CNH Tours - Cultural and Natural Heritage Tours Galapagos
Sunday June 26, 2022
Yesterday, the Ecuadorian Navy reported the capture of a boat that was transporting protected species from the Galapagos.
The Navy statement specified that there were five land iguanas and an unspecified number of tortoises of different sizes on board.
Given the presumption of an environmental crime, through the Coast Guard Command and in coordination and advice from the State Attorney General's Office, the Navy carried out the inspection of the vessel "XAVIER III" (a 16 passenger tourist superior vessel, until recently contracted out to G-Adventures).
The vessel had set sail last Monday, bound for Guayaquil.
On Saturday morning, the Coast Guard boat "Isla Darwin" inspected the aforementioned boat 30 miles (50km) offshore and found that on board the boat "XAVIER III" there were ten sacks of jute, five of which contained a land iguana each and in the other five there were tortoises of different sizes.
The evidence and alleged perpetrators will be placed at the orders of the competent authorities in the Port of Salinas on the mainland this Saturday for the corresponding legal proceedings.
Ecuadorian navy on the tourist ship Xavier III (pic: Ecuadorian navy)
Saturday June 18, 2022
The indigenous-led strike against high prices has disrupted the movement of people and goods this past week, prompting president Lasso to declare a “estado de excepción" (tranlasted into state of exception, or state of emergency) in the three provinces most affected by the strike (in and around Quito mostly). The president has offered some concessions along with that, in the hopes that the disruptions can come to an end. There is little danger of any physical violence – but moving around that part of the country has become difficult.
Any people travelling through Quito airport (located well outside the main city area) on their way to Galapagos are advised to avoid going into the city until the strike has come to an end. You may find yourself blocked and unable to continue your journey onwards. If you are booked in a Quito city hotel in the coming few days, we recommend you prepare an alternative hotel as close to the airport as possible. Some such hotels include:
- Wyndham Airport Hotel (2 minutes)
- EuroBuilding (EB) hotel (10 minutes)
Many more can be found on-line, including small boutique establishments. Before finalizing any plans, ask the hotel folks if they expect any problems getting to the airport in the coming days.
It appears that things are calmer in and around Guayaquil, Ecuador's largest city, located on the coast (there are much fewer indigenous communities in the coastal areas). If possible, you may want to consider flying through Guayaquil in the coming days to avoid the worst of the disruptions.
In our experience, such disruptions happen from time to time in Ecuador (last time was in October 2019) and usually last from a week to 10 days.
CNH Tours is there to help its guests manage the situation. Please don't hesitate to contact us if you have any questions / require assistance.
BELOW: An article, translated into English (thanks mostly to Google Translate) of the main article in the El Comercio newspaper of this morning.
Lasso decrees a state of emergency in Pichincha, Cotopaxi and Imbabura due to a national strike (El Comercio newspaper)
The President of the Republic, Guillermo Lasso, announced new actions that the National Government will take regarding the national strike called by the Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities of Ecuador (Conaie). He did so through the national network on the night of this Friday, June 17.
Above: Typical scene with people blocking the passage of vehicles on main avenues
One of the actions that he decided to apply is: the state of exception in the provinces of Pichincha (Quito and surrounding areas), Cotopaxi (the province immediately south of Pichincha) and Imbabura (the province immediately north of Quito) as of midnight on June 17, 2022.
Additionally, "to alleviate the difficult situation of many families" he pointed out that:
- The human development bonus will be increased to USD 55.
- An emergency is declared in the public health system.
- The budget for intercultural education will be doubled
- 50% of the price of fertilizer will be subsidized for small and medium producers.
- Agricultural loans of up to USD 5,000 at 1% and a 30-year term will be provided.
- There will be no increase in diesel, gas and extra gasoline.
- There will be no privatization of public services
- Banecuador will forgive all overdue credits up to USD 3,000
- The state of exception will last 30 days.
The Executive Decree determines that the right to freedom of association and assembly is suspended in the aforementioned provinces; which limits the formation of crowds in public spaces 24 hours a day.
Curfew in Quito
Additionally, freedom of movement is restricted, so a curfew is decreed in the Metropolitan District of Quito (DMQ) from 10:00 p.m. to 5:00 a.m.
The President ended his speech by inviting dialogue. "United, sitting at a table, we will find solutions that alleviate the situation of Ecuadorian families."
What does the Conaie say?
On the night of Thursday, June 16, the Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities of Ecuador (Conaie) gave the Government an ultimatum to give answers to the list of demands demanded by the indigenous movement.
