I'm 32 & This Is How Much My Husband & I Spent On A Trip To The Galapagos Islands

Welcome to Travel Diaries, a Refinery29 series where we tag along as real women embark on trips around the world and track their travel expenses down to the last cent. Here, we offer a detailed, intimate account of when, where, and how our peers spend their vacation days and disposable income: all the meals, adventures, indulgences, setbacks, and surprises.
This week's travel diary: A 32-year-old and her husband quit their jobs to live and volunteer in Ecuador. While there, they took a trip to the Galapagos to sunbathe with the sea lions.
For questions, feedback, or if you're interested in tracking your travel expenses during an upcoming trip email us at traveldiary@refinery29.com.
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Age: 32
Occupation: We’re currently unemployed. We stopped working at the end of April 2018 to move to Ecuador for a year and a half. Prior to this I worked as a surgical technician part time and my husband worked as a manager for a non-profit company.
Salary: Our hours and wages vary from month to month but from January through April of 2018 (the four months prior to our move), our combined wages were $34,000. Prior to moving to Ecuador, we owned property that we were planning to build a house on. Any area surrounding Seattle is notoriously difficult to build on as far as county regulations and requirements go, and our case was no different. After many frustrations we decided to throw in the towel and thanks to a very good market, we sold the land for a profit. We decided to go the opposite direction of settling down and use the profit to live in another country for a year. We wanted to try living somewhere completely out of our comfort zone and we both already spoke some Spanish and wanted to improve on this. Our friends had been to Ecuador for a year on a mission trip so we knew from them that it was a safe and beautiful place to experience. After more research we decided that it would be a good fit, so here we are! We share combined finances so all expenses are the total for both of us.
Travel Companion: My husband, T
Travel Companion's Salary : Also unemployed at this time, see above note.
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Hometown: Edmonds, WA, currently living in Otavalo, Ecuador.
Trip Location: Galapagos Islands; San Cristobal and Santa Cruz
Trip Length: 9 days
Transportation
Cost: Flight from Quito to San Cristobal and returning from Baltra to Quito. Flights cost $368.50 each with Tame Air from Quito to San Cristobal, and returning from Santa Cruz to Quito. We decided to fly into one island and out of another because the price wasn’t any different and it saved us having to pay for a ferry to return back to where we started.
Total: $368.50
Accommodations
Cost: In San Cristobal, we stayed at Casa de Laura Hostal $175 for five nights. In Santa Cruz we stayed at Germania Hostal $121 for three nights. Both reservations were for private rooms with private bathrooms.
Total: $296.00
Miscellaneous pre-vacation spending
- Doggy daycare: $60 (at $6 a day for ten days). We are fortunate enough to have a retired American woman one town over from us who runs a business dog sitting. We’ve used her services for all of our trips and it’s awesome to be able to know our dog is in safe hands. We brought her with us from home, we’ve owned her for about five years. We could both live without a lot of comforts for a year, but our dog was a non-negotiable for me. So far she’s handled Ecuador better than both of us combined!
- Crosstour underwater camera: $50.00.
- Snacks: $20.00.
- Rash guards for T and myself: $30 total.
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Total: $160

