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Environmentalist Dream Destination: Galapagos Islands

Updated: Jul 6

When you think about the Galapagos Islands, environmentalism naturally springs to mind. The islands boast the distinction of hosting the first LEED Gold Certified Airport, are abundant in endemic species, and have been honored as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Envisioning the scene, one might anticipate lush greenery and abundant wildlife upon arrival. Yet, as the plane descends, the landscape appears barren and devoid of life. Let's delve into the journey from the beginning in this step-by-step guide on how to get to the Galapagos!

During our Ecuadorian adventure, we returned to Guayaquil from the enchanting Montanita, a locale that held us captivated. It was hard to imagine anything surpassing the allure of Montanita. Yet, the prospect of visiting the Galapagos Islands stirred excitement within me. Stepping off the bus (check out this blog post for bus info.) and making our way through the Terminal Terrestre de Guayaquil, I couldn't fathom that within a mere 16 hours, I would be setting foot on such hallowed ground.

Terminal Terrestre de Guayaquil

Plastic bottle cap collection in the Terminal Terrestre de Guayaquil - January 1, 2023

Around 6:30 PM, we returned to Guayaquil and opted to spend the night at the conveniently located MundialCity Hotel Guayaquil, just a stone's throw away from the airport, all for $50.70 CAD. This last-minute booking was done through Expedia. Despite its proximity to the airport, the hotel's surroundings were somewhat lacking in dining options. I'd recommend grabbing a bite to eat on route (or at the terminal), as the hotel only offered a limited selection of drinks and snacks for purchase, with no choices for a full meal. Since it was a Sunday night, most nearby restaurants were closed, leaving us to rely on Uber Eats for sustenance.

After a good night's sleep, we rose with the sun to be welcomed by the warm-hearted Owners of this charming family-operated establishment, accompanied by their adorable small dogs. A light breakfast awaited us, and upon check-out, they kindly arranged for a $5 USD taxi to transport us to the airport, just 8 minutes away. As we waited, my gaze wandered over the delightful trinkets and mementos adorning the front desk and lobby. With fond farewells exchanged, we departed, already contemplating a return visit to this lovely haven next time we need to be within arms reach of the Guayaquil airport. With excitement building for our journey to the incredible Galapagos Islands, we set out for the adventures that awaited us.

MundialCity Hotel Guayaquil and Guayaquil Airport - January 2, 2023

Navigating the check-in process for our flight to the Galapagos proved to be a bit perplexing, particularly since we don't speak much Spanish. (Pro tip: It's advisable to learn some basic Spanish before traveling to Ecuador or make sure you have a translate app downloaded to your phone!) From the trip research I conducted beforehand, I was aware that the Galapagos Islands required a $100 USD CASH entry fee, being a National Park. However, what caught me off guard was the procedure for obtaining the Galapagos Transit Control Card (TCT) AKA the "Tarjeta de Control de Tránsito". As we found ourselves unable to proceed past the attendant at the security check-in and not understanding why, we grew increasingly frantic, struggling to comprehend the TCT procedure. Let's break it down step by step.

The Galapagos Entry Guide

Step 1 - FLIGHT: Keep in mind that there are no direct flights to the Galapagos Islands from countries other than Ecuador. You can catch a 2 hour (ish) flight from either Guayaquil or Quito. There are two airports in the Galapagos that you can fly into from these departure points: Seymour Airport on Baltra Island and San Cristobal Airport on San Cristobal Island. We opted for a flight from Guayaquil's José Joaquín de Olmedo Airport with Avianca airlines to Seymour Airport, priced at $332.93 per person. When planning your itinerary, decide which sites you want to visit to determine your flight route. Given our limited time during this three-day excursion, we focused on exploring Santa Cruz Island. The following steps are tailored to guide you along the path from Guayaquil to Baltra Island.

Step 2 - TRANSIT CONTROL CARD: Upon arrival at your departure airport, locate the INGALA counter to obtain your TCT, which incurs a $20 USD fee (be passport ready). Unfortunately, I was unaware of this process in advance, leading to considerable difficulty upon arrival. It's essential to note that you cannot proceed past security without this card, a lesson we learned swiftly. For those who plan ahead, unlike myself in this scenario, there is an option to complete a pre-registration form for the TCT. To do so, you'll need your flight details (including the airline number) and accommodations (address and duration of stay at each location) already finalized.

My Transit Control Card (the bottom half) - January 2, 2023

Step 3 - SECURITY + BAGGAGE: Proceed through security with both your luggage and your Galapagos Transit Control Card. This card is essential for both check-in and departure from the Islands. Security conducts a thorough screening of baggage, which is crucial to safeguard the Galapagos eco-system from any potential threats. Once your baggage has been scanned and you've been cleared to proceed, it will receive a sticker for identification. Note: check ahead of time for any baggage weight restrictions.

Step 4 - READY FOR TAKEOFF: As the plane prepares to taxi to the runway, the flight attendants will begin ferociously spraying disinfectant inside each overhead baggage storage unit. While I didn't manage to snap a photo of this in time, it's evident that this precautionary measure is taken to ensure all luggage onboard is disinfected prior to the Galapagos arrival. Sharing this as a heads-up since it took me by surprise!

Step 5 - IN TRANSIT: We waved farewell to Guayaquil, gazing down at the captivating cityscape we knew we'd miss dearly as we soared into the sky. While I typically enjoy glancing out the window during flights when there's land and/or water in sight, this particular trip had me glued to the view the ENTIRE time (hoping to catch a glimpse of a humpback breaching, though secretly yearning for a sighting of a majestic blue whale cruising through the Pacific, despite being nowhere near Southern Chile). As the next hour flew by (literally), anticipation grew as the legendary Galapagos Islands came into view.

Flying towards the Galapagos Islands - January 2, 2023

Step 6 - ARRIVAL: If you've arrived at Baltra Island (like we did), welcome to the world's first ecological airport! This seamlessly aligns with the fact that you've touched down in a National Park. With that being said, be ready to hand over your entry fee of $100 USD in CASH. But first, let's savor the stroll from the parked plane to the airport. Prepare yourself for the heat (and wind), especially if your arrival day mirrors ours! The surroundings at Seymour Airport speak for themselves in the photos below. As an environmentalist holding a LEED Green Associate certification, it was truly remarkable to immerse myself in the airport's sustainable features.

Galapagos Airport
Walking up to the Aeropuerto Ecológico Galápagos - January 2, 2023

Aeropuerto Ecológico Galápagos facts - January 2, 2023

Galapagos Airport
Welcome turtle - January 2, 2023

Step 7 - PARK ENTRY FEE: To reiterate, the National Park entry fee is ONLY accepted by cash method of payment. Upon building entry, you will wait in a line to pay your fee. Note: following the Ecuador’s minister of tourism announcement in March 2024, Niels Olsen stated that the entry fee will double to $200 per person, effective August 1, 2024. The fees have not increased since 1998! But as tourism increases, it is crucial that the proceeds go to conservation efforts at this UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Signage inside the Seymour Airport while waiting in line to pay entry fees - January 2, 2023

Following the cash payment for entry, my Transit Control Card was torn by the airport attendants to obtain the top portion. The bottom half was retained for me to present upon departure from the island - do NOT lose your card!

My TCT following entry - January 2, 2023

Baltra Island

Congratulations, you've arrived! There are a few extra expenses for catching a bus and ferry to Santa Cruz Island. Fortunately, we were prepared for this leg of the journey, so stay tuned for the next blog post to join us on the next part of the Galapagos adventure!

Galapagos arrival - January 2, 2023

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