Is it safe to travel to the Galapagos Islands?
The Galapagos Islands are one of the most secure places in the world in terms of personal safety and health. To preserve the archipelago, the islands were declared a National Park back in 1959. In 1969, the Galapagos Islands started receiving a steady flow of tourism. This ultimately meant that processes and directives needed to be implemented and improved, helping travelers enjoy the Galapagos Islands with an unparalleled degree of safety.
Worried about travel during the pandemic? Check this video out and lay your doubts to rest!
This challenge has required the retailoring of each process throughout our client’s entire travel experience in Ecuador: domestic flights, ground transportation, accommodations at both land and sea, activities, visiting sites, food, beverages, and so on. Each service provider must take on new duties: learning how to evaluate and identify health risks that can pose a danger to travelers. Protocols and procedures that are required to reduce the risk of contagion along every step of the operation rely heavily on the collaboration of airports and airlines, ground transportation providers, hotels, restaurants, and their personnel in the destinations we offer.
Listed below, are the reasons why the Enchanted Isles are a natural paradise where you can enjoy some peaceful vacations. Keep reading and find out more.
The Galapagos Islands are a remote destination
There are no direct international flights to the Galapagos Islands
As a measure to preserve the islands’ fauna and flora, international flights are not allowed to land in the Galapagos. You can only access the archipelago via domestic flights departing from:
- Mariscal Sucre International Airport in Quito (UIO)
- Jose Joaquin de Olmedo International Airport (GYE)
This limitation of flights incoming from the mainland helps National Park authorities regulate entrance to the islands. Ultimately, this means that, before you land in the Galapagos Islands, you will undergo a screening process, at either of the mainland Ecuador airports and when you land in Galapagos. However, we’ll get to that in a minute! Keep reading to find out more.
Are you wondering how to get to the Galapagos Islands? Check out our blog!
There is no mass tourism in the Galapagos Islands
Mass tourism in the Galapagos archipelago is non-existent. Last year, approximately 270,000 people traveled to the islands, but only roughly 65,000 tourists accessed the National Park itself. This number is even lower than the attendance that a world–class sporting event draws to one game!
There are approximately 30,000 inhabitants located on Santa Cruz, San Cristobal, and Isabela Island. The populated locations on these islands represent a mere 3% of the entire archipelago. The other 97% (the Galapagos National Park) belongs to its endemic species. If you choose a cruise-based option, you’ll get to spend more time admiring incredible animals with your small group of fellow explorers.
Gigantic cruises and cargo ships are not allowed in the Galapagos Islands
No gigantic cruises or cargo ships are allowed to travel through the Galapagos Marine Reserve. Covering an area of 51,000 mi2 (133,000 km2), the GMR was founded to protect one of the world’s most unusual and precious ecosystems. It is the largest marine reserve in the developing world and the second-largest in the world!
Part of the measures enacted to protect the Reserve includes applying a hard limit on ship size. This is meant to prevent pollution, disease vectors, and industrial fishing.
Did you know?
Even though we often use the word cruise when we talk about our expedition vessels, according to definitions provided by CLIA, Cruise Critic, and the CDC based on gross tonnage and number of passengers aboard, these are the boats that actually sail in the Galapagos Islands:
Type of vessel (According to definitions used by the CDC and CLIA)
Gross registered tonnage (GRT)
Number of passengers
|Super Mega Cruise Ships
(Can’t sail in the Galapagos Islands)
|More than 140,000||Approximately 5,000|
(Can’t sail in the Galapagos Islands)
|More than 60,000||Approximately 3,000|
(Can’t sail in the Galapagos Islands)
|Less than 30,000||Approximately 500|
|Extra Small Ships
(Sail in the Galapagos Islands!)
|Less than 3,000||Approximately 100|
(Sail in the Galapagos Islands!)
|Less than 1,000||Approximately 40|
There are screenings, controls, and protocols at airports on the mainland and in the Galapagos all the time
There is a special screening process for travelers to the Galapagos Islands
Before you travel to the Galapagos Islands from Quito or Guayaquil, you must first make your way through the INGALA (National Institute for the Galapagos) control area. It is a process that takes but a few minutes. Here, you pay for your transit control card, while your luggage undergoes an additional screening and is sealed with a special tag indicating that it has passed inspection and that none of the contents present a danger to the Galapagos’ fragile ecosystems. You can then complete the check-in process, make your way through security, and proceed to your gate.
