Galapagos News

Proof of Vaccination AND Negative PCR Test Required as of 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 release from the Galapagos Governing Council.  These are now:

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.


GALAPAGOS:
According to the press release, for entry into Galapagos, this same proof of negative PCR test result will suffice.   This means that once you are in Ecuador, you need not worry about getting a second PCR test to get into Galapagos.

ALSO:  The requirement for a "SAFE CONDUCT" (salvo conducto) pass for entry into Galapagos has been reimposed.  A safe conduct pass is an official document emitted by your Galapagos hotel or ship operator, certifying that you are booked for services with them. The purpose is to facilitate contact tracing should that be necessary.

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. 

 

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

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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

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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!    

 

 

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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 give us your email address and name by clicking here

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Five Star Testimonial

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

Guests on an earlier Active Galapagos trip out on the water

 

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

  

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

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

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

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

Francis  (Oregon)

 

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

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

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

 

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

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Impending Volcanic Eruption?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

La Niña Advisory - what does it mean for Galapagos?

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

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

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

 

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

Ocean currents bathing the Galapagos archipelago

 

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

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

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


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

Galapagos Marine Reserve Expansion – Why the peculiar shape?

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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


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

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

 

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

 

Above:  Galapagos Marine Reserve as proposed by marine conservation groups

Otavalo: Not just a traditional indigenous market town

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

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



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

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

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

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

 

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Evidence of Cannibal Snakes in Galapagos

Translated NEWS BULLETIN from the Galapagos National Park Directorate.

Full study can be found HERE

Study confirms cannibalism among Galapagos snakes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

Great Bear Rainforest

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

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

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

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

Emergency Evacuation Insurance for All

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

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

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

 

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

 

 

When is a Species not a Species?

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

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

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

To read the article, click here.  

Vaccine AND PCR test required for Galapagos Entry 1st Sept

UPDATE: October 27, 2021

 

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

 

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

ADULTS OVER 16 YEARS OF AGE:

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

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

CHILDREN 2-16 YEARS OF AGE:

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

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

IMPLICATIONS:

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

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

Contact for more guidance on this matter. 

 

 

 

 

Ecuador considers debt swap for expanded Galapagos marine reserve

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Debt-for-nature swap

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here are his words: 

 Re: Logistics: Galapagos Cruise vs Land Tours

Aug 16, 2021, 1:02 AM

  1. Seasickness

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

So this is what I experienced in August 2021

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

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

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

Why Ecuador vaccinates its population faster than the rest of the world

We have shamelessly copy-pasted the text below, which appeared on the World Bank's blogs website on 10 August (see the original here).

Vaccination day in Cuenca, Ecuador

 

Just take a quick look at your phone and you will agree that good news is hard to come by in the context of the current health crisis in Latin America and the Caribbean.

That’s why we are particularly excited to see some encouraging developments -in this case coming from Ecuador.  

Only a year ago the collapse of the country’s healthcare system was making headlines around the world. Today, with its successful vaccination campaign, it is setting an example for countries in the region and globally.

Ecuador current administers the highest daily number of doses per 100 people in the world.  To put it simply: in the time it has taken you to read this far, hundreds of people in Ecuador will have been be vaccinated against COVID-19.

With this surge in vaccinations, the government expects to inoculate 9 million people - half the country's population – in a mere 100 days by early September. So far everything suggests that the campaign is on course to achieve this goal comfortably: at the time of writing this blog, the vaccination rate is 200,000 people a day.

It is clear that the improved availability of vaccines -thanks to successful government attempts to procure them- and their efficient distribution are mainly responsible for this favorable scenario.  But there are also less visible, although equally important, reasons why the campaign can be considered to be a Latin American success story despite the adverse regional context.

Let’s highlight two of those reasons.

First, there is the immense effort put into planning and logistics, including meticulous coordination between the central and regional governments, the private sector, universities and international organizations. It’s worth highlighting the key role played by private companies, which provided valuable logistical support and resources.

These efforts resulted in a well-structured campaign with segmented "vaccination days" for state and private sector workers, students, and the general public. Special days were also set aside for vaccinating harder to reach groups, such as the indigenous, the rural and the migrant populations. Innovation also played an important role: the Electoral Register -  recently updated for the general elections – was leveraged to identify and contact people eligible for vaccination, while polling stations were used as vaccination centers

Second, there is the exceptional teamwork forged between Ecuador’s government (which showed firm leadership throughout the campaign) and the development organizations, resulting in unprecedentedly close collaboration between the World Bank, IDB, CAF, PAHO, WHO, UNICEF and other UN agencies,  which enabled them to share their vast joint vaccination expertise with Ecuadorian officials. 