According to the indigenous leader, the Conaie rejected the dialogue until the results of the 10 petitions to the Government are made public.
Around 9:15 p.m. this Friday, June 17, Conaie issued a statement calling on its members not to allow vandalism, violence and identify infiltrators who want to generate chaos. "The protest must be carried out with a clear agenda, dignity and collective conscience," the statement said.
Friday June 17, 2022
Like most people do when they pick up a magazine, I tend to start at the back. And that’s where The Economist puts its weekly obituary. These obituaries don’t necessarily focus on “important” people (politicians / business leaders / great artists). I’m not sure how they come up with their weekly selection, but they seem to be guided in part by a search for people who've dared to be different and who will have left a big impression on at least one nation’s sense of identity.
Last week’s obituary was about Dervla Murphy and her bicycle, the aptly named Rocinante (Roz for short). She took it to all corners of the world - literally from A to Z (Afghanistan to Zimbabwe), and passing through many other places. In the story, she comes across as an independent, strong-willed woman with an unrestrained sense of adventure - “batty and stubborn and fiercely independent” in The Economist’s words.
While a 0.25 caliber pistol is not on the CNH Tours packing list for a trip to Galapagos, there's no harm in bringing at least a bit of Dervla’s attitude.
You can read the full obituary by clicking here.
Dervla Murphy and her faithful mount, Roz
Tuesday June 14, 2022
At CNH Tours, we love hearing back from out guests. We often do. From time to time, we post some of those notes to share with others the vibes / energy that's conveyed in them.
Here's a recent one from Ann (Montana) who, with a group of 14 friends, had booked the entire Samba before the pandemic struck. She and her friends had been biding their time for a couple of years and finally embarked on the ship in late April. We also helped them with a variety of extensions on the continent. It's very satisfying when, after so much work and in this case so much time, our guests return, having had a wonderful time.
A special thanks is warranted for our colleague Kelsey Bradley. She worked so hard and diligently to make sure that the 14 guests, several with distinct travel plans, all enjoyed a seamless trip despite so many pandemic-related difficulties.
"Dear Kelsey and Heather,
I've been meaning to write you since getting home a month ago but have been racing around, and finally I'm able to sit down.
I wanted to thank CNH Tours for all you did to make our trip to the Galapagos fantastic. The Samba was amazing, the crew and our guide, Jimmy, were stellar (20 on a scale of 1-10), and the group we put together worked so very well.
There was so much about the trip that stood out. The Galapagos is an amazing place on this planet, as are its non-human occupants. The parts that took me a bit by surprise were how dry it was and that, though we were on the equator, the temps (particularly at night) were cooler than I expected. Swimming with sea lions, fur seals, and dolphins was out-of-this world. The land-based bird and tortoise life was other-worldly. The marine and land iguanas - no words to describe them, except to say watching the marine iguanas under water was something outside any other experience I've ever had.
I have done a fair amount of snorkeling over the years, but not for a while, so it was fantastic getting back to that. I love that after disembarking the Samba, we remained land-based in the Galapagos for two more nights before heading back to Quito. That helped with transitions off the boat. And our side-excursion to Espanola was fantastic. Plus, we even got to go to the Darwin Foundation when we were on Santa Cruz for a few hours.
I can't recommend enough to future travelers how great it was reading about the Galapagos before going there, which added important context to the trip.
My reading list included: Beak of the Finch, Three Men of the Beagle, Floreana, Selkirk's Island. There are many, many more, and I was sorry I didn't have time to read Song of the Dodo, by David Quammen.
Again, many thanks to CNH Tours for putting this together, dealing with all our questions, struggling through the pandemic uncertainties, etc. It was great working with you! I will spread the word about CNH Tours to anyone I know who may be interested in traveling to the Galapagos in coming years!
Best to both of you,
Ann (right) and her good friend Tamara, both from Montana
Friday June 10, 2022
As of Sunday, 12 June, people flying to the USA, or even just connecting at an airport while flying through the USA will no longer be required to show proof of a negative COVID test.
This is wonderful news for Americans who have been holding back on any foreign travel plans, and for others who could not avoid having to travel through the USA on their way to Ecuador and Galapagos, and on their way back home.
Monday June 6, 2022
This month, the five planets visible to the naked eye will all be shining in the morning sky. The best place on the planet to admire them is from a very dark sky nearest to the equator. Anyone on a Galapagos cruise in the coming weeks, and with the will to get up no later than about 5AM will enjoy a rare opportunity to take it all in (there are almost always some planets to see in the night sky - so if you're traveling at another time, don't despair - just look things up on-line before going).
