Galapagos News

Our "Go-to" baseline ships FYI

We’ve been helping people plan their Galapagos trips since (!!) 1999…  We’ve fielded thousands of calls, responded to tens (hundreds?) of thousands of emails during that time.   After “Galapagos” the words we hear/read most frequently have to be “I’m completely overwhelmed / it’s totally overwhelming”.

The internet is a fantastic tool – there’s no doubt about it.  But one thing it can’t do is to cut through the chaff.  Search for “quality Galapagos cruise ship” or any such combination of words, and your search engine will return hundreds of responses, leaving it up to you to try to make sense out of them. 

Indeed, finding the ship that's just right for you is a big challenge.   Price / itineraries / reputation / amenities / hidden costs / availability / approach to guiding … there are many factors that come into play.  Also, you’ll find that the same ship will be offered by a gaggle of different travel companies – at prices that appear to vary enormously, causing further confusion (hint: Always be sure you’re comparing apples to apples). 

Our approach to helping people find the ship that’s best for them usually starts first by trying to understand our prospective guest’s interests / expectations and of course, comfort level.   Typically, we will start off by highlighting our two “go-to baseline ships” that we believe are representative of the best of their class (based on many years of experience).   Starting from there, and understanding that no ship is perfect, we will bring in other ships that compare favourably – allowing our prospective guests to develop and understanding of the various trade-offs that need to be made when choosing a ship.  Itinerary?  Availability? Price?  Guiding reputation?  Size? 

Our two baseline ships are:

Samba:  14 passengers, tourist superior

 

 

Integrity:  16 passengers, luxury: 

 

Both ships are among the last to be locally owned and operated.   The owners (Galapagos families) take great pride in their operations, focusing on quality maintenance, service and guiding.  These ships also have what we consider top quality itineraries (non-circuitous, uninterrupted 8 days, higher than average number of visitor sites / day, minimal time spent in human settlements).  

While we firmly believe that you can’t go wrong with these ships, we also fully endorse many other ships in the islands. Sometimes the dates don’t work out – or our guests will be keen on a catamaran.  Others are keen on shorter itineraries.   We’re glad to report that overall improvements in the fleet of Galapagos cruise ships since we first set foot in the islands (1998) has been tremendous, giving you a wide range of quality vessels from which to choose.  

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Webinar: The Great Bear Rainforest - History and Travel Tips

While CNH Tours focuses mostly on Galapagos and Antarctica, we dabble a little in other exotic destinations, offering the occasional custom trip there, designed to our high standards. 

In October this year, we're offering a one-time-only 10 day trip to the Great Bear Rainforest (GBR), on Canada's west coast. 

It will be the height of the salmon run, and bears (grizzly, black, and the fabled "spirit" bears) will be gorging themselves before the onset of winter.   

We've chartered a very comfortable 24 passenger ship for a 7 night / 8 day cruise.  We'll explore the protected waters of the remote wilderness fjords and inlets that snake through the snowcapped coastal mountain ranges bordering the Pacific Ocean. Besides bears, expect to see plenty of whales, sea lions, ravens, eagles and possibly even the rare coastal wolves, that have adapted to life in the intertidal zone.  

The GBR is the world's largest protected rainforest.  Threatened over many decades by industrial logging, hydroelectric projects, massive aluminum smeltering plants, natural gas liquification plant, the local First Nations group (Kitamaat and Gitga'at nations), with the support of conservation groups struggled for years to establish limits to development. 

Part of our trip to the area will include a two day pre-cruise exploration of these developments, hearing from First Nations groups and from corporate representatives, to learn how they are working together to find a balance between conservation and development.  These insights will help us better appreciate the history of the area, and the hard-won results obtained through years of tough slogging and late night negotiations. 

For those interested in joining our trip, or for those simply interested in knowing more about this unique part of the world, we invite you to sign up to our webinar.   Here are the details:

WHEN:   Thursday, 2 February 2023, 7-8PM (Eastern Time - Montreal / New York / Miami)

WHERE:  On-line via zoom.  Register here.

FORMAT:  A dynamic 30-minute presentation given by CNH Tours founder Marc Patry, followed by a Q&A session.  

We hope to see you there!

