Galapagos News

Diesel Spill in Galapagos's Largest Port

In the early hours of Saturday, a tourism vessel called the Albatros sank in Puerto Ayora, the primary port in Galapagos. The ship was carrying approximately two thousand gallons of diesel, which has caused a “superficial slick”, as described by the Ecuadorian environment ministry. The cause for the sinking has not been confirmed, but it’s expected that there might have been a ruptured pipe that caused the event. The authorities also believe there is still diesel onboard the ship and are working to confirm this detail. Puerto Ayora lies in Academy Bay, which is relatively small and hosts only a few dozen small ships, anchored in its shallow waters.

As protectors of the Archipelago, the Galapagos National Park authorities have placed a boom around the sunk vessel as well as dispersed absorbent sheets, to contain the oil as much as possible. In addition, they have released dispersants into other affected areas. Below an aerial shot from the Galapagos National Park of the boom – if you look closely, you can also see the Albatros below the water. 

IMAGE: Drone shot from the Galapagos National Park, showing the sunken vessel and protective boom surrounding it. 

The Galapagos National Park along with other local authorities are keeping watch over the situation, but it appears that thanks to quick action, as well as the assistance from many local volunteers, the damage caused is minimal.

Very unfortunately, Galapagos is no stranger to major oil spills and ships running aground causing similar issues. As many might remember, the worst such disaster was in 2001 when the oil tanker Jessica sank off the coast of San Cristobal Island. In a record-breaking year, 2014 saw several cargo ships running aground (you can read our blog pieces on those as well: Grounded cargo ship is re-floated and towed away ; Cargo ship runs aground). One such cargo ship ran aground off the shore of San Cristobal in a very aptly named Wreck Bay. That particular ship was mostly loaded with produce and while the priority was to first offload and empty any petrol onboard, the town absolutely reeked -- unfortunately I can say that with first-hand knowledge of it...

Co-owners of CNH Tours Heather and Marc are on their way to Galapagos, arriving this coming week. They will be speaking with those on the front line of this work to contain the spill. Stay tuned here for further news and updates!

 

 

U.S.-ECUADOR PARTNERSHIP ACT passed by Senate Foreign Relations Committee

Here are excerpts from the press release emitted by the US Foreign Relations Committee, 23 March 2022.  The bill now must be approved by the senate.  But as it received bi-partisan support at the committee level, one would hope that it will pass the senate without too many difficulties.  

WASHINGTON – Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) was joined today by Committee Ranking Member Jim Risch (R-Idaho) and Senators Tim Kaine (D-Va.) and Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), Chairman and Ranking Member of the Subcommittee on the Western Hemisphere, in applauding the Senate Foreign Relations Committee’s passage of their United States-Ecuador Partnership Act of 2022. The bipartisan proposal, which now moves on to the Senate Floor for a final vote, is the first legislative proposal in the U.S. Congress to focus exclusively on U.S.-Ecuador relations. Recognizing Ecuador as a key democratic partner in Latin America, the legislation lays out a comprehensive diplomatic strategy to strengthen U.S.-Ecuador cooperation on issues of mutual interest, including strengthening democratic institutions, promoting inclusive economic growth, supporting environmental conservation initiatives, and expanding capabilities to address corruption, crime, and malign foreign influence. The legislation also authorizes the transfer of two excess Coast Guard vessels to the Government of Ecuador to support the protection of the Galapagos Marine Reserve, deterrence of illegal fishing, and interdiction of narcotics trafficking.

