Yes, the Galapagos is expensive. Because I lived in Riobamba, my perception of prices in Ecuador has been skewed. From the plane ticket to arriving in Puerto Ayora, Santa Cruz’s main city, I feel like a hole has been placed in my wallet.
Before Arriving on the Galapagos:
Let’s start with the costs prior to leaving of the airports in the Galapagos:
- The plane ticket: There are two prices, one for Ecuadorian citizens and residents and the other is for everyone else. The everyone else price will usually be double that of what the Ecuadorians pay. Expect to prices to be around $300-400, round trip.
- Before you can check into your flight at either Guayaquil or Quito airport, you must purchase a transit card, which tells the Ecuadorian government how long you plan on staying on the Galapagos. This card cost $20. I’m not sure why telling the government how long you’ll stay at a place requires a $20 fee.
- When you arrive at either Baltra (Santa Cruz) or San Cristobal airport, you must pay the national park fee of $100, cash only.
Arriving in Santa Cruz Island
After waiting for dogs to sniff out any items that can hurt the islands, then it’s time to get from Baltra Island to Puerto Ayora on Santa Cruz Island.
- There’s a bus from the airport to a ferry. The ticket costs $5 and can be bought after paying for the national park fee.
- The 10-minute ferry from Baltra Island to Santa Cruz costs $1.
- On the docks, there are two options to get to Puerto Ayora. The first option is a $5 bus that goes when it is full. The other option is a shared taxi that can fit a maximum of 4 people for $25. I was lucky since the taxi driver let 5 of us get into the taxi. We were on the last plane of the day. It takes about 40 minutes to get from the ferry port to Puerto Ayora.
- To get from Puerto Ayora to the airport, head to Terminal Terrestre. Buses start early, roughly around 06:00. The last bus to the airport goes at 08:30. The entire bus-ferry-bus journey takes about one hour. If you have a late flight like me, be prepared to wait if you want to take the cheap route. Otherwise, it’ll cost a minimum of $25 to get to the ferry.
Free things to do around Santa Cruz
- Tortuga Bay: This bay is only reachable on foot. Nicknamed “Tortur-uga Bay”, this 2.1km walkway takes you past numerous cacti before arriving on the beach. There is a patch of mangroves where marine iguanas love to plop down and swim nearby. There is also a secluded beach with calm waters, making it a very popular destination for families.
- Charles Darwin Research Center (CDRC): This donation-based center had a small exhibit showcasing all the animals that can be found on the Galapagos. There is also a tortoise breeding sanctuary where you can see tortoises at various stages of life. The beach next to the center offers beautiful scenery and very few people.
- Watch sea lions and pelicans fight over fish parts at the fish market next to Monumento al Pescador. Fishmongers come and go at no particular set time, but it is usually busy in the mornings.
Cheap things to do around Santa Cruz
- Las Grietas: For still, clear water and amazing sea life, head to Las Grietas. From the pier, take a water taxi to Las Grietas for 80¢/person/way. Follow the signed path for about 2km. There are three pools(depending on the tide) available for exploring. Afterward, walk along the Way Trail to get an overhead view of Las Grietas and a panoramic image of Puerto Ayora. Avoid coming here on weekends as locals being their family and friends, taking away the calm and quiet that Las Grietas brings.
- Los Tuneles de Lava and Los Tuneles del Amor: These two lava tunnels are located in Bellavista, some 10 km from Puerto Ayora. There are two ways to get there. The easiest is to take a bus to Bellavista from Mercado Municipal, then walk to the two tunnels. The other way is to rent a bicycle for $15/day. Take a bus with the bicycle to Bellavista as the road a very steady incline. Bike to the two tunnels, then enjoy the downhill ride back to Puerto Ayora.
Cheap eats in Santa Cruz
- If you’re around on Thursdays, head to Mercado Municipal for some delicious empanadas. The ones by Milenita are the best. She offers the usual queso (cheese), pollo (chicken), jamón y queso (ham and cheese), and carne (beef), all for $1. She also has camarón (shrimp) empanadas for $2. Sometimes, vegan empanadas are offered. It comes with homemade ají (Ecuadorian hot sauce) and coleslaw.
- On Saturday mornings, locals head to Estadio Sintetico to do their grocery shopping. Veggies and fruit can be found here as well as typically Ecuadorian dishes like hornado (slow roasted pork), tamales (corn cakes with various fillings) and llapingachos (potato patties with cheese). Plates start at $2.00/portion. The market begins at around 06:00 and is over by midday.
- On the corner of Avenida Baltra and Charles Binford is the start of “Food Street”. Numerous food stalls are here selling almuerzos (lunch sets) of ceviche and other fish dishes for $5. Starting at 18:00, the street is closed to traffic and food stalls expand their table services. Offerings include local Burja fish ($10-$20 depending on size) and fresh lobster ($20-30 depending on size) with rice, salad, and French fries. These ocean delicacies can be cooked whatever way you want it: fried, grilled or covered with coconut sauce.
- The best local artisanal ice cream is at Roll & Pops. For $2.50, you get a choice of two scoops of ice cream in a proper sugar cone. Salted caramel and peanut butter ice cream anyone?
- For soft serve ice cream at $1/cone, look for Café Hernán. Grab a cone before sea lion watching at the pier.
Coffee options in Santa Cruz
Coffee is a luxury in the Galapagos. Unless you bring your own coffee grinds and brew a pot yourself, expect to pay $3.00 for a cup of coffee.
- 1835 Coffee Lab is a small coffee shop located on Av. Charles Darwin. They also offer plenty of brewing options for their beans. French press, Aeropress, and cold-brewed are a few of your choices. Seating is very limited here.
- OMG Coffee has a mannequin of Charles Darwin sitting in front waiting for his cup of coffee. They offer plenty of outdoor seating to enjoy a sip from their own roasted beans. They also offer frozen yogurt (price by weight).
- De Sal y Dulce offers a selection of coffee and tea in a homely setting. Although I didn’t try any, their baked goods looked amazing.