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Cruising Grounds: Know-before-you-go Galapagos Islands yacht guide

Cruising Grounds: By Fernando Espinoza

The Galapagos Islands, on the Equator in the Pacific Ocean, are an archipelago of unrivaled beauty, mystery and amazing creatures, now well-known as the “enchanted isles”. The area is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and a biosphere reserve. The Galapagos National Park also contains Galapagos Marine Reserve, which is considered among the top 10 best diving locations in the world.

The Galapagos Park is a complex ecosystem, where 2 percent of the islands are dedicated for the use of humans and the rest is a national park. Along the well-marked trails of visitor sites throughout the islands, there are wild animals. The areas are actually an open zoo controlled by park rangers.

Most yachts set an eight-day cruising itinerary because many islands are up to 40 miles apart.

To visit Galapagos National Park, yachts must abide by the following governmental regulations for non-commercial vessels entering the area. Private non-commercial foreign vessels may only visit the Galapagos Islands Protected Areas once a year with a maximum of 15 days and cannot make passenger changes during the visits.

Plan ahead for Galapagos Islands trip

Permits required before visit

Yachts should obtain permission or “autograph” to enter Ecuadorian waters through the pertinent authorities. Agents are authorized to process these for private yachts whose captains are willing to follow Galapagos park rules and regulations.

This process goes through several Ecuadorian governmental institutions and normally takes about eight weeks. In a last-minute circumstance, the process can still take up to a couple of weeks and issued only when there will be no changes on the guest or crew lists.

Once the permits are approved and cruising fees paid, the agent must submit them to the director of the Galapagos National Park at the administration headquarter offices on Santa Cruz island in order to have the yacht’s cruise itinerary approved.

  • Arrival in the islands

If a yacht is not working with an agent on arrival to any of the four inhabited islands, crew need to check-in to the port captain’s office and then to the immigration office to pay required fees. To avoid the entrance of foreign organisms to the islands, the yacht must obtain a certificate of fumigation from the last port in which it was stationed, which will need to be presented at this time.

  • Arrival to Galapagos National Park

When working with an agent, arrival to the Galapagos Islands must be on Cristobal Island. All pertinent documentation and a park inspections are required in order to be granted an itinerary and final permission from the Galapagos National Park administration in Santa Cruz Island.

  • Galapagos National Park fees

Each visitor to the park, whether entering by boat or commercial aircraft, must pay the national park entrance fee of $100 per person for older than 12 years old and $50 for children under the age of 12; this is a one-time charge. For yachts, there is also a cruising fee of $200 per person (plus crew) per day of an approved itinerary for each day.

The cruising Itinerary must be approved by the Galapagos National Park offices and the services of a naturalist guide are considered a normal requirement for all ships that visit the park.

If a yacht prefers to anchor in one of the ports or use the services of local vessels only, visitors must pay only the entrance fee to the National Park ($100 per person, one-time charge); but under this regulation, the yacht cannot move to other islands unless issued a permit obtained by an agent.

Limited fuel in the islands

Fuel provisioning for yachts is only on Baltra island; there are no marinas. Fuel is administered and controlled by the Ecuadorian government at the Navy and Air Force base. The facilities are only for diesel and aircraft fuel with a refueling dock for yachts and small cruise ships. It is mandatory to have a code permit, together with an “autograph”, even for small amounts of fuel, in which case an agent can process the request.

The inhabited islands in the region are Cristobal, Santa Cruz, Floreana and Isabela, where there are basic services, small shops, supermarkets, laundry services and good restaurants, but no fuel.

Facilities limitations

Although there are no marinas, there are safe anchoring bays among all the visitor sites and among the inhabited islands, including Cristobal, Santa Cruz, Isabela and Floreana.

The two main airports are Baltra, next to Santa Cruz, and Cristobal, with numerous commercial flights every day at both airports.

The majority of food provisioning for all the local islands markets comes from the mainland cities of Quito or Guayaquil in Ecuador.

Park guides requirements

Among all the Galapagos visitor sites, it is mandatory that tourist activities are guarded by a licensed naturalist guide. A professional licensed guide is required for a private yacht. The guide stays onboard overnight for extended itineraries. For daily tours, guides can meet the yacht in the morning and disembark at night.

Guide are compensated for their work. The cost for a knowledgeable, multilingual and

experienced guide is between $250 to $350 a day. These guides are well-versed in natural history, geology and the unique animals including Galapagos land iguanas, marine iguanas, Galapagos giant tortoise, flightless cormorant, frigate birds, blue-footed booby and Galapagos sea lions.

Watch for next article, Optimize Galapagos Island visit with seven-day itinerary

Fernando Espinoza has worked as a yacht agent in the Galapagos Islands with Galapagos Yacht Agency (galapagosyachtagency.com) since 1997. He has worked with many yachts over the years including M/Y Dream Seeker, M/Y Lone Ranger and M/Y Amanti. Based in Miramar, Fla., he is a dive master with 30 years as a naturalist dive guide.

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