The Galapagos is internationally renowned for unique plants and animals which evolved in complete isolation. The isolation of the islands and the need to protect the endemic animals from invasive species makes getting to the Galapagos part of the adventure.
Overall, travelers are well advised to fly in the day before, and budget a day for transportation to the islands. Here we tell you what you can expect when travelling to Puerto Ayora (the most popular jumping-off point for land-based tours and cruises).
Step 1. Getting to the airport
Flights to the Galapagos originate in Guayaquil, or Quito (with a stop in Guayaquil). As of May 2014, the three carriers which fly to the Galapagos are Aerogal, Tame, and Lan.
Make sure to arrive in Guayaquil or Quito the day before your departure (in case of flight delays, lost baggage, etc).
The flight to the Galapagos is considered a domestic flight (within Ecuador) but nevertheless you want to arrive at the airport 2 hours ahead of your flight time due to the extra security checks you will pass through.
Step 2. Get your Transit Control card
Once at the airport, before checking in, you need to get your transit control card (Tarjeta de Control de Transito in Spanish, or TCT card). This is a card which gives you permission to stay in the Galapagos without working for up to 90 days. You wait in the line marked “Consejo de Gobierno del Regimen especial de Galapagos”, fill out a form, and pay $20. They will give you a control card.
Step 3. Scan your baggage
They will ask you if you have brought any plants or animals in your checked luggage, scan your luggage, and seal the zippers together so you can no longer put anything in your checked luggage. This is to make sure you are not bringing in invasive animals or plants that could potentially harm the endemic animals in the Galapagos.
Tip: do not bring raw fruit and nuts, etc, in your checked luggage.
Step 4. Check in with your airline, drop your bags, and get through security
Now you are ready for normal airline procedures – finding your airline, checking in to get your boarding pass, dropping off your checked luggage, and going through airport security. You can now board your flight.
Step 5. Pay National Park fees
Once you land in the Galapagos, you will need to wait in a line to pay the national park fee. There are three lines:
- “Residentes” for residents of the Galapagos
- “Nacionales” or Ecuadorian citizens and permanent residents
- “Extranjeros” or foreigners (you are most likely in this category)
As a foreigner, you will need pay $100 in cash for the national park fee. The fee goes to conservation of the islands (see more about where the park fees go here). Bring cash as credit cards are not accepted.
Step 6. Baggage claim and Carry-on luggage check
Find your luggage at the baggage claim and head toward the exit door. There will be one last line where representatives will check your carry-on luggage for plants and animals and then let you by.
Note: If your hotel or tour includes transfer from the airport, this is where you will meet your tour or hotel representative to help you with your bags.
Step 7. Bus to the dock
Just outside there are airport buses waiting to take you from the airport to the dock. These are usually crowded but it’s only a 10 minute ride.
Step 8. Ferry from Baltra Island to Santa Cruz island
The airport is located on a different island from the main city where most hotels are located and where tours depart. You will need to take a ferry or water taxi from the dock to get to Santa Cruz island. Ferries and taxis come frequently and take 15-20 minutes.
Step 9. Getting to Puerto Ayora by bus or taxi
By van or taxi: If you are on a tour, you may have a van or taxi waiting for you at the dock on Santa Cruz island. The ride by private van or taxi takes about 45 minutes. Traveling independently? As of 2014, taxis charge $18 to Puerto Ayora.
By bus: The other option is the municipal bus. The bus runs somewhat infrequently, takes about 1:15 and charges $2 per person to Puerto Ayora. Once in Puerto Ayora, you can take a taxi (hail the white trucks on the street) for $1.
Step 10. Relax!
Once you are in Puerto Ayora, after a long day of travel, make sure to relax! My favorite way to unwind is watching the sea lions and marine iguanas basking in the sun. Other times I like to get some ice cream at Cafe Hernan by the dock and people-watch.