Galapagos News

Rescheduling of flights at Quito airport June through September 2024 due to preventive maintenance work

Corporación Quiport has closed air operations on Saturday, June 1st, 2024 from 02:00 to 12:00 to carry out preventive maintenance work on the airport runway. Flights are being rescheduled and the passenger terminal will remain open permanently. 

For more information, please contact your airline directly.

In addition to the closure on June 1st, air operations at Mariscal Sucre airport will be suspended on the following additional dates and times:

July 6th, 13th y 20th, September 7th, 14th and 21st from 02:00 a.m. to 12:00 p.m.

June 8th, 15th, 22nd and 29th from 2:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m.

Preventive maintenance work is necessary to guarantee efficiency and safety in air operations at Quito airport and avoid unforeseen closures due to emergency corrective work.

The aerodrome closures have been coordinated and authorized by the General Directorate of Civil Aviation. The airlines that operate at the Quito airport were duly informed by Quiport and the DGAC through the respective NOTAM.

 

BIG changes at CNH Tours

Personalized Service:  Meet your Match

Cultural and Natural Heritage Tours (CNH Tours) has been helping people explore options and book the Galapagos expedition cruise most suited to their travel style since 1999.  We’ve prided ourselves on offering a very personalized service and doing our best to ensure our guests enjoy a trip most tailored to their expectations.  “Unmatched Personalized Service” is our motto.[1]

Few travel companies have retained this kind of level of service consistently over the years.  More and more, we’re being prompted to use “chat-bots” instead of real people, or when trying to call a real person, we end up speaking with a revolving door of company representatives.  

This has also been the case for agencies selling Galapagos trips.  The owner-operator model has gradually given way to the leaner corporate and impersonal model where more often than not, it’s either “their way, or the highway” in terms of customization of your trip.

 

“We will not do chat-bots – you’ll always be contacting real people”

There have been some exceptions.  Most notably, “Galapagos Travel” (GT), a small California-based owner-operated company has maintained this very personalized approach to helping people consider and book their Galapagos Natural History Workshop and Photography expedition cruise since 1990.   We’ve known them for a long time.  Before CNH Tours was established, when we were living in Galapagos, we were regularly invited to have lunch with Galapagos Travel guests as “visiting scientists”.   During those years, we scuba dived with the founder, Barry Boyce.  

When we heard that the current owner of Galapagos Travel, Mark Grantham (along with his two long-time staff, Julie Lolmaugh and Debbie Brown) was planning on hanging up his mask and snorkel for good, we approached him and started exploring options for stepping into their shoes.  

A Match Made in Galapagos

We’re happy to announce that the discussions went very well and as of now, CNH Tours and Galapagos Travel will operate as two closely integrated sister agencies from Ottawa, Canada, each offering the same high quality personalized service in helping our guests consider, plan and book trips to Galapagos and to other fascinating parts of the world.

Debbie Brown (GT), Marc Patry (CNH), Mark Grantham (GT) and Julie Lolmaugh (GT) at the Galapagos Travel office. Aptos California, April 15th 2024.

 

In Mark Grantham's own words:

"I can’t think of a better team to carry on our traditions and style of travel.  At the helm of CNH Tours are Marc Patry and Heather Blenkiron. They lived and worked in Galapagos from 1998 to 2002, at the Darwin Research Station and Galapagos National Park Service. Marc was even one of the guest scientists who used to come talk to our groups when we visited. More recently Marc has worked with the UN as a point man for conservation in Galapagos. In short their Galapagos knowledge and experience outweighs even our own. We are delighted to introduce our guests to Marc and Heather and the CNH team now!"

The two companies have developed similar but distinct signature trips to the Galapagos that we believe will continue to appeal to those people keen on getting the absolute most “Galapagos” out of their time in the islands – specifically:

  1. CNH Tours’ “Active Galapagos” trips on the 14 passenger Samba: A standard length cruise (7 nights / 8 days) on a simple, but very professionally managed ship with top naturalist guides.  This trip is designed for people who are in decent physical condition (you don’t need to be an Olympian – but only keen on spending more time snorkeling or walking on the trails, getting into kayaks or onto paddle-boards).
  2. Galapagos Travel’s “Natural History Workshop” small group trips on a locally owned and operated ship: A longer than usual 10 night/11 day cruise, or the full 14 night / 15 day version).  This trip, also fairly active, has you spending more time exploring the archipelago and has 2 naturalist guides on board.   Evening briefings will include a more in-depth presentation of natural history topics.
  3. Galapagos Travel’s “Photography Tours”: An 11 or 15 day cruise with a professional Galapagos photographer on board.  While not a technical photography workshop trip per se, our photographer will be on hand to advise and to ensure that off-ship excursions are designed to maximize opportunities for unique photography. 
  4. Other destinations: Both CNH Tours and Galapagos Travel have developed a range of other destinations that they have felt comfortable offering to their guests.  They are typically offered on a annual or biennial basis.  These include (but not limited to)
  • Antarctica: From the Peninsula to the “Grand Tour” (Falklands, South Georgia and the Peninsula) – both CNH Tours and GT have developed an expertise here.
  • Southern Africa: Cape Town, Okavango, Kalahari and Victoria Falls with Dr. Karen Ross, National Geographic “Champion of the Okavango”
  • Provence Discovery: 15 days, 14 guests, 3 luxury villas
  • Easter Island and Chile: The Tapati festival in early February, led by Josie Nahoe, Easter Isand native
  • Brazil’s Pantanal: Jaguars, tapirs, giant macaws
  • Svaalbard Archipelago, Greenland, Northwest Passage and more Arctic
  • Madagascar from top to bottom: A comprehensive 25-day journey.
  • Melanesia, Tanzania…

 

Going Forward

In an effort to rationalize the two agencies’ offerings, we will be migrating CNH Tour’s “Active Galapagos” trips to Galapagos Travel, and we’ll be migrating all of Galapagos Travel’s non-Galapagos trips to Cultural and Natural Heritage Tours.  

Heather Blenkiron and Kelsey Bradley – who’ve been the front desk women for CNH Tours for many years will be moving to  Galapagos Travel – ensuring their in-depth knowledge of Galapagos continues to be put to excellent use.  Our Ecuador colleagues, Mercedes Murgueytio and Daniela Aguirre will join them.  Marc Patry (Heather’s husband and CNH Tours co-founder) will be managing CNH Tours and the variety of trips offered by that agency.   He anticipates hiring one or two people in the not-too-distant future.

Our big job in the coming months is to re-design and restructure our websites to reflect this new division of labour.  During that time, we ask for your patience and understanding as we embark on this new journey together with you, our amazing guests.  Thank you for your support over many years.  We look forward to host you and your friends/family for many years to come in Galapagos, and around the world!

 

[1] Another of our mottos is “we may not be big…. but we’re small!

Same… or different species? Who decides?

In the natural world, the concept of distinct species often seems straightforward. A lion is not a house cat – that’s pretty clear.  However, upon closer examination, the boundary between different species can be surprisingly blurred. The Galapagos giant tortoises provide an insight into this ambiguity. 

Inter-species cuddling

Galapagos tortoises are thought to have arrived in the islands a few million years ago, their ancestors having floated over from the mainland. They are renowned for their longevity and distinctive shell shapes, have evolved into numerous distinct populations across the islands. These populations exhibit variations in size, shape, behavior, and even diet, reflecting their adaptation to diverse island environments.  Ever since taxonomists first started describing them, a debate has raged as to whether the different giant tortoise populations were the same species, or comprised several different species. 

Take, for instance, the case of the Española and Santa Cruz tortoises. Despite residing on different islands and exhibiting notable physical differences, genetic analysis has revealed that these tortoises are remarkably similar at the molecular level. This genetic similarity challenges traditional notions of species distinction and raises intriguing questions about evolutionary relationships.

Same species?

The complexity of Galapagos tortoise taxonomy highlights the broader challenge of defining species in the natural world. While traditional classification methods rely on observable traits and geographic isolation, genetic analysis reveals a more nuanced reality. Evolutionary processes such as genetic drift, natural selection, and migration can lead to intricate patterns of divergence and convergence among populations, defying simple categorization.

At the end of the day, and most surprisingly to the taxonomically naïve, we learn that the concept of a species itself is not rigid but rather a human construct aimed at organizing the diversity of life.  At one point, the lion and the housecat had a common ancestor – but when, in their evolutionary divergence, would we have been able to definitively draw a line between the common ancestor species, and the two different species? 