All planes departing from the mainland undergo a special disinfection process
Every flight traveling to the Galapagos initiates a cabin disinfection process that involves the spraying of Permethrin, one of the safest treatments available for eliminating mites and other pests that can pose problems to the safety of the archipelago. This same process is applied to the airplane’s cargo area. Additionally, airports may fumigate following the arrival of each flight. Waste from each flight is not allowed to remain in the Galapagos and must be brought back to the mainland.
Galapagos’ marine ports and airports have protocols as well
Some time ago, in 2009, the Ministry of Agriculture met with the National Institute for the Galapagos and the Civil Aviation Agency (among other groups) to coordinate and establish some important safety protocols intended to prevent the spread of viruses into the Galapagos region. As part of the adopted measures, all employees working in the numerous ports and airports of Galapagos are instructed to wear gloves and masks. Antimicrobial mats are placed in the breezeway in order to eliminate other bacteria and germs from passengers’ footwear as they make their way to the arrival terminal. Finally, travelers are encouraged to disinfect their hands with alcohol-based sanitizer upon exiting the terminal.
The Galapagos National Park is a benchmark for preservation and disease control
There’re health and safety procedures aboard all ships
Procedures and policies don’t simply extend to travel to the Galapagos Islands. They include many controls within the archipelago as well. For instance, vessels that travel between islands undergo routine maintenance during which their hulls are thoroughly cleaned.
When cruises are in operation, explorers’ water shoes and sandals are sprayed down and disinfected upon returning to the ship after each site visit. Aboard our expedition vessels, a medical officer performs health and epidemiological screenings for each of the crew members prior to bringing passengers aboard. They also supervise the extra thorough cleaning and disinfecting of masks and snorkels.
The National Park has eliminated invasive species and prevented the spread of diseases
The Galapagos National Park has implemented some of the most rigorous standards for the purpose of protecting the archipelago. Many of the islands have, at some point, faced problems due to the presence of invasive species, such as rats, goats, and feral cats. These animals, introduced via settlers, present a threat to native species and can be carriers of diseases that can threaten the archipelago’s fragile ecosystems.
Efforts to control these threats have been highly successful. So much so, that other nature reserves now look to the Galapagos as an example of how to manage pest control. The result? Some islands are among the few places in the world where once introduced, pests like black rats have been successfully eliminated. Iconic sites such as North Seymour Island, Rabida, and Pinzon are now free of threats like these.
The spread of diseases is not so easy on the archipelago
While the reduction of threats from rats is significant to human health, it is true that certain diseases, viruses, for example, can spread rather easily if the factors align. In something as complicated as viral illnesses, the Galapagos is considered one of the safest destinations around.
A run of the mill seasonal flu can jump from one human to another without relying on a vector, like rats or mosquitoes. This event is generally uncommon in the Galapagos, because of the level of isolation from the continent and a low population density of about 30,000 people that inhabit the entire archipelago. Thanks to the fact that there are large distances within the archipelago, the spread of disease is relatively straightforward to control in the unlikely event that one should occur.
Food in the Galapagos is safe and healthful
Most produce is shipped directly from the mainland
Because the Galapagos Islands are a well–protected archipelago, most perishable and nonperishable foods are sourced from the mainland. Shipped from one single port in Guayaquil, foods are inspected and quarantined. Since not all edible products are allowed inside the archipelago, every product is put through a rigorous screening process to ensure it is safe to consume. Products, by-products, animal and plant derivatives must comply with the general regulations and specific requirements established by BGA officials.
