Last month when I found $89 flights from Chicago to Ecuador, I was dumbfounded. And flights from mainland Ecuador to the Galápagos were less than $100, too. It must have been some sort of mistake… right?
I simply couldn’t miss out on this amazing deal to my top bucket list destination, so within 24 hours of finding the flights we were booked and officially planning our trip to the Galápagos Islands! How did we manage to find such affordable flights to the Galápagos? I’ll share my secrets with you in this post!
You don’t have to start in Chicago, or even the U.S., for an affordable fare. Scroll down for my flight finding tips from Europe, too!
How to Find the Best and Cheapest Flights to the Galápagos Islands
It turns out these weren’t mistake fares I’d found; it was simply an unpopular time to travel this route, so fares were more affordable than usual. (Woohoo!)
Here’s how to use what we learned to find and book your own cheap tickets to the Galápagos:
1. Skip the all-encompassing round-trip booking.
Ian and I almost never book round trip tickets, as it’s rarely the most affordable approach. One airline may have the best flight in, and another may have the best flight out.
Tip: Be open to flying on different carriers for different legs of your trip. Adding up the cheapest one-way tickets across two or three airlines may be vastly cheaper than booking everything with one carrier.
What we did: Ian and I flew on two different airlines (Spirit and Avianca) on our outbound trip and three different airlines (Avianca, Interjet, and American) coming home.
2. Use Google Flights to find the best flight options.
Start by searching for flights from your home city to Guayaquil, Ecuador (airport code GYE). This is where all flights to the Islands begin, so you need to get there first.
We use Google Flights because it’s the fastest way to find the best routes and prices. Many airlines’ websites are slow-loading and riddled with ads or other graphics, but Google Flights is straightforward and simple.
Tip: Spirit Airlines has a daily non-stop flight from Fort Lauderdale to Guayaquil. If you can get to Fort Lauderdale for a reasonable price from your city, then Ecuador and the Galápagos should be within budget-friendly reach! If you’re in Europe, check for affordable flights on Norwegian into Fort Lauderdale from London or Copenhagen.
After you’ve planned your route between your home city and Guayaquil, you can search for a round trip flight from Guayaquil to the Islands. You must have a return flight out of the Galápagos booked in order to enter the Islands, so round trip is a fine option here. You can also book separate one-way flights for each direction, if, for example, you want to fly into one island and out from another. Your two options for commercial flights into the Galapagos are San Cristóbal (SCY) and Baltra Island (GPS).
Tip: Plan a one-night stay in Guayaquil before flying to the islands the next day.
Last, search for your return flights from Ecuador back home.
What we did: First I found flights from Chicago to Guayaquil (via Fort Lauderdale) on Spirit, then we found roundtrip flights from Guayaquil to San Cristóbal Island in the Galápagos on Avianca.
3. Complete your flight bookings once you have your full route planned.
Once you’ve identified all your fare choices, book them as soon as possible.
The most important (and price volatile) flight is the one that gets you to South America, so book that first.
Tip: See my notes labeled “IMPORTANT” on extra ticket fees below.
What we did: I booked our Spirit tickets first (Chicago to Guayaquil) and our Avianca tickets next (round trip from Guayaquil to the Islands). Last, I booked our return tickets from Guayaquil to Cancun on Interjet and from Cancun to Chicago on American.
Note: Every airline I’ve ever flown on offers a 24-hour cancellation/refund period (with the exception of flights <48 hours away), so you should have the ability to cancel if, for example, one leg of your flight goes up tremendously in price before you’ve booked and you need to cancel the whole thing partway through.
Airline search and booking links:
- Google Flights (searching for flights on all airlines)
- Spirit Airlines (Fort Lauderdale to Guayaquil, and return)
- Avianca (round-trip Guayaquil to the Galapagos)
- Interjet (flying through Mexico, not required)
- American Airlines (flying through Mexico, not required)
Extras are up to you!
If you want a specific seat or additional luggage, you can pay for these extras separately based on your budget. (For example, we opted to pay more for seats with extra legroom for our outbound Spirit flights.)
Tips for Booking the Best Deals on Galápagos Flights
Dig deeper if you’re not finding good results.
