All you wanted to know about domestic air fares to Galapagos but were afraid to ask

CNH Tours has been helping people make arrangements for their Galapagos trip of a lifetime since 1999.  During those years, we’ve answered a LOT of questions. So many in fact that TripAdvisor asked one of our team members to become their “Destination Expert”.  

One of the questions we often get is about airfare to the islands.  There’s a lot of confusion out there.  In this short article, we try to clear things up for you.

GOVERNMENT POLICY: Different fares classes according to your nationality.

Galapagos is an international wildlife destination, yet many mainland Ecuadorians can’t afford to go there.   In an effort to make access to Galapagos a little more equitable, the government has made the lowest air fares available only to Ecuadorian citizens[1].

As a result, foreigners can only buy air tickets of a superior air fare class.  While these come with added benefits in terms of luggage allowances and ticket changes, they are also a little more expensive (but not much when you factor in the full price of a Galapagos vacation).      

Sample Ticket Prices (return, Quito – Galapagos – Quito)

These prices are indicative and may fluctuate significantly. 

Foreigner:  Typically starting at about US$420 return, going to as much as $580 for generous check-in luggage allowances, more comfortable seating and fully flexible terms (refundable, allowing for date changes).

Nationals:  Typically starting at $300 return.

Where to purchase tickets?

You have several options:

  1. On-line, using the website of the airlines that service the islands. These are currently:  AVIANCA, EQUAIR and LATAM.   The user experience on these websites may not always be ideal.  They may or may not clearly indicate the fare options that are applicable to you as a function of your residency.  It is critical that you purchase a ticket with the right class code.  If you don’t, you’ll be dinged $150 on check-in.
  2. Through a walk-in travel agency on the mainland.
  3. Through an expert Galapagos travel company while booking your Galapagos trip from home (like CNH Tours…).


Sample ticket classes (all the information below is subject to change but illustrates the various benefits that come with booking a higher priced ticket)

(*) IMPORTANT:  Fares marked with an asterisk are for Ecuadorians only.  If you happen to purchase a ticket with a class fare reserved for Ecuadorians, you will be charged a $150 fee at the airport when checking in.  Some airlines don’t offer these lower fares on their English language sites.

Purchasing flights when you are joining a group visit

If you are participating in a multi-day tour trip arranged by a travel company, flights may be included.  By including the flights in the trip, the travel company is ensuring that all participants will be on the same flight, arriving at the same time and at the same Galapagos airport (they really don’t like being in a situation where they can’t find their guests…).  The fare class selected in this case will depend on the travel company’s policy.  Most of them will reserve tickets of a class that will allow more flexibility and refunds.   They also often make use of the extra baggage allowance to ship food and other supplies from the mainland to the islands. 

Buying your air ticket independently when part of a tour group

While not all travel companies / ships will encourage this, it may be possible to do so, and perhaps save a few dollars.   If you choose this approach, it is absolutely essential that you be sure your ticket will get you to the right Galapagos airport at the right time to meet your group, and also depart from the right Galapagos airport at which your trip will end.  There are two airports with flights to and from the continent and if you happen to choose the wrong one, you may find yourself at the wrong place and at the wrong time to either meet your group on arrival, or to catch your flight back to the continent.

Also, even if you book the right route, if you are not on the same flight used by the ship or tour group, and if your flight is delayed or cancelled, you run the risk of missing the embarkation of your ship. 

We always recommend that you book the flight on which the rest of the group is travelling, to avoid the possibility of such complications. 

Travellers without any commitments

If you have no need to arrive at a specific airport at a specific time, if you’re not meeting up with others, booking your own air tickets is less risky.  

Are fares discounted at times?

While rates are usually pretty stable, there are variations and some discounts might be offered from time to time.  There is no magic formula that will clinch the best deal.  Early morning flights may be cheaper, and the prices may change from week to week.  Prices during the high season (national holidays, school holidays etc.) may be higher. 

There are permanent discounts for children from 2-11 years old (typically 33% discount) and for children under two that sit on your lap (typically 90% discount). 

Using points

You may be able to use your frequent flyer points – check with the airline.  This option will likely be more difficult to choose if you’re joining a trip organized by a travel company.

Read the fine print

As noted, some fares are not destined for foreigners.  Airline website will usually indicate that – but it may not always be obvious.  Some fares reserved for Ecuadorians might only appear on the Spanish language version of the airlines website.


Acknowledgements: Thank you to Adriana Vallejos Yar, long time CNH Tours Quito representative, and Avianca team member, for helping out with this article.






[1] They have a similar policy for the Galapagos park entrance fee:  $100 for foreigners, $7 for Ecuadorians.