Getting to the Galapagos Islands is easy once you know how. We have written this beginners guide to set you up with all the basics that you need to know: How to fly to Galapagos, and from where? How to get around the islands? How much luggage can you take to Galapagos? How to get back home again? What processes and controls are there to get to Galapagos? Don’t worry, we’ve got you covered from start to finish. Keep reading for everything you need to know about HOW TO GET TO GALAPAGOS!
That’s right, Ecuador is the gateway to Galapagos, so you’ll need to fly into Ecuador first. There are no direct flights to Galapagos from any other international country. But don’t be putoff, flying into Ecuador is really easy. There are direct flights to Ecuador from USA and Europe every day of the week.
Look for international flights into Quito (Mariscal Sucre Airport), or Guayaquil (Jose Joaquin de Omedo Airport). From the US, try direct flignts from Atlanta, Miami, Fort Lauderdale, Houston, New York or Los Angeles. Or from Europe try from Amsterdam, Paris or Madrid. There are also many connecting flight routes available through Central America, or other South American hubs. We recommend using tools like KAYAK or GOOGLE FLIGHTS to find the easiest and cheapest routes to Ecuador from your hometown. You’ll also need to reserve a hotel night in Quito or Guayaquil for the day you arrive.
So, you’ve already booked your flight tickets into Ecuador. The next step is to get yourself to Galapagos. The islands lie in the Pacific Ocean, aproximately 600 miles (1000km) off from the coast of Ecuador. So the only way to get to Galapagos from Ecuador is by taking a domestic flight. Again, please don’t stress, this is super easy. Read on for the inside scoop on Galapagos flights.
How do you fly to the Galapagos Islands? Up to 5 or 6 domestic flights depart daily from both Quito and Guayaquil airports. Be sure to book your Galapagos flight in advance, spaces often fill up fast.
Who flies to Galapagos? Choose from three different airlines: Latam, Avianca and Tame. All accept online bookings via their websites. Take care to reserve as an international tourist rather than a local Ecuadorian; the prices differ, and you may be refused boarding if you book the lower Ecuadorian prices without a local ID card. Local agencies such as Happy Gringo can also help out with flight bookings.
When do flights depart to Galapagos? Scheduled departures from Quito and Guayaquil usually leave early in the morning. They arrive to Galapagos between mid to late morning, allowing you to connect straight onto a Galapagos cruise or tour the same day.
How long is the flight to Galapagos? Flight time is around 2 hours from Quito, or 1 and 1/2 hours from Guayaquil. Flights from Quito usually have a short stop-over in Guayaquil on route. There is a one hour time difference between Ecuador mainland and the Galapagos Islands.
Yes and No. The answer to this question actually depends on which cruise yacht you will be traveling on. Different Galapagos yachts have different practises and rules.
Some yachts allow flexibility to their passengers to book their own flights directly with the airlines. Other yacht operators obligate passengers to book flight tickets directly through them, and charge a penalty flight fee if you book your own tickets.
If this sounds rather confusing - well, in truth it is. So why do some yachts charge a penalty flight fee?
The reason is that cruise operators regularly need to send supplies to the Galapagos Islands from mainland Ecuador for the operation of their cruises. This is done via cargo flights from Quito to the Islands, and entails a significant cost for their operation. Some yachts have therefore made deals with airlines; when they buy a certain quantity of passenger flight spaces through the airline, they also receive reduced prices for the cargo fee. So, to ensure that they sell enough flight seats they obligate all of their passengers to fly on that airline and book the flights through their operating company. The other advantage is that all of the passengers travel together on the same flight, which makes tour logistics easier too.
The amount of the flight penalty varies from yacht to yacht, but is typically around $50-80 per person.
How to know which yachts charge a penalty flight fee? Just check the exclusions section of each yacht on our website for more info. While Happy Gringo are not in favor of the penalty fee practise, we are obliged to follow the rules of each yacht owner.
You can take one checked bag up to 50 pounds (23Kg) to Galapagos, plus one carry-on of maximum 22pounds (10Kg). It is possible to pay excess luggage at check-in, as well as registering oversized luggage such as surf boards.
The Galapagos islands are a protected National Park, so you need to be aware of some special tourist controls before you travel. The Galapagos controls begin at Quito and Guayaquil airports before checkin. We recommend arriving to the airport at least 2 hours prior to your flight deperture – these processes take extra time, and there may be queues.
The first of these processes is the Galapagos Transit Control Card (TCT). This is your immigration permission to travel to the islands. If you booked your trip through Happy Gringo, then we will have pre-registered you for this card, which makes the process quicker. Either way, you’ll need to queue up at the INGALA counter. Be ready to show your passport, and pay the US$20 fee per person. In return you recieve your TCT card, which looks like this:
Keep your TCT card safe – you’ll need it to complete your check-in, and again when you leave the islands to return home.
The next hurdle is SIGCAL Baggage control screening. This process is very important to protect the islands against invasive species that may pose a threat to the fragile Galapagos Islands eco-system. Items such as fruits, vegetables, or organic matter are not allowed in your luggage, and may be conviscated. After your bags have been scanned, they will receive a sticker. Now you are ready to head to the airline counter to check-in for your flight.
On arrival to Galapagos, first remember to set your watch back one hour to adjust for the time difference.
join the queue with the other passengers to pay for your Galapagos National Park Entry Fee. This currently costs $100 per person (or $6 for Ecuadorian nationals, or foreigners holding an Ecuadorian cedula ID card), and MUST BE PAID IN CASH. You will be issued with an entrance ticket, and can carry on into the baggage arrivals lounge.
