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Budget Guide to the Galapagos: Land of the Unusual

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The Galapagos Islands are world famous for their beautiful, unique animal life, the vastly different climates of the islands, and Charles Darwin’s scientific discoveries there as documented in his groundbreaking work, On the Origin of Species. The Galapagos Islands, situated 906 kilometers off the western coast of Ecuador, are comprised of 21 islands. Being so geographically isolated for centuries has, evolutionarily speaking, created some of the most unique animal life on the planet. Some species found on the Galapagos can be found nowhere else in the world. These creatures are reminiscent of a lost world, colorful ancestors of dragons that call this isolated meca home. These animals can be found on the islands where, depending on the location in the ocean, climate ranges from wet rainforest to barren volcanic islands. Traveling to the Galapagos Islands is a once in a lifetime experience found on the bucket list of many travelers. Check out our best advice tips for traveling to this magical, mysterious land.

Truly unique and beautiful, the Galapagos Islands consist of 21 islands all with varying terrains and species.

Critters of the Galapagos Islands

Famously, Charles Darwin focused his research on these islands because of the unique species found here. Several species of iguanas including the Galapagos land iguana and marine iguana can be found on the shores of the ocean and on the cliffs surrounding. These creatures, evolved over millennia to survive in this harsh, rocky, climate, are unlike iguanas anywhere else on the planet. It is common to see the yellow marine iguana basking in the sun. You can also expect to see sea lions basking in the sun, too. Check out the Concha de Perla on San Isabel Island or swim with the sea lions off San Cristobal Island.

 A sea lion basks in the white sands while a lizard investigates on the rock nearby.

While you are in the water, you will be sure to see schools of colorful fish, manta rays, and other marine life. Arguably the most famous animal to call the Galapagos home, the Galapagos Giant tortoise, is the largest tortoise in the world, weighing up to 417 kilograms.

The Galapagos Tortoise is the largest tortoise in the world.

Another critter you can view on the Islands are the Galapagos Penguins. This animal can survive on the Galapagos Islands thanks to the cool currents brought in from the Arctic and Pacific oceans, and it is the only penguin species found north of the equator in the world. You have the best chance to see penguins in Isabela or Fernandina Islands. While in this curious place, you may also see the green sea turtle, hoards of bird varieties, flamingos, sharks, dolphins, and more.

A penguin suns off on a rock before plunging into the cold currents of the Galapagos Islands.

Tourism on the Islands

Some are surprised to hear that there are towns on the Galapagos Islands with restaurants, hotels, tour companies, and locals. The three main islands are San Cristobal Island, Isabela Island, and Santa Cruz Island. Be advised: this once in a lifetime experience doesn’t come cheap, so cut costs where you can! Traveling to the island involves airfare to Ecuador and then a ticket to Santa Cruz island, as well as transport in boats or ferries to the various islands in Galapagos. For this reason, budget planning in advance is a must to get the most bang for your buck! Certain costs, like the $100+ conservation fee at the airport in Santa Cruz, are not negotiable, so take advantage of flexible travel dates, budget accommodations or hostels, and participate in self guided tours when possible. Some budget hotels have received truly shocking reviews, even for a well seasoned traveler. Know your comfort level, and remember, you are not spending too much time in your hotel anyways. You’re at the Galapagos Islands! Book early, and do your research. Check TripAdvisor or Booking.com to make sure you are staying somewhere that meets your comfort level. Tourists will find their cheaper, nicer budget hotels months in advance, so secure your spot early. Airbnb is also a viable option while traveling in the islands. Expect to spend between $35-$60 USD on a budget room.

Sunrise over San Cristobal, (Photo credit Iris Diensthuber, Wikimedia Commons)

Many hostels and hotels on the islands can help plan day trips, rent our snorkel and other equipment, and can give recommendations for food, dining, and “best practices” while traveling. There is not great Wifi on the islands, so come prepared with a plan. Also know that, depending on the island, it could be hard to get cash, so it’s better to be over prepared than caught without! Once you have your plan, get ready for the time of your life full of tropical sunsets, stunning vistas, outdoor entertainment, fascinating animals, and more fresh seafood than you can imagine. This unique destination is the best of both worlds: relaxing retreat and endless adventure.

Snorkeling with sea critters is a must while visiting the Galapagos Islands.

Be Mindful of Our Impact

The Galapagos Islands are, like almost everywhere else on the planet, suffering from the wear and tear of tourism. The islands are loved to death in a lot of ways, and species like the Galapagos Giant Tortoise are suffering the impacts of environmental degradation. Cruise ships are a convenient way to travel to all the islands, but with such convenience also comes fragmentation of ecosystems, pollution of water, and increased footfalls on the fragile landscapes. Many tour companies do not follow eco-friendly practices, and it is always best to research companies or read reviews on travel sites like TripAdvisor or personal travel blogs before committing to a tour experience. Be aware of your consumption, always gather your trash, and, when applicable, clean up any waste you may see near the waters. This small gesture will go a long way in preserving the integrity of the islands and the protection of the animals in a fragile, constantly changing environment. With a place as stunning, special, and unique as this, it is the duty of travelers to protect and respect. Check out the Galapagos Conservancy to learn more about conservation efforts on the islands and volunteer opportunities.