ICZN members vote on new species 

It turns out that the line is drawn by the International Commission on Zoological Nomenclature (ICZN) - the global authority responsible for the scientific naming and classification of animals. It establishes and maintains rules and guidelines for the naming of animal species.  The ICZN provides a framework for resolving taxonomic disputes, clarifying rules for naming new species, and promoting stability and consistency in zoological nomenclature. Its decisions and recommendations are widely respected and followed by taxonomists, researchers, and scientific journals around the world.

Caught on Video! Spontaneous testimonials

Last Thursday night, I was giving a talk about our September 2025 trip to the Provence in the south of France. About 45 people were participating.  During the Q&A session that followed the talk, we got to discussing other destinations, including Antarctica.  For some reason, the discussion reverted back to Galapagos.  Most of the people on the talk were Galapagos alumni.   Jim and Joyce from Alaska, and Jill from California just jumped in to say how wonderful their trip had been.  Johanna, from British Columbia, was reassured, explaining to the others that she was scheduled to head to Galapagos next month.   

Click here to see the 90 second video.

 

 

Jim and Joyce from Alaska "One of the few trips I've done that I would do again"

 

Minister of Tourism calls on CNH for help

Last January 8th, a drug lord escaped from a prison in Ecuador.  His escape was soon followed by an armed gang bursting into a television studio during a live broadcast, brandishing arms (they were all arrested).  These events, particularly the live streaming of the armed gang, made international headlines.   While the government of Ecuador quickly and effectively responded, and while the violence associated with those events was brought under control within 2 days, the international community was left with a lasting impression of total insecurity in the entire country.  

As a result of that impression, many people with travel plans to Ecuador decided to cancel. At CNH Tours, almost all our booked guests with upcoming trips to Ecuador carried on with their plans.  Since the events of the 8 of January, over 100 of our guests have completed their trips to Galapagos, the Amazon, the cloud forest, through Guayaquil and beyond - and we’ve not received one report from any of them indicating any sense of insecurity. 

We responded to guests expressing concerns by sharing our experience with this kind of situation.  CNH Tours has been closely involved in Ecuador since 1998, when its owners (Marc and Heather) first moved there to take up a job at the Charles Darwin Research Station.  We started helping people with their Ecuador travel plans in 1999 (a friend’s cruise).  Over these past 25 years, we’ve witnessed many instances of disruption in the country, including:

  • Dollarization – when the entire economy switched from the former currency, the Sucre, to the US Dollar leading to high degrees of uncertainty;
  • Eruption of the Pichincha volcano, closing the Quito airport;
  • Several popular “invasions” or demonstrations in Quito, with rural people streaming into the city, some leading to the overthrow of the government, others resulting in the burning down of the country’s tax agency headquarters;
  • A triumvirate – where a president was run out of the country, to be replaced by a short-lived presidency simultaneously held by three co-presidents;
  • Fishermen’s strikes in Galapagos, blocking the main road in Santa Cruz, and access to the local docks…

Never, in any of these situations, were any of our guests targeted.   In the worst-case scenario, our guests may have had to spend a night in a hotel closer to the airport instead of in the city – to avoid any transport delays on their way to Galapagos.   Never did any of our guests (or any other visitor to the country, to our knowledge) feel threatened.

It has been our experience that such disruptions in the regular day to day life of Ecuadorians are typically very limited in scope, very short-lived, and never target visitors. 

Based on our 25 year experience in the country, and thanks to our good network of local contacts, it was clear to us that by the 10th of January, things were a lot less serious than what the images in the media led us to believe.   We felt comfortable reassuring our guests that the risk level to them was very low (nothing is risk free of course) and we encouraged them not to cancel their trips.

Unfortunately, images broadcast on television and the internet fuelled an undue sense of panic. Even today, I’m seeing many questions on social media, wondering if it’s now safe to travel to Ecuador.   I respond that it has been as safe as it has always been.  

Niels Olsen - Minister for Tourism, Ecuador

During our recent 3.5 weeks in Ecuador, we asked hospitality workers and business representatives how the events had affected their business.  Almost all reported cancellations and a drop in sales.  The hotel we use in Quito (Mama Cuchara) was almost empty (26 rooms) – thankfully, our not-for-profit friend’s trip helped bring in business there (17 rooms for 2 nights) and most of our other guests will spend at least a night there.   The owner of the hotel asked if CNH Tours would be willing to speak with the Minister of Tourism (Niels Olsen) – a contact of his – and share our thoughts about the situation in Ecuador.  We spoke with the Minister and he sent a small team of videographers to capture our thoughts.    You can see the video here, on their Instagram account.   

 Mama Cuchara boutique hotel

 

www.cnhtours.com

Galapagos:  We are TripAdvisor's Destination Expert

Antarctica:  Our expert has worked for 18 seasons in the region

Okavango / Kalahari / Vic Falls: Designed and led by Dr. Karen Ross, National Geographic's "Champion of the Okavango"

Provence Discovery:  14 guests - 15 days - 3 luxury villas.  September 2025 

 Contact us for more information

Thank you for supporting sea turtle conservation

CNH Tours had the pleasure of chancing upon the ECOS Foundation sea turtle conservation project and our old friend, Ana Maria Loose, at Bachas Beach, Santa Cruz Island on February 28th, 2024.

ECOS is an Ecuadorian foundation formed in 2003 under guidance from Ecology Project International.  Based in Galapagos, ECOS educates for a more sustainable future.  Under the framework of Education for Sustainable Development (ESD), their programs generate knowledge, skills and promote personal and societal transformation. ECOS is Spanish for Education for Sustainable Communities.

One of the foundation’s keynote projects takes place during sea turtle nesting season which runs from January to May.  During this time, ECOS brings local junior high and high school students, 11 – 18 years of age, on a 3 day / 2 night camping visit to Bachas Beach on Santa Cruz Island, where the students learn about sea turtle conservation through observation of their egg laying, and protection of the egg laying sites.  The students then bring this knowledge back to their local beaches, such as Tortuga Bay Beach, where they educate visitors to recognize and protect local sea turtle nesting sites.

The program is supported by the Galapagos National Park Service, the Galapagos Biosecurity Agency, and the Ministry of Ecuador.

CNH Tours is a proud supporter of ECOS through the International Galapagos Travellers Conservation Fund.  As a member of IGTOA, we sit on the IGTOA board, contribute membership fees, and for each and every one of our guests, CNH Tours contributes to the IGTOA Traveller Conservation Fund.

In February 2024, the board of IGTOA selected ECOS Foundation, among many Galapagos-based organizations, to support through the IGTOA Traveller Conservation Fund.

ECOS Foundation is a champion for conserving our collective natural world heritage for future generations. 

CNH Tours Co-Owner, and International Galapagos Tour Operators Association member, Heather Blenkiron (middle, with stripey dress) with students from Santa Cruz Island learning about the conservation of sea turtles at Bachas Beach, Santa Cruz Island.

 

 www.cnhtours.com

Galapagos:  We are TripAdvisor's Destination Expert

Antarctica:  Our expert has worked for 18 seasons in the region

Okavango / Kalahari / Vic Falls: Designed and led by Dr. Karen Ross, National Geographic's "Champion of the Okavango"

Provence Discovery:  14 guests - 15 days - 3 luxury villas.  September 2025 

 Contact us for more information

 

 

 

 

Galapagos Park Entrance Fee to Double

[Bolivar Channel, Western Isabela Island - Galapagos]

(updated 17 March 2024)

In its meeting this past Saturday, the authority in charge of such things voted to increase the Galapagos national park entrance fee from $100 to $200 for foreigners, and from $7 to $30 for Ecuadorians.   

This has been a very long time coming.  The effective cost of entering the park has not changed since the late 1980s (at that time, there were 3 elements to the fee, adding up to $100 - these were combined into a single fee in 1998).   

Back in the 1990's, $100 represented up to 10% of the cost of a budget 8 day cruise in Galapagos.  Today, given that the price of cruise has increased regularly over the intervening period, $100 represents approximately only 2% of such an expense.  Visitors to the islands are leaving significantly more in tips than they leave with the authorities in charge of managing the park.

CNH Tours, through its membership in the International Galapagos Tour Operators Association (IGTOA), has been actively advocating for an increase in the entrance fee.  IGTOA canvassed its members in 2017 and concluded that an entrace fee of $300 would be acceptable. The authorities have decided to raise it to $200 - which we find reasonable.  

We're pleased to see this development. It has been very difficult to have the authority in charge to pass such a change.  Of the 9 votes, 5 voted for the fee increase, 4 against.   Those who voted against were the 4 local municipal representatives.  Many locals fear that an increase in the fee will discourange budget travellers.  These travellers all choose the "land-based" model of tourism in Galapagos, staying in low-end hotels, spending in low-end eateries, and often engaging only in free activities, leaving very little money behind after their visit, yet requiring a disproportionate amount of municipal and other services.  