The act:

  • Requires a strategy to expand economic and commercial ties between the U.S. and Ecuador, and facilitate conditions for inclusive economic growth, including for Afro-Ecuadorian and Indigenous communities
  • Supports Ecuador’s leadership on environmental conservation and stewardship
  • Reinforces Ecuador’s efforts to combat illicit economies, including corruption, human trafficking, and illegal, unregulated, and unreported (IUU) fishing
  • Authorizes the transfer of two excess Coast Guard cutters to the Government of Ecuador
  • Strengthens bilateral security cooperation on cyber, law enforcement, and penitentiary issues, as well as the challenges posed by the malicious activities of foreign states

Specifically, in terms of conservation, the act contains the following sections:

The Administrator of the United States Agency for International Development, in coordination with the Secretary of State and the heads of other relevant Federal departments and agencies, shall develop and implement programs and enhance existing programs, as necessary 2 and appropriate, to improve ecosystem conservation and 3 enhance the effective stewardship of Ecuador’s natural resources by— 


(1) providing technical assistance to Ecuador’s Ministry of the Environment to safeguard national parks and protected forests and protected species, while promoting the participation of Indigenous communities in this process;

(2) strengthening the capacity of communities to access the right to prior consultation, encoded in 12 Article 57 of the Constitution of Ecuador and related laws, executive decrees, administrative acts, and ministerial regulations;

(3) supporting Indigenous and Afro-Ecuadorian 16 communities as they raise awareness of threats to biodiverse ancestral lands, including through support for local media in such communities and technical assistance to monitor illicit activities; 

(4) partnering with the Government of Ecuador in support of reforestation and improving river, lake, and coastal water quality;

(5) providing assistance to communities affected by illegal mining and deforestation; and

(6) fostering mechanisms for cooperation on emergency preparedness and rapid recovery from natural disasters, including by—

(A) establishing regional preparedness, recovery, and emergency management centers to facilitate rapid response to survey and help  maintain planning on regional disaster anticipated needs and possible resources; and

(B) training disaster recovery officials on latest techniques and lessons learned from United States experiences.

 

This seems like good news for Ecuador and Galapagos. 

 

 

 

 

Jekyll and Hyde of the Galapagos: The delicious invasive blackberry

This is your $100 park entrance fee at work.

These days, at the Charles Darwin Research Station, several experts are attending a workshop on biological control for the alien and highly invasive blackberry in Galapagos.

Most of us know this plant - it grows in thick stands, is full of thorns, but is a prolific producer of delicious berries.  Birds also like the berries.  They eat them up, fly away, and eventually, they drop blackberry seeds somewhere else, further propagating the plant. 



Blackberry is not native to Galapagos. In the days before there was any control over what people brought over from the continent, some smart person thought they'd establish their own blackberry bushes in their yard.   The rest is history.  The plant is even found on uninhabited islands now.  It most likely arrived there after seeds were deposited by a fisherman on shore, a park staffer on a field job, or a scientist - any of which may have eaten some berries just before making the trip there. 

The blackberry plants crowd out native vegetation and can take over large expanses of land.  Once established, the areas they occupy tend to be biological deserts, with little else present but the blackberry.   On Santa Cruz island, the blackberry is taking over the highland ecosystems, habitat for the endemic scalesia trees which support a variety of other endemic species, including the disappearing Galapagos vermillion flycatcher.

Until now, blackberry can only be controlled by a huge effort, sending teams of people pulling it out of the ground. It's delicious berries are eaten by birds, who then spreads seeds far a and wide. Once established, it crowds out native vegetation.

If some type of biological agent (a fungus, an insect) can be found that feeds exclusively on blackberry, it could help in keeping this alien invasive under control.

Below - Left to right: Rakan Zahawi, Darwin Station director, Danny Rueda, Galapagos National Park director and our former colleague Marilyn Cruz, head of the Galapagos Biosecurity agency.
Photo credit: Galapagos National Park

Our Ocean Safari ship featured in Forbes magazine

I have my “Google News” service flag articles relating to Galapagos.  Every day I get a news feed that helps me monitor what is being said about the islands in various media.

Today, I came across a travel article in Forbes, featuring the luxury ship we use for our Ocean Safari trip – the Integrity.  It was a decent, succinct piece.  The ship’s main marketing company, INCA, was featured prominently.  CNH Tours has had a very good working relationship with INCA for 15+ years.  The people running that company really know Galapagos well and have a multi-decade history there. Until recently, our relationship was limited to helping small groups / couples book spaces on the ship.  But last year, after an exhaustive search, we decided to charter the Integrity for our new “OCEAN SAFARI” trips, starting in 2023. 

