Galapagos News

Revenge Tourism?

This terms rubs me the wrong way…

It conveys the message that we're all embarking on journeys motivated mostly by spite, even if it's directed at a virus.  But I'm confident that folks considering a trip to Galapagos are motivated by a deep and longstanding desire to get to know this iconic, even fabled archipelago.  Still, revenge tourism is a term you’ll likely have come across if you’re reading anything about tourism these days.   According to industry experts, after having been locked up by COVID since March 2020, we’re all charging out with a “damn the torpedoes – full steam ahead” attitude when it comes to leisure travel.

The Economist, a news / business magazine with a global readership recently published a short piece entitled Take that, covid! “Revenge” tourism takes off where they forecast tourism numbers in 2023 will nearly match those of 2019.  In the article, they state that:  


"International tourism arrivals, up 60% in 2022, will rise by a further 30% in 2023, to 1.6bn, still short of 2019’s figure of 1.8bn. But tourist receipts in 2023 will almost equal the 2019 total of $1.4trn, if only because inflation has pushed up prices"

 

At CNH Tours, our 2022 numbers were 80% of 2019 numbers, with this December being the strongest in our history.  Discounting those unlucky travellers who were caught up by COVID and finally embarked on their postponed trip this year, I feel that our 2022 numbers pretty much reflected those cited in The Economist. 

While early 2023 numbers are nothing to write home about (we also see that occupation rates on Galapagos ships are not as strong as they should be for that period), April and May are very strong and we’re getting bookings now for the summer months.   We’re even seeing a good number of bookings for 2024 – unusually early, but likely a sign of what’s to come.

So, what’s the moral of the story?  I think that it’s too early to talk about “Revenge tourism” for 2023.  While numbers are certainly bouncing back following the worst of COVID, they still have a way to go before reaching pre-COVID levels.  From where I stand, I do see some signs of a robust 2024 – given the level of bookings we’ve received already for trips more than 12 months into the future.

What does that mean for you?  As always, the more in advance you book, the likelier you’ll be able to find the ship, the dates, the itinerary, and the berths of your choice.  The larger your party, the more this applies. Also, as the 15 days or so around Christmas and the New Year are THE most in demand for Galapagos – if you’re contemplating something for Christmas 2023, now is certainly the time to seriously look into it.  

COVID policies in Ecuador

There are currently no COVID related restrictions in Ecuador (as is the case for most countries in the world).  There are no vaccination requirements nor are there any testing requirements.  A very small number of ships still call for proof of vaccination.   

La Niña: Back for yet another visit

We’ve all heard of El Niño, when the usual easterly trade winds over the equatorial Pacific tend to slow down in December, resulting in the back splashing of warm surface waters back to the coast of South America.  During a strong El Niño, sea Surface temperatures rise considerably, and rains can be heavy over lands close to the sea.

I first visited Galapagos in April 1998, at the tail end of the strongest El Niño in many years.   It was unbearably hot and humid, while the water temperatures were nearly fit for a bath.   The vegetation was very lush thanks to generous rainfall.   While these conditions favoured most land animals (and plants), the warm waters meant lower oxygen levels, but more importantly fewer nutrients.  This was catastrophic for any creature relying on the sea for survival – from fish, to marine mammals and even to sea birds and marine iguanas.   On my first cruise in the islands, just a few months later, there were desiccated marine iguana carcasses everywhere, along with a few sea lion skeletons here and there.   The Galapagos penguin population crashed.  Animals starved to death. 

El Niño conditions:  Waters warmer than usual in the Eastern Tropical Pacific (Galapagos circled)

 

When La Niña strikes, conditions are completely reversed.  The water temperature goes down, it’s oxygen and nutrient rich – ideal for marine life, sea birds and marine iguanas. But it’s cooler and drier on land – vegetation can be sparse, making it difficult for land animals.   This year marks the third in a row with La Niña conditions manifesting themselves. 

La Niña:  Cooler waters around the Galapagos archipelago. Note that most northerly portions may tend to have warmer waters.

 

As a visitor, the greatest impact will be felt when you get into the sea.  Water temperatures will be a few degrees lower than average.   Expect them to be as low as 16C or 17C on the western shores (61-62F) and a bit warmer, up to 21 or 22C elsewhere (70-72F) in the coming months.  The US National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration predicts that La Niña conditions will end in about by February/April.   But to compensate, marine life will be rich and diverse.   Enjoy!

Heather is going to the Okavango... as your tour leader

"We very rarely do this..." explains Heather. 

"My husband Marc, with help from Dr. Karen Ross (a.k.a. the Champion of the Okavango) and a local travel partner, developed our Okavango trip just before the pandemic.   Our first trip ran this past May - it went absolutely swimmingly" she continues.  Thanks to that success, CNH Tours organized two other Okavango trips in May 2023.  

While these are usually led by other experienced tours leaders, a fortuitous set of circumstances has compelled Heather and Marc to take up that responsibility for the 1-14 May trip this year.  

The 14 day trip starts in Cape Town for a few days, spends time in the northern Kalahari, then we move on to the heart of the Okavango Delta, along the shores of the Okavango River, and ends at the famous Victoria Falls.   

FOUR WORLD HERITAGE SITES

We'll be visiting four UNESCO World Heritage sites during the trip:

  1. Cape Floral Region Protected Areas (South Africa):  Recognized for the collection of globally unique species of flowering plants;
  2. Okavango Delta (Botswana):  The largest inland delta on Earth, attracting rich and diverse fauna;
  3. Tsodilo Hills (Botswana):  Rock art site dating back tens of thousands of years;
  4. Mosi-oa-Tunya / Victoria Falls (Zimbabwe):  The spectacular natural wonder.

If you’re willing to arrive a day earlier in Cape Town, where the trip starts, we’ll join you on a visit to Robben Island World Heritage site, where Nelson Mandela was incarcerated for 17 years. 

You’ll find all the details on our website.   We have four spaces remaining on this trip.

 

 

 

Darwin in Galapagos: Where exactly did he go?

On 15 September 1835, Darwin first set foot in Galapagos. He left on the 20th of October - 5 weeks later.  It was a short stop on a nearly 5 year journey on the Beagle - but his observations there helped him gain an understanding of how species change.   

