🐒 How to Get to Galapagos: No Tours Required! (2023)

How to get to Galapagos Islands blog cover graphic.  Text overlaying an image of a young woman walking along a white sand beach with turquoise water and green mountainous backdrop in Galapagos.

There is a lot of confusion and outdated information on getting to the Galapagos islands that prevents people from visiting one of the most spectacular destinations on the planet.

We (Adam, his mother, and Sophie) traveled to the Galapagos on a self-guided trip in April 2023, wherein we stayed on all three major islands while exploring the archipelago for two full weeks.

Getting to the Galapagos Islands is extremely easy and affordable, even on a budget! It does not require any qualifications, pre-arranged visas, permits, or reservations!

In this guide, we clear up all the confusion regarding how to visit the Galapagos. We have included insight into all available options, whether you prefer to travel independently, on a cruise, or with a tour group.

✈️ How to Get to Galapagos: Overview

A view of Mt Cotopaxi from the window of an airplane flying out of Quito getting to Galapagos on the morning flight.
Mt Cotopaxi and the Andes as seen on a flight from Quito to Galapagos

There are a few quick but important things to note about getting to the Galapagos islands:

  • There are three ways to get to the Galapagos islands (excluding sailing):
    Self-guided trip, land-based tour, or cruise ship.
  • Regardless of which option you elect, the easiest, most common way to get to Galapagos is to fly there from Quito.
  • There are only two cities on mainland Ecuador that fly to the Galapagos islands:
    Quito and Guayaquil.
  • There are only two islands within the Galapagos archipelago you can fly into:
    Santa Cruz and San Cristobal.
  • The only way to get to Galapagos without flying or sailing is with a cruise from Guayaquil. Cruise ships depart from Guayaquil and require 3 days to reach the Galapagos islands.

If you decide to visit the Galapagos islands by tour, the operator might arrange flights to the islands from mainland Ecuador. Some will even provide a guide to see you through the departure process.

However, this is easy to do on your own without a guide. Do not worry if this isn’t provided in your booking or if you are doing an independent trip!

Nautically-savvy visitors can technically sail to the Galapagos on a self-guided voyage. This requires months of planning, permits, and a list of qualifying criteria to meet, and is accordingly a topic beyond the scope of this guide.

πŸ—ΊοΈ Map of the Galapagos Islands

A color coded map of the Galapagos Islands showing inhabited islands and those accessible by day trip or cruise, plus ferry routes custom made by We Dream of Travel.

The map of the Galapagos Islands above shows the archipelago in its entirety.

It has been color-coded to indicate the islands that are inhabited and can be stayed on, those accessible by day tour, and those that are accessible via cruise ship only.

In addition, ferry services and airports are indicated by the appropriate symbols.

Hopefully, this Galapagos map will help to give you a better understanding of the layout of the islands as you start to plan your vacation.

🏝 How to Get to Galapagos on Your Own

The most cost-effective way to get to Galapagos is by flying into Santa Cruz or San Cristobal islands on an independent, self-guided holiday.

This is precisely what we did for our first visit in 2023. The process was not too difficult or confusing, but there are a couple of important things you need to know to avoid costly mistakes.


1. Booking Airfare

A view from the airplane window looking out over the coast of Ecuador on the way to the Galapagos islands from Quito.

To fly to the Galapagos, you will only need to purchase airfare from Quito (recommended) or Guayaquil on mainland Ecuador to either Baltra airport (which serves Santa Cruz island) or San Cristobal island in Galapagos.

You will also need to have your return ticket purchased before flying, but you do not have to book it as roundtrip.

In fact, we recommend most travelers on an independent trip book into San Cristobal but out of Santa Cruz, taking the ferry in between and allowing you to explore multiple islands.

πŸ”Ž READ MORE
HOW TO ISLAND HOP IN THE GALAPAGOS

⚠️ IMPORTANT: GALAPAGOS FLIGHT PRICES

Be cautious of accidentally booking a locals-only fare!

