How Do You Travel to the Galapagos Islands from the USA?
Historically, the Galapagos Islands have been one of the most isolated archipelagos in the world and, thanks to that, now harbor some of the most unique life on the planet. Protecting this life has required meaningful coordination between the Ecuadorian government and the Galapagos National Park, and likewise the cooperation of those who visit. The Galapagos National Park works diligently to ensure that tourists “take only photos and leave only footprints” during their stay and, as a result, access to the islands is highly regulated. There are a few things you need to know when planning the logistics of your trip to the Galapagos, whether from the United States or anywhere else in the world.
Getting to the Galapagos Islands
For most people, the only feasible way to travel to the Galapagos Islands is aboard a commercial airplane. There have long existed rumors that cruise ships leave directly from the mainland or that hopeful tourists can board a cargo ship to the islands. These rumors are completely unfounded – there are no cruises that depart from mainland Ecuador or, indeed, from anywhere except the Galapagos Islands themselves, and neither is it possible (or legal) to hitch a ride to the islands. On the other hand, while individuals are able to take a private yacht from the mainland to the islands, this is only after navigating through a series of bureaucratic hurdles. Additionally, private vessels are not allowed to disembark anywhere within the national park.
Flights from Ecuador
There are several airlines that fly to the Galapagos Islands; however, flights only depart from Quito or Guayaquil (the two largest cities in Ecuador). Furthermore, all flights leave in the morning, meaning that an overnight stay will most likely be required. If time permits, you may want to look into the sightseeing options in either Quito or Guayaquil, both of which offer a plethora of interesting sites.
The only inconvenience related to flying out of Quito instead of Guayaquil is that all flights must first stop at the coastal city of Guayaquil before departing directly to the Galapagos Islands. Nevertheless, the flight from Quito to Guayaquil is only about thirty minutes, and then an additional two hours to the Galapagos. It is important to consider that there are two different airports in the Galapagos, located on two different islands: Baltra Island (to the immediate north of Santa Cruz Island) and San Cristobal Island. There is not much of a difference between the two, but you will want to consider where your hotel is or, if you will be taking a cruise, where the cruise begins.
Park Entry Fees & Regulations
The Ecuadorian government has taken several measures to prevent the arrival of non-native species to the Galapagos Islands and protect its fragile ecosystem. Upon arriving to the mainland airport, you will need to obtain a Transit Control Card, which is designed to control immigration to the Galapagos. Additionally, non-residents under 12 years of age are charged a $50.00 entry fee while those above 12 are charged $100.00 before entering the national park. Guests are also restricted as to what they can bring into the islands and what they can take with them when they leave. After landing on the islands, all visitors must pass through a baggage screening process in which agents check for live animals, seeds and plants. Furthermore, once flights take off, flight attendants spray the overhead bins with an insecticide as a precautionary measure.
It is important to familiarize yourself with Galapagos National Park regulations before beginning your trip to the Galapagos Islands. The Galapagos offer stunning beauty and an incredibly unique view into nature, but we must all work together to preserve this fragile ecosystem.