Galapagos on a Budget – Island Hopping Fun

As my husband and I hiked along a volcanic rock formation in the Galapagos Islands, we came within an arm’s reach of a blue-footed booby nesting site. One might have expected the birds to become agitated by our presence, but even the mothers with new hatchlings didn’t seem to notice us. It’s a reaction that’s common from wildlife in the Galapagos Islands and part of what makes it a bucket-list destination. The good news is that this bucket-list expedition can also be affordable. It’s possible to do the Galapagos on a budget with an island hopping itinerary.

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An image of a blue-footed booby female and hatchling on Los Tuneles in the Galapagos Islands.
Seeing a blue-footed booby nesting site was a highlight of our tour to Los Tuneles in the Galapagos Islands.

What is Island Hopping?

You don’t need to have a big budget to explore the Galapagos Islands. It’s possible to explore this part of the world and save money if you book a land-based itinerary. Some operators refer to this type of trip as island hopping. Basically, you use the inhabited islands as your home base and book day trips for a greater exploration of the national park. In most cases, you fly to the islands and use ferries or fast boat tours to explore the sites. Island hopping costs much less than a cruise and is the way to do Galapagos on a budget. Rebecca Adventure Travel helped us arrange our island hopping tour.

An image of someone taking a picture of a sea lion on the Galapagos Islands.
Snorkeling with sea lions is one of the thrills of exploring the Galapagos Islands. Photo by Greg Olsen.

Galapagos on a Budget – Advantages and Disadvantages

Besides saving money, land-based itineraries give you more time to explore the inhabited islands and interact with the locals who live there. It’s easier to experience the local culture and to see more of the inhabited islands when you are staying there. The main disadvantage of land-based itineraries is that it can be challenging to explore some of the more remote uninhabited islands of the national park. You can spend as much as two hours each way to get from your home base island to another island and seas can be rough – depending on the season. You may decide as we did to forgo exploring some of the more distant islands and limit your exploration to locations closer to your home base.  

Related: Check out our post, 10 Ways to Travel More and Pay Less

An image of a Galapagos land Iguana in the Galapagos Islands of Ecuador.
The Galapagos land iguana looks positively prehistoric. Photo by Debbie Olsen

Showcase for Biodiversity

Regardless of how you decide to do it, exploring the Galapagos is exciting. The islands are a showcase for biodiversity and just setting foot in a destination with so much natural history is a thrill. Wildlife is abundant and since they have no natural predators, most animals have very little fear of humans.

An image of pink flamingos on Isabella Island in the Gallapagos Islands of Ecuador.
You can see pink flamingos on several islands throughout the Galapagos. Photo by Greg Olsen.

Our Budget Trip the the Galapagos

We used Santa Cruz and Isabela as our home base islands and explored both thoroughly as well as several uninhabited islands nearby. Isabella has a lovely trail system that takes you past wetlands and lagoons filled with Galapagos pink flamingos and other bird life. There’s a giant tortoise breeding center where you can learn more about these unique creatures and we also saw several in the wild. Be sure to watch for Darwin’s finches as you hike around. Darwin noticed differences in the beaks of mockingbirds and finches on different islands and surmised that the tiny birds had adapted to the environment – the beginnings of his ground-breaking theory.

An image of people snorkelling with penguins on the Gallapagos Islands of Ecuador.
Snorkeling with penguins is an incredible thrill and something you can do on the Galapagos Islands. Photo by Debbie Olsen.

Isabela Island Highlights

The two highlights of Isabela Island were kayaking in the bay of Puerto Villamil and a day trip to Los Tuneles. During the kayak trip, we found ourselves in the midst of a booby feeding frenzy and it was very exciting. The other highlight of that island was a visit to Los Tuneles, which is one of the most beautiful snorkeling spots in the Galapagos. 

An image of marine iguanas and people swimming on a beach in the Galapagos Islands.
Don’t be surprised if you see a marine iguana on a swimming beach on Santa Cruz or Isabella Island. Photo by Greg Olsen.

Charles Darwin Research Station

The Charles Darwin Research Station was a highlight of Santa Cruz. It’s a great place to learn more about the flora and fauna of the islands and to see several species of giant tortoises. Other highlights there included a tour of the highlands to see giant tortoises in the wild and a day trip to Santa Fe Island to snorkel with sea lions.

An image of a girl snorkeling with a giant sea turtle in the Galapagos Islands of Ecuador.
swimming with giant sea turtles was one of the thrills of visiting the Galapagos Islands. Photo by Debbie Olsen.

Inspired by the Natural World

You can’t see everything on a one-week island hopping itinerary, but we saw enough to leave us feeling inspired by the natural world. Our budget island hopping itinerary allowed us to walk in Darwin’s footsteps. It was an incredible bucket-list trip without a big price tag.

Related: See our post Top Ten Galapagos Islands Animals.

Where to Stay and Eat

We made Isabela Island and Santa Cruz our home base islands during our trip to the Galapagos. The top-ranked accommodation on Isabela Island is a boutique hotel called Iguana Crossing. The top-ranked accommodation on Santa Cruz is Semilla Verde Boutique Hotel. Our Island hopping package included breakfast and dinner daily. We didn’t enjoy the dinner meals. We’d recommend asking the tour operator to price the package without dinner meals included, so you can try out other local restaurants.

What to Bring – Galapagos on a Budget

The snorkeling was amazing in the Galapagos Islands. You’re definitely going to want to bring some sort of underwater camera. The Apexcam 4K does a good job and it’s a fraction of the cost of a GoPro underwater action camera.

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