Flying to the Galapagos Islands
Our boat trip departed from the airport in Baltra, it appeared that there are two airlines that fly into Baltra from Quito or Guayquil, TAME and Aerogal which is soon to be called Avianca. The travel agent that helped us book the cruise also booked the airfare, someone suggested that the cruise companies block off access to the tickets until a few days before the flights so their passengers can get seats, I checked a few weeks before we traveled and Aerogal had nothing, on the way to Baltra, 1/2 our plane was empty although on the way back it was very full.
It was a rather expensive plane ride, Happy Gringo charged us $500 US per person for the tickets, we flew out of Quito and then back out we only flew to Guayaquil. The flights to and from Quito stop at Guayaquil so if you have the option to fly in and out of Guayaquil for your international flight, it seems to make more sense although if you don't have time to spend in Quito pre cruise, it's not a bad option to fly back through Quito, get a hotel near the airport and stay overnight giving yourself a half day in Quito.
Selecting a boat cruise
Unlike most travelers to the Galapagos, we didn't spend hours pouring over the different options for cruises in the Galapagos. We were booking rather late, mid April for a late May cruise and some of the more popular ships were already booked so we contacted a couple of travel agents who gave us some options. The US based agency was sending us a lot of higher end options, in the $6,000 per person range, the Ecuador based agent, Happy Gringo, sent us some more reasonable options and we ended up selecting the Nemo II as that was the one she recommended we look at. We booked our trip with Happy Gringo and it was a good experience, we didn't have any issues with their service.
Ships are listed in several different classes, the Nemo II was listed in the comfort class, above standard class, below Luxury and First Class.
The Nemo II is a 12 passenger catamaran with 6 cabins, the two on the main deck were double beds and the four below deck had bunk beds. It was billed as a ship in the comfort class (better than standard, less luxurious than luxury or first class). We were assigned one of the double bed cabins, the bed is up against the wall, there's a small built in cupboard where you can store stuff and a small desk. The bathroom had a toilet, shampoo and soap in a wall dispenser and a sink with a hand held shower device, the bathroom turns into the shower and drains out the floor. Not luxurious but comfortable enough. We had a port hole in our bathroom and in the ceiling plus we had air conditioning if we had to close the windows.
The crew consisted of the captain; Jimmy who was the most popular crew member because he served the food and provided the midday snacks; a few other crew members who ferried us in the pangas, maintained the ship, cleaned our cabins and whatever else they did while we were off on our excursions; and our guide, Carlos.
We were served meals three times a day on a set schedule, 7am breakfast, 7 pm dinner and lunch in between our morning and afternoon excursions, served buffet style. They also had snacks when we came back from our excursions twice a day. While not as much variety as a normal cruise, we always had plenty of food, a fish, chicken or meat dish, rice, potatoes, vegetables and either fruit or dessert. Drinks included were tea, coffee, filtered water, juice, if you wanted alcohol or soft drinks, they were available for purchase.
Meals were served on the back of the boat at two tables. Up the stairs there were some lounge chairs, good for watching sunrises and sunsets. Inside there was a seating area big enough for all 12 of us.
From the boat back to the airport
The trip back to the airport was similar to arrival, they packed us on a bus, our luggage on a cart and then we all went to stand in line at Aerogal. Because of my leg they gave me priority although they couldn't give me a seat with any leg room, at least I didn't have to stand in line for an hour like the rest of the passengers on our ship. Make sure you keep your immigration form, we had forgotten all about it and had to rummage through our luggage to find them.
Baltra airport to the cruise ship dock
The Galapagos cruise industry is highly organized, most of the ships meet you at the airport in Quito, walk you through the process there and then another representative meets you at the Baltra airport after you pay the $100 national park fee and collect your luggage. Once the whole group is there, they pile you on a bus, your luggage on a cart and drive for about 5 minutes to get to the cruise docks where you wait for your panga (dinghy) to take you to your boat.
The Nemo II representative in Quito arrived about 30 minutes late, we were told to be there at 5:40am for our 7:20am flight, Aerogal had no record of us and our instructions were out of order. Eventually we found someone from another boat who told us to stand in the line to pay the $10 fee (it's built into some packages but we knew ours was additional), we then had to have our luggage screened and by then our representative had obtained our boarding passes.
Flying to Galapagos Islands
There are no international flight to Galapagos Islands, but you have to fly from Quito or Guayaquil. From Quito to Galapagos it takes almost 2.5 hours, and that includes a stop in Guayaquil (when I travelled this route we changed planes in Guayaquil). From Guayaquil it takes 1.5 hours.