But what did he do in Galapagos?  Where exactly did he go? 

Long time naturalist guide, Greg Estes, with help from his wife, Thalia Grant, and her father, famous Galapagos finch expert, Peter Grant went through all the records of the time to retrace Darwin's footsteps.  And then they embarked themselves to duplicate his journey.  The result is a detailed and fascinating 25 page article entitled "Darwin in Galapagos: His Footsteps through the Archipelago".  

 

 

All you wanted to know about domestic air fares to Galapagos but were afraid to ask

CNH Tours has been helping people make arrangements for their Galapagos trip of a lifetime since 1999.  During those years, we’ve answered a LOT of questions. So many in fact that TripAdvisor asked one of our team members to become their “Destination Expert”.  

One of the questions we often get is about airfare to the islands.  There’s a lot of confusion out there.  In this short article, we try to clear things up for you.

GOVERNMENT POLICY: Different fares classes according to your nationality.

Galapagos is an international wildlife destination, yet many mainland Ecuadorians can’t afford to go there.   In an effort to make access to Galapagos a little more equitable, the government has made the lowest air fares available only to Ecuadorian citizens[1].

As a result, foreigners can only buy air tickets of a superior air fare class.  While these come with added benefits in terms of luggage allowances and ticket changes, they are also a little more expensive (but not much when you factor in the full price of a Galapagos vacation).      

Sample Ticket Prices (return, Quito – Galapagos – Quito)

These prices are indicative and may fluctuate significantly. 

Foreigner:  Typically starting at about US$420 return, going to as much as $580 for generous check-in luggage allowances, more comfortable seating and fully flexible terms (refundable, allowing for date changes).

Nationals:  Typically starting at $300 return.

Where to purchase tickets?

You have several options:

  1. On-line, using the website of the airlines that service the islands. These are currently:  AVIANCA, EQUAIR and LATAM.   The user experience on these websites may not always be ideal.  They may or may not clearly indicate the fare options that are applicable to you as a function of your residency.  It is critical that you purchase a ticket with the right class code.  If you don’t, you’ll be dinged $150 on check-in.
  2. Through a walk-in travel agency on the mainland.
  3. Through an expert Galapagos travel company while booking your Galapagos trip from home (like CNH Tours…).

 

Sample ticket classes (all the information below is subject to change but illustrates the various benefits that come with booking a higher priced ticket)

(*) IMPORTANT:  Fares marked with an asterisk are for Ecuadorians only.  If you happen to purchase a ticket with a class fare reserved for Ecuadorians, you will be charged a $150 fee at the airport when checking in.  Some airlines don’t offer these lower fares on their English language sites.

Purchasing flights when you are joining a group visit

If you are participating in a multi-day tour trip arranged by a travel company, flights may be included.  By including the flights in the trip, the travel company is ensuring that all participants will be on the same flight, arriving at the same time and at the same Galapagos airport (they really don’t like being in a situation where they can’t find their guests…).  The fare class selected in this case will depend on the travel company’s policy.  Most of them will reserve tickets of a class that will allow more flexibility and refunds.   They also often make use of the extra baggage allowance to ship food and other supplies from the mainland to the islands. 

Buying your air ticket independently when part of a tour group

While not all travel companies / ships will encourage this, it may be possible to do so, and perhaps save a few dollars.   If you choose this approach, it is absolutely essential that you be sure your ticket will get you to the right Galapagos airport at the right time to meet your group, and also depart from the right Galapagos airport at which your trip will end.  There are two airports with flights to and from the continent and if you happen to choose the wrong one, you may find yourself at the wrong place and at the wrong time to either meet your group on arrival, or to catch your flight back to the continent.

Also, even if you book the right route, if you are not on the same flight used by the ship or tour group, and if your flight is delayed or cancelled, you run the risk of missing the embarkation of your ship. 

We always recommend that you book the flight on which the rest of the group is travelling, to avoid the possibility of such complications. 

Travellers without any commitments

If you have no need to arrive at a specific airport at a specific time, if you’re not meeting up with others, booking your own air tickets is less risky.  

Are fares discounted at times?

While rates are usually pretty stable, there are variations and some discounts might be offered from time to time.  There is no magic formula that will clinch the best deal.  Early morning flights may be cheaper, and the prices may change from week to week.  Prices during the high season (national holidays, school holidays etc.) may be higher. 

There are permanent discounts for children from 2-11 years old (typically 33% discount) and for children under two that sit on your lap (typically 90% discount). 

Using points

You may be able to use your frequent flyer points – check with the airline.  This option will likely be more difficult to choose if you’re joining a trip organized by a travel company.

Read the fine print

As noted, some fares are not destined for foreigners.  Airline website will usually indicate that – but it may not always be obvious.  Some fares reserved for Ecuadorians might only appear on the Spanish language version of the airlines website.

 

Acknowledgements: Thank you to Adriana Vallejos Yar, long time CNH Tours Quito representative, and Avianca team member, for helping out with this article.

 

 

 

 

 

[1] They have a similar policy for the Galapagos park entrance fee:  $100 for foreigners, $7 for Ecuadorians. 

CNH Tours is regulated… What does that mean for you?

Back in “the old days”, when you booked a trip, you went over to your bricks and mortar travel agent on main street.  You would have come to know the owner and the staff and over the years, you would have developed almost a personal, trusting business relationship with them.  These days, most people are using the internet to find a travel company.   While this multiplies the options a thousand times or more, it also means that it’s harder to really know who you’re dealing with.  

As in all sectors of commerce, the reliability of your travel supplier can vary quite a bit.  But often, it can be hard to judge.   As a result, there have been many cases of fraud, misleading advertising and poor financial management on the part of travel suppliers, leading to misunderstandings, dashed expectations, travel problems and even bankruptcies, with travellers left stranded in far away places.

In response to this challenge, some jurisdictions have adopted more or less rigorous consumer protection legislation, designed (to varying degrees) to ensure that businesses operate in a transparent fashion, manage their finances professionally, that the owners are identifiable and that fair advertising practices are adopted.   In some places, the government regulator also sets up a consumer protection fund, designed to refund consumers who may have been inadvertently caught up in a messy situation.

