Essential Galápagos Travel Information
When traveling, it’s good to go with the flow and welcome the unexpected — especially when it comes to nature travels. You never know when a friendly sea lion will attempt to snorkel with you or a blue-footed booby will offer a ringside seat for his “dance” performance. These are things you won’t find printed on your itinerary.
However taking whatever happens in stride doesn’t mean that you should leave for your Galápagos Islands trip poorly prepared. Use the IGTOA essential information below to help comfortably navigate any eventuality on your upcoming adventure!
Getting to and from the Galápagos Islands
Your Galápagos Islands tour provider will supply you with detailed instructions on the arrival and departure processes. Here’s a basic overview of what to expect:
Immigration and Customs in Ecuador
All international travelers must pass through Immigration and Customs upon their first entry into Ecuador (usually this is in Guayaquil or Quito). All bags, including both checked and carry-on luggage, will be subject to inspection. Personal effects, cameras, and camera accessories may be temporarily imported without duty.
Getting to the Galápagos Islands
On your flight to the Galápagos, you may bring with you one or two checked bags with a combined weight of no more than approximately forty-four pounds and one carry-on bag. The carry-on bag may weigh no more than about seventeen pounds and must fit under the seat in front of you or in an overhead compartment. Excess baggage may be left behind or may be brought along at an additional cost. (Your hotel in Ecuador may offer an option of safely storing your extra luggage during your visit to the islands.)
Passengers are required to check in for their Galápagos flights ninety minutes prior to departure. Before checking in at the AeroGal, LAN, or TAME airline counters, you must pass by the INGALA counter to acquire a Tourist Control Card, which costs $10. Check with your tour provider regarding this step as most register guests upon reserving and confirming their cruises, requiring that this $10 fee be prepaid.
Next to the INGALA counter, you will find the SICGAL luggage inspection area. Once you have passed these two points, proceed to the airline counter (AeroGal, LAN, or TAME) to check in for your flight.
Non-native plants and animals pose one of the biggest challenges to the conservation of the Galápagos Islands. The Ecuadorian Animal and Plant Health Service and the Quarantine and Inspection System of Galápagos (SICGAL) have developed a program to prevent exotic species from arriving in the islands. To minimize the entry of such species, you will be given a declaration form to fill out on your flight to the islands. Please declare any agricultural products you are transporting and cooperate with the quarantine officers as they inspect your luggage.
Arrival and Ground Transfer in the Galápagos
Upon arrival at the airport on Baltra or San Cristóbal, you will pass through Immigration, then collect your bags and proceed through Customs. If you have not yet paid the Galápagos National Park entrance fee of $100 per adult (or $50 per child, eleven years old or younger), you must pay it in cash at this time.
You will be met by a representative from your tour provider. After collecting your luggage, he or she will escort you on the short bus ride to the Baltra or San Cristóbal dock (or in some cases a longer trip to Puerto Ayora ) to board your boat. Once at the dock, a panga will transport you to your ship, where the crew will welcome you on board. After setting off, you will make your first island visit.
Here’s a short summary of the procedure on getting to the Galápagos:
- Enter the national departure terminal with your original passport and electronic airline ticket printout ninety minutes prior to your flight’s departure.
- Head to the INGALA counter to get a Transit Control Card.
- Pass through the SICGAL luggage inspection (no agriculture products permitted).
- Check in at your airline counter (AeroGal, LAN, or TAME).
- Once you land in the Galápagos, pass through Immigration.
- Collect your bags and proceed through Customs.
- Your tour guide will be waiting for you. Look for a sign with the name of your particular cruise and/or your tour provider.
Departure from Ecuador
When departing Ecuador, you must once again pass through Immigration before boarding your outbound flight. Your bags may be inspected.
Upon arrival in the United States, you must pass through both Immigration and Customs.
Currency and Other Money Matters
The U.S. dollar is the official currency of Ecuador. It is best to carry sufficient cash to pay for incidentals, meals not included in your trip’s itinerary, alcoholic beverages, gratuities, souvenirs, and the departure tax.
Do not bring $100 bills with you, since they are not accepted by Ecuador’s commerce and banking systems. If you plan to visit the Otavalo Market, bring small bills ($1s, $5s, and $10s) since vendors rarely have much change. Larger bills ($20s and $50s) are fine for gratuities and bar tabs. Traveler’s checks are not recommended since they will be hard to cash.
Park Fees and Other Additional Costs
When arriving at the airport on San Cristóbal or Baltra, all travelers must pay the Galápagos National Park entrance fee ($100.00 per person). The park tax for children under the age of twelve is $50.
All tourists to the islands must also purchase a Transit Control Card for $10. The card must be presented upon departure from the Galápagos. It’s a good idea to keep it with your passport and other travel documents.
