Galapagos News

Introducing the Ocean Safari on the 16 Passenger "Integrity"

Let us know if you'd like to be pencilled in for this trip.

After a careful review of several 12-20 passenger luxury ships in Galapagos, taking into consideration their itineraries, their ownerships, on-board "feel", value-for-money, we've chosen to team up with the 16 passenger INTEGRITY for our Ocean Safari trips.   We will soon be posting it on our website - but are giving advanced notice here.  

Designed for adventurous, inquisitive and reasonably fit travellers who want to experience the absolute most out of their limited time in Galapagos, guests on our Ocean Safari trip will be happy to spend their down time on board our very comfortable ship, to debrief, decompress and relax after their day's many adventures, both above and below the sea. 

We will be operating 4 departures (10 days / 9 nights) in 2023:  

February 2-11   /   April 13-22 /  June 29 - July 8  /  July 13-22  


Price is US$8,995 / person, double occupancy and includes:  

  • 2 nights at a boutique Quito hotel pre-cruise (breakfast)
  • Quito World Heritage City private tour (lunch)
  • Domestic flight to Galapagos (return)
  • 7 nights aboard the Integrity (meals, 2 naturalist guides, snorkeling gear, wine/beer and more)

Above:  The Integrity - a very comfortable 16 passenger ship. Owned and operated by a long time Galapagos family. 

 

WHY DID WE CHOOSE THE INTEGRITY?

The Integrity scores very high on all criteria mentioned above - specifically:

ITINERARY:  The Integrity follows a very logically planned 7 night / 8 day uninterrupted course, ensuring you experience a maximum number of visitor sites for a minimum amount of navigation and disturbance.  There is no back-tracking, allowing the ship to follow a more relaxed agenda, to linger at visitor sites, and to veer off course to sail alongside a mega-pod of dolphins, or simply to cut the engines at sea and observe a group of orcas feeding nearby.  

Above:  The "Born of Fire" itinerary. Well-designed, no needless backtracking. 

 

OWNERSHIP:  The Integrity is wholly owned and fully managed and operated by the 2nd and 3rd generations of a Galapagos family, having immigrated from Germany nearly 75 years ago.  Being on site, they lead the day to day operation and maintenance of the ship, ensuring that work is carried out to perfection.  Their's is a labour of love - no corners are cut.  It's for good reason they decided to give the ship the name INTEGRITY.

ON-BOARD FEEL:  Looking at the new luxury ship additions to the Galapagos fleet, one could be excused for thinking that these were designed to cruise around in Miami waters. Stainless steel, designer furniture, pastel colours, plenty of fiberglass - all combine to inadvertently transport guests to a place far removed from Galapagos.  The Integrity's design focuses on tranquility and simplicity, resulting in an understated elegance that exudes peace and a zen atmosphere - all the better for nurturing the mind-trip that should be part of any Galapagos experience.  

Above: The lounge with the dining area in the background.  Large windows, generous use of hand-crafted tropical cedar fixtures, resulting in a warm, bright and calm atmosphere.

Above:  A standard cabin on board.  Spacious, with large windows.  Warm and inviting.  

VALUE-FOR-MONEY:   Many luxury ships are managed and/or owned by third parties and/or are under sales contracts with high end marketing partners. The usual global cruise brands operate the highest priced luxury ships in Galapagos.  These factors contribute to inflating the price of a trip on these ships, without any perceived benefit while on board.   The Integrity's owners have chosen to run a modest business operation, keeping overhead costs down, making it one of the smartest "value-for-money" luxury ships in Galapagos.  

 

 

DO YOU WANT TO BE PENCILLED-IN FOR AN OCEAN SAFARI DEPARTURE NOW? 
We anticipate (and hope!) that these trips will sell out rather soon.  Should you be interested in being on our waiting list, as we finalize our booking processes and website changes, please let us know.  Once we're ready to take bookings, we'll send you a note.   

 

CNH Tours launches a new signature trip to complement its very successful "Active Galapagos" on the 14 passenger Samba. The "Ocean Safari", on the luxury 16 passenger Integrity, will begin operating in 2023. We are accepting expressions of interest now.

From 1 July: Proof of Vaccination OK for Galapagos Entry

Following on our news item dated 3 June, tonight, the Emergency Operations Committee requested the Ministries of Public Health, of Foreign Affairs and of Migration to standardize entry requirements for both Galapagos and mainland Ecuador. 

As of 1 July, proof of full vaccination completed at leas 14 days prior to arrival will be acceptable for entry into Galapagos. 

While a negative PCR test will also be acceptable, the timeframe has been shortened from 96 to 72 hours.  This will make it nearly impossible to time a PCR test back home and make it into Galapagos within that time frame. 

The requirement for a "salvoconducto" (safe passage) will also be dropped on 1 July.   

Under the Microscope: International Community to Evaluate Galapagos Conservation

All World Heritage (WH) sites are subjected to international scrutiny, ensuring that the commitment to conserve the values for which they were allowed onto the World Heritage List is upheld.

The UNESCO WH Convention came into force in 1976 – it’s the only UN Convention to our knowledge under which countries give up a little bit of their sovereignty in exchange for having their most outstanding natural and cultural heritage sites formally recognized.   

To get a site recognized under the Convention, a country must formally submit a very detailed proposal in which they must present the case for inscription.   Only sites that meet strict technical criteria and demonstrate the “outstanding universal values” recognized by the Convention can be considered for the list.   Proposals and their justifying documentation often run at over 1,000 pages.   The process for developing and formally submitting such a proposal can take several years.  

Every year, UNESCO’s WH Committee (comprised of 21 elected representatives from among the nearly 200 countries that have ratified the Convention) will review these proposals, and guided by advice from technical experts, will decide on which new sites may be allowed onto the list.   The yearly event, usually in July, generates a tremendous amount of press coverage around the world.   A country having its site recognized by UNESCO is like winning a gold medal in the Olympics.   Local, regional and national politicians rejoice when a site is inscribed under their watch.

