You need ‘em. How to get ‘em:
Ecuador limits the number of people who are allowed into the Galapagos each year, and they do so by issuing $20 Transit Control Cards for anyone who wishes to visit. The tour books, travel sites, and even Ecuador’s own information page are all somewhat vague on how to sign up for them, pay for them, and where to pick them up. Hopefully if you’ve found this page, it will take some of the guesswork out.
STEP ONE: PRE-REGISTER ONLINE
For the love of God, please pre-register. You will thank me later.
You can register on this site: https://siiws.gobiernogalapagos.gob.ec/siicgg_web/ingresoTCT.jsp. When you go there, your browser may freak out and give you a warning that this isn’t a secure site. Ignore this warning and force your browser to let you access the page.
The site is entirely in Spanish. Do not let Google translate it into English. If you do, it will not process your application. If like me you’re not fluent in Spanish then do what I did: Open the form in Chrome and let it translate the page, then in another window open the form in Explorer and fill it out in Spanish.
Once you submit your application, you will NOT get any kind of confirmation code or email letting you know that it went through. As long as you don’t get an error message, though, you should be good.
STEP TWO: PICK UP CARD AT AIRPORT
I traveled through the Quito airport, but I presume the same procedures apply at the airport in Guayaquil. Before departing from Ecuador to the Galapagos, you will have to go to two stations. One is the SICGAL inspection station for your luggage, where they look for any kind of prohibited fruit, seeds, or nuts, as well as single-use plastics which are also prohibited on the islands.
The other is the INGALA counter, where you will pick up your Transit Control Card. Please leave ample time to pick up your card by arriving three hours before your flight time. The line will be long and slow, particularly because of all the people who did not pre-register online. If you did pre-register, then once you get to the counter all you need to do is show the agent your passport, hand him the $20 dollar fee, then after he punches a few buttons you will be on your way.
If you did not pre-register, then you will have to verbally give the agent all the information that would have been on the form, and people in line behind you will scowl and plot nasty things to do to your luggage.
STEP THREE: ENTERING AND LEAVING THE GALAPAGOS
Once you land in the Galapagos at the Baltra Airport, you will present your Transit Control Card at the park entrance desk and pay the admission fee (currently $100 per person). Hang on to your TCC; you will have to present it again when you return to the airport for your departing flight.
Bon Voyage, and enjoy your stay in the Galapagos!