Arriving in the Galapagos Islands – a step by step guide

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Galapagos Package Holidays Woman Snorkelling Chinese Hat

Because the Galapagos Islands are such a unique wilderness, tourism is carefully monitored and controlled. This adds a bit more administration than for most holidays but with a bit of planning, it can be straightforward.

For most Think Galapagos guests, our local team completes all paperwork for guests in advance. Our bilingual guides do our airport transfers, take care of all the admin and help guests pass through the Galapagos migration control procedures and check in for their Galapagos flights.  

However over the last few years we have had increasing numbers of guests who like to organise their own travels prior to starting their Galapagos holiday with us. We have written this blog specially for those guests and for anyone else travelling out to Galapagos that comes across this blog and might find this information helpful.  

So here goes…. our step by step guide on how to prepare for travelling out to Galapagos if you are doing this part solo….  what to expect, and how to make the process as smooth and easy as possible!

Arriving in the Galapagos Islands - beach with sea lion and child

Your flight out to the Galapagos Islands

As you probably already know, the only way to get to the Galapagos Islands is via daily flights from Quito or Guayaquil (the two main cities in Ecuador). There are two companies flying to the islands: LATAM and Avianca. Each airline operates morning flights daily from Quito via Guayaquil to Baltra Island and also San Cristobal Island which is where the other main airport in the Galapagos is located. Which airport you fly to will depend on which cruise you are joining.   

What you need to do before you travel to Galapagos

When planning a trip to the Galapagos Islands, there are two fees that you will need to prepare for: the INGALA Galapagos Transit Control Card ($20/ person) and the Galapagos National Park Entrance Fee of US$200 per person.  

What is the Galapagos Transit Control Card (TCT)?

The Galapagos Transit Control Card is an immigration control measure set by the Ecuadorian government. The card is used to keep track of who is entering and leaving the Galapagos Islands, and how long they are staying. It is like your own personal Galapagos ID that you will need to keep safe for the duration of your trip. You won’t be allowed to board your flight to Galapagos if you do not have a valid Transit Control Card. You will also be required to show this card upon arrival to Galapagos at the airport and also at the airport when you depart the islands. 

How to get your Galapagos Transit Control Card 

The Galapagos Transit Control Card costs $20 and you must purchase one for each traveller in your group.   

There are two ways of obtaining your card:

1. Pre-register for your card online in advance of your trip and pick it up at the airport

You can pre-register for your card online via the official government website. We strongly recommend doing this in advance to save time at the airport.  

When buying your card you will be asked for your full name, passport number, nationality, date of birth, flight details, and length of stay on the islands.  There is a helpful step by step guide here which the Ecuadorian authorities have written. This works pretty well, so rather than us replicating here, best to just click this link and go directly to that site for that information!

Here is the link to fill out the form once you’ve read the step by step guide – you can choose to register individuals or a group.

Once you’ve completed the pre-registration, on the day you are flying out to Galapagos (no need to go and get this in advance) upon arrival to the airport you will need to go to the INGALA counter at the airport in Quito or Guayaquil to pick up your card, present your passport and pay the $20 cash per person.  INGALA is basically the Ecuadorian government agency that regulates all things relating to Galapagos (in Spanish it is called Consejo de Gobierno del Regimen Especial de Galapagos).  

Even if you have pre-registered for your Galapagos Transit Control Card, we still recommend arriving for your Galapagos flights to the airport at least 2 hours prior to departure because as well as the TCT there is another step you need to complete before you can check in your luggage and travel to Galapagos.

2. Register and purchase your card on the day of travel at Quito or Guayaquil airport

You will need to go to the INGALA counter in the domestic flights terminal of Quito or Guayaquil before you check in for your Galapagos flight. You will be required to present a flight reservation or boarding pass and a valid ID / Passport (which has at least six months validity after the end of your Galapagos trip) to purchase your Galapagos Transit Control card. You will need to verbally provide your full identity and details of your Galapagos trip.

If you’re purchasing your card in the airport, please allow plenty of time (we recommend at least 3 hours) as you may need to queue and the administration can take some time. The preferred method of payment is cash.

SICGAL bag check after you collect your TCT

SICGAL is the government department responsible for ensuring the islands are protected from the introduction of any non-native animal or plant species. One of the main threats to the unique and fragile ecosystems of Galapagos comes from the introduction of non-native plant or animal species. Once you have collected your TCT, the next thing you need to do is to visit the SICGAL booth with your luggage, where they will inspect it for any kind of fruit, seeds, or nuts which are prohibited on the islands. 

