Alex Price, 29, of Reston

Galapagos Islands Vacation cost

Editor’s note: When my wife and I spent 6 months in South America as part of our round the world trip, the Galapagos was near the top of our wish-list. But as soon as we started researching, we quickly realized that there was no way our budget could afford it. When Vickie Lillo contacted me a couple months ago and told me how much her family of three spent on their 14 day trip to the Galapagos, airfare from the US included ($5000USD total), I asked her to tell her story and break down the costs.

For years I’d been staring at glossy magazine photos of glamorous cruise ships plying the waters of the Galápagos. For years, I’d been staring at those glamorous prices too. Exorbitant…out of reach. I was very disappointed. There had to be a way for ordinary folk to visit the islands; after all, the majority of the planet wasn’t born with a silver spoon in its mouth.

I tiptoed closer to the marine iguana, basking carefree in the hot, afternoon sun. He was languishing half in the sand, half on a patch of beach grass. He paid no attention at all to my approach. The spines on his back didn’t bristle…he didn’t shrink from my approach…in fact, he still sported that same unconcerned expression on his face that almost passed for a smile.

That was the first glimpse of the Galápagos’ colorful palette, which shimmered like paint splashed across the land and the sea in a kaleidoscope of ever-changing hues. Turquoise waters of the Pacific, the brilliant greens of the wetlands–they provided the perfect backdrop for the golden faces of the land iguanas, the bright-blue feet of the boobies, and the scarlet throat sacks of the fragatas(frigate birds). The colors of the rainbow were in full bloom here, in Darwin’s evolutionary paradise.

The dream realized

A decade ago, I had clipped an article from a prominent periodical, Arthur Frommer’s Budget Travel, detailing a land-based approach. I gleaned that article from my files and renewed seeds of hope were spawned. A planner by nature, I was bound-and-determined to find an affordable way to garner that top spot on my bucket list. I wanted to swim with the sea lions. I wanted to view the giant tortoises, roaming free in the highlands, in their natural habitat. Mostly, I wanted to get up-close-and-personal with the Galápagos’ wild and exotic birds.

Thus began six months of heavy duty web surfing and poring through pages of travel reviews to come up with a do-able 2-week itinerary within the constraints of our limited finances–no more than $5000 (all expenses are broken down at the end of the article). We flew out of Miami, for just a tad over two grand, and were on our way to Santa Cruz, with a little less than $3000 in our pockets and a schedule in hand.

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