For many travelers, a Galapagos luxury cruise adventure is a bucket list event, but when you are finally able to make your dream a reality, how do you get to the Galapagos Islands and how long does it take? This is a common question that many first-time Galapagos travelers ask when considering an adventure to these fabled isles.
It’s actually not that tricky to make your way to the Galapagos Archipelago, but like any international trip, there are some important details to consider as well as a few region-specific insider tips worth knowing. And just like our Galapagos Islands Packing List, here’s a step-by-step guide on how to get to the Galapagos Islands from anywhere in the world.
Unless you already live in Ecuador, making your way to the Galapagos is going to be a multi-leg travel event. You’ll have to take an international flight to get to Ecuador, and then you’ll need to take a domestic flight out to the islands. There are a few important things to remember:
The first thing to know is that there are no direct international flights to get to the Galapagos from anywhere in the world. To get to the Galapagos you must first fly to the country of Ecuador, which owns the islands. Flights from the Ecuadorian mainland to the Galapagos depart daily from Ecuador’s Andean capital Quito (airport code UIO), as well as its large port city of Guayaquil (airport code GYE). Recently, flights from the mainland to get to the Galapagos have been added from the Ecuadorian coastal city of Manta (airport code MEC), but please check flight schedules with the airlines as these new flights don’t operate daily.
TO GALAPAGOS IS BY AIR
The second thing to know is that the only reliable way to get to the Galapagos is to fly there. Of course, if you own a private yacht you can sail there, but expect that crossing to take 3 days. There aren’t any commercial passenger vessels operating between mainland Ecuador and the archipelago. Commercial air carriers currently flying to the Galapagos include Avianca and Latam using either Airbus or Boeing jets. Flights from the mainland tend to leave in the morning and then turn around and head back to the mainland in the afternoon. For this reason, you won’t find many flights out to Galapagos later in the day.
Non-stop flights between Quito and the Galapagos take a little over two hours. However, there are normally only 1 or 2 daily non-stop flights out to Galapagos from Quito. Most flights between Quito and the Galapagos do a brief stopover in Guayaquil before continuing to the islands. These flights take just under an hour to fly from Quito to Guayaquil, and then just under 2 hours to fly from Guayaquil to the Galapagos. You can expect to wait in Guayaquil for around 40 to 50 minutes before continuing to the islands. You will wait on the plane without needing to disembark as it refuels and other passengers board. Also, factor in that when you fly to the Galapagos you are crossing a time zone and you gain an hour. On the return back to the mainland (eastward) you lose an hour.
THE CORRECT ISLAND IN THE GALAPAGOS
The Galapagos Islands offer two airports with flights from the mainland: one on the island of Baltra (airport code GPS) and the other on the island of San Cristobal (airport code SCY). There is also a third airport on Isabela Island (airport code ISA), but this airport is only for inter-island flights between Baltra and San Cristobal using a local airline called EMETEBE. When booking your own flights, make certain which airport you need to fly in and out of depending on where your cruise starts or ends, or where your hotel is located. We often find that many guests take advantage of flight offers and promotions and end up booking their flights out to the wrong island, ending up a very long way from where they need to be for the start or end of their adventure.
The official name of the airport on Baltra island is Seymour Galapagos Ecological Airport. It serves Santa Cruz Island, which is just a 5-minute ferry ride south across the Itabaca channel. Santa Cruz is the main hub of the archipelago and home to its largest population center, Puerto Ayora, at the south end of the island an hour drive from the channel. This bustling little port town is home to Charles Darwin Station and the Galapagos National Park as well as many hotels, bars, and restaurants.
Airport Isla San Cristobal sits on San Cristobal Island serving the tiny port town of Puerto Baquerizo Moreno with the municipal dock just a 5-minute drive from the terminal.
One of the most common mistakes travelers make when visiting the Galapagos is to book their flights to and from the islands before they have secured all their plans. It can be tempting to do so when airlines offer attractive Galapagos flight specials. However, this is a mistake. We’ve experienced this with several travelers who bought Galapagos air tickets in advance only to discover that either all cruises were sold out for their dates or the flights they purchased didn’t match up with available cruise departure dates or the hotel stays that were available. Or how about learning that you booked flights into or out of the wrong Galapagos airport based on what you want to do or what’s available? All the above can result in travelers having to change flights and pay more than they would have simply by deciding what they want to do in the Galapagos before purchasing flights.
Most Galapagos cruise providers are already holding flights between the mainland and the Galapagos, and they typically require guests to use these flights so they can have everyone, plus supplies, arrive on the same flight.
The lesson here is to first decide on your Galapagos plans and then fit your flights to them rather than the other way around.
It’s wise to arrive in mainland Ecuador at least two days prior to the start of your Galapagos adventure in case of international flight delays. By allowing a two-day buffer, if your international flight to Ecuador is delayed or canceled both you and your luggage will still have another day to get there in time to catch your scheduled flight to Galapagos. In many cases, once a Galapagos cruise departs you can’t catch up to it, so building in a buffer can literally save your vacation.