Day One

5:00 a.m. – It’s finally here! The Galapagos Islands were not part of our original plan coming to Ecuador, we’d figured that it would be too expensive for us to manage. But after reading more about it, we felt like it would be a shame to miss out on the opportunity, especially since we’re so close by. I’ve done a lot of research prior in trying to figure out how to do things cheaply and am hoping we can stick to our budget of $3,000 for the trip. Our flight out of Quito leaves at 9:45 a.m. so we wake up, grab our bags, and leave our apartment in Otavalo at 5:40 a.m. to wait on the highway for our bus.
5:40 a.m. – It comes right on time and we take the bus to just outside the airport for $2.50 a person, eating sandwiches along the way to hopefully avoid buying overpriced airport food. There’s only one restaurant in the domestic lounge at the Quito airport and it’s crazy expensive, I think even more so than U.S. airports. One way we’ve tried to prepare to save some money is by packing snacks. Unfortunately, in Ecuador, healthy snacks for on-the-go are hard to come by. We’ve brought lots of peanuts and quinoa bars with us (quinoa is actually a word taken from one of the indigenous languages of Ecuador, so it’s very popular here). $5.00
7:30 p.m. – Once we get off the bus after the one hour and forty-five minute journey, we opt to take a taxi for the last leg of the drive instead of waiting for another bus because we know we will have to go through some extra loops at the airport with the strict policies of the Galapagos so we want to have plenty of time. $5.00
8:00 a.m. – We get all checked in for our flight. Because the Galapagos is a national park they are extremely strict with what you bring in, especially when it comes to food. They run our bags through a scanner before we even check in for our flight and lock the checked bags to prove they’ve been looked through. We also have to pay $120 a person as a mandatory entrance fee to enter the Galapagos ($240). Something I appreciate is that Ecuadorian citizens get a break on some of the high costs for traveling to the Galapagos; their flights are about half the price as non-citizens’ and their entrance fees are only $5.00 a person. It makes what would probably be an impossibly expensive trip for anyone I know living in this country somewhat more feasible. Our bag is carry-on size but we know that Tame Airplanes are small so we choose to check it since there is no cost. We are traveling with one shared suitcase and two backpacks – I love how lightly you can pack for beach vacations! We buy a coffee to share while we wait for our flight ($4.00). $244
11:30 a.m. – Landed! The flight is about three hours long but this includes making a stop in Guayaquil to drop off passengers and pick new ones up which takes about forty-five minutes. This airport is a short taxi ride from the hotel which makes for a nice quick start to the fun part of our vacation. $2.00
We knew that we would be spending very little time at the hotel, so we chose to stay at hostels to save some money, but opted for a private room and bathroom. We check in at Casa de Laura with the owner, Laura herself, and pay for the room we will be staying in for the next five nights. It is simple but clean and there is a really pretty garden outside the rooms as well as multiple hammocks. Another bonus is that there is a small kitchen for general use which is great because we've planned to try and make breakfast as another way to save money. We quickly unpack (am I the only one who has to unpack all my clothes the second I arrive somewhere? My husband T could live out of a suitcase the entire time and I just can’t do it!) and head out to explore and find lunch.
12:30 p.m. – You are going to quickly discover that T is a ceviche fiend and he is eager to try it out here since it’s something that the Galapagos is known for and also something that our beloved landlocked hometown in Ecuador does not do well. We decide to walk around and see what we can find. In most of Ecuador, we rely on an application called MapsMe but here it seems as if only the main streets and attractions have been recorded. Thankfully, the islands in the Galapagos are so small that you can get around to most things just by walking. We end up finding a little hole in the wall place that only has ceviche and each order some – I get just fish and he gets the “mixto” that has octopus and shrimp as well. They do not disappoint, everything tastes super fresh, although I do notice that when the waitress takes our dishes and silverware she rinses them off without using soap and stacks them up with the other clean dishes. This is not surprising based on our past experiences but it’s not thrilling either. I’ve learned to not freak out about germs since living here, that’s for sure. $26.00
1:30 p.m. – We stop to pick up some groceries for the next few days; beer, granola, milk, and cream ($21) and we also get a coffee on our way back to the hostel ($4.50). We can already see how special this island is, the sea lions are clearly running this place and they are everywhere. The general rule of the Galapagos is to keep a few feet of distance between any animal you encounter and it’s amazing to see how the animals aren’t scared of humans. $25.50
2:00 p.m. – We venture out on foot to try and book our tours for our remaining time on the island. After doing a lot of research ahead of time we know that there are two tours that we really want to do here in San Cristobal. To get off island here requires that you go with a national park guide so you have to book any and all excursions through a company. These companies have offices all over the island, with signs outside broadcasting what tours they offer and how they all offer “special deals.” I am hoping that our knowledge of Spanish will help with bartering but it’s an epic fail. After several attempts and a lot of walking down random streets close to the center of town we give up and end up booking with the first company that we spoke to (Cindy Sol) because they seem very professional and have the largest boat out of all the other companies. I have read of many people getting seasick on these trips so that’s a priority. We will do one tour tomorrow (Monday) and the other on Thursday. We don’t have enough cash on us to pay at this time but they are fine with us paying the next day.
4:00 p.m. – We head to a local bank to get cash out and the maximum we can get is $200. The ATM also charges a $3 fee but thankfully we have a debit card through the Boeing Credit Union that not only doesn’t charge foreign transaction fees for ATM withdrawals, but also reimburses you for the fees that the banks sometimes charge. It’s been an awesome perk while we’ve been living here. We decide to go back to the hostel to stash our groceries and rest up (AKA have a beer and crash) before we go to dinner.
6:30 p.m. – We head out to try dinner at a sushi restaurant called Madori that I have read good things about. T is very excited because it’s been almost a year since he’s had sushi and he’s been craving it. They don’t disappoint. T gets nigiri and we share two rolls. I get a vodka tonic and T has two beers. The cost would have been $60 but I have a $90 travelers rewards credit with my Bank of America credit card that I decided to put towards our first two dinners, so we won’t have to pay for this, so I consider it a freebie! We are tired after a long day so after walking along the harbor for a bit and enjoying the sea lions we head back to get some shut eye.
Daily Total: $307.50

Day Two

6:00 a.m. – We are both early risers by nature and vacation never seems to change that. We make granola and coffee and lounge around reading until it’s time to leave for our tour.
8:30 a.m. – We meet up and are fitted for our wetsuits, flippers and snorkel masks and we pay for the tour. Today we are headed out to Kicker Rock, or as the locals call it Leon Dormido (sleeping lion). It’s what’s left of a volcano that’s been eroded by the sea, supposedly in the shape of a lion. It’s a famous snorkeling site because the erosion over time has created a channel that has its own unique ecosystem. There’s a good chance of seeing sharks here, including hammerheads. It takes about two hours to reach this point but it’s a beautiful day for a boat ride. $240
11:00 a.m. – We get to snorkel for about an hour and a half, we see turtles and stingrays and T sees a few sharks but no hammerheads. I normally don’t have a problem with seasickness but the current is pretty rough here and when we get back on the boat I’m not feeling great. The tour comes with lunch but I skip it and lay down for awhile after taking the seasickness medicine I brought with me. The last part of the tour is going to a beach nearby which we have to ourselves for about an hour. One nice thing about the Galapagos is that the number of people allowed in any off island location is strictly limited so nothing ever feels crowded.
5:00 p.m. – The voyage home takes longer than it did getting here so we get back around five, tired but content. The guide for that day is not part of the company so we tip him ($10.00) and get iced coffees on our way back to our hostel ($8.00). $18
6:30 p.m. – We meander around trying to find somewhere reasonably priced but I haven’t eaten anything other than nuts since breakfast and I start to get hangry so we settle on a touristy place on the main drag. The prices reflect this, but the food is also really good. We share a ceviche appetizer and each get a fish entree; mine in coconut sauce that they use a lot on the islands and T in an almond-based sauce. T also gets two beers but I stick with water since I know I didn’t drink enough today. The total is $70 but I still have $30 left on my travel rewards card. $40.
8:00 p.m. – We both love ice cream and don’t usually have it at home so we tend to eat it a lot when we’re on vacation. We stop and each get a scoop on the walk home at a hole in the wall place near where we had dinner. We read a bit before falling asleep. $7
Day Total: $350.00

