Galapagos News

Yet another opaque “must visit” list to enjoy with salt

Putting lists out there is recommended by advisors in the search engine optimization business and is considered a type of “click bait” - designed more to drive eyeballs to one's website, often more than to actually inform.  How many such lists have we come across in magazines, social media etc?   Who has not seen the likes of:

  • 5 best pizza restaurants of Naples
  • 6 best TV shows of 2021
  • 8 biggest shopping malls in the USA
  • 10 best beaches of the world
  • 6 funniest cat videos…

The Galapagos regularly makes it on such “must visit” travel destination lists. The latest click bait material appears in a Forbes Magazine article, entitled “The 10 Coolest Places To Go In The Next 10 Years, According To Experts”. Galapagos appears alongside other “cool” places like “Cambodia and Thailand” and “Mexico”. It must be a testament to the truly outstanding nature of tiny Galapagos to be on par with entire countries. 

While we wholeheartedly agree that Galapagos should be at the top of the global travel destinations (for wildlife enthusiasts), shared with only a small handful of other places, we do feel that these lists belittle its iconic status (with all due respect to Cashel, in Ireland's Tipperary county, pictured below...).  

To make it onto Forbes’ list, the author “tapped a few of the people [she checks] in with every year" – three travel industry representatives. It seems the only criteria to have made it onto the list was to be “cool”. This is not what we would call a very rigorous methodology. It’s also one that is open to all kinds of abuse…. Did these experts have any vested interested in promoting tourism to these destinations? We can only guess. In the article, each gets to push a particular product (a hotel, a cruise ship…), along with having the website of their travel company appear. In the on-line world, getting your website mentioned in the Forbes magazine is worth quite a lot of money.

According to the expert who recommended Galapagos as a “cool” place for 2022:


“After a year of being closed (see note #1) the Galapagos is finally open, and the marine and land wildlife is more prolific than ever! (see note #2)

Forbes magazine travel industry expert


Note #1: Graph illustrating monthly visitor numbers to Galapagos in 2020. FACT: The Park was closed for only 4 months.


Note #2: My colleagues at the Charles Darwin Research Station say there is no evidence that wildlife numbers have been affected by the absence / reduced number of tourists during the pandemic - though behavioural modifications have been noted. 

 

A List you can Take to the Bank
For eleven years, I worked for the World Heritage (WH) Convention’s secretariat, located at the UNESCO headquarters in Paris. The WH Convention secretariat’s job is to manage the most prestigious list on the planet: The WH List.

To make it there, a country proposes a site for consideration by the international community. The site has to meet very strictly defined heritage and conservation criteria. It has to demonstrate that it stands out at the global level in its respective category. It must go through a very rigorous evaluation, carried out by not-for-profit organizations staffed by heritage professionals.

The WH Convention was the product of over many years of work by the international community. More widespread enthusiasm for the idea came about after Egypt revealed plans to build a huge dam on the Nile River – which would flood the Abu Simbel archaeological site. Egypt claimed that it did not have the expertise nor the financial resources to do anything about it – but the global community, through the United Nations (UNESCO - the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization in this case) mobilized the necessary effort and succeeded in moving the massive monuments to higher ground (1967).

Re-location of Abu Simbel monuments in 1967

Elated by the success of this effort, the global community extended that level of cooperation into the development of a convention designed to help countries identify and protect their most valued cultural and natural heritage sites. The convention would also identify those that were of such outstanding global value that they would be formally recognized as “WORLD HERITAGE” and warrant international cooperation for their long-term conservation. The World Heritage List was conceived.

After many meetings, the text of the WH Convention was adopted in 1972. But it would not come into force unless at least 20 countries ratified at their national government levels. That happened in 1975. In 1978, at the WH Committee’s meeting in Washington D.C., the first site to be recognized under the WH Convention was the Galapagos Islands (the second was the historic city of Cuenca, also in Ecuador).  The World Heritage List was born.

So, when you see yet another list of “best places to visit” – take the time to ask yourself “based on which criteria?” and “who was in charge of evaluation the sites against those criteria and was the process fully transparent?”. You’ll find that in the vast majority of cases, there are no clear answers to those questions – and as a result, these lists are almost always tainted by the suspicion of having been influenced by ulterior motives, or at the very least, resting on very weak technical foundations.

For more on the World Heritage list, see the World Heritage Centre’s very informative and detailed website here

 

 

 

Ecuadorians: Among the most COVID -19 vaccinated people

Ecuador has carried out a brilliant COVID-19 vaccination effort this past year.   According to Ourworldindata.org, which gathers information from public sources, Ecuador currently ranks among the top countries in total population vaccinated.  It's ahead of countries such as the United Kingdom, France, Germany and the USA.  

 

Being vaccinated reduces the chances of contracting, transmitting and becoming seriously ill from the virus.  This implies that visitors to Ecuador will be less exposed to COVID-19 risks than in almost any other country on the planet.  Of course, the usual protocols (social distancing, masks and hand-washing) will contribute a lot to reducing the risk.  

Ecuador currently requires visitors to be fully vaccinated prior to arrival, along with having proof of a negative PCR test taken no more than 72 hours prior to embarking on your flight to the country.    

Galapagos penguins: Endangered but hanging in there

The Galapagos National Park Service recently completed its annual Galapagos penguin census.  They estimate a population of 2,094 penguins.  It's not a tiny number, but on the entire planet, that's it... 2,094.  This is an increase of over 100 from last year’s count.

The Galapagos penguin population is limited by the availability of food.  When food is scarce, they may abandon their nests, and no new generation of penguins will be raised.   This typically happens during severe El Niño years.  An El Niño brings with it very warm waters, and these waters chase away the sardines and other small fish on which penguins depend.  

Following the very severe 1997-1998 El Niño, the penguin population crashed to an estimated 800 individuals.  