Development on the islands can threaten the species who call this place home. Be mindful and respectful while traveling here! (Photo credit Iris Diensthuber, Wikimedia Commons)

No matter how you chose to see the Galapagos Islands, adventure awaits. Be prepared to see life changing creatures, stunning views, and bask in this little corner of the world traveled to by so few  comparatively to the rest of the world. This mystical land has captivated humans for centuries, and, with the compassionate work of long term travelers and nature lovers alike, it will continue to inspire for years to come.

Author’s Bio:

 Kathleen Goodwin is a writer and educator from the United States. Over the past year, she spent four months backpacking through 16 of America’s national parks and traveled for three months in India and Nepal, and she is already scheming and dreaming of her next trip. She loves travel because of the opportunity it presents to experience new cultures, meet new people, and eat new foods. She enjoys reading, writing, practicing yoga, gardening, and hiking. She lives in Missoula, Montana, with her husband Zack and their dog Sadie. Connect with her online at her website, thegoodwinlife.com, or on Instagram @kdgoodwin11.

Top things to do in Ecuador- A Backpacker’s Guide

By | Blog, Ecuador | No Comments

Known to be one of South-America’s top adventure destinations, Ecuador is every adventure junkie’s dreamland. From scenic landscapes and breath-taking view-points to exquisite delicacies and surf-friendly beaches, the country is a perfect amalgamation of adventure, scenic beauty, rich history and the thick Amazon rain forest which is the cherry to your cake while visiting Ecuador. With a largely intact Spanish culture, the country’s architecture represents a rich history and background of colonisation with the official language being Spanish.

When to visit Ecuador

Ecuador is a small sized country but has multiple weather conditions depending on the geographical location of the city. Thus, segmenting each area as per its own weather provides a better understanding of how one should go ahead with planning their trip.

Highlands: For travellers exploring the highlands – June to September is the best time in the year with clear and sunny days. Moving onto October & November, there are more rain showers but comparatively cooler temperatures which could be opted for, if preferred. The least suggested months would be from December to May when the rain showers are very heavy and the temperatures drop and make it unfavourable to visit.

Galapagos Islands: For travellers wanting to explore these islands and watch seals – the perfect weather is from January to May where the weather is suitable and the seas are not rough. Moving on from June to December, the weather gets drier and the seas become rougher which makes it difficult to surf and experience the marine life. 

Must Do Things in Ecuador

Banos – Swing at the end of the world

Who wouldn’t want to revisit their childhood memory by swinging from a tree, over-looking the end of the world? Sounds like a plan! This interesting swing could be found at the Casa de Arbol Park where one could take a ride on the swing while being zipped and photographed by a guide or your friend.  Just be sure to walk up the hill and choose to swing at the original swing which is huger and cheaper than the newer ones which have been recently set up for tourist attraction. There is similar swing situated at Papallacta which is less commercial and is a beautiful place to be!

Swing to the end of the World / Photo Credit – Wikimedia Commons

Laguna Quilotoa

This beautiful lake was formed by the Quilotoa Volcano that occurred around the 1200s and is now filled with clear turquoise water. Located at an elevated height of around 12000 feet, the lake remains to be one of the most loved and visited destinations in the country. Explorers and adventurers could trek to the mountain base with several break periods and cover it over a span of few days or could opt by taking the local bus and spending a day there. Laguna Quilotoa is one of the best sites for photography.

Laguna Quilotoa /Photo Credit – Wikimedia Commons

Cotopaxi Volcano

The Cotopaxi Volcano is one of the highest active volcanoes in the world and has a majestic aura of its own. Situated at around 19,347 feet above sea level the volcano is scenic from all of its ends and remains to be one of the most popular destinations in the country to visit. Popularly known for hikers who love to trek to its base, the volcano could be explored on foot or horse-back and one could prefer staying at the local hostel to enjoy the real nomadic life. The brownie points for trekking till the peak of the volcano is being able to view the 820 feet deep crater of the volcano!

The Cotopaxi Volcano /Photo Credit – Wikimedia Commons

Galapagos Islands

The Galapagos Islands are a must-visit on your trip to Ecuador. Located far off, but with some of the most interesting wildlife only to be found on these islands makes it interesting. From Galapagos Penguins to humongous tortoises and Cormorants to Seals, the island has a rich variety of wildlife and flora that is explored by scientists from all over the world. Tourists are attracted not only to wildlife but other interesting water sports like scuba diving & snorkelling which ranks the highest. The islands have not been rated in the affordable category but should surely be visited once in your lifetime.