CNH Tours is based in Ottawa, Ontario.  Here, the government of Ontario has passed what we believe is one of the most rigorous consumer protection legislations for travel businesses.  The Ontario Travel Industry Act also enabled the establishment of a regulatory body called the Travel Industry Council of Ontario (TICO).  CNH Tours co-owner was elected to the TICO board of directors in 2017 for a three year period.   Any travel company based in Ontario must meet several requirements to start operating in Ontario.  These include:

  • Registering under the Ontario “Travel Industry Act” ($3,000 fee);
  • Demonstrating at least 3 years of prior travel industry experience prior to registering;
  • Meeting the education standard and obtained TICO certification for both the Travel Counsellor and Supervisor/Manager Exams for the designated manager, and the Travel Counsellor exam for all sales staff;
  • Must have at least one officer or director who is a resident of Canada;
  • Opening proforma balance sheet or current financial statements indicating a positive working capital;
  • Providing a security deposit in the amount of $10,000.00;
  • Providing a letter from the business’s financial institution in Ontario, submitted, in the format provided by TICO and clearly designated as a Travel Industry Act Trust Account;
  • If a Trade style name is used, it must be registered with the Ministry of Public and Business Service Delivery - Service Ontario.  Provide a copy of the Master Business Licence;
  • If applying for both retail and wholesale registration, separate applications and fees must be submitted; 
  • Wholesale applicants must provide a business/marketing plan; 
  • Wholesale applicants must obtain written approval from Registrar, Travel Industry Act 2002, before entering into any ‘risk contracts’ with scheduled or non scheduled air carriers; 
  • Disclose all particulars regarding any bankruptcies, judgements, discharges; 
  • Provide criminal record check for each owner, officer, director, shareholder and designated manager named on the application; 
  • Provide copy of government photo identification for each owner, officer, director, shareholder and designated manager named on the application.

All of the above is required simply to begin operations.

Once a travel business receives the permission to operate, it must then meet certain operating requirements.  These include:

  • Contribute 0.25% of all sales to a provincial traveller compensation fund semi-annually;
  • Pay an annual registration renewal fee;
  • Provide annual certified financial statements to the provincial regulator;
  • Maintain a positive working capital (assents greater than liabilities);
  • Maintain a trust account into which all client payments are deposited, and from which supplier payments are made - no operating expenses may be paid out of the trust account;
  • Be subjected to financial inspections from the regulator;
  • Meet strict disclosure/advertising and invoicing requirements;

Altogether, these requirements amount to a rigorous oversight environment for the travel industry in Ontario. 

COMPENSATION FUND

Beyond ensuring that travel businesses in Ontario are rigorously operated, the government of Ontario has set up the Traveller Compensation Fund.  According to the TICO website:  “The Fund provides reimbursement of monies paid to an Ontario registered travel agent for travel services that are not provided due to the bankruptcy or insolvency of an Ontario registrant or an end supplier airline or cruise line, where a reimbursement has not otherwise been provided. As long as the consumer has dealt through a registered Ontario travel retailer, a claim may be filed against the Compensation Fund for the non-provision of travel services”. 

To the best of our knowledge, only a small handful of jurisdictions in North America have similar consumer protection legislation.  These include:

CANADA: British Columbia, Ontario, Québec

USA: Florida, Hawaii, Iowa, Nevada, Washington

European nations tend to have such legislation as well, while such regulatory oversight is rare in Latin America.  

Short video explaining TICO's role

 

The most comprehensive Galapagos FAQ

We've been helping people plan their Galapagos trip of a lifetime for nearly 25 years now.  Over this time, we have fielded thousands and thousands of questions from prospective and confirmed travellers.  Heather Blenkiron on our team has also spent countless hours over many years answering questions on the TripAdvisor Galapagos forum - where she was asked by TripAdvisor to take on the role of "DESTINATION EXPERT" for Galapagos.

At one point, we decided to assemble a Frequently Asked Questions page on our website.  Over the years, we've been gradually building it up, updating and refining it.   

We've seen FAQs on other websites, but we humbly believe that none comes anywhere close to ours.   With 82 common questions divided into 6 practical sections, it's designed to be easy to navigate.   

The FAQ is designed with the ship-based visitor in mind – but it still contains a wealth of information for those spending their time on land.  

You can see our FAQ by clicking here

The FAQ is divided into the following sections:

  • Planning your trip
  • On the ship
  • Health and safety
  • Climate and sea
  • Before you leave
  • Travel logistics

A sample of questions includes:

  • Should I take a cruise or a land-based tour? (we think the answer is obvious…)
  • How physically fit do I have to be?
  • Are these trips suitable for children?
  • I have particular dietary needs – can the ship accommodate me?
  • Can I scuba dive from the ship?
  • How much should I tip the guide and crew?
  • Can I use my cell phone?
  • What are wet / dry landings?
  • How about altitude sickness when passing through Quito?
  • Is a catamaran better than a monohull for seasickness?
  • What should I pack?
  • Is there a recommended reading list?
  • Are there luggage restrictions?
  • What is the transit control card?

If you have a question that’s not in our FAQ – just give us a call or send us an email.

Linda Cayot - Giant Tortoise Conservation Champion (1951-2022)

Linda passed away just recently, after an illustrious career dedicated to Galapagos conservation in general- but with a focus on giant tortoises.

She first travelled to Galapagos in March 1981 to do her Ph.D. research on giant tortoises. She ended up spearheading the giant tortoise ecological restoration efforts for nearly 20 years, working for the Galapagos National Park Service and the Charles Darwin Research Station.  She was a very well-known personality in the Galapagos conservation community, both in the islands and beyond. 

Thanks to her discoveries, the Park and the Darwin Station were able to establish a program for the captive breeding of giant tortoise. This success led to the restoration of giant tortoise populations on several of the Galapagos islands where they had been hunted to near extinction, and where the eggs and young of the few remaining individuals where being eaten by introduced pigs.