The "land-based" vs "ship-based" debate has been going on for years.   Recent numbers show that about 260,000 land-based visitors came to Galapagos last year (up from about zero 25 years ago), vs. 70,000 ship-based visitors (no significant difference from 25 years ago).  While the cruise ship fleet capacity has been striclty capped for 25 years, there is no such restriction on the number of visitors than can come to Galapagos on a land-based visitor model. 

Galapagos is unique on the planet and its ecosystems are very vulnerable to the introduction and dispersal of alien invasive species.  These species arrive thanks to the movement of people and goods from the mainland.  Limiting the number of visitors to the islands is a critical 1st step in trying to manage this risk.

While we believe that the increase will not affect visitor numbers, it is at least a sign that the authorities are starting to recognize the problem of overtourism in Galapagos.  UNESCO's intergovernmental World Heritage Committee first raised this concern in 2017.  Until as recently as last year, the minister of tourism was celebrating "record numbers of visitors in Galapagos".   While in Galapagos in February / March, we had the chance to speak with the minister (Niels Olsen) and we were pleased to see that he has made a 180 degree turn in his attitude.  

Thankfully, the ship-based visitor experience has not changed significantly over the years. Access to visitor sites is strictly regulated, and only a set number of visitors are permitted to disembark at any given time.  

What does this mean for CNH Tours guests who have already booked their trip?

If your trip has you arriving in Galapagos on the 1st of August 2024 or beyond, the new fee will apply to you.  There are two scenarios:

  1. If the park fee was included in your invoice, either as a separate line item, or as part of the cruise price, we will need to invoice you for the difference.
  2. If the park fee was not included in your invoice or as part of the cruise price (you are expected to pay on arrival in Galapagos), we will not be invoicing you for the difference, but you will need to come prepared on arrival in Galapagos with the proper amount in cash.  


We copy-paste the press released published yesterday (Google Translated from Spanish) below:

In an extraordinary meeting, this February 24, 2024, with five votes in favor and four against, the Plenary Session of the Governing Council of the Special Regime of Galapagos approved the update of the income rate for conservation of protected areas in the archipelago. The figure had not been modified in the last 26 years.

 The collegiate body is made up of the highest authorities of the institutions: Governing Council of the Special Regime of Galapagos; Municipal GAD of San Cristóbal, Isabela and Santa Cruz; National Planning Secretariat; Ministries of: Agriculture and Livestock; Environment, Water and Ecological Transition and Tourism. A representative of the parish GAD also participates. 

The decision responds to the objectives of promoting a tourism model in accordance with the conservation actions already undertaken, generating citizen benefits and stabilizing the number of tourists who come to the island province. Thus, the cost to enter the protected areas in Galapagos will be USD 30 (thirty) for nationals and USD 200 (two hundred) for foreigners. The application of the new rate will take place after six months. 

According to the “Conservation Report on Properties Inscribed on the World Heritage List” issued by UNESCO, it is a priority to stabilize the growth in tourism volume to maintain the well-being of both the ecosystem and the inhabitants of Galapagos. The objective is to promote tourism focused on sustainability and the ability to boost the local economy, thanks to the natural wonders that the islands offer, unique in the world. 

On the other hand, it seeks to strengthen the management of decentralized autonomous governments, responsible for the provision and efficient administration of water services, environmental sanitation, waste, tourist facilities, urban fauna management, among others, capable of generating more benefits for Galapagos citizens in terms of conservation and economic development. 

To update the rate, length of stay, age, disability condition, tourism model, nationality or legal residence in the country was demonstrated, in accordance with article 29 of the Organic Law of the Special Regime of the province of Galapagos (LOREG). 

The National Government promotes environmental, tourist and economic management focused on motivating development and balance in the Islands, recognized by UNESCO as a Natural Heritage of Humanity (1978) and a Biosphere Reserve (1984).

 

 

 www.cnhtours.com

Galapagos:  We are TripAdvisor's Destination Expert

Antarctica:  Our expert has worked for 18 seasons in the region

Okavango / Kalahari / Vic Falls: Designed and led by Dr. Karen Ross, National Geographic's "Champion of the Okavango"

Provence Discovery:  14 guests - 15 days - 3 luxury villas.  September 2025 

 Contact us for more information

Safe and Sound in Ecuador

Report from Ecuador

February 20, 2024

CNH Tours owners, Marc Patry and Heather Blenkiron, are currently in Ecuador to lead a not-for-profit fundraising Galapagos cruise on the M/V Evolution.  While in the country, they are also spending some time visiting Quito, the Cloud Forest and Yasuni National Park in the Amazon basin, from where they are writing this missive. 

Today we received an update from the Ministry of Tourism concerning the Ecuadorian State of Emergency and want to share it with you, our former, current and potential guests:

The state of emergency, supported unanimously by Ecuadorians, has been a testament to our collective determination to restore peace to our country. A tangible outcome of this effort was witnessed during the recent Carnival holiday, which reduced over 50% in security incidents compared to the previous year. We have not experienced any security incidents affecting tourists, and we have successfully kept 100% of all routes and flights at our airports operational.

The arrivals to the Galapagos in January 2024 experienced a minimal decrease of just 3% compared to the previous year. All these measures are indicative of our steadfast resolve to bring peace back to the nation, affirming that life in Ecuador is already unfolding normally.

We invite you to see for yourselves, share in our traditions, explore our landscapes, and enjoy the hospitality that defines us.

For more details and updates, follow our official channels on Twitter @TurismoEc and on  Facebook at /MinisterioTurismoEcuador.

With gratitude and hope,

Date: February 20, 2024

Niels Olsen Peet

Minister of Tourism of Ecuador

Like our guests, we have been concerned about recent events in Ecuador.  We have taken all of the precautions we have recommended to our guests (private land transfers, guided visits, only using known taxis (recommended by our hotel).

From our moment of first arrival into Ecuador in the early hours of February 15th, all has gone very smoothly with no concerns whatsoever. 

Since January 9th, CNH Tours has hosted 92 guests in Ecuador - on the mainland, in the cloud forest, the Amazon, Quito and Galapagos. Not one has reported any concerns over safety.   

We met with our continental team on February 18th at Mama Cuchara hotel (our go-to accommodations in Quito). 

 

Left to right: Our land services expert, Mercedes Murguetio; Quito Active Galapagos Logistics, Adriana Vallejos Yar; CNH Tours Co-Owner, Heather Blenkiron; Guayaquil Logistics, Maybell Galvez.

 

 

Napo River port at Coca, in the Amazon basin. Armed forces personnel are circulating, giving folks a sense of security.  

Comments from a returning guest

All guests returning from their "Active Galapagos" trips to Galapagos with us receive an automatic email inviting them to provide some feedback on their recent experience.  Usually, this is a useful way to do some "quality control" on the trip. But almost invariably, there is very little in the feedback that calls for improvements!  Here, Lee Ann Coughlin from New Hampshire (she was on our Anemone departure - 21 Jan - 1st Feb).  She did indicate that 2 cabins had malfunctioning air conditioning units.  We contacted the owner upon learning this, and within 30 minutes, we received a response indicating that the units had been repaired during the trip.  

Below are Lee Ann's unedited responses to our survey questions: 


Trip Overview document improvements?  
If you wish, please let us know how could CNH Tours improve its "Trip Overview Document"

The AXUS portal was brilliant! All of the information you could possibly need was right there, well organized and thorough.

Quito City day tour suggestions We welcome your thoughts on the city tour / comments on your guide.

Juan Paul was a tremendous guide! We went everywhere and saw everything! We especially liked the chocolate tasting and the cable car ride. I can't say enough about Juan Paul, he is so enthusiastic about the city and a very nice guy!

 

Top of the world swing set - hung from the clouds? Accessible via the cable car 

Airport transfers (to and from Galapagos)  For those of you who requested private transfers:  If you had any problems, or if you have any suggestions for improvements on how the transfers to the airports were carried out, please share them with us here.

The transfers were wonderful, as were the guides who met us at the airport. We felt so taken care of, we never had a moment of "where do we go, what do we do". Everything was so well planned for us.

Tony Sotomayor - always at the airport to provide assistance

Comments for / about the naturalist guide Please share with us any positive comments, or constructive criticism on the guide's performance. (optional)

Jimmy must be one of the best guides in the Galapagos! He was kind, patient, enthusiastic, funny and extremely knowledgeable. When dolphins were spotted we all jumped in dinghy's and swam with the dolphins. An extraordinary experience! He made sure every guest on the boat had a great time.