If you have planned a hotel-based stay the two days are less important, but a buffer can ensure you get to enjoy your entire stay in the islands and prevent you from having to scramble to book another flight a day later. Don’t even think of flying to Galapagos the same day you arrive in Ecuador.
And what about that extra day in the mainland? Even if you only have one day to spend for a mainland Ecuador tour there’s plenty to see and experience in a country that is home to the very first UNESCO Heritage Site (Colonial Quito), thriving indigenous cultures, historic Spanish Colonial haciendas, the spectacular Andean Mountain range, hot spring spas, cloud forests, and some of the best habitat and lodges in the Amazon basin!
As mentioned, to get to the Galapagos you will need to fly into either Quito or Guayaquil (and now Manta), Ecuador first and from there to Galapagos. For the present we recommend flying in and out of Quito rather than Guayaquil for the start and end of your Galapagos adventure. While there are no issues in the Andean highlands around Quito, at the time of this writing the US State Department is discouraging travel to the coastal city of Guayaquil based on crime.
However, if you must avoid going to elevations of 9,000 ft (2742 m), and therefore cannot travel to Quito, then consider flying in and out of Guayaquil. Also, there is the added option of flying in and out of the Ecuadorian seaside city of Manta. If you choose to fly into Guayaquil, it’s suggested to stay at a hotel in a nicer section of the city close to the airport, such as the Wyndham near Cerro Santa Ana, the Hilton, or the 5-star Hotel del Parque.
Quito is in the heart of the central Andes of Ecuador and is the country's capital. It sits at 2,800 meters (9,000 ft) above sea level, along the famed Avenue of the Volcanoes. Its old town was designated the very first UNESCO World Heritage Site, offering fine examples of baroque architecture including many attractive plazas, churches, and museums. However, colonial Quito is but one of the many things to see in this region.
Quito airport sits to the north of the city about an hour from the colonial section in the heart of the Andean countryside, offering nearby hotels and even a hacienda to spend the night in. It also offers easy access to several attractive excursions. These include the Otavalo region about an hour and a half north of the airport. On the way to Otavalo you’ll cross the equator, and be treated to eternal springtime views of large green volcanoes set along blue lakes. The region is home to several indigenous craft villages, the oldest and largest indigenous craft market in the Andes, as well as historic Spanish colonial haciendas where you can have lunch or spend a night or two.
From Quito, you can easily access places like Papallacta Hot Springs & Spa in a cloud forest at the headwaters of the Amazon, Antisana nature reserve to watch condors in the Altiplano, or stay in a 5-star resort called Mashpi in the Mindo cloud forest. Even Baños is more easily accessed from Quito than Guayaquil. Finally, Quito is the gateway to the Ecuadorian Amazon, and a 40-minute flight to Coca will give you access to the Yasuni National Park region with some of the best lodges and habitats in the Amazon basin.
If you have time to spend in mainland Ecuador before or after your visit to the Galapagos (which we highly recommend), Quito provides a better overall experience simply because there is more to see and do in and around it compared to the coastal neighbor of Guayaquil. In addition, there are currently no US State Department cautions against travel to Quito and the surrounding Andes.
Guayaquil’s burgeoning population of 2.6 million thrives along the Guayas, a miles-wide river that leads to the Pacific Ocean. Guayaquil is a contemporary metropolis and home to a bustling port which connects with the Gulf of Guayaquil. This waterway is a hub for international commerce. Guayaquil rests just above sea level, and it offers an alternative for travelers who must avoid going to elevation—and now the city of Manta does as well.
PRIOR TO YOUR GALAPAGOS CRUISE
No matter how you plan on getting to the Galapagos Islands, it should be a relaxing, carefree journey. Consider booking Galapagos trips that include domestic flights and other arrangements to take the pressure off planning. Similarly, don’t be afraid to spend a few extra days in mainland Ecuador or nearby Peru, where you can explore ancient sites like Machu Picchu. Your experience is what you make of it, so informing yourself and giving yourself time to relax in the destination will make your time in the region all the more memorable.
And if you want to experience the once-in-a-lifetime journey to the Galapagos archipelago in luxury and style, there is no better way to travel than on one of Quasar Expeditions’ award-winning yachts, where you will spend your entire time exploring the Galapagos National Park.
We offer 8-day and 15-day safari-style yacht adventures designed to give you front row access to the legendary animal encounters that the Galapagos Islands are famous for. The islands will come alive as our expert interpretive naturalist guides lead you on nature hikes, snorkeling outings, and sea kayaking paddles through the best place in the world to safely get close to and interact with wildlife. Along the way you will be pampered by our crew, enjoying fine dining under the stars on a voyage through this mysterious natural wonder.
Speak to one of our expedition designers today to learn more or to start planning your next adventure.