Thanks to research carried out by the Charles Darwin Foundation, it was discovered that another of the limiting factors for penguin reproduction was the relative scarcity of suitable nesting sites.   In response, artificial nesting sites were constructed on the shorelines regularly frequented by penguins.   Subsequent monitoring of these sites show that 25% of all nesting penguins were using them.   

Galapagos National Park Service (GNPS) and Charles Darwin Research Station staff tagging a Galapagos penguin (photo credit: GNPS)

 

While this year’s news is good, the very fact that there are so very few Galapagos penguins in normal time makes them very vulnerable to events that could drive them to extinction.  All it would take would be consecutive severe El Niño years, and perhaps the arrival of an alien species that brought disease.  

WHAT TO EXPECT WHEN SNORKELING IN PENGUIN TERRITORY

If your itinerary takes you to penguin territory, the chances of encountering them while snorkeling are pretty good (but never 100%). Unlike sea lions, which seem to enjoy interacting or performing for snorkelers, penguins will completely ignore them as they go about their penguin business, looking for food.  They are very fast swimmers, darting about here and there.  Or they may simply bob at the surface, looking down.  They don’t seem to be afraid of snorkelers – it’s not unusual to have one floating within arm’s reach (park rules require that we maintain a 2 meter distance from wildlife – a rule not always easy to respect, as the wildlife may be the one moving towards you).

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Every few months, CNH Tours sends out a newsletter to our subscribers.  The newsletter contains the latest information on upcoming trips, on new destinations and on other matters that could be of interest.  If you'd like to join our list of subscribers, you can sign up here

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Omicron: Be vigilant in the weeks before your Galapagos trip

Omicron is spreading rapidly. Preliminary reports from the UK and South Africa suggest that while it spreads a lot more readily than the Delta variant, it is less likely to lead to severe illness.  So, the chances of contracting it for many of us is higher - but the chances of getting sick are lower.
Regardless of whether or not you will get sick from it, the risk is that you contract it shortly before your trip, be asymptomatic, and fail your mandatory PCR test prior to boarding your international flight to Galapagos. That will spell the end of your Galapagos trip of a lifetime (for now).

If you contract COVID and recuperate, but still test positive, an official letter from your medical practitioner explaining your situation will be accepted by Ecuadorian immigration personnel.
Be extra vigilant prior to your trip, wear a mask, be sure you get the booster shot, which increases your chances of not contracting the virus in the first place. 

Cruise for kids with Autism

September 17-24 aboard the comfort+++ 32 passenger "Evolution"

From the organizers:

"Every single child who has autism is special and unique. There is a spectrum, like a rainbow, and you will find children with autism spread all over the place within this spectrum. Their skill sets are different, the degree of their autism may be mild, moderate or severe; they are all different and unique. And, of course, each family is also unique, in what they want for their child and what their level of comfort may be.

We understand this, which is why we have dedicated a departure exclusively for children with autism and their families, so that they can enjoy a vacation that has been designed around them and their needs. From "Quiet Zones" aboard the yacht, to nightly support & discussion groups, to special activities and special meals, this departure is designed to ensure everyone has the adventure of a lifetime in Darwin's archipelago.

Enjoy a sense of relaxed freedom on board the spacious and comfortable Evolution yacht, with 360-degree exterior walkarounds, recently renovated spacious suites, and unparalleled familial hospitality. Darwin’s discoveries are brought to life by naturalist guides with 15+ years of experience."




MEET YOUR TOUR LEADER & SPECIAL NEEDS EXPERT, DENISE CARBON WITH SPECIAL ADVANTAGE

Denise Carbon, with Special Advantage, is a Special Needs Expert who has been supporting children with special needs and their families for 30 years. She’s dedicated to helping parents who struggle with stress, fear, anxiety and overwhelm and, as a Developmental Specialist, Transformation and Parent Coach, she helps to empower parents while ensuring kids grow to reach their full potential.

Denise holds her Masters’ Degree in Early Childhood Special Education graduating summa cum laude with special honors. She is certified in California as an Infant and Family Early Childhood Mental Health Practitioner, a Certified NLP Master Practitioner, and Certified Master Executive and Life Coach.

CONTACT CNH TOURS FOR MORE INFORMATION

Proof of Vaccination AND Negative PCR Test Required as of 1 December

(UPDATED 1 DECEMBER)

The Ecuadorian National Emergency Operations Committee met last night and decided to modify the entry requirements into the country effective 1 December 2021, according to a press releases from the Galapagos Governing Council, the Ministry of Tourism and the Ecuadorian National Emergency Operations Committee.  These are now:

ENTRY INTO ECUADOR:

1) Proof of vaccination against COVID, with the last treatment no less than 14 days prior to embarking on a flight to Ecuador (for people 17 years of age and older)

AND

2) Proof of a negative PCR test taken no more than 72 hours prior to embarking on a flight to Ecuador. 

Children 2 to 16 years of age only need to show the negative PCR test results.  Children under the age of two are exempt from any requirements.


ENTRY INTO GALAPAGOS 
According to a press release from the Ministry of Tourism, for entry into Galapagos, this same proof of negative PCR test result will suffice as long as the 72 hour period between testing and departure to Galapagos has not been passed.   

These measures have been applied in response to the uncertainty over the new Omicron variant.  While this variant is considered as a "variant of concern" by the World Health Organization, it remains unclear whether it will pose a greater health risk than the Delta variant which is the most widely circulating variant at this time. 

In addition to the above noted measures, Ecuador will be restricting entry into the country to people from South Africa, Egypt, Botswana, Mozambique, Lesotho, Zimbabwe, Eswatini, Namibia.  If you have recently travelled in any of these countries prior to you trip to Ecuador, contact your travel counselor for details.  This list has been expanding - consult your travel counselor before committing to your trip. 