The indefatigable Jimmy Patiño

Comments about the crew Please share with us any positive comments, or constructive criticism on the crew's performance (optional)

We found the crew to be gracious, kind and hard working. Our dinghy drivers, Ricardo and Roberto helped me on and off the dinghy, and in and out of the kayaks, always with a smile. Fredo was a great bartender and waiter and the chef was brilliant.

Over-the-top dedication:  Samba crew

Comments on the meals Please share with us any positive comments, or constructive criticism on the dining experience (optional)

The meals blew us away! Always different, fresh fruit, fresh vegetables, quality meats, fish, chicken. Freshly made snacks and appetizers waiting when you came in from snorkeling. And dessert at lunch and dinner!

Delicious and nutritious

Comments on off-ship excursions  Please share with us any positive comments, or constructive criticism on the off ship excursions (optional)

The excursions were top notch! Jimmy taught us so much so much about the Galapagos. Every one of our expectations were met.

 

Making like a marine iguana

Comments on the days in Puerto Ayora Please share with us any positive comments, or constructive criticism of the time in Puerto Ayora (optional)

Our time in Puerto Ayora was made special by our guide Nathalie. We learned so much about life in the Galapagos and Nathalie is charming and fun! We especially liked the visit to a small rural coffee farm.

 

Highland Galapagos coffee

Puerto Ayora Hotel comments  If you stayed at the hotel in Galapagos post cruise, please share with us any positive comments, or constructive criticism (rooms, staff, cleanliness, buffet breakfast... - optional).  What did they do best?  What low hanging fruit is there in terms of improvements to be made?

The Ikala was extremely clean, the rooms are very large, and the staff was some of the nicest we have encountered in our travels. The included breakfast was also wonderful.

Ikala Galapagos Hotel - UPDATED 2024 Prices, Reviews & Photos (Galapagos  Islands/Santa Cruz) - Tripadvisor

Puerto Ayora lodgings - getting your land legs back here is as good as it gets

 

Quotable comments on your trip? Please feel free to leave any "quotable comments / sound bites" we could eventually use on our website.

A trip of a lifetime! Just pack your bags and go, Heather and her team have taken care of all the details. The trip on the Samba with the guide and the wonderful crew will take your breathe away.

Calm returns to Ecuador after an "interesting" week

A week ago, people around the world started hearing about troubles in Ecuador, sparked by the prison escape of a drug lord. Images of armed goons (they didn’t give the impression they were from an organized and disciplined group) taking over a live TV broadcast were seen.   News that prison guards were being held hostage and that bomb threats were being made was shared widely, along with images of chaos in Guayaquil, a large port city.  

In response, the newly elected president, Daniel Noboa, imposed an 11PM – 5AM curfew throughout the country (expiring on 8 March).  With full support of the national assembly, he also imposed a national state of emergency for the weekend of 13-14 January only, giving extra powers to the military and to police to round up the suspects.

Today, we learn that all prison guard hostages have been released, prisons are back in government control and over 1,000 arrests of drug gang members have been made.  Over the past few days, we have heard from various government sources, and from our own CNH Tours colleagues in Quito, Guayaquil and Galapagos that things have returned to normal. Today, January 15, 2024, the Mayor of Guayaquil announced that normal activities (with a strong army presence) have resumed in Guayaquil.

To be sure, there is increased police / military presence in key places (airports, government buildings).

The country is experiencing calm as stores reopen, employees return to their offices, and visitation returns to the historic centre of Quito (with the exception of the central square in front of the Presidential Palace, which remains closed). 

The Guayaquil and Quito Airports are operating normally.  Members of the army are checking all cars entering the security perimeter of the airport so please allow for an extra 20 – 30 minutes to your normal travel time to allow for your vehicle to be inspected.

International arrival and departure flights are operating normally (with the exception of issues relating to winter storms and Boeing jets grounded for technical concerns).

Galapagos a refuelling station for drug shipments?

Today we saw stories in the press about Galapagos being the fuelling station for drug shipments, as traffickers move their product from South America to North America by sailing far out at sea, south, then west of the Galapagos archipelago and then northwards – staying away from government patrols which tend to monitor waters closer to shore (though the US Coast Guard does carry out monitoring patrols in international waters around the archipelago - see this story).  Needing to refuel, there has been some collusion between local fishermen and the drug dealers. Fishermen buy fuel purportedly for their operations and head out to sea, far from the regular monitoring patrols of the navy / coast guard, meet up with the dealers and make their trade.  

The authorities have been capturing such drug dealing ships for years, but apparently there is more and more such traffic beyond the boundaries of the Galapagos marine reserve.   A record 25 tons of cocaine were seized from such ships in 2023 according to the Ecuadorian navy (up from 1 ton in 2019).  These activities do not intersect with those of expedition cruise ships, which navigate well within the marine reserve waters.  

Vote of confidence

While there is no such thing as zero-risk travel, at CNH Tours, we are confident that travel within Ecuador and the Galapagos islands is as low risk as it was before these recent events. While we recognize that our guests first need to be comfortable in their own decision to travel and that they need to be the final arbiters in the matter, we hope to reassure them that there is no longer any cause for increased concern following last week’s events. 

 

 www.cnhtours.com

Galapagos:  We are TripAdvisor's Destination Expert

Antarctica:  Our expert has worked for 18 seasons in the region

Okavango / Kalahari / Vic Falls: Our trip is designed and led by Dr. Karen Ross, National Geographic's "Champion of the Okavango"

Provence Discovery:  14 guests - 15 days - 3 luxury villas.  September 2025 

 Contact us for more information

Security Update for Ecuador

On January 8, 2024, the Government of Ecuador implemented a 60 day nationwide curfew to reestablish order in the country and confront those threatening the stability of the territory. The curfew is in in effect between 11pm and 5am. Only travellers with proof of a national or international flight are permitted to travel on the roads during the curfew. Between 5AM and 11PM, there are no restrictions to movement and people can go about their regular affairs unhindered. 

Furthermore, on January 9, 2024, the Government of Ecuador declared a nationwide state of “internal armed conflict” to allow security forces to better respond to a sharp increase in gang violence across the country, including in Guayaquil and Quito. These measures are not expected to affect daily life in Ecuador.

 The Ecuadorian Minister of Tourism confirmed that same day: 

  • Movement to and from the airport is permitted.
  • Airports are operating normally
  • Additional security measures have been implemented at terminals to ensure the safety of travellers
  • Security has been strategically bolstered with increased police and military presence.
  • There is no prohibition on entry, and no incidents of violence in the main tourist destinations in Ecuador:
    • The Galapagos Islands
    • The Amazon region
    • National Parks

Of course, the safety of our guests is always paramount and should we have any reason to believe there is a serious risk to that, we will respond accordingly. 

Our tours are continuing to run regularly (we have guests on ships right now, and others embarking this coming week).  For those who have their arrival or departure flights during the curfew, they will be required to present a printed copy of the air ticket or any other travel documents. 

We recommend that all travellers to Ecuador consider private land transfers at this time to maximize their security in-country. We can help make those arrangements.  

With the help of our team / colleagues / friends on the ground in Quito (Mercedes, Tannya, Adriana, Tony at the airport), Guayaquil (Maybel) and Galapagos (Daniela, Juan and others) we are keeping a close eye on developments.  Based on our 25 years of experience, during which time we have seen many such events come and go, we have no reason to believe this will affect your trip.  

We’ll keep you posted should there be any developments we feel might be worth noting.  

 

 

 

 www.cnhtours.com

Galapagos:  We are TripAdvisor's Destination Expert

Antarctica:  Our expert has worked for 18 seasons in the region

Okavango / Kalahari / Vic Falls: Designed and led by Dr. Karen Ross, National Geographic's "Champion of the Okavango"

Provence Discovery:  14 guests - 15 days - 3 luxury villas.  September 2025 

 Contact us for more information

Active Galapagos trips get an A+ rating across the board

Back, way back in 2001 somewhere in Puerto Ayora, the eminence grise* of the Galapagos guiding community Greg Estes and CNH Tours owners Marc & Heather (before CNH Tours existed...) were talking over lunch on a hot, steamy March day about "the ideal Galapagos expedition cruise".  We were working at the Darwin Station at the time and had somehow crossed paths with Greg a couple of years earlier.  He impressed us with his knowledge, focus and leadership type personality. We had hired him to lead our “Galapagos Amigos” not-for-profit cruise set up for our friends, shortly after our arrival in Galapagos.