It’s worth noting that the efficiency and speed of the vaccination campaign has given Ecuadorians renewed confidence, which in turn is playing an important role in the country’s economic recovery.

Also noteworthy is the fact that that none of the above would have happened so smoothly without the seamless transition between the incoming and outgoing governments, in the middle of the pandemic in May 2021, which reduced the uncertainty and delays that often arise from political changeovers.

Finally, we would not have such a good response from the population had there not been a strong focus on public communications, which is part of the solution in any crisis of this type and magnitude. 

We still have a difficult road ahead: in light of the new COVID-19 variants, Ecuador still has to urgently vaccinate several million more people.

However, we can say with certainty that with these first firm steps the country is beginning to turn the page on the pandemic, in an effort that deserves to be replicated in other parts of the region.

The World Bank Group is working very closely with the region it its response to the COVID-19 crisis - one of the most severe in the region's history.  In fiscal year 2021, that commitment translated into a record of US$29 billiion, aimed at containing the social, economic and health fallout from the pandemic, as well as helping to respond to challenges such as hurricanes and migratory flows.

Olympic Gold to Ecuador for men's cycling

Eighteen year old Richard Carapaz took the gold today in the Olympic men's road race.  With that accomplishment, Carapaz brings the first ever Olympic gold medal to Ecuador. 

The young man had recently finished the Tour de France, coming in third there, while having come in first in the 2019 Gira d'Italia.  

At CNH Tours, we've seen the jubilant and boisterous celebrations that follow national victories in sports.  We fully anticipate that Galapagos cyclists, and many other Galapagueños will be out in full force in the streets today, shouting "CA-RA-PAZ!" and "E-CUA-DOR!".  

In Galapagos, there has been a growing "cyclism" movement.   As most people live within 2-3km from just about all they need, most destinations are within a 4-5 minute bike ride.  Recently, public funds were made available to put in several kilometres of dedicated bicycle paths both in town and on the road to the highlands.  The very clement climate, the relatively flat land on which the town is built, and the desire to reduce noise and pollution from vehicles provide for a good rationale for that kind of investment. 

 

 

United Nations to Ecuador: “Stop Runaway Tourism in Galapagos”

While it may be counterintuitive during these COVID-19 times, the intergovernmental World Heritage (WH) Committee, operating under the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), admonished the government of Ecuador today.  It expressed its “utmost concern” to Ecuador for not having followed through on an earlier commitment to promote a “zero-growth” tourism policy for Galapagos, to address runaway tourism numbers there.

To be clear, the decision is based on trends before the pandemic struck and assumes that, post-pandemic, they are likely going to resume.  

The State of Conservation Report[1] produced by the WH Committee’s technical advisors (IUCN), explains:

“The continued growth of tourism to the property is a significant concern, with an approximate 25% increase reported in tourism between 2016 and 2018 and a substantial increase in commercial flights in 2017-2018. The [government of Ecuador], in its previous report, committed to adopt measures that promote a zero growth model for tourism, as recommended by the 2017 [state of conservation monitoring] mission. In view of this, it is also recommended that the [World Heritage] Committee request the [government of Ecuador] to develop and implement a clear action plan with urgent measures to limit the number of tourists and flights to the property to achieve the zero growth model in line with its commitment.”

In response to this report, the WH Committee responded to the government of Ecuador as follows:   

“[the World Heritage Committee notes with serious concern] the continued growth of tourism and commercial flights to [Galapagos], despite the commitment made by the [government of Ecuador] to promote a zero growth model for tourism, reiterates its requests to the [government of Ecuador] to develop and implement a clear tourism strategy that ensures that suitable measures are sustained in the long term as permanent regulations, 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.”

The WH Committee went on to request the government of Ecuador to report back by 1 December 2022 on measures it will have take to address this issue.

As a former employee of UNESCO’s World Heritage Centre, as a former employee of the Charles Darwin Research Station, and as the owner of a Galapagos tourism business, I have been well-placed to observe the very rapid growth in Galapagos tourism over the years, particularly since 2000 and  I have regularly shared my concerns over this growth with my former colleagues at UNESCO and with the WH Convention’s technical advisor, IUCN.   