Day Three

6:00 a.m. – Today we plan to do some free things locally so we have nowhere we need to be at any certain time which is always nice. We take our time getting up and leave around nine. We want to bring plenty of water with us but the communal water jug offered by the hostel is empty (the water isn’t considered safe for tourists to drink in Ecuador so we’ve only drank filtered our entire time here). We decide to use our steripen to filter the water we will need for the day. Our friends bought us a steripen before we left that we’ve now used many times on our travels. It’s a nicely compact wand that can sterilize water using ultraviolet light. If you ever need a gift idea for someone who loves to travel, I would highly recommend these.
9:00 a.m. – San Cristobal is pretty small, and once you get outside of the main center of town, it starts to feel more isolated. Our hostel is conveniently located very close to the center of town, which is great for us. There aren’t going to be any vendors selling food at the spots we plan on going to today (based on the research I did on blogs prior to the trip) so we stop at a restaurant in town just a few minutes from our hostel and order a couple of arepas and balones to go. ($10). We also stop at one of the many agencies in town to rent snorkel gear and a lifejacket for T as he’s not the strongest swimmer ($10). $20
We head on a walk to the interpretation center of San Cristobal. Neither of us are extremely fond of museums, so we move pretty quickly through the actual interpretation center which has information on the Galapagos, and is free for the more intellectually-minded.
We go to a spot I had read about called Tijiretas Hill Lookout. It’s not a long walk, maybe two miles, and there is a beautiful view of Kicker Rock, where we were yesterday. From here we walk to a little cove that is rumored to be good for snorkeling. It is beautiful when we arrive, the water is such a pretty shade of blue and there are sea lions on the rocks sunning themselves. We climb over the rocks to get into the water and almost immediately sea lions swim by within a couple feet of us. It is amazing, we swim for about an hour seeing fish and giant turtles. I can’t believe that this is both free and so uncrowded.
1:00 p.m. – After swimming at the cove we walk less than a mile to get to a beach close by called Punta Carola. Once again we are the only people there which is perfect because there is one small shaded area we are able to snag. We both got sunburnt yesterday, like the true sun amateurs that we are, so staying in the shade when possible seems like a smart move. We eat the balones and arepas that we brought, which I’m sure would have been ten times better warm but they do the job. T is content to take a nap but I love being in the water more than most things in life so I head back out to snorkel some more. I don’t see as much animal life here but I do have a marine iguana swim right by me, it’s so funny to see their little legs moving through the water. When I head back to the shade I see that we have a visitor – a sea lion has chosen to camp out right next to T on my towel! Clearly I’m easily replaced. It’s amazing how comfortable around humans the animals are here. Because you’re not supposed to touch them, we ease the towel out from underneath them after taking about a million pictures and say goodbye. What a funny way to end our time at the beach.
3:00 p.m. – On our way back to the hostel we pass another pretty beach called Playa Mann. This beach is close to town, so there are small tiendas selling food and drinks. We’re having such a good day so far we decide to keep it going and stop to have beer. After seeing that the menu includes ceviche T, of course, has to order some. I decide to swim some more while he eats but the tide is coming in and there are a lot of rocks so I don’t last very long. I rejoin T and we have another beer before taking off. $28
4:00 p.m. – On our way back we stop at a pharmacy to get aloe vera that apparently has real gold particles in it ($11) and I pick up a pack of two razors since I left mine at home ($4). $15
4:30 p.m. – When we get back to the hostel I talk to the owner about setting up a driver to take us to a few popular places tomorrow. This “highland tour” is a common thing here; when we arrived our taxi driver from the airport offered us a five-stop trip for $80. The owner tells us that the person staying next to us did this very thing, just today, and she can help me set up the same driver for tomorrow. Our neighbor is happy to oblige and gets us the same price she did, which is $50. He’ll pick us up at 8:00 and we’ll pay him at the end of the day. It’s always nice when someone else can do the Spanish negotiating on your behalf!
5:00 p.m. – We head out to dinner early because I want to try a happy hour at a restaurant called Muyu that offers it until 6:00. We share a few small plates and each get a drink. The restaurant has a great view of the harbor and we enjoy the sunset as we finish our food. $35.50
7:00 p.m. – We get ice cream on our way back because we’re not savages. It’s a cute cafe called Calypso that looks like it might be a good spot to return to for coffee. I message my family a few pictures from today using WhatsApp. I made a goal to try to disconnect from technology during our vacation, which is actually super easy because the internet on the islands is not great. I uninstalled Instagram the day we left and I’ve only been checking my messages at the end of the day and when I first wake up. I feel more relaxed here than I have in a long time and I can’t help but wonder if this is a contributing factor. We go to bed early, very tired and happy after a great day. $7
Day Total: $105.5

