How to get to the Galapagos – a step-by-step guide

If you’ve always dreamed of visiting the Galapagos Islands, you’re not alone. These unique islands are a wildlife wonderland that has attracted nature enthusiasts and explorers for generations. However, getting to the Galapagos requires some planning. This blog will guide you through the essential steps to ensure your journey to this remote paradise goes smoothly.

1. Get to Ecuador First

To reach the Galapagos Islands, you must first get to Ecuador, the mainland country to which the islands belong. There are two primary cities where international flights land: Quito (Mariscal Sucre International Airport, UIO) and Guayaquil (José Joaquín de Olmedo International Airport, GYE). Quito is in the Andes at a higher altitude, while Guayaquil is closer to sea level and typically has more direct connections to other countries.

If you’re planning your trip from North America, Europe, or Asia, check flights to both Quito and Guayaquil to find the most convenient and cost-effective option. Be sure to schedule at least one or two days in Ecuador to account for potential delays and to experience the culture.

Quito City - Photo by Dayan Quinteros on Unsplash
Quito, Ecuador – Photo by Dayan Quinteros on Unsplash

2. Domestic Flights to San Cristobal

Once in Ecuador, your next step is to catch a domestic flight to the Galapagos Islands. You have two primary destinations: Baltra Island (serving Santa Cruz) and San Cristobal (SCY). In this guide, we’ll focus on flights to San Cristobal as this is where Galapagos Master will be waiting for you. There are several daily flights from both Quito and Guayaquil to San Cristobal, with flight times typically ranging from 1.5 to 2 hours.

Master Liveaboards have a reserved seating allowance and preferential pricing on LATAM flights from Quito via Guayaquil which fit with embarkation and disembarkation dates and times for all guests boarding Galapagos Master in San Cristóbal. We recommend that you reserve your seat when confirming your liveaboard booking to take advantage of our fixed preferential pricing and service which includes airport assistance, priority check-in, and an increased checked luggage allowance of 2 x 23 kg.
Please refer to our Domestic Flight Information sheet, or contact our reservations team for further details and current pricing.

To avoid surprises, book your flight well in advance and be sure to arrive at the airport at least 2 hours before departure. Some airlines that operate flights to San Cristobal include LATAM and Avianca.

LATAM flight on SCY tarmac

3. Get Your Galapagos Transit Control Card (TCT)

Before you board your flight to the Galapagos, you must obtain a Transit Control Card (TCT). This card helps the Galapagos authorities monitor the number of visitors and ensure sustainable tourism. You can obtain the TCT at the airport in Quito or Guayquil before boarding your domestic flight.

Find the Consejo De Gobierno del Regimen Especial de Galapagos or INGALA counters in the airport, where you’ll fill out a form with your personal details and information about your trip. There’s a fee of $20 USD for the TCT, which you must pay in cash.

Counter of Ingala at Quito Airport
Look for this counter to obtain your TCT

You can also pre-register for the TCT online. Once the pre-registration is approved, you will still need to visit the counter at the airport, present the registration and pay to obtain your TCT

TCT card Galapagos
An example of a TCT card

4. Baggage Screening

After obtaining your TCT, your next step is to go through baggage screening. All luggage bound for the Galapagos must be inspected to prevent the introduction of invasive species. The screening is done at the airport, so allow extra time for this process. You can see the list of prohibited items here.

Head over to the Agencia de Regulacion y Control de la Biseguirdad y Cuarena para Galapagos – Inspeccion de Equipaje. Place your bags on the conveyor belt at the inspection area, where security personnel will check for prohibited items such as seeds, plants, and animals. Once your luggage is cleared, you can proceed to check in for your flight.

Bio-security Luggage Control Quito
Bio-security Luggage Control

5. Customs Affidavit

Before you land in the Galápagos, the flight crew will pass out a customs affidavit form for the Galápagos Islands. This affidavit will ask you to certify that you aren’t bringing any banned materials into the islands.

Custom affidavit Galapagos
Example of the Custom Affidavit

6. Arrival in SCY and Paying for Your Galapagos National Park Entry Fee

Upon arriving at San Cristobal Airport (SCY), you’ll be greeted by a beautiful view of the Galapagos landscape. However, before you can fully enjoy the sights, you must pay the Galapagos National Park entry fee. This fee helps fund conservation efforts and is mandatory for all visitors. You will need to present first your TCT (see above) before being allowed to proceed.

The current fee for international tourists is $100 USD (it will increase to 200 USD effective from 1st August 2024), which must be paid in cash. Have the exact amount ready to expedite the process. You’ll receive a receipt that you should keep with you throughout your stay in the Galapagos.

San Cristobal Airport Galaapgos
San Cristobal Airport Arrival

7. Final Luggage Screening for Prohibited Organic Items

As a final step before exiting the airport, your luggage will undergo another screening to ensure no prohibited organic items are brought into the Galapagos. This screening is similar to the previous one at the mainland airport but focuses on your carry-on and checked baggage for any items that might threaten the local ecosystem.

Once your luggage is cleared, you’re free to exit the airport and start your Galapagos adventure. Our crew will be waiting for you right by the entrance.

Welcome to the Galapagos!

Following these steps will ensure a smooth journey to the Galapagos Islands. As you embark on this incredible adventure, remember to respect the unique environment and wildlife, and enjoy the unforgettable experiences that await you. Happy travels!

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