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Avian Influenza (H5N1) in Galapagos

One of our clients' most frequently asked questions

Avian Influenza (H5N1) in the Galapagos Islands

Last Update: 21 September 2023

The Galapagos Islands, renowned for their unique biodiversity and pristine natural beauty, have recently faced a new challenge with the emergence of avian influenza (H5N1) outbreaks among bird populations. While this remarkable archipelago remains open to visitors, precautionary measures have been put in place to safeguard both the iconic wildlife and travelers.

At Galapatours, we believe in providing our travelers with the most accurate and up-to-date information to ensure their safety and peace of mind during their journeys. In this article, we aim to shed light on the avian influenza situation in the Galapagos Islands, the measures being taken to address it, and what it means for travelers who wish to experience the unique beauty and biodiversity of this extraordinary archipelago.

Galapagos National Park's Swift Response

In response to the avian influenza outbreak, the Galapagos National Park Authority has taken swift action to protect the islands' delicate ecosystems. Their proactive measures aim to prevent the virus from spreading among avian species, including iconic species like the Blue-footed Booby and the Galapagos Penguin.

One key strategy is the temporary closure or restriction of access to specific visitor sites. These measures are taken in response to confirmed avian influenza cases or as a precautionary measure. While this may affect travel itineraries, it's a vital step in safeguarding the islands' unique wildlife.

It's important to note that the Galápagos Islands remain open and accessible to all travelers who wish to explore this remarkable natural wonder. The Galápagos National Park Authority, in collaboration with local cruise operators and authorities, is actively managing the situation to ensure the safety and well-being of both visitors and the unique wildlife of the islands.

Biosecurity Protocols in Place to Safeguard the Galapagos

The Galápagos National Park Authority has been swift and decisive in its actions. Their primary goal is to protect the unique and fragile wildlife that has made these islands a living laboratory of evolution.

The biosecurity protocols implemented by the Galápagos National Park Authority encompass a range of measures designed to minimize the potential transmission of avian influenza among bird colonies. These measures include:

  • Temporary Site Closures and Access Restrictions: In cases where avian influenza-affected birds or potential risks are identified, specific visitor sites like: Genovesa Island, Pitt Point (San Cristobal Island), Vicente Rock Point (Isabela Island), Suarez Point (Española Island) will be temporarily closed. This strategic approach aims to prevent any potential interaction between visitors and affected bird populations, reducing the risk of disease transmission.

  • Enhanced Hygiene and Sanitation: Stringent hygiene practices are being enforced, particularly in areas with high visitor traffic. This includes the disinfection of footwear and equipment to prevent any possible contamination. Visitors are encouraged to adhere to these measures diligently.

  • Rigorous Monitoring and Surveillance: The Galápagos National Park Authority, along with local and international experts, conducts ongoing monitoring and surveillance of bird populations.

Low Risk, High Awareness

While the risk of human infection with avian influenza in the context of a visit to the Galapagos is assessed as low, vigilance and adherence to health and safety guidelines are essential. It's important to remember that avian influenza is primarily a disease affecting birds and does not easily transmit to humans.

Stay Informed and Flexible

Staying informed during your Galapagos adventure is not just a matter of convenience; it's a key aspect of responsible travel in light of avian influenza (H5N1) concerns. The situation can evolve, and real-time updates are your best ally in making informed decisions. Pay close attention to local guidelines provided by your Galápagos Specialist and the Galápagos National Park Authority, as these are crafted with the islands' unique ecosystem and your safety in mind.

Now, let's talk about flexibility – a mindset that can transform challenges into rewarding experiences. While itinerary adjustments may be necessary due to avian influenza concerns, consider these changes as opportunities to delve into different facets of the Galapagos Islands. Every corner of this archipelago offers unique wonders waiting to be discovered, and embracing adaptability allows you to explore these hidden treasures. Remember that travel insurance can provide an added layer of assurance during your journey, covering potential itinerary changes or disruptions. Our unwavering commitment is to your safety and well-being. By staying informed, flexible, and vigilant, you can embark on a Galapagos adventure that not only respects the islands' fragile ecosystems but also rewards you with unforgettable moments of awe-inspiring wildlife encounters and responsible exploration. Your safety and the conservation of this remarkable destination are at the forefront of our mission.

Last update: 14 February 2022

Since August 2020, travel to Ecuador and the Galápagos Islands is possible again. The first Galapatours guests returned to the islands already in September 2020 and since then, dozens of happy travelers have returned from our trips to the Galápagos. The Galápagos Islands remain a safe place to travel.

