COVID-19 and the Islands

This page was (thankfully) mostly temporary. 

The COVID-19 pandemic shut down tourism in the Galapagos for about half a year, including one of my planned photo workshops (2020, which got postponed to 2022). 

Back in the earliest days of the worldwide virus pandemic, one of the bigger cruise ships ended up having a virus spread event onboard. The problem very quickly became this: at the time, the islands did not have an ICU, let alone ventilators and other equipment necessary to help those stricken. The affected tourists were evacuated by air to the mainland, where the virus was starting to cause hospital issues, too. Fortunately, this didn't turn out worse than it could have.

Thus, tourism was completely shut down in early 2020, and the islanders suddenly found themselves highly isolated from the mainland. That turned out to be a mostly good thing, as the COVID-19 spread on the islands was somewhat minimal (<200 people, mostly in Puerto Ayora), and eventually was brought under control. The problem, of course, is that tourism, on which the islands depend, can bring it back.

Thus, a number of things have changed with Galapagos visitation. One good change is that medical facilities and equipment were upgraded on the islands, and they are now better prepared for any similar issue than they were in the past. That said, medical facilities are still somewhat minimal for the level of population they are serving. At least what's there is better prepared, trained, and equipped, though. I regard this as a solid improvement, both for tourists, but also for the crews and their families that live on the islands. 

The islands reopened, with major precautions, in early July 2020, with only a few cruises starting up in August 2020. It wasn’t until 2021 that tourism started to really rebound, however. As I write this latest update in 2023, cruise operators are now running full schedules again. My experience leading a workshop in late 2022 was that tourism was running at a decent clip, but down from the highest levels I’ve seen. Moreover, there’s now a more distinct tilt towards bigger boats.

There were changing requirements for visiting the islands during the pandemic, and this could return at any time. Initially, you needed to take two PCR-type tests, one prior to entering Ecuador, and another prior to leaving coastal Ecuador for the Galapagos. That changed to the following: you must have a negative PCR test result within 4 days prior to entering Ecuador, and you had to still be in that 4-day window before you get on a plane to the Galapagos. Today, those requirements have been dropped, though some tour operators require that you be fully vaccinated. I mention the specific requirements that were in effect at some point in 2019-2022 because COVID is not eradicated; it may return at any time with a new wave of mutated virus. Thus, don’t be surprised if the virus surges again and Ecuador once again reverts to one of its prior requirements. 

Note that if you tested positive for COVID in Ecuador during the period they were requiring tests, you had to quarantine in the mainland for 10 days and thus likely missed your entire tour or your return flight home. Trip insurance that includes COVID coverage is recommended, even today.

All Galapagos-bound passengers fill out a simple health declaration form, and your tour operator may issue you a safe-passage document to carry. 

The pandemic requirement to prepay the entrance fee on landing in the Galapagos has been lifted. This means that some tours are no longer charging you for that up front, and that you’ll need the US$100 necessary to pay that fee when your plane lands. 

When you arrive in the Galapagos, you'll be taken through an inspection/disinfection point at the airport and your temperature may taken. Masks were mandatory at the airport through most of 2022; I’m not 100% sure what the situation is today. 

The good news is that all ships in the Galapagos have new cleaning and other biosecurity protocols that have been heightened. The pandemic did make everyone in the islands more aware of the need to minimize the potential for virus- or bacteria-born infections to spread.

This information is current as of the date at the bottom of this article:

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