"Galapagos Amigos" trip in 2000.  Marc Patry, Heather Blenkiron (and Émile) circled

Greg was about 40 at the time and had been guiding already for several years, while we were just contemplating getting into chartering ships for Galapagos expedition cruises on a more regular basis.   

"You know", Greg said, "I really feel sorry when folks get on a ship whose crew and naturalist guide take a lackadaisical approach to visiting the islands – what a missed opportunity".  He went on to explain that in too many cases, the ship experience was being managed like a holiday, and not an expedition. “The guide has guests get up at 7AM, they have breakfast, and they are off by 8AM on their first outing of the day.  That’s two lost hours of daylight – and two of the best hours for wildlife in Galapagos”.  For Greg (and we agree), visiting Galapagos should be approached as a rare privilege – one that should not be approached nonchalantly.  “And then the naturalist guide rushes through a trail so that he can let them lounge on a beach”.

Greg Estes at the Galapagos "Post Office", Floreana Island (back in 2000) 

You only have a short time here – and there is so much to be exposed to, to experience, to see, hear, feel and witness” he added. We agreed again. It was during that conversation that the term “Active Galapagos” came up. What if we organized trips that were designed for people who were keen to get the most “Galapagos” out of their time in the islands? What if we told them this trip would be active  – that we’d get them up at the crack of dawn (or even earlier…) to ensure they got to see the wildlife at its most active?  What if we took our time on the shore excursions, spending 1.5 hours on a 1-mile (1.6km) hike, stopping frequently to just take it all in? What if we took full advantage of all the snorkeling/kayaking opportunities? 

It was that discussion that led us to develop the “Active Galapagos” trip.  CNH Tours first chartered the 16 guest Lobo de Mar for our trips – but soon the ship dumped us in exchange for a large contract with a big international travel company.  We had to find another ship.  It’s no longer clear how we came across the 14 guest Samba – but the fit was perfect.  Locally owned and operated, the Samba is 100% “on-board” with the Active Galapagos philosophy.   We started with 4 charters / year, but quickly realized that the desire to get the most out of a Galaagos trip was widespread.  We added more and more departures and now, we run between 20-24 Active Galapagos charters / year. 

Samba anchored off Sullivan Bay, Santiago Island

 

To be sure we stay on top of things, we survey all of our returning guests over a comprehensive list of indicators, measuring their satisfaction with various aspects of the trip. Guests rate their experience on a 1-5 scale. Using a simple algorithm, we translated that into a percentage rating.  We proudly present the results below:

CNH Tours Active Galapagos trip report card


Clearly, our guests are very satisfied with their trip - and embarrassingly, it seems one of the indicators that has the greatest room for improvement is our own responsiveness (only 94.6% satisfaction rate...). 

Post Samba time in Galapagos receives the lowest score at 83.2% (still very good after all) - that refers to the two (optional) extra nights we offer to our guests, giving them the time to get their land legs back and enjoy some down time after their full days on board. We are happy to give people a chance to get to know what life is like for those living in Galapagos - and these 2 days do just that.  Perhaps for some, the shock of disembarking from a cozy small ship, after having sailed to the remote corners of the archipelago, and to be re-introduced to a busy urban area is a let-down?  

 

* With his wife Thalia Grant, Greg is the co-author of the book: "Darwin in Galapagos: Footsteps to a New World" in which they publish the results of their extensive work retracing Darwin's day to day travels in Galapagos.

 

 www.cnhtours.com

Galapagos:  We are TripAdvisor's Destination Expert

Antarctica:  Our expert has worked for 18 seasons in the region

Okavango / Kalahari / Vic Falls: Our trip is designed and led by Dr. Karen Ross, National Geographic's "Champion of the Okavango"

Provence Discovery:  14 guests - 15 days - 3 luxury villas.  September 2025 

 Contact us for more information

Villain or Scapegoat? Park Director gets fired over fireworks

Fireworks were banned in Galapagos in 2018 over concerns that the loud noises were detrimental to wildlife (that makes sense to us). However, the text of the regulations allowed for the opiton of "soundless" fireworks. This ambiguity has led to a major polemic going on in the islands these days.

The town of Puerto Ayora organized fireworks on new year's eve, despite not having received the authorization of the police, which we presume was a requirement. While many in Galapagos enjoy fireworks, a large portion of residents recognize that the islands should do without them, given their special status.

 

New Year's eve fireworks in Puerto Ayora on 31 Dec '23

The fireworks display led to major criticism on behalf of those that thought they were banned.  In response to the growing criticism, a press conference was held on 3 January, with the park director and the head of the Galapagos regional government, to clarify the situation. The director (Juan Chavez, an old work colleague of ours when we was working in the islands) clearly indicated that the park was against all forms of fireworks, even those considered "silent" - and he explained that silent ones still make a lot of noise and emit a lot of smoke.

 

Jan. 6 press conference - Juan Chavez (right) makes his case. President of the regional government Edwin Altamirano, and a government technician.

Things got more heated the following days, and on Saturday 6 January, he was fired from his job. We can only presume that this was in response to pressure from proponents of fireworks, mostly local municipal politicians.

This is an unfortunate development. Many residents have recognized that a unique Galapagos island culture needs to evolve to ensure that the human presence in the islands is in tune with the special status of Galapagos. A lot of effort has gone into promoting this change. The fireworks case we are seeing now is an illustration of the challenges they face.

Over the years, the development of an island culture in tune with its environment has been a growing theme.  Practices such as keeping domestic animals such as cats and dogs are considered not in line with an island culture.  These are not native to Galapagos and prone to going feral and preying on native species.  They can also carry diseases that could be transmitted to wildlife (the very contagious and deadly canine distemper can be transmitted to sea lions for example). But banning pets among a growing population is not as simple as publishing a new decree.  

There have been some successes.  CNH Tours is involved in promoting local artists for example, and we hire a local group of musicians who sing songs about Galapagos life from time to time.  There are local small environmental NGOs that focus on instilling a sense of Galapagos pride and culture among children. 

CNH Tours contributes $10/guest to the Intenational Galapagos Tour Operators' Association - which in turn supports the development of a local island culture.  ECOS is one such recipient of IGTOA support.

 

This is a developing story. There is a lot of pressure on the part of residents and conservation organizations to re-instate the director. We'll see what happens. If you are traveling to the island in the coming days or weeks you might want to ask any locals you meet what they think about this situation. That should start an interesting conversation.

 

www.cnhtours.com

Galapagos:  We are TripAdvisor's Destination Expert

Antarctica:  Our expert has worked for 18 seasons in the region

Okavango / Kalahari / Vic Falls: Our trip was designed and is led by Dr. Karen Ross, National Geographic's "Champion of the Okavango"

Provence Discovery:  14 guests - 15 days - 3 luxury villas.  September 2025 

 Contact us for more information

Cases of bird flu decrease in Galapagos

Bird flu has devastated marine bird species all over the world this past year or two.  The virus is transported in large part by migratory birds who travel great distances.  The first cases appeared in Galapagos only in September and officials were braced for the worst.  But apparently, the latest evidence seems to indicate that Galapagos will have been spared big mortality figures.   The following is a translation from a recent Galapagos National Park Directorate press release.

Starting on September 19, since the announcement of the presence of avian influenza in at least two colonies of native and endemic birds of the archipelago, the Galapagos National Park Directorate implemented a monitoring plan in sites with an abundant presence of birds, in order to evaluate the levels of contagion in the different bird populations.

The monitoring consists of observing the environment and taking samples from live and dead birds in 29 sites such as Punta Pitt and Isla Lobos in San Cristóbal; Punta Cevallos, Punta Suárez and Colonia Central in Española; Genoese; Seymour Norte, Isabela, Fernandina, among others, to then carry out the analysis at the Galapagos laboratory (LABGAL). So far, 20 monitoring trips have been made, visiting each site at least once a week.

During the first three weeks the results of the samples taken in Punta Pitt and Genovesa - the only colonies in which the presence of avian flu was confirmed - were positive, especially in red-footed boobies, the species most affected by the disease.

The last two weeks of monitoring represent good news for the Environmental Authority. The positive results of the samples taken have decreased significantly, even for two weeks only negative cases were evident. “We believe that the wave of avian influence on the islands has passed and although it generated a small number of dead birds in some species, the populations are healthy and able to recover,” said Danny Rueda Córdova, director of the Galapagos National Park.

Despite this encouraging news, the Directorate of the Galapagos National Park with the support of the Agency for the Regulation and Control of Biosafety and Quarantine for Galapagos, the Charles Darwin Foundation and the San Francisco de Quito University, will maintain monitoring of the sites, take of samples and application of biosafety protocols implemented to reduce the risk of new infections.