The Status Quo

Ecuador is coming through the COVID-19 crisis far better than its neighboring countries. The vaccination campaign is showing great results. By September 2021, more than 80 percent of Ecuadorians over 18 are fully vaccinated. By the end of the year, the government aims to reach this figure for all 12-year-olds and older as well. On the Galápagos Islands, Corona vaccinations were obligatory: 99% of the islands' population has been vaccinated and there have not been reported cases since more than two months. Ecuador currently reports only 60 new infections per 100,000 (US: 840, Germany: 230).

All European countries have lifted their travel warnings for Ecuador already in September 2021. The US maintain a level 3 warning ("Reconsider Travel"), but we expect this to be lifted very soon, too.

National parks, beaches and main sights are open. Ecuador has a general mask requirement in public, which is strictly enforced by the entire population. Hygiene regulations are in effect in hotels and restaurants and are enforced very consistently. Respectful spacing also takes place. These measures mean that people are once again allowed to move freely around their country. The same applies to tourists. The fantastic mask in the picture above (Designed and sold by Lanine Fisher) can be purchased here, by the way.

Entry to Ecuador: RT-PCR or Fully vaccinated

As of 11 February 2022, any traveler over 3 years of age must present a vaccination certificate with QR code or a COVID-19 vaccination card with the last dose at least 14 days prior to departure, or a negative result of a qualitative RT-PCR test performed up to 72 hours prior to traveling to Ecuador. In addition, a health declaration (download here) must be filled out. Quarantines do not apply. If arrivals do not have a test and proof of vaccination, they must take it directly at the airport and then stay in a hotel in Quito or Guayaquil until the results are available. Any passenger who has been diagnosed with COVID-19 and after one month does still have a positive RT-PCR Test, must present a medical certificate issued in the country of origin which guarantee the passenger is no longer in a contagious phase.

The country's borders with neighboring Colombia and Peru remain closed. Travel is only possible by air. The airports in Ecuador are open since June 1, 2020. American Airlines, jetBlue, United, Delta, LATAM, Air Europa, Iberia and KLM all operate regular non-stop flights to Quito or Guayaquil several times a week. Domestic flights are available with Avianca and LATAM, as well as ground-based travel with intercity buses and rental cars. Entry to Ecuador is prohibited, for travelers who started their journeys in or transited through the following countries: South Africa, Botswana, Egypt, Mozambique, Lesotho, Zimbabwe, Eswatini (Swaziland) and Namibia.

Entry to the Galápagos Islands: PCR or Fully vaccinated

To enter the national park of Galápagos, you will either need a negative RT-PCR test or proof of full vaccination. The RT-PCR test must also not be older than 72 hours. Further entry formalities such as the Transit Control Card registration can be done online just like the check-in to the flight.

Return journey

Travelers from the US will need a negative PCR-Test to enter the US. Since Ecuador is without a travel warning from the EU, European citizens no longer require a PCR test for their return trip to Europe.

Recap: Galápagos, a safe destination for everyone

  • as of now, 99% of the population is vaccinated against Covid-19
  • everyone coming to the islands must be PCR-tested OR vaccinated
  • there is an extremely low population density with only 1.5 person per mi2 (< Canada)
  • all visiting sites are remote and uninhabited
  • there is only a limited number of travelers from a handful of nationalities allowed
  • small yachts hold only up to 16 to 20 guests and are ideal for small groups

The founder and executive director of Galapatours, Benno Schmidt, was in Ecuador and the Galápagos Islands in December 2021 and experienced an almost normal country. Feel free to call us if you have further questions for our travel specialists or Benno himself. Click here to make an appointment.

Absolutely. It is a legal requirement for all vessels operating Galapagos cruises and tours to have a current maritime safety certificate. This means all vessels comply fully with Ecuadorian maritime law.

You may find that some Ecuadorian standards are a little lower than those that would be applicable in the USA or Europe, but the fundamental safety and security of the boat operations is absolute, and our boats have an excellent safety record.

The following is a broad guideline for vaccinations for Ecuador and Galápagos Islands (short stay). If you intend to travel more widely in Ecuador or elsewhere in South America, then please seek further specific advice.

  • To enter Ecuador and Galápagos, you need to be vaccinated against COVID-19 or present a valid PCR-Test. More information about COVID-19 specific rules can be found here
  • If you enter Ecuador from a country where yellow fever exists, you must have a vaccination against yellow fever.
  • If you plan to travel to the Ecuadorian Amazon, you might need a vaccination against yellow fever as well. Please check with a physician specializing on travel to tropical regions!
  • Other recommended vaccinations, depending on the region you travel to, are: Hepatitis A, Typhoid Fever, Tetanus (if not up to date) and other routine vaccines that you may not have had. Also, here, please compare the CDC's pages.