There are three airlines that fly from Ecuador to Galapagos. The fares you need to purchase for each airline are:

  • L” fare for Avianca
  • Top” fare for Latam
  • Cacao-Premium” fare for Equair

As a foreign visitor, you must book the higher price point or you will be charged an additional $150-$200 at the airport. Unfortunately, this is not clear on airline websites and we met many people on the islands that had made this mistake.


2. Purchasing your INGALA Card (TCT)

At the airport on the day of your flight, you will need to arrive a little early to purchase your INGALA Tourist Control Card (TCT, or sometimes TCC).

This is as simple as going to the dedicated desk and having $20 ready. The line is not usually more than 15-30 minutes long.

The TCT you will receive is a piece of paper which you need to keep with your passport until you have returned to mainland Ecuador.

πŸ’° READ MORE:
GALAPAGOS TRIP COST + HOW MUCH TO BUDGET


3. Paying the Galapagos National Park Entry Fee

Parque Nacional Galapagos (Galapagos National Park) wooden sign with painted images of iconic wildlife.

As the entire Galapagos Archipelago is a National Park, you will need to pay a $100 per adult ($50 per child 12 and under) entry fee upon arrival.

This will be done at the airport once you’ve landed on either San Cristobal or Santa Cruz.

Note that this, like most things on Galapagos, is cash only!

Before you are able to leave the airport, you will have your bags scanned and sniffed and be asked for the fee.


Recap: How to Get to Galapagos Step-by-Step

  1. Begin from Quito (recommended) or Guayaquil in Ecuador.
  2. Purchase airfare to/from Santa Cruz or San Cristobal island.
  3. Purchase your INGALA Tourist Control Card (TCC) for $20 at the airport kiosk prior to departing.
  4. Pay the $100 cash-only entry fee at the airport upon arrival in the Galapagos.

*Remember to keep your TCC with your passport as you will need to show this again when leaving the Galapagos islands.*

πŸ”Ž READ THE COMPLETE GUIDE
PLANNING A SELF-GUIDED TRIP TO GALAPAGOS ULTIMATE GUIDE

πŸ›³ How to Get to Galapagos by Cruise or Tour

Our small cruise ship docked at South Plazas island in Galapagos with two zodiac boats either side and a red, rocky cliff in the background.

A cruise or tour does actually not necessarily make it any easier to get to Galapagos, but it does eliminate some of the planning.

Always check the inclusions of your tour or cruise, while it is possible that it will include flights to Galapagos, most do not.

Most cruises and tours actually begin in Galapagos, meaning you will most likely have to fly to the islands on your own first before boarding your vessel or joining your group.

The majority of cruise ships will board from the island of Baltra, which is also where the Santa Cruz airport is. Accordingly, you will likely fly from Quito (UIO) to Santa Cruz / Baltra (GPS) and be shuttled to your vessel from the airport.

While less common, be aware that there are some cruises that depart instead from Guayaquil on mainland Ecuador. If you book a cruise that begins in Guayaquil, understand that you will be traveling for 3 days on open water before reaching the Galapagos Islands!

Your cruise or tour operator should provide instructions and support for getting to the rendezvous point for beginning your Galapagos vacation, but you may be on your own for flying there.

If this is the case, review the section above on How to Get to Galapagos on Your Own and simply follow the instructions. It is not as complicated as you may think, but you will want to be careful not to book a resident’s only fare.

⛡️ How to Get to Galapagos by Sailing

Photographer Sophie Clapton is seen taking a photo of Pinnacle Rock on a day tour to Isla Bartolome in the Galapagos.

Sailing to the Galapagos Islands is by far the most complicated way to visit, but it is possible.

Those who wish to sail to Galapagos are required to acquire multiple permits well in advance and then must adhere to a litany of restrictions upon arrival or risk being turned away.

There are thorough guidelines regarding the cleanliness of your vessel, proposed itinerary, and black water capacity, just to name a few.