 

 

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Samba's near perfect score: 281 guests can't be wrong

When our guests return from our trips, they receive a survey asking them for feedback.  We like to know how things went and if there are improvements that could be made.  Until yesterday, 280 people had responded. 
This morning, we received response #281 from from a guest who had been on our highly acclaimed "Active Galapagos" on the Samba, last month.  Here are some of her comments:

𝗢𝗡 𝗧𝗛𝗘 𝗡𝗔𝗧𝗨𝗥𝗔𝗟𝗜𝗦𝗧 𝗚𝗨𝗜𝗗𝗘:
"Jimmy was an outstanding guide. In addition to being warm and kind and friendly, he demonstrated excellent communication skills. He is extremely knowledgeable about the wildlife of the Galapagos. His enthusiasm for every activity was contagious."

Average rating for guide quality on the Samba (281 respondents, scale of 1 to 5, where 1 is best): 1.14

Jimmy Patiño - top naturalist guide
𝗢𝗡 𝗧𝗛𝗘 𝗖𝗥𝗘𝗪 𝗢𝗙 𝗧𝗛𝗘 𝗦𝗔𝗠𝗕𝗔:
"I cannot imagine a better crew! Everyone was so attentive and professional, as well as kind and caring. Having never before snorkeled, I felt they had my back at all times, and I felt completely safe. I had never before been on a cruise or participated in an organized tour. My outstanding experience with the Samba and CNH Tours sets a very high bar."

Average rating for crew quality on the Samba (281 respondents, scale of 1 to 5, where 1 is best): 1.04


Samba crew and guests - welcome aboard!

𝗢𝗡 𝗖𝗡𝗛 𝗧𝗢𝗨𝗥𝗦:
"I am so grateful for the knowledge, patience and attentiveness of the CNH staff in helping us figure out the details of a perfect extension tour. We are especially thankful for the amazing connections and problem-solving skills when y travelling companion lost her passport on the plane."

Average rating for the Active Galapagos trip (281 respondents, scale of 1 to 5, where 1 is best): 1.09


"Crossing the Equator" Ceremony on the Samba- can you find: 
The penguin, the giant tortoise, the finch, Darwin, the mermaid, and Neptune?


One of the last Galapagos family-owned and operated ships

CNH Tours has been chartering the Samba for our signature ACTIVE GALAPAGOS trip since 2005.  Designed for those who are keen on getting the absolute most out of their time in the islands.  Up early, and out on the water / land until late in the day (with a few breaks for siesta and meals), you'll spend more time exploring above and below the sea, accompanied by top naturalist guides and a very attentive crew.   

AM I FIT ENOUGH?  Almost certainly yes!  We call it "ACTIVE" because we focus on getting out and about as much as possible.  This doesn't mean we're running uphill marathons or swimming across vast expanses of oceans.   Galapagos is above all a place where the focus is on intimate encounters with nature and wildlife.  And that's done by walking slowly, stopping frequently, and taking the time to develop a sense of place - something our naturalist guides are very good at helping you with.  

We don't ask that you be an Olympic athlete - but you should be up to walking 1-2 kilometers (1-1.5 miles) over a 1-2 hour stretch of time on wilderness trails that can be uneven at times.  To get the most out of your trip, you should also be willing to snorkel - underwater Galapagos is a big part of the thrill.   

Our guests typically range in age from their 30's to their 70's (and beyond). Families are welcome. 


CNH Tours trips are carbon neutral.  We also provide complimentary emergency medical evacuation insurance. 
Contact us:  hello@cnhtours.com

141 tonnes of CO2 offsets

In 2022, CNH Tours started purchasing carbon offsets to compensate for the emissions generated by our guests while travelling in Ecuador, Antarctica and southern Africa.   We tally up the emissions on a biannual basis. We just purchased 141 tonnes of offset for our guests that travelled in the last six months of 2022.  

For Galapagos, these cover the average emission generated by a domestic flight from mainland Ecuador to Galapagos, along with a 7 night cruise.  For Antarctica, they cover the emissions generated by an 8 day cruise, while for southern Africa, the cover the emissions from our 14 day trip there (domestic flights, ground vehicles).  

In 2019, the United Nations World Tourism Organization determined that about transport-related emissions from tourism account for about 5% of world emissions of CO2 (about 1.6 million tonnes).  

While the emissions generated by CNH Tours guests is comparatively minuscule, every bit counts.  We challenge other travel companies to do the same.  

To learn more about carbon offsets, see our handy explanatory note

 

 

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Seasickness: Are catamarans better?

