COVID-19 and the Islands

This page is (hopefully) temporary. 

The COVID-19 pandemic shut down tourism in the Galapagos for about half a year, including one of my planned photo workshops. 

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 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, might 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 a few cruises starting up in August 2020, and more in the fall. As I write this, most of the cruise operators are now running at least partial schedules.

There have been some changing requirements for visiting, though. Initially, you needed to take two PCR-type tests, one prior to entering Ecuador, and another prior to leaving coastal Ecuador for the Galapagos. Recently, this has changed to the following: you must have a negative PCR test result within 4 days prior to entering Ecuador, and you must still be in that 4-day window before you get on a plane to the Galapagos. If you can't meet this requirement, you'll have to perform another PCR test in mainland Ecuador that also produces negative results before boarding your plane to the Galapagos. Note that this means if you test positive in Ecuador, you'll have to quarantine in the mainland for 10 days and will thus likely miss your entire tour. Most tour operators can provide an "all-inclusive quarantine package" should this happen to you, but that will obviously be at extra cost to you.

All Galapagos-bound passengers must now fill out a new health declaration form, and your tour operator should have issued you a new safe-passage document you must carry. You will also be required to prove that you have health insurance (your tour operator can help you with this). In order to cut down on people interactions in the islands, your Galapagos National park entrance fee now also must have been prepaid—you used to be able to pay it at the airport as you entered the park—your tour operator should also manage that process for you.

When you arrive in the Galapagos, you'll be taken through multiple disinfection points at the airport and your temperature will be taken. Masks are mandatory in public, including while onshore, and the 2m (6 feet) social distancing guideline applies. Some visitation sites near the few towns in the islands have maximum time limits on visitation.

All ships in the Galapagos have new cleaning and other biosecurity protocols that have been heightened. Some are reducing the number of guests per guide so that groups are smaller when walking together onshore. But as I write this, Galapagos tourism has restarted, and most operators are back offering tours.

I'd still suggest that we all minimize our travel until the pandemic is well under control, which probably won't be until mid-2021, depending upon vaccine deployment.

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

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