FINALLY:
Remember that entry requirements back into your country after your Ecuador travels may change at any time.  

 

 

Subscribe to our occasional newsletter:  Every few months, CNH Tours sends out a newsletter to our subscribers.  The newsletter contains the latest information on upcoming trips, on new destinations and on other matters that could be of interest.  If you'd like to join our list of subscribers, you can give us your email address and name by clicking here

We don't share our list with anyone, and you can unsubscribe anytime. 

Omicron COVID Variant: What does it mean for Galapagos-bound travellers?

Short answer:  It’s too early to tell. 

We’ll all been hearing about the Omicron COVID variant that has started circulating – first detected in southern Africa, it has now been detected in small numbers in several other countries, including in Europe / Asia.   It is not unlikely that it will be detected in North and South America in the coming days.  

For the time being, the experts still don’t know if Omicron will pose any greater risk than the current Delta variant, which is the one most in circulation these days.   While it has gathered a large number of mutations, it’s not clear if these will affect its behaviour at this point. 

Some may recall a fairly recent outbreak of a Mu variant, mostly in Colombia and Ecuador.  Like Omicron, it was quickly flagged as a “variant of concern” by the World Health Organization, and some countries imposed additional travel restrictions on people travelling from these countries (quarantine measures).  But within a few weeks, the experts came to the conclusion that the Mu variant did not pose an additional risk and restrictions were lifted. 

At this point, there is no reason to consider changing any travel plans.  However, please do keep yourself updated on the latest information about the Omicron variant, from reliable sources.  The World Health Organization’s latest statement can be found by clicking here.  The US Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s latest statement (at time of publication of this news item) can be found.  

It's good to know that just about everyone in Galapagos is fully vaccinated and that infection numbers are very small, making the risk of virus transmission in the islands very low.  

We take this opportunity to strongly urge our guests to be fully vaccinated prior to any travel.  If booster shots are an option where you live, we recommend that these be taken as well.   Similarly, the use of masks in enclosed areas is strongly recommended.  These measures will go a very long way in ensuring a fun, worry free trip. 

Finally, it’s always a good idea to understand the cancellation policies for you trip / review your insurance policy.  CNH Tours recommends that you review them if you are not clear on how they might apply for different scenarios.

 

Subscribe to our occasional newsletter:  Every few months, CNH Tours sends out a newsletter to our subscribers.  The newsletter contains the latest information on upcoming trips, on new destinations and on other matters that could be of interest.  If you'd like to join our list of subscribers, you can give us your email address and name by clicking here

We don't share our list with anyone, and you can unsubscribe anytime. 

Snorkeling with Orcas - the Video

Orcas, with their contrasting black and white markings, are the most easily identifiable whale in the ocean.  The male's dorsal fin is very tall - giving them away quite easily even from a distance.  Orcas have captured the imagination for seafarers for many years.  They play a big role in the iconography of West coast First Nations people in Canada and the USA.

Orcas are common in Galapagos.  While there are never any guarantees of spotting them on a typical 8 day cruise, the odds are not too bad that you'll run across some.  Occasionally, you'll even get a close up view, as your ship's course intersects that of orcas on the move.   While dolphins in Galapagos will regularly change course to intercept a ship so that they may ride the bow wave, orcas don't usually go out of their way that much.

On rarer occasions, a ship may come upon a group of feeding orcas.  While feeding the orcas are not traveling, and it's easier to approach them.  On some occasions though, orcas will "tag along" and follow a ship, or zodiacs on the move. 

Last week, guests aboard the Samba had the not very common opportunity to actually snorkel with orcas.  In this 2 minute video, taken from (and below) the zodiacs of the Samba (by Rahel Linder), we see a pair of orcas swimming right by the zodiacs.  The naturalist guide (Juan Salcedo) tells guests what to expect in the water, and then we're taken for a snorkel for a a minute.   You can hear the nervous exclamations of guests as they get ready to go into the water.   

 

See the video by clicking here

An internet search does not come up with any real credible incidents of wild orcas attacking humans.  There has been a documented incident of an orca taking a surfer into its mouth in California, then spitting him out.

So, if the opportunity arises while you're in the islands, and if your naturalist guide gives the OK, don't hesitate to get out there and swim with the orcas!    

 

 

Subscribe to our occasional newsletter  

Every few months, CNH Tours sends out a newsletter to our subscribers.  The newsletter contains the latest information on upcoming trips, on new destinations and on other matters that could be of interest.  If you'd like to join our list of subscribers, you can give us your email address and name by clicking here

We don't share our list with anyone, and you can unsubscribe anytime.

 

 

Five Star Testimonial

At CNH Tours, receiving your post-trip messages, in which the enthusiasm, thrills and wonders you felt during your adventures exude from the words you write is one of our own thrills.  We receive such messages on a regular basis and thank all of those who take the time to write them. Every once in a while, we like to highlight such messages on our news page.   

The following is from Francis (Oregon) who disembarked from the 14 passenger Samba (we charter that ship for our Active Galapagos custom trip) just a few days ago: 

 

The Samba, taken from inside the sea cave at Punta Vicente Roca

 

Heather, thank you for arranging the amazing trip for Isa and myself on the Samba. The trip was beyond anything we could have hoped for, the crew, the boat, and the amazing wildlife experience, both above and below the sea, we’re awesome. 

Jimmy and the crew went out of their way so we could do an open water snorkel in crazy big swells on our second day. While bouncing around in the ocean swells we saw hammerheads three times, lots of reef sharks, rays, and many other fish. At other snorkeling sites we swam with penguins, sea turtles, various types of rays, more sharks, sea lions, diving flightless cormorants, marine iguanas, and an endless variety of colorful fish.