Integrity: Understated elegance


We chose this luxury ship for a few reasons:

  • Excellent itineraries: We have analyzed many ship itineraries over the years and have come to appreciate what elements contribute to a superior one.  Factors such as avoiding needless back-tracking, which has you spending more time underway than necessary; spending minimal time in urban areas and more time out among the islands; an 8 day journey that is not made up of two smaller segments during which the ship picks up / drops off guests on shorter trips; avoiding visitor sites that have very little natural history value; avoiding long day-time traverses in which the activity is "whale watching" - a euphemism for "we'll be spending all afternoon underway and nothing is planned".     

   Left: Circuitous "Inner Loop" itinerary of the mega yacht Celebrity Flora.   Right:  Efficient "Born of Fire" itinerary of the Integrity.  The Integrity takes guests to more visitors sites in the same amount of time, spending less time in human settlements.

 

  • Elegance and comfort without the bling:  Over the past 15-20 years, most of the Galapagos expedition cruise ship fleet has moved towards the high end market.  In their effort to impress would-be guests, several ships have gone "over the top".  Design seems to have the Miami/Russia jet-set scene in mind, with stainless steel, coloured glass, avant-garde furniture.  The focus tends to be more on bells and whistles rather than on nautical / natural design themes.  Some market their ships as "mega" yachts - exactly what we think should be avoided if you are keen on an intimate experience in the islands.  After having inspected the Integrity, we came back with the image of "understated elegance" - which we felt was in line with the overall experience. 

  • Locally owned and operated:  The ship is owned and operated by a local Galapagos family - the Sievers.  The patriarch has been in Galapagos since the late 1950's and in his twenties was one of the first Darwin Station directors.   His two son have taken up most of the responsibility now.  

  • Top quality guides:  The Integrity's naturalist guides are professionals. Some have been in the business for decades.  They are regularly called upon to serve as naturalist guides for VIPs that visit the islands on private tours.  

For twenty years we’ve been organizing our “ACTIVE GALAPAGOS” trip on the very cozy 14 passenger Samba.  We started with four departures per year, and now we’re chartering the ship for over 22 weeks a year. We’ve found that a lot of people are keen on being active, on getting out early, and engaging as much as possible with the Galapagos environment.   Our guests are reassured that they will be on a ship with like-minded fellow passengers and with a crew and naturalist guides that will enable a more active experience.  But we found that a number of people, while very keen on our Active Galapagos trips, decided to give them a pass in favour of a more comfortable ship.  It’s for that reason that we started offering the Ocean Safari on the Integrity.

For more information, see our Ocean Safari page here

11 Reasons for going on a family cruise in Galapagos

We've been helping families organize a Galapagos trip of a lifetime since 1999.  

Of the 65 or so expedition cruise ships in Galapagos, fewer than a dozen offer dedicated family departures.  These usually take place in the northern hemisphere school holiday periods. Most of these ships are higher end and offer a wonderful experience.  

If you’re keen on a family departure, but are not into the high end market, a Galapagos specialist travel company (like CNH Tours…) can usually look around and find departures on which other families have already booked.  It’s not unusual to see more kids in Galapagos during the school holiday periods on many ships. 

Either way, a family cruise in the Galapagos islands will build lifelong memories for all.  Below we list a few good reasons to consider this once-in-a-lifetime trip. 

  1.  First of all - for yourself, the parent: The up front and personal, “in your face” nature of Galapagos can’t help but bring out the child in everyone and reawaken your latent sense of wonder.  It will be easier to drop that façade of adulthood, and let the child in you emerge again if you’re in the company of children.


                                                                                        Parents letting loose

                                                                                          Make like an iguana

                                                                                          Doing the Upward Sealion

    2. For your children: Be they youngsters, pre-teens or teens, Galapagos is an over-the-top eye-poppingly amazing place to explore. Every day will bring new remarkably close encounters with all kinds of wildlife, both above and below the sea.  Giant tortoises, blue and red-footed boobies (the name always elicits a few giggles), sea lions (they cavort like under-water puppies), penguins and much more. The volcanic landscapes are as near as being “out of this world” as any other place on Earth. Whales and dolphins are just about guaranteed.
     