It was thanks to Linda’s vote of confidence that CNH Tours co-founder Marc Patry was hired by the Charles Darwin Research Station in 1998 to prepare and launch the Isabela Project, the most ambitious ecological restoration project in Galapagos history. She had done much of the ground work for him to follow-up on. That project led to the removal of all goats from the northern sector of Isabela Island (where they had been turning forests into deserts) and all goats and pigs from Santiago Island (there are no pigs on northern Isabela Island).  With the removal of these barriers, giant tortoises are now reproducing successfullly again on Santia Island, and their habitat on Isabela Island is no longer threatenned.  

After her nearly 20 years in Galapagos, Linda went on to advocate for Galapagos conservaiton with the Galapagos Conservancy, a US NGO.

In the "Linda Cayot Refuge" at the top of Alcedo Volcano (Isabela Island), 1998.  Left to right:  Eliecer Cruz (Galapagos National Park director); unknown; Lind Cayot (seated); unknown; Marc Patry (Isabela Project Manager); Robert Bensted-Smith (Charles Darwin Station Director); the late Felipe Cruz (Isabela Project Technical Coordinator).  Photo taken by Wacho Tapia (Galapagos National Park Chief of Technical Operations).  

 

 

Worried about getting seasick on an expedition ship?

We ask our returning guests to fill out a questionnaire on their trip (almost all are on 12-20 passenger expedition ships). One of the questions is: "Please rate the extent to which motion sickness prevented you from enjoying the trip". 1 = not at all; 5 = I wanted to get off the ship ASAP!
We copy paste the results below.

We very regularly get people telling us they get seasick, expressing concerns - but based on the results, very few people were significantly bothered by it. Only once in 20+ years of helping people organize their Galapagos expedition cruise did we have a guest get off a ship due to motion sickness issues.
In our experience, typically, after a day at sea, almost everyone gets their sea legs and does fine. Of course, there are medicines / patches etc... just in case.
(FYI - the only time someone on our team has ever been seasick in Galapagos was on an inter-island ferry)

Ecuador: Global Cocoa Pioneer

We've been going to Ecuador since 1996.  Back then, it still came across as an isolated country off the beaten path, struggling to move on from the 1950s.  The only chocolate we could find was imported from the USA.   

Today, a visitor will feel that Ecuador has joined the global community.  Besides new airports and highways, gleaming new buildings, fancy restaurants and shops, one will take note of the explosion in chocolate products, all very well presented (Ecuador exported US$940 million worth of cacao in 2021).   One of the best known chocolate companies in South America is Ecuadorian - Republica del Cacao (we'll never forget the creamy, fragrant hot chocolate we had at the Lima airport in Peru at 4AM... best breakfast ever!)

Another well-known Ecuadorian chocolate company is Pacari.  Not only do they produce a wide variety of chocolates, but they also developed many "visitor friendly" products, such as a top-drawing museum in Quito (includes tasting...) and even multi-day chocolate tours in the country. 



It turns out that the cocoa tree was first domesticated, and beans harvested in what is now the Ecuadorian Amazon, 5,500 years ago.  In an article published by Ecuavisa on the 12th of September, that finding was explained.   Thanks to Google Translate (no editing from us), we reproduce it below:  

 

ECUAVISA, 12 September 2022

A study by the anthropologist Francisco Valdez, carried out together with a group of French researchers, conclusively demonstrated that the domestication of cocoa took place in the Ecuadorian Amazon almost 2,000 years earlier than in Mexico, where this fact had historically been located.

In this way, it was determined that Ecuador is the cradle of the origin of cocoa, nullifying the belief that it came from Central America. For this reason, this September 12, the government decorated the author of this discovery for his contribution to Ecuadorian archaeology.

Valdez's study places the domestication of cocoa for the first time specifically in the Palanda canton, located in the Amazonian province of Zamora Chinchipe.

"The fact that our ancestors domesticated cocoa 5,500 years ago reinforces our identity," said President Guillermo Lasso during the "Ecuador, Origin of Cocoa" event; where he decorated the anthropologist Francisco Valdez with the National Order of Merit, in the rank of Commander.

COUNTRY BRAND PROMOTION

On this topic, seven prominent French chefs, pastry chefs and chocolatiers are visiting Ecuador this week to learn about the origin and value of cocoa and, at the same time, discover the quality of national cuisine and promote the country brand.

On a tour of Quito, Guayaquil, Cerecita, Naranjal and Palanda, the guests will learn about the gastronomic variety offered by the country and the current development of cocoa, the French Embassy said in a statement.

The agenda includes meetings with chefs, academics and businessmen from the sector, visits to specialized farms, production plants and a historical journey to the roots of the domestication of cocoa.

Together with Valdez, leader of the investigation in Santa Ana-Palanda, an area where the Mayo-Chinchipe-Marañon culture settled, the French will visit the archaeological site where proof was found that the origin of the domestication of cocoa dates back a few 5,500 years in the Ecuadorian Amazon.

"This is almost 2,000 years before Mexico, where this event had historically been located," the French Embassy in Ecuador said in a statement.

The letter also pointed out that "this discovery that changes history is supported by numerous international scientific studies that confirm that the first place on the planet where humans used cocoa was in the current territory of Ecuador."

INVITED EXPERTS

Among the guests, who have stood out in different fields of French cuisine, are Guillaume Gómez, who received the title of best craftsman in France at the age of 25, which made him the youngest winner in history in the category of kitchen.

In addition, Christelle Brua, recognized as "best pastry chef of the year in 2009" and who currently works in the kitchens of the Elysee.

Also visiting Ecuador is Davy Tissot, who since 2004 has held the title of best craftsman in France; Christophe Marguin, who has received gastronomic awards such as "a Prosper-Montagné and the Pierre Taittinger International Culinary" (1996).

Among other visitors, there is also Johanna Le Pape, who in 2014 won the World Cup of Sweet Arts, and Victoire Finaz, member of the French Academy of Chocolate and Confectionery

AGRICULTURAL AWARD

During the visit of the French gastronomic mission to promote the Ecuadorian cocoa route, the French ambassador in Ecuador, Frédéric Desagneaux, on Sunday awarded Yann Gallon the Agricultural Decoration in the rank of knight.

The visit of the French representatives is an opportunity to promote the country brand by giving visibility to Ecuadorian products and gastronomy, while strengthening ties with France, added the French Embassy.