Guests on an earlier Active Galapagos trip out on the water

 

On top of all this the highlight for many of us was following a large pod of bottlenose dolphins until we were in front of the pod, everybody would quickly got in the water, and we would watch scores of dolphins swim under and around our group. The panga crew put us in position to do this six times before we continued on to our original snorkeling destination.

  

Even while traveling from one island to another, the sea life continued to amaze. One evening it was a pod of more than a hundred small dolphins jumping and tail walking around the boat. The next afternoon it was traveling with two Orcas, and then later that same day it was traveling with a blue whale that eventually came right up to the boat, waved goodbye with it’s fluke, and disappeared. Even the crew was excited by that encounter.

On land during our hikes it was more, more, more. Large colonies of red footed boobies, blue footed boobies, flamingoes, hawks, oystercatchers, and all the famous finches. Large land iguanas and tortoises were also common. 

This long winded thank you would not be complete without telling you how great the crew was in every respect. Dietary restrictions, no problem, change course to follow a whale or a pair of Orcas, no problem, someone needing help with snorkeling gear, no problem.  

In finishing I would like to thank the entire Samba family for helping us experience a lifetime of outdoor adventure during our eight day trip. I’ve done adventure, and other, travel all over the world. Scores and scores of trips to central and South America, and this was my third Galapagos trip. The two previous trips were land based hiking and kayaking trips and those trips don’t begin to measure up to the Samba experience. Thanks again.

Francis  (Oregon)

 

CNH Tours has been chartering the Samba for 20-24 weeks / year for many years.  Our Active Galapagos trip is in high demand.  It is a very well-managed ship, with an attentive crew and top naturalist guides.  While it is comfortably cozy, it is not a comfort++ ship.  All but one cabin have bunk beds (the lower bunk being extra wide).  

Starting in 2023, we will be adding a second ship to our custom trip options.   We will be chartering the spacious and very comfortable 16 passenger INTEGRITY for our Ocean Safari custom trips.  These will be nearly identical to our Active Galapagos trips on the Samba, but guests will enjoy greater on-board creature comforts.   

The 16 passenger Integrity - understated elegance (lounge and dining area)

 

Subscribe to our occasional newsletter:  Every few months, CNH Tours sends out a newsletter to our subscribers.  The newsletter contains the latest information on upcoming trips, on new destinations and on other matters that could be of interest.  If you'd like to join our list of subscribers, you can give us your email address and name by clicking here

We don't share our list with anyone, and you can unsubscribe anytime. 

 

 

 

 

 

Impending Volcanic Eruption?

The Ecuadorian Geophysical Institute announced on Friday that significant deformation of the Fernandina volcano in Galapagos has been occurring over the past 18 months.  It went on to explain that this deformation is frequently associated with impending eruptions, as deep magma pushes its way ever closer to the surface.

Fernandina Island:  Red indicates upward movement of the surface, blue indicates sinking of the surface.  

Fernandina is one of the most active volcanoes on the planet, erupting every few years.  The last most impressive eruption occurred on in June 2018.  Fissures along the volcano’s slopes let out jets of lava for several days, producing lava rivers that flowed into the sea.   Expedition cruise ships in the area were able to approach and witness one of nature’s most impressive spectacles (click here to watch the short video, including lightning bolts produced by the ash and steam).

Guests on the Samba were VERY lucky to get this close-up view during the 2018 eruption

Fernandina volcano is located on Fernandina island, the westernmost island in the archipelago.  It’s the youngest of the Galapagos islands.  Completely uninhabited, it’s generally considered the largest, most pristine island in the world, accessible only via expedition cruise ship. There is only one visitor sites on the island, where tourists can disembark and walk along a marked trail to witness its rugged landscape, and walk among marine iguanas, sea lions, flightless cormorants, Darwin’s finches and preening penguins. 

The island is bathed by Cromwell deep ocean current.  The current rises to the surface around the island, bringing with it nutrient rich waters which sustain diverse and abundant marine species.  Dolphins and whales are common in the waters here, as are sea birds and other ocean dependent species. 

In its announcement, the Ecuadorian Geophysical Institute concludes by saying that the deformations observed could be a indicative of eruptive activity in the medium-long term (weeks to years).  Usually, eruptions in Galapagos have a lifespan of several days to a few weeks.   Witnessing them from the deck of your small ship is an unforgettable experience – but one that cannot be planned for ahead of time. 

Subscribe to our occasional newsletter:  Every few months, CNH Tours sends out a newsletter to our subscribers.  The newsletter contains the latest information on upcoming trips, on new destinations and on other matters that could be of interest.  If you'd like to join our list of subscribers, you can give us your email address and name by clicking here

We don't share our list with anyone, and you can unsubscribe anytime. 

La Niña Advisory - what does it mean for Galapagos?

The US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has published an advisory on the return of La Niña conditions in the tropical Pacific, with an 87% likelihood these conditions will last into the first months of 2022.  What does that mean for a Galapagos bound traveller?

La Niña conditions are brought about by the presence of stiffer winds blowing westward across the tropical Pacific, pushing warmer waters away from the South American coastline.  In doing so, they draw cooler, deeper waters up, which in turn make their way westwards, washing over the Galapagos. 

Deviation from average sea surface temperatures (September 2021).  Galapagos waters highlighted

 

Most visitors to the Galapagos islands are surprised by the unexpectedly cool waters there - we tend to assume that because the islands straddle the Equator, waters would be very warm.  Our expectations are confounded by the fact that the Galapagos islands are in an area where several ocean currents converge.  These main currents are the Humboldt, coming from Antarctica (bringing cold water), the warm water Panama current, and the cold Cromwell current, which rises out of the deep from the west.   