                                                                                           Tropical penguins


                                                                                Sea turtles abound

3. Naturalist guides with a youth-oriented slant: On dedicated family cruises, or even on cruises where several children are on-board, the naturalist guides will adapt their talks and activities with the younger group in mind (and sometimes that’s just fine with the parents too) while the ship’s crew will usually also join in (inviting kids to pilot the ship, checking out the galley etc…).  Be prepared to build sandcastles, to engage in a bit of friendly horseplay or simply to loaf about on a variety of pristine beaches. There will be opportunities to snorkel, kayak or maybe a guitar will make an appearance in the evenings.  Jumping off the top deck into the sea is also good fun... The next generation will have all kinds of stimulation on offer. Parents can join in if they like of course. 



                                                                                     Whale anatomy lesson

                                                                              Happy hour Galapagos style


4. Built-in child minding: Your children will befriend other children on board, freeing up some of your time to enjoy adult moments. 

                                                                                           New friends

                                                                                         More new friend

5. Commiserating with other parents: You can share your experiences and thoughts with adults going through the same stage of life and avoid being surrounded by those smug retirees who will tell you stories of the marvelous carefree lives they are living, traveling the world (patience, just a few more years before you join them….). 


                                                                                           Adult wind-down time

6. Not worried about your kids bothering others: You won’t be sharing a ship with people are traveling without kids, expecting a full adult atmosphere on board, resenting having to put up with your active, giggling and adventurous children. 


                                                                              No adults in the jacuzzi please

 

  1. A unique learning experience: Are you reluctant to have them miss a few days of school? Don’t worry about it.  A week on a Galapagos expedition cruise ship will expose children / teens to a whole new world. It will entice them to ask questions, to wonder about natural phenomena and to develop a greater first-hand understanding of the world around them. Your kids will be directly and indirectly exposed to a wide variety of topics such as volcanic geomorphology, astronomy, GPS technology / crossing the equator, marine biology, climate science, oceanography, marine engineering, biological evolution... You can pack in plenty of learning in a short amount of time. 


                                                                                     Ship schooling
  1. Rich and diverse extension options: While you are in Ecuador, you can consider a variety of easy to arrange extensions on the mainland that will expose your children to local culture (participatory arts / crafts; cuisine), history and architecture (Quito is a World Heritage city). If you want more exposure to the natural world, the mysterious cloud forest is easily accessible, and the Amazon basin is just a 30-minute flight out from Quito, while nearby snow-capped volcanoes can be explored. Many people include a visit to Machu Picchu and the Sacred Valley in neighbouring Peru on their itinerary. 



  1. “Easy peasy – lemon squeezy”: Compared to a land-based family trip in Galapagos, on a ship, you will not have to worry about a thing between the moment you embark and the moment you disembark. No wondering about where to get your next meal, packing / unpacking and checking in / out of hotels, waiting around for others in your day tripping group to arrive at the dock.  You won’t be spending a good part of each day simply commuting back and forth to a visitor site.  For parents, the logistics of rounding up the kids and herding them to and fro can really take the fun out of a trip.  On a ship, that entire aspect of “family travel” will disappear. 

  1. Child friendly pricing: Depending on the ship you choose, the time of year, and your children’s ages (usually for those under 12 – but other formulas exist), there may be discounts of up to 50% on the ship, the park entrance fee and the flight from the continent. 
  1. Family memories to last a lifetime: An expedition cruise in Galapagos, where everything is taken care of, will allow the family to focus on enjoying what the islands have to offer, building strong and vivid memories that will strengthen family bonds. 



 

Is there a minimum age requirement for children?

We generally recommend that your child should be at least seven years old before considering an expedition cruise.  Your child should have a good sense of self-control and judgement.  You’ll be taking some nature walks, stopping frequently to observe wildlife. He/she will need to stay on the trail, and you'll be expected to ensure he/she does.  You’ll also be on a ship, and your child should be old enough to be careful moving about while the ship is underway.  Finally, your child should be comfortable in the water, and better yet, at ease using a mask and snorkel.  Underwater Galapagos is half the fun.  There’s always time to learn and practice before your trip. 

