The remote Galapagos Islands are an archipelago of volcanic islands located some 1000km west of the Ecuadorian mainland in the Pacific Ocean – indeed they are part of Ecuador – and are home to some of the most unique wildlife on Earth. As you’d imagine, their isolation adds to the excitement and adventure of visiting, but also makes getting there a little complicated, which is why we’ve put together this guide on how to get to the Galapagos Islands.
The recommended means of getting to the Galapagos Islands is by plane. It is impossible to fly directly to the islands internationally, so Galapagos vacations will always include a layover in mainland Ecuador. Flights to the islands can be taken from either Quito (Mariscal Sucre International Airport – UIO) or Guayaquil (Jose Joaquin del Olmedo International Airport – GYE) airports. There are two airports on the islands themselves, one on Baltra Island (technically Seymour Airport but more commonly referred to as Baltra Aiport – GPS), the other on San Cristobal Island (San Cristobal Airport – SCY).
Flights are typically early in the morning, so overnighting in Quito or Guayaquil is the norm. We actually advise you arrive in Ecuador at least a day before, especially if you have planned a cruise, to allow yourself plenty of time to catch your Galapagos flight (and to explore the rest of Ecuador). It’s important to note that virtually all Galapagos cruise operators require you to book flights with them at the same time as your cruise. This is because they pre-reserve seats on recommended flights that best tie in with their cruise itineraries, ensuring the easy coordination of transfers on the islands for all their passengers in one go.
There are now only two airlines that fly to the Galapagos Islands: Avianca and LATAM (AeroGal merged with Avianca in 2009 and TAME went into liquidation in 2020). The islands have two airports on the islands of Baltra and San Cristóbal. From Quito all flights to San Cristóbal are via Guayaquil, but to Baltra both LATAM and Avianca offer some direct flights.
It takes 2 hours to fly from Quito in Ecuador to Baltra Airport direct, or 3½ hours indirectly from Quito via Guayaquil. To San Cristobal Airport from Quito via Guayaquil is roughly the same, 3½ hours. Alternatively, you can make a 2-hour flight directly from Guayaquil to either the San Cristóbal or Baltra Airports.
You can fly directly from most destinations in South America to Guayaquil and Quito but if you are flying from outside the continent things may be a little different:
You can fly directly to Quito or Guayaquil in Ecuador via Houston, Miami, and New York in North America. Flights can be very cheap, particularly during the low season when they can cost as little as $490. Both American Airlines and Continental Airlines fly from North American destinations directly and indirectly to Quito and Guayaquil. You can also connect with these airlines from Montreal and Toronto in Canada. There are several flights daily from Quito or Guayaquil to the Galapagos using domestic airlines such as Avianca and LATAM.
The only direct flights into Quito, Ecuador, are with Iberia Airlines from Madrid or KLM airlines via Amsterdam or Paris. With other airlines, such as British Airways or LATAM, you will usually change in Miami or another South American capital city, and while most European airlines offer connecting flights into Ecuador the journeys can be lengthy and involve a number of changes. It is often cheaper to fly from London than anywhere else in Europe to Quito, and connections on these flights are usually made in New York, Atlanta, Houston, or Miami.
Most flights to and from New Zealand and Australia will connect via Honolulu or Los Angeles, before connecting elsewhere in the US, with Auckland and Sydney being your easiest set-off points. If you are traveling from Asia, airlines such as Air China, Japan Airlines, KLM, Lufthansa, and American Airlines fly from Beijing and connect in Atlanta, Houston, Los Angeles, or Frankfurt, while flights from Tokyo will usually stop in Amsterdam, Atlanta, Dallas, Houston or Washington, in both instances the flights may involve other stops in South or Central America.
We are sometimes asked, “Can I get to the Galapagos Islands by boat?”. We wouldn’t advise it, but it is technically possible to reach the Galapagos Islands by cargo ship from the Ecuadorian mainland from the port of Guayaquil. The journey will take 3 or more days by the sea and is likely to lack creature comforts, to say the least.
If this is something you’d like to do, it is advisable to get in touch with the shipping company directly to make an inquiry, rather than approaching and offending a ship’s captain. A confident level of Spanish would be beneficial in order to negotiate your passage and communicate with the crew. You’d likely still be charged for this privilege, perhaps $150.00 one way to cover board, and finding a cargo ship to take you may take several days of organizing – something to bear in mind if you are on a tight schedule.
Now you’ve made it to the Galapagos, the next question is how will you get to the individual islands? If you have pre-booked a Galapagos Islands cruise, this will all be taken care of for you. If you fly into Baltra, some cruises can be boarded directly, but you will most likely be taken to the docks by a local bus, from which you will take either a ferry or boat to the island of Santa Cruz, do some excursions in the highlands there and later embark on your vessel from its southern shores in Puerto Ayora. If you fly into San Cristóbal you will take a short bus from the airport to the docks in the capital of Puerto Baquerizo Moreno before embarkation.
With their advanced navigation systems, ability to travel greater distances, and special permission to access certain visitor sites within the Galapagos National Park, cruises can take you to the most remote islands of the archipelago (Fernandina, Española, Genovesa for example), but travelers should note that not all islands are accessible, some being strictly off-limits to tourism for research and protection purposes.
If you aren’t booked on a cruise, to travel between the Galapagos Islands your next best option is island hopping using the island of Santa Cruz as your central hub. You can island hop between eight of the islands, the four inhabited islands (Santa Cruz, San Cristóbal, Isabela and Floreana) and four uninhabited ones close to Santa Cruz (Seymour, Bartolomé, Plazas, Sante Fe). Day tours to each of these uninhabited islands can be booked with local agencies and can cost anywhere between $60-$150 per person. There is plenty of choices, so be sure to shop around for a tour that suits your needs and budget.
Should you wish to visit one of the other inhabited islands you have the option of three transportation methods, a small-seater plane, ferry, or speedboat. Your choice will depend on time constraints, as well as budget and personal preferences:
These are a great option for those attracted to the independence that island hopping offers, but who also want to save on time, as well as have that bit more comfort. Two local airlines, Emetebe and Zair, offer flights in small 5-person planes. There are routes between Santa Cruz (Baltra), San Cristobal (Puerto Baquerizo Moreno), and Isabela (Puerto Villamil), with a journey time of approximately 30 minutes for each route. The downside is that tickets can be quite expensive, between $150-175, which can start to add up if you’re planning to visit lots of islands.
The government company Ingala operates passenger ferries between Isabela, Santa Cruz, Floreana, and the San Cristobal islands. These depart twice a day (in the early morning and early afternoon). They are the cheapest way to get between the islands, with tickets costing around $25-30. The boats arrive in Puerto Ayora, Puerto Baquerizo Moreno, Puerto Villamil and Puerto Velasco Ibarra.
Private companies also offer speed boat transfers, with a higher price and faster journey time to the public ferries. The boats are quite small so if you’re susceptible to motion sickness we’d definitely recommend taking some tablets beforehand. You may also want to take a waterproof or poncho as the ride can get quite wild and bumpy. Accessing some islands will also require taking a short water taxi ride to a pier as boats stop just short of the shore.
On the inhabited islands themselves, you can use public transportation to get around. There are taxis, water taxis, and bike rentals available, and the towns are all easy to navigate on foot.
The Galapagos Islands may seem a little isolated and inaccessible, but therein lies the reason their remarkable inhabitants have evolved to become so fearless of man and just adds to the adventure of getting there. No matter how you get there or how you choose to travel or to stay in a lodge or a cruise ship; once you’re there, they are certainly well worth the trip.
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