Google Flights is pretty good at finding multi-carrier options, but sometimes I like to break up the search myself to make sure I’m getting the best deals and a schedule that works for me.
Book basic and direct.
- Book flights yourself, directly on the airlines’ websites, rather than through a tour agency or booking service.
- Book the basic tickets, and add on extras a-la-carte. We’ve always been assigned seats together when we book basic fares, so we rarely choose to pay extra for specifically assigned seats. Check in at the earliest available time (24 hours in advance for most airlines) for the best chance at similar luck. If you’re assigned seats apart, ask nicely at your gate if a seat reassignment is possible.
I simply cannot emphasize traveling light enough.
One standard-size backpack per person, maximum. Lugging around and keeping track of anything that can’t easily be switched from your back to your lap is going to cost you a ton of hassle and more money throughout your Galápagos trip. It may not seem like a huge inconvenience at the airport, but it will prevent you from getting around efficiently on the interisland ferries. Not only that, but your bag might just go for a swim if it’s not handled carefully by the water taxi drivers; you’ll have little control over this if you’ve got more than one bag to manage. You need your hands and arms free to safely board boats yourself!
Travel when it’s cheaper.
- Turns out January/February is a perfect time to travel affordably to the Galápagos from the U.S. Post-holidays and pre-Spring Break is not a time when many Americans are traveling, and prices and availability will reflect that.
- Flights to harder-to-reach destinations like the Galápagos can be vastly more affordable — especially for last-minute bookings — at this time. We recommend keeping an eye on flights in advance and planning to book and travel at the beginning of the year.
- We booked in early January for our trip in February.
- Booking on short notice can have its advantages, too. Our friend decided to join us less than a week in advance and booked the same Chicago to Guayaquil flight (the one we paid $89 each for) for only $67!
IMPORTANT: Budget for extra fees.
- There is a $20 fee for the Galápagos transit card, which you’ll need to purchase at the airport in Ecuador before you go through security for your flight to the Galápagos. When you arrive in the Galápagos, at either Santa Cruz or San Cristóbal airport, you’ll need to pay the National Park entry fee of $100 per person in cash.
- VERY IMPORTANT: Be aware that there is a potential for extra ticket fees for your flights to the Galápagos Islands. Depending on what Galápagos flights you book and what airline you book with, your ticket may be subject to non-resident fees. See more details about this in our FAQ section below.
Our Galápagos Flight Itinerary and Cost Breakdown
Outbound: U.S. to Galápagos Islands
$181.89 per person
That’s less than $200 to get from Chicago to the Galapagos Islands!
Our friend booked on even shorter notice and paid just $159 for the same route.
Return: Galápagos Islands to U.S. (via Cancún)
$347.46 per person
If we had booked a bit further in advance, we could have gotten a better deal on Spirit for this return leg of our trip (see note below).
Total Flight Cost
$181.89 outbound + $347.46 return = $529.35 total per person
Flights and Cost Breakdown
ONE WAY flight from Chicago to Guayaquil (via Fort Lauderdale)
ORD –> FLL –> GYE
$89.50 per person on Spirit Airlines
(or $67 booked less than one week in advance)
1 night stay in Guayaquil
ROUND TRIP flight from Guayaquil to San Cristóbal
GYE –> SAN CRISTOBAL –> GYE
$92.39 per person, each way ($184.78 RT cost) on Aviancaó
12 days on the Galápagos Islands, returning to Guayaquil and continuing on to Quito to explore mainland Ecuador via tour bus for 10 days, ending in Guayaquil (additional transit cost of $46.84 per person for flights to Quito, plus $129 per person for hop-on hop-off bus service from Quito to Guayaquil)
ONE WAY flight from Guayaquil to Cancún
GYE –> CUN
$154.94 per person on Interjet
a few days in Cancún (because, why not?)
ONE WAY flight from Cancún to Chicago
CUN –> ORD
$100.13 per person on American Airlines
Note: We would have opted to fly via Spirit on the same route back as our outbound route, but we booked a little too late and missed our chance at lower fares. Booking two separate flights on Interjet and American, stopping in Cancun, was the most affordable route option for us at the time we booked.