 

Wolf Volcano: Still going strong after two months

Ho hum.  Another volcanic eruption in Galapagos.  Reporting on each eruption could become mundane – a bit like reporting on the arrival of winter.  One could argue that it’s not newsworthy. 

But it is. 

A volcanic eruption, even if a relatively frequent event, will always be a moving, soul shifting spectacle.  

We’ve been following Galapagos news for nearly 25 years now, and in that time, we must have reported on 6-8 eruptions.  Heather, the CNH Tours front woman, had the good fortune to join a very small group of scientists to fly over an eruption that took place only a few weeks after our first arrival in Galapagos, back in 1998.   “I saw boulders the size of school buses floating on rivers of lava”.  Her eyes still open wide today when she shares that story. 

The latest eruption is an unusual one.  It started on 7 January 2022 and is still going strong today, two months later.  Most don’t last beyond one or two weeks.  

Galapagos eruptions are not typically violent.  Pressure gradually builds below the surface.  The force presses against the outer layers of the earth’s crust until cracks appear.  The lava seeps out through these cracks.  No big thunderous explosions.  At first the lava might come out in squirts and  jets reaching up to 50 or 100 meters into the air, but as the pressure dissipates, one is left with a steady flow of lava out from the cracks, following the path of least resistance downhill, sometimes reaching the sea, where clouds of steam burst forth.

The current eruption happened on the south / southeastern flank of Wolf Volcano, which is located at the northern tip of Isabela island.   Above, we have a picture taken just moments after the eruption started.   The photographer (none other than former Galapagos Park director Jorge Carrión – an old contact of ours) was there as part of a scientific expedition.  His story:

"𝘐𝘵 𝘸𝘢𝘴 𝘮𝘪𝘥𝘯𝘪𝘨𝘩𝘵 𝘸𝘩𝘦𝘯 𝘢 𝘤𝘢𝘭𝘭 𝘧𝘳𝘰𝘮 𝘋𝘰𝘯 𝘕𝘰𝘷𝘢𝘳𝘪𝘯𝘰 𝘊𝘢𝘴𝘵𝘪𝘭𝘭𝘰 𝘸𝘰𝘬𝘦 𝘶𝘱 𝘦𝘷𝘦𝘳𝘺𝘰𝘯𝘦 𝘪𝘯 𝘵𝘩𝘦 𝘤𝘢𝘮𝘱: "𝘵𝘩𝘦 𝘷𝘰𝘭𝘤𝘢𝘯𝘰 𝘪𝘴 𝘦𝘳𝘶𝘱𝘵𝘪𝘯𝘨!" 𝘞𝘪𝘵𝘩 𝘴𝘶𝘳𝘱𝘳𝘪𝘴𝘦 𝘢𝘯𝘥 𝘴𝘰𝘮𝘦 𝘥𝘪𝘴𝘣𝘦𝘭𝘪𝘦𝘧 𝘸𝘦 𝘭𝘦𝘧𝘵 𝘰𝘶𝘳 𝘵𝘦𝘯𝘵𝘴 𝘢𝘯𝘥 𝘢𝘵 𝘭𝘦𝘢𝘴𝘵 𝘐 𝘵𝘩𝘰𝘶𝘨𝘩𝘵 𝘪𝘵 𝘸𝘢𝘴 𝘋𝘰𝘯 𝘕𝘰𝘷𝘢'𝘴 funny way to get us all up 𝘦𝘢𝘳𝘭𝘺 𝘵𝘰 𝘸𝘢𝘭𝘬 𝘵𝘰 𝘵𝘩𝘦 𝘤𝘰𝘢𝘴𝘵, 𝘣𝘶𝘵 𝘪𝘵 𝘸𝘢𝘴 𝘯𝘰𝘵 𝘭𝘪𝘬𝘦 𝘵𝘩𝘢𝘵, 𝘪𝘵 𝘸𝘢𝘴 𝘵𝘳𝘶𝘦 𝘢𝘯𝘥 𝘺𝘦𝘴, 𝘵𝘩𝘦 𝘷𝘰𝘭𝘤𝘢𝘯𝘰 𝘸𝘢𝘴 𝘦𝘳𝘶𝘱𝘵𝘪𝘯𝘨 𝘸𝘩𝘪𝘭𝘦 𝘸𝘦 𝘸𝘦𝘳𝘦 𝘵𝘩𝘦𝘳𝘦."

