World Heritage site with unique species and terrestrial and marine ecosystems
Why visit Galapagos Islands
Galapagos Islands is a World Heritage Site, with more than 98% of its land territory under protected status, and which conserves species found nowhere else in the world with regulations and laws designed for sustainable tourism. The Galapagos Islands vision was adopted in 2015 with the Galapagos Plan for Sustainable Development and Land Use:
“Galapagos is a territory of peace with inhabitants committed to the conservation of its natural heritage. Galapagos guarantees constitutional rights of its nature and good living for its citizens; interculturality is favored and fair and equitable access to the use and exploitation of its natural resources is allowed, only under accordance and compliance with the biophysical limits of the archipelago, becoming a national and international reference in the management and governance of a model of sustainable territorial development”. The islands have many unique species. About 80% of the land birds, 97% of the reptiles and land mammals, and more than 30% of the plants occur only here. More than 20% of the marine species in Galapagos are found nowhere else. These species include the giant Galapagos tortoise, marine iguana, the flightless cormorant, and the Galapagos penguin. Galapagos Islands is a green holidays destination.
Preserving native marine life is a key goal of the marine reserve. The marine iguana is the only aquatic lizard in the world. The iguanas are about 1-1.5 meters (3-5 feet) long and live along the shore of the islands. They also live among the lagoons and mangrove swamps. Marine iguanas eat seaweed and other algae found clinging to underwater rocks and tree roots. The lizards dive up to nine meters (30 feet) to graze on algae.
The islands are surrounded by a marine reserve which is one of the largest and most biologically diverse marine protected areas in the world, covering 133,000 square kilometres (51,352 square miles). The marine reserve is home to whales, dolphins, albatrosses, sharks, sea lions, penguins, fur seals, rays, cormorants, marine iguanas, sea turtles, and tropical fishes with more than 2,900 marine species being monitored. The rich biodiversity is the result of the islands’ location along the Equator, where warm and cold ocean currents mix with nutrient-rich cold water that rises from the ocean floor, where nutrients create the food chain that sustains marine life.
Culture & Local Life
The Galapagos Islands are famous for natural heritage. However they have tangible and intangible cultural manifestations. Galápagos Islands have a very diverse culture, with people from all the provinces of mainland Ecuador. Galapagos has an important population of an Anden indigenous community (the Salasaca),which maintain its culture, ethnicity and its own traditions. The human and original history of the Galapagos Islands and their first settlements is a cultural wealth that has been preserved and transmitted from generation to generation. The Plan Galapagos mentioned zones with historical and heritage importance. Among others the tangible sites are Wall of tears (Isabela), the first settlers in Floreana and Cristobal, the military base in Baltra, The Charles Darwin Foundation, La Predial y the salt cove in Santiago Island. These sites are important to understand the human history of the archipelago. Currently the Municipality of Santa Cruz is promoting the implementation of two cultural routes.
There are two main airports in Galapagos, one on Baltra Island and the other on San Cristóbal. At the airport in Ecuador before checking in, you will be required to have your bags inspected by the Galapagos Biosecurity Agency quarantine staff and obtain a mandatory $20 tourist transit card. Upon arrival in Galapagos, you will have to pay an entrance fee to the Galapagos National Park (currently $100 for non-Ecuadorian adults and $50 for children).
The Galapagos National Park Directorate (GNPD) permits tourists to explore visitor sites only with Park-certified naturalist guides (refer to the Park rules). The GNPD coordinates group visits to over 60 sites and carefully monitors ecological conditions. The GNPD has granted permission to a select number of tour providers for diving. If you plan to dive on your trip, check with your provider to make sure the company is authorized to offer this activity.
For tourism and visitors, one challenge is to design low-impact ecotourism activities to reduce the human footprint. Tourism promotes low-impact activities such as kayaking, hiking, camping, sailing, bicycling, and snorkeling. In some areas, no driving is permitted, and only walking. No motorized sport is allowed within the Marine Reserve, and the size and power of the motors of the tourism boats is controlled.
There is a limited public transportation, mainly in Santa Cruz. Numerous inter-island ferries (known locally as lanchas or fibras) travel between SantaCruz Island and San Cristóbal Island, and Santa Cruz Island and Isabela Island. Public ferries, which are operated by multiple private boat owners, sail from Puerto Ayora on Santa Cruz Island to Puerto Baquerizo Moreno on San Cristóbal Island and Puerto Villamil on Isabela Island once or twice daily.
Situated in the Pacific Ocean some 1,000 km from Ecuador and South America, the nineteen islands in the Galapagos and the surrounding marine reserve are a unique living museum and showcase of evolution. Seismic and volcanic activity illustrates the processes that formed the islands. The isolation of the islands led to the development of unusual animal life – the land iguana, the giant tortoise and the many finches. The islands illustrate how ecological, evolutionary and bio-geographic processes influence plants and animals. Finches, mockingbirds, land snails, giant tortoises illustrate adaptation. The Marine Reserve, located at the nexus of three major eastern Pacific currents and influenced by climatic phenomena such as El Niño has abundant and diverse wildlife.