Above: World Heritage Committee meeting in St Petersburg


MINIMUM CONSERVATION STANDARDS MUST BE MAINTAINED... OR ELSE

But things don’t stop there.  Once having had their site admitted into the exclusive WH club, governments commit to maintaining minimum conservation standards.  To that end, the WH Convention secretariat in Paris (where I worked for 11 years) carries out on-going monitoring of a site’s state of conservation.  Through a variety of direct and indirect means, it gathers information / intelligence and assesses if a particular site risks falling afoul of WH Convention requirements. 

At its annual meeting, the WH Committee will also take several days to review “State of Conservation Reports” for up to 200 WH sites that, for one reason or another, elicit concerns in regards to their conservation status. 

GALAPAGOS UNDER THE MICROSCOPE

This July, the state of conservation of Galapagos will be subjected to the WH Committee’s review.  I used to lead that effort at the WH Convention’s secretariat (the WH Centre) and would produce, with support from technical advisors, the “Galapagos State of Conservation Report”.  The report described the latest information on conservation threats to the site, along with a summary of the Ecuadorian government’s own report on its efforts at dealing with them.   It concludes with a “draft decision” for the WH Committee to adopt, or amend.   Once completed, the State of Conservation report would be sent to the 21 members of the WH Committee for their review several weeks before the annual meeting.  At the meeting, I would present the content of the report, along with our technical advisors, and we would field questions from the Committee. 

WH Committee decisions usually call for the government to take specific actions on specific issues.  In the worst case scenario, should the WH Committee determine that a country is not assuming its responsibilities in the conservation of a site, it could decide to remove that site from the list (this has happened only twice in the history of the Convention).

The 2021 WH Committee meeting will be held on-line, from the 16th to the 31st of July.  The Galapagos State of Conservation report has recently been made public and can be consulted here (I have extracted the relevant 6 pages from the 492 page document). 

For those keen on understanding the mechanics of international conservation efforts through the WH Convention, it’s a good opportunity to be appraised of those issues that raise concerns.   In brief, as summarized in the report, these are: 

  • Fishing/collecting aquatic resources (illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing / collection of aquatic resources)
  • Legal framework (inadequate implementation of the Special Law on Galápagos)
  • Governance
  • Identity, social cohesion, changes in local population and community (high immigration rate)
  • Illegal activities
  • Impacts of tourism / visitor / recreation
  • Invasive Alien Species / biosecurity (inadequate and ineffective quarantine measures)
  • Major visitor accommodation and associated infrastructure

Again, for the full 6 page report, click here


CNH TOURS' PERSPECTIVE

From our perspective, having followed Galapagos conservation matters closely for nearly 25 years, the main underlying threat will always be the risk of introduction, establishment and spread of alien invasive species harmful to Galapagos biodiversity.  This threat exists only because there is a constant movement of people and goods between the mainland and the islands.  The greater this movement, the greater the threat, as species end up being introduced accidentally through food shipments, in people's luggage or by other means. 

While Ecuador has implemented excellent phytosanitary protocols designed to keep alien species out, more can always be done, and the system will never be perfect.  It is almost always overhwelmed by the volume of work it has to carry out. 

Tourism is the mainstay of the Galapagos economy, and growth in tourism is almost exclusively responsible for the increasing movement of good and people between the mainland and the continent.   While ship-based tourism numbers have been strictly capped for over 20 years and don't contribute to increased movement of goods and people with the mainland, land-based tourism remains open-ended.  It has been groing at double digit rates for 15 years (notwithstanding COVID years).  There is no limit to how many land-based visitors can come to Galapagos beyond what current infrastructure can accommodate.  Until this issue is addressed, it will be hard to manage the arrival of alien invasive species.  

Beyond the fact that an expedition cruise is by far the superior way to experience the best of what Galapagos has to offer, it's also the best way to keep a lid on the threat of introduction of alien invasive species as a visitor.  

Charter you own ship this summer - great deals on offer

Some very well-managed small ships have charter availabilities this summer (July - August).  These 14-16 passenger ships usually charter in the $56,000 - $70,000 range.  They are available for up to 50% off the usual price.  It's even a great deal for a group of 6-8 people.  

All adults in Galapagos will have been fully vaccinated by mid-June.   Ship's crew are fully vaccinated and strict health and safety protocols have been in place for months.  With proof of vaccination, you won't be needing to take a PCR test to travel to Galapagos starting later in June. 

 

It's an ideal time to travel with your intimate group - family / extended family, or friends. Contact us to explore options. 

 

Vaccinated? Red Carpet Entry into Galapagos

You should very soon be able to enter Galapagos simply by showing proof of vaccination.

For the time being, you can only get into Galapagos by showing evidence of a negative PCR test taken no more than 96 hours (4 days) prior to your arrival, while proof of full vaccination was acceptable only for entry into mainland Ecuador.   Last night, the Minister of Tourism, Niels Olsen, announced that this difference would be eliminated, and that proof of vaccination will be accepted for Galapagos entry “in June”.

Timing your international travel to Ecuador with a PCR test can be a bit tight.  For some, it meant taking two PCR tests, one at home before leaving, and another on the mainland in Ecuador before heading off to Galapagos.  That added to the cost of a vacation both in terms of extra days needing to be spent away, and in the added costs of PCR tests. 

For a lot of people, this requirement represented a barrier to Galapagos travel.   Now that it will be removed, it will be a lot easier for (fully vaccinated) people to plan and take their trip.  The Minister of Tourism seemed hopeful that the new measure will result in increased arrivals.  

The minister (newly appointed by the incoming administration in Ecuador) made his announcement at the end of Emergency Operation’s Committee (COE) – a body set up under the presidency.  The formal resolution from the COE consisted of a request to the Ministry of Public Health to update and standardize the entry requirements into Ecuador.

So, it appears that technically, we await the final word from the Ministry of Public Health before the measure is formally in place.

For those not vaccinated, you will be required to show proof of a negative PCR test taken no more than 72 hours prior to your arrival into Ecuador.   There is no word on how many hours of a delay will now be allowed for Galapagos.   It currently stands at 96, but if measures are to be standardized, perhaps that will change.    