(We decided we didn’t mind a multi-day stop in Cancun on the way back, either.)
What if I want to fly from Europe to the Galápagos?
As I mentioned above, affordable flights are possible for Europeans, too!
Where should I stay in the Galapagos Islands?
We used a combination of Airbnb and Booking.com to find guest houses, boutique hotels, and nice hostels throughout Ecuador.
Haven’t used Airbnb before? Sign up now with our link to claim your discounts on your first Airbnb stay and experience!
What’s the deal with non-resident airline fees for flights to the Galapagos Islands?
Some fares to the Galapagos are discounted for Ecuadorian citizens, and when you search for your flights, it may not be clear what’s what.
We booked our flights through Avianca, and during the online booking, we received a notice that said we may be required to pay an additional non-resident fee of $150 per ticket at the airport if we did not show proof of Ecuadorian residency. However, we didn’t actually have to pay anything extra.
I can only speculate as to why we weren’t asked to pay the fee. Perhaps it was due to low demand, or maybe the fee only applies and is collected when you check your luggage at the airport counter.
In any case, you may see a similar notice about this when you book your flights, and I recommend doing what we did: plan for paying the extra fees at the airport, fill out all forms completely and accurately, and know there’s a chance you will not need to pay the additional fee. Be the easy type of airline customer that doesn’t need any in-person assistance. For all we know, we were never asked to pay any extra fees for our tickets because they didn’t really have the opportunity to ask us to.
There is obviously no guarantee this will work for future travelers, but if you’d like to try a similar strategy, here’s a list of things we did and didn’t do in regards to booking and check in:
- We booked online and checked in online and at the self-serve airport kiosks rather than at the airline desk.
- We flew with carry-ons only, didn’t check any baggage, and made sure our luggage weights were within the limits for our ticket type.
- We booked the ultralight fares on Avianca.com. Our purchase took a bit of patience but finally went through after a few instances of needing to start over because the site didn’t like the format we were using for our phone number. (Tip: Don’t use any hyphens and include your country code only when asked.)
- We bought our $20 transit cards at the airport in Guayaquil before going through security. (Cash is handy for this, but they did accept Visa.)
- We made sure to have cash to cover our $100 entrance fees, charged upon arrival at the airport on San Cristobal Island.
- We flew into and out of the smaller of the two commercial airports in the Islands.
- We did everything accurately every step of the way, entering our U.S. residency and passport info accurately three times: during booking, online mobile check-in, and self-service kiosk check-in at the Guayaquil airport.
It’s worth noting that we never interacted with an airline agent until they were scanning our boarding passes, checking our passports, and collecting our outbound Galapagos transit cards at the boarding gate.
Do you have questions about booking your Galapagos flights?
I hope this information about our Galápagos flight itinerary helps you plan your trip. If you have any additional questions, let us know in the comments.
Have you traveled to the Galápagos?
If so, please let us know about your flight experiences and booking costs in the comments. The more info we can collect, the easier it will be for everyone to plan their trips.
Thank you for sharing your thoughts and tips with us!
More Resources for Planning Your Galápagos Islands Trip
We’ve got more posts from the Galápagos Islands coming soon, so come back soon to read about the following:
- The Best Guided Tours in the Galápagos Islands
- Where to Spot Wildlife in the Galápagos Islands
- The Best Photo Gear for the Galápagos Islands
- Best Free Activities in the Galápagos Islands
- How to Get Around in the Galápagos Islands (Everything you need to know about Interisland Ferries and Flights, Water Taxis, and Land Taxis in the Galápagos)
- What to Book in Advance and What to Book On Site in the Galápagos Islands
- Which Galápagos Island is best to fly into?
- Galápagos Islands FAQ — Your Questions Answered
About the Author
- In March 2014, Diana called it quits on her traditional American working life and set out to explore the world with her partner in crime (and love of her life) Ian Norman. They now live a sustainable life of full time travel, working for themselves and seeking adventure at the same time. Here on North to South, Diana documents their journey in achieving and maintaining this "road less traveled" way of life.
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