This information was originally published on November 12, 2020, when the stated regulations were in effect. Please note that these regulations are subject to change and we recommend working with one of our Adventure Specialists who regularly check country-specific advisories, in order to give you even more up-to date and detailed information.
Travelers are beginning to return to mainland Ecuador and the Galapagos, and they’re being rewarded with few crowds and exceptional wildlife. If you are dreaming of getting away from the craziness of 2020, Ecuador and the Galapagos is a great option.
1. Ecuador & Galapagos Are Open!
Cruises are operating. Ecuador officially resumed international flights on June 1, 2020. Entry is open to citizens of the United States, Canada, Europe and most other countries. The Galapagos Islands opened to foreign visitors on July 13, 2020. Galapagos cruises are operating with additional ships resuming each week and tourism in Ecuador is available.
2. Entry Requirements For Ecuador & Galapagos
In the age of COVID-19, specific entry requirements into Ecuador and the Galapagos Islands have been implemented. These requirements are updated frequently and may change without notice. Contact our Ecuador and Galapagos experts for the most up-to-date entry requirements. Ultimately it is the traveler’s responsibility to understand and meet travel requirements.
Ecuador Entry Requirements
Requirements as of October 23, 2020 for international flight arrivals to Ecuador are as follows:
- Health Status Declaration Form
Hand it in upon arrival to Ministry of Health workers, who will also check symptoms.
- Negative COVID-19 PCR test result within 10 days of arrival
If no test results OR traveler presents COVID symptoms upon arrival in Ecuador (despite negative test result): PCR test upon arrival and quarantine (both at own expense) for 10 days or until a negative test result.
Note: Travelers under 18 years old must abide by the above Ecuador entry requirements but are exempt from some of the requirements to enter the Galapagos Islands.
Galapagos Islands Entry Requirements
As an isolated community with less medical infrastructure, the Galapagos Islands have implemented stricter entry requirements. Requirements as of October 23, 2020, for travelers 18 years and older entering the Galapagos Islands are as follows:
- Negative COVID-19 PCR test result within 4 days of arrival
Tests are widely available in mainland Ecuador. AdventureSmith can arrange for a test at your hotel in Quito or Guayaquil, with most results in 12 hours.
- Salvoconducto (Safe conduct letter of transit) issued by a hotel, tour or ship operator
All AdventureSmith travelers are guaranteed the proper Salvoconducto documentation.
- Medical travel insurance
This 2015 law is now being enforced. See our travel insurance page for a quote.
- Galapagos Transit Control Card
AdventureSmith can assist with this in advance
- Galapagos National Park entrance fee
AdventureSmith can assist with this in advance
Two Options for Galapagos Testing Requirements
There are two ways to think about testing and your passage to the Galapagos Islands:
- Take a single test immediately before travel
For instance, if you are flying to the Galapagos to begin your cruise on Monday, you must take your PCR test no later than mid-day on the previous Friday, 96 hours before you arrive in the Galapagos. You must receive your results and plan to fly to Ecuador on Saturday or Sunday, then proceed immediately to the Galapagos on Monday. This might be a challenge and unduly stressful.
- Take your PCR test within 10 days of arrival into Ecuador and test again in Ecuador within 96 hours of your departure to the Galapagos
Tests are available locally in Quito or Guayaquil for under $150 per person. If you are flying to the Galapagos on Monday, you can arrive Ecuador on Saturday, test at your hotel, receive the results on Sunday, then proceed to the islands on Monday.
3. Galapagos Cruise Departures Are Increasing
Galapagos cruises are currently operating with additional ships announcing the resumption of cruising each week.
2020 Galapagos Cruises
You can travel in 2020 but it takes some planning
Some operators are cruising once they reach a minimum threshold, which varies by ship and changes day to day. For instance, the 20-guest Origin and Theory will operate with a minimum of 6 guests. So even if you are just two people, contact us because others may be on a wait list.
A select few Galapagos cruises currently have guaranteed departures each week. Notably the 48-guest La Pinta and 40-guest Isabela II are currently operating regular departures with as few as two people. These are a good bet if you want to travel soon.
Holiday 2020 Galapagos Travel
Christmas and New Year’s holiday cruises are currently available aboard a number of vessels
These include, but are not limited to, the 48-guest La Pinta and 40-guest Isabela II, the 20-guest Origin and Theory (with minimum requirements) and the 16-guest Camila. Land-based holiday options in the Galapagos include Galapagos Discovery and Galapagos Safari. Custom holiday land tours on mainland Ecuador can also be arranged.