Below: Niels Olsen, the recently appointed Minister of Tourism

Conditions for Traveling to Galapagos in the coming months

This week was an exciting one for CNH Tours.   We sent our first guests since March 2020 to Galapagos.   As travellers become vaccinated and gain confidence, tourism to Galapagos is slowly rebounding.  At CNH Tours, we sent our first guest to Galapagos this week (all from the USA, except for one guest from Spain).   They boarded the Samba this past Tuesday and today, they are snorkeling at Marchena Island.  Of the 65 ships in Galapagos, only the Samba visits this small, remote island.   The undersea wildlife our guests are snorkeling with sees only a maximum of 14 humans, once every two weeks - that's as unspoiled as it gets.    

While many people remain understandably wary of international travel, or live in countries making it difficult (imposition of quarantine measures on their return), over the past 2-3 months, we have seen a significant increase in bookings for trips to Galapagos.   People are getting vaccinated and feel increasingly confident.   Their confidence is further boosted by the knowledge that most of the Galapagos adult population is fully vaccinated, or will be by the end of June.   Also, the fact that health protocols are being religiously implemented on ships and on land adds an extra layer of reassurance.  

At CNH Tours, though we are very keen to help you plan and embark on your trip of a lifetime, we want to be absolutely sure that you are doing it with your eyes wide open to current conditions.   At the end of the day, only you can decide if it’s a good time to go.   If you are keen, and know the conditions, they we’ll be glad to help. 

For this reason, we provide below an update on the travel requirements to, and conditions in Galapagos for prospective travellers.

“DO NOT TRAVEL” Advisory

It’s important to note that on April 20,2021, the US State Department listed Ecuador (along with most other nations, including Canada) as a Level 4: Do Not Travel destination, while the Canada government retains an Avoid All Non-Essential Travel advisory for Ecuador. These advisories are meant to guide prospective travellers in their decision-making.   You will find that many travel insurance companies will take their cue from these advisories in deciding if the will offer coverage.   You will need to check on this issue before deciding to travel.

POSSIBLE DISRUPTIONS TO TRAVEL:  

While unexpected disruptions to travel can happen at anytime and for all kinds of reasons, during a pandemic, the risk is bigger.   Disruptions may come in many forms, such as:

  • Changes to in-country movement at short notice / imposition of curfews;
  • The imposition of quarantine measures with a little or no notice, in Ecuador or in your home country;
  • Limitations to the availability of medical attention;
  • Cancellation / rescheduling of national / international flights;
  • The closing of international borders with little or no notice (stranding travelers abroad).

Only you can assess your risk tolerance and make a final deciion on wether to travel or not. For those who would be more comfortable travelling outside of pandemic conditions, now is a great time to reserve your Galapagos cruise for 2022, or even 2023. We do anticipate quite a rush in the coming months and it may be that 2022 will be fully booked sooner than expected. 

MORE LENIENT CANCELLATION POLICIES: 

Ship owners understand that there are added risks traveling in this pandemic times.  In response, most ships in Galapagos are offering more lenient cancellation policies.  These come in a variety of forms, but they are all designed to reduce your financial risk when booking and making a deposit.  Please contact us for more information. 

If you are determined to travel under the conditions noted above, we present below the latest entry requirements for Ecuador and Galapagos (please note, Galapagos has stricter requirements).

ENTRY INTO ECUADOR – ADDITIONAL REQUIREMENTS DURING COVID TIMES

While the usual passport, and (for a few countries) VISA requirements remain in place, a few additional requirements have been imposed in response to COVID-19:

1)           Possess both Medical and Emergency Evacuation insurance.  Technically, this requirement was in place a few years prior to the pandemic and of course, we stronly recommend that you be adequately insured prior to travel.   We do note thatt, to our knowledge, no-one has ever been asked to show proof of insurance on arrival into the country.  

2)           Complete a Traveller Health Declaration form: Prior to your arrival into Ecuador, you will be asked to confirm your health status, including arrival and personal details and all countries you have visited in the past 21 days. You will also be asked to note your planned whereabouts in Ecuador for the first 21 days of your stay. Finally, you will be asked to declare if you have any symptoms of COVID-19. You will need to carry this form with you at all times while in Ecuador.

3)           Provide proof of one of the following COVID-19 to enter Ecuador:

  • A COVID-19 antigen test - obtained within 72 hours of travel – OR -
  • A COVID-19 PCR test (with a negative test result) - obtained within 72 hours of travel – OR-
  • Proof of having been fully vaccinated against COVID-19 vaccine (NOTE: Proof of vaccionation is NOT accepted for entry into Galapagos)

        NOTE:  You are only considered fully vaccinated:

  • 2 weeks after your second shot in a 2-dose series, like the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines, or
  • 2 weeks after a single-shot vaccine, like Johnson & Johnson’s Janssen COVID-19 Vaccine

(The rollout of COVID-19 vaccine to the continental population of Ecuador may take some time. For this reason, we are not actively encouraging our guests to travel on the continent for the time being.)

 

ENTRY INTO GALAPAGOS – ADDITIONAL REQUIREMENTS DURING COVID TIMES

These are the same as the requirements for entering Ecuador, with the significant exceptions below: 

  1. Proof of COVID vaccination is NOT ACCEPTED for entry into Galapagos, nor is an antigen test. You MUST show printed evidence of a negative COVID-19 PCR test obtained within 96 hours of entry to Galapagos: You may bring you test result from home, or you may procure your test from an Ecuadorian government authorized lab on the continent. If you choose the latter, you will need to reserve your test a minimum of 24 hours before you plan to take it. Turnaround time for your result is currently 24 hours. MUST BE PRINTED and brought with you to the airport on the morning of your flight to Galapagos.
  1. Safe Passage document (Salvoconducto): Issued by your ship, tour operator or hotel, notes where you will be staying for the initial portion of your time in Galapagos. MUST BE PRINTED and brought with you to the airport on the morning of your flight to Galapagos.

For official and updated recommendations and requirements emitted by the USA Center for Disease Control, including requirements for returning to the USA, see:   https://wwwnc.cdc.gov/travel/notices/covid-4/coronavirus-ecuador#vax

9 million Ecuadoreans to be vaccinated in next 100 days

The following is a Google translation of a press release published today by the office of the vice-president of Ecuador:

VACCINATION PLAN 9/100 STARTS THIS MONDAY

Quito, Pichincha.- The 9/100 Vaccination Plan against Covid-19, prepared by the Government, starts this Monday, May 31, with the purpose of inoculating 9 million Ecuadorians in the first hundred days, through three fundamental strategies: fixed points of vaccination, mass vaccinations and inoculation brigades.