A comprehensive travel insurance policy may cover everything from trip cancellations and delays to lost luggage and unexpected medical emergencies. In addition, in the unlikely event that inclement weather restricts you to port and forces you to disembark your ship, be aware that you would be responsible for your hotel and meal costs. Many companies, such as TripMate, offer both medical evacuation and comprehensive policies.
Because international medical coverage can be expensive, you may wish to review your personal health insurance policy before leaving to ascertain what will be covered.
There are few ATMs in the Galápagos. It is best to go to your bank card’s website to find its ATM locations. Be sure you know your daily withdrawal limit before you leave home.
Be aware that many banks impose a fee every time you use a card at another bank’s ATM and that fee can be higher for international transactions (up to $5 or more) than for domestic ones. In addition, the bank from which you withdraw cash may charge its own fee. For specific international withdrawal fees, consult your bank.
Most shops and restaurants in Quito take credit cards. Visa and MasterCard are much more widely accepted than Discover or American Express. Credit cards may be used to pay bar tabs on board boats, but check with your tour provider to see which ones are accepted. There is a mandatory 12 percent tax (plus 10 percent service charge, for a total of 22 percent) that will be included in the price of all drinks purchased on board.
It is customary to tip your naturalist guides and boat staff, although it is completely at your discretion and should reflect your level of satisfaction with the services you received. Recommended tipping amounts vary, but they tend to range from a total tip of $140 to $250 on a full-week cruise (or $25 per night). Please check with your tour provider for more specific guidelines.
If you book additional day-tours in Ecuador, a gratuity of $12.00 is recommended for your guide and $7.00 for your driver, per person, including children.
When alone in large cities, pay close attention to bumping and shoving, which are common techniques used by thieves to grab valuables. If possible, do not carry a purse or a wallet. Instead, either store your valuables in a hotel safe or purchase a money/document pouch that can be kept hidden underneath your clothing. Also be alert for possible con games such as unbeatable bargains and offers of friendship and assistance involving money.
Ideally, you should wear your camera underneath a coat and not have it dangling on your shoulder or around your neck when you are in Quito or anytime you are not in the remote areas of the Galápagos. As a visible sign of wealth, a camera may draw unwanted attention.
On your flight to the Galápagos, do not put anything valuable in any unlocked, outside pockets of your luggage. Do not leave any valuables unattended in vehicles. There are no safes on board small boats.
Galápagos National Park Regulations and Best Practices for Visitors
Rarely can you see and experience wildlife and nearly pristine landscapes like you can in the Galápagos Islands. To protect this unique place, the Galápagos National Park Service has established rules for visitors. Please familiarize yourself with them before your departure and follow them stringently while in the islands to conserve this one-of-a-kind archipelago — now and into the future.
- Fully cooperate with environmental inspection and quarantine services personnel during your visit. Introduced plants, animals, and certain foods not native to the islands are a serious threat to the delicate ecosystems here.
- While visiting the islands, you must be accompanied by a licensed Galápagos National Park guide.
- To help with conservation, stay in the officially approved areas and on the marked trails at all times.
- No plants, animals, or their remains (including shells, bones, and pieces of wood), or other natural objects should not be removed or disturbed on land or in the water.
- Be careful not to transport any live material to the islands, or from island to island. Also, be careful not to transport sand.
- Do not take any food or drink other than water to the uninhabited islands.
- Do not touch or feed the animals. A distance of six feet between you and an animal is required. Also, do not allow them to touch you.
- Do not startle or chase animals from their resting or nesting spots. Flash photography disturbs them, so do not use it.
- Do not deface the rocks, trees, or walls. Making any type of graffiti is illegal.
- Do not leave any litter or trash on the islands or throw any off your boat.
- Smoking and campfires are forbidden in the national park.
- Do not fish from your tour boat.
- Motorized aquatic sports and aerial tourism are prohibited.
- Do not buy souvenirs or objects made of native plants or animals from the islands, especially black coral, volcanic rocks, native woods, sea lion teeth, or tortoise shells.
And to learn more about how you can help ensure to keep your footprint on the islands small, please watch these short videos:
Best Practices for Galápagos Travelers
Best Practices on Your Boat
Best Practices Against Invasive Species
The electrical current in Ecuador and on your boat is the same as in the U.S.: 110 volts, 60 cycles AC. Generators on boats, however, are not usually running continuously.
Outlet configurations are also the same as in the U.S., so no power converters or outlet adapters are necessary.
Your Health and Safety in the Galápagos
Before leaving on your adventure, check with your health care professional on what medications you may need or want to bring with you. Below, please find a few general guidelines:
Currently, international regulations did not require any inoculations for entry into mainland Ecuador or the Galápagos Islands. However, check with your physician or local public health office for the most up-to-date information. You may also contact the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, Georgia, at (800) 232-4636 or visit www.cdc.gov. If you are traveling to other countries before or after your expedition, check the requirements for those nations.