Ocean currents bathing the Galapagos archipelago

 

Over the course of a typical year, the Panama current has a high influence on Galapagos from about January to April/May, warning up the waters to the point where most of us can do without a wetsuit (except maybe in the western shores where the Cromwell current keeps things cool).  For the rest of the year, the cooler Humboldt current makes itself felt.  As a result, water temperatures can vary by up to 5C (9F) between the seasons (i.e., go from 24C/75F to 19C/66C – though there is a lot of variability). 

With the onset of a La Niña, it is likely that the warmer waters will not return in the new year, as usual.   This means that visitors who may have forgone the use of a wetsuit this coming January – April will more likely want to put one on when out snorkeling.  La Niña also brings drier conditions to the islands.  On a typical year, most of the annual rainfall in Galapagos occurs between January and April, through occasional short-lived, but intense (and very impressive) tropical downpours.   Less rain will result in less vegetation, fewer insects and a generally impoverished food chain for species that depend on terrestrial ecosystems.  This will affect land birds (think Galapagos finches) who may have more difficulties raising their young.

Cooler and dryer conditions expected in Galapagos over the next few months


Life in Galapagos has evolved over hundreds of thousands and even millions of years while being subjected to La Niña and El Niño events.  While such events result in harsh conditions for some Galapagos species, these very same events have contributed to the evolutionary pressures that have led to the unique collection of endemic species in Galapagos.  

Galapagos Marine Reserve Expansion – Why the peculiar shape?

On a sunny day In March, 2001, I was working at my desk at the Charles Darwin Research Station.  My office had a wonderful view of Academy Bay, where several small expedition cruise ships anchored.   A man called Jim Thorsell dropped by.  “Hi!  I’m here on an evaluation mission.  UNESCO sent me to check out the Ecuadorian government’s proposal to add the Galapagos Marine Reserve to the World Heritage list, and I’d like to ask you a few questions”.    In those days, I was only vaguely aware of the World Heritage list – some type of United Nations approved list of the modern-day wonders of the world.  “Fine” I said, “let’s grab a coffee and chat”. 

 

Above:  Jim Thorsell (left) on a World Heritage mission to a tropical forest somewhere.

Eight months later, on the 14th of December 2001, the intergovernmental UNESCO World Heritage Committee approved the addition of the Galapagos Marine Reserve (GMR) to its list, adding it to the already existing Galapagos World Heritage site (which had until then only recognized the land area as a World Heritage site).  The report produced by Thorsell and his colleagues can be consulted here.   It’s one of the most comprehensive yet succinct description of the reserve available.

Until earlier this week, the GMR covered and area of 133,000 square kilometers (51,352 square miles) - about the size of Greece, or of the state of Michigan.  But at the 26th meeting of the climate change Conference of the Parties (COP 26) going on in Glasgow these days, the president of Ecuador announced a whopping 60,000 sq km (23,166 sq mile) expansion of the reserve – nearly a 50% increase. 

The original reserve boundaries were drawn as classic arbitrary “lines on a map”, including all the waters within a 40 mile / 64 km distance from the nearest points of land.  While this approach has the advantage of being expeditious, particularly when there is little hard-core information on the underwater ecosystem dynamics of the area, the addition to the reserve was designed based on accumulated scientific knowledge on marine ecosystems.  Two decades of study went into understanding how marine species used the Galapagos marine reserve throughout their life cycles.

Above: The Galapagos Marine Reserve as originally designed. A simple "40 miles out from the nearest point of land" approach. 

 

I left my work at the Charles Darwin Research Station in 2002 and took up a job at the UNESCO World Heritage Centre in Paris in 2003.  While there, I managed a multi-million dollar portfolio of projects (financed in part by a recent donation of $1B to the UN by Ted Turner).  One of these supported research into the Eastern Pacific Tropical Seascape (ETPS) – carried out in the field by international and local conservation organizations.   That work helped us understand how the undersea ridge that extended between Galapagos towards the Costa Rica mainland to the northeast was used by sharks as part of their migratory routes.  Thanks to that knowledge, the government of Ecuador was able to design boundaries to the GMR’s expansion which would most effectively protect species requiring protection (sharks are intensively hunted globally to feed the “shark fin soup” market, predominantly in China). 

Above:  The Eastern Pacific Tropical Seascape.  Existing marine protected areas in dark blue. Coiba, Cocos, Malpelo and  Galapagos are existing World Heritage sites


As a result, a “panhandle” was added to the GMR, located directly above the undersea ridge used by migratory species such as sharks.  The addition includes a core zone, where no fishing at all is permitted, and a buffer zone, where all fishing except for long lines is permitted.  Long lines are notorious for their indiscriminate by-catch.   Long lines with hundreds, or thousands of hooks are put into the water, aiming to catch deep sea fish such as tuna and bill fish.  But many other species, such as sharks and even pelicans, sea turtles or albatross, and sea lions often end up being caught and killed.   An additional zone of “no longlining” was added to the western and northern circumference of the existing GRM reserve as well.  The political pressure is now on Costa Rica, Panama and Colombia to do their part and expand their own marine protected areas.  

Above:  The recent additions to the Galapagos Marine Reserve, following undersea mounts.  Green: No fishing.  Yellow: No long-line fishing. 

 

While the announcement of the GMR’s expansion has been welcomed with great applause by all conservation and sustainable fisheries management people, it did fall short of the expectations set by proponents of a much more audacious GMR expansion plan, promoted by Galapagos-based community groups and supported by marine conservation interests around the world.  That expansion called for the entire waters within Ecuador’s Exclusive Economic Zone around the Galapagos archipelago to benefit from an enhanced conservation regime.  The map below illustrates the vision:  Dark green zone 1 = no fishing; Beige zones 2a and 2b = responsible fishing with monitoring; Olive green zone 3 = El Niño buffer zone - no fishing during El Niño years.  That would extend the GMR’s boundaries from 40 miles (64 km), to 200 miles (320 km) beyond the nearest point of land.   Watch this space for future GMR expansion announcements…

 

Above:  Galapagos Marine Reserve as proposed by marine conservation groups

Otavalo: Not just a traditional indigenous market town

We recently sent our Quito based "extensions expert" Mercedes Murgueytio on a mission to investigate the Otavalo region and to re-affirm our ties with the people of that region, approximately 2 hours north of Quito.   The typical visit to Otavalo is limited to wandering around its extensive and very colourful indigenous market, where all kinds of foods, textiles and other items are sold by a large number of small stall holders.  But Mercedes went to inspect more intimate offerings in the region.