To avoid any issues here please don’t travel with any foods other than small pre-wrapped snack items like chocolate bars or similar. Certainly no plants or plant materials in your bags. (the counter is very clearly marked close to where you collect your TCT) 

Once your bags have been checked, they will give you an approval label, which you can attach to your bags. From there you can make your way to the airline check in for your flight out to Galapagos. 

Arriving in the Galapagos Islands – Galapagos Migration Control procedures

Galapagos National Park Entrance Fee

The airports in Galapagos are small, and everyone disembarking the flight will be doing the same thing, so you can’t get lost!  You will need to pay the Galapagos National Park Entrance fee at the Galapagos National Park entrance desk on arrival to Baltra or San Cristobal Airports.  It almost feels like you are entering another country as you line up to have your paperwork checked!    

From August 2024 it will cost $200 per adult and $100 per child. Crucially this needs to be paid in cash. Please ensure each member of your party has enough cash to cover this fee. You will need to present your Galapagos Transit Control Card here too. 

The money raised via this fee is used to finance the conservation of the unique flora and fauna of the Galapagos Islands as well as improving the services on the Islands such as sanitation and environmental services.

From here, all pretty standard, you head to the luggage collection area to pick up your luggage and head out of the airport building.

From here, what happens next will depend on your plans for the trip…

What happens next if you are joining a cruise?

Blue footed boobie with kids in Galapagos

If you are going on a cruise whose program starts with your guide meeting you at the airport (which the majority do), after you collect your luggage and exit the airport building your guide and representatives from the yacht will be there to meet you and help you with luggage.  

They will be clearly marked – either by wearing t-shirts with the name of the yacht or holding up a sign. They will be easy to spot as the airport is small and they will be looking out for you!  

If you are a Think Galapagos guest, we will have given you a cruise voucher which always includes a phone number from the yacht team that you can call in case you don’t spot them or have any problems. From here you will be taken to the first visitor site or to the dock to board your yacht and set off on your Galapagos adventure.

What happens next if you are spending time in Puerto Ayora (Santa Cruz Island)?

After arriving in Baltra, which is a small islet next to Santa Cruz Island, you will need to make your way to Puerto Ayora, the main town and port on Santa Cruz Island. 

Puerto Ayora is just over an hour away from the airport by public transport. Your short journey will involve crossing the Itabaca channel between Baltra and Santa Cruz Island, by public ferry. 

Once you have collected your luggage, you will need to join a line to buy a $5 ticket (this is the cost at time of writing but it may have increased by the time of your trip) for the bus that will shuttle you to the dock. The office where you buy these is to your left as you exit, the building where you collect the luggage  – a photograph of the office and the bus is below. 

Baltra airport public bus to dock Baltra airport office

The bus will take you to the dock, where you will take the ferry across the Itabaca Channel. It can be a bit chaotic, but most people speak English and are very happy to help.  

The bus journey is short (under 10 mins) you will then get off at the channel to take the public barge across to Santa Cruz. The people who run it will put your luggage on the roof of the barge and you just go in and take a seat, it costs $1 or so. 

Baltra airport boarding public bus Baltra Itabaca channel public ferry

The journey across the Itabaca Channel only takes about 5 minutes. When you get to the other side there will be lots of taxis, and also a public bus. 

The advantage of taking a taxi is that it can take you directly to your hotel in Puerto Ayora. It should cost around $40. Although it is cheaper to get the bus, it involves a wait, and then when you get to town you have to find your hotel. If you decide to take the bus, you can then take a taxi once you reach town to your hotel. There are lots of taxis in the town and they are cheap – a short taxi ride should cost a few dollars. 

It can seem slightly chaotic in Baltra as everyone arrives and tries to find their way onto public transport at the same time. The signage in the airport isn’t great. Luckily, everyone is in the same boat (literally as well as metaphorically!) The locals are very friendly and lots of people speak English, so don’t hesitate to ask if you are at all confused. 

What happens next if you are staying in Puerto Baquerizo Moreno (San Cristobal) 

If you arrive at the airport on San Cristobal island and are staying in the town here, the next stage is very easy as the airport is not far from the town. Basically just jump in a taxi to your hotel, it will only cost a few dollars and is by far the best and easiest way.

We hope this is all helpful, but as we always say, please don’t hesitate to get in touch with any questions or you want to chat through any of this information or any aspect of the trip. That is what we are here for and always delighted to help in any way we can! 

Give us a call on +44 1482 887453 or email us at

More useful information from our blog

What shoes to pack for a Galapagos Cruise

Top tips on how to find the right Galapagos cruise

The best books to read about Galapagos when you’re there


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