Over the years, we’ve been asked this question more times than we can remember.   A lot of people are worried about getting seasick and in an effort to control as many variables as possible, many will often raise the issue of whether they should consider a catamaran or a monohulled ship. 

First, it’s important to note that very few people experience serious seasickness while on a Galapagos cruise.   We’ve surveyed hundreds of returning passengers on this question, with the following results (where 1 = not a problem whatsoever and 5 = I wanted to get off the ship).  Here are the results:

 

 

They show that nearly 92% of respondents were hardly, or not at all bothered by seasickness on their cruise.   None experienced it to the point of wanting to get off.  Only 2.5% felt it had affected their enjoying in a significant way.  

Still, at CNH Tours, we wanted to get a definitive answer on the catamaran vs monohull ship question.  Was there a difference?  Popular belief held the catamarans could be more stable (makes sense it seems... two hulls instead of one?), but a lot of folks we talked to didn’t agree.

    

The EcoGalaxy - two hulls make it a catamaran

To resolve this dilemma once and for all, we sought the expertise of two US naval architects based in Japan, Nigel and John. They responded in terms of a ship’s “seakeeping ability”, which is a measure of a ship's suitability to sea conditions while in motion. 

John stated that a ship’s seakeeping ability depended on various factors, such as the speed of the ship, the relationship between the wavelength and hull length, the angle at which the ship is sailing in relation to the waves, and the length-to-beam ratio (whether the ship is long and slender or short and wide).   

In general, John leaned towards monohulls, but he hedged his comment, saying that catamarans can also perform well.  He concluded his argument by saying that "A fast, fat monohull will be worse than a fast, slender catamaran or a slow, slender monohull is better than a fast, fat catamaran”… and so on. 

The Grace - a classic monohull; long and slender

Nigel added to John's comments by discussing seasickness, which is often caused by a ship's heaving motion (up and down). He mentioned that this motion is most distressing to people who are not used to the sea, and that age can also play a role, with teenagers and people in their 20s and 30s being most vulnerable.  He made the interesting point that in seas with significant swells (long-wavelengths), it hardly mattered what kind of ship you were on (unless it was a massive, 4,000 passenger cruise ship), as the swell would push the ship up... and then down again, like a cork.

Nigel also mentioned that for shorter seas (more common in Galapagos), the motion of the ship would depend on resonance and that monohulls tended to roll more (side to side) while catamarans tend to pitch more (bow up, then bow down). The location on the ship and the direction of travel in relation to the waves would also affect the movement of the ship on the water.  Nigel  didn't think there would be a significant difference between catamarans and monohulls in terms of causing seasickness, but he did not that many people held strong, opposing views on the matter.

CONCLUSION:

Based on our discussions with the two naval architects, we didn’t come back with a definitive answer.   It all seemed to boil down to “it depends”.   Now, when people ask us whether a catamaran or a monohull is better to limit the chances of getting seasickness, we answer: “it doesn’t make much of a difference according to naval architects”.

 

CNH Tours has been helping people arrange their Galapagos trip of a lifetime since 1999.

 

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Mother-daughter bonding cruise

What a wonderful way to end the year for the CNH Tours team.  We really do get a sense of fulfilment when receiving notes such as the one below. 

Rebecca J.  travelled with her 12 year-old daughter in August this year. They had originally booked for a trip set to depart in August 2020, but we all know what prevented them from travelling then...

Kelsey is the CNH Tours' senior associate - with 8 years of experience living and working in Galapagos.  She knows what she's talking about. Kelsey first starting helping Rebecca plan her trip in early 2019... she stayed in touch with her throughout the COVID lockdowns.  The trip was postponed once to August 2021, and then again for a final time to August 2022.

There were other kids on board - making for an ideal environment for both adults and children.  

A Galapagos expedition cruise is a wonderful way to forge lasting memories and shared experiences, brining family and friends so much closer together.  

 

From: Rebecca 
Sent: December 31, 2022 6:24 PM
To: Kelsey Bradley <kbradley@cnhtours.com>; Heather Blenkiron <hblenkiron@cnhtours.com>
Subject: Thank You

 

Dear Kelsey,

This note comes very late, but I hope you can forgive the time it took me to distill the many words I have to describe our Galapagos trip into a few thoughtful lines. 