Mercedes has been working in Ecuadorian tourism for nearly 30 years and has valuable network of contacts throughout the country that only a veteran can develop.  If you are considering a continental extension to your Galapagos trip - we'll put you in touch directly with Mercedes. The Amazon?  Andes treks by foot or horseback?  The World Heritage city of Cuenca?  There are many opportunities.   She travelled with her son, and reports on her experience below:



Last month, my son and I had the opportunity to visit Otavalo and its surroundings. It was a fantastic trip! Even-though I've been in this area several times before, this is the time was different, as I was able to know a different Otavalo, and to enjoy a unique and much more hands-on experience. 

Our adventure began when we took the Highway from Quito to the north. It was a sunny day, so we had a beautiful Highland landscape through all the trip. The Cayambe Volcano appeared, and we had the opportunity to admire its beauty and majesty during our trip to the north. 

After two hours drive, we arrived to Hotel Otavalo, which is one of the oldest buildings within the city, built more than a century ago. And when you go inside, it´s like going in a castle. Big corridors, stone walls, beautiful paints and sculptures… 

Upon arrival at the hotel, we were greeted with typical music and dances, while we enjoyed a soft drink made with local fruits. Delicious after a long journey! And then, they invited us to dance with them!

 

 

Immediately we started our explorations. Our first visit was to Claudia house to enjoy a gastronomic experience.  Claudia is an Otavalan woman, who, along with her family offer the opportunity to taste and learn about the region's ancestral gastronomy. She greets us with the “chicha”, which is the typical drink, especially for important celebrations. It is made of corn. Then we enter their house which is a typical home built with mud and terracotta. We were dressed as Otavalenos and started the cooking activities, while Claudia teaches us how to prepare a typical dish: Fritada. It combines a variety of native flavors with the richness of natural products and their various preparation methods. A very demonstrative and interactive class!

While lunch was in the oven, Claudia shows us her garden full of medicinal plants and tells us what each of the plants is for. Very interesting indeed!

 

After enjoying this fabulous lunch, we continue our tour, onwards to Peguche, a small town near Otavalo.  Our first visit is to “Taita Gundo” project. (Taita in Kichua means father and Gundo is a nickname of Segundo - "second").

This is a family project directed by the prestigious musician Ali Lema.  Here, we enjoyed an explanation of the different musical instruments and rhythms that identify the Kichwa peoples, and learn about very old instruments, like the bocina, which were used by the leaders to call the community when they needed to do a community work called minga, or when they needed to inform the community of important news. As an expansion to the project, they maintain a permanent school of construction and interpretation of wind and string instruments that participates regularly at local and national events.

 

To end this day, we visit Nayia Art Workshop, where Monica, its owner described the origin of dream catchers. It's known that the dream catchers are from North American; However, in Ecuador, objects very similar to the original dream catcher have been found hung in ancient houses.  And after the explanation it was time to do our own dream catchers! A really interesting and amazing experience!

 

It was time to head back to the hotel and enjoy a delicious dinner with a cup of wine.

The next day, after a very generous and tasty breakfast, we headed towards La Compañia community by San Pablo Lake, to visit a family dedicated to weaving on traditional looms. Here, they make different textiles, using their skill and creativity.

Don Manuel, the owner of this place, an Otavaleño, has some disability in his left arm, but this doesn't prevent him from making beauties on his looms, explains to us what each textile is for, and its meaning, and he teaches us to use the looms and create our own typical bracelet.

He told me that he makes a bracelet in 5 minutes. It took me more than 30 minutes, but I made it!

We couldn´t finish our trip to the Lake Province (Imbabura Province is also called the Lake Province), without having an experience in the lake. It was time to sail! We went to San Pablo Lake and board a reed boat to be able to navigate on the lake. It was a fantastic experience because, in addition to be traveling in a reed boat, the landscape is beautiful. You have the imposing Imbabura volcano in front of you! And in the middle of the lake, the guide explains that for important events in the communities of the area, all the guests bring something to eat and mix everything on a single table and then distribute it among all. And we did that on board.

In addition to learn about the customs and traditions of the region, we lived them.

Before starting our trip back to Quito, it was time to visit Otavalo city and to learn about its history, beliefs, traditions and legends. It was not a typical tourist city tour. We saw insight of iconic places in the city, which by the way, are not very touristic but are beautiful places indeed. 

After such a fabulous experience, it was time to return home. Thank a lot to Hotel Otavalo by ArtHotels for these two incredible days and for showing us Otavalo and its surroundings in a more social and interactive way.

Evidence of Cannibal Snakes in Galapagos

Translated NEWS BULLETIN from the Galapagos National Park Directorate.

Full study can be found HERE

Study confirms cannibalism among Galapagos snakes

Scientists from Massey University in New Zealand and park rangers from the Galapagos National Park conducted an investigation focused on snakes on Fernandina Island, in which the cannibalistic behavior of reptiles is shown.

The scientific article published in "The Herpetological Bulletin", [on] October 1, included in its study captures of individuals, analysis, and photographic record.

Danny Rueda, director of the Galapagos National Park and co-author of the study, explains that in the field work 93 snakes were captured and measured at Cape Douglas, on Fernandina Island. 61 stool samples were also collected and analyzed.