Day Four

6:30 a.m. – We awake to clouds and rain. I’m glad we don't have any snorkeling tours scheduled for today. We have the same granola and coffee and our driver arrives right on time.
8:30 a.m. – Our first stop is the one that I'm most excited for, a turtle sanctuary. They breed turtles here and you can walk around and see the bigger ones that are 6o or 70 years old. We are lucky enough to arrive just when it’s feeding time. They only get fed three times a week so this is a big treat. It’s so fun to hear them chomping away on leaves and two of the females get into a fight over the food (typical). There is no cost to get in which is nice.
9:30 a.m. – From here we go to a beautiful beach called Puerto Chino. The weather is still pretty nasty but I can’t resist at least wading into the water. If it were nicer out we would have stayed longer, the water was super calm.
10:30 a.m. – Our third stop is El Junco Lagoon, a freshwater crater lake which I’m sure is extremely beautiful but it’s so fogged in we can only really see the outline of the lake.
11:30 p.m. – What ends up being our final stop is El Ceibo Treehouse, the widest tree in all of Ecuador that they have converted into a treehouse. They charge $2.00 a person to get in and it’s kind of corny but the tree is fun to see ($4.00). Our driver offers to drop us off at one more beach for our final stop, but the weather hasn’t cleared up yet and we’re hungry so we opt to head back to town. He drops us off at a restaurant to eat and we pay him ($50.00) $54.00
12:30 p.m. – We eat at a small restaurant called Lucky’s. Something I love about Ecuador is that most (non-touristy) restaurants offer set lunches, either called “el plato del dia” or here in the Galapagos “la merienda.” It typically consists of a soup, a fruit juice, and an entree choice of fish, chicken, or beef served with rice and some kind of side salad. It’s a great bargain; we often eat lunch out because it’s hard to make food at home for that cheap! In the town we live in, we only pay $3.00 for this, and we finally find a restaurant in San Cristobal that offers the same kind of deal for $4.00. I order this and T gets… wait for it… ceviche and a beer. A friendly local older man stops to chat and asks if he can join us to have lunch (another not-uncommon thing that I love about Ecuador). He orders the merienda as well and tell us his life story as he eats, he worked as a professor in San Cristobal for 40 years and has a son that lives in Arizona. We treat him to lunch and say goodbye. $21.50
1:30 p.m. – After leaving the restaurant we decide that since the sun is coming out we want to go back to the cove at Tijiretas so we stop to rent snorkeling gear again ($10.00). We don’t see as much underwater activity as the last time but it is still beautiful.
4:30 p.m. – On our way back to the hostel we stop at a grocery store to get beers, chips, and eggs ($17.50). I also buy ferry tickets from the snorkeling company to go to Santa Cruz which are $30 per passenger for a one-way trip ($60). $77.50
6:30 p.m. – After relaxing in the hammocks with chips and beers we walk into town for dinner. Every time we walk out of our hostel we have to walk past the beach where hundreds of sea lions are camped out and you can’t resist stopping to watch them for awhile. They are so loud. I never realized how many human-like noises they make. They also lounge all around town, you see them sprawled out on benches, in front of storefronts, sometimes blocking the road… It’s free entertainment at its best.
We decide to try something other than seafood so we stop at a hamburger shop called Cri’s Burgers. We each order a burger and fries and a beer and once our food arrives I wish we had shared. They are huge! I only make it about ¾ of the way through my meal which is still about five bites too many but T valiantly finishes my fries. $37
8:00 p.m. – For once we are too full, even for ice cream. What a disaster. It’s another early night for us, but it seems to be the way things go here. Staying at a hostel with thin walls you are very aware of other traveler’s comings and goings and everyone seems to be in bed by 9:00 around here. I love to read so I’m enjoying having part of our nights getting into the books I downloaded for free from the library before we left. This is one of the best parts of modern technology if you ask me. If you are still buying electronic books please look into this, it’s saved me so much money!
Day Total: $190.00

