Travel is Back in the Galapagos Islands, and it May Serve as Framework to Restart the Cruise Industry

A quick primer and informative video on visiting the bucket-list destination from Metropolitan Touring, the pioneer of cruising in the Galapagos Islands


Good news for travelers: Not all travel is on hold, including in the cruise industry, which saw a few lines restart operations in August 2020 and continue to serve guests since. Better news for travelers: As the cruise and travel industries work diligently to reopen to the fullest, one bucket-list cruise destination, the Galapagos Islands, has created a framework for safe travel that may serve as an example to follow in other parts of the world.

Located some 600 miles off the Pacific coast of Ecuador, the Galapagos Islands’ national park, authorities and travel companies were pioneers in developing a framework for low-impact encounters with the natural world back in the 1960s. While some 70 small vessels once explored the islands and islets that make up the archipelago, currently only around half-a-dozen ships are sailing consistently. Vessels in the region have always been small, with most carrying fewer than 50 passengers. Indeed, today only five ships are certified to carry 100 passengers, the maximum allowed under strict Galapagos regulations.

Due to its high level of endemism, unique species and historical importance, 97% of the land in the archipelago has been protected as a national park — Ecuador’s first — since 1959, while its marine reserve ranks among the world’s largest. Historically, the islands have been highly regulated in order to protect their species and ecosystem from invasive species and human impact. Biosecurity regulations have simply been extended to include COVID-19 with a raft of sensible precautions over the last year, ensuring the safety of travelers and travel industry employees in the UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Additionally, Galapagos does not receive any international flights, meaning there are effectively three filters in place to reduce the risk of any virus entering: international airports, Quito and Guayaquil airports and the two airports in Galapagos. The Galapagos population is also the most tested and traced in Ecuador, with vaccination programs aiming to inoculate the majority of the population over the coming months.

So, what is it like to explore the wonders of the islands via cruise ship right now? Click on the video linked below and have a look:

Entry requirements for Americans traveling to Ecuador and the Galapagos Islands:

  • Airlines will check that travelers have a negative PCR COVID-19 test certificate taken within 10 days of their arrival date in Ecuador before embarking for their flight(s). Travelers without the correct certificate will be denied boarding.
  • Travelers must fill out a health status and contact information form.
  • Upon the arrival of flights at airports in Ecuador, the Ministry of Health will carry out random, rapid antigen tests on passengers ages 14 and over. In the case of a positive antigen test, travelers will be required to isolate for 10 days in government medical centers free of charge.  Health officials will also check travelers for COVID-19-related symptoms and carry out antigen tests, if necessary.
  • Several countries, including the United States, require that returning travelers show proof of a negative COVID-19 test result taken within the previous days.

Metropolitan Touring, the pioneer of cruise travel in the Galapagos Islands, offers assistance in coordinating PCR and antigen COVID-19 tests and results for international guests who require them, either a) at the airport in Quito on return from the Galapagos or b) at Casa Gangotena, any urban Quito hotel, or hotels in Guayaquil. Test results can take up to 24 hours to be delivered, so itineraries should be adapted to allow time before return international flights.

The coordination and testing in Quito and Guayaquil are available free of charge for those traveling aboard one of Metropolitan Touring’s expedition vessels or enjoying a multi-day package at the Finch Bay Galapagos Hotel. For other guests, the company’s complimentary assistance extends to coordinating tests and results, with costs to be paid by guests directly to the government-approved laboratory.

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