If you are an avid sailor and considering a voyage to Galapagos, be sure to plan months or even a year in advance.

You can find more information on everything required to sail to Galapagos here.

πŸ™‹β€β™€οΈ FAQs on How to Get to Galapagos

A hungry Galapagos tortoise chomps on grass with his head curiously upright.

Hopefully, you have already learned everything you need to know for getting to the Galapagos, but you will find answers to the most frequently asked questions below for more clarification.

What is the easiest way to get to Galapagos?

The easiest way to get to Galapagos is to book a flight to Quito, then book another flight to the Galapagos islands of either Santa Cruz or San Cristobal.

You do not need a visa, guide, nor permit, but you will need to purchase your INGALA Tourist Control Card (TCC) for $20 at the airport in Quito prior to departure.

Can you get to Galapagos without a guide?

Contrary to popular belief, you do not need a guide or permit to visit Galapagos. Anyone can book a flight from Quito or Guayaquil (mainland Ecuador) to Santa Cruz or San Cristobal (Galapagos).

You will need to purchase an INGALA Tourist Control Card (TCC) for $20 at the airport prior to departing from mainland Ecuador, and will need to pay $100 cash for entry to the National Park upon arrival in Galapagos.

Can you sail to Galapagos?

You are allowed to sail to the Galapagos Islands on your own, but doing so means more restrictions, requirements, and permits than if you were to fly or take a cruise.

How do you get to Galapagos without a cruise or tour?

You can get to Galapagos on a self-guided vacation with these 4 easy steps:

  1. Begin in either Quito (recommended) or Guayaquil in Ecuador.
  2. Purchase airfare to the islands of Santa Cruz or San Cristobal in Galapagos.
  3. Purchase the INGALA Tourist Control Card for $20 at the airport kiosk prior to departing from Quito or Guayaquil.
  4. Pay a $100 cash-only Galapagos National Park entry fee at the airport upon arrival.

*Remember to keep your INGALA card with your passport as you will need to show this again when leaving the Galapagos islands.*

Where do you fly to go to Galapagos Islands?

There are airports on the Galapagos Islands of Santa Cruz and San Cristobal that you can fly into. All flights to Galapagos begin in either Quito or Guayaquil on mainland Ecuador.

How long is the boat ride from Ecuador to Galapagos?

Cruises from Ecuador to Galapagos depart from Guayaquil and take 3 days to reach the islands.

Is it expensive to get to the Galapagos Islands?

Flying to Galapagos is actually very easy and affordable with no visa requirements and prices beginning as low as $260 roundtrip from Quito or $240 roundtrip from Guayaquil.

πŸ“š More Galapagos Islands Travel Guides

The two of us work very hard to create these free travel guides to help you plan your dream vacation. If you think we’ve done a good job and would like to say thanks, please consider clicking the donate button below πŸ™‚

Hopefully, this guide has answered all of your questions, now it’s time for the rest of your planning!

These guides will help you through the process step-by-step, providing insight on everything from finding flights to top activities and so much more.

Planning Guides

Local Guides

Things to Do Guides

πŸ’¬ Final Thoughts

A marine iguana sits down beside a girl in a swim suit on the white sand beach at Playa Punta Carola in the Galapagos.

The two of us work very hard to create these free travel guides to help you plan your dream vacation. If you think we’ve done a good job and would like to say thanks, please consider clicking the donate button below πŸ™‚

We truly hope you have found this guide useful in learning the different options and methods for getting to the Galapagos Islands.

Now we’d like to hear from YOU!

Help us help future readers by sharing your thoughts. Was anything confusing, misleading, incomplete, or missing? Or perhaps it was exactly what you hoped for?

Let us know in the comments below!

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Written by
Adam Marland is a professional travel blogger and landscape photographer from Oregon. After over a decade of experience as a freelance travel photographer, Adam found national acclaim when he became the National Park Foundation's β€œChief Exploration Officer” in 2021.

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