When I told people I was going to the Galapagos, they all said, it's expensive there. Or, wow, you have money.
Well, it didn't cost me that much. Even then, I believe I could've saved at least a hundred USD more, if I planned better.
Let's start with some principles first, then I'll give you some more details about what I did and should've done.
Well, here are some principles of travel I live by to save money.
Rule One: You can't see everything; so, don't try.
Novice travelers try to see everything in such a short time: Paris, London, Italy, and a handful of other countries in one week. Unless you have infinite time, accept you can't see everything, and perhaps you don't need to.
I think people think, "This is the only time I'll see the Galapagos, or be away." One, you should question that assumption.
But assuming that's true, seeing everything (or what you think is everything) is really expensive.
Here's an example. I really had my heart on seeing the hammerhead sharks and orcas (or killer whales). I didn't get to see them. The orcas weren't in season. To see hammerhead sharks, I could've spent over $150 to $300, easily. I had already seen so much; I decided to save $150 and not do the scuba dive. That money allowed me to see the rainforest.
I justified it by saying, Well, you can see them in Jamaica next time. And, seeing hammerheads wouldn't have made me that much happier. I was already recognizing I was animal-ed out. I saw so much; so seeing some more sharks wasn't going to make me that much happier. So, I accepted, I just wasn't going to see the hammerheads on this trip.
Rule Two: If it feels like it's too much, it is; so feel offended and ask them to reduce the price to that of the locals.
People in third world countries like Ecuador, live off of little, meaning, costs are really cheap. With that said, the residents of the Galapagos treated me like I was made of gold and were constantly trying to take advantage. I felt extorted, all the time (which was one the reasons I hated Santa Cruz.)
If it feels like it's too much, negotiate, or go somewhere else. Remember, all prices are negotiable in Ecuador. If they don't like your price, don't worry, someone will give you a better deal. (I know, it gets tiring to constantly negotiate, but saving money is like earning money. It's work.)
For instance, a taxi wanted to charge me $10 for a ride to the bus stop on the mainland. I knew it was $4 to $5. That's it. I told him, unless you charge me $5, I'll find someone else. He said, (and regretfully), "Go find someone else, then."
I did, two minutes later. And that guy tried to charge me $6. And I told him, "It's five, or you see that taxi right there. I'll go with him."
That guy, being smarter than the first, said, "Get in."
Sure, it's only a few dollars that I saved. But in the end, it's a mentality, that you need to pay the same prices as the locals.
Remember, every dollar you save makes your trip longer or means you could see something else or means you could spend it on your next holiday.
Rule Three: You're greatest cost are in the hotel and your tours.
If you want to travel awhile, you need to find cheap lodging. Also, be careful that your tour is several hours, if you're going to cough up money. Otherwise, just seeing something cool for a few minutes, really isn't worth it.
That's it for rules.
Tips for the Galapagos
To do the Galapagos for cheap, find a cheap fare to start with. I had miles, which allowed me to purchase an airplane ticket on LAN for free + taxes, which was $100. Some say, you can find something at $200 USD.
Fly in from one airport and fly out of another. That way, you don't have to spend extra money on the boat ride back and forth, which is $30 one way. There are two airports on the Galapagos. I recommend flying into the east island of San Cristobal and flying out of the middle island Baltra, the main town being Santa Cruz.
Find a place for $15 a night with a kitchen. Every island has lodging for $15 a night, and it's clean. You just might not be in front of the beach, but do you really need that, when the beach is a 5 minute walk?
Pack light and pack food. If you can, leave most of your luggage on the mainland. Use that empty space, and stock up on food.
Fresh food can last a week too in the fridge. Food is expensive on the Galapagos. Remember to stay in a place with a kitchen. Had I planned better for food, I could've saved at least another $100. Nonetheless, I'm a big coffee drinker. And to save money, (because coffee is about the same price everywhere being a commodity), I bring my own coffee almost everywhere. I buy the milk locally. And I've saved heaps of money this way, even now, I no longer drink Starbucks. My mother (bless her heart), brews my coffee every morning.
Don't take a cruise, if you want to save money. I don't know what the experience is like, but you will save no money taking an expensive cruise.
That's all my advice. And be creative. I traded a book for a breakfast with an American ex-pat who owned a restaurant because I knew books were hard to come by. I was also proud of myself because I convinced someone to use miles to book me a flight to the rainforest. So, be creative. If you really want to see a place, figure out a way.
Tips for the Amazon
The Amazon is expensive because there's little information available on how to see it. The biggest cost is if you book a tour in the City. Instead, book it at the villages in the Amazon.
Here's how to get to one.
Get to Coca. Take a bus ($1.50) to a village called Sacha. In Sacha, take a bus to Limoncocha ($1.50). Book your tour with the locals there. There's also a hostel.
The locals also know where the next village is at, and where to stay. So, take a canoe ride to the next village and book there. And remember, prices are negotiable.
That's it, folks. Good luck. Hope this helps people.