Luis Ortiz-Catedral, head of the investigation that began in 2018, details that they found teeth, scales and fragments of snakeskin in 11 samples; one of which had 31 teeth and remains of skin.

Thus, among the samples of excreta (or feces), they found teeth and skin fragments that confirm the behavior of cannibalism among the snakes of the western Galapagos (Pseudalsophis occidentalis).

Richard Wollocombe, co-author and nature documentarian, recorded and photographed the hunting behavior of the archipelago's snakes, and witnessed several attempts of cannibalism.

The finding is part of a large-scale study on the natural history and diversity of snakes in the Insular Region of Ecuador, of which there are nine species. In addition, it provides information on the trophic relationships of these reptiles, which makes it possible to better plan the management activities of the protected area and of these species.

The Data: "The Herpetological Bulletin", is a quarterly publication, which includes natural history, book reviews and other articles of general herpetological interest.

 

 

Great Bear Rainforest

CNH Tours owners Heather Blenkiron and Marc Patry are embarking today on an 8-day small-ship cruise to explore the Great Bear Rainforest.  Located on Canada's west coast, between the northern tip of Vancouver Island and the southern tip of Alaska, this rugged coastline is home to the largest temperate rainforest in the world.

We'll be embarking on a very comfortable 24 passenger catamaran and we'll be exploring remote coves, inlets and fjords.   We expect to have close encounters with grizzly bears and black bears (the salmon are running - and the bears are congregating around the rivers).  We hope to spot the elusive "spirit bear", a rare white form of the black bear, found only in these parts.  We hope to spot plenty of whales, sea otters, orcas and more.   

We will be offering our first Great Bear Rainforest trip at the end of August 2023 and we're familiarizing ourselves with the experience.   We're here also to explore extension options in this remote part of the world, where First Nation communities have lived for thousands of years.  

The trip details should be published on our website in the coming weeks.   If you'd like to have advance notice, please do not hesitate to send us an email.   

Emergency Evacuation Insurance for All

Starting in 2022, all guests travelling with CNH Tours will be automatically covered by a US$200,000 medical evacuation insurance.   The insurance will be included in the price of your trip.  For more information on the policy, click here.

While very rarely required, medical evacuation coverage can come in handy when a guest requires medical attention not accessible where he/she may be at a given time.   The emergency may be due to an accident or to sudden medical problem.  

As our trips take our guests to remote destinations, medical evacuation could include ambulance / helicopter / flight costs, taking a guest from a remote island to the nearest hospital equipped to deal with the emergency - and then home if warranted. 

 

You won't find snow in Galapagos - but starting in 2023, CNH Tours is offering trips to Antarctica.

 

 

When is a Species not a Species?

Superficially, it's an easy question. Lions, horses, hammerhead sharks, giant tortoises, pine trees are different species.
But what REALLY divides one species from another?

In Galapagos, the giant tortoises living on different islands have at times been considered one species, and at other times, 13 (or so) different species.  

In that change of status lies the crux of the matter. Who decides? On what basis? Read the article that appeared in The Economist last week to learn more - and be prepared to ask tough questions of your naturalist guide in Galapagos.  

To read the article, click here.  

Vaccine AND PCR test required for Galapagos Entry 1st Sept

UPDATE: October 27, 2021

 

As of October 23rd, 2021, only a PCR test (with a negative result obtained within 72 hours of entering Galapagos) OR a full vaccination is required to enter Galapagos. Please note: Protocols for entry to Galapagos may change at any time.

 

Due to the detection of three Delta variant cases in Galapagos recently, national authorities are imposing stricter health measures for entry into Galapagos, starting 1st September. 

ADULTS OVER 16 YEARS OF AGE:

- Proof of full vaccination, with the last shot taken no less than 14 days prior to arrival in Galapagos

- Proof of negative PCR test, taken no longer than 72 hours prior to arrival in Galapagos

CHILDREN 2-16 YEARS OF AGE:

- Proof of negative PCR test, taken no longer than 72 hours prior to arrival in Galapagos

Children under 2 years of age are exempt from any measures.

IMPLICATIONS:

For many, it will be difficult to arrange for a negative PCR test at home, prior to international travel, and to time it so that it meets the maximum 72 hour limit on arrival in Galapagos.  Should that apply to you, it will be necessary to plan for some time on the continent, with a PCR test being administered as soon as possible on your arrival.   

The system for getting tested on the continent is well-oiled.  They need to be done through certified labs.  Tests can be booked in advance, and results take about 24 hours.   Lab technicians can often come to your hotel room for the testing.  

Contact for more guidance on this matter. 

 

 

 

 

Ecuador considers debt swap for expanded Galapagos marine reserve

(this is an edited version of the Google Translated article that appeared in the "La Republica" newspaper on 20 August)

Editor's preamble:  "Debt for nature" swaps are not uncommon.  International holders of a national government's debt may agree to more lenient terms in exchange for social / environmental investments in that country.  Under the terms of such agreements, some or all of the cash-flow thus liberated can be committed to achieving social/environmental objectives. 

 

Ecuador is analyzing an environmental debt swap to create a new reserve around the Galapagos archipelago that will expand the limits to fishing through a negotiation between all the parties involved, the Minister of the Environment, Water and Ecological Transition, Gustavo Manrique.

"Without a doubt, we are considering evaluating a debt swap for the creation of a new reserve," said the head of the environmental portfolio, recognizing that, "indeed, there is a proposal for a very important amount."

The current Galapagos Marine Reserve is the center of an initiative that puts at odds the Ecuadorian fishing sector and conservationists, who have proposed a sovereign debt swap of one billion dollars in exchange for expanding the current protected area around the archipelago by 312,000 square kilometers .

The proposal, which was presented to the previous government of Lenín Moreno and is currently being negotiated by that of Guillermo Lasso, had the initial intention of expanding the protected area from the current 133,000 to 445,000 square kilometers.