To refine details of the stages that are part of the plan, this Thursday, the President of the Republic, Guillermo Lasso, met with Vice President Alfredo Borrero; the Minister of Health, Ximena Garzón; the Government Advisor Ad Honórem for public vaccination policies for COVID-19, Carlos Cueva, among other authorities of the Government.

It is expected that this Saturday, May 29, 700 thousand doses of the Sinovac vaccine will arrive; 500 thousand are pending of the previous agreements and 200 thousand donated by the triumph of President Lasso in the last presidential elections. "The remaining, 500 thousand doses, will arrive in June," added the president.

Likewise, the Minister of Health assured that "citizens are pre-scheduled, without the need for prior registration", through the new digital platform, developed with the support of the National Electoral Council, Ecuadorians will have the facility to know the day and the time of your vaccination.

The Vice President of the Republic, on behalf of the President, will lead the implementation of the Vaccination Plan 9/100 together with the Ministry of Public Health.

Book Review: The Beak of the Finch

Today, May 22, is celebrated as International Biodiversity Day. While Galapagos itself isn't a particularly biodiverse area (nevertheless, very high in endemism), Ecuador has one of the highest concentrations of biodiversity in the world. Shockingly, its small geographical area contains over 23,000 species -- this accounts for approximately 6% of known species worldwide. According to the TheEcologist.org, Ecuador has more species of orchids and hummingbirds than Brazil. 

As a way to mark the special day and the importance of scientists and field researchers in keeping our Planet as biodiverse as possible, we have reviewed The Beak of the Finch, by Jonathan Weiner. 

Simply put, The Beak of the Finch is a fantastic scientific summary that poetically transports the reader through space and time. It chronicles the work of both Charles Darwin and The Grants (capital "T" placed intentionally!), particularly focusing in on their concepts and observations of natural selection.

Rosemary and Peter Grant have been studying the finches of Galapagos, in particular those on Daphne Major, for now almost 50 years. (At the time of the book’s first edition, it was roughly 20 years). Anyone that has flown into or out of Galapagos from the airport on Baltra Island has seen both Daphne Major and Minor. They are located just west of the airport and can even be seen from the ferry that takes you across the Itabaca Channel. While you cannot visit Daphne Major, its sheer cliff edge and what appears to be inhospitable environment are apparent from a distance. 

A view of both Daphne Major and Daphne Minor, from the air.

 

The Grants, along with their “Finch Investigation Unit” (ie their field team, made up of various scientist that took shifts in the field to gather data), spent decades capturing ground finches on Daphne Major, banding them, taking measurements and blood samples, and then observing their mating (amongst several other features). Specifically, they were focused on the Large Ground Finch (Geospiza magnirostris) and the Medium Ground finch (Geospiza fortis). The reader learns of the effects of the various El Niño events on the magnirostis and fortis populations of Daphne Major and (without wanting to ruin anything with spoilers) the Grants make a monumental and ground-breaking discovery.

Throughout the book, Weiner jumps effortlessly from Darwin’s world to that of the Grants. He is able to juxtapose the two experiences both in Galapagos and back at their respective homes perfectly, highlighting both their methods of research in various, yet specific, ways. For example, he describes how meticulous Darwin was about keeping and filing his notes. Each notebook was stored in tall bookcases surrounding his fireplace, filed in such a way that Darwin would be able to reference his previous notes with relative ease. Weiner then brings the reader back to Princeton, where the Grants have boxes upon boxes of stored floppy disks, lined on a tall shelf around the room like crown molding. For those of us old enough to have experienced the clanking of a computer as it reads a floppy disk, Weiner’s writing on observing Rosemary Grant do exactly that will make you nostalgic. Whether you know what a floppy disk is or not, reading about what extraordinary amount and quality of data that was stored on all of those floppy disks by the Grants and their team will leave your jaw on the floor.

While describing the moment Weiner watches Rosemary as she loads the data inputted by the Finch team from field work conducted between 1976 to 1991: "There is a long pause while the computer clicks and clacks, but the screen stay blank. 'This is a big file', Rosemary says as she waits: '5,575 kilobytes, I think it is.' A file that size could hold about a million words, or the complete manuscript of Darwin's 'Big Book', Natural Selection, plus several editions of the Origin and the Descent of Man." 

Weiner’s descriptive writing transported me from cold and snowy Ottawa, to the shore of Daphne Major where ocean waves crash into the lava edge and make for a difficult disembarking from a small dinghy. Weiner’s writing style is captivatingly descriptive and precise. You feel for the researchers that were “on watch” during the drought of the 70s – it made me thirsty just to read those passages. Through his writing you can sense their yearning for rain and the finch breeding that rain would allow for – the frustration is palpable when rain doesn't arrive. At the same time, it was sheer joy to read through his description of heavy rain in Galapagos. Again, he is spot on in representing through language how it feels to experience such a downpour in the Islands.

It was a sheer delight to read Jonathan Weiner’s view and account of the Grants’ life’s work, tied into the history of Charles Darwin’s long and tumultuous struggle with his findings and theories. It truly transported me back to the Enchanted Isles. On a personal level, it brought me back to one of my absolute favourite experiences: While part of the Charles Darwin Foundation (CDF), I spent a few weeks volunteering on one of the CDF’s Landbirds Projects. This volunteer work entailed climbing up and then camping on the crater edge of Alcedo Volcano on Isabela Island and experiencing quite a few things that the “Finch Investigation Unit” went through as well. With those memories still fresh in my mind, I can claim with certainty, that Weiner’s descriptors of what field work is like in Galapagos is spot-on.

It’s a highly recommended read for anyone interested in the scientific background of why Darwin’s Finches are as famous as they are, while also for anyone keen to read about evolution observed in “real time”. It will transport you to Galapagos and while you’re there, tickle your brain with fascinating facts and details. (If you need further convincing of how remarkable it is, the work garnered Weiner the Pulitzer Prize.)

 Happy reading!