This trip was the absolute highlight of our year, and it was 100% worth the wait. In fact, I'm glad we waited, because it gave my daughter time to grow and mature, and it allowed us to be grouped with the most wonderful travel companions - I could not have hand-picked better people. There were 7 kids between 10 and 17, and they formed a tight-knit group that got along so well. Melody was never bored or lonely and there were days when I hardly saw her because she made a great effort to board the other panga with her friends instead of me. 

The adults were (to channel Jane Austen) most amiable and pleasant - One multigenerational family of 7, one young couple, one older couple, another single mom, and another pair of parents. We, as our guides encouraged, mixed up our seating arrangements with every meal and we all got to know each other so well.  

Our guides, Fabricio and Pepe were the best we could have had. Of course they knew their stuff, but they worked well together and gave us a great experience. It was absolutely clear how important the Galapagos and the conservations efforts are to them. On top of that, they were both just interesting dudes to talk to. The crew and captain were friendly and capable - one of the chefs occasionally came ashore with us to assist our oldest shipmate - in his 80s - when there was rough terrain. Luis, our bartender and meal server, knew everybody's dietary restrictions and preferences from the first day and never made a mistake. It was amazing. 

Lastly, I am thankful for your hard work in keeping our trip on track for 2 years and especially for your advice in choosing a ship. The Letty was perfect for us, and the entire staff was a joy to work with, end to end. Your frank and honest guidance gave me confidence that I was making the right decisions as we planned out what was truly the trip of a lifetime. Thank you so much. Happy New Year

Sincerely,

Rebecca 

 

Attached are a few highlight pictures as well as the link to my Google Album.

kids on deck of a ship

 

woman with giant tortoise galapagos

 

 

Man with sea lion on Galapagos beach

 

 

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Our guests support the community library

While the main town in Galapagos (Puerto Ayora) has a public library, there are very few resources to keep it going. As a result, unless the community comes together to support it, the doors remain closed.  A few years ago, the Puerto Ayora Naturalist Guides Association (AGIPA) took over the management of the library in an effort to keep it open and relevant for children and youth of the town.  While books remain important, the library also is a place for workshops, arts & crafts activities, games, internet access and more. 

CNH Tours has been a long-time supporter of the library.  In 2006, we ran a library fund-raising cruise in cooperation with the Canadian Library Association.   We donated all the proceeds from the trip to the library. Over the past several years, we’ve been encouraging our guests to bring down some supplies with them.  If they spend time in Puerto Ayora, we have occasionally arranged to have them visit the library (as was the case with the Masucci family earlier this week – see picture).   Otherwise, we arrange to have the supplies delivered to the library.  We’re also members of the International Galapagos Tour Operators’ Association and through our fees, we provide additional support to the library.

 

If you’re heading off to Galapagos and are keen on helping out, please let us know.

 

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When the Int'l Association of Antarctica Tour Operators comes calling...

Earlier this month, CNH Tour’s very own Jane Wilson, our Antarctica expert, was invited by the International Association of Antarctica Tour Operators (IAATO) to serve as an IAATO Observer on a voyage to Antarctica. With over 30 years of experience working in the region as a scientist, scientific Voyage Leader, expedition guide, expedition leader, and operations manager, IAATO considers her uniquely qualified for the role.

Of course, at CNH Tours, we're very proud to have such an internationally recognized Antarctica expert on our team.

The purpose of the observer program is to work with new ship operators in Antarctica to ensure that they properly implement a comprehensive range of safety and environmental standards required by IAATO, which in turns ensures compliance with the Antarctic Treaty Environmental Protocol, established by countries that have ratified the treaty.  It serves as the foundation for IAATO's standards, which are designed to promote environmentally responsible visits to the region.

IAATO is a member-operated organization that works to ensure that private sector travel to Antarctica is conducted in a safe and environmentally responsible manner. Over the course of the voyage, Jane had the opportunity to observe and review a range of operational, safety, and environmental procedures, and she produced a report for the membership to review.

At the next IAATO Annual General Meeting in May 2023, a vote will take place to determine whether the new operator will be accepted or deferred. The observer process was a positive experience for all involved and everyone went away a little wiser.

Overall, IAATO's commitment to responsible tourism in Antarctica is essential in ensuring the preservation of this unique and fragile ecosystem. The observer program is an important part of this effort, as it helps to ensure that new operators are meeting the highest standards for safety and environmental protection.   CNH Tours is very proud that the experience and knowledge of its Antarctica expert is well-recognized by IAATO.   If you’re considering a trip to Antarctica, few are better placed to help you choose a trip that’s right for you than is Jane Wilson. 