SHIP VS LAND BASED TOURISM:  NOT THE SAME

In raising concerns over runaway tourism growth, it is critical to make a distinction between ship-based and land-based visitors.    Tourism in Galapagos started in the 1960’s and was exclusively ship-based.   Over the next 25 years, ship-based tourism grew very quickly at it became obvious to all concerned that if no limits were imposed, not only the quality of the visitor experience, but the long term conservation of the archipelago’s biodiversity would be put at risk.   For this reason, the government of Ecuador placed a firm cap on the size of the expedition cruise ship fleet.  As a result, in what is considered a success story for sustainable tourism, the fleet’s capacity has not increased for nearly 25 years and ship-based tourism in Galapagos has plateaued at about 70,000 – 75,000 people / year.  Ships based tourist have access to many visitor sites not accessible to land-based tourists.  Ship schedules are finely coordinated to ensure that sites remain very lightly visited overall.  As a result, the overall Galapagos visitor experience continues to be among the best on the planet.  

Meanwhile, starting in the year 2000, land-based tourism numbers started to explode going from fewer than 5,000 / year to over 200,000 / year in less than 20 years – with no end in sight.  Projecting growth number using pre-pandemic trends had the number of land-based visitors surpass 1,000,000 by 2040.

Based on the these numbers, it is clear that those who visit Galapagos by ship are not part of the tourism growth problem.  

CNH Tours agrees with the UNESCO World Heritage Committee on this matter.  The rationale for having imposed strict limits to the expedition cruise ship fleet is sound and should be applied to land-based tourism as well.  

 

[1] Available at page 305 here: https://whc.unesco.org/archive/2021/whc21-44com-7B-en.pdf

"We were swimming in the middle of a fish ball"

Here's another in our (very occasional) series on candid notes we receive from guests recently having disembarked from their Galapagos cruise.   Cheryl McNerney, her husband and their 2 adult sons were on the 14 passenger Samba last week.   She wrote us this note:

Heather,

Mark and I just wanted to thank you again for all of your help setting up our Galapagos and Amazon Vacation.  I cc’d Jimmy [editor: Jimmy was the naturalist guide on the Samba] on this, because he was a large part of why our family had such an amazing time.

From the moment we landed in Guayaquil, everything went perfectly.  The folks in Guayaquil were so accommodating and we had so much fun exploring the area along the river.  We had several amazing dinners at local restaurants and were happy to feel so safe there.

Quito was also a great place to see.  We climbed the towers of the Basilica and walked many many miles exploring the city and several nearby little towns.  I would not worry at at all about tourists going there.  There was a large police presence and they were so friendly and helpful to us with directions.  The food there was also extraordinary and it was the cleanest big city we have visited.  We especially had fun exploring some of the small handicraft markets.

The Galapagos portion exceeded our expectations in every way.  The Samba family was wonderful and we felt like part of the team from the minute we walked on board.  Our guide Jimmy was the best guide we have ever had.  His energy, enthusiasm and knowledge about the Galapagos made him an exceptional guide.  We were up before dawn every day and were able to photograph the amazing wildlife in the best light of the day.  The snorkeling can only be described as the most fantastic we have ever seen.  We felt like we were swimming in the middle of a fish ball with turtles, rays, sharks and sea lions on the perimeter.  Everyday we would see something unique and Jimmy’s adventurous spirit kept us following him to find more and more beautiful creatures.    Our kids have also snorkeled in many places and both remarked that it was the most amazing snorkeling and free diving they had ever done.  Did I mention we saw Hammerhead sharks four times!  

Jeffrey is going to be sending you the videos Jimmy took of our trip, as well as some footage from the trip before us.  He will be putting them on a Google drive.  Once I have some time if you like I can send you a few of my still pictures.  Mark and I took around twenty one thousand pictures, so it will take me a bit to get through them.

Thank you also for switching us to the Napo Wildlife Center.  What a great location with an amazing group of people.  We had a fantastic time there and absolutely loved the room, food, scenery and of course the people.  We were fortunate to see numerous birds, monkeys, caimans, bugs, etc....  such an interesting place to visit and we are so thankful that you recommended it.

With many many thanks for all of your hard work and love for the Galapagos!  Thank you for making our trip so special.  If there is anything we can do for you and CNH tours, please do not hesitate to ask.

Best wishes to you and your staff,

Cheryl and Mark McNerney

Washington, USA

Introducing the Ocean Safari on the 16 Passenger "Integrity"

BOOKINGS NOW OPEN

FOR MORE INFORMATION AND TO BOOK YOUR SPOT, CLICK HERE.

After a careful review of several 12-20 passenger luxury ships in Galapagos, taking into consideration their itineraries, their ownerships, on-board "feel", value-for-money, we've chosen to team up with the 16 passenger INTEGRITY for our Ocean Safari trips.   

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

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

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


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

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

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

 

WHY DID WE CHOOSE THE INTEGRITY?

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

FOR MORE INFORMATION AND TO BOOK YOUR SPOT, CLICK HERE.
  

 

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