From mainland Ecuador you can fly to Baltra Island (just off the north coast of Isla Santa Cruz) or to Isla San Cristóbal. There is also an airport on Isla Isabela, but it is only operated by small planes coming from Baltra or San Cristóbal (so far at least). There are several daily flights, all arriving to Galapagos in the morning. They then return with passengers to the mainland, and the last plane is leaving around 13.00.
A return ticket in high season cost over $400 dollars for foreigners and less than $400 in low season (2011). For Ecuadorian citizens it is cheaper and for residents of Galapagos Islands it is even cheaper. My airplane ticket was included in the price of the cruise.
The three airlines flying to Galapagos are TAME, LAN and AeroGal.
When you arrive to Galapagos Islands you have to pay the National Park fee which is $100 (June 2011). There is also an INGALA transit control fee of $10 to be paid already at the airport in Quito or Guayaquil. This INGALA-fee was included in the price of my cruise.
At the airport on Isla Baltra there is a restaurant/café and there are a few souvenir stands. If you want to have a Galapagos stamp in your passport you can get it at a counter at the airport.
Galapagos is an hour ahead of mainland Ecuador, so don’t forget to change the time on your watch.
Update 2013: Before going to Galapagos Islands in 2013 I had seen the cheapest flights on TAME and Aerogal, but they did not accept payment over Internet with foreign bankcards (I have heard that at least TAME does now). LAN had return tickets for $400 (June/July) on their website but I didn’t know if it was a ticket I could change or not. In the end I decided to go on another cruise and when I booked it I let the travel agent book a flight for me as well. I got a ticket with TAME for $525. The ticket could be changed at the airport on Baltra, at the airport on San Cristobal and at TAMEs office in Puerto Ayora without any extra cost. There was no problem to change the ticket the day before departure.
From Baltra Airport to Puerto Ayora
When you fly to Galapagos Islands from mainland Ecuador you will either arrive at the airport near Puerto Baquerizo Moreno on San Cristóbal, or to the main airport on Isla Baltra. Isla Baltra is a small, flat island just north of Isla Santa Cruz. There are no visitor sites on Isla Baltra, but people are transferred from here to Isla Santa Cruz, or directly to their cruise boat.
The first time I arrived to Baltra was with plane and I was going on a cruise. We (the people going on the cruise) were met at the airport by our guide and, as we were visiting the highlands on Santa Cruz and Charles Darwin Research Station before boarding the boat, we took a bus from the airport to Canal de Itabaca. Frequent ferries are crossing the canal, and on the other side our bus was waiting. The second time I arrived to Baltra was in the end of the cruise when we were all taken to the airport. I was not flying back to the mainland, but was going to Isla Isabela.
From Baltra Airport I took one of the free buses going to the canal. It is a short bus ride, maybe 10-15 minutes. Canal de Itabaca is the narrow canal between Isla Baltra and Isla Santa Cruz. Here you put your bags on the flat roof of the ferry, before boarding it. Tickets for the ferry is sold onboard and I paid $ 0.80 going to Santa Cruz, but only $ 0.50 going the opposite way almost a week later. At the dock on the Santa Cruz side of the canal I immediately found a bus to Puerto Ayora. My big backpack was put on the roof and I went inside to take a seat. Tickets were sold on the bus and it was $ 1.80 (July 2011). To Puerto Ayora it took less than an hour and in Puerto Ayora the bus stopped on Av Charles Darwin, just opposite the harbour. You can also take a taxi from Canal de Itabaca to Puerto Ayora and it is $15 (July 2011).
When it was time to go back to the airport I took a taxi from my hotel in Puerto Ayora to Terminal Terrestre, from where the buses leave. The taxi was $ 1.00. I arrived to the bus terminal at 8am and the next bus to Canal de Itabaca was leaving at 8.40, so they are not very frequent.
Update June/July 2013: Now I paid $0.80 each time I took the boat over the canal. The bus from the canal to Puerto Ayora was still $1.80, but they didn’t put the big luggage on the roof, but in a compartment below. There are a few buses from Puerto Ayora to the canal each morning. To take a taxi between the canal and Puerto Ayora was now $18.Related to:
- Budget Travel
Speedboat between Puerto Ayora and Puerto Villamil
Before coming to Galapagos I had read that it is good to buy the ticket for the speedboat a day in advance during high season. As I visited in July and was going to be aboard a boat the day before my departure I was a bit worried not to get a ticket, but the travel agent I had booked the cruise with luckily made a reservation for me.
The office of Cabomar, where I was going to get the ticket, was just one minute away from where I arrived to Puerto Ayora with bus, by the harbour. I paid for the ticket, which was $25 one way (July 2011). The speedboat for Villamil leaves Puerto Ayora at 14.00 every day and I still had some time, so I left the backpacks at the office and went to withdraw money from an ATM and to have lunch.
