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Guide to the Galapagos Islands

The Galapagos Islands are truly a very special and unique place to be.

Vast endemic wildlife, both on land and sea, can be found here, no wonder why Charles Darwin’s Theory of Evolution was based on animals living on the islands.

But is it easy to get there? What are the requirements for travellers wanting to explore this magical place on Earth? And how can I get from island A to B?

Since most of the land and sea are protected under the rules of a National Park, it’s not as easy as you might think.

This guide to the Galapagos will try to cover the most important questions regarding travelling, rules, possibilities and all useful info around it.

Chapter One:

Basic information

The Galapagos Islands are part of Ecuador

They are situated in the Pacific Ocean about 1,000 kilometres (605 miles) west of northern South America.
This gorgeous volcanic archipelago consists of 20 bigger islands plus a hundred more islets and rocks are situated north and south of the equator.

There are only 4 inhabited islands

The Galapagos has four inhabited islands: Santa Cruz, San Cristobal, Isabela, and Floreana. The other islands and islets of the archipelago are not inhabited by humans and overnight stays are not allowed.

You only get there from the mainland

The only way to get there is by plane, and only through Ecuador’s mainland.
The airports in Quito, Ecuador’s capital, and Guayaquil serve as hubs for flights to the islands.

There are only 2 airports you can fly into

You can only fly into Seymour Ecological Galapagos Airport in Baltra Island (an uninhabited island) and into San Cristobal’s Airport.
There is however a third airport on Isabela Island but you could only fly there from San Cristobal Island or Baltra Island via Air-Taxi.

You can travel between the inhabited islands via ferries

You can travel between the inhabited islands via ferry or speedboat but these only leave at certain times and they have specific routes:

  • Speedboat Santa Cruz Island → San Cristóbal Island
    Departures: 7:00 AM and 3:00 PM
  • Speedboat San Cristóbal Island to → Santa Cruz Island
    Departures: 7:00 AM and 3:00 PM
  • Speedboat Santa Cruz Island → Isabela Island
    Departures: 7:30 AM and 3:00 PM
  • Speedboat Isabela Island → Santa Cruz Island
    Departures: 6:00 AM and 3:00 PM
  • Speedboat Santa Cruz Island → Floreana Island
    Departures: 8:00 AM (not available every day)
  • Speedboat Floreana Island → Santa Cruz Island
    Departures: 3:00 PM (not available every day)

The approximate travel time between islands is 2 to 2.5 hours

Chapter Two:

Requirements

You need

  • A return airline ticket back to the mainland
  • A Transit Control Card (also known as Ingala Card or TCT) issued by the Galapagos Council. It has to be acquired at their counters in the airports in Quito or Guayaquil.
    You must get this card before boarding your flight, it is 20 USD per person and it must be paid in cash
  • Pay the Galapagos entry fee of 100 USD per person (reduced to 50 USD for children under 12 years old). This fee must be paid in cash, at the airport of your arrival
  • Comply with all Covid-19 related requirements

Chapter Three:

Best time to visit the islands

A whole year-round destination

Due to their isolation and position on the equator, the Galapagos can be visited all year round.

Nonetheless, there are two types of seasons in the Galapagos: rainy and dry.

The rainy season: from December to May and gives you the advantage of warmer air and water temperatures. There are daily drizzles but the rain only covers the islands within sporadic spells.

You can expect the calmest seas and sunniest weather still in the rainy season. The rainy season, despite its name, is the most popular time to visit Galapagos.

The dry season: from June to November. This is when the Humboldt current passes through the South American coast and results in cooler temperatures and colder waters in the Galapagos Islands bringing all kinds of marine wildlife as the waters transform into the best food market out there.​

There are overcast conditions most days but rainfall rarely results from these skies. The seas and the wind tend to grow stronger as the dry season moves forward.

Chapter Four:

The rules

When you set foot on the Galapagos Islands, you become part of a fragile ecosystem unlike any other

  • Stay within the limits of the walking trails, for your safety and that of the flora and fauna
  • To avoid affecting the wildlife’s natural behaviour please avoid getting closer than two meters to the animals
  • Report any anomalies to the Galapagos National Park
  • Do not introduce foreign organisms to the islands, as these can have a negative impact on the ecosystem
  • Please do not buy souvenirs that are made from black coral, seashells, sea lion teeth, tortoiseshell, volcanic rock or endemic woods
  • Never feed the animals. Feeding them can be detrimental to their health
  • Smoking or making campfires in the Galapagos National Park areas is forbidden and can cause devastating fires
  • Fishing is strictly forbidden, except on those boats specifically authorized by the Galapagos National Park for that purpose only
  • Jet skiing, submarines, water skiing and aerial tourism are all forbidden

