April 19-23, 2019
We didn’t think we would be able to make it to Galapagos. You don’t usually do Galapagos on a budget. The “proper” (usual) way to do Galapagos is to stay a minimum a week, preferably longer (1-3 weeks) and do a guided cruise that includes visits to all the islands.
We did Galapagos on a budget. I insisted we make this stop over even though Pedja was put off by the cost per day that I estimated for this side trip. I kept arguing that, knowing us, we would never make it back for just this part of the journey. The issue was that the airline tickets from the continental Ecuador to the islands were popping up at $500/person. That was just for the airline tickets. Then we would need a place to stay, budget for food and the most importantly, a guided tour would require an arm and a leg and a pledge of our first born child.
I mulled over this portion of our trip for 2-3 months. I kept going back and forth on it, a few times almost gave up on it, reconsidering what amount of money would be worth of a short side trip of this kind.
Then one late night, as I was trying to persuade Pedja once again to close his eyes and not fight me on this, a brilliant idea popped up. We’ve had some Lufthansa miles that I’ve been trying to get rid off for at least 2+ yrs now but their exorbitant fees and taxes always stopped us from getting tickets on miles through them.
I looked into a possibility of getting miles tickets through Lufthansa that didn’t cost as much as the regular ticket itself. Additional challenge was to get 5 tickets for the exact dates we needed. It took a few days of multiple calls but it turned out that I found us 5 tickets for the total of $260 (+ 25K miles/person). That’s was enough for me to decide that this side trip was ‘meant to be’.
Once the tickets were taken care of, I started looking into cheap accommodations. My thought process was that we didn’t need to do a cruise, that we would be fine just being on Galapagos without all the fancy tours that most people do. We were going to stay on only one island (Santa Cruz) and we were going to see about touring other islands once we got there. We stayed in a hostel in Puerto Ayora, right next to the water. It was perfect for us, two connected rooms with total of 3 beds, it didn’t cost much and it was clean. We only had 4 nights there so we thought we would use every single moment of our time on Galapagos even if it meant not sleeping much.
That’s exactly what we did.
We flew from Quito to Baltra Island and then took a bus/ferry/taxi to Puerto Ayora on the Santa Cruz Island. Right upon our arrival, we realized that the cash was king there. From all my readings about a trip to Galapagos, I knew we would have to pay a fee for entering a national park ($100/person). However, I didn’t come across the info on additional charge for visas ($20/person). That was $550 in cash right off the bat ($20/person for visa and $100/person ($50/child) park fee).
Petra brought a mango from the mainland of Ecuador that got ‘confiscated’. Thankfully, that infraction didn’t cost more than some paperwork.
Then we took a short bus ride to a short ferry and then a long taxi ride to the town of Puerto Ayora.
We spent that first evening roaming the town and seeing some wild life just mingling with the tourists. Sea lions seemed oblivious to the hordes of tourists walking around them, pelicans rested on piers, baby sharks swam right next to the shore, etc. We were fascinated with everything and I again – in my usual ‘over the top’ fashion – I exclaimed multiple times ‘How fortunate we are to be here”.
I read that we could go to a nearby bay called Tortuga Bay on our own, at no cost, just a short 45 minute walk to it down a well developed path. Since we were doing Galapagos on the budget, that’s what we did on our first full day there.
We squeezed everything possible out of that day trip. We walked over to the bay at 7am (to avoid hot sun as much as we could) and we didn’t head back to town until after 3pm. That walk back was brutal. We were exhausted, burned, we didn’t have enough drinking water with us (even though we took with us a whole gallon of drinking water + 3 smaller bottles). Those 45 minutes of a walk back to town were hard on all 5 of us.
But gosh darn it, we enjoyed those hours in Tortuga Bay like we were on the fanciest tour of Galapagos. It was our first time to encounter huge marine iguanas, to see pelican hunting fish, to swim with baby sharks, to enjoy the turquoise calm waters, etc. We put on tons of sunscreen, Pedja even wore a shirt at all times. We made fun of him for swimming with a shirt on (rash guard) but he was the only one laughing the next morning (as the rest of us were burned to a crisp). That was the price we paid for squeezing every possible moment of our time on Galapagos.
We were slower the next day but we still went out in the sun and did more activities. We opted out for a visit to a Charles Darwin Research center that Nina has been talking about for the past 6 months. The walk there was again brutal since we were so burned and tired from the day before. The kids looked and felt miserable until probably 4pm when we all perked up a bit. We again went swimming on a local beach in town then went out for dinner and that was about it.
We decided against a visit to other island(s) as each ferry ride was at least 2 hrs long one way and we would spend most of our time in transport instead of interacting with the nature around us. On a third day, we ended up taking a taxi to a local tortoise sanctuary and we walked through a short lava cave. That was a perfect activity for our kids as it was self-driven (at our own pace) and we were really up close with the most incredible old creatures. In the afternoon we took a boat tour that had more of an educational aspect to it than I originally expected but it also included a visit to a nearby swimming spot among some beautiful cliffs and most magnificent snorkeling with turtles and sea lions. This 4 hour tour was perfect for us since all 3 kids could participate to their ability and there was enough appropriate content for everyone’s interest.
We felt that we squeezed every possible minute of our time on Galapagos. Yes, it could have been longer, we could have had some better equipment for taking photos, we could have seen more islands. However, this side trip was worth its cost, in money, time and most of all, our last bit of energy. We were all feeling a bit ‘high’ on our way back, thinking of all the “firsts” we’ve experienced on this island. And as I kept repeating on our first day there, Pedja and I were incredibly grateful for our fortune to experience all we did.