2021 Galapagos Travel
We expect cruise departures to become more reliable during the first quarter of 2021
During Q1 of 2021, demand returns and most operators plan to resume normal schedules. For instance, the 96-guest National Geographic Endeavour II and the 48-guest National Geographic Islander plan to resume in early 2021 with rigorous two-step testing procedures. The 48-guest La Pinta and 40-guest Isabela II, 20-guest Origin and Theory, 20-guest Letty, and 16-guest Camila all plan to resume regularly scheduled departures in the first quarter of 2021. Others will surely follow so contact us for the latest deployments.
4. Flights to Galapagos Have Resumed
Like cruises, flights to the Galapagos Islands have resumed, but schedules have not yet returned to normal. LATAM is guaranteeing Monday, Thursday and Friday flights for certain cruises such as La Pinta and Isabela II, and we anticipate this will increase with demand. Avianca is planning to resume service regular service in December 2020. All cruises booked through AdventureSmith Explorations will include internal flights from mainland Ecuador to the Galapagos Islands (at additional cost). Our experts will work with you to coordinate flights at the time of booking.
International flights to Ecuador have also resumed with options originating in major gateways such as Los Angeles, Houston, Dallas, Atlanta, Miami and New York. The international flight to Ecuador may be among the safest of your journey since everyone on board has had a recent PCR test for COVID-19. Last-minute flight deals are available but as demand increases and new routes are added, prices will return to normal.
5. Ecuador Takes COVID-19 Seriously
Ecuador was in the news early in the pandemic and was caught off guard as cases spiked in May 2020. They implemented a very strict lockdown which is now being eased somewhat. Citizens are still required to wear a mask when outside their home and will receive a citation of $180 for not wearing a mask, even when driving alone in their car. Temperature checks have become a regular part of life.
We feel these protocols are necessary and will gain the trust of travelers who experience them. In our experience, you will encounter fewer people in one week in Ecuador than you do visiting the grocery store at home. And they will all be wearing masks.
For an on-the-ground report of Ecuador travel, view these videos from our friend Clark Kotula:
6. Bio Security Protocols in Ecuador & Galapagos
There are stringent new bio security protocols throughout Ecuador and the Galapagos Islands. You will notice immediately upon arrival, while being greeted by staff in full protective gear to check your PCR rest results and conduct a health screening and temperature check. Hotels, yachts, transportation, restaurants and airports have all updated procedures to keep both visitors and locals safe and healthy.
Drivers may not be allowed inside the airport; travelers may need to proceed to the curb to find your driver holding a sign with your name on it. Private airport transfers for AdventureSmith guests continue to be accompanied by an English-speaking guide and vehicles are subject to extensive sanitation before and after each transfer. More crowded transfers, such as from the Galapagos airport to your boat, will use larger vehicles that allow for social distancing and masks are required.
Mid- to high-end hotels used by AdventureSmith have new procedures in place. Enlarged registration areas allow for social distancing, temperature checks are typical, methods for contactless payment are in place, enhanced disinfection and cleaning procedures have been implemented and personal hygiene kits are available to guests who may need a mask or sanitizer. For instance, Mashpi Lodge, a NatGeo Unique Lodge of the World, has implemented a walk-in ozone sanitizer tunnel, plus sanitization methods based on UV filters and other ozone cleaning systems.
Breakfast buffets have been replaced with plated meals served quickly, tables are spaced for increased distancing with tables and chairs disinfected before and after each use. Room service is typically available 24 hours a day. Hotel staff may enter rooms less frequently and porters may not handle luggage unless requested.
Upon arrival in the Galapagos travelers will walk across a sanitizing foot bath and all luggage, including carry-on and checked baggage, will be sprayed with a disinfectant.
Galapagos Ships & Trips
Bio security policies may vary slightly by each ship, but you can expect numerous protocols—both obvious and behind the scenes—designed to keep travelers and crew in good health. Like hotels, ships will enforce social distancing and masks are required when social distancing cannot be observed on board. Increased sanitation procedures have been implemented throughout the ship including cabins, dining room, common areas and the galley, with special attention to high-touch areas. Dining room tables and hours are adjusted to increase social distancing. Buffets have been eliminated in favor of plated meals with the usual considerations for dietary restrictions. Snacks and appetizers are served individually.
Excursions are outdoors, in the wilderness, where social distancing is easy and you will rarely encounter other travelers. Masks must be worn while transiting in pangas and because of the stringent laws in Ecuador, masks are currently required during shore landings. Small groups are called separately to disembark for excursions and each panga will transport a limited number of passengers. Seats are disinfected between excursions. Keep sanitizer handy because it is useful to take the hand of a crew member when entering or exiting the panga.
Snorkeling equipment and wetsuits are still provided or rented to all guests at the beginning of the cruise and you will hold it until the end. All equipment undergoes a special sanitizing process. Bring your own if you are more comfortable. We have always recommended travelers bring their own mask and snorkel to ensure the best fit.
