Written by The Leap on 13 / 10 / 2015
Gap Year Advice
It's on every serious traveller's bucket list...
And no wonder - the Galapagos Islands are a wondrous place, and the reasons why it's so popular with gap year travellers interested in wildlife conservation volunteering are obvious. The islands' history with Charles Darwin is fascinating, they're home to many unique animals which have no fear of humans, and there's a rich underwater world to explore as well. Just one problem though:
The Galapagos Islands are renowned for being particularly pricey.
Unfortunately, there’s no denying that you are bound to splash some cash on a trip here, but once you’ve coughed up the $100 entrance fee, it is possible to enjoy this magical area on a budget. Follow these tips on saving money there to make the most of your time and ensure that you don’t spend TOO much of your hard-earned gap year fund...
Through participating in a volunteer project in the Galapagos, not only will you be saving money, but you’ll be helping to protect the environment too. There are many programs available that can be prearranged, such as The Leap’s 4 week volunteering placement in Ecuador, which includes two weeks on San Cristobal Island.
Here, you’ll have the chance to fully immerse yourself in a unique ecosystem and work at a conservation project, where you’ll help to reverse the effects of environmental damage caused by human settlers over the years. Projects include introducing fresh water to the communities, helping kids with special needs ride horses and creating an indigenous forest home for the giant tortoise.
Making your own meals on the Galapagos will stretch the buck and enable you to sample the kind of local dishes that residents make. Since so much food is imported, groceries here are more expensive than in Quito or Guayaquil, so it’s worth stocking up on non-perishable items like packets of pasta and rice before you go. Bear in mind, however, that you won’t be able to enter the islands with organic produce.
If you really don’t fancy cooking, make sure you carefully select the places you go for lunch or dinner, as many of them will rip you off. It’s worth spending some time wandering around to find the less touristy budget restaurants that line the backstreets, where you can find seriously good meals for under a fiver. If in doubt, just ask for the plato del dia (dish of the day), which usually comprise of soup, salad, rice and either meat or fish.
You can book day trips from each of the islands that make up the archipelago, but it’s much cheaper to take the time to organise your own – all you need to do is research where you want to visit before you go, either by browsing the internet, buying a guide book or going to a tour office on Santa Cruz Island and copying their itinerary.
It actually works out cheaper to hire a taxi driver for everything you want to see on the islands than do an island tour through an agency. If you still want to go ahead and book day trips, make sure you do so from Puerto Ayora, the main hub of Santa Cruz, where you’ll be able to visit the other islands for under $100.
Not every site on the Galapagos Islands has an entrance fee and, upon arrival, you’ll receive a comprehensive booklet featuring all of the things you can see and do here for nothing. Many of the hikes and beaches are free and don’t require a guide, meaning you can go exploring and swim amongst the exotic marine wildlife without having to pay for the privilege.
I recommend paying a visit to Tortuga Bay, a beautiful beach with white sand and friendly animals around every corner, or checking out the Charles Darwin Research Centre in Santa Cruz, which breeds tortoises and allows you to see them up close and personal.
Camping is by far the cheapest option for accommodation on the islands – you just have to make sure you’re in a designated camping area. On San Cristobal, you can camp for $5 a night at El Ceibo, which is home to the largest tree on the island, or at Puerto Chino, so long as you get permission from the park first.
On Santa Cruz, it’s possible to camp at Garrapatero Beach, a popular swimming beach with apple trees, mangroves and marine iguanas, but you’ll need permission here too. For more camping options, visit the website About Galapagos.
You’ll find there’s a noticeable difference in cost between visiting the Galapagos Islands in the high season and going in the low season. October is prime time to travel here, as the prices are cheaper, the weather is still fantastic and the ocean is relatively warm, plus it’s the best time to see baby animals.
The other great thing about visiting during low season is that you won’t be surrounded by other travellers, giving your Galapagos trip a more exclusive feel. There’ll be no urgency to book day trips or accommodation before arriving, as fewer people will mean more spaces on cruises, tours and in the various different types of accommodation. This will give you plenty of time to shop around without feeling pressurised to book until you find exactly what you want- hurrah!
Have you been to the Galapagos? What did you think? If you have any more tips on how to make your money go further, I'd love to hear them – share your thoughts and ideas in the comments box below.
And remember to download our comprehensive gap year advice guide – The Gap Adventure Blueprint – which contains several chapters to help you decide what you want to do, whether that's wildlife conservation or something else. Good luck!
on 13 / 10 / 2015