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Budget Travel

The Galapagos on a Budget

By Karyn S. Johnson

Budget-conscious travelers should not let the reputed expense of the Galapagos deter them. Cruises can be arranged from the U.S., from Quito or Guayaquil, or in the islands themselves (most easily in Puerto Ayora, a dusty little town on Isla Santa Cruz). Thrifty travelers can book their cruises from the Ecuadorian mainland to take advantage of the last-minute fares offered by agencies for boats not fully occupied.

Quito’s travel agencies are clustered along Avenida Amazonas. I dealt with Enchanted Expeditions. The people at there are friendly, speak English, and offer discounts for members of the South American Explorers Club.

Visiting the Galapagos during the low season—from mid-April to the end of June, and from early September to mid-December--saves money, too. In September the water is cold for snorkeling, but a three-millimeter wetsuit solves that problem.

Safari Tours provides a comprehensive list of available Galapagos cruises, along with information about the boats’ classes, size, prices, and sailing dates.

If you can’t afford a cruise, go to Puerto Ayora. Stay at Estrella del Mar (“Star of the Sea”), (located off Avenida Charles Darwin by the police station), and shop around for day trips to nearby islands. Island hop via the interisland boat service, INGALA (its Puerto Ayora office is near the docks).

Several people gave me favorable reports of scuba diving trips organized by Galapagos Sub-Aqua, www.galapagos-sub-aqua.com.

Finally, travelers in Puerto Ayora should check out the bar Galapason, the best source of current information about what’s going on. When I was in the Galapagos and a volcano on Isla Isabela began erupting, the news broke first in Galapason. (My friends and I chartered a boat to get a closer look at the eruption.)

Another way to explore the Galapagos without paying for a cruise is to volunteer at the Charles Darwin Research Station, www.darwinfoundation.org, in Puerto Ayora. Applicants should have a background in biology, speak Spanish, and be willing to stay for six months. Most volunteers are Ecuadorian, some are gringos. As volunteers, they visit areas off limits to mere tourists. On the other hand, most tourists don’t have to kill feral goats with their bare hands as some volunteers do (so they said).