The Galapagos National Park Directorate confirmed that, if negative results continue during the following weeks, the relevance of opening the visiting sites that remain closed will be analyzed.

Booby (guess which kind...)

 

www.cnhtours.com

Galapagos:  We are TripAdvisor's Destination Expert

Antarctica:  Our expert has worked for 18 seasons in the region

Okavango / Kalahari / Vic Falls: Our trip was designed and is led by Dr. Karen Ross, National Geographic's "Champion of the Okavango"

Provence Discovery:  14 guests - 15 days - 3 luxury villas.  September 2025 

 Contact us for more information

An elegant (and jet-lag free) way to cross the Atlantic

Planes can be fast… but a zen experience they are not.  CNH Tours co-founders Heather Blenkiron and Marc Patry are on day 5 of an 8-day crossing of the Atlantic Ocean on the Queen Mary 2 (QM2).   This is the third time we’ve moved between the new and the old worlds by ship.   

The trip is a far cry from a Galapagos or Antarctica cruise.  First of all, it’s not a “cruise” per se, but a “crossing”.   We’re not sailing around from visitor site to visitor site, disembarking/embarking.  No – we are simply going from Southampton to New York City, heading home after several weeks in Provence, where we house sat for old friends and did some research for a trip we’re planning there (September 2025).  

Position of the Queen Mary 2 on Friday 24 November, 9AM ship time

We’re quite keen on these crossings.  If you have the time, they are a very elegant, very comfortable and surprisingly inexpensive way to cross the Atlantic.  It’s like spending a week at a higher end “all-inclusive” resort with all the usual accoutrements. 

The QM2 offers a variety of dining options, from fancy restaurants, buffet style, pub food and more, all with extensive wine, beer and cocktail menus.  There is a wide-ranging program of activities and lectures, live music (their jazz ensemble is stellar) and stage performances.  Sailings may be themed - we happen to be on “Literature Festival at Sea” trip – with a few dozen journalists, authors, radio personalities and more on board offering all kinds of talks, presentations and discussions.  Looking to stay in shape? There's a good gym, two pools - and five times around the main deck will get you one mile under your belt. 

Over the course of the week, for those who are keen, the ship will host 2 or 3 “formal dinner / gala / dancing” evenings.  To participate, you will be required to dress accordingly (black tie, evening dresses etc..).  Our impression is that about ¼ of the guests on board take part.   While there is an effort to re-create the “grand old days of Atlantic crossings” type of feel in terms of dress code (you don’t see much of sweatpants / t-shirts / crocs at all on board), the overall mood is pretty relaxed.  

One of our favourite lounges - the Commodore Club - offers a commanding view of the ship's bow and the sea beyond.  A great place for your morning coffee.

The ship is large and handles the seas very well.  We had gale force winds yesterday and the waters were “somewhat lively” shall we say!  There was definitely some heeling going on, but very manageable.  I suppose it comes with the territory when crossing the north Atlantic at the end of November… On our previous two sailings, during summer months, we were hard-pressed to feel any motion at all during the entire crossings


A typical balcony stateroom

Based on our observations, about 90% of the people on board are in their 60's and 70's and from what we could gather, they are quite a well-educated group of people with interesting life stories. Encounters with other guests are common, be it at a shared pub-style table over lunch or sitting next to each other at one of the evening performances.   Folks are generally keen to chat – but as we have CNH Tours work to do while on the ship (such as, for instance, writing news items for our website...), we have been able to easily eclipse ourselves for parts of the day, either retreating to our comfortable cabin or finding a quiet corner somewhere in one of the several cozy lounges (the internet is quite good). 

The jazz band in the Chart Room - playing on the Queen Mary 2 for many years.  It doesn't get much better than that.

We’ve taken the time to carry out a thorough inspection of the ship, its cabins (“staterooms” to use the local vernacular), various restaurants and venues.  We’ve taken note of the pros and cons of different cabin classes in different parts of the ship.  There are a number of variables to keep in mind – upper decks vs lower decks, forward vs aft vs mid-ship berths, sheltered / regular balconies or no balcony, solo cabins, interior berths, location of cabins in relation to the different staircases/elevators (the ship is longer than the Eiffel Tower is tall), port vs starboard sides… 

It's well worth choosing a strategically located cabin - it can make a big difference to your on-board experience (we recommend mid- to mid-aft ship, lower decks, near, but not directly in front of the C staircase...).  

A lively stage production at the 1,100 seat Royal Theatre

CNH Tours is registered with Cunard – we can help you book a stateroom best suited to your travel style.  Prices start at about US$1,200 / person shared for the 7-night / 8-day crossing (inside cabin).  For about US$1,700 / person, you can book a cabin with a deck. There are about two dozen attractively-priced solo cabins (book early, they go fast). The ship offers more spacious Princess and Queen class cabins in the US$3,00-$4,000/person range.  If you really want to go all the way, it has a handful of staterooms fit for royalty, as spacious as a small house...  We're here if you have any questions.

 

www.cnhtours.com

Galapagos:  We are TripAdvisor's Destination Expert

Antarctica:  Our expert has worked for 18 seasons in the region

Okavango / Kalahari / Vic Falls: Our trip was designed and is led by Dr. Karen Ross, National Geographic's "Champion of the Okavango"

Provence Discovery:  14 guests - 15 days - 3 luxury villas.  September 2025 

 Contact us for more information

Are Galapagos Expedition ships a source of water pollution?

We regularly come across concerns about whether expedition ships in Galapagos may be a source of water pollution.  We go over the issue in this short article.   

What waste? 

Ships do not throw inorganic rubbish into the sea.  It is collected and disposed of when the ship returns to port at least once a week – joining the rubbish produced in towns and sent to a landfill once any recyclable materials are taken care of.  Ships don’t dump oil or fuel into the sea either – they have no interest in doing so.  Fuel is used to power the engines, and exhaust, like for all internal combustion engines, is released into the air.   Organic kitchen scraps are allowed to be disposed into the sea (at least 2km from shore), but only after having been chopped up. Such scraps quickly decompose and are the source of nutrients for marine organisms.  We focus on human wasted in this article.

It’s true that ships release human waste into the ocean as they navigate throughout the archipelago.  Whatever is flushed down the toilet (and almost all ships ask you to flush nothing but human waste down the toilet, providing a covered waste basked next to it for the paper) does end up in the sea.  Regulations require that wastewater pass through a type of industrial blender (primary treatment), turning it into more of a sludgy liquid before being released.

Is human waste a pollution concern?  We look at it in two ways:

  • Waste composition: Are the actual components of human waste harmful to the Galapagos marine environment?
  • Waste volume: Is the total amount of human waste released into the sea a concern?

Does the nature of human waste harm Galapagos?

Human waste is pretty much the same as waste generated by other animals such as fish, sea lions, whales and blue-footed boobies.  It’s a mix of organic matter, bacteria, high in nitrogen, fat and other organic compounds and elements.  There may be varying concentrations of different compounds between species, but at the end of the day, it’s the same kind of thing.  

Is this waste bad for the marine environment?

Biologists understand that animal waste is a rich source of nutrients.  Farmers spread manure on their fields to enrich them – and many of us do the same in our back-yard gardens.  Typically, if amounts do not exceed certain levels, animal waste is considered as a very valuable input into marine ecosystems, bringing in highly prized nutrients in waters that are generally nutrient poor.  Plankton thrives when nutrients are available - and in turn, the plankton forms the basis of a rich food chain leading right back up to whales, sea lions and sharks.   In this regard, one can conclude that human waste, by its composition, is actually beneficial to the Galapagos marine environment, like fertilizer is beneficial to a garden. 

However, it’s possible to overload an ecosystem with nutrients.  Doing so leads to eutrophication – a condition that occurs when an excess of nutrients leads to runaway algal growth. Algae proliferates, dies and is consumed by bacteria, which use up all the oxygen, turning such waters into dead zones for animals.  Eutrophication usually occurs in enclosed waters (lakes, slow moving rivers, estuaries or inlets) and rarely in the kinds of open waters one finds in Galapagos.  Still, there’s no harm in looking at the volume and concentration of human waste being released into the sea as a possible indicator of negative impacts.

Does the volume and/or concentration of human waste harm Galapagos marine ecosystems?