While the planets will be visible at higher latitudes, being on the equator will have them positioned just about perpendicular to the horizon – meaning that they will be higher in the sky relative to their apparent positions from higher latitudes and less easily lost in any early dawn light.
The figure below shows the positions of the planets later in June if observed from mid-latitudes (i.e. New York, Vancouver).
Figure 1: The night sky late June - as seen from more northerly latitudes (i.e. New York / Vancouver)
From an equatorial location, instead of being positioned on an acute angle from the horizon, the planets will rise up, perpendicular to it, from the East. Figure 2 below is an amateurish attempt at illustrating the difference.
Figure 2: Relative position of the five visible planets - norther latitudes vs equatorial viewing point
Mercury is always hardest to spot – it’s not that bright and is close to the horizon and only rises shortly before dawn, risking being lost in the dawn’s glow. It isn’t too far from the more easily spotted Venus.
Venus is the brightest of the planets (after the moon and the sun, it's the brightest light in the sky) and thus the easiest to spot (if you know where to look, Venus can often be seen in full daylight – an interesting exercise is to keep a close watch on it as dawn progresses, and to keep on tracking it after the sun has risen).
Mars (the red planet) has a distinct orange tinge to it and will be dimmer than Mercury.
While Jupiter shines brightly with a whitish light, Saturn, while being almost as big as Jupiter, will be quite a bit dimmer (on par with Mars' brightness) because it's almost twice as distant as Jupiter. It shines with a slightly yellowish light. If you have a powerful set of binoculars (and a steady hand) you may be able to just make out the rings of Saturn. Spotting a few of Jupiter’s moons should be a cinch with any decent pair of binoculars (look for tiny specs of light near the planet - watch them over a week and you'll see them change positions as they rotate around the planet).
For the real keeners – Uranus and Neptune are also aligned in the morning sky. But to spot them, you’ll need to know exactly where to look, and you’ll need a good pair of binoculars at the very least – they are not visible to the naked eye. Check on-line for spotting guides.
Do take some time while under the very dark skies to gaze at the stars and the milky way. A decent pair of binoculars is all you need to go on an amazing astronomical mind trip.
Thursday May 26, 2022
The prolonged hiatus imposed by the pandemic has allowed us to have a good hard look at the hotels we use for our signature trips (the Ocean Safari on the luxury Integrity yacht, and the Active Galapagos on the tourist superior Samba). We also regularly use our selected hotels for guests on other trips needing to spend time in Galapagos or Quito.
To a certain extent, this change was imposed on us by events. Our go-to boutique hotel in Quito, the Mansion del Angel, stayed closed well after the worst of the pandemic had passed, and well after we started receiving guests again. We were prompted to find another small, unique establishment in very short order.
Meanwhile, the family owned and operated Hotel Fernandina in Galapagos transferred management to a third party. "Time for a switch" we decided. The Hotel Fernandina, while having served us well for 15 years, was getting long in the tooth and it was becoming obvious that it wasn't getting the necessary attention it deserved in terms of keeping things on the up and up.
It's always a challenge to find a new place. We had worked with the Mansion del Angel for nearly 20 years. Our guests were always very impressed by this very well-managed hotel, right out of the early 20th century. But we're very happy with the "Mama Cuchara". Located in the historic center, just a 15-minute walk from the presidential palace, the Mama Cuchara is owned by a Quito family whose mission it is to highlight arts and crafts of the neighbourhoods in which they are located. We recently used it for our own not-for-profit 32 person fundraising trip and all guests were very happy with our selection.
In Galapagos, we started using the new and very nicely located “Ikala” hotel. Built around a small pool in a central courtyard, this three-story establishment is just a 3-minute walk from the main pier, yet located on a side street, and away from the traffic noise. The hotel’s rooftop restaurant offers a wonderful view of the sea. Our group of 32 also stayed there recently and again, they all gave it a thumbs up.
We hope you’ll have a chance to relax and unwind at these comfortable hotels yourself one day.
Thursday May 26, 2022
With the surge in oil prices over the past few months, it should come as no surprise that ships in Galapagos would start feeling the pinch. Fuel makes up a big part of a ship’s operating costs.
The price a ship owner charges for a cruise is set on an annual basis, and is usually fixed a good 12 -18 months before the start of that year. So, 2022 cruise prices are based on fuel costs calculated as far back as early 2020.