CDC's page about travel information to Ecuador

*Please do not rely on this information alone, but do visit the CDC's page about travel information to Ecuador. Please also be aware that we are not legally allowed to give you binding recommendations on CDC vaccinations for Galápagos cruises to Galápagos or trips to Ecuador and cannot take responsibility for the completeness and correctness of this information. Please visit a travel health clinic or take advice from your personal physician at least 8 weeks before you travel.

When you travel to Galapagos, an appropriate overseas health insurance with validity for Ecuador for the entire duration of your stay is not obligatory because the law has never come into effect but it is being strongly recommended.

Please don't travel without cover. Not only will you receive assistance in the event of a medical emergency whilst you are in Galapagos, you could also be denied entry to the country. Please make sure that your policy covers you for travel to all other countries you intend to visit during your trip and also covers you for activities like swimming, snorkeling and kayaking. If you are traveling on a diving cruise, then you will need specialist cover and should not rely on a standard travel policy.

At Galapatours we only work with boat operators who adhere to the highest standards of hygiene and food safety, and who only use the best equipment. Away from your cruise boat, we are unable to vouch for the practices of other service providers you may encounter, so you should take some sensible precautions.

On Board

The food, drink and ice provided on all our Galapagos cruise vessels is perfectly safe and can be enjoyed without worry. Bottled water is always provided, and we recommend you use this for brushing your teeth as the water from the taps in your cabin is, of course, stored in tanks for the duration of your journey.

Away from your cruise boat

  • Wash your hands frequently with soap and water or hand sanitizer;
  • Away from your Galapatours boat drink only bottled or boiled water, or carbonated (bubbly) drinks in cans or bottles. Avoid tap water, fountain drinks, and ice cubes in uncertain areas.
  • Eat only thoroughly cooked food or fruits and vegetables.
  • To prevent fungal and parasitic infections, keep your feet clean and dry, and do not go barefoot unless your guide says it is fine to do so. This doesn't apply on board your yacht or on sandy Galapagos beaches;
  • Don’t eat food purchased from street vendors;
  • Don’t handle any animals, to avoid bites and serious diseases.

On a Galapatours cruise you will be completely safe. All our crews are 100% trustworthy and for safety we operate an "open door" policy on all our boats, meaning no one locks their cabin doors.

Our expert naturalist guides will ensure you don't get yourself into any dangerous situations involving cliffs or other natural hazards, although you are expected to be sensible and be responsible for your own welfare when you are on excursions.

Elsewhere in the islands, crime is rare and people feel very safe. For additional reassurance, tourism police regularly patrol the main tourist destinations. Nevertheless, you should always use common sense in Galapagos and take appropriate precautions, such as securing valuables and keeping cash and cards out of sight.

If you are prone to motion sickness then here are a few hints to help you.

Firstly, book a cruise on a bigger vessel or on a catamaran. Larger boats and catamarans are more stable, and so roll less in the swells. Some examples would be the Ocean Spray, La Pinta, or Galapagos Legend

Secondly, avoid September and October cruise dates. Because of the activity of the currents that hit the Galapagos, these months tend to see the roughest seas.

Thirdly, take medical advice on anti-seasickness medication. Some traditional remedies are said to be very effective, such as taking ginger or using commercially-available acupressure wristbands.

All boats in the Galapatours fleet are maintained to a very high standard, with many being purpose-built for Galapagos cruising and only a few years old. All boats carry an engineer as part of the crew, and because of this, anything more than a minor breakdown that is quickly fixed is rare.

In the unlikely event of something major occurring the boat operator will be responsible for resolving the situation appropriately. If mechanical or other problems have negatively impacted your trip and you are not satisfied with the way the boat operator has dealt with it, please let Galapatours know as soon as possible. We will assist by liaising with the operator for you if required and progressing any complaint that you may have. For our cancellation policy, please compare our Terms and Conditions.

Your safety is of utmost importance to us. As you are traveling without a tour guide or one of our company's representatives, you will have to alert local services directly in case of emergencies. Therefore, please keep in mind the following advice before your journey with us:

  • Have a list of possible emergency phone numbers at the destination (e.g. local hospitals, consulate or embassy).

  • Always carry our emergency phone number with you (which you can find in your travel documents).

  • In addition, carry the emergency number of your travel health insurance.

  • Finally, make sure to review and understand the luggage checklist (e.g. take sufficient medication with you, tips for your first-aid kit, keep a copy of your passport, etc.), which you received as part of your travel documents.

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