COCOA AND TOURISM

Tourism Minister Niels Olsen recalled that cocoa and its production chain were declared a national tourism activity.

In addition, he announced that, within the actions to promote this fruit, the country will participate in international fairs and commercial visits in nations such as France, the United States, Argentina and the United Kingdom.

“We lead the production of fine aroma cocoa with a 65% share on a global scale. In 2021, cocoa exports totaled USD 940 million. A sales record for the second year in a row.”

Cocoa is in Ecuador a crop that generates work -directly or indirectly- for no less than 600,000 Ecuadorians. In this sense, President Lasso highlighted that “98% of the production comes from small farms and provides sustenance to thousands of families.

In addition, Minister Olsen assured that, from the tourist perspective, cocoa is an option to generate new sensory experiences in travelers that start from the fruit and reach the chocolate produced by national producers.

"Witch" birds successfully raise young

They call them "Pàjaro brujo" in Spanish.  That translates into "witch bird".   In English they are known as "Common vermillion flycatchers" (Pyrocephalus rubinus).  While these birds are indeed fairly common in much of tropical South and Central America, Mexico and into the southwest USA, the Galapagos version, which looks very much like its mainland cousin (it's slightly smaller and not quite so brilliantly coloured), is considered a distinct species.  It's called the "Little vermilion flyctatcher" (Pyrocephalus nanus).  

 

The witch bird (little vermilion flycatcher)

This very striking bird has been plagued in Galapagos on two fronts:

1) through prasitization by the "vampire fly" (Philornis downsii) - which arrived in Galapagos 30 or more years ago (possibly as a stoweway on crates of fresh food being shipped to the island).  The fly (which looks very much like a typical housefly) lays its eggs in the nests of various birds (including Galapagos finches) and their larva feed on the chicks - often killing them; 

2) by the loss of its natural scalesia forest habitat, which has been clear cut for agriculture, and also succumbs to the very aggressive (and introduced) blackberry plant - likely intentionally brought in by early settlers.   

The bird used to be found on Floreana island and San Cristobal island, but no more.  

Scalesia forests - the natural habitat of the "witch bird" (little vermilion flycatcher)

 

The Galapagos National Park Service reported the following today: 


As part of an experimental project carried out by the Directorate of the Galapagos National Park and the Charles Darwin Foundation, this year seven new Little vermilion flycatcher chicks were born in an area of Scalesia pedunculata forest intervened by these institutions since 2018, in which scientists and park rangers implement actions to control two of the most threatening invasive species of the bird: the blackberry and the avian vampire fly (Philornis downsi).

These seven new birds are encouraging news for the survival of this species, which at the beginning of the project only had 30 breeding pairs. In 2021 there were eight fledglings and in 2020 six that were incorporated into the ecosystem thanks to the efforts invested by the DPNG and CDF in the area, which is considered the last refuge of the witch bird in Santa Cruz.

 

ISLANDS:  WHERE SPECIES COME AND GO
The challenges facing the little vermilion flycatcher are representative of those that many island bird species face around the world.  While remote islands like the Galapagos are well-known as crucibles for speciation - they are also places where species are more vulnerable to extinction.  Since the year 1500, at least 150 bird species are known to have become extinct world wide, and most of these extinctions have happened on islands.  Populations are by defintion small, and having evolved in unique ecosystems, they are very vulnerable to disturbances, such as the arrival of new species brought by humans, or even tsunamis or volcanoes.   Think of the Dodo...  

If you are interested in how islands work as living laboratories for biological evolution while at the same time, are dangerous places for species - you may want to read the prize winning book "The Song of the Dodo" by David Quammen.  Read our review of this book here

 

"The most incredible trip we have taken (with 40+ countries visited)"

One of our guests was on a rare 11 day Samba cruise in August.   On his return, he posted the most extensive review of a trip on the Samba that we have ever read on the TripAdvisor Galapagos Forum.  We asked his permission to "copy paste" it below. It will be very useful / informative to those consider a similar trip.

Hey all – we just returned from a 11-day Galapagos cruise and I wanted to share some feedback. As others have noted, TA does not have a spot to leave reviews for multi-day cruises, but it looks like folks are posting trip report/review combos in the forum. Here is mine. Apologies in advance for providing information that may be common knowledge or that has been said a thousand times. I have gotten so many good leads from TA forums and reviews that I want to give back a little. 

We spent 11 days on the Samba, taking the northwest route and adding on a few southeast islands: from Baltra airport to North Seymour, then Genovesa, Marchena, zig-zagging between Isabela and Fernandina, Floreana, Santa Cruz, Española, and San Cristóbal. This was the most incredible trip we have taken (with 40+ countries visited). Thank you so much to Heather and CNH Tours for making the arrangements and tending to our planning and travel needs! 

Samba at sunset (T. Stein)

What made the trip so amazing? The Samba approach fit us perfectly. First and foremost, our guide, Juan Salcedo. He was born and grew up in the Galapagos. He is passionate about everything in the islands and demonstrates care for both the land, sea, flora, and fauna and the people that have come to experience, learn, and observe. I cannot imagine a better host and guide. 

Next, the ship. The Samba is a smaller craft relative to the large and impersonal looking 100-passenger ships. Smaller, yes, with room for 14 passengers, but spacious enough to spread out. You can walk around the perimeter on the main and upper decks and seating is available fore and aft on both. The salon has a TV and DVD player (never on except to view photos, get a briefing of activities from Juan, and to watch a documentary on the early inhabitants of Floreana). It also contains numerous books for reference and reading enjoyment. I hadn’t finished my copy of “The Song of the Dodo” before the trip, and so read the copy on board when I had a few minutes. 

We were in cabin 5, with a larger-than-twin lower bunk and twin upper, and an ensuite bathroom with shower. Storage options were two large drawers under the bunks where we stored our soft-sided checked baggage, laptops, clothes, etc.; a small set of shelves on the wall across mounted above the electrical outlets (two 3-prong 110v U.S. style and one UK style) for battery charging, glasses, books, and other items; a small shelf next to the bathroom door with cup holders for the provided water bottles; and finally a small reading rack type shelf beside each bunk. Each bunk also had a reading lamp on the headboard. Three hooks were positioned behind the door for clothes and jackets. Other than sleeping, we spent maybe 10 minutes in the cabin each day. By the way, Juan’s family owns the boat, and thus Juan has a personal tie to the boat and the crew. He also knows the boat capabilities and has a vested interest in its appearance, maintenance, comfort, and functionality. 