 

Arches to Pillars: Geological Evolution in Progress

The iconic Darwin's Arch,  a geological formation located at Darwin Island in the extreme north of the archipelago... is no more!  The central portion of the arch gave way earlier today, leaving behind a new geological wonder, Darwin's Pillars!  It had to happen one day.   The site is accessible only to scuba divers on a full 7 night / 8 day live-aboard trip.  

 

BEFORE: 


AFTER:

Launch of the 'Galapagos Hub'

The “Galapagos Hub” was launched this week and we believe it shows a true sign of (much needed) connectivity in Galapagos – both connecting on an interpersonal level as well as technologically. The launch was done via Facebook live, with majority of the presentation done by the President of the Governing Council of Galapagos, Norman Wray.

 

The Hub is described as a (virtual) space where information and knowledge can be exchanged between various national and international organizations, along with the communities of Galapagos, both from a wide spectrum of fields and areas of expertise. Its creators stress the importance of using this tool to ensure that, through science and technology, Galapagos will have an optimal balance between humans and the natural elements of the Islands. They will be using the 2030 Galapagos Plan as a guide and Wray mentions several times during his presentation that the work around this Hub will be free of ‘the usual corruption’ – very impressive to hear this type of blunt language used.  

 

“Seguimos potenciando lo que se ha hecho y queremos dar pasos fijos para el futuro.” (roughly translated to, ‘We continue to promote all which we have done and we want to create definite steps for the future.’)  – Norman Wray, Governor of Galapagos

 

While this type of international academic exchange has been done in Galapagos for decades (mainly through the Charles Darwin Foundation and its many collaborating institutions), the 'game changer' for the Galapagos Hub will be that it will operate in a whole new era of fast and reliable internet in the Islands.

 

During the presentation it was clear that the youth and young adults of Galapagos are primary beneficiaries of this Hub and used strategically throughout its creation; several young Galapagueño university students took part through pre-recorded videos.  Wray comments several times about how the young will use science to solve the world’s problems.

 

This new tool brings together two Ecuadorian universities – both of which have their own type of satellite campus in Galapagos. Other collaborators in the Hub include: two UK academic institutions – King’s College Cambridge and the University of Edinburgh; two Ecuadorian government organizations; and two non-profit, non-governmental organizations – one of which is our old stomping ground, the Charles Darwin Research Station.

 

Norman Wray presenting the four pillars of the Galapagos Hub, during the live event. (Translation: Innovation and Investigation; Networking and Awareness-Raising; Education and Strengthening Sciences; Politics)

 

This effort has been several years in the making, but the catalyst (as well as defining element required for its function) will be a fibre optic cable that is scheduled to be operational in Galapagos in January 2022. This cable has been discussed for many (many) years now and it will bring a truly revolutionary connectivity to the Islands. (While we may later discuss the potential issues of laying and running an underwater fibre optic cable through the protected Galapagos Marine Reserve, I believe that conservation work in the Islands has been greatly inhibited by the slow and limited internet.)

 

Almost as if pre-arranged, the connection from the feed of Mr Wray cut out around the 16 minute mark, as he was presenting live. Again highlighting the significant need for substantial improvements in internet connectivity in Galapagos. Once re-connected, Wray laughs and comments on how this just further shows how crucial this fibre optic cable is for Galapagos.

 

The launch was done live on the Governing Council of Galapagos’ Facebook page (@cggalapagos), but a recording is available should you be interested (translations weren’t available during the live event).

 

We look forward to seeing more advancements with this new initiative and certainly we will be keeping a VERY close eye on any updates regarding the fibre optic cable.

 

"Samba Northwest Itinerary April 13-20, 2021 BEST TRIP EVER!!"

We are copy-pasting this review that was posted on TripAdvisor yesterday.  Working hand in hand with the ship owner, we have been chartering the Samba for 22-25 weeks per year and started doing so 15 years ago for a good reason.  
Samba Northwest Itinerary April 13-20, 2021 BEST TRIP EVER!!
My husband and I recently spent 5 weeks in the Galapagos and tried to see almost everything that there is to see there. During this time we did a scuba liveaboard, stayed on Santa Cruz, Isabela, and San Cristobal doing day trips, and spent a week aboard the Samba for a naturalist cruise. Out of all of the incredible experiences we had in the Galapagos, Samba was our absolute favorite. In fact, Samba was the best excursion we have done, in any country, ever. 

We were extremely lucky to get booked with Samba after a different boat canceled us twice. Samba’s itinerary is unmatched by any other vessel in the Galapagos. We were able to go to Genovesa, Marchena (no other naturalist boats can go here), Fernandina, the west side of Isabela, and Floreana, all in one 8-day trip.

In my work life, I guide nature walks and teach kids about ecology and environmental science. I know how difficult it is to explain things to people in a way that is interesting and understandable. A lot of knowledge, charisma, and passion are needed to keep people engaged. Our guide, Juan Salcedo, was absolutely perfect for the job. He was by far the most passionate, knowledgeable, and well-spoken guide we have had anywhere. We learned more from Juan than from anyone else in the Galapagos. If you have a question about a plant, animal, ecosystem, geology, history, or anything else, Juan had an educated answer. He made sure we arrived early so that we could spend ample time at each site and everyone could get what they wanted. The photographers on board got amazing photos, and I learned A LOT. I especially love birds, which is one of the main reasons I wanted to come to the Galapagos. We got to see nesting boobies, flamingoes, petrels, flightless cormorants, and many others. We even got to swim with penguins! Juan made sure that we were never bored by allowing us to do additional activities such as waking up at 5am to swim with dolphins, or having a costumed equator-crossing party (complete with complimentary piña coladas!). Juan went above and beyond the duties of a guide. Even between locations, Juan and the crew were on the lookout for dolphins and whales, and we often would change course to get a closer look.

In addition to our excellent guide, the crew went above and beyond to keep us safe and comfortable. The boat was kept very clean and in good working order by the crew. The food was fantastic, and everyone was given excellent meals despite many different dietary restrictions among the passengers, including vegans, vegetarians, and people with food allergies. From the pangas, the crew kept a careful watch on the passengers as we snorkeled and kayaked. The voyages between different locations in the Galapagos were smooth, with most of them taking place during the night so that we didn’t waste any daylight. On board, we felt like one big family, so much so that we even lost a game of fútbol to the crew! They were all very friendly and professional, making our experience on board unforgettable.

