There is not too much information available and you want to know how much money to bring, and in what format. Cash, travelers checks, ATMs, credit card? It is very hard to know what is best. Here we aim to clarify and answer the most frequently asked questions about Galapagos budget, cash in the Galapagos and Galapagos currency, among others. Here is our Ecuador and Galapagos Insiders guide to managing your money while in the Galapagos Islands.
First things first: one thing that makes money very easy in the Galapagos Islands, at least for travelers from North America, is that the Galapagos currency is the US Dollar. The dollars you get in the USA are very similar to those at home, and both will be accepted interchangeably either in Ecuador or in the USA. The one exception is that Ecuador has dollar coins as well as dollar bills, and those are harder to get rid of once outside of Ecuador, so these are best advised to be spent within the Galapagos Islands. It is also worth noting that large bills are less commonly seen in Ecuador (e.g. bills larger than $20), though cruise ships will be more used to them than other places. Generally, a $20-dollar bill is considered a “big bill” and you will experience frustration if you pay for something worth $1.30 with this, even in a large, well-established store. Larger bills may be looked at with suspicion outside the tourist industry (your tour operator, your cruise ship, your hotel). Change is also an issue in Ecuador and the Galapagos Islands. Where possible, you are best advised to bring a lot of $5 and $1 bills so that you do not experience this problem.
For those that are going on a Galapagos cruise, you may be unlikely to see an ATM all week, unless you happen to stop at Puerto Ayora or Puerto Baquerizo Moreno for any period of time – which simply might not be factored into your cruise. Most stops are very remote with no towns, and certainly no ATMs in sight. This means that if you want cash in the Galapagos, you’ll need to be prepared and have it with you at the start of your trip. Another advantage of carrying cash is that when withdrawing internationally you will almost always experience bank fees that are not insignificant. Actual fees depend on your bank and the bank you withdraw from in some cases, but can be $10 per withdrawal, so if this is what you plan to do, be sure to factor it in to your Galapagos budget.
While some people do travel with travelers checks in Ecuador, and it is possible to cash them, it is actually pretty challenging to do so. Lines in banks are usually long, and you can expect at times to wait up to one hour. Even if you are on a land-based trip, and have the time to go and wait in line, this is not time well spent on your vacation – though some would prefer to do this and reduce the risk of a lot of cash. Also, banks can be fussy about travelers checks. If you are on a cruise, getting to a bank might be more or less impossible. Some hotels, tour operators and cruise ships may accept travelers checks directly which might make them a good option in those cases, but not all do, so it is best to check in advance if you are relying on these to pay for services. The bottom line is that for those on a cruise, cash is probably the best option, while those on land-based trips could rely more on a combination of cash, credit cards and ATMs.
“Travel is the only thing you buy that makes you richer”
Organizing your Galapagos budget is another challenge, as many will want to just have cash in the Galapagos in advance. On a Galapagos cruise, most of your costs will be covered, and you will need cash just for souvenirs, extra drinks and for tipping. Tipping is likely to be your biggest expense. If you are going on a first class or luxury cruise you can expect to spend between about $20 and $30 per passenger per day on tips, and on basic and superior boats, the tip is usually $15 to $20. The tip budget should be split between the crew and the guide. Unless you plan to go on a drinking spree, you probably won’t need too much for drinks. For those not on a Galapagos cruise, you will also need to budget for your hotel and costs of food, unless you are on an all-inclusive tour. However, you will likely have more options to pay with credit card, as well as to withdraw cash, and so it is easier to manage your cash in the Galapagos Islands.
A word of warning: While most people are honest and would not steal your money from you, just like anywhere, you should take precautions with your money. If you are staying in a hotel, make sure to lock both cash and cards in a safe, and bring a photocopy of your credit cards with you on your trip. This does make it easier if they do end up getting stolen. It is best to keep cash hidden in a few different places and locked up where possible. Money pouches can be advisable for those carrying cash. Also, don’t step out of your hotel or off your cruise ship with lots of cash, unless you have the express purpose of spending it soon after. Just take the small amount you need for that day’s activities. That way, if something does happen, you only lose a small amount, rather than ruining your holiday with a big cash loss. This advice is particularly important in Quito and Guayaquil, which you may be likely to pass through at the beginning or end of your holiday, as petty crime is common.
For more advice and guidance on your Galapagos budget, cash in the Galapagos and Galapagos currency, Ecuador and Galapagos Insiders will be happy to oblige.