I went to the harbour half an hour before the boat was going to leave and people were already standing in a queue to have their bags checked.. You are not allowed to bring seeds and fruits between the islands. So there is a control before you travel.
On board we were told to put on our life jackets and we all got a bottle of water and some caramels. I think this was because it was a bit bumpy and at least two people threw up during the journey.
After two hours we arrived to Puerto Villamil. While I was standing on the bridge waiting for my luggage I was very surprised to hear my name called out. It was a taxi driver who were going to take me to Hostal La Jungla where I had made a reservation. I didn’t pay for the taxi ride, but the driver had a few other paying customers going to other hotels.
The boat back to Puerto Ayora leaves already at 6am and as you have to be at the harbour in time, to once again have your bags controlled and to pay the tourist tax ($5) it will be a very early morning. Crossing over to Puerto Ayora the sea was calm and we didn’t have to put on the life jackets. And we didn’t get water or caramels this time. We arrived to Puerto Ayora around 8.30.
In Puerto Ayora I talked with some people who had taken an afternoon boat from Puerto Villamil to Puerto Ayora. It had been one of the daytrip boats going back to Puerto Ayora and the life jackets on board that boat had been very poor and the engine broke down just before they arrived to Puerto Ayora. So it might be better to take the regular speedboat.
Update June 2013: Besides the boat leaving Puerto Ayora at 14.00 there is now also a boat leaving at 7.00 in the morning. the price is $30.Related to:
- Budget Travel
Since pretty much the entire Archipeligo is a National Park with limited access and next to nothing in landing areas, you need to be able to land up against a rock, or on a beach. The zodiac boats, also knows as RIBS, are the mode of choice.Related to:
- Water Sports
- National/State Park
Flying to Baltra
There are two airports on the Galápagos Islands, on Baltra and San Christobel, and we, like most tourists, flew to the former, on one of the several airlines serving the route, Tame (other possibilities are AeroGal and Lan).
Most of our group came directly from Quito, but we had spent the previous few days of our trip in Cuenca, and drove from there to Guayquil the afternoon before our cruise started, to pick up the flight there. Our original plan had been to fly from Cuenca in the morning, but a change to the timing of that flight meant we would have missed the connection to Baltra, hence the overnight in Guayaquil. We found the airport there to be modern, relatively quiet and well-organised for the additional complications of a Galápagos flight. These complications are:
1. The necessity of buying (for $10) an INGALA transit control card (INGALA is the agency that regulates travel to the islands)
2. Submitting all luggage to an additional inspection for quarantine regulations
Both of these operations went smoothly and we had time for a coffee in the bright and comfortable departures area (with good free wifi) before boarding our plane. The flight lasted 1 hour 45 minutes, but because the Galápagos Islands are an hour behind mainland Ecuador, we arrived well before lunch-time. Our first views of the islands, from the air, were enough to raise the excitement levels. Our dream holiday was about to begin!
But first, some more formalities. Everyone visiting the Galápagos has to pay a $100 national park fee, and as this can’t be paid in advance, it must be done on arrival at the airport and in cash – so make sure you’re carrying enough. I was pleased that in addition to the attractive souvenir ticket I also got my passport stamped (I later found out that a couple of travelling companions who’d arrived a day or two earlier hadn’t had theirs stamped, so do ask if this matters to you).
Baggage claim consisted of all luggage being piled up in a hall to one side of the arrivals area, and once we’d retrieved ours we were able to exit to the main part of the airport where Fabian our guide was waiting for us all to escort us to the Angelito.
Next tip: ”Transfer to your boat”Related to:
- National/State Park
Transfer to your boat
The airport at Baltra is just a five minute drive away from the small port where the cruise boats moor, and the journey is undertaken on a fleet of elderly buses whose comings and goings are controlled by the military who own the airport. Your guide will tell you which one to board, and, on arrival at the port, will organise the transfer to your boat. Even the smaller ones, judging by our experience, aren’t able to moor directly at the dock, so you will probably need to cross to your boat in one the small dinghies (in the case of the Angelito) or zodiacs (for most other boats, it seemed) that each possesses. During the course of the week you will become very used to getting in and out of these small boats or pangas as they are usually termed, but if this is your first time boarding such a vessel, take your guide’s advice about the safe grip to use when accepting a helping hand (hold the arm, not the hand, so your grasp is less likely to slip) and watch your step. There’s no need to worry about your luggage – the crew will bring that aboard for you.
Our group of 16 was transferred to the Angelito in two trips, as the second dinghy was engaged in that luggage transfer, and we were very soon all on board and looking round eagerly at our home for the next week – and at each other, our travelling companions. It would have been good to have known already at that point that we would quickly become a tight-knit group and would thoroughly enjoy each other’s company as well as the trip itself.
