Last updated 30 Mar 2020

Here’s what you need to know about visiting the Galapagos Islands.

What’s the local currency?
The US$ is the official currency of Ecuador, which means no standing in line at currency exchange if you’re travelling from the USA.

What documents do I need for the Galapagos?
Visitors from North America and most European countries don’t currently need a visa to enter Ecuador but please double check before departure. Your passport must be valid for at least six months beyond the date of departure from Ecuador.

In addition to the originals, bring a copy of your passport, a list of identity card numbers and the international phone numbers of their issuing institutions. Store these separately from your original documents in case of an unforeseen problem with emergency contact numbers and medical information.

Valid health insurance is also required to travel to the Islands. Please check that you are covered for emergency air transport as there are only basic facilities on the Islands.

What electronic equipment is available in Ecuador?
Pack extra SD cards, cables, chargers and batteries for computers, electronics and phones. Even in Quito and Guayaquil, accessories for major brands are hard to find and extremely expensive due to high import taxes. Bringing a point-and-shoot camera is also a good idea for moments when taking out expensive photography gear is impractical.

Will my cell phone work in the Galapagos?
Cell phones on GSM networks generally work in the Galapagos. Check with your provider to find out the specifics of your plan and the charges for using it internationally. Extremely high rates are common, and it’s better to know beforehand to avoid the shock after returning home. It’s always wise to turn off data roaming before heading abroad.

At the airport in both Quito and Guayaquil you can buy traveller's sim cards for your stay in Ecuador. These use a pay as you go system, and don’t require an Ecuadorian ID to activate.

Is there internet access?
Internet in the Galapagos pales in comparison with the speeds of the United States and Europe. Most hotels have connections but expect limited range, slow loading times and long waits. Internet on board cruise ships is generally unheard of, or will be via satellite connections at exorbitant pricing — for emergencies only, if at all. WhatsApp with a 3G plan also works on most ships when out at sea. Much better to plan to do without and enjoy your surroundings!

How much should I tip?
In restaurants, a 10% service charge is added to the bill; for crew, drivers and staff, $5-10 a day is fair. For guides and trip leaders, $10-15 dollars a day is the norm. Note that apart from tourism destinations, tipping isn’t typical and what you leave is entirely up to you.

What are the luggage restrictions?
Most airlines restrict luggage to one checked bag up to a maximum of 40 pounds and one carry-on bag that weighs up to 15 pounds. This is generally recommended for all air travel within South America. Extra baggage can usually be accommodated for a fee.

Are land-based trips better for avoiding sea-sickness?
Not necessarily. Although land-based trips mean spending the night in hotels or lodges you’ll still visiting various islands by boat — usually small speedboats, which can be extremely choppy and can cause problems for younger and older travellers.

Can I roam the islands solo?
Visitors on organised tours are required to be accompanied by a registered guide for their own safety and for the protection of the islands. You can rent bikes, kayaks, and snorkel equipment and spend days discovering the inhabited islands of Santa Cruz, San Cristobal, Floreana, and Isabela.

What are the advantages of different ship sizes?
“Large ships” are only relatively large. They carry 90-100 guests with 30-40 crew — clearly not your average Caribbean cruise liner!

Large ships have more facilities, including larger deck spaces and more social areas, but are not necessarily more luxurious than the smaller ships. Higher cabins have better views, but they’re usually more expensive and will feel rockier in strong seas.

Smaller ships are able to anchor closer to the islands, but this is less important considering that all cruises use small motorboats to land on the islands. Remember that smaller boats will pitch further in choppy seas, so those susceptible to seasickness should bring Dramamine or equivalents. Catamarans tend to be the most stable vessels.

Packing list for the Galapagos Islands
Pack light, quick-drying clothes for the Galapagos. Heavier materials such as cotton take longer to dry in the humid weather. Remember that you’ll be travelling on boats (including pangas and rafts with dry and wet landings) and that you’ll need waterproof clothing.

It’s also worth packing seasickness tablets to help you cope with the rocky journeys to the islands.

Basics to pack for a trip to the Galapagos Islands include:

  • Sturdy hiking boots
  • Rain jacket
  • Waterproof trousers
  • Waterproof bag for electronics
  • Sunscreen
  • Sunhat
  • Breathable hiking socks
  • Water bottle
  • Seasickness tablets
  • Fleece or windshell

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