Getting Here & Around
Tame flies once daily from Quito and Guayaquil to Baltra (GPS), a tiny island just north of Santa Cruz, and to San Cristóbal (SCY). AeroGal flies daily to Baltra and San Cristóbal. The flight from Guayaquil takes 90 minutes. Add another hour if you board in Quito. Airfares run $330–$400 round-trip. If you have reservations with a tour or cruise operator, you'll be met at the airport. If you're a do-it-yourself type, a bus-ferry-bus transport combo gets you from Baltra to Puerto Ayora, the largest town on Santa Cruz. San Cristóbal's airport lies near the edge of the town of Puerto Baquerizo Moreno.
As of 2008, all visitors must carry a transit control card (tarjeta de control de tránsito) issued by the Instituto Nacional Galápagos (INGALA, www.ingala.gov.ec) to enter the islands. Your tour operator should take care of this step for you if you go with an organized group. Ask. (Not all do.) If not, or if you travel independently, go to INGALA's Web site and register with your name, passport number, and flight details. Print the confirmation page and present it and $10 at INGALA's airport counter in Quito or Guayaquil before you check in for your flight. You'll be issued the card, which you'll need to show at check-in, and when you enter and depart the Galápagos.
All foreign visitors who enter the Galápagos must pay $100 in cash upon entry, money earmarked for training park rangers and funding conservation efforts. You must pay in U.S. cash—no traveler's checks, no credit cards—and the bills should be in good condition without markings or tears. (Because of Ecuador's glut of counterfeit $50 and $100 bills, bills larger than twenties are not accepted.)
Cruises to the Galápagos are mostly nonexistent. Once you're here, you can choose from a wide range of boats for tours around the islands. You book these in Quito or Guayaquil or from abroad. Cheap economy vessels (typically converted fishing trawlers) are often poorly maintained and have guides with only a passing knowledge of English. Stick with tourist-class or luxury vessels, which generally offer three-, four-, and seven-night tours. The price tag per person for a double cabin on a three-night luxury-ship cruise can run $850–$1,500 in low season and $950–$1,800 in high season. Off-peak rates usually apply from May 1 to June 14 and from September 1 to October 14. When you book, be sure to ask if the $100 park tax is included.
Boat tours mean dining and sleeping on board, with much of the sailing done at night to maximize time spent on the islands. Most of these vessels employ multilingual naturalists who are knowledgeable in marine sciences. At least once a day you'll have an opportunity to swim or snorkel. If you want to dive, you should make arrangements beforehand, as it's not offered on all boats.
Storefront travel agencies in Quito and Guayaquil advertise "last-minute Galapagos tours", although there's never any guarantee you'll be able to find space if you wait that long. Quality varies widely with this option, too. Buyer beware. To really save money, you can wait until you arrive on the islands and try to bargain for a cheaper boat fare. Operators of all vessel classes come to the airport selling last-minute tickets. The risk of doing this, however, is that you might not find an available boat, especially during peak seasons.