Galápagos waters are generally calm, but the seas can feel rough during bad weather and when the boat is traveling against the current. If you are at all susceptible to motion sickness (or if you are unsure), you may want to bring some sort of seasickness medication with you.
For those sensitive to motion sickness or seasickness, there are three factors to keep in mind:
Time of year:
- Try to avoid late August through October, as the seas are generally more turbulent during this time of the year;
Type of boat:
- Try to avoid sailboats (or motor-sailer) boats since the narrower the boat, the more prone it is to rocking in open waters; while the wider (and heavier) the boat is, the more stable it is.
- The most stable boats are large cruise ships and motor catamarans, followed by wider motorboats; the least stable are narrow sailing boats.
Cabin location on the boat:
- Every sailor knows that the roughest ride is at the top of the boat; the lower down and centrally located you are, the less you feel the motion.
Because Quito is located at 9,200 feet above sea level, the air there may be thinner than what you are used to. Upon arrival, you may feel a bit lethargic and short of breath. It is important to take it easy for the first couple of days. To lessen the effects of altitude sickness, you might want to avoid drinking alcohol while in Quito.
Also, proper hydration is essential: Drink plenty of water, particularly on your international flight to Ecuador and on your last day in the islands before returning to the mainland.
Should you experience problems with altitude, speak with your naturalist guide.
Traveler’s Diarrhea and Constipation
Whenever you travel through a new environment, eat unfamiliar food, or drink water with a different mineral content, you become a candidate for traveler’s diarrhea. As a precaution against getting sick, you may choose to take Pepto-Bismol tablets or acidophilus capsules every day, starting a couple of days before your departure, until a few days after you return.
If you do become ill, one dose of Imodium will often clear up any symptoms. In the meantime, replace lost fluids and minerals — such as sodium and potassium — to avoid dehydration and eat a mild diet, drink caffeine-free beverages that are in factory-sealed containers, and avoid dairy products.
Bacterial diarrhea caused by eating contaminated food or drinking impure water, however, can potentially be very serious (Imodium is not recommended for this type of illness). If you experience persistent symptoms, notify your naturalist guide who will assist you in seeking medical attention. Please check with your doctor regarding carrying emergency antibiotics.
Alternatively, some people find that when traveling in a new environment, constipation can occur. You may also wish to bring laxatives with you.
On the majority of cruises, however, only the highest quality food is served. In this situation, it is perfectly safe to eat all fruits and vegetables. Bottled or purified water is typically available.
Here are some guidelines to follow if traveling on your own before or after your cruise trip:
- Drink only bottled or filtered water.
- Use bottled or filtered water for brushing your teeth.
- Order your drinks without ice.
- Don’t eat food purchased from street vendors; raw vegetables; fruits not peeled yourself; or raw, partially cooked or cold seafood.
- Keep away from dairy products, unless you are certain that they have been pasteurized.
To maintain your safety during your Galápagos adventure, please watch the short video below:
Packing for the Galápagos: What to Bring
One of the secrets to enjoying adventure travel is to pack lightly. That will certainly be true for your exploration of the Galápagos Islands. Airlines serving the Galápagos generally allow only one checked bag per person, which cannot weigh more than about forty-four pounds. And space aboard ship is limited, so a collapsible, duffel-style bag often works best. Since there will be no room for an open suitcase in your cabin, all luggage will need to be stashed away.
Dress is purely casual in the islands. It’s a good idea to pack a change of clothing, rain gear, and any essentials (including TSA acceptable travel-sized toiletries) in a carry-on bag in the unlikely event that your luggage is delayed or lost by the airlines. Secure all parts of your bag before checking it on the flight to the Galápagos.
Following are some general packing guidelines and a checklist to help you determine the right amount of gear to bring with you.
General Packing Pointers
- Valid passport (with a photocopy, or scan it and send to your e-mail account). A valid passport is required for all U.S. citizens traveling to Ecuador. Your passport must remain valid for at least six months after your expected return date to the U.S., or you may be not allowed entry into Ecuador. If your expiration date is within six months of your return date, you must have your passport renewed. Carrying a copy of your passport separately from your original will help in the replacement process if it is lost or stolen.
- A copy of your complete flight itinerary.
- A copy of applicable travel and/or medical evacuation insurance (including the policy number and insurance contact information).
- Personal medical and dental insurance cards.
- Credit cards (record your card number and the international phone number to report loss or theft and keep in a separate place).
- The names and phone numbers of emergency contacts.
- Any pre-departure materials sent to you by your tour provider.