The Samba is a very safe, comfortable boat. There are lots of areas to hang out, including the sun deck on the bow, a cool giant couch on the second deck at the stern, a seating area on the main deck at the stern, and an indoor seating area. Cabins were well-equipped with air conditioning and a private bathroom with ample hot water. Cabins were cleaned daily. Snorkeling equipment and wetsuits were provided, and there was an area to dry out equipment and clothing after snorkeling. There were also lots of kayaks available to use during our excursions, or you could choose to ride in the panga. All equipment was of high-quality and in excellent shape. 

We do not typically return to a location that we have traveled to, but we plan on returning to the Samba. We would highly recommend this trip to anyone that wants to get the most out of their time in the Galapagos. We saw everything that we wanted to see and much, much more! Thank you, Samba crew, for the best trip we’ve ever had!



Carbon Neutral in '22

Starting in 2022, all of our guests' activities in Ecuador will be carbon neutral.   We've worked out an average CO2 emissions from a typical trip (762kg or 1,672lbs), covering those emitted from your domestic return flight to Galapagos, and an 8 day cruise.   We will be working with Gold Standard.  According to its website (www.goldstandard.org), Gold Standard: 

...sets requirements to design projects for maximum positive impact in climate and development -- and to measure and report outcomes in the most credible and efficient way. 

Gold Standard is based in Switzerland.  It was established in 2003 by WWF and other international NGOs to ensure projects that reduced carbon emissions featured the highest levels of environmental integrity and also contributed to sustainable development.  It receives operational financial support from the United Nations and the World Bank, from the governments of Germany, Norway, Sweden, Switzerland and Luxembourg, from the World Wildlife Fund and from many other similarly reputable sources.

The average price / tonne for carbon offsets at Gold Standard is US$18.   By supporting Gold Standard projects to the amount of $13.72 / guest ($18/tonne x 0.762 tonnes), we will ensure that your Ecuadorian carbon emissions are offset.   

CNH Tours encourages all other travel companies to do the same.   As for our guests, you might want to purchase offsets for the emissions generated from your international travel.  Most commercial airline websites will provide mechanisms to facilitate doing so.  

If you'd like to know more about carbon offsets and how they work, please consult our "ALL YOU EVER WANTED TO KNOW ABOUT CARBON OFFSETS" document by clicking here.  

USA supports Ecuador's anti-poaching work

Wildlife trafficking is a massive issue on a global scale.  From shark fins to ebony, pangolin scales to ivory - the wildlife trade mafia is very well-organized and in many cases, its work is driving species to extinction.  All efforts to control this trade need to be supported.  The article below appeared in Ecuador's "El Comercio" newspaper on Earth Day last week.   

(original article in Spanish by Isabel Alarcón, translated by Google with minor edits by CNH Tours)

The fight against wildlife trafficking, illegal fishing and unauthorized felling of trees will be reinforced in the country.  The United States Agency for International Development (USAID) announced on April 22, 2020 that it will collaborate with the State Attorney General's Office in the fight against this type of activity that endangers the flora and fauna of Ecuador.

To address these issues, a specialized unit will be designed and implemented in the Office of the Prosecutor for wildlife crimes. USAID will provide technical assistance, as part of the project Strengthening the Governance of Natural Resources in Ecuador, and the World Wide Fund for Nature Ecuador (WWF) will support this work. Through this unit, the aim is to stop activities such as the trafficking of Galapagos tortoises or to contain the massive export of shark fins.

(above: Over 100 baby giant tortoises were discovered in a suitcase earlier this year)

Another initiative is to strengthen its IT infrastructure. Michael J. Fitzpatrick, United States Ambassador to Ecuador, says that the protection of the environment has become a central issue in the public policy, both internal and external, of the United States Government. In addition, he affirmed that President Joe Biden is committed to the fight against climate change. Among the initiatives carried out by the United States Embassy and Consulate in Ecuador is the training of 10 prosecutors. Two of these participated in environmental crime management issues and eight in the fight against wildlife trafficking.

 

This content has been originally published by Diario EL COMERCIO at the following address:

https://www.elcomercio.com/tendencia/ecuador-eeuu-trafico-vida-silvestre.html

18 and older in Galapagos? You'll be vaccinated by 31 May

The vice-president of Galapagos, Maria Alejandra Muñoz, announced yesterday that through an agreement with Pfizer, all Galapagos residents 18 years old and above will be vaccinated by the end of May.  

Galapagos is the most iconic wildlife tourist destination in Ecuador, if not amont the top on the planet.  By vaccinating its adult population, the govenment of Ecuador is telling the world that Galapagos is open for tourism. 

CNH Tours recommends that you travel only if you've been fully vaccinated.   Entry into Ecuador requires proof of vaccination, or a negative PCR test taken within 72 hours of arrival.  Entry in Galapagos requires a negative PCR test taken within 96 hours of arrival.

Ecuadorians choose a new government tomorrow

The 2nd and final round of national elections takes place tomorrow, 11 April.   The choice facing Ecuadorians is between Guillermo Lasso, a former presidential candidate and senior figure in the finance sector, and Andres Arauz, the young former finance minister under the populist government of Rafael Correa.  

The country faces massive headwinds.  Beyond the obvious challenges posed by COVID-19, Ecuador defaulted on its loans last year.  Built up over several years of very high oil prices, the oil exporting nation's national budget grew very rapidly.  It reached levels no longer sustainable now that oil prices have dropped by nearly 50%.  

You know things are going badly when even the left-wing Arauz's campaign promise is to "reduce national expenditures more slowly than what the other candidate promises".    

Ecuadorians have seen quite a revolving door of governments over the past 25 years.   From the impeached Abdala Bucaran (popularly known as the loving madman), to the chaos of dollarization in 2000, when the country abandoned is rapidly devaluating national currency, the Sucre, to the short-lived triumvirate following a military coup in 2000, and then the flight to Brazil of president Lucio Guttierez on 20 April 2005 (I was actually meeting with him in the presidential office on the 18th of April - and our meeting took place with the background chants of "Fuera! Lucio" [get out! Lucio!])... 