The best way to answer this question is to get a sense of the relative importance of human waste vs Galapagos wildlife waste that is released into the waters.   The Galapagos marine reserve is home to dozens of species that are larger than humans.  The weight of a single adult blue whale (up to 300,000 pounds, or 136,000kg), for example, is about the same as the total weight of all humans aboard expedition ships on any given day[1].  Arguably, the daily waste a blue whale generates must be in the same order of magnitude as the daily waste generated by all those people.  Don’t forget – when a blue whale has a bowel movement, it all happens in one spot, while human waste is dispersed over a vast expanse of ocean.  Yet eutrophication of Galapagos waters has never been a concern – it doesn’t happen because the relative amount of nutrients remains very much below the threshold that could lead to eutrophication. 

A whale of a bowel movement...

 

Getting back to that blue whale – it shows how just one individual of one species can produce as much waste as all the humans on board expedition ships – that alone should make it clear that human waste is a minuscule part of all the animal waste released into the Galapagos marine reserve every day.   If we just look at whales – the fact that over a dozen species of larger whales make Galapagos waters their home and they number in the thousands further illustrates the inconsequential nature of contributions made by humans.

But let’s keep on considering other sources of animal waste.

Occasionally seen in superpods containing 1,000 or more individuals, dolphins are very common in the islands.  It’s not unreasonable to conclude that tens of thousands of them spend a lot of time in the Galapagos marine reserve – and each one weighs on average over twice as much as a human.   You’ll also notice many sea lions while exploring Galapagos.   Their population has been estimated at about 50,000 – and each one is close to the size of an average human.   We’ve not even mentioned the millions of fish in the sea around Galapagos. From the tens of thousands of larger sharks, rays, tuna, to the ubiquitous smaller fish. And then there are all those seabirds.

Each one of these animals releases waste into the water.  It’s easy to conclude that the proportion of animal waste released into Galapagos waters that can be attributed to humans on expedition ships is infinitesimally small and that its incremental effect on the environment is literally no more than the proverbial drop in the ocean.   

A non-issue at sea, but not near towns

It’s clear that human waste released by people aboard expedition ships has no negative effect on Galapagos marine ecosystems.

However, there are waters in Galapagos that are demonstrably negatively affected by human waste.  These are found in the bays around which the main human settlements are built and where we find hotels, restaurants and more.  This is particularly the case in Puerto Ayora.  Here, approximately 15,000 people live around Academy Bay – and the town has no sewage system.  Used waters are flushed (in a best case scenario) into little more than holes dug into porous volcanic rock.  They easily flow into the bay.  Studies have shown the the levels of faecal coliform bacteria in the near shore at Academy Bay, along with other indicators of leaching sewage, are high enough to pose a risk to human and ecosystem health[2].  There has been talk about developing a functioning sewage treatment system in Galapagos for decades - but little has been done to date.  

So, rest assured, your time aboard your expedition ship is not contributing to the contamination of pristine Galapagos waters. 

 

[1] 65 ships, with an average capacity of about 25 guests, a 1:2 ratio of crew to guests and an average occupancy rate of about 75% means that, on any given day in Galapagos, there are a little over 1,800 guest and crew members on Galapagos expedition ships.

[2] Mateus, C.; Guerrero, C.A.; Quezada, G.; Lara, D.; Ochoa-Herrera, V. An Integrated Approach for Evaluating Water Quality between 2007–2015 in Santa Cruz Island in the Galapagos Archipelago. Water 201911, 937. https://doi.org/10.3390/w11050937

 

www.cnhtours.com

Galapagos:  We are TripAdvisor's Destination Expert

Antarctica:  Our expert has worked for 18 seasons in the region

Okavango / Kalahari / Vic Falls: Our trip was designed and is led by Dr. Karen Ross, National Geographic's "Champion of the Okavango"

Provence Discovery:  14 guests - 15 days - 3 luxury villas.  September 2025 

 Contact us for more information

Avian flu puts penguins in peril?

In a press release today (see text below), the government of Ecuador announced the likely presence of avian flu in Galapagos.  Avian flu has been circulating widely around the world in 2023, affecting domestic livestock (chickens, turkeys, ducks) and wild birds alike.   The virus is transmitted in large part by wild birds, most particularly aquatic birds such as ducks, geese, swans, gulls, and terns, and shorebirds, such as storks, plovers, and sandpipers. As a number of migratory shore bird species move from as far as the Arctic through North, Central and South America to and through Galapagos, it is not surprising that the flu appears to have made it here. 

The flu can cause significant mortality in wild birds but poses little risk to humans.  Combined with the current El Niño conditions in Galapagos, marine birds in Galapagos will likely be under significant pressure in the coming months.  Of particular concern may be the Galapagos penguins whose natural population numbers tend to reach no more than 2,000 to 3,000 or so individuals.  

 

Range of the Galapagos Penguin

 

In response to the detection of the H5N1 virus, the park has closed visitor sites where it was detected.  It is also asking all tour operators to redouble sanitation protocols when going to visitor sites.  If you are on an upcoming trip to Galapagos, and if you were planning on visiting some of these sites, it’s likely that alternative sites will be proposed during your visit. 

 

 

GOVERNMENT OF ECUADOR PRESS RELEASE 19 SEPTEMBER 2023

Recently, naturalist guides have been reporting an unusual number of dead birds on several Galapagos island.  In response to these reports, the technical team of the Directorate of the Galapagos National Park (DPNG) and the Agency for Control and Regulation of Biosafety and Quarantine for Galapagos (ABG) carried out some sampling and laboratory analysis to determine the cause of death of the animals. Preliminarily, of the five specimens examined, three of them tested positive for H5N1 avian influenza; The collected material will be forwarded on to the National Health Research Institute Public (INSPI) in Guayaquil, for confirmation.

In response, the National Environmental Authority in the archipelago has activated the biosafety protocols to reduce the risk of dispersion of the virus. Among the first actions, the closure of the visitor sites where affected birds have been detected was ordered: Genovesa and Punta Pitt (San Cristóbal Island) and preventively Punta Suarez and Punta Cevallos (Española island).  In addition, a communiqué was issued to tour operators to strengthen the disinfection process of footwear and clothing when accessing other visitor sites, and to continually disinfect outdoor common areas and tenders that are used for the disembarkation of passengers.

The DPNG and the ABG monitor the habitat and nesting areas of the populations of endemic birds such as penguins and Galapagos cormorants and today, it deployed several teams to other parts of the archipelago to evaluate the situation. Naturalist guides, who are the eyes of the Park, have been asked to  reinforce their monitoring of animal behavior and to immediately report any unusual observations.

“The Park deeply regrets the arrival of this virus to Galapagos. We have mobilized all our resources and experts to implement measures that reduce their impact on this unique ecosystem. However, we make an urgent call to the population: If you find sick or dead birds, do not touch them or pick them up,” said the Minister of Environment, Water and Ecological Transition, José Antonio Dávalos.

 

www.cnhtours.com

Galapagos:  We are TripAdvisor's Destination Expert

Antarctica:  Our expert has worked for 18 seasons in the region

Okavango / Kalahari / Vic Falls: Our trip was designed and is led by Dr. Karen Ross, the National Geographic's "Champion of the Okavango",

 Contact us for more information

 

United Nations to Ecuador: “You must control runaway land-based tourism growth in Galapagos”

(Riyadh, Saudi Arabia) The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) manages the implementation of the World Heritage (WH) Convention.  Under the terms of this Convention, the 193 countries of the world that have ratified it have undertaken to identify and conserve, for the benefit of their citizens and for all of humanity, the world’s most outstanding natural and cultural heritage sites. 

Every year, UNESCO organizes the meeting of the intergovernmental WH Committee.  Made up of 21 signatory countries, elected among their peers, the WH Committee oversees the work of UNESCO in implementing the Convention.  Acting like the bouncers in a private club, the WH Committee also keeps an eye on the state of conservation of WH sites around the world – and if they consider that things are not going particularly well in a site, they will request that the country in which the site is located take specific measures to ensure the site’s values for which it was recognized, are not lost.   

The WH Committee receives information on the state of conservation from various sources.  The government of Ecuador submitted its own Galapagos report in 2022.  While governmental reports can provide valuable information, one is not wrong to suspect that such reports may not want to focus on issues that might raise undue alarm. 

The WH Committee also receives a State of Conservation report jointly produced by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) and UNESCO’s own experts at the WH Centre.  This report relies on a variety of information sources and tends to raise issues that the government would rather gloss over. 

Specifically, the IUCN / World Heritage report includes the following statements in relation to tourism in Galapagos:

… statistics publicly available at the website of the Ministry of Tourism show a steep and continuous increase of visitor numbers (https://servicios.turismo.gob.ec/) from less than 12,000 at the time of inscription in 1978 to more than 270,000 in 2019 before the start of the pandemic. Notwithstanding the temporary decrease in numbers as a result of the COVID pandemic, tourist visitation numbers from January to March 2023 are reported to be 78,507, which is over than 9,500 more than in the first quarter of 2019, prior to the pandemic. The reported opening of a new flight connection to Galapagos from the city of Manta in March 2023 will only further exacerbate this trend.