Day Five

6:30 a.m. – Today we have our second excursion so we make breakfast and head to the same tour agency we used for our previous tour. This tour is a little cheaper at $100 a person and we will be going to three spots; Isla Lobos where there are lots of birds to see, a snorkeling area, and a small island called Playa Ochoa. $200
8:30 a.m. – The owner of the company gets us set up with our equipment and we end up waiting about 45 minutes for the rest of the group to be ready. We end up chatting with the owner quite a bit, which is always a good opportunity to test out our Spanish. He tells us how expensive it is to live in the Galapagos and how difficult it is to find work that pays a decent living wage.
9:30 a.m. – We board a boat (this time I took seasickness medicine ahead of time) and head to the first stop. I was hoping to see the famed blue-footed boobies while we were here and I am not disappointed, along with many other varieties there are blue-footed boobies everywhere! Many of them are nesting and it is really cool to see them with their eggs. T has been getting more into photography over the past few years and his DSLR gets some amazing shots. The fellow travelers in our group today are an interesting bunch, they are extremely serious and none of them seem too excited over what we’re seeing. I feel bad for our tour guide, he’s very sweet and seems quite enthusiastic about what we’re seeing so I try to appear extra interested in what he’s saying even though birds aren’t normally my thing. These birds are pretty spectacular though and once again it’s amazing how close they let us get to them without being afraid.
11:00 a.m. – After walking around the island for about an hour, we head to the snorkeling site. The water here is the clearest I’ve seen yet but we don’t see much aside from a few stingrays and fish. When we get out of the water, we make the unfortunate discovery that T had left my cell phone in the pocket of his swim trunks. It’s not a huge loss as this phone had been having problems already and most of my information had been backed up (shout-out to Google Drive). I figure it will only help in my efforts to disconnect more. We have a backup phone that we brought with us that I can use once we get back to our apartment. Electronics are ridiculously expensive in Ecuador so we brought back-ups of all the things we use when we came here. If we don’t end up needing them they will be very easy to sell when we leave. In fact we’ll probably end up making a profit on them as the locals like buying things that come directly from the U.S.
12:30 p.m. – We eat the prepared lunch which is rice, salad, and tuna, and head to our last stop. The beach on this island is lovely and we spend a little over an hour relaxing on the sand.
2:30 p.m. – We are back from the tour and T is hungry, the lunches on the tour were pretty small portions. We stop at a restaurant near our hotel so he can get… can you guess? Ceviche! I’m not hungry but I do get a frappuccino-esque coffee that is super tasty, not too sweet which is exactly how I like them. $19.50
3:30 p.m. – We’re both pretty sleepy so we go back to our room to take a nap and pack up the majority of our stuff since we have an early ferry tomorrow.
7:00 p.m. – We decide to head back to Lucky’s where we had lunch the day before because the food was good and seemed a bit more reasonably priced than other places. I get the fish with coconut sauce and T gets this seafood plate in their special house sauce that is amazing. I’m pretty jealous but he willingly shares a couple of bites. The beers here are also cheaper than other restaurants, we both get one. The local beer of Ecuador is a Pilsner and while I’m definitely not a beer connoisseur I think they’re pretty good, especially on hot days. $32.00
9:00 p.m. – We stop for one more ice-cream on San Cristobal and stop to watch the sea lions before heading to bed. $7
Day Total: $258.50

