Traveling to the Galapagos Islands
Ecuador controls the Galapagos Islands. (Photo: Images )
The Galapagos Islands, 600 miles off the coast of Ecuador, are an environmental melting pot of volcanic peaks, diverse species and unadulterated tropical beaches. Crime is not considered a safety issue in the islands, but the lack of a U.S. Embassy, unregulated tour companies and unavailable medical facilities pose a threat.
A visit to the Galapagos Islands often includes a guided tour, but many of the boats and travel vessels are not regulated or up to international safety codes. Before booking a travel excursion with an outfitter, inquire about onboard safety measures such as the number of lifeboats and life vests and the ship's evacuation procedure. When you arrive in person, visibly account for these items and test your life vest before departing. If you are cruising to the Galapagos, spend the extra money on a shore excursion that is organized by, and liable to, the cruise line.
Emergency Medical Care and Travel Insurance
The Galapagos Islands have two hospitals but the staff and medical supplies are limited. If you are taking a cruise to the Galapagos, you may be better off visiting the onboard cruise doctor for health emergencies. Because decompression sickness care is unavailable or limited throughout the island, scuba divers should take caution on Galapagos dives.
In rare emergencies, you may need air transportation to Ecuador, which is an expensive endeavor if you are not insured. The U.S. Department of State recommends purchasing travel insurance with an air evacuation policy.
Immunizations and Sun Protection
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that you are up to date on all routine vaccines before taking a trip to the Galapagos. Vaccinations are also recommended for Hepatitis A and B, which are moderately to highly transmittable in this area. Unlike visitors to the mainland of Ecuador, you do not need a malaria or yellow fever shot.
Because the Galapagos Islands are on the equator, sunscreen protection is particularly important and should be applied regularly to avoid sun cancer. Apply mosquito repellent and use mosquito nets at night to avoid exposure to malaria and dengue.)
Before your journey to the Galapagos, sign up with the U.S. Department of State's Safe Traveler Enrollment Program (step.state.gov/step), which will provide a record of your journey in case of an emergency overseas. While there is no U.S. Embassy in the islands, you can call the U.S. Consular Agent to the Galapagos Islands during your visit.
Earthquakes and tsunamis pose a threat to the Galapagos Islands, but as of April 2013 no official evacuation plan is in place. Stay alert during your trip and pack a first-aid kit for weather-related emergencies.