Since 1998, when a cap was established on the total capacity of the cruise ship fleet, most of this growth is land-based visitation, which carries even larger risks of introduction and dispersal of alien species compared with ship-based tourism.

The WH Committee is meeting in Riyadh these days.   It has been assessing the state of conservation of WH sites around the world.  When it came to Galapagos, they made the following request to Ecuador:

The WH Committee reiterates its continued concern on the steady growth of tourism and commercial flights to the property and urges again the State Party to develop and implement a clear tourism strategy with a clear action plan with urgent measures to achieve the zero-growth model, including maintaining the moratorium on construction of new tourism projects and the limits on the number of flights, and to submit this strategy and action plan to the World Heritage Centre for review.

 

 A busy day at the Darwin Bay visitor site, San Cristobal Island

 

The ball is back in Ecuador’s court.  They are part of the prestigious “World Heritage” club.  Galapagos was the first site to every have been recognized as World Heritage, back in 1978.   If Ecuador wants to keep its membership in good standing, it has to do what it takes to ensure that the values for which Galapagos was recognized in the first place are not undermined.  

Unlimited tourism growth in a remote oceanic archipelago like Galapagos is a major factor when it comes to the introduction and dispersal of alien species.   Alien species are the greatest single threat to Galapagos biodiversity.   With increased visitation numbers comes an increase in:

  • the number of flights from the continent;
  • the frequency of cargo ships offloading supplies from the mainland;
  • immigration from the continent, leading to rapid population growth.

These increases all facilitate the inadvertent (and sometimes deliberate) introduction of alien species to Galapagos.   They help neutralize the critical ecological isolation that was key in making Galapagos what it is today – a place where one can easily witness the graphic manifestations of biological evolution in action.   It’s why Galapagos is on the World Heritage list.

Ecuador won international recognition among proponents of sustainable tourism when it established a strict and well-regulated expedition cruise ship tourism model in the islands back in 1998.  It set a firm cap on ship sizes and total fleet capacity.  Since 1998, ship-based tourism numbers have been flat at about 72,000 / year.   It is now time for Ecuador to do the same for land-based tourism.  It needs to find a way to establish a firm upper limit to how many land-based visitors can come to the island each year.  

 

Las Grietas, near Puerto Ayora, Santa Cruz island

 

www.cnhtours.com

Galapagos:  We are TripAdvisor's Destination Expert

Antarctica:  Our expert has worked for 18 seasons in the region

Okavango / Kalahari / Vic Falls: Our trip was designed and is led by Dr. Karen Ross, the National Geographic's "Champion of the Okavango",

 Contact us for more information

Dr. Keith Alverson: Our “go-to” person for climate change related questions

Keith (a New Hampshire native) may not be directly involved in matters pertaining to Galapagos, but he did spend a part of his childhood in rural Botswana, where his parents were immersed in and studying the local culture.  In fact, he’s one of the characters in the book his mother Marianne wrote about their time in Botswana: “Under African Sun” – so CNH Tours, which runs one or two trips to Botswana each year, has some basis for highlighting Keith’s work!

I first met Keith in about 2007 while I was working at UNESCO’s World Heritage Centre in Paris.   He was UNESCO’s head of Ocean Observations and Services at the Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission as well as director of the Global Ocean Observing System.  Not a bad mandate.  While our paths didn’t cross regularly, we did chat on occasion and he struck me as a no-nonsense kind of guy, telling it like it was (a bit of a fresh breeze when you’re working in a large multilateral organization). 

And then I didn’t see him in the hallways anymore.  In 2011 he’d left for a job at the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) in Nairobi, hired as the director of its Freshwater, Land and Climate Branch.  It turns out that I also ended up in Nairobi in early 2014 working as UNESCO’s senior representative of its Culture sector (which included World Heritage issues).  So we bumped into each other again – but this time, our families got to know each other and we developed stronger ties.

It was our turn to leave when, later in 2015. I decided to quit my job, take the family back to Ottawa and join my wife Heather in running CNH Tours.   In the meantime, Keith left Nairobi in 2016 to take up the directorship of UNEP’s International Environmental Technology Center in Osaka, Japan.  By 2020, with COVID in the picture, he also decided to call it quits and he and his wife Min moved to Ottawa (she was raised here), of all places.  So we’ve rekindled our old friendship again.   It’s nice to have some local friends who have shared the same kind of expat life we did.

It didn’t take long for Keith to get back into his professional groove though – he was hired as the executive director of the World Climate Research Program’s Climate and the Cryosphere Project (CliC) based out of Amherst, Massachusetts, where he spends some of his time.  Among other activities, CliC is very active in Antarctic science, including working on defining essential climate and cryosphere variables to include in an annual Antarctic report card, which may include environmental impact of tourism - so he has a direct link to our Antarctica trips as well.  To add a feather to his already heavily laden cap, Keith was recently appointed as the secretary general of the International Association for Meteorology and Atmospheric Sciences in Berlin this past July. 

CNH Tours is lucky to have such contacts, helping us better understand climate change and how it might relate to the work we do.  

 

www.cnhtours.com

Galapagos:  We are TripAdvisor's Destination Expert

Antarctica:  Our expert has worked for 18 seasons in the region

Okavango / Kalahari / Vic Falls: Our trip was designed and is led by Dr. Karen Ross, the National Geographic's "Champion of the Okavango",

 Contact us for more information

Special Guest on our Integrity Trip

We had a special guest on our Ocean Safari trip on the Integrity recently.  Romina Cahuana is an environmental education assistant at the Charles Darwin Research Station in Puerto Ayora, Galapagos. She's a Galapagos native - having been born there around the time CNH Tours owners were living and working at the Darwin Station themselves. 

It turns out that we had some unsold spaces on our charter – and we wondered if and how we could make best use of them.  We approached the ship owners (the Sievers family – whose patriarch arrived in Galapagos from Switzerland in the 1950’s and whose sons, still Galapagos residents, are now mostly in charge of the ship).  They enthusiastically supported the idea of inviting someone for the Charles Darwin Research Station to come aboard, at no extra cost. 

We approached our friend, Rakan Zahawi, the director of the Station and asked him to help find a suitable candidate.  He in turn offered the opportunity to Romina.  Romina has a bachelor’s degree in Education Sciences, obtained in Quito.  In 2021, she volunteered with the Charles Darwin Foundation's Community Education and Outreach Program and currently works in the program as an Environmental Education Assistant and is committed to supporting efforts to improve education in her community.

Selfie on the Integrity (Leon Dormido / Kicker Rock in the background)

We asked her how the trip might have influenced her perspective on things, how it might have contributed to her ability to do her work.  She responds:

The Integrity experience has been an opportunity to fall in love once again with the place where I was born and grew up. It has also been a time for me to pause and observe unique details that the flora and fauna of Galapagos has that I had not realized before. Observing the birds, both marine and terrestrial, was my favorite part and my curiosity to continue learning about them has only grown.

This motivates me to continue working to cultivate curiosity and wonder in more local youth so they will love the place around them every day.

The Station director also recognized the value in offering this kind of opportunity to his team:

Thanks Marc for this opportunity and apologies I didn’t get back to you quicker.  I was traveling last day or so and this is a great example of how fast some opportunities move in Galapagos!  Anyway, glad you took the liberty of reaching out to us and that helped to get this moving.  Hopefully you can accommodate Romina onboard - a fantastic opportunity for a staff member and chance to engage with visitors - and thanks for thinking of us!

Cheers, 

Rakan 

Rakan A. Zahawi, PhD
Executive Director 
Charles Darwin Foundation

 

More on the Integrity

The Integrity is a 16-passenger luxury ship. It’s one of the few remaining ships in Galapagos that is locally owned and operated.  It’s one of the ships we first turn to when guests approach us looking for a full-on Galapagos experience with top quality guides, while also wanting a bit of extra comfort on board.  Having good personal relationships with the ship owner brings a lot of advantages to us, and by extension, to our guests.   It’s one of the criteria we rely on when deciding which ships to work with in Galapagos. 

 

www.cnhtours.com

Galapagos:  We are TripAdvisor's Destination Expert

Antarctica:  Our expert has worked for 18 seasons in the region

Okavango / Kalahari / Vic Falls: Our trip was designed and is led by Dr. Karen Ross, the National Geographic's "Champion of the Okavango",

 Contact us for more information

 

news