In the picture, Jorge is looking over the deep volcanic caldera, beyond the opposite rim to the south. Interesting fact: The equatorial line runs right through the caldera - so Jorge is in the northern hemisphere, looking at the eruption which is in the southern hemisphere.

This stunning picture below was taken on 8 March by our friend and naturalist guide, Sofia Darquea (also former president of the Galapagos Naturalist Guides’ Association). Two months after the earth's crust split open, Wolf volcano continues to spew lava, just a few hundred meters south of the equatorial line. In the night sky, the hunter Orion watches, poised to shoot an arrow right into the lava stream.

 

Flight to Galapagos: Keep your mask on and keep your friends

This past Sunday, an Avianca flight from Quito to Galapagos, via Guayaquil, arrived a few hours late at its final destination thanks to one passenger who decided to make an anti-mask stand on the Quito-Guayaquil leg of the journey. 

From reports, the Avianca crew didn't do anything about it at first, but eventually, the other passengers made such a fuss that the entire plane had to be offloaded to settle the issue. 

Moral of the story:  Don't make your anti-mask stand on a plane fully loaded with tourists who have been dreaming about Galapagos for years.  

 

"Better than Gorillas!" says mother-daughter team

Every once in a while we publish a note we receive from very happy guests.  Evelyn travelled with her daughter Jenny on our Samba "Active Galapagos" Flamingo departure (13-24 February) and recently returned home to Brockville, Ontario.   Here's her 100% unabridged email to Heather, her CNH Tours "travel advisor":


From: Evelyn 
Sent: February 28, 2022 3:45 PM
To: Heather Blenkiron <hblenkiron@cnhtours.com>
Cc: Jenny 
Subject: Thank you so much

Hi Heather, 

I’m very tired & this thank you won’t do you justice but I know you’re interested in how all your efforts went. 

We absolutely loved our amazing trip. Nothing can beat this one. Nothing. We’ve trekked gorillas, gone on safari, volunteered with elephants, walked the Inca trail to Machu Picchu, & roamed Guatemala. Our Samba trip in the Galapagos surpassed them all. It was the most amazing, superbly planned, interesting, exciting, beyond all expectations trip! And we thank you, Heather, for all your work to make it happen for us. 

Your meticulous planning was immensely appreciated. Oh boy did we ever feel out of our element! We had tried to learn enough Spanish to get by but we’re lost most of the time. Then a lovely person would appear, grab our arm, set us on the right track, and stay with us as long as they could, until they knew we were OK. Amazing! You, Heather, are a miracle worker. We are so grateful to you & we thank you from the bottom of our hearts. 

The Samba was unbelievable. We loved every minute. Oh the good times we had! The staff was amazing, so kind & gracious & talented. The food was outstanding. OMG we loved it all. Our guide, Harry was funny, clever, dedicated, & we adored him. It was such fun to have a varied group of people, all interested in the same thing & uninterested in any drama or concerned about any age differences. It makes me cry just thinking about how much I loved them all. 

All our guides were wonderful! Everyone was so kind & interested & knowledgeable. 

Our hotels were soooo lovely & comfy & plush & yummy! Mama Cuchara especially. OMG that’s a wonderful spot, & Ikala was gorgeous too. Loved the little pool. Loved the restaurants & service & gracious people at both hotels.  We were disappointed with San Hose de Puembo but that’s OK. 

I could keep on gushing, Heather, but you get the idea. We are VERY grateful to you & your fabulous team. 

Please let me know how I can best share our gratitude & let me know if you’d like a more detailed or specific review of anything. I’ll do it next week when I’m a bit recovered. 

