Ways I Saved Money on A Trip to the Galápagos Islands

The Galápagos Islands had been on “my list” for a long time. So, when my husband said he wanted to go there for our belated honeymoon, I couldn’t refuse. The problem is, it’s not a cheap destination. We decided to put our wedding cash gifts toward the trip to this remote location but still wanted to do it as affordably as possible.

So, here are some ways we saved money on our trip to the Galápagos Islands.

Award Flights to Ecuador and the Galápagos Islands

I wouldn’t be me had I not tried to book our flights with miles. Fortunately, good flight options were available at the end of January – early February, and we redeemed 40,000 MileagePlus miles + $155 per person through the United Airlines program.

The kicker is, I was able to use the program’s Excursionist Perk and not only booked award flights to mainland Ecuador, but all the way to Baltra Island for the same number of miles as a regular round-trip flight!

At the time of booking, the flights to Quito plus the flights to the Galápagos Islands were selling for $1,500 in economy class. So, we saved about 90% off the airfare cost by redeeming miles.

Last-Minute Cruise

We knew we wanted to go on an inter-island cruise, but we didn’t want to blow our entire budget before we even left, so my husband and I decided to take a risk and try to book a cruise on arrival.

There’s lots of information online about scoring a last-minute deal, and we gave ourselves enough days on the islands to find something. Lo and behold, the day we arrived on the island of Santa Cruz, we booked a cruise scheduled to depart in three days! We still paid a bunch of money but were able to save 33% off the listed price we’d seen for the same cruise online. Not to mention, the money we saved on the airfare was put to good use.

Charles Schwab Debit Card

Ecuador in general, and the Galápagos Islands specifically, isn’t where credit cards are accepted widely. Actually, let me rephrase that. Many merchants accept credit cards, but they also tack on a fee of 8% to 12% per transaction for the privilege (with the exception of supermarkets and some high-end restaurants). It killed me on the inside to use cash to pay for things, but the huge fees weren’t worth the rewards I earn on any of my credit cards.

This is where the Charles Schwab Debit Card saved us. It charges no ATM fees or foreign transaction fees, which is perfect for international travelers. Although we’d brought some cash with us, we didn’t have enough to pay for the cruise and the rest of the trip, so we had to take multiple trips to the ATM.

My credit union offers competitive rates for withdrawing cash, but they’re not as good as free. Being able to withdraw cash at no additional cost helped us save a bunch on ATM fees. And because Ecuador uses the U.S. dollar as its official currency, we didn’t have to worry about withdrawing too many bills. We could always spend them at home.

Saving on Food

Although breakfast, lunch and dinner were included with our cruise, we had to eat for a few days before our journey at sea started. We bought empanadas on the street for breakfast and looked for lunch specials on Ecuadorean food. It’s easy to find a lunch meal for $5 per person, which is a great way to save money on dining. We had a few nice dinners, but it’s OK to splurge every now and again.

Have you been to the Galápagos Islands? How were you able to save money in such a touristy destination?

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