GETTING TO KNOW THE GALAPAGOS ISLANDS AND A FEW OF ITS INHABITANTS
Renowned under many alias’, the Enchanted Islands (most famously known as the Galapagos) can be accessed via a 2-hour flight from Guayaquil Airport, in West Ecuador. Another way to access the islands by air is from Quito Airport (Mariscal Sucre International).
A 13-hour direct flight from Amsterdam took me to Quito (Ecuador) where I stayed in the Hotel Mariscal located just 10 minutes’ drive from the airport. Although it’s very close, a taxi costs $10 whereas the local bus will cost $1. The hotel is priced very reasonably at $26 per night for a double-bed room. Some websites recognised it as a “hostal”, I got confused as well but it’s the same place! This included a transfer to the airport in the early morning for my departure to Baltra, which is the main airport accessing the Galapagos Islands. It is located next to Santa Cruz Island (one of four inhabited islands). The other island you may have to fly to, depending on your itinerary, is San Cristobal. Floreana and Isabela are two of the largest islands in the Galapagos and the only others with human inhabitants, however they are only accessible by boat.
There are 3 domestic flight companies operating flights in and out of the Galapagos which are Avianca, Latam and Tame.
In the Hotel Mariscal, there’s a small diner 1 minute walk from the accommodation which has dinner and breakfast available. A decent burger with fries and a beer set me back $10. I could have gone for something a bit more luxury, there is also the Wyndham Hotel available less than 10 minutes from the airport. Prices start from $120 for a room for non-members, though the Hotel Mariscal was perfectly comfortable and sufficient for the overnight stay I needed. The city of Quito is located around 1 hour taxi drive from the airport ($30-40$), or 2 hours on the local bus ($5-10). I won’t go into detail here about the city as I didn’t have time to explore, we’ll save that for another time!
It’s worth noting that there are 2 ‘high seasons’ to consider when traveling through Ecuador that can affect availability and price. These are mainly due to school vacations. December – February (Guayaquil/coastal regions) and June – August (Quito/Highlands).
Arriving in Quito airport, it was necessary for me to do two things: purchase the TCT card and have my luggage scanned and tagged before checking in.
The TCT card is a Transit Control Card and should be purchased by every foreigner planning on entering the Galapagos. There is also regulations for locals and workers, however for the purpose of this article, I’ll just stick to the tourist information. It costs $20 and you will get two identical cards, one for entering and one you will need to show upon exiting, so make sure to keep it safe! A good thing to bear in mind is that when booking with Galaxy Diver, they can have this arranged for you before you arrive. This won’t cost any extra and could save you a lot of time. I also made use of the ATM’s at the opposite end of the airport (no need to panic about getting lost, it’s a really small departure hall) to take some cash for the National Park fee which is $100 and only payable in cash once you arrive in Galapagos.
After having my luggage scanned and tagged (which takes place in a room, next to the TCT desk), I was ready to check-in and board my flight to Baltra. The process of having your bag scanned is to ensure that no foreign objects, particularly biological or contraband are entering the National Park. It is a highly sensitive ecosystem and the introduction of any plants, animals or chemicals could severely effect the ecosystem, so bear this in mind before packing your favourite cactus. Although this can be a lot to get through, especially at 05:00am in the morning, if you travel with Galaxy Divers, they will send a representative to meet you at the airport to guide you through all the necessary steps. They were helpful and made the whole process very simple.
There are water-bottle filling stations throughout the airport after check-in and a few bars and café’s for refreshments, as well as some souvenir shops. My flight stopped in Guayaquil on the way to Baltra and we were asked to stay on the flight whilst they loaded more guests and supplies. This is normal and you should remain on the plane, unless otherwise instructed.
Upon arriving at the airport, I paid the National Park Fee, collected my bag and met the representative of the Galaxy Diver. We awaited the remaining guests and were escorted by our guides for the week to the boat, via minibus. We were welcomed to the port by a few endemic Blue-Footed Boobies and sea lions resting under the pier, which was an awesome welcome.
Now, the real fun begins. Follow on to part two to see the Enchanted Islands underwater, my first experience with the largest fish on the planet and a close encounter drifting through schools of sharks in strong currents, limited visibility, and long way from land.
- Keep the TCT card in good condition for when you leave
- National Park Fees are payable in cash only
- Planning to arrive in Galapagos the same day as the cruise starts? Book the flights through the dive operator
- Spread your travel out. Allow yourself enough time to get to the islands in time for the cruise so you are not rushing.
- Vessel: Galaxy Diver
- Date: October 12-19, 2022
- Duration: 8D/7N
- Weather: Sunny/overcast
- Surface: 21-23 Celsius
- Water: 17-24 Celsius
- Open sea: Fairly rough
- Bays: Calm