Most sincerely, 

Evelyn 

Sent from my iPad

Evelyn and Jenny at Tagus Cove, Isabela Island.

Ukraine to Galapagos - Closer than you think

(versión en español debajo de la foto)

It’s hard to find a spot on the planet that is further away from Ukraine than Galapagos (about 7,542 miles / 12,137 km).  But the two share some very fundamental qualities.  The people in both countries enjoy the benefits of living in a democracy – where any person is free to actively engage in the decision-making process that helps shape their lives.

Citizens of both countries enjoy freedoms to express themselves peacefully.  They are free to gather and organize themselves so that their voices can be heard more effectively.   They are free to consult both the domestic and foreign press of all kinds and to share their opinions without fear of censorship.  The press itself is free to write about what it wants and to carry out investigative journalism.

These freedoms that many of us take for granted were hard won over many hundreds of years.  Countless people were imprisoned and died in the effort to gain them.

What we see in Ukraine these days is an effort on the part of a small number of leaders in another country try to take Ukraine back to the times when these freedoms were tightly constrained… to a time where a small group of unaccountable leaders gave themselves the authority to dictate what the vast majority of citizens could say and do.

CNH Tours stands with the people of Ukraine.  We also stand with the average citizen of Russia who, we suspect, does not support their government in its brutal actions on an innocent neighbour.  We are glad to see the groundswell of support Ukraine is getting from all sectors – from individual voices to those of other democratic nations and to those of large corporations.  We are glad that we, as a small company, need not fear any retribution in following-suit.

 

Es difícil encontrar un lugar en el planeta que esté más lejos de Ucrania que Galápagos (alrededor de 7,542 millas / 12,137 km). Pero los dos comparten algunas cualidades muy fundamentales. Las personas de ambos países disfrutan de los beneficios de vivir en una democracia, donde cualquier persona es libre de participar activamente en el proceso de toma de decisiones que ayuda a dar forma a sus vidas.

Los ciudadanos de ambos países disfrutan de la libertad de expresarse pacíficamente. Son libres de reunirse y organizarse para que sus voces se escuchen con mayor eficacia. Son libres de consultar la prensa nacional y extranjera de todo tipo y de compartir sus opiniones sin temor a la censura.  La propia prensa es libre de escribir sobre lo que quiera y de hacer periodismo de investigación.

Estas libertades que muchos de nosotros damos por sentadas se ganaron con esfuerzo durante muchos cientos de años. Innumerables personas fueron encarceladas y murieron en el esfuerzo por ganarlas.

Lo que vemos en Ucrania en estos días es un esfuerzo por parte de un pequeño número de líderes en otro país para tratar de llevar a Ucrania de vuelta a los tiempos en que estas libertades estaban fuertemente restringidas... a un tiempo en el que un pequeño grupo de líderes que no rendían cuentas se dieron autoridad para dictar lo que la gran mayoría de los ciudadanos podía decir y hacer.

CNH Tours apoya al pueblo de Ucrania. También apoyamos al ciudadano medio de Rusia que, sospechamos, no apoya a su gobierno en sus acciones brutales contra un vecino inocente. Nos complace ver la oleada de apoyo que Ucrania está recibiendo de todos los sectores, desde las voces individuales hasta las de otros paises democráticos, hasta de las grandes corporaciones. Nos complace que nosotros, como pequeña empresa, no tengamos que temer represalias si hacemos lo mismo.

No more COVID tests for Ecuador / Galapagos Entry

As of 11 February, the only COVID-related documentation you will need to enter Ecuador and Galapagos will be proof of full vaccination, with the last dose having been taken at least 14 days prior to embarking on your flight to the country.

As vaccines are not yet available / easy to secure for children under five years of age, it’s not clear what the protocol for that age group is.  The communiqué released by the Ministry of Tourism (see below) makes no reference to that.   

The rules have changed on several occasions over the past few months – but this new development eliminates he risk of being caught with a positive test just before a flight to Ecuador or Galapagos, ruining carefully prepared travel plans.  

