Thinking of Visiting the Galapagos Islands?
The Galapagos Islands are the most famous icon of tourism for Ecuador...
The Galapagos Islands are the most famous icon of tourism for Ecuador. The country’s premiere attraction for travelers is located 600 miles (1.000 kilometers) directly across from continental Ecuador, to whom the Archipelago belongs. The Islands are Ecuador’s First National Park (1959) and the First UNESCO World Natural Heritage Site (1978), renowned for their unique fauna and flora and the visit of Charles Darwin in 1835. Today they are a “must” visit for world scientists, naturalists, scholars, biologists and thousands of nature-loving tourists from around the planet.
The Archipelago is a National Park under strict protection rules and regulations established by the Administration of the Galapagos National Park Service. Tourists visiting the islands must comply with these regulations and can be penalized for the non-observance of them. Visits can only be made on board authorized and certified tourism vessels and/or using hotels and other land-based authorized service suppliers. 97% of the entire land territory of the Galapagos is a National Park, made of uninhabited, pristine natural areas; while the remaining 3% is spared for human habitation, to respect the inheritance of settlers established since the middle of the 19th Century on specific locations of only four inhabited islands. The entire surface of the Galapagos Islands’ Marine Reserve surrounding the Archipelago (the second largest Marine Reserve in the World and also a World Natural Heritage Site) is also a strictly protected area.
Following you will find a brief guideline of the different ways which you can choose to visit this fantastic natural wonderland.
HOW YOU CAN GET THERE
The only way to reach the Archipelago is by air. There are several daily flights operating from Quito and Guayaquil to the local Airports of Baltra and San Cristóbal. There is also a small airport only for inter-island flights at Puerto Villamil on Isabela Island. The flight from Guayaquil takes one and a half hours and the airlines use mainly Airbus or 737 Jetliner equipment. Private aircraft may land in the Galapagos Airports only by special authorization of Ecuador’s Aeronautical authorities and having previously complied with the respective procedures. There is no maritime transportation of passengers offered or authorized between mainland Ecuador and vice versa. Private yachts wishing to enter the Galapagos waters can only call in one of its ports and may only do so by exceptional previous authorization, having complied with the rigorous and complex procedures established. Their passengers can only tour the other islands and National Park areas using locally licensed tour boats and services.
LOCAL CRUISE VESSELS
Perhaps the most popular (and longer time established) modality to tour the Islands is to take a tour on one of the authorized, certified and licensed tour vessels which regularly cruise the islands. All of them must follow fixed itineraries, strictly devised by the National Park in order to avoid crowding of visitors in one same location at one given time. Itineraries of these vessels range from four days/three nights to eight days/seven nights and, some, eleven days/ten nights or even fifteen days/fourteen nights tours. The passenger capacity of these vessels has a maximum allowed of 100 passengers. There are only five such cruise boats currently (June 2013) operating with a capacity between 80-100 passengers. Next is a medium-sized category of boats, ranging between 40-50 passengers and only three are presently operating on that size range. Then there is a large fleet of smaller vessels (around 70), with capacities ranging between 10-30 passengers. Visitors may opt between a variety of alternatives in terms of comfort levels and price, from luxury and exclusive to standard or tourist class boats on all the size categories. The five larger and the three mid-size expedition-cruise vessels are mostly on the luxury or first class category. The smaller boats include a range of different classes from luxurious and exclusive catamarans, mono-hulled motor boats and even several cozy motor-sailing yachts to more standard or tourist-class boats.
An increasingly popular modality is the one of “Land-based tours”, where the visitors stay at the local Hotels (also ranging from luxury to economy class types) located on the inhabited islands and take daily tours to nearby islands on smaller day-trip vessels. In this modality the voyagers spend more time at the inhabited areas and use more of their services and facilities (hotels, restaurants, cafes and bars, communications, transportation, guides’ services, souvenir and convenience shops, etc), thus supporting the economy of the local population. These programs feature extensive exploration of the chosen islands and a variety of programmed or optional activities for special interests, such as hiking, trekking, biking, horseback riding or bird-watching, as well as aquatic activities like swimming, snorkeling or even scuba diving. Some visitors also combine a live-aboard tour on one of the cruise vessels and then stay on land for a number of days using one or more of the “land-based” alternatives.
This is a variation of the “land-based programs”. One visits and lodges on two or more of the four inhabited islands, which have hotels or other lodging facilities (e.g. camping sites), spending time exploring the chosen islands plus taking daily tours to nearby islands, all this in a dynamic way of actually “island-hopping”, using fast boats for the inter-island transportation.
For those interested in scuba diving, there is a small fleet (currently of three to four) live-aboard vessels, especially fitted and licensed for scuba-diving tours, which mostly feature itineraries and programs designed for advanced scuba divers. Highly specialized licensed and certified diving Instructors and diving guides accompany these tours. The land-based lodging modality offers an ample selection of alternatives for scuba-diving daily outings to nearby islands and locations, some of them apt for beginners and also for mid-range or advanced/experienced divers. In all cases, passengers taking scuba-diving tours must present their updated divers’ licenses, recent medical certificates and signing releases of responsibility forms. All scuba-diving tours offer tanks and harnesses, compressors, the Instructors and guides, boats, crews and meals while on the outings. Even though most of the personal equipment is provided by the operators, guests are recommended to bring their more personal accessories such as masks and snorkels, fins, depth gauges and floating devices.
To learn more about the Galapagos Islands, click here.
For land accommodation in the Galapagos and Ecuador, click here.
For Cruises and Things to do in the Galapagos, click here.
For a great article about a day in paradise, click here.