The first ship to announce the surcharge to CNH Tours was the 32 passenger Evolution – the one we had chartered for our not-for-profit fundraising trip for old friends of ours. We were given a very short notice (another characteristic of doing business in Galapagos).
Other ships have started imposing surcharges as well. The latest was the ship we use for our Active Galapagos trips - the Samba - announcing today that it was imposing a $150 surcharge for departures starting next week.
While we understand these requests, we did feel it was the ship owner’s responsibility to be as transparent as possible in fixing the amount of the surcharge. In this regard, we sent the owner of the Evolution a note asking for those details. We have copied that note below (the ship owner's response to our questions is in italics) – CNH Tours is keeping your interests in mind when doing so.
From: Marc Patry <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Sent: Wednesday, March 30, 2022 2:57 PM
To: Dolores (email not published for privacy purposes)
Cc: Heather Blenkiron <email@example.com>
Subject: RE: EVOLUTION 30-APRIL-2022 / Fuel Surcharge Notice
I hope all is well with you. We just received notice of the fuel surcharge.
While I appreciate that fuel prices are going up, and while we have been anticipating something like this from ship operators at one point (Evolution is the first), and finally, while we understand that costs must be covered, it would be nice on your part to:
- Give us more notice. Dropping this on us now, after we had paid the balance of our bill means we have to go back to all our guests and get them to pay. Half our guests are in Europe and can only wire funds – and each wire has high transaction costs. We’ll probably end up advancing much of the funds and have our guests pay me cash on site. I’m sure your team that does direct sales is feeling the same way. Ideally, this would be applied only to departures whose final balance has not yet been paid, for example.
Although we completely understand this, for the past weeks, Galapagos operators have been paying a sharp increase (60%) in gas prices due to the war. We are not entirely sure how long this temporary fuel surcharge will last (it may be weeks or months) or the rates could even decline.
- Be more transparent with the numbers. While I have no reason to believe the contrary, it would be good if your company, in an effort at ensuring full transparency, gave its corporate clients like CNH Tours some numbers to explain its calculations. By unilaterally dropping the $150 figure on us, you are also asking clients to take your word for it, and in a business relationship, it’s always good to back up any such surprise price changes with a quantitative justification. For the Evolution, you are adding a $4,800 fuel surcharge. To me, who doesn’t know the details of running a ship, that’s a heck of a lot of fuel.
For our two ships, during a week of operation we use around 4,600 gallons of diesel and have room for 48 guests in total. By having a $1.50 price per gallon increase, we have an additional cost of $6,900 per week. If we divide this by the number of berths that we are able to sell (48), we get $143. It is important to mention that in addition to this, several of our suppliers have already started charging us more as transportation costs have also increased and this has averaged to an increase of $12 per person on a weeks of operation.
- Give us a game plan for eventually dropping the surcharge. It has been my experience that once a surcharge is in place due to an increase in fuel prices, they are sticky and don’t quickly get reduced or eliminated when fuel prices go down again (if they do). For example, should fuel prices go back to where they were 4 weeks ago, will the fuel surcharge be dropped?
As stated in our communication, this is a temporary fuel surcharge which depends on what the price of gas is charged to Galapagos operators. As a company, we had budgeted US$ 2,50 per gallon (which was standard for previous years) and now are being charged US$ 4 per gallon. It is worthwhile to mention that a fuel surcharge was implemented many years ago and that when gas prices worldwide dropped, the Ecuadorian government kept the higher rates for Galapagos operators. Although we do not expect this, this time around, hopefully rates will be lowered if gas prices are lowered worldwide. Any adjustment will be notified and we will certainly modify, or remove the surcharge if the rate goes below $4 or back to $2.50.
- Establish an industry-wide surcharge policy. The fuel price goes up and down the same for all ships. We would hope that all surcharges would change at the same time, and by the same amount (commensurate with the ship’s consumption). I suspect not one company wants to be the first to apply a surcharge… This is much bigger than Quasar of course – but you might want to share that with your industry colleagues – something to work on for the future.
Many thanks for the insight and as everyone in our trade we are so sorry that just when things were recovering, war broke, stressing even more the economies of most countries around the world causing this sort of reaction all over. We are so clear that for all of us, fuel is essential for our daily lives and businesses and raising prices, is just so unpopular. We hope this measure is temporary.
Thank you for your understanding Marc. We know this is difficult for CNH and your clients.
