A Galapagos airport is the most common place to begin your stay on the islands, and travelers can choose to arrive at either the airport on Baltra or the one on San Cristobal. Flights depart from both Quito and Guayaquil, but regardless of your point of origin, most tourists who fly to the Galapagos Islands will arrive on Baltra, as most flights route through this island, and many cruises originate from near there.
Baltra Island is not officially part of the Galapagos National Park. It was used as a base for the U.S. Armed Forces during World War II, during which time the airport was established. After the war, the base became the property of the Ecuadorian government, which uses Baltra Island as a navy base. Sadly, much of the wildlife that was native to Baltra was decimated during the island's use as an army and navy base, and only recently have land iguanas, for instance, been reintroduced to the island.
If you have booked a boat tour or cruise, you will likely fly to the Galapagos Islands and arrive at Baltra airport. Your tour operators will arrange bus transportation for you, either directly to a cruise ship at the dock on Baltra, or to the ferry heading to neighboring Santa Cruz Island, where you will be transferred to your cruise ship or yacht. Most of the Galapagos travel agencies operate out of the town of Puerto Ayora on Santa Cruz, so if you want a wide range of travel options, Baltra may be the best Galapagos airport for you. Puerto Ayora has a range of hotels, resorts, and restaurants, making it a good choice to stay for a land-based visit. You can take the bus and ferry to Puerto Ayora, and from there explore your options for day trips or multi-day tours.
Be aware that there are no ATM services at Baltra Airport, so be sure to bring a supply of ready cash, in U.S. dollars, and in small increments, as $100 bills are not usually accepted. You will have to pay the Galapagos National Park entrance fee right away upon arrival, so make sure you have the money handy. In Puerto Ayora there are some ATMs you can use, but it's best to bring enough cash for a few days just in case.
If you choose to fly to the Galapagos Airport on San Cristobal, you will be within a short taxi ride to Puerto Baquerizo Moreno, the provincial capital of the Galapagos Islands. As the second-largest settlement in the islands, there are some hotels, hostels and restaurants here, as well as a friendly colony of sea lions right on the town's beach. There are ATMs available in town, but as always, bring enough ready cash to last for at least a few days. San Cristobal can also be a good land base from which to explore the islands via day trips. The San Cristobal airport only operates a few flights a day, so you can expect a quiet and calm experience, with friendly and helpful service.
There are no direct flights from international destinations into the Galapagos Islands. If you want to fly to the Galapagos Islands, you will have to book a domestic flight through either Aerogal or TAME, two domestic Ecuadorian airlines. Both airlines fly to Baltra, while Aerogal also operates some flights to San Cristobal.
Image: ddrmaxgt37 (flickr)