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Clearing In and Out of Galapagos Islands – With an Autografo

By Val Ellis last modified Mar 21, 2011 05:18 PM

Published: 2011-03-21 17:18:27
Countries: Galapagos

Report by S/V OCEANS DREAM. MARCH 2011

We considered the options of applying for an Autografo to give us access in our own vessel to the other inhabited islands of the Galapagos or accepting the limitations of arriving without an Autografo and remaining in the port of arrival and thereafter using ferries or a tour to move between the island/s. In either case, an Agent is required and we wrote to all the Agents listed on and decided upon Bolivar Pesantes Palma of Nuagala Marine Company on the basis of price and expedient responses. In broad terms, the cost of an agent at the port of arrival only is from US$150-200 and the cost of an agent in processing and supporting an Autografo is US$400-600.

We opted to obtain an Autografo for the following reasons:-

    1. We wanted to see as many of the islands as possible and were not keen on leaving Oceans Dream at anchor whilst we toured independently.
    2. The additional costs of the Autografo and checking-in fees was significantly less than the cost of the cheapest tour or a comparable itinerary using local ferries and hostal accommodation ashore.

Our port of arrival was Wreck Bay, San Cristobal and Bolivar handled our arrival procedure effectively and efficiently. Clearing-in was completed within 24 hours, including an inspection by representatives from the Port Captain, Park Authorities and immigration. The fees were as quoted by Bolivar originally. Having spent a week on San Cristobal, we advised Bolivar of our intention to sail to Isla Isabela and then to Santa Cruz to clear-out. There are no immigration facilities in Isabela thus Santa Cruz has to be the last port of call. Bolivar presented us with two sets of documentation to forward on to his agent in Isla Isabela and Santa Cruz.

Arriving in Isla Isabela, we were called by Bolivar's agent as the anchor was being set. He spoke excellent English and guided us quickly and effortlessly through the process of clearing-in with both Port Captain and Park Authorities - again, another inspection of the boat. Upon requesting a Zarpe to move to Santa Cruz, this was provided within 24 hours.

On arrival in Santa Cruz, we contacted Bolivar's representative who shortly afterwards came out in a water-taxi to advise us there would be an inspection of Oceans Dream but as this could not take place until the afternoon, we were free to go ashore. Having returned int he afternoon, we waited but no team arrived from the Port Captains office. At 0700 the next day we were told by Bolivar's representative there would be no requirement for the inspection and we just needed to go to immigration and that afternoon we later discovered that this was to clear out as we were only intending to spend 7 days in Santa Cruz before heading off to the Marquesas.

Observation 1:
There is without doubt considerable uncertainty, rumour and confusion over the correct way to access the Galapagos Islands. What is for certain that you must engage an agent. Despite this, we met a number of cruisers who, for economic reasons, decided they would try and go it alone - none were successful . Indeed, one Canadian boat, having arrived at San Cristobal and advised he needed an agent to clear-in, departed and arrived in Isla Isabela. Here he sought the sanctuary under the International Maritime Law of permitting vessels 72 hours respite without having to clear-in. They abused this privilege and went ashore where upon one of their children had an accident. Eventually, they were ordered to leave but without doubt, this caused considerable annoyance to the authorities in both Isla Isabela and San Cristobal. This was not an isolated incident during our stay in Galapagos and we suspect that the authority's tolerance may well be short-lived and the ability of cruisers to stop here could be jeopardised.

Observation 2:
Upon arrival in both San Cristobal and Isla Isabela we were boarded by representatives the Port Captain, Park Officials and Immigration. They inspected both the vessel for animals, rodents and plants as well as all the appropriate documentation. Following's recommendation, we obtained a fumigation certificate in Panama and whilst this was inspected, we know of other vessels which did not have such a Certificate yet were free to enter the islands.

Observation 3:
There is no consistancy in the fees charged by the various Authorities. For example, arriving in Isla Isabela, we were charged US$54.60 to the Port Captain and nothing to Immigration. Then US$42 for our Zarpe to go to Santa Cruz. In Santa Cruz, upon arrival, we paid US$4 to the Port Captain and US$11 to Immigration (including our exit stamps). The initial fees paid to Bolivar in San Cristobal were not set out in an invoice as he assured us his reputation was worth more than any distortion of the fees due.

Our 5 weeks in the Galapagos Islands have been truly memorable. Not only for the wildlife but also for the people we have met on the various islands. It really is a magical place. The US$100 per person Park Fee we conclude is extremely good value for money, taking into account there are no extra costs to access wildlife, breeding centres etc and the presentation is of an extremely high standard. We will be sad to leave the islands and hope that for many years cruisers will be able to enjoy the Galapagos as we have done. However, should cruisers continue to flought the regulations, we genuinely believe the Autographo may come to an end.

Our thanks to ‘Oceans Dream’ for sending us the most instructive report.