Money (also see “ Currency and Other Money Matters ”)
The following will help you to determine the amount of cash you may need to bring with you on your expedition. Consider:
- Optional gratuities (number of trip days multiplied by $14 to $35 per person)
- Extra drinks
- Personal spending money (laundry, internet fees, meals not included in the itinerary, etc.)
- Travel money for before and after your trip (and for any extensions)
- Lightweight, breathable waterproof (not water-resistant) rain jacket with a hood
- Light sweater (for cool-month nights ) or a windbreaker
- 2 Pairs of comfortable, rubber-sole walking shoes or lightweight hiking boots or sneakers with good traction (Tennis shoes or other appropriate soft-soled shoes are preferred while on board the boats.)
- Sport sandals (such as Tevas, Chacos; water-resistant sport sandals are highly recommended for getting in or out of the pangas during wet landings. You must not go barefoot while wading in the water, as the sharp coral can cut like glass. Flip-flops are not recommended.)
- 2 Pairs of comfortable, lightweight pants
- 1 Pair of nylon, zip-off pants (useful for warm days and cooler mornings and nights on the boat)
- 1 Pair of jeans or heavier pants (optional for cooler nights on the boat)
- 2 Long-sleeved shirts
- 6–8 Short-sleeved shirts (you may also want to bring an extra T-shirt to wear while snorkeling if you sunburn easily)
- 3 Pairs of shorts (you may not need as many pairs of shorts if you bring zip-off pants)
- 2 Swimsuits (for daily snorkeling excursions)
- Wide-brimmed sun hat (with a string to secure it when it gets windy) or a billed cap with a neck flap (The sun is very strong on the Equator, especially from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.; and although island visits are scheduled in the early morning and late afternoon to avoid the most intense part of the day, protecting yourself against too much sun exposure is wise.)
- Prescription glasses/contact lenses
- Small, lightweight binoculars
- Camera and camera equipment (such as extra batteries and sufficient memory cards; disposable underwater cameras are great for taking photos while snorkeling)
- Ziploc Baggies (several sizes, for wet or dirty clothing and to protect camera equipment)
- Water bottle (to avoid using multiple disposable plastic bottles)
- Sunglasses (with UV protection and a secure strap; polarized glasses help you to see through the reflection at the surface of the water and can be very useful while looking for marine life)
- Sunscreen and lip balm (at least SPF 30)
- Toiletries (you may want to check with your tour provider to see what your ship supplies)
- Earplugs (useful for blocking out boat noises)
- Small sewing kit
- Insect repellent
- Headlamp or small flashlight for exploring caves and lava tunnels or for emergencies
- Hand sanitizer
- Walking stick (Terrain may be rocky and uneven at times, so some travelers find a walking stick helpful.)
- Small, water-resistant daypack (to carry camera gear and other equipment during island walks)
- Snorkeling gear and wet suit (if not provided on your boat)
- Spanish/English dictionary
- Alarm clock (although there is a wake-up call on the ship)
- Extra duffle bag (If you wish to buy souvenirs in Ecuador, bring an empty, collapsible duffel bag that you can fill with your purchases for your trip home. Keep in mind that you are generally only allowed one checked bag on your flight to the Galápagos, but it may be possible to safely store excess luggage at your mainland hotel during your visit to the islands.)
Medications and First Aid
While you are at sea, medicines will be difficult to obtain, so bring any prescribed or over-the-counter medications you take on a regular basis with you. Keep all prescriptions in their original, labeled containers.
- Motion sickness medication (If you are sensitive to motion sickness, bring over-the-counter products or ask your doctor about scopolamine patches or pills.)
- Pepto-Bismol (or Kaopectate) for stomach upset and mild diarrhea
- Imodium or Lomotil for more severe diarrhea
- Antibiotic cream
- Aloe vera cream or gel for sunburn
- Tylenol or other mild pain relief
- Small medical kit
Learning as much as you can about the Galápagos will enhance your experience of the islands. Click here for a selection of excellent books on the archipelago.
Plant and Wildlife Checklists
To become familiar with the plants, birds, mammals, fish, reptiles, and other wildlife you will encounter on your adventure, go to the plant and wildlife sections of this travel guide. You’ll also find Plant and Wildlife Checklists to take with you on your trip.
Spanish is the official language of Ecuador. Your guide will speak both English and Spanish, and most hotel staff and boat crew will speak fluent or some English.
However, local people will appreciate any efforts you make to speak Spanish. You may want to bring along a pocket-sized Spanish/English dictionary.
Mainland Ecuador is located in the Eastern Standard Time (EST) Zone, and the Galápagos Islands are one hour behind (in the Central Standard Time Zone). However, your expedition may choose to follow either the local Galápagos time or EST.
There is little seasonal variation between dawn and dusk, so Ecuador does not observe daylight saving time.