Next tip: ”The Angelito”Related to:
- National/State Park
Regulations have been introduced quite recently that prohibit any boat from revisiting any island within a fortnight, so all the boats these days have two one-week itineraries, which they alternate. The plus side of this is that anyone with the time, money and enthusiasm who wants to, can book both and have a two week cruise! For the rest of us, short on the first two of these ingredients, there is the difficulty of choosing which to do. Every boat’s schedule is different, although of course with only so many islands to include, there is plenty of overlap. I studied the options for ages, trying to make up my mind! I’d identified a number of islands I’d particularly like to see, but no boat (in our price range at least) covered all of them in a single week. But the Angelito had been strongly recommended, and its itinerary A covered all but one of my priority islands (Genovesa for the birds, Bartolomé for the views, Española for the albatrosses – only Fernandina was missing). So that was our final choice, and a great one too! Although I have read elsewhere that everyone agonises over their choice of itinerary, and in the end has a wonderful time regardless of where they decide to go – there are NO bad itineraries when it comes to Galápagos cruises!
Anyway, the A itinerary of the Angelito which we experienced was (in 2012):
1. Sunday: Baltra - North Seymour
2. Monday: Sombrero Chino – Bartolomé
3. Tuesday: Genovesa: Darwin Bay and Prince Phillips Steps
4. Wednesday: Santiago (Puerto Egas) – Rabida
5. Thursday: Santa Cruz: Darwin Station & Highlands
6. Friday: Española: Playa Gardner and Punta Suarez
7. Saturday: Santa Fe - South Plaza
8. Sunday: Black Turtle Cove (Santa Cruz) – Baltra
Of all the islands we visited, my favourites proved to be two of those I had especially aimed to see (Genovesa and Española) and one that I had not (Santiago), although it was Santa Fe that gave me two of my most memorable experiences – snorkelling with sea lions, and a close encounter with Galápagos hawks.
Next tip: ”North Seymour” – the first of the islands we visited.Related to:
- National/State Park
Cruising on the Letty
WE travelled around the Galapogos on the Letty . We booked the trip directly with Ecoventura which is the company that owns the Letty and her two sister ships. It was less exoensive than an outside agent.
We were quite pleased with the Letty .The food was very good and lots of it . They had a nice friendly crew and everyday the chef met us onboard when we returned from an excursion with a snack.
The boat itself is rated as a Superior first-class 20-passenger motor-yachts, M/Y Eric, Flamingo I and Letty, were custom-designed for Galapagos excursions.
A Captain, eight dedicated crewmembers, and two experienced English-speaking naturalist guides attend to the details of your Galapagos cruise. Each naturalist takes a group of no more than 10 passengers on all shore excursions and shares extensive insights into the Islands ' diverse wildlife. Small wooden boats, locally called pangas, ferry passengers to shore for Island visits.
For me 5 nights would have been enough!! I was so seasick . The longer trips spend as long as 17 hours out at sea each night . And it was rocking!!!Related to:
- Sailing and Boating
- Adventure Travel
Transportes Aereos Militares Ecuatorianos (TAME)
You will travel from Quito or Guayaquil to the Galapagos. TAME schedules daily flights and operates principally out of the Baltra Island airport. A second airline, AeroGal, operates mainly out of the San Cristobal airport.
Things to keep in mind when checking your bags in at the Quito/Guayquil airport:
• All of your luggage will undergo a search for food or plant products that could introduce harmful organizms into the Galapagos ecosystem. Be prepared to open your bags before you check them in at the desk.
• Strict luggage allowances are vigorously enforced. You are permitted 20 kg of checked luggage. Divers typically carry lots of heavy gear, so expect to have to pay an overweight charge of approximately US $2 per kilo if you are taking anything more than the basics.
Once you arrive at Baltra, there is more to the "TO" part of your trip. Read on, in the next tip....
Tour vs. independent travel
I'm not typically one who books tours or package deals. But I was glad I did on this trip. A boat cruise is the only way to get around and see several islands. I posted info about GAP in my Accomodations tip. They were great and provided an excellent itinerary. At the end of 4 nights and 5 days, we felt like we saw everything and were ready to go back to land. I couldn't have planned it on my own, knowing which islands not to miss. Also, having a knowledgable naturalist guide who lives with you on the boat and takes you around the islands made it so exceptional. He knew exactly where to take us to see all the animals on our list - Galapagos penguin, iguanas, blue footed boobies, turtles, etc. I highly recommend GAP Adventures and am even thinking of taking other trips they offer.
Galápagos Islands Hotels
Puerto Ayora, Galapagos Islands, Puerto Ayora, Ecuador
Good for: Business
Puerto Villamil, Isabela Galapagos Islands, , Ecuador
Good for: Solo
Isla Isabela, , Puerto Villamil, Galapagos
Good for: Business
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