The Galapagos is a bucket list destination for many travellers worldwide. It is the source of many an Attenborough documentary, a paradise for wildlife and the home of the concept of evolution. It truly is an unforgettable trip, however, for many of us, a visit to the Galapagos may seem like a pipe dream. It's no secret that the excursions, flights and tours can come with a rather hefty price tag. But, let me tell you a little secret, it doesn't have to be that way! In fact, I am living proof that the Galapagos can be experienced on a backpacker budget. Impossible, I hear some of you saying, well actually there are a surprising number of free things to do on the islands, so I'm here to share some with you today so you can maximise your experience on a minimum budget!
Just outside Puerto Ayora, the main town on the Island of Santa Cruz lies Las Grietas, a deep natural cavern filled with crystal clear sea water. It's a place where locals and tourists alike flock to snorkel and splash around in the sparkling, cool waters and is a must-see freebie on the Galapagos. Bring a snorkel and your underwater camera to explore the inter-connecting pools and marvel at the twisting cavern architecture. Here you will catch a glimpse of an abundance of sea life and it's a really unique place to explore for free! To get there will cost you no more than a dollar for a boat taxi to the island outcrop where Las Grietas lies. Top tips - take water shoes as the rocks can be a little savage on bare skin and a wetsuit will save you from the icy water if you’re a bit of a wimp with the cold like me!
The Charles Darwin Research Centre
Another freebie on Santa Cruz Island and a great place to learn about the plight of the Galapagos tortoise. Here you can see the famous 'Lonesome George' in all his taxidermy glory and meet some live Galapagos tortoises involved in their conservation program. The centre is free to visit and is a great place to spend time learning about some of the issues faced by the Galapagos wildlife and chuckle at the comical reptilian ways of the tortoises. While at the research centre, check out the Playa de la Estacion, a quaint little white sand beach just a short walk from the centre. It's a great place to sunbathe, soak up some gorgeous Galapagos scenery and snorkel, again at completely no cost!
El Muro de las Lágrimas, The Wall of Tears
Isabella was one of my favourite Galapagos destinations. It has an easy going island vibe and has some fabulous free stuff to do! The walk to the wall of tears is a wonderful 2km wander through a striking arid landscape. Mosey at your leisure and be sure to check out the little off-shoots on the route which lead to breathtaking viewpoints and bays. It was here we met our first wild Galapagos Tortoise and saw some of the biggest marine Iguanas of the trip. The wall itself has a little more sinister history; Isabella once housed one of the most brutal prisons where the inmates were made to build the giant wall which remains today as a reminder of this terrible time.
The Isabella Island Tortoise Breeding Centre
Yet another stronghold for the Galapagos tortoise, but this one has an amazing nature walk to it. Here, if you're lucky you will get to see the flamboyant Galapagos flamingoes in the marshes. If you arrive at the centre around feeding time you will see the tortoises at their most active; we giggled at them storming around the place impatiently, coming up to every tourist expectantly for food and one even tried to scale the gate. I adore tortoises, they have such a slow yet willful way about them - and if you hadn't before, you will definitely fall in love with them in the Galapagos!
San Cristobal Education Institute
San Cristobal is the first Island Charles Darwin, father of the theory of evolution, landed on, it is also teeming with amazing free things to do! The Education Institute is great if you want to learn more about the history of the Galapagos, from it's time used a prison, the first settlers and about Darwin's time on the islands.
Frigate View Point and Darwin's Statue
As you walk out the back of the Education Institute you will find several paths leading to various free Galapagonian gems. Firstly, go and take a picture with the father of evolution as his statue stands looking out onto the turquoise currents of the Pacific ocean. Next, climb higher to the Frigate viewpoint to witness these magnificent frigates black birds with a 6ft wingspan. The males of the species have a stereotypical red breast which puffs out into a huge balloon to impress females - see if you can snap this money shot! Unfortunately, no magnificent red chests were snapped on my visit (except mine later that day when I'd been in the sun too long!), so see if you can do better!
Punta Carola Beach
Once again this beach is accessed via the San Cristobal Education Institute. Punta Carola is a must for any wildlife enthusiast as it's a popular breeding ground for the Galapagos Sealion, which means one thing....BABY SEALIONS!!! These little creatures are heart melting, innocent looking bundles of fur which can captivate even the hardiest of hearts ... Until they open their mouths and let out what can only be likened to a banshee cry and the spell is broken. This beach allows you to experience humans and wildlife in complete harmony; both you and the sealions will be stretched out sunbathing together side by side - it's the most unforgettable experience.
Just wander around!
Finally just get out there and explore! In the Galapagos, there is literally wildlife every which way you turn. From the cheeky Darwin's finches which try to steal your sandwiches, the basking marine iguanas that you practically trip over as you walk to the sealions that you may encounter sat at a bar. All you have to do in this fantastic place is just step out the front door and soak in the unabashed wildlife experience.
Want to spot wildlife in the Galapagos? Head in-store or call one of our Travel Consultants on 0800 587 0058.