History of Galapagos Tourism

A few years ago, INGALA, the Ecuadorian governmental agency that regulates all things pertaining to the Galapagos Islands, began issuing the “Transit Control Card” (in Spanish, tarjeta de control de tránsito, or TCT). This card is designed to help control immigration to the Islands, which boomed in the 1970s.

Decades ago, no one was interested in going to Galapagos. The rocky, sun-drenched islands had little to offer visitors or colonists from Ecuador.

Most of the land isn’t suitable for farming, there is nothing worth mining (except for some salt, and salt mine experiments didn’t work out very well) and the currents can make even fishing dangerous.

Ecuador, which claimed the Galapagos Islands not long after gaining its independence from Spain, wanted to make sure that they had a legitimate hold on them, but couldn’t convince anyone to go. Therefore, the Ecuadorian government set up penal colonies on the islands, sending prisoners and guards to occupy those islands that had fresh water, such as San Cristobal, Isabela and Floreana. Charles Darwin visited one such penal colony during his 1835 visit.

By the 1950s, there were small towns on a couple of the islands, as the descendents of the prisoners and some adventurous Europeans began making a living, mostly by fishing. But the 1970s brought a tourism boom to the islands, as thousands of foreigners began wanting to see the beautiful islands and their nearly tame wildlife.

Suddenly, Galapagos was the place in Ecuador that everyone wanted to be, and poor Ecuadorians flocked to the islands to make a living in tourism.

By the 1990s, the quickly growing population needed to be controlled, as the fragile island ecosystems were in peril. No one was allowed to move to the islands from the mainland any more, but unemployed Ecuadorians continued to try to get there in order to find work in secret.

As a result, INGALA has instituted the TCT to help keep track of who is coming and going to the islands. Visitors must go to a booth in the airport with their plane tickets to get the card, which costs $10 (cash only).

The card is turned in at the end of the trip. Often reputable tour operators will prepare the cards ahead of time for their customers. If you’ll be getting your own card without the aid of a guide or tour agency, plan on a little extra time in the airport.

To get your Transit Control Card, you’ll need the following information handy:

  • Complete name, as it appears on your passport
  • Passport number
  • Nationality
  • Date of birth

The $10 fee for the card is used by INGALA for many different projects, including population monitoring on the islands, conservation and sustainable development and long-term planning for all aspects of life in the islands.

For more information about the INGALA Control Card, or other inquiries related to your Galapagos trip, don’t hesitate to contact one of our trip advisors. Start planning your vacation now and support the efforts of the Ecuadorian government and National Park.