It will take me a few days to write up my recent Galapagos experiences, but I wanted to provide one quick kernel of truth that seems to escape almost all discussion of travel to this archipelago.
And that is that there is a very definite two-tiered pricing structure that affects almost all your travel costs in the Galapagos. Basically, it's a divide between luxury and "normal" travel -- something that is very common in travel to developing countries like Ecuador. Basically, anything that's geared to wealthy American and European tourists -- and that includes tours, cruises, lodging and food -- is very expensive. It certainly includes anything that can be booked in advance from a foreign travel agency.
On the other hand, there is an almost completely separate pricing structure that encompases non-luxury travel. It's certainly not "backpacker" level travel -- more like the type of travel encouraged by Rick Steves to Europe. I'd call it 3-star travel: comfortable but not luxurious, and a lot closer to "normal" life in the Galapagos. This means that a 3-star hotel can be $25 or $30/night, while a 4-star hotel could be $250 night. A roundtrip visit on the public boats to Isabela or Cristobal can be $50, while a tourist boat trip to an uninhabited island will likely be almost $200. Pay a local taxi driver or small boat owner to take you to a site (when it's allowed) and you'll pay a tiny fraction of the cost of an organized tour. Avoid the restaurants geared toward tourists (basically, all the ones that serve non-Ecuadorean food -- including pizza places!) and you'll pay less than half for your meal (and avoid an additional 22% service and tax charge).
This doesn't mean that you should avoid luxury travel in the Galapagos -- many people seem to really enjoy their high-end experiences. And these experiences are usually, but not always, a little better than the "Rick Steves-level" Galapagos experiecnes. But you are paying a lot more for it: much like the additional premium you pay for a Gucci bag over a regular one. Anyone planning a trip to the Galapagos should understand this principle before putting down their money.Edited: 17 April 2012, 05:56