Day Six

5:30 a.m. – We are supposed to be at the ferry dock at 6:30 to head to Santa Cruz, so we’re up early to finish packing. It’s the same dock that’s right in town that we’ve been embarking from for all of our tours so at least it’s within walking distance of our hostel and we don’t have to allow extra time to find it. I have read/heard horror stories about this ride so I am preparing myself for the worst which would include barf bags and overcrowded boats.
6:45 a.m. – After having our bags checked by security (every island has different micro-organisms so even between the islands they are careful about what you take with you) we wait in the queue for our boat to start loading. We end up being on one of the boats that is off dock so we have to take a water taxi to get to it, at $.50 a person. $1.00
7:15 p.m. – I am relieved to see they don’t pack it full of people like a couple of boats I saw, and we grab what I assume will be good seats, not enclosed in the front of the boat but not in the way back where you’ll get blasted with water. The ride is two hours and is not as bad as I had mentally prepared myself for although one woman does end up requesting a barf bag, and unfortunately for the rest of us, she uses it.
9:00 a.m. – We take a water taxi to the dock in Santa Cruz for the same price as in San Cristobal. $1.00
9:15 a.m. – We arrive in Santa Cruz to rain. Because the hostel check-in isn’t until 11:00, we decide to buy a little time and splurge on breakfast. We head for the first place we see (never a good idea). We share the “Charles Darwin” breakfast plus an extra coffee and if he could see it I don’t think he’d be proud of his namesake. The portions are tiny and they serve it on a giant plate which serves no purpose other than to irritate you further about the single scrambled egg they give you. Thankfully I’m not a big breakfast eater so I let T eat the majority of the sad, sad Darwin. $15
10:30 a.m. – The rain has cleared up so we head to the hostel to hopefully check in early. The room has not been cleaned yet so we pay for half of our stay since we need more cash and leave our bags in the room. We roam around town a bit. Santa Cruz is definitely bigger than San Cristobal and I would venture to say less ‘quaint’ but from other things I’ve read, I think I am in the minority in that feeling. However, this island is still just as walkable as San Cristobal which definitely saves us money in terms of transportation.
11:30 a.m. – We walk a few extra blocks to get to a Bank of Pichincha in order to get more cash, my favorite bank in Ecuador because they allow ATM withdrawals of $400. We stop at a grocery store for the normal culprits (granola, milk, beer, chips) plus some random candy that looks like a Whopper but is made with quinoa that T can’t resist. They end up being about as good as they sound, which is not so great... Some things just shouldn’t attempt to be healthy. This grocery store is actually decently sized, all the “stores” we shopped at in San Cristobal were the tiny little tiendas run out of people’s homes that are super popular in Ecuador. I’m overwhelmed by my options. $30.00
12:30 p.m. – After learning my lesson in San Cristobal I don’t bother trying to barter with the tour companies, we book with the first agency we talk to that is in walking distance from the grocery store. There is only one tour that we’re wanting to do on this island, a snorkeling trip to Santa Fe where supposedly the sea lions love to swim with humans. We book it at the first place we find for the price I read about online, $120 a person, and just like that, over half the cash we withdrew is gone. We’re both a little cranky over this and I see the wisdom in paying for everything with cash – you really feel it in the gut when you see where your money goes. $240
1:00 p.m. – We head to a place that was popular online, creatively called “Galapagos Deli.” I am not super hungry and we decide to split the half portion of fish and chips, T gets a Coke and I get another Frappuccino-like coffee drink. Apparently Santa Cruz is trying to skinny us up because the fish and chips comes with two pretty tiny pieces of fish. I take just a bite of the fish because fish and chips is more T’s thing but I enjoy my coffee immensely. The Galapagos has got it down when it comes to the desserts disguised as coffee. $19
2:00 p.m. – We walk around for a bit and head back to the hostel to pay what we still owe for the room. Once we have a better chance to look around, we’re disappointed to see that there’s no place to prepare any food. The owner offers breakfast for $5.00 a person, and I tell him maybe, but also ask for a bowl and spoon for T’s granola which he graciously lends me. (Funny how I would probably be too embarrassed to ask for this in the U.S. but in Ecuador just about anything flies). The room is very simple but there’s a fridge to keep our beer cold, so who could ask for anything more? My husband likes to say about the majority of the places we stay in Ecuador, “everything we need, and nothing we don’t.” The shower has both hot water and good pressure at the same time, something our apartment in Ecuador definitely does not and that I have been missing sorely, so I’m perfectly content.
5:30 p.m. – Somehow that bite of fish didn’t quite satisfy me so we leave early for dinner. Our hostel has a water jug available to guests but it’s in the reception area which is closed and locked, and on the way to dinner I decide I need to hydrate, so we buy a bottle of water at the pharmacy nearby. Something I’ve noticed about being here is that they try to do their part in protecting the environment. There are no plastic bags at the grocery store, straws are not made from plastic, a coffee shop served me a to-go coffee in a mason jar that I later returned to them, and there are water fill up stations at many tiendas for $.50 to avoid using more plastic bottles. It’s nice to see these efforts being made even in countries with rough economies. $2.00
6:00 p.m. –There is a famous street in Santa Cruz which shuts down to traffic at night so that the many restaurants on this street can extend their seating onto the street. It’s called Los Kioskos. It’s about three minutes from our hostel so we head there to choose a dinner spot. It quickly becomes apparent that all the restaurants offer roughly the same menu so we pick a random one and are seated by 6:00. One nice thing is that many of these restaurants offer the “merienda” menu for dinner as well. G orders his usual ceviche and I order the merienda with fish. I am so hungry that even though the food is pretty average it really hits the spot. $20.00
7:30 p.m. – We find a super cheap spot for ice cream at the end of the street and each order a double scoop. We head back to our room and read before going to sleep. I had been worried we might not sleep well at this hostel because the road noise is pretty loud but either there aren’t many cars going by at night or I’m just sleeping too hard to notice because I don’t have to use my earplugs at all. These are an essential for traveling in Ecuador. Dogs often bark all night, parties are frequently loud and long, and things aren’t built very well here so walls are thin. When we get back to the U.S. I think the first thing I will do is sit somewhere that is quiet and just savor it. $3.00
Day Total: $331.00

Day Seven

7:00 a.m. – T is a bit tired of the granola game so he partakes of the breakfast offered by the hostel which ends up being pretty good. I recently decided to stop trying to convince myself that I can be a breakfast person and I haven’t been eating anything but some kind of protein bar before lunch so thankfully this light breakfast vacation has been easy for me. $5.00
We get picked up for our tour at 8:15 by a taxi pre-arranged by the company and they drop us off a laughably short distance away from our hostel. We meet the rest of our group and head to the boat. Our tour guide seems very easy-going, which is great because I have heard that some of the guides can be pretty uptight.
8:30 a.m. – We are on the boat for an hour and a half before we reach Santa Fe, the island that we will be snorkeling off of. We aren’t in the water for more than two minutes when sea lions are surrounding us, and I swear, showing off their moves. They do flips and dives and are so amazingly close and cute that I want to cry. They swim off and we are left to enjoy the beautiful fish. This is definitely the best tour we’ve been on so far, the tropical fish are extremely colorful. We even get to see a blowfish which is so funny looking it has us in underwater hysterics.
11:30 a.m. – The sea lions visit us once more before we board the boat and one of them starts to nibble on T’s snorkel fin but must decide it doesn’t taste very good because he takes off pretty quickly. I am so happy with what we’ve seen that we could head back right now but we have one more snorkeling spot to visit. There are beautiful fish and a few small sharks at the next spot but we don’t see any more sea lions. We have lunch on the boat which turns out to be ceviche and rice so I’m sure T is thrilled. We were supposed to go to another beach but there are too many sea lions camped out on it for us to go on land and we actually can’t even snorkel off the island because there are big sharks lurking nearby!
12:30 p.m. – Instead, we take the smaller boat out and around the island spotting lots of birds and turtles along the way. The boat ride back to Santa Cruz takes about two hours and I happily lounge on the sun deck for most of it, but I’ve finally got the sunblock routine down and make sure that I re-apply sooner then I think is necessary.
3:30 p.m. – On our way back there are dolphins swimming beside the boat so now my life is complete. Someone said in a blog post, “there are good days in the Galapagos and there are great days.” This was definitely a great day. We get back to the main island at 5:30 and on our way back to our hostel we stop to rent snorkel gear for the next day since there is a local spot we know we want to hit early. $10
7:00 p.m. – After showering and having a beer at the hostel we walk back to the Kiosks and randomly pick a restaurant towards the end of the line. I think we are feeling that our vacation is nearing its end because we decide to splurge a little, we split an order of ceviche and a seafood platter that has fish, shrimp and octopus. T gets another beer and I get a couple of piña coladas; they are on “happy hour” which is all day at 2 for $7.00. I haven’t had a piña colada in about five years and I’d forgotten how good they are. $49
9:00 p.m. – We head back to sleep off our food coma.
Day Total: $64