 

Lost Passport? This is a job for SUPER TRAVEL AGENT!

Our sales team (Heather and Kelsey in Ottawa, Mercedes in Quito and Valeria in Galapagos) really do get a thrill helping people plan their Galapagos holidays.  But it's when there are problems to solve that they really get into high gear. 

Here's the feedback from a guest who travelled with us just last week. She called Heather saying "𝗜 𝗹𝗼𝘀𝘁 𝗺𝘆 𝗽𝗮𝘀𝘀𝗽𝗼𝗿𝘁!" the day before her flight back home... This is what she wrote:

"We booked our trip on the Samba through a Canadian outfit, CNH Tours. Although we were pleased with the booking process, they really shined at the end of the trip when I left my passport on the airplane coming back to the Ecuadoran mainland. Three of us spent about 45 minutes with little to show for our calls to the hotel, airline, and US embassy. Feeling overwhelmed, I called Heather at CNH Tours, hoping for some guidance on how to get a new passport and a timeframe for rebooking my flight home. Heather’s advice, “Sit tight. We’re going to get your passport to you!” 

I was instantly reassured, as Heather began tapping into her network. Our fellow travelers Jo-Anne and Gordon helped by retrieving the passport in Quito and getting it to our “courier.” Five hours later I was at the Guayaquil airport picking up my passport from one of Samba owner Juan Salcedo’s cousins. I don’t know how many people Heather contacted to make it all happen, but I sure felt like I was part of the Samba family when it was over. I would never expect anyone at a travel agency to go to such lengths for me, but that’s Heather, CNH and the Samba Way!"

We’ve had to step in a number of times in the past, when things go wrong.  We once managed to spring a guest out of a Galapagos prison after the sniffer dogs found a joint in his bags… When COVID hit, we put in several 18-hour days ensuring all of our guests were safely out of Ecuador and back home before things completely shut down.   While Heather and Kelsey are “full-on” during regular times, I get the impression that they go “turbo” whenever a problem arises,  pulling out all the stops to make sure our guests are taken care of.

We’re currently helping a traveller (not even one of our guests!) who was looking for help getting a hotel key back to the Galapagos Suites hotel in Galapagos.  She accidentally brought it back to New York with her.   She checked the price of a couriered package (over $120) and turned to social media to see if anyone could help.  CNH Tours stepped in – we have guests in New York leaving shortly, and we’re arranging to have them bring the key back. 

Though Kelsey and Heather have managed to “pull a rabbit out of a hat” on many occasions – please don’t assume that they can do anything… we still encourage our guests to do all they can to avoid having to rely on our “super travel agents” in the first place…   😉

Revenge Tourism?

This terms rubs me the wrong way…

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

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


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

 

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

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

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

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

COVID policies in Ecuador

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

La Niña: Back for yet another visit

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

FOUR WORLD HERITAGE SITES

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

Darwin in Galapagos: Where exactly did he go?

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

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

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

 

 

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

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

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

GOVERNMENT POLICY: Different fares classes according to your nationality.

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

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

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

These prices are indicative and may fluctuate significantly. 

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

Nationals:  Typically starting at $300 return.

Where to purchase tickets?

You have several options:

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

 

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

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

Purchasing flights when you are joining a group visit

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

Buying your air ticket independently when part of a tour group

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

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

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

Travellers without any commitments

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

Are fares discounted at times?

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

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

Using points

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

Read the fine print

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

 

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

 

 

 

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

All of the above is required simply to begin operations.

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

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

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

COMPENSATION FUND

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

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

CANADA: British Columbia, Ontario, Québec

USA: Florida, Hawaii, Iowa, Nevada, Washington

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

Short video explaining TICO's role

 

The most comprehensive Galapagos FAQ

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

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

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

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

You can see our FAQ by clicking here

The FAQ is divided into the following sections:

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

A sample of questions includes:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

Worried about getting seasick on an expedition ship?

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

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

Ecuador: Global Cocoa Pioneer

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

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

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



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

 

ECUAVISA, 12 September 2022

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

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

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

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

COUNTRY BRAND PROMOTION

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

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

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

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

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

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

INVITED EXPERTS

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

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

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

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

AGRICULTURAL AWARD

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

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

COCOA AND TOURISM

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

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

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

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

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

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