"When the current Government assumed the Administration a few months ago, there were two positions: one was 450,000 square kilometers of marine reserve of the conservationists, and that of fisheries and industrialists was zero," said Manrique, an agronomist and former president of the Latin America Green Awards at the Foundation of the same name.

But as the new administration approaches its 90 days in office, Manrique explains that the new president has managed to bring positions closer together.

«We are in a situation where the conservationists are proposing a hundred thousand kilometers and the fishing industry that doesn’t oppose an agreement to protect the Galapagos marine corridor – which extends from Galapagos to Coiba Island (Panama) Cocos Island (Costa Rica) and Malpelo Island (Colombia) », Manrique specified.

The Eastern Tropical Pacific (CMAR) Marine Corridor which forms a migratory route for species that are not targeted by fishing, such as sharks, sea lions, turtles and whales. [ed. Note:  I was involved in the early stages of establishing this corridor when I worked at UNESCO’s World Heritage Centre],

Debt-for-nature swap

Ecuador closed 2020 with a public debt of 63,163 million dollars, which then represented 65.3% of GDP, according to data from the Ministry of Finance.

The environmental project promotes a “debt for nature” swap and is based on the purchase of 2030 debt bonds from Ecuador with an approximate 40% discount on amortization, which would guarantee the supervision of the expanded maritime area, according to the proposal put forward by a coalition of NGOs, including the local Más Galapagos.

 

This includes resources for the Ecuadorian Navy to patrol and control an eventual expanded protected area.

Manrique appreciated that more than being a swap, it would be a “swap” or financial exchange agreement on the international debt acquired by Ecuador, and that conversations are being developed in that line so that, for example, “the amortization term is doubled and thus releases more cash flow to the state ».

On the other hand, the bondholders of this type of green investments have assured the Government that a proportion equivalent to around 30% of the debt will be exempt from interest within the framework of a financial solution that starts with the creation of a trust in exchange for the protection of the reserve.

The Environment minister stated that the creation of the new marine reserve has an impact on conservation, but also on the social and economic side and implies a millionaire investment for the Ecuadorian State: «It is a new child and you have to have the resources to carry it forward ».

But at the same time he expressed his optimism regarding conversations "in which we already agree that we have to expand" and in which it is analyzed "how much, how and what fishing gear" will be banned.

Seasickness in Galapagos: Stay off Day Trip Boats and Stick to Cruise Ships

Quite a number of our prospective guests express some concern over how being seasick might not let them enjoy an expedition cruise in Galapagos.   They will relate stories of having felt queasy, or worse, having been ill while on a boat at one point in their lives.   

In response, we usually show them the statistics we gather from our returning guests.  One question we ask is:  “Please rate the extent to which motion sickness prevented you from enjoying your trip”, with a 1 = not in the least and a 5 = I wanted to get off the ship as soon as possible.

91.4% of our guests rated seasickness as not having affected their enjoyment of the trip at all, or having been a minor inconvenience, with another 6 % indicating that it had been an issue, but not terribly so.  No one rated seasickness as having been so bad that they just wanted to get off the ship.   Only 2.6% indicated that it had been a significant issue.    

Over concerns of getting seasick, quite a few people ask us if taking a land-based trip might be better option for them.   What many people don’t understand is that day trips in Galapagos involve quite a bit of moving about on smaller speedboats.  Galapagos is, after an, an archipelago and getting to various visitor sites does require moving around in boats. 

Yesterday, on the TripAdvisor Galapagos forum, someone (user name:  mrc282, from Washington D.C.) who had just spent a few weeks in Galapagos shared his impressions on various aspects of his trip.  He included a note on seasickness, and how it had affected him both on a small ship expedition cruise and on speedboats taking him to day trip destinations.  It's important to note that seas tend to be choppier from about July to November, and tend to be at their calmest from January to May (though you can get calm seas / choppy seas any time of year - there are never any storms in Galapagos).

Here are his words: 

 Re: Logistics: Galapagos Cruise vs Land Tours

Aug 16, 2021, 1:02 AM

  1. Seasickness

I can proclaim myself an expert in this, considering the number of years I spent throwing up on boats before discovering the magic potion called scopolamine patch. I would classify my seasickness as rather severe. While I don't get carsick or airsick, I am someone who is very sensitive to motions and can't tolerate watching a 3D movie or playing most FPS games for more than 10 minutes before feeling nauseous.

So this is what I experienced in August 2021

- The passage to far flung islands like Genovesa, Floreana and Espanola are rough. At times, the waves are high enough to hit the second upper deck of the boat. I took both sco patch and meclizine pills to survive through them. I am absolutely sure that without sco patch I would be bedridden.

- The passage through Western Isabela and Fernandina are calm in comparison. I believe it is because most of the time we are sailing close to the shore and also it is not really an "open sea" for the most part. And also, I suspect, by then I am slightly accustomed to being on the boat, and actually was off my meds though I remain vigilant at all times at the slightest hint of sickness.

- The 360 day trip around San Cristobal island on a fishing boat was rough. A few people threw up within the first 45 minutes of trip despite taking motion sickness pill beforehand. One completely passed out for the rest of the day, while another lost it and puked on the passenger across from him (fortunately it was a family member) and continued vomiting from time to time throughout the day. And that's when I knew I am absolutely not taking the inter-island ferry to Santa Cruz. I really dislike being on a boat where it continuously chop on the waves - it is like being on a never ending rollercoaster. And I certainly have no desire in smelling vomits for hours... As someone who has vomited before and been vomited on in a boat, I would kindly suggest people to please be considerate and prepare a barf bag regardless of whether you think you will get sick or not when you get on one of these boats. Nobody appreciated being vomited on by a stranger, more so in sensitive covid times.

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