Day Eight

6:00 a.m. – We wake up early and leave around 7:30 to get to a local spot called Las Grietas, which means “the cracks.” It’s a free snorkeling area that is encased between two canyons. I had read that it can get very crowded and since we’re going on a Sunday, which is the typical day off in Ecuador, I want to try and beat the crowds. We take a water taxi to get to the part of the island where we can walk there. It’s about a mile of walking and I am struck again by how deserted these islands are – they remind me so much of where my family lives in Utah. $1.50
8:30 a.m. – We reach the snorkeling spot and there are only two other groups there, one couple was on our tour yesterday! I tell them we’ve been following them since yesterday and they good-natured laugh. There is not much to see underwater but just the experience of floating between the canyons is breathtaking.
10:30 a.m. – We hang out here for awhile and when we walk back to the water taxi drop off point people are already flooding in so I’m glad we got there when did, it wouldn't have been such a great experience if we had been surrounded by people. I am often so grateful that we are both early risers because I know we’ve gotten to enjoy many traveling experiences sans crowds thanks to arriving early.
11:00 a.m. – T is tired today so after getting off the water taxi at the main harbor ($1.50) we walk back to the hostel to veg out for awhile before heading out again. We actually find a television show in English and I leave him to watch it so I can go get cash out and find us coffee. There’s a cafe above the main grocery store and when I enter there are Mother’s Day decorations everywhere – I guess that’s a thing here too. I get myself an iced coffee and a hot one to bring back for T ($5.50). We want to go to a local beach called Tortuga Bay later on and while you can get to it by way of a long walk, T is still nursing a pretty bad sunburn and I had read that the entire walk is in direct sunlight. Since we’ll be heading out there at the time of day when the sun is strongest, I buy us boat tickets at a little kiosk just outside of the boat launch to get there which are ten dollars a person each way ($40). $47
12:00 p.m.– We are finally ready to venture out again and so we leave to get lunch before we take the boat to Tortuga Bay. We find a little hole in the wall place and I order the merienda with fish while T gets chicken… not really, it’s ceviche again ($20). We decide that a pre-beach ice cream is in order so we stop on our way to the boat ($4). We have to take another water taxi to get to the boat that will drop us on Tortuga Bay so we pay for that ($1.00) and the boat trip to the beach takes about 20 minutes going at a pretty good speed so I’m glad we didn’t try and walk it. $25
1:30 p.m. – The beach is gorgeous when we arrive, the water is so clear and warm and I can’t swim out to a point where my feet don’t touch the bottom even when I try. There is part of the beach where the waves are super high; people come here to surf but they don’t recommend swimming in that area. T gets lots of photos of the marine iguanas laying around. There are plenty of trees so we have lots of shade which is nice. We stay here for a few hours and board the boat to go back.
5:00 p.m. – The ride returning is nuts, we decide to ride up top and the driver is having to try and steer the boat between giant waves, it feels like we are on a roller coaster. It was worth the $10 ride just for the experience! We arrive back at Santa Cruz harbor safe and sound and take the water taxi back. We walk from here to our hostel. $1.00
7:00 p.m – After showering off, we go back to the Kiosks for our last dinner. We decide to try lobster since we’ve only had it one other time on a cruise and we figure it won’t get much more fresh or cheaper than here.
We order the shared plate and while there’s not much meat on the lobster, it is delicious. I can’t resist ordering another round of piña coladas and T gets a couple of beers ($37.00) T gets ice cream on the way back but I decline, the piña coladas were enough sugar for one night ($2.00). $39
9:00 p.m. – We get back to the hostel and start packing to leave the next morning.
Day Total: $113.50