Galapagos Islands have a legal framework with sustainable development required for all activities. The Galapagos Plan is the main planning document, and 97% of the Galapagos land territory is under the National Park Management Plan. Locally, each community on the islands has a sustainability department for planning and executing actions. The Galapagos National Park is responsible for the administration and management of the protected areas, and manages tourism and the public use. Since 2010, the Tourism Observatory of Galapago has generated tourism information for planning and managing tourism at local and regional levels. The Ecuadorian government finances government, and a visitor fee is charged to every tourist which funds activities in the islands.
Health & Safety
The Galapagos Islands were closed off from international travel by the national government of Ecuador. As of July 1, 2020, the Galapagos Islands are open to international visitors again. Current entry requirements, in place to keep everyone safe, include presentation of a negative Covid-19 PCR test (valid for 96 hours), registration of the full itinerary for the islands with the Ministry of Tourism, and health and temperature checks at the airports. If medical personnel detect that a person presents symptoms that meet the definition established by the World Health Organization for COVID-19, they prohibit their entrance to the province.
During the lockdown, existing tourists have been allowed to stay and local tourism is permitted. Galapagos authorities have imposed travel restrictions that will apply to some travellers going to the Galapagos Islands from the Ecuadorian mainland. Tourism operations, particularly hotels and marine based tourism are adhering to international tourism safety and hygiene standards. Hotels have adopted Biosafety Standards supported by Biosafety protocols, supported by the Ministry of Tourism, national Emergency Operations Committee and World Health Organization. The World Travel & Tourism Council has developed Safe Travel protocols for tour operators and cruise ship operations.
Good places to stay
We recommend this place because it is committed to responsible tourism, checked and certified by independent auditors and ecolabel programs including TourCert certification.
Travel tips from our editors
Accompanied by a trained guide or on your own, birdwatching and nature tours are a popular pastime for visitors to the islands. Under Park Rules for the Galapagos National Park, tourists are permitted to explore specific visitor sites only with Park-certified naturalist guides (refer to the Park rules), and there are more than sixty sites known for their specific scenery, vegetation, and wildlife. Many species, such as sea lions, marine iguanas, lava lizards, and a variety of coastal birds such as herons, tattlers, plovers, turnstones, and whimbrels, are commonly seen at most locations.
Hike & Bike
Hiking and cycling are the best ways to individually explore the islands of Santa Cruz, Isabela, San Cristobal and Floreana, or the Galapagos National Park near your accommodation, given restrictions on motorized traffic and extensive protected areas.
Boat Tours, Diving and Snorkeling
Boats, snorkeling and diving allows you to see the diverse marine life in the Galapagos Marine Reserve that surrounds all the islands. More than twenty per cent of the marine species in Galapagos are found nowhere else on earth, with favorites include the giant Galapagos tortoise, marine iguana, flightless cormorant, and the Galapagos penguin.
Galapagos Islands received several recognitions over the years. Galapagos Islands were named Top 100 Sustainable Tourism Destination in 2018 and 2019. UNESCO recognised Galapagos Islands in 1978 as a World Heritage Site and in 1985 as a Biosphere Reserve, that was extended to the marine portion of the Galapagos Islands in 2001.
In 2009, Galapagos Islands were shortlisted by the New7 Wonders of Nature Foundation and ranked first in Group B in the category for islands. The Darwin and Wolf Islands, the northern most islands, were declared Marine Sanctuary by Ecuadorian government in 2016. The Renewable Energy Resources for Galapagos Islands (ENERGAL) project was judged the Best Off-Grid Project in the Multilateral/ International Organizations category by Alliance for Rural Electrification (ARE) in 2017. Santa Cruz Island was named Top 100 Sustainable Tourism Destination in 2017. On December 3, 2018, the Galapagos Island was celebrated at the UNESCO Head Quarters for the 40th Anniversary of their inclusion in the World Heritage List in 1978. Extensive World Travel Awards including best beach, dive and green destination in South America and globally including South America‘s Leading Beach Destination 2019, South America’s Leading Beach Destination 2018, World’s Leading Beach Destination 2017, South America’s Leading Beach Destination 2017, South America’s Leading Green Destination 2012, South America’s Leading Dive Destination 2007.
Galapagos Ecological Airport was awarded the LEED GOLD certification by the USGBC on November 20, 2014, due to its design and construction, strategies and environmental characteristics. Santa Cruz Island of the Galapagos Islands was named one of the Top 100 Sustainable Tourism Destinations in 2017. Ecoventura has been named the #2 Top Small-Ship Ocean Cruise Line in the Travel + Leisure 2017 World’s Best Awards. Condé Nast Traveler Readers Choice Award for one of Best Islands in the World, 2018. Travel and Leisure Award for Galapagos Islands as one of Best Islands in World in 2018 and 2019.
Galapagos Board (Pleno del Consejo de Gobierno de Galapagos)
"This Galapagos Board generates the Galapagos Sustainable Plan and the policies to accomplish it. For tourism, the Galapagos Tourism Board (Comité Provincial de Turismo) is a multi-stakeholder board that works toward sustainability in tourism. Since 2010, an ecotourism model was established with four components: a) The Tourism Observatory of Galapagos (TOG), b) strengthening governance, c) re-engineering the destination, and d) marketing. The Galapagos Islands have a Sustainable Development Plan and Land Use Planning 2015- 2020 to ensure the conservation of the Archipelago".