Albatross waving... (T. Stein)

Then the crew. These guys seemingly have been together for years or even decades. Each one was always in a good mood and ready to help. Sometimes it was loading the panga or helping get our equipment. We heard plenty of laughter and good cheer from them. On several occasions, crew members helped some of our unsteady travel partners over some rough terrain. Most notably, they patiently assisted several folks more than a mile across uneven ground to the albatross nesting grounds on Española. On other days, Captain Jose and Don Ricardo were out snorkeling with us. Roberto, Enrique, Camilo, and Angel provided positive service without fail. 

And the food. We ate the freshest of everything. Fruit, vegetables, fish, shrimp. Five times per day: breakfast, morning snack, lunch, afternoon snack, and dinner. Something different every day and more options than really was necessary. That is, something for everyone. Had a hard snorkel or long, hot hike on one of the islands? No worries as a snack was waiting to revitalize! And water, tea, and coffee were available all day. The best part, in my opinion, was that we might have felt full, but the food was fresh and light. We couldn’t figure out how Angel did it! 

The real prize of the trip was the experiences of the island walks, snorkeling, and panga rides. It was during these that we benefited from having Juan as our guide and a being a small entourage of travelers on the Samba. Juan made minor schedule adjustments several times to get us to the action. “We are switching to place X because the currents have shifted and that’s where we will find the most activity.” Most days we were up at 5:30 in order to get the best light for photography and to see the early activity of the day. When I first read trip reports of “we were up so early” and “we returned from our trip utterly exhausted”, I was a little concerned. Well, we *were* up early every day, but then we went to bed early, too. In the roughly two dozen times we left the Samba on an excursion, we shared the trail/water with another group exactly zero times. We passed other groups a handful of times, always at the end of our excursion and the start of theirs. That is the beauty that was Juan’s knowledge of when and where to go. 

It didn’t take long to figure out that listening to the guide was the best course of action. Invariably we would see iguana along the coast at landing—they are like the McDonald’s of the Galapagos. They are everywhere, not usually very special, but somehow attractive at every turn. “Ignore the iguana here, we will see better examples later.” Said more than once, and true every time. Juan’s experience brought us opportunities to see the usual and less-than-usual. Whales off the port side, check. Albatross circling around for another landing attempt, check. Snorkeling above hammerhead sharks and rays in the depths, check. Watching a sea turtle burying her eggs, check. Snorkeling with penguins and playful sea lions, check. Some of this is a bit lucky, sure, but Juan set us up for success at every turn. 

We felt fortunate to share our on-board experience with some terrific fellow travelers, none of whom we knew prior to our arrival. I suspect that this was partly due to Heather and CNH Tours knowing the people already booked on the trip before we signed up. Still, we quickly bonded and enjoyed their companionship. Ages ranged from 35 to 85 yet we participated as a group on land and in the water. We always stayed together on land, and either one or two groups in the water supported by separate pangas and staff. And because our group was relatively small, we could stay an extra 30 minutes on the beach watching the turtle burying her eggs or spend more time riding the pangas through the mangroves or sit watching boobies diving for food. 

Posing pelican (T. Stein)

I will put a cap on the gushing words and close with some answers to questions I had going into the trip. 

One was about being on a boat for 10 nights straight. Turns out it wasn’t a problem at all. Being on the boat meant getting to places like Fernandina where day trippers can never reach, arriving just after sunrise for early action, and having more time for excursions. The Samba did not feel cramped, crowded, or confining. 

Another was on-board facilities. We always had safe, fresh drinking water (bring your water bottle!) plus coffee and tea. The private bathroom (with shower) in our cabin was small but serviceable. And we had three-prong plugs in our cabin for charging laptops and camera batteries throughout the voyage. I did bring along a small LED nightlight that I plugged into the bathroom outlet near the sink which made the nighttime trip to the loo a bit easier. 

The Samba provided high-quality snorkeling mask, fins, and wet suit. These exceeded expectations and confirmed the claim that we did not need to bring our own. The water was cool as promised—a few of our crowd wore two wet suits. 

Finally, were we packing the right clothing and gear. The layered look was in, just like on many of our other outdoor adventures. I took two shorts, two long pants (one of which was worn on the plane), two t-shirts, two sun hoodies, a fleece jacket, a lightweight hard shell rain jacket, and a hiking style ball cap. Three pairs of wool socks (one was relegated to being worn with the flippers while snorkeling), swim trunks and a rash guard, the latter being for warmth. And travel underwear. Everything being quick dry and moisture wicking. There was an option for laundry because we were on an 11-day trip but I didn’t need anything washed. I brought biodegradable liquid soap and didn’t use that, either. If you shower after swimming (almost every day), your clothes will stay relatively clean. I wore low cut hiking boots on the plane and on dry landings, water shoes with Vibram soles on the wet landings, and bare feet on the Samba. We didn’t take hiking poles, but if you have trouble on uneven terrain, you might prefer having them. 

Because this was a photography-centric trip, we did bring along short and long zoom lenses for our DSLRs and put them in dry bags for the landings. No one ever had a problem with gear going into the water, but I didn’t want to be the first. We overloaded with batteries and memory cards and carried external hard drives to maintain multiple copies. 

What we saw: boobies (blue-footed, red-footed, Nazca), swallow-tail gulls, frigatebirds, penguins, waved albatross, shearwater and other petrel, tropicbirds, pelicans, flightless cormorants, lava gulls, heron (great blue and lava), flamingos, plovers, hawks, osprey, short-eared owls, doves, mockingbirds, yellow warblers, finches. Tortoises, turtles, marine and land iguana, lava lizards. Sea lions, fur seals, Bryde’s whales, dolphins, sharks (hammerhead, blacktip, white-tipped reef), rays (golden, eagle, diamond), and, frankly, about a bajillion fish (chubs, mullets, parrotfish, hogfish, blenny, triggerfish, sardines, surgeonfish, balloon fish, and a bunch more I don’t remember) along with the odd butterfly and locust. Crabs (Sally Lightfoot, ghost, hermit), sea urchins, sand dollars, stars, sea cucumbers. 

