Getting there & away
Flights from the mainland arrive at two airports: Isla Baltra just north of Santa Cruz and Isla San Cristóbal. There are almost an equal number of flights to Baltra and San Cristóbal. Every two or three years the Baltra airport undergoes repairs and all flights are diverted to San Cristóbal for up to several months.
Two major airlines flying to the Galápagos Islands are TAME and Aerogal. TAME operates two morning flights daily from Quito via Guayaquil to both the Isla Baltra airport, just over an hour away from Puerto Ayora by public transportation and the San Cristóbal airport. AeroGal has three flights daily from Quito to Isla Baltra and San Cristóbal via Guayaquil. All return flights are in the early afternoons of the same days. Icaro (Guayaquil 04-229 4265; www.icaro.com.ec) also flies to San Cristóbal three times a week.
Flights from Guayaquil cost high season/low season $344/300 round-trip and take 1½ hours. From Quito, flights cost $390/344 round-trip and take 3¼ hours, due to the layover in Guayaquil (you do not have to get off the plane). It’s also possible to fly from Quito and return to Guayaquil or vice versa. There is a limit of 20kg of checked luggage (per person) on the flight to the Galápagos.
Ecuadorian nationals can fly from Guayaquil for half the price foreigners pay, and Galápagos residents pay half that again. Some foreign residents of Ecuador or workers in the islands are also eligible, so if you have a residence visa you should make inquiries.
There is a Hercules military plane that flies to the islands every other Wednesday that occasionally has room for foreign passengers. Make inquiries at Avenida de la Prensa 3570, a few hundred meters from the Quito airport (ask for Departamento de Operaciones, Fuerza Aerea del Ecuador). Flights go from Quito via Guayaquil and stop at both San Cristóbal and Baltra. Foreigners pay about $300 round-trip for either destination.
Flights to the Galápagos are sometimes booked solid well in advance, but you’ll often find that there are many no-shows. Travel agencies book blocks of seats for their all-inclusive Galápagos Islands tours. They will release the seats on the day of the flight when there is no longer any hope of selling their tour.
Most people get around the islands by organized boat tours, but it’s entirely possible to visit some of the islands independently. Santa Cruz, San Cristóbal, Santa María (Floreana) and Isabela all have accommodations and are reachable by interisland boat rides or flights (which are pricey). Keep in mind however that you’ll only scratch the surface of the archipelago’s natural wonders traveling independently.
Ingala (Puerto Ayora 05-252 6151), a government-run company, operates passenger ferry services aboard the Ingala II. It goes from Santa Cruz to San Cristóbal Monday, Wednesday and Friday and from Santa Cruz to Isabela about twice monthly (usually on a Friday) and once a month from Isabela to Floreana. The office in Puerto Ayora can give you up-to-date details, as can the Camará de Turismo (tourist information office) in Puerto Ayora. The departure times change periodically.
Fares are $50 for foreigners (sometimes cheaper in low season) on any passage and are purchased either on the day before or the day of departure. Ask around in Puerto Ayora and Puerto Baquerizo Moreno for private companies that ply the same routes daily or weekly; these are cheaper and faster but also tend to be smaller and more sensitive to rough seas.
The small airline, EMETEBE(Puerto Ayora 05-252 6177, San Cristóbal 05-252 0036, Puerto Villamil 05-252 9155, Guayaquil 04-229 2492), flies a five-passenger aircraft between the islands. It offers two to three flights a week between Baltra and Puerto Villamil (Isla Isabela), between Baltra and San Cristóbal, and between San Cristóbal and Puerto Villamil. Fares are about $120 one way, and there is a 13kg baggage limit per person (although this is flexible if the plane isn’t full).