Due to International Standards for Phytosanitary Measures, little can be transported in wood crates. Most goods must be transported in sterile, sealed containers, and be clear of insects, dirt, and even foreign seeds in order to pass inspection. Specific chemical treatments include a certificate of fumigation from a company accredited by Agrocalidad. Overall, whether industrialized or artisanal, the processing of all foods must guarantee the elimination of pests. On top of that, they are still subject to laboratory analysis.
Imports to the Galapagos Islands are highly regulated
For those products that do enter the Islands, Agrocalidad sets regulations that govern both goods and suppliers, and the BGA enforces them. All estates from which produce is sourced must be either registered with or endorsed by Agrocalidad and verified by BGA officials. Permits must be updated. Some products are forbidden since they could be transporting diseases or pests; only certified shipments can enter the archipelago. Therefore, products must arrive with proper health certificates that include production and expiration dates. Some products are permitted if they’ve been industrialized or pre-cooked and are accompanied by a hydrothermal treatment certificate. Other regulations regarding food are:
- No live farm animals can be brought into the Galapagos, meats like beef, lamb, and pork cannot be imported either.
- Some chicken and other poultry products are allowed, but these must comply with the strict BGA guidelines.
- Cooked pork is restricted, as well as feed concentrates for animals.
- Egg cartons are checked for exposure to contamination by infectious agents that affect birds.
- Regulations even extend to packaging: jute and paper sacks are a no-go, and some goods are only allowed if they come frozen and vacuum–packed.
Produce grown on the islands is constantly monitored
Agrocalidad and the Inspection and Quarantine System for Galapagos (IQS) work together to prevent the introduction of invasive species to Galapagos. For this reason, if you’re a farmer in Galapagos, you can’t just grow anything. Seeds must be certified from production sites authorized by the competent Ministry of Agriculture authority and must undergo a disinfection treatment. Agrocalidad then certifies its quality.
The Metropolitan Touring Difference: What sets us apart?
We have a 24/7 Onboard Medical Officer
One of the key differences between us and other expedition vessels that sail on the archipelago is the presence of an onboard medical officer, an expert trained in travel and nautical medicine.
- These experts are certified by the Ministry of Public Health, the National Merchant Marines, and the Maritime Authority of Ecuador.
- They are available to guests 24/7, our medical officers are an essential part of our crisis management procedures and are always alert to any ailments that may cause discomfort to our passengers.
- Medical officers work out of fully equipped infirmaries stocked with pain relievers, antibiotics, and other vital medications.
- Our infirmaries are also furnished with first–rate, top–of–the-line equipment: ophthalmoscope, defibrillator, laryngoscope, AMBU (Airway Mask Bag Unit), infrared thermometer, medicinal oxygen, tensiometer (sphygmomanometer), and parenteral serums as well as other first-line emergency gear.
Site visits throughout the Galapagos National Park are exclusive
One of the great things about sailing aboard one of our expedition vessels is the fact that site visits within the Galapagos National Park are exclusive. As a result, the only folks that you’ll be interacting with are fellow explorers –those with whom you are sailing in the Galapagos. Given that each ship has multiple Park-certified guides, groups of around 8 to 12 guests can explore each site or participate in any number of Park-approved activities, like snorkeling, kayaking, paddleboarding, and more! Site visits are scheduled and overseen by the Galapagos National Park, which helps to preserve the archipelago in its pristine state.
Isabel Espinoza (1994) was born and raised in the beautiful cradle of mountains we call Quito. She has a degree in Journalism from Pontificia Universidad Católica del Ecuador. People and their stories have always been her thing (as well as traveling, nature, astronomy, and photography). Her love for Ecuador, Galapagos, and South America is immense and blogging allows her to share a glimpse of this affection with the rest of the world.