The final process is another luggage screening for prohibited organic items.
Then you are officially in. Congratulations, you made it to the Galapagos Islands!
Your tour or cruise guide will be waiting for you in the Arrivals area, usually holding a sign with the name of your yacht. Once you meet him/her the rest is plain sailing, and you will be well looked after.
Your Galapagos guide will be waiting for you in arrivals if you have booked a Cruise or Land Tour. Just look for the person holding a sign with the name of your cruise yacht, or with your names. You’ll need to wait for all of your tour group to arrive, then the guide will begin your tour.
There are guides on all tours and cruises at the islands, this is required by the National Park Service. Only a limited number of sites on inhabited islands are visitable by yourself. For this reason it is highly recommended to pre-book a Cruise or a Guided Land Tour. This will give you a far richer experience, and ability to visit a greater diversity of different visitor sites. You’ll also have the benefit of his/her explanations about the wildlife, geology and conservation that you encounter.
All guides are naturalists, having studied with the Park Service. They are bilingual, speaking Spanish and English. If you need a guide in any other language then it is also possible, but needs to be requested well in advance.
Yes, no problem, you can travel independently. There is no need to prebook a tour or cruise, especially if traveling on a tight budget. If you do go for this route then there are couple of important travel considerations:
You will need to show proof of hotel booking (or other accommodation) in order to travel. You also need proof of return flight to mainland Ecuador.
If you do go down this route, there are some Galapagos visitor sites that you can go to alone. You could also book day tours, or rent snorkeling gear or a bike to explore by yourself. The advantages are lower cost and the flexibility to explore at your own pace. The down side is that you will be quite limited on the islands that you can visit.
It totally depends on how many days you have to travel to Galapagos. Many tourists do fly in and out on their exact cruise dates, but if you are lucky enough to have extra time on your hands then staying a fews extra days in a land hotel can be a great idea!
It's easy to add-on hotel nights either before or after a Galapagos cruise. You'll have extra time to explore Galapagos visitor sites by yourself, and can get to know Galapagos towns while enjoying fine dining & boutique shopping.
If you do choose to stay extra nights at Galapagos, then Happy Gringo can help with Galapagos hotel reservations, as well as tips on what to do and see.
As a general rule we recommend to stay a minimum of at least 2 extra nights to make this option worthwhile. It's also important to consider that you'll have to meet the cruise guide under your own steam. Of course we'll provide the details of meeting place and time, but sometimes you'll need to return all the way back to the airport to join your cruise (which can be inconvenient).
Those traveling on a cruise of course already have a ride sorted between the islands.
If traveling independently then you can use the local speed boat ferry or intra-island flights. Intra-island ferries link Santa Cruz island to San Cristobal, Isabela and Floreana. Similarly, flights operate from Santa Cruz to San Cristobal and Isabela. All of these islands have a selection of hotels for overnight stays.
With both forms of transport, daily departures are offered, and pre-booking is recommended due to high demand. If you have booked a Land Tour through Happy Gringo then we take care of all of this for you.
The speed boat ferry is a bumpy 2 hour ride, so go prepared with sea sickness pills.
Intra-island flights are quite pricey, and have a checked luggage allowance of just 20 pounds (10.34 Kg).
All intra-island travel is strictly regulated by the National Park Authority. At the dock or airport you will have to pass through luggage searches prior to boarding. Be very careful to not take any stones, shells or organic materials between islands or back home. It may be tempting to take a pretty shell, but you risk receiving a heavy fine.
On the inhabited islands of Santa Cruz, San Cristobal, Isabela and Floreana, you have a number of transport options at your disposal. White pick-up truck taxis can run you up to a local visitor site or Galapagos beach – just remember to agree a pickup time with them for the return journey. Bike rentals at hotels or agencies are also fairly cheap for day-use and open up a world of possibilities. If you need to travel by sea then try a water taxi. They can be rented at the main town ports, and are cheap for short journies across the bay or to nearby beaches.
Wherever you go in Galapagos, always remember that you are traveling in a very delicate and important Marine Reserve. In order to protect the birds and animals and their fragile eco-system, we all need to tread lightly and respect their home.
Please read the Galapagos National Park Visitor Rules carefully before you travel, and endeavor to respect these rules throughout your visit.
At the end of your trip your guide will drop you back to the airport at the correct time for your flight check in. Flights operate back to Quito and Guayaquil, departing mid to late morning. They arrive back to Ecuador mainland in late afternoon (with a one hour time difference, clocks going forwards).
Before checkin at Galapagos, you need to show your TCT card once again, to prove to Galapagos Immigration Controls that you are leaving the islands. If you have misplaced or lost your card then you can pay for a new one.
If you have a night flight leaving Ecuador then you may be able to fly on home that same day. Most travelers, however, need to stay at least one night in Ecuador before the onward journey. Why not stay for a few extra days and check out what Ecuador has to offer?
So there you have it, getting to Galapagos is perfectly easy. Even more so if you book through a reputable travel agency like Happy Gringo. We do all of the heavy lifting for you, so planning your Galapagos vacation and flights is a breeze! We have expert trip planners at your disposal, and come highly recommended by Trip Advisor.
Contact us for a FREE GALAPAGOS QUOTE, or for help planning your Galapagos vacation.