Some itineraries may eliminate visits to towns and the Charles Darwin Research Station. For cruises that do visit towns, masks must be worn at all times.
Each ship has various contingency plans should someone show symptoms while on board. In general, the trip will be interrupted and proceed to Puerto Ayora where health facilities are located. A public health official will interview all guests and crew, giving rapid tests if deemed necessary. If tests come back positive, then the traveler will be taken to the hospital for observation and the cruise will resume. Some larger ships with medical personnel on board will execute the health screening and tests on board, while affected guests are quarantined.
7. Flexible Booking Policies
Galapagos cruise lines have implemented flexible booking and cancellation policies designed to ease your mind and get people traveling. For instance, the National Geographic Endeavour II and Islander allows travelers to cancel at least 14 days before departure and still receive 100% future travel credit for expedition fare paid to be used on any future 2021 or 2022 expedition. Likewise, the 20-guest Origin and Theory and 20-guest Letty all allow travelers to rebook within 12 months if cruises are cancelled due to COVID-related travel restrictions.
In mainland Ecuador, the Manatee Amazon Explorer Cruise and Anakonda Amazon Cruise have a reduced deposit and allow cancellations up to 60 days before departure to reschedule within one year of original booking at no penalty. Most Ecuador travel options and Galapagos cruises have some sort of flexible booking and cancellation policies, so contact us for the latest details.
8. Private Charter Options
We have seen a tremendous increase in interest for Galapagos yacht charters. Yachts range in size from 12 to 32 guests and a full boat charter offers many advantages over an independently booked cruise. The most obvious advantage during the time of COVID-19 is that you will know and trust all the travelers aboard and can create your own travel bubble to relax social distancing requirements. Other advantages include lower prices, exclusivity, customization and the joy of experiencing the islands with an intimate group of family and friends. Contact our experts to begin planning your Galapagos charter cruise.
9. Galapagos—The Perfect Destination to Restart Travel
There are several reasons why the Galapagos Islands are a great place for small ship cruises to restart worldwide:
Naturally Social Distanced
An archipelago of about 18 major islands located 600 miles off the coast of Ecuador, the Galapagos have been socially distanced for millions of years. Once you arrive it is a vast wilderness with less than 3% of its 3000 square miles inhabited by people. Your time is spent in nature, not in town. Strict regulations implemented by the national park determine shore landing sites so groups rarely interact, preserving both the wilderness experience and social distance. Shore landing groups are limited to a maximum of 16 guests and some cruises are limiting capacity even further.
Guides and locals report that visiting the Galapagos now is like visiting 30 years ago, before the travel boom began. The hallmark of any Galapagos cruise is access to animals that evolved with no fear of humans. The pandemic has paused tourism and wildlife has responded by taking over trails and towns. For a short time, this will make already spectacular wildlife interactions even more exceptional.
Only Small Ships
The size of small ships is relative, but in the Galapagos even the largest ships are limited to a maximum of 100 guests. The small ship model, with only 12 to 100 guests, is statistically safer than large ship cruising.
10. Your Galapagos Travel Will Have A Positive Impact
The lack of tourism since the pandemic began has had a significant financial impact on the economy and individuals in Ecuador and the Galapagos Islands. The vast majority of residents in the Galapagos directly or indirectly rely on tourism for their livelihoods. Your travel can have a direct impact on crew, guides, support staff and those who provide provisions. For the National Park to continue monitoring the Galapagos Marine Reserve, sponsoring various scientific research projects, eradicating invasive species and restoring the populations of endangered fauna, they need the resources provided by tourism.
Our partners on the ground have initiated philanthropic efforts to help locals during this difficult time. The International Galapagos Tour Operators Association has launched a fundraising program to help Galapagos guides. Our partners at Ecoventura are raising funds to save education in the Galapagos.
During the pandemic lockdown, news reports surfaced of a vast armada of nearly 300 Chinese fishing vessels violating Ecuadorian sovereignty by entering Ecuador’s Exclusive Economic Zone multiple times. This massive illegal fishing threatens the Galapagos Islands and the rare endemic species that call the Galapagos Marine Reserve—a UNESCO world heritage site—home. National Park rangers aboard every Galapagos cruise, and the funding that tourism provides to the National Park, keep this type of illegal activity at bay.
Ultimately it is the resumption of the travel economy that will restore normalcy to the Galapagos, so the best thing you can do is travel. Then share your experiences with others. Let folks know that Ecuador and the Galapagos Islands are open and safe for the trip of a lifetime.
This blog post detailing current updates on travel in Ecuador and the Galapagos Islands is among AdventureSmith Explorations’ extensive collection of travel guides. Find more on the AdventureSmith Travel Blog. For even more resources to plan your Galapagos trip contact us today at: 1-877-620-2875.