Sea Lions on Galapagos Islands /Photo Credit – Wikimedia Commons

View  Colonial Architecture at Cuenca

Cuenca is interestingly an UNESCO World Heritage site. Engulfed with over 50 churches in the city and beautiful historic buildings, a traveller could instantly fall in love with the city’s old world charm. From museums to Carnari structures, Cuenca has it all. The city is filled with a great social international community and a lot of American retirees as it has a high standard of living and favours a luxurious lifestyle. Tourists could also book a half-day tour to view the main important sites in the city!

The Cityscape of Cuenca /Photo Credit – Wikimedia Commons

Shop at Otavalo Market

Who doesn’t like to shop? For those interested in shopping from local markets and ones who want to experience the local culture by interacting with residents from the area, Otavalo Market is the perfect place to be! The market is located an hour away from Quito and opens up on Sunday. One could find trade goodies like fresh fruits & vegetables and farm animals. There is a tourist shopping market at the city centre which houses souvenirs, local knick-knacks and small artefacts which could be memorable gifts. 

Artistic paintings at the Otavalo Market /Photo Credit – Wikimedia Commons

Take a Boat Ride at The Amazon River

Everyone remembers the movie Anaconda right!? Well, anacondas live in the Amazon and the Amazon forest is known to be one of the thickest forests in the world with a combination of over 2000 kinds of animals and birds. One could opt to take a boat ride to the Amazon River while overlooking snow-capped mountains and exploring a variety of species in this lush jungle. This trip to the Amazon should definitely not be missed.

Boat Ride at The Amazon River /Photo Credit – Wikimedia Commons

Quito  – The Capital City

Ever fancied the idea of being at two places at the same time? Well, your dream just came true if you decide to visit Quito – the capital of Ecuador which is a city full of life! The city is an amalgamation of modern as well as historic structures and architecture which would interest travelers who visit the city. Travelers could take a ride in the cable car from the city to 13,779 feet above sea level which boasts of splendid views of the city and breathtaking nature scapes from above. Another interesting site in the city is to visit the ever famous ‘Center of the Earth’ named as Mitad Del Mundo which has a monument and museum. Strategically, there is a line drawn along the equator. One could strike a pose with two feet in different hemispheres and luckily be in two different places at the same time.

Quito – The Capital City /Photo Credit – Wikimedia Commons

San Rafael Falls in Baeza

For waterfall lovers, the San Rafeal Falls is the place to visit! Located a couple of hours away from Quito city in a town named Baeza which is quaint and quiet; the falls are 145m which is the largest in Ecuador. A bus ride journey could comfortably get you to the site, post which a short trail trek would lead you to the base of the falls. The San Rafael Falls are loud and thundering and worth its scenic view from all end of the jungle.

The stunning San Rafael falls /Photo Credit – Orange Smile Tours

Lava tunnels in Isla Santacruz

Visiting the Laval Tunnels is a surreal experience because one wouldn’t find something like this everywhere in the world. These extraordinary tunnels were formed by when the outer skin of molten lava solidified. They are based on a private property and are open to the public for viewing. Specially known to interest historians, the lava tunnels should be visited on your trip to Ecuador.

Lava Tunnels in Isla Santacruz /Photo Credit – Wikimedia Commons

Budgeting Right when in Ecuador

One of the most essential parts of planning a long term holiday is to understand the amount of money that you are willing to spend for activities based on your itinerary. Ecuador’s official currency is the US dollar. For travelers possessing foreign currency, it is best advised that you change it to the dollar before traveling to Ecuador as there are limited places where one could find a travel exchange office. As for tipping policies, it is best to give a five percent tip to waiters in their hand; tip cab drivers by leaving the change of the meters and tip a private tour guide with about ten dollars per day. For travels across Galapagos Islands, one could tip a little more to waiters and staff as per your own will. However, for a better understanding of the price ranges for various facilities in the country, we have drafted a detailed budget table which you could follow while visiting the beautiful Ecuador.

DAILY COSTS PER DAY

LOW-RANGE (30 $)

MID-RANGE (30 – 100 $)

HIGH-RANGE (100 $)

Dorm beds: $ 7 – 10; Budget Guest-houses: $ 10 – 15 per person

Double Room in Mid-Range Hotel: $ 40 – 60

Galapagos tour with a reputable operator: $ 300 per day

Set Lunches: $ 02.50 – 03.50

Dinner for two in a good restaurant: $ 18 – 30

Top Amazon Lodges: Around $ 250 per day 

One day bike rental for DIY trip from Banos to Puyo: $ 10

Climbing, Cycling and Bird-watching tours: $ 60 – 80 per day

Haciendas on Cotopaxi from $ 100 per day

Statistics Table Credit: Lonely Planet

With such a diverse flora and fauna along with the country’s beautiful history, a trip to Ecuador sounds like a given in one’s lifetime.

Author’s Bio

Kirti is an avid traveller & writer who is hoping to write a book one day. She is a media geek by profession and is a strong believer of Love, Faith & Hope. She is a scorpion at heart, who loves socialising and is a proud mother to an adorable Beagle puppy named Romeo!

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