Lorena Tapia, president of the Governing Council of the Galapagos, told the newspaper El Comercio that the Ecuadorian government will enforce five rules for entering the Galapagos Islands starting on January 1, 2018. During her interview, she stated that a tourist must have:
A transit card, or una tarjeta de tránsito
A return ticket, or un pasaje de ida y vuelta
A reservation on a cruise or in lodging on one of the islands
An invitation from a Galapagos resident
Health insurance, or seguro de salud
Tapia says these new regulations are an attempt to remove some of the tourism pressure by guaranteeing that everyone visiting the Galapagos Islands is doing so in a sustainable manner. Hotels, hostels, and other lodging establishments will have a secure connection to confirm that tourists have a transit card. Previously, it was enough to register for your transit card at the airport immediately before your flight. The new Galapagos entry rules imply that every tourist will need to pre-register but it is unclear how much time will be needed to confirm registration with your hotel or cruise.
The Transit Card
Since 2008, the Ecuadorian government has required all tourists to apply for a transit card. However, most tourists applied and received the card simultaneously at the airport, usually an hour or two before their scheduled Galapagos flight. It seems that the new rules will require pre-registration.
Unfortunately, the website that allows for pre-registration for the transit card is not secure and your web browser will likely offer a security warning. The website requires that you enter personal information, like your passport number, email address, and zip code. Fortunately, it does allow for groups and families to register together. The pre-registration form also requires your arrival and departure dates as well as the addresses of all the lodging you will use while on the Galapagos Islands. This implies that you need a reservation before applying for your transit card.
Tourists who pre-register will pick up their transit card at the airport in either Quito or Guayaquil before flying to the Galapagos, no different than before. People traveling without the help of a travel agency will pay the fee for the transit card at the airport. If you are traveling with an agency or cruise line, your card may be included in the final package. Double check to be sure exactly who will be responsible for registering you and your travel companions. Please plan for extra time at the airport to wait in this line.
The Return Ticket
Return tickets are also a requirement for entering Ecuador, not just the Galapagos Islands. They are rarely requested but some travelers who are unsure of their return date often purchase an online ticket the day they enter Ecuador and then cancel the purchase within 24 hours. Most tourists do not fall in this category and have return tickets already scheduled. It is unclear if proof of these tickets will be requested but having the information available at the airport is highly recommended.
Lodging establishments on the island are supposed to have access to your pre-registration. However, your pre-registration requires a list of your lodging. Make your reservations first. Clearly, these establishments want your business and they will help you figure out the new rules. If you are staying in a private residence, like many Airbnb establishments, you may want to consider the fourth item on the list, the invitation.
In online conversations in several forums, the prevailing belief is that visitors only need an invitation from a Galapagos resident if they cannot provide proof of a reservation. For those staying with a local friend or renting an Airbnb, request an invitation from the owner of the home or the apartment and make sure that person is a legal resident of the Galpagos Islands. After the new rules have had an initial shake down period, it will be much easier to see how this new rule will be applied.
All tourists entering Ecuador are supposedly required to have proof of health insurance. Making this an additional requirement for the Galapagos only means that you may be asked more often for proof. Our best advice is to bring proof of health insurance coverage and keep it with your passport. Otherwise, you may be requested to purchase a short term health insurance plan when arriving in country or at the airport before departing for the Galapagos. Again, it will take a few weeks into the new year to see how this new rule is applied.
Hopefully, these new rules will do exactly as the Ecuadorian government hopes and limit entry to sustainable levels of tourists. After all, none of us want to see the islands overrun year after year. If you have a choice on when to travel, I would avoid the first couple of weeks in January 2018 just in case.
If you have more information regarding the new rules and would like to see them included in this article, please contact us.
Update February 5, 2018: Currently the health care portion of the new law is not being enforced. Rumors have the new activation date as soon as May 1 and as late as August 1. Some sources say the immigration system will never monitor health insurance for those visiting as tourists.