Big Fish at Marine Reserve Expansion Ceremony

Even Bill Clinton was there.  Earlier this month, the presidents of Ecuador, Colombia, along with senior representatives from Panama and Costa Rica and Colombia met up in Galapagos to witness the signing of the decree that expanded the Galapagos Marine Reserve by almost 50%, as promised by Ecuadorian president Guillermo Lasso at the Climate Change conference in Denmark last October. 

The expansion is designed as a contribution to a protected marine corridor, linking Galapagos to other marine protected areas in the region – namely Cocos Island (Costa Rica); Malpelo Island (Colombia) and Coiba Island (Panama).  

I was involved in the early stages of this effort, while working at UNESCO’s World Heritage Centre in Paris.  At that time, I was managing projects financed by donors in support of this effort, ensuring funds were distributed according to plan and helping organize meetings between major stakeholders. 

Tremendous effort went into understanding the validity of such a marine corridor.  Would it make a difference to marine conservation?  Did marine species actually move along this path?   Unless that could be determined, there was no justification for that configuration of the marine reserve expansion.

Thanks to many years of work, marine scientists were able to demonstrate that the corridor was in fact used by a variety of species, including hammerhead sharks and whale sharks, as they moved about in the region.   The decree creating the reserve gives the fishing community six months to complete and fishing plans they had in the region, after which time no fishing whatsoever will be allowed in much of the new reserve, while fishing will be permitted in a small part, the indiscriminate practice of long-line fishing will be banned.  Long-line fishing involves very long lines with hundreds of baited hooks.  These invariably catch a variety of unintended species such as sea lions, albatrosses, sharks and more. 

Positive PCR Test Before You Travel?

As omicron sweeps through the population like a Colorado grassfire, it's likely that many of us will catch it and get over it quickly (more likely if vaccinated) - but might still test negative on the PCR test required to get into Ecuador and Galapagos. The chances of this happening to you are greater if only 1-2 months elapse between the time you had COVID and your departure date.

Can you still travel to Galapagos?

In its December 3rd press release #41, (see full text here) the Ministry of Tourism indicated that the Ministry of Public Health had emitted new entry requirements. In this document, the following statement appears:

 "Any person who has been diagnosed with COVID-19, and who after one month continues to obtain a positive result in the RT-PCR test must present a medical certificate issued by the country of original that supports their health status of not being in a contagious phase in order to enter Ecuador, as long as they have an absence of symptoms".

Because there have been different entry protocols between entry into Ecuador and entry into Galapagos in the past, and because that press release also includes statements that make a distinction between Galapagos and mainland Ecuador, the fact that this statement only refers to "entry into Ecuador" allows for a bit of nervous uncertainty. 

We asked our contact with the Ministry of Tourism (the Minister's assistant) about this uncertainty and he responded yesterday with the following statement:

"The medical certificate applies to those entering Ecuador and the Galapagos."

 While we would prefer an official document, so far, this is as good as we have been able to get in our efforts to clarify that uncertainty. 

SO: If you have had COVID, be sure to do a PCR test well enough in advance of your trip so that, if it still shows positive, you'll have the time to get that medical certificate.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Forbes magazine travel industry expert


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


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

 

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

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

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

Re-location of Abu Simbel monuments in 1967

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

Ecuadorians: Among the most COVID -19 vaccinated people

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

 

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

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

Galapagos penguins: Endangered but hanging in there

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

WHAT TO EXPECT WHEN SNORKELING IN PENGUIN TERRITORY

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

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

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Omicron: Be vigilant in the weeks before your Galapagos trip

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

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

Cruise for kids with Autism

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

From the organizers:

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

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

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




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

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

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

CONTACT CNH TOURS FOR MORE INFORMATION

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

(UPDATED 1 DECEMBER)

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

ENTRY INTO ECUADOR:

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

AND

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

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


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

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

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

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

 

 

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

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

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

Short answer:  It’s too early to tell. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

Snorkeling with Orcas - the Video

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

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

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

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

 

See the video by clicking here

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

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

 

 

Subscribe to our occasional newsletter  

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

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

 

 

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