It came as no surprise that strong (and very handsome and charming) man, Rafael Correa, with a Ph.D. in economics, was welcomed by the majority of Ecuadorians as president in 2007.  Supported by high oil prices and generous loans from China, he spent liberally.  But his efforts to extend term limits for presidents were thwarted.  He was ousted in 2017, to be replaced by his right-hand mand, Lenin Morales.  Morales, faced with catastrophic fall in oil prices did an about-face on his predecessor's populist policies and even had him impeached.   

The new president will assume power on May 24th.  

Just before the 1st round back in February, we asked our Ecuadorian friend, Fernando Ortiz, to share his thoughts.  We posted them here

 

 

 

When Prince Philip Visited Galapagos

This article appeared yesterday in VISTAZO, a weekly variety magazine in Ecuador, following the death of Prince Philip.  He was a nature conservation champion, having played a leading role in establishing the World Wide Fund for Nature in 1961, and indirectly supporting the creating of the Charles Darwin Foundation.   Thanks to Google Translate for the English language version (with a few minor edits from CNH Tours). 

 

WHEN PRINCE PHILIP BECAME ENAMORED WITH ECUADOR AND GALAPAGOS

On the morning of Saturday, February 17, 1964, an unexpected commotion broke out in the streets of Quito. It was about the arrival of a figure who had never been to the country before and who, at that time, was surrounded by an extremely romantic aura, as the chronicles of that time narrate. Ecuador welcomed Prince Philip, consort of Queen Elizabeth II of the United Kingdom with open arms.

Philip spent a few days in Quito and then went to the Galapagos Islands, one of the country's greatest heritages, and the cradle of Charles Darwin's wildlife exploration, which led him to create the recognized theory of human evolution.

The prince, very interested in the conservation and research of wildlife, decided to visit the territory, of which today there is a tangible memory: on Genovesa Island, some steps were baptized under the name of Prince Philip's Steps.

Below:  Prince Philip and what appear to be petrels or shearwaters. 

(photo: Royal Post)

ARRIVAL IN QUITO

An article in Glance from that time narrates that the prince's passage through the streets of Quito was "a triumphant walk." The women threw flowers at him from their balconies and smiled warmly, a gesture the man returned.

“While it is true that the strict rules of protocol prevented this visit from being what the Duke really wanted - a fellowship visit - the three days that His Highness spent in Quito always provided ways for the public who observed him to realize of his intention” narrated Adela Egas G.

A series of measures were applied during the stay of the Duke of Edinburgh, among which are restrictions for the press and the lack of the gala ball, so common in the visits of the monarchs to other countries. However, Philip made three occasions and in each one of them people gathered to see him, greet him, and shout some words of friendship in doubtful English.

The duke was staying in the presidential suite of the Hotel Quito [CNH Tours note:  We consider the Hotel Quito “the grand old dame of Quito hotels still today”], which was redecorated by orders of the chancellery and the British embassy, ​​with carpets and paintings of national edges, which the prince would later have praised. In addition, 4 telephones were installed, one of them with a direct connection to London, a complete security assessment was carried out on the premises, the hotel's “Beach Club” was closed and a guard was installed in the elevator.

In the midst of the boorish English among his official retinue, he provided the only human note, always ready for friendship. At no time did he adopt poses that could give an idea of ​​presumption or pride and in all the acts that he attended he tried to talk to as many people as possible, he asked them questions regarding themselves and their personal occupations" said Egas.

Despite the protocol, Philip took time to practice his favorite sport: polo. He also would have wanted to go down to the Casino and the Rondador Hall of the Hotel Quito to entertain himself, but again, the chroniclers of that time attribute to the rigid protocol that the Duke could not carry out these activities.

"I have seen many of the famous cities in the world, but I have never been welcomed in one so fascinating, and settled in such a wonderful setting as Quito," said Philip during a visit to the Quito town hall, before leaving for Galapagos.

GALAPAGOS VISIT

According to a New York Times note at the time, the main objective of the Prince's visit was to study the work of the Charles Darwin Biological Station, inaugurated in January 1964. The station seeks to prevent the extinction of many species of animals, reptiles and native birds of Galapagos.

Philip traveled several kilometers over the rugged volcanic terrain of several islands, and in commemoration of his visit, the steps of a rock formation on Genovesa Island were called “Prince Philip's Steps”.

This structure is extremely steep and according to traveler reviews, they take some effort to climb them [CNH Tours note:  They are not that bad frankly].  There have even been reports of tourists who have slipped and one fell into the sea.

Below:  Negotiating the Prince Philip's Steps on Genovesa Island

Finally, the Duke of Edinburgh set sail on the Yacht Britania for Panama, where he would spend two days.

After his visit, Prince Philip became a sponsor of the Charles Darwin Foundation, and in 2009 he unveiled this life-size bronze statue of Charles Darwin at the University of Cambridge.

In that same year, Prince Charles, son of Philip and Queen Elizabeth; and Duchess Camilla of Cornwall, were in the Galapagos as part of a tour of South America. Carlos took as a souvenir one of the famous Panama hats, which are actually made in Ecuador.

100% Vaccination in Galapagos by End May?

Published on Bloomberg yesterday (30 March).  Click here for the story on the Bloomberg website.

Ecuador is trying to get more bang for the buck from its scarce Covid-19 shots by vaccinating the entire adult population of the sparsely-populated Galapagos islands, the nation’s main tourist attraction.

Authorities are targeting a 100% immunization rate on the Pacific archipelago of 30,000 people by the end of May, Norman Wray, the top government official on the islands, said in an interview.

That is intended to help revive the islands’ $350 million-per-year tourism industry, even while the rest of the nation remains virtually unprotected, with fewer than 1% of the population inoculated so far.

The volcanic islands attract about 250,000 visitors in a normal year to see animals such as the huge Galapagos tortoise and the group of bird species known as Darwin’s finches. The waters are rich in marine life including dolphins and hammerhead sharks.

The amount tourists normally spend visiting the islands each year exceeds the $290 million the country is planning to spend on vaccines.

Vaccinating people on remote islands involves medical staff taking bumpy speedboat rides while the vaccines arrive by plane or helicopter to keep them cool and stable, Wray said.

The health ministry said it couldn’t confirm whether Galapagos residents will be inoculated by Wray’s target date.

