It is important to note, I only went to Isabela and Santa Cruz and did not do any of the land tours that are only one day! If you have any questions about my time on the Islands or anything else, feel free to reach out! Below is my exact cost breakdown in US Dollars:
Visitor fee $100
Departure Tax $20
Boat ride round trip $60
Boat taxi $2
Isabela Island Entrance Fee $10
Cash Spent $301.53 ( Taxis, food, drinks)