Whew. I am happy to answer any questions. Hopefully there aren’t errors, but I am open to correction.  

 

T. Stein / Missouri USA

 

CNH Tours Gives Keynote Address at Tourism Conference

How does one go about designing a tour?  What are the main considerations?  Who does one choose to work with? How do you handle difficult situations (like COVID...)? What do women bring to the table?  

CNH Tours' very own Heather Blenkiron (also the TripAdvisor "Destination Expert" for Galapagos) was invited to give a keynote address today to the 2nd National Encounter for Students in Tourism, organized by the Espiritu Santo Technology University in Guayaquil, Ecuador (24-26 August).  The theme is "Equality of Opportunity - Women Leaders in the Tourism and Aviation Industry".   

She was asked to address these questions, based on her 20+ years of experience doing exactly that.  

CNH Tours is proud to have been asked to do this - seeing it as a testament to our very long term engagement in Galapagos and Ecuador tourism, the development of long term relationships with a wide variety of local partners and our reputation as a serious, professional and trustworthy tour operator.  

Bravo Heather!

 

 

Downloadable SIM Cards

We came across this interesting article which provides information on how you can avoid paying high roaming fees while travelling by downloading a SIM card for the country in which you are travelling.   

When we travel, cell phone companies charge up to $15 per day to 'roam like home' the moment you send a single e-mail in other countries. 

You can avoid these high prices by buying a local SIM card when you arrive at their your destination (airports usually have kiosks for that). Using a local SIM card can save you a lot of money, costing less than $20-$30 and giving you more data than you are likely to use on their entire trip.  But buying one comes with a new set of challenges. 

DOWNLOADABLE SIM CARDS

The latest thing are downloadable SIM cards, avoid many of the challenges linked to having to buy one.  In this article here, the author goes into all the details.  

 

 

 

 

 

Agreement Signed - Social Unrest Comes to an End

In a meeting between government representatives and the leaders of the CONAIE (Confederation of Indigenous Nations of Ecuador) earlier today, both parties agreed to the terms under which the protests that have been disrupting the country for nearly two weeks can come to an end.

People who had been traveling in Ecuador in the past several days had seen some of their plans disrupted. Downtown / historic Quito was mostly off limits due to blocked roads.  For a brief time, even movement in Galapagos had been affected (mostly for day trippers).  

It has been a very busy time for CNH Tours, as we pulled out all the stops to help our guests who were inadvertently caught up in this situation.  

All should be quickly returning to normal now.  

Opposing groups meet to reconcile their differences

 

Our Guests Travel Carbon "Neutrally"

We're proud to display the certificate below, given by The Gold Standard carbon offset agency.  Created by the World Wildlife Fund, with support from other international NGOs, and several national governments, The Gold Standard ensures that your carbon offsets are effective and permanent. 

We calculated the carbon emissions resulting from our guests' travels from January to June 2022 (183 metric tonnes).  We then purchased the equivalent in carbon offsets. The certificate below was emitted by The Gold Standard in recognition of that purchase. 

With increasing concern over climate change issues world-wide, more and more people are looking at what they can do to reduce their own emissions. It's pretty difficult to avoid emitting carbon when engating in international travel. Flights, cruises - all continue to rely on hydrocarbons to move you from point A to point B.  But by purchasing offsets, we are taking a good step in compensating for those emissions by contributing to projects that capture an equivalent amount of carbon.  For more info on carbon offsets and how we calculate the amount of carbon released on our trips, click here.  

 

 

 

Tourist ship appreheded trafficking wildlife

Yesterday, the Ecuadorian Navy reported the capture of a boat that was transporting protected species from the Galapagos.

The Navy statement specified that there were five land iguanas and an unspecified number of tortoises of different sizes on board.

Given the presumption of an environmental crime, through the Coast Guard Command and in coordination and advice from the State Attorney General's Office, the Navy carried out the inspection of the vessel  "XAVIER III".

The vessel had set sail last Monday, bound for Guayaquil.

On Saturday morning, the Coast Guard boat "Isla Darwin" inspected the aforementioned boat 30 miles (50km) offshore and found that on board the boat "XAVIER III" there were ten sacks of jute, five of which contained a land iguana each and in the other five there were tortoises of different sizes.

The evidence and alleged perpetrators will be placed at the orders of the competent authorities in the Port of Salinas on the mainland this Saturday for the corresponding legal proceedings.

 

Ecuadorian navy on the tourist ship Xavier III (pic: Ecuadorian navy)

President Declares State of Emergency

The indigenous-led strike against high prices has disrupted the movement of people and goods this past week, prompting president Lasso to declare a “estado de excepción" (tranlasted into state of exception, or state of emergency) in the three provinces most affected by the strike (in and around Quito mostly).   The president has offered some concessions along with that, in the hopes that the disruptions can come to an end.  There is little danger of any physical violence – but moving around that part of the country has become difficult. 

Any people travelling through Quito airport (located well outside the main city area) on their way to Galapagos are advised to avoid going into the city until the strike has come to an end.  You may find yourself blocked and unable to continue your journey onwards.   If you are booked in a Quito city hotel in the coming few days, we recommend you prepare an alternative hotel as close to the airport as possible.   Some such hotels include:

  • Wyndham Airport Hotel (2 minutes) 
  • EuroBuilding (EB) hotel (10 minutes)

Many more can be found on-line, including small boutique establishments. Before finalizing any plans, ask the hotel folks if they expect any problems getting to the airport in the coming days. 

It appears that things are calmer in and around Guayaquil, Ecuador's largest city, located on the coast (there are much fewer indigenous communities in the coastal areas).  If possible, you may want to consider flying through Guayaquil in the coming days to avoid the worst of the disruptions.  

In our experience, such disruptions happen from time to time in Ecuador (last time was in October 2019) and usually last from a week to 10 days. 

CNH Tours is there to help its guests manage the situation.  Please don't hesitate to contact us if you have any questions / require assistance.  