Day Nine

7:00 a.m. – T goes out for one last walk to take pictures while I finish packing up our stuff. We have burned through pretty much all our food so I know we’ll have to buy food out for the rest of the day, which is going to be a long one of travel.
8:00 a.m. – We eat the breakfast offered by hostel ($10.00) and take a taxi to get to the bus terminal in town ($1.50). The trek to this airport is definitely more arduous than in San Cristobal. We take a bus for about forty minutes to get to a ferry terminal ($10.00) and then a ferry to cross over ($2.00) followed by another bus ride to get to the airport ($10.00). It’s a little irritating how much they charge for these buses since they are public and normally bus travel is extremely cheap in Ecuador, but that’s tourism for you. I just feel bad for the locals that have no other option and there are plenty of them with us on each bus. As a side note, something I appreciate about where we live in Ecuador is how polite people are. Whenever you enter a restaurant, you say “buen provecho” to the people who already seated (basically the ‘bon appetit’ of Spanish) before you sit down. The Galapagos are clearly no different, on the bus, I notice that every time a local gets on they say “buenos días” to the rest of the passengers before taking their seat. It’s pretty sweet. $33.50
10:30 a.m. – We arrive at the airport with more than enough time to spare and get through the bag checks quickly. We are stuck with airport food but T is thrilled to see that he can have ceviche one last time. I’m skeptical of seafood at the airport but it’s actually really good. I get a hamburger and fries and we also get a couple of empanadas to go since we know there won’t be an opportunity to get food before the long bus ride back to our little town ($44.00). We go hunting for a water fountain and there aren’t any in the airport (so annoying) so I buy a big bottle for us to share ($3.50). $47.50
5:00 p.m. –The flight goes great, we make the same forty-five minute stop in Guayaquil heading back. After exiting the airport we wait to catch the bus back to our town. We have to wait about forty minutes but finally one comes and we even find two seats together. The ride back takes about two hours and we are home just before 8:00. I desperately want to see our dog but that would entail another two hour journey round trip by bus to pick her up and I just don’t have it in me. I guess my love for her does have its limits. We are happy to be home but we had such an amazing time and feel very lucky to have had the opportunity to visit such a special place. $5.00
Day Total: $86.00
How did you prepare for this trip?
I relied heavily on travel blogs for this trip. They tended to be written by fellow budget-minded travelers and I got lots of invaluable pointers, as well as a more realistic idea of how much the trip would actually cost. Other than that, because we had already experienced living in Ecuador we had a pretty good idea of other aspects of the trip (bus travel, food, the culture, etc.).
Did you use credit card points to pay for parts of this trip? If so, please explain further:
I only used $90 worth of travel rewards which I transferred to my checking account and used to pay for a couple of dinners.
When did you book your flights? Do you think you got a good deal?
I booked in January, about four months prior to our trip. Flights to the Galapagos don’t tend to vary by much but I was happy with the deal that I found. We booked our flights after we had already arrived in Ecuador. We had thought that the Galapagos would be impossibly expensive but after doing some research we decided we could do it on our own (without a tour) and save a lot of money.
Do you have credit card debt as a result of booking this vacation? If so, how much?
We did not have any post-vacation debt. We had to use cash for all expenses other than our flights.
What was your favorite part of the trip?
My favorite tour by far was to Santa Fe. Getting to swim with those sea lions is something I'll never forget and the fish were the most beautiful there as well.
What was the best meal or food you ate while you were there?
I was pretty impressed with all the food we ate, but the seafood platter that we shared our second to last night especially stood out. Really good flavor, perfectly cooked, and you got to try all the varieties of seafood that the Galapagos had to offer. And $3.50 piña coladas are hard to beat.
Is there a tourist trap you wish you had avoided?
Paying high prices for tours is unavoidable here but some of my favorite things we did on our trip were totally free. So if you’re on a tight budget I think it’s possible to see and enjoy a lot without spending a ton of money, don’t feel pressured to have to book expensive tours every day, plenty of do it yourself activities will allow you to be able to enjoy what the Galapagos are all about.
What advice would you give someone who is traveling to the same location?
If you have more money to splurge with I think a great way to explore without having to do a lot of the leg work yourself would be to do one of the cruises they offer. In Santa Cruz, there are companies all over offering trips between four and eight nights. You do waste a lot of time traveling to and from the main islands to go on your excursions so these cruises are a great alternative because they travel to different locations at night while you’re sleeping. It’s also a nice way to know ahead of time just how much you’ll be spending since they are all inclusive.
However, I loved our time being on the islands and I think it’s nice to get a feel for the community when you stay in town. So to get the best of both worlds, I think a fantastic itinerary would be to fly into Santa Cruz, book a cruise, and then spend a couple days on land in San Cristobal before flying out. Also, do some research ahead of time to know what tours you really want to do as it can be overwhelming to head into the agencies without a clear idea of what matters most. And be aware that not all tours run every day so it’s a good idea to book all your tours at the beginning of your stay to make sure there is time to do them all. But, I wouldn’t recommend booking them before you arrive unless you travel in peak season (holidays and June-August). They won’t fill up and they are often double the price online.
Would you stay at your hostels again?
I definitely would in San Cristobal, the hostel in Santa Cruz was totally acceptable but it was a bit of a bummer there was nowhere to cook meals. That’s one of the biggest perks to staying in a hostel as opposed to a hotel so I would possibly look around for a different place if I had to do it again. That being said the owner was extremely kind and helpful so if you didn’t care about having a kitchen I think it’s a bargain.
Is there anything you wished you had time to do, but didn’t?
Isabela is the other island that is inhabited in the Galapagos and I wish we had been able to have the time to visit. There is supposed to be an amazing snorkeling tour there called “los tuneles” and people raved about it. But you have to leave something to come back for, right?
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