Fees paid by tourists to enter the Galapagos National Park plunged 77% last year, and at the height of the crisis in May the park took in less than $100 in revenue for the whole month.

Ecuador’s economy shrank 11% last year according to the International Monetary Fund, making it among the worst-hit in the region by the pandemic. And the tourism-dependent islands fared especially badly.

At one point, many locals ran out of cash, and some were reduced to bartering fish for staples such as rice and diesel, according to Wray and local residents.

Giant Tortoise Heist is Foiled

Yesterday, while carrying out routine x-ray monitoring of luggage being loaded onto a commercial flight from Baltra (Galapagos) to Guayaquil in the mainland, the airport authorities noted very unusual shapes on their monitor.   They took the suitcase aside to inspect it.   Inside, carefully wrapped in plastic wrap (presumably to reduce the scent and avoid detection by sniffer dogs), the technicians found 185 baby giant tortoises – 10 of which had already perished.    

This was how Nixon Alejandro, a police officer, was caught trying to traffic Galapagos wildlife.  

The illegal wildlife trade is huge – in the many billions of dollars annually.   From rhino horns to pangolin scales, or colourful bird feathers, and even live tropical birds, fish and more.  It’s so big and the illegal proceeds finance so many nefarious groups that the United Nations set up the Convention on the International Trade on Endangered Species (CITES) in 1975 to provide global coordination in an effort to control it.  One well-know conservation organization, TRAFFIC, focuses exclusively on ensuring that wildlife trade is not a threat to the conservation of nature.  If you are keen on learning more, see their website here.  

This is not the first time that CNH Tours has covered cases of illegal wildlife trade in Galapagos.  For a summary, see this news story.   In it, we cover other cases of giant tortoise and iguana smuggling, along with the shark fin trade.

In a statement, the Galapagos National Park indicated that the baby tortoises did not come from its breeding centers – where each tortoise is meticulously traced.   If that is the case, then Mr Alejandro obtained these baby tortoises from the wild somewhere.  In a way, it’s a good sign – a sign that wild populations are breeding well.  However, one can presume that Mr. Alejandro was not operating alone – it would be quite an effort to collect and store so many tortoise on one’s one, without at least others taking notice.  CNH Tours certainly hopes the authorities will carry out an effective investigation and apprehend his collaborators, both in Galapagos and on the mainland.   

A lot of growing up to do still! 

Are Females Responsible for Male Beauty?

Biological evolution happens thanks to a process of natural selection for characteristics that improve an individual’s (or a population’s) ability to survive and reproduce.   One dromedary that has a slightly better ability to go days without water than another is more likely to survive the next prolonged drought, and to pass on its genes to the next generation. 

 This mechanism is at the root of all “evolution-by-natural-selection” talk.  

But, if that’s the case, why do so many animal species display what appear to be wildly extravagant features that may in fact REDUCE their chances of survival?   The classic example used by people wondering about this apparent contradiction is the male peacock’s tail – an extraordinarily beautiful, yet cumbersome appendage that in all likelihood only helps draw unwanted attention from predators. 

   

Darwin spent some time thinking about this contradiction.  He came up with his theory of sexual selection – whereby, in parallel to natural selection, another force was involved in shaping the genetic make-up of future generations (see his book:  “The descent of man and selection in relation to sex”.  He postulated that females chose more attractive males as defined by plumage, colour, song, courtship displays.   He concludes that females have an eye for aesthetics, and by selecting males with bigger and more colourful tails, they are responsible for the evolution of beauty.

The suggestion that animals could have an appreciation for features that had no effect on survival went against the grain of popular thinking in Darwin’s day, and continues today.   But the debate rages on.  

In Galapagos, you’ll notice male “beauty” in the marine iguanas (on Santa Fe, Española and Floreana islands), the lava lizards and in some of the birds (the Vermillion flycatcher for starters). 

Male marine iguanas on Santa Fe, Española and Floreana islands can get very colourful.

For more on this hotly contested subject, you may want to read:  "The Evolution of Beauty:  How Darwin's Forgotten Theory of Mate Choice Shapes the Animal World - and Us", by Richard O. Prum.  The well-researched book was a finalist in the "General Fiction" 2018 Pulitzer prize awards. 

Anyone for Antarctica?

CNH Tours does not offer trips to a destination unless we have someone on the team who is an undisputed expert for that destination.   By "expert" we mean people who have been eating and breathing the destination for many years, and not just someone who has been on one or two familiarizaiton trips. 

We found our expert for Antarctica in Jane Wilson. Antarctica is in her blood - having had ancestors who were leaders in scientific work there - so much so that a medal in their honour is awarded to scientific achievement in their domain.   

Read more about Jane's background on our Antarctica Trip page here.   

Jane spent some time with us understanding the kind of people that typically approach CNH Tours for a Galapagos "trip of a lifetime".  We told her that our guests tended to be an inquisitive bunch, keen on getting the absolute most out of their trip, not afraid going the extra mile and of course, not at all averse to unmatched personalized service.   We asked her to identify what she considered a winning combination of ship and itinerary for our guests.



With that in mind, she identified a ship and two itinerary options that she assured us would fit perfectly with CNH Tours alumni.   

WHAT?

The "GRAND TOUR" - a 21 day itinerary from Ushuaia (Tierra del Fuego, Argentina) to the Falkland Islands, on to South Georgia Islands (the Serengeti of Antarctica) and over to the Antarctic Peninsula.

OR

The "PENINSULAR EXPLORER" - a 13 day itinerary from Ushuaia, with a focus on the Antarctic Peninsula, home of spectacular land, sea and icescapes and diverse wildlife. 

WHEN?

We are focusing on two specific departures:  28 Jan – 17 Feb 2023 (Grand Tour) and 18 - 30 Jan 2023 (Peninsula Explorer).   We'll be sure that any issues around COVID-19 should be well and truly behind us by then.   

OUR SHIP?

The Island Sky - carrying 112 passengers, kayaks and even camping gear, it's large enough to be able to navigate icy and at times lively seas in comfort, and small enough not to lose the sense of intimacy you expect to have when visiting these very special and very remote places.



For the full details, prices and booking, see our dedicated Antarctica page here.   

If you're keen on travelling on other dates or other ships, please contact us and we'll start a conversation. 

 

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