Chapter Five:

Cruising vs Island Hopping

There are 2 ways to travel around the islands

  1. You can visit Galapagos on a cruise. Boats range from 12 to 110 passengers and are divided into four categories of service: economy, tourist, first-class, and luxury. Cruise itineraries take advantage of night hours to travel long distances between islands in order to arrive at the next visitor site refreshed and ready to explore.
  2. The most popular way is Island-hopping. That means you stay ashore in a hotel on one of the larger inhabited islands (Santa Cruz, San Cristóbal, or Isabela) and take day trips to nearby uninhabited islands. While this option can be cheaper and provides an interesting perspective for travellers, the range of islands that can be visited is limited by distance.
    Also, there are several animal species that likely will not be encountered on day trips.
    You can take speed boats between inhabited islands, stay overnight at hotels and explore local sites and enjoy activities near the towns. Day trips can be arranged from San Cristóbal, Santa Cruz and Isabela.
FAQ

What kind of clothes should I take to Galapagos?

We advise visitors to pack casual, comfortable (cotton) garments.
Please find below a list of some items:

  • Wading shoes/sandals or booties (avoid flip-flops)
  • 2 pairs of sneakers. If you have weak ankles, you may also consider ankle-high boots.
  • 1 light windjammer/jacket
  • 1 good sweater (during the cold season)
  • 3 light, large, long-sleeved shirts (sun-proof fabric)
  • A good rain poncho (only during the rainy season)
  • 4 pair of shorts and one pair of long pants
  • 1 umbrella against rain or sun
  • A walking-stick for crossing the lava fields
  • One wide brimmed hat
  • Water bottle
  • Bathing suits
  • Sunglasses
  • Binoculars
  • Sunscreen
  • Insect repellent
  • A few zip-lock plastic bags
  • A water-tight camera-bag
  • An extra pair of prescription glasses
  • 1 small flashlight
  • Some paper tissue
  • Extra batteries
  • A watertight underwater camera is a good idea
  • Antihistamine pills and cream, a soothing gel for burns or rashes, eye- and ear drops, band-aids, light and strong painkillers, anti-acid pills and sea-sickness medication.
  • Any personal medication you deem essential (Consult your doctor)

The allowed luggage weight on board is 23kgs + carry-on per person
This list is only a general recommendation but the personalization of the latter should be considered by each individual according to the person’s own needs or wishes.

Is it recommended to bring children to Galapagos?

Families with children are very welcome! However, we suggest that your children are at least 3-4 years old. This way, they can enjoy the experience and be able to endure the trip. We highly recommend considering waiting a few years until they realize how special the Galapagos Islands are. Although we don’t offer special children’s programs, they will love being nearby animals, and activities such as swimming, snorkelling and sea kayaking.

Please, remember that parents or legal guardians are responsible for their children. They must take into account that children may not undertake longer or more difficult activities.

We have special discounts for children younger than 12 years (ask your travel advisor), as well as reduced entrance fees to the Galapagos National Park.

Is Galapagos recommended for travellers with disabilities?

It depends on the type of disability that the guest has and the extent to which this disability would affect the activities to do. People with serious mobility issues will find that Galapagos has rugged terrain, is not friendly and without access ramps at visitor sites, so the wheelchairs could be damaged.

Is there a list of prohibited items or food to bring to the Galapagos?

You MUST NOT bring any agricultural or plant materials or any unprocessed food products to the islands. To avoid problems at customs and bag check we suggest only travelling to Galapagos with pre-wrapped snack products such as chocolate bars, etc.

What physical condition is required for the Galapagos Islands?

We highly recommend our travellers to have a reasonably good physical condition.

We would like to point out some problems that elderly or disabled people may encounter:

  • Some trails are long and/or more difficult than others. Some have sharp lava rocks or light scrambling (especially in unspoiled remote areas like the western Galapagos islands that hardly have any touristic infrastructure, as well as in Española, Genovesa and Tintoreras).
  • There may also be trouble while embarking and disembarking the boats, especially when the tide is a bit rough. However, your guide will always be there to help you in and out safely.

May I encounter rough seas or bad weather?

The Galapagos’ internal waters are mostly calm, but open ocean crossings can sometimes provoke discomfort during a “rough” night, especially from August to December. Seas generally are at their calmest from January to April.

Most travellers are not affected. However, if you are prone to seasickness, we recommend you to use a patch (these work very well) or take a pill before going on a boat. Consult your doctor on which medicine works best for you. Sooner or later, your body will adapt to the motion of the ship and the discomfort will diminish.

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