Destination guide: Galapagos, Ecuador
The Galapagos National Park is one of the most attractive destinations in Ecuador and is home to giant turtles, prehistoric iguanas and other unique species. For many tourists, the Galapagos Islands or “Enchanted Islands” as some people call them are a true paradise, where you can find beautiful white sand beaches, lava tunnels and one-of-a kind native flora and fauna.
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Galapagos - Practical Information
There are around 12 main islands and 12 minor islands. Five of the islands are inhabited. About half the residents live in Puerto Ayora, on Isla Santa Cruz in the middle of the archipelago, which is also the most important island from the traveler’s point of view. North of Santa Cruz, separated by a narrow strait, is Isla Baltra, home to one of the islands’ major airports. A public bus and a ferry connect the Isla Baltra airport with Puerto Ayora.
Puerto Baquerizo Moreno on Isla San Cristóbal, the easternmost island, has become more important with regards to tourism. Its airport receives an almost equal number of flights from the mainland and while more tours start from Isla Santa Cruz, Puerto Baquerizo Moreno is another option.
The other inhabited islands are Isla Isabela, with the small port of Puerto Villamil, and Isla Santa María (Floreana), with Puerto Velasco Ibarra – both have places to stay and eat. Regular public ferries or private boats provide interisland transportation. The remaining islands are not inhabited by people but are visited on tours.
Costs in Ecuador have risen, but it’s still affordable. Budget travelers can get by on $20 per day, staying in the cheapest hotels, eating almuerzos (set lunches), cooking their own food and taking buses rather than taxis. Raise the ante to around $40 per day, and you can stay in modest but comfortable hotels, take cab rides when you’re feeling lazy, eat in better restaurants, visit museums, go out at night and cover the occasional $10 national park fee. Spending $50 to $70 per day will allow you to sleep and eat in style, plus partake in plenty of nightlife.
Things get expensive when you start adding tours (climbing, mountain-biking, bird-watching and other tours cost $35 to $80 per day), staying at jungle lodges or haciendas and – priciest of all – visiting the Galápagos Islands.
1L petrol: $0.54
1L bottled water: $0.80
Pilsener beer, store-bought: $1
Chochos (lupine beans) with toasted corn: $0.50
Souvenir T-shirt: $5-10
Bus travel per hour about $1
Set lunch $2-3.50
Short cab ride in Quito $2
Private language class per hour $5-7
One-way mainland flight $60-90
Weights & Measures
Most travelers entering Ecuador as tourists, including citizens of Australia, New Zealand, Japan, the EU, Canada and the USA, do not require visas. Upon entry, they will be issued a T-3 embarkation card valid for 90 days. Sixty-day stamps are rarely given, but double-check if you’re going to be in the country for a while. Residents of most Central American and some Asian countries require visas.
All travelers entering as diplomats, students, laborers, religious workers, businesspeople, volunteers and cultural-exchange visitors require nonimmigrant visas. Various immigrant visas are also available.
Obtaining a visa is time-consuming, so commence the process as far ahead of your visit as possible. Visas enable holders to apply for a censo (temporary-residence card) and pay resident prices in national parks, as well as on trains and planes. Visas must be obtained from an Ecuadorian embassy and cannot be arranged within Ecuador. All (nontourist) visa holders must register at the Dirección General de Extranjería ([tel] 02-223-1022/3; cnr 10 de Agosto & General Murgeón, Edificio Autorepuestos, 4th fl; [hrs] 8am-1pm Mon-Fri) in Quito within 30 days of arrival in Ecuador.
If visa holders wish to leave the country and return, they need a salida (exit) form from the Jefatura Provincial de Migración, which can be used for multiple exits and re-entries. Visa holders who apply for residency need to get an exit permit from the immigration authorities in Quito before they leave the country.
Each traveler is able to import 1L of spirits, 300 cigarettes and a ‘reasonable’ amount of perfume – all items are duty-free. There is no problem bringing in the usual personal belongings, but if you plan on bringing in something that might not be considered a ‘usual personal belonging’ you should check with an Ecuadorian consulate.
Pre-Columbian artifacts and endangered-animal products (including mounted butterflies and beetles) are not allowed to be taken out of Ecuador or imported into most other countries.
- Banks open at 8am and close between 2pm and 4pm Monday to Friday (though money-changing services usually stop around 2pm). Andinatel, Pacifictel and Etapa telephone call centers are almost invariably open 8am to 10pm daily. Post offices are generally open 8am to 6pm Monday through Friday and 8am to 1pm Saturday in major cities. In smaller towns they’ll close for lunch.
- In Quito and Guayaquil, most stores and businesses of interest to tourists stay open from 9am to 7pm Monday through Friday, usually with an hour off for lunch (around 1pm).
- Government offices and businesses such as Amex are open from about 9am to 5:30pm Monday to Friday, also with an hour off for lunch around 1pm. In smaller towns, especially in the hotter lowlands, lunch breaks of two hours are not uncommon. On Saturday, many stores and some businesses are open from 9am to noon.
- Stores in major shopping malls are open between 8am and 10pm daily.
- Restaurant are generally open noon to 3pm and 6pm to 9pm. Bars usually open around 5pm and close between midnight and 2am.
Telephone service is readily available throughout Ecuador and is operated, depending on where you are, by one of three regional companies: Andinatel (mainly in the highlands and Oriente), Pacifictel (mainly in the coastal lowlands) and Etapa (in Cuenca). These companies operate centros de llamadas (telephone call centers) in many towns.
Public street phones are also common. Some use phonecards, which are sold in convenient places such as newsagents. Others accept only coins. All but the most basic hotels will allow you to make local city calls.
International calls from an Andinatel, Pacifictel or Etapa office are as cheap as $0.35 per minute to the USA and $0.45 to the UK and Australia. Rates are 20% cheaper on Sunday and after 7pm on all other days. Internet cafés provide even cheaper ‘net-to-phone’ services.
Hotels that provide international phone connections very often surcharge extremely heavily. Collect (reverse-charge) calls are possible to a few countries that have reciprocal agreements with Ecuador; these agreements vary from year to year, so ask at the nearest telephone office.
All telephone numbers in Ecuador have seven digits, and the first digit – except for cellular phone numbers – is always a ‘2.’ If someone gives you a six-digit number (which happens often), simply put a ‘2’ in front of it.
American-style plug with two parallel flat blades above a circular grounding pin
Japanese-style plug with two parallel flat blades