Note both the clearing in fees and the abundant difficulty with the local officials. From the cruisers network online web site. My emphasis added...
Good day, Nell-
Sundance is currently laying San Cristobal, Galapagos, having just checked in a few days ago.
We had originally planned to arrive a week earlier. However, after coming upon the World ARC fleet once again at Contadora Island, Las Perlas, we choose to give the flotilla a head-start. (It is our desire to follow in the ARC's wake due to crowded anchorages in the San Blas, limited slip availability at Shelter Bay, having our Canal transit date bumped (twice) due to ARC transits taking precedence, and concern about limited space in South Pacific anchorages.)
Upon our morning arrival into San Cristobal, after heaving-to to await daybreak, we were surprised to see several ARC boats still in the anchorage. Before our anchor was down, one of the ARC boats yelled over to us, and, subsequently, contacted us on VHF, to offer us a warning. We were also fortunate enough to meet up for sundowners and dinner that evening to hold a discussion at length.
Turns out the ARC fleet have endured overwhelming challenges in Galapagos! The following is a brief account provided by a few participants of the rally. Evidently, each vessel was boarded individually by a group of 10 officials. Several hours were spent on each boat while they thoroughly inspected every conceivable potential concern including, but not limited to, reviewing waste management, posting signs, fumigation, food stores and management, when was the last oil change, when will be the next, how are chemicals and oil disposed of, what type of agent is used to absorb and disburse oil (products were examined), calculating whether holding tank capacities could sustain the vessel's need through the duration of their stay, etc., etc.
Divers came and inspected each boat's bottom. 19 of the approximately 39 vessels were denied entrance into the Galapagos, and were informed they must put out to sea immediately. 1 of the vessels decided to sail on to the Marquesas, with a very dejected crew. The remaining 18 vessels were required to sail 70 miles north of the Archipelago and heave-to in the open ocean. ARC representatives negotiated an agreement with Galapagos officials to have several dive operators go out to the boats well offshore and clean their bottoms. The cost was $5,000 and took an additional 2 days.
Fortunately, our check-in process was far less eventful. Our agent, Bolivar Pesantes, arrived via water taxi to Sundance within an hour of our arrival in the harbor. (We notified him of our ETA via Satphone). When questioned about the ARC situation, he indicated that he would take care of everything, and there would be no such problems. Bolivar collected our boat documents, payment, and garbage (his request) and returned a few hours later with the Port Captain, who completed our paperwork in short order, and departed the vessel. Maximum time onboard was about 10 minutes. Bolivar indicated that only 1 other individual would need to come out to the boat, and apologized that she was unavailable until the morning. We were allowed to proceed ashore at this time.
Bolivar returned, with the inspector, at 8am. The inspector conducted a casual search, opening several lockers and drawers, reviewing our produce hammocks, rummaging through the top half of our iceboxes, and looking in our garbage. Any produce that looked less than perfect (limes with brown spots) was taken away, along with our christophine (chayote), because she did not know what it was. Note - No oranges or passionfruit, live plants, or soil is permissible. We had a whole bunch (stake) of bananas from Las Perlas which she did not like. But, after picking through them for a couple minutes, she left them behind. She explained that all garbage must be separated, the garbage container must have a lid, and black water must not be discharged. Also, she was not happy that our Panama Fumigation Certificate did not indicate which type of insecticide was utilized. Bolivar expressed that Panama is a very professional country and they would, of course, use the correct products. The whole process, relatively painless, took about half an hour.
Note - In the last couple of days, 2 vessels arrived without an Autografo. One left the next morning. The other left on the second day, calling out that he was going on straight to the Marquesas. Unfortunately, I have absolutely no idea of why, or any any details whatsoever.
Given the nature of Latin American culture, it may be possible that the ARC was targeted for any multitude of reasons. Alternatively, the tides may simply be changing for the worst, and Sundance was fortunate enough to negotiate the turbulent waters unscathed. Bolivar knows the game and is an excellent player. We may have paid a little more than the going rate for his services. However, as is always the case in the Caribbean and Latin America, a little money and a couple beers goes a long way.
Worth noting - Much is often said about the challenges of obtaining an Autografo, and that the process requires several months. In our case, we sent out 3 agent requests via email in Spanish. Bolivar was the only one that answered (4-5 days response time). (Ironic, since m/v Domino also sent out 3 email requests months ago, and Bolivar did not respond. As Bolivar does not speak virtually any English, I assume this to be the challenge.) Bolivar's response (in Spanish) indicated that he would be our agent, outlined the fees, and requested copies of passports and documentation. We sent copies of the requested documents the next morning. 4 hours later, Bolivar sent us an email saying that our Autografo was approved! That was it. No deposit. No need to obtain any faxes or file attachments. No nothing. KISS. Even simpler than our Panama Canal Transit managed to be.
For your reference, I have outlined our fee structure below. Our agent took care of everything. We did not have to go to a single office. He took our passports and had them stamped, and obtained our National Park and Galapagos passes.
$270 - Port Captain: Service of Reception & Arrival (based on GRT; $12.27 per GRT)
100 - Service of Inspection and Quarantine
31 - Service of Immigration ($15 per person, plus $1)
200 - National Park ($100 per person)
20 - Council of the Government of the Galapagos ($10 per person)
25 - Photocopies & Transportation of Authorities (Water Taxis)
20 - Collection & Transportation of Garbage
25 - Inspection of Casco (Hull?)
148 - Agency Services
300 - Agency Services (Autografo)
$1139 - Grand Total
Whether an Autografo is prearranged or not, all fees except the $300 will be applicable if you make landfall in the Galapagos. In our case, the Autografo ensured we adhered to the law, allows us to visit San Cristobal, Santa Cruz, and Isabela, for a period not to exceed 60 days maximum. Note - Floreana is not a possibility through Bolivar. Our understanding is that other agents may be able to include this destination, at risk of damaging their relationship with the National Park officials.
Unrelated closing thought: Fascinatingly enough, while the Galapagos Islands are arid and dry, relatively speaking, than the tropical mountains of Panama, the variety, quality, and cost of produce here is vastly superior to that found on the Isthmus. Much of it is grown right here, including oranges, mandarins, limes, passionfruit, tomatoes, bananas, watermelon, basil, cilantro, guava, avocado, green beans, and more. The remainder is supplemented, at higher cost, by imports from Chile and, to a lesser degree (ironically), mainland Ecuador. I remain at a loss, after traveling throughout South and Central America, as to why Panama lacks the remarkable abundance and variety of produce present in all the other countries (excepting beautiful Belize).
Hope this helps,
Glen D. Hurd