 

BELOW:  An article, translated into English (thanks mostly to Google Translate) of the main article in the El Comercio newspaper of this morning. 

 

Lasso decrees a state of emergency in Pichincha, Cotopaxi and Imbabura due to a national strike (El Comercio newspaper)

The President of the Republic, Guillermo Lasso, announced new actions that the National Government will take regarding the national strike called by the Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities of Ecuador (Conaie). He did so through the national network on the night of this Friday, June 17.

Above: Typical scene with people blocking the passage of vehicles on main avenues

 

One of the actions that he decided to apply is: the state of exception in the provinces of Pichincha (Quito and surrounding areas), Cotopaxi (the province immediately south of Pichincha) and Imbabura (the province immediately north of Quito) as of midnight on June 17, 2022.

Additionally, "to alleviate the difficult situation of many families" he pointed out that:

  • The human development bonus will be increased to USD 55.
  • An emergency is declared in the public health system.
  • The budget for intercultural education will be doubled
  • 50% of the price of fertilizer will be subsidized for small and medium producers.
  • Agricultural loans of up to USD 5,000 at 1% and a 30-year term will be provided.
  • There will be no increase in diesel, gas and extra gasoline.
  • There will be no privatization of public services
  • Banecuador will forgive all overdue credits up to USD 3,000
  • The state of exception will last 30 days.

 

The Executive Decree determines that the right to freedom of association and assembly is suspended in the aforementioned provinces; which limits the formation of crowds in public spaces 24 hours a day.

Curfew in Quito

Additionally, freedom of movement is restricted, so a curfew is decreed in the Metropolitan District of Quito (DMQ) from 10:00 p.m. to 5:00 a.m.

The President ended his speech by inviting dialogue. "United, sitting at a table, we will find solutions that alleviate the situation of Ecuadorian families."

What does the Conaie say?

On the night of Thursday, June 16, the Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities of Ecuador (Conaie) gave the Government an ultimatum to give answers to the list of demands demanded by the indigenous movement.

According to the indigenous leader, the Conaie rejected the dialogue until the results of the 10 petitions to the Government are made public.

Around 9:15 p.m. this Friday, June 17, Conaie issued a statement calling on its members not to allow vandalism, violence and identify infiltrators who want to generate chaos. "The protest must be carried out with a clear agenda, dignity and collective conscience," the statement said.

 

Irish Pistol-Packing Adventuress

Like most people do when they pick up a magazine, I tend to start at the back.  And that’s where The Economist puts its weekly obituary.   These obituaries don’t necessarily focus on “important” people (politicians / business leaders / great artists).  I’m not sure how they come up with their weekly selection, but they seem to be guided in part by a search for people who've dared to be different and who will have left a big impression on at least one nation’s sense of identity.  

Last week’s obituary was about Dervla Murphy and her bicycle, the aptly named Rocinante (Roz for short).  She took it to all corners of the world - literally from A to Z (Afghanistan to Zimbabwe), and passing through many other places.  In the story, she comes across as an independent, strong-willed woman with an unrestrained sense of adventure - “batty and stubborn and fiercely independent” in The Economist’s words.

While a 0.25 caliber pistol is not on the CNH Tours packing list for a trip to Galapagos, there's no harm in bringing at least a bit of Dervla’s attitude. 

You can read the full obituary by clicking here.

Dervla Murphy and her faithful mount, Roz

It was great working with you!

At CNH Tours, we love hearing back from out guests.  We often do.  From time to time, we post some of those notes to share with others the vibes / energy that's conveyed in them. 

Here's a recent one from Ann (Montana) who, with a group of 14 friends, had booked the entire Samba before the pandemic struck.   She and her friends had been biding their time for a couple of years and finally embarked on the ship in late April.  We also helped them with a variety of extensions on the continent.  It's very satisfying when, after so much work and in this case so much time, our guests return, having had a wonderful time.

A special thanks is warranted for our colleague Kelsey Bradley.  She worked so hard and diligently to make sure that the 14 guests, several with distinct travel plans, all enjoyed a seamless trip despite so many pandemic-related difficulties.  

 

From: Ann 
Sent: June 11, 2022 5:43 PM
To: Kelsey Bradley <kbradley@cnhtours.com>; Heather Blenkiron <hblenkiron@cnhtours.com>
Subject: catching up after trip to Ecuador

"Dear Kelsey and Heather,

I've been meaning to write you since getting home a month ago but have been racing around, and finally I'm able to sit down. 

I wanted to thank CNH Tours for all you did to make our trip to the Galapagos fantastic.  The Samba was amazing, the crew and our guide, Jimmy, were stellar (20 on a scale of 1-10), and the group we put together worked so very well. 

There was so much about the trip that stood out.  The Galapagos is an amazing place on this planet, as are its non-human occupants.  The parts that took me a bit by surprise were how dry it was and that, though we were on the equator, the temps (particularly at night) were cooler than I expected.  Swimming with sea lions, fur seals, and dolphins was out-of-this world.  The land-based bird and tortoise life was other-worldly.  The marine and land iguanas - no words to describe them, except to say watching the marine iguanas under water was something outside any other experience I've ever had. 

I have done a fair amount of snorkeling over the years, but not for a while, so it was fantastic getting back to that.  I love that after disembarking the Samba, we remained land-based in the Galapagos for two more nights before heading back to Quito. That helped with transitions off the boat.  And our side-excursion to Espanola was fantastic.  Plus, we even got to go to the Darwin Foundation when we were on Santa Cruz for a few hours.  

I can't recommend enough to future travelers how great it was reading about the Galapagos before going there, which added important context to the trip.

My reading list included:  Beak of the Finch, Three Men of the Beagle, Floreana, Selkirk's Island.  There are many, many more, and I was sorry I didn't have time to read Song of the Dodo, by David Quammen. 

Again, many thanks to CNH Tours for putting this together, dealing with all our questions, struggling through the pandemic uncertainties, etc.  It was great working with you!  I will spread the word about CNH Tours to anyone I know who may be interested in traveling to the Galapagos in coming years!

Best to both of you,

Ann

Ann (right) and her good friend Tamara, both from Montana

 

 

 

 

 

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