Thursday March 24, 2022
Here are excerpts from the press release emitted by the US Foreign Relations Committee, 23 March 2022. The bill now must be approved by the senate. But as it received bi-partisan support at the committee level, one would hope that it will pass the senate without too many difficulties.
WASHINGTON – Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) was joined today by Committee Ranking Member Jim Risch (R-Idaho) and Senators Tim Kaine (D-Va.) and Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), Chairman and Ranking Member of the Subcommittee on the Western Hemisphere, in applauding the Senate Foreign Relations Committee’s passage of their United States-Ecuador Partnership Act of 2022. The bipartisan proposal, which now moves on to the Senate Floor for a final vote, is the first legislative proposal in the U.S. Congress to focus exclusively on U.S.-Ecuador relations. Recognizing Ecuador as a key democratic partner in Latin America, the legislation lays out a comprehensive diplomatic strategy to strengthen U.S.-Ecuador cooperation on issues of mutual interest, including strengthening democratic institutions, promoting inclusive economic growth, supporting environmental conservation initiatives, and expanding capabilities to address corruption, crime, and malign foreign influence. The legislation also authorizes the transfer of two excess Coast Guard vessels to the Government of Ecuador to support the protection of the Galapagos Marine Reserve, deterrence of illegal fishing, and interdiction of narcotics trafficking.
- Requires a strategy to expand economic and commercial ties between the U.S. and Ecuador, and facilitate conditions for inclusive economic growth, including for Afro-Ecuadorian and Indigenous communities
- Supports Ecuador’s leadership on environmental conservation and stewardship
- Reinforces Ecuador’s efforts to combat illicit economies, including corruption, human trafficking, and illegal, unregulated, and unreported (IUU) fishing
- Authorizes the transfer of two excess Coast Guard cutters to the Government of Ecuador
- Strengthens bilateral security cooperation on cyber, law enforcement, and penitentiary issues, as well as the challenges posed by the malicious activities of foreign states
Specifically, in terms of conservation, the act contains the following sections:
The Administrator of the United States Agency for International Development, in coordination with the Secretary of State and the heads of other relevant Federal departments and agencies, shall develop and implement programs and enhance existing programs, as necessary 2 and appropriate, to improve ecosystem conservation and 3 enhance the effective stewardship of Ecuador’s natural resources by—
(1) providing technical assistance to Ecuador’s Ministry of the Environment to safeguard national parks and protected forests and protected species, while promoting the participation of Indigenous communities in this process;
(2) strengthening the capacity of communities to access the right to prior consultation, encoded in 12 Article 57 of the Constitution of Ecuador and related laws, executive decrees, administrative acts, and ministerial regulations;
(3) supporting Indigenous and Afro-Ecuadorian 16 communities as they raise awareness of threats to biodiverse ancestral lands, including through support for local media in such communities and technical assistance to monitor illicit activities;
(4) partnering with the Government of Ecuador in support of reforestation and improving river, lake, and coastal water quality;
(5) providing assistance to communities affected by illegal mining and deforestation; and
(6) fostering mechanisms for cooperation on emergency preparedness and rapid recovery from natural disasters, including by—
(A) establishing regional preparedness, recovery, and emergency management centers to facilitate rapid response to survey and help maintain planning on regional disaster anticipated needs and possible resources; and
(B) training disaster recovery officials on latest techniques and lessons learned from United States experiences.
This seems like good news for Ecuador and Galapagos.
Wednesday March 23, 2022
Blackberry is not native to Galapagos. In the days before there was any control over what people brought over from the continent, some smart person thought they'd establish their own blackberry bushes in their yard. The rest is history. The plant is even found on uninhabited islands now. It most likely arrived there after seeds were deposited by a fisherman on shore, a park staffer on a field job, or a scientist - any of which may have eaten some berries just before making the trip there.
The blackberry plants crowd out native vegetation and can take over large expanses of land. Once established, the areas they occupy tend to be biological deserts, with little else present but the blackberry. On Santa Cruz island, the blackberry is taking over the highland ecosystems, habitat for the endemic scalesia trees which support a variety of other endemic species, including the disappearing Galapagos vermillion flycatcher.
Until now, blackberry can only be controlled by a huge effort, sending teams of people pulling it out of the ground. It's delicious berries are eaten by birds, who then spreads seeds far a and wide. Once established, it crowds out native vegetation.
If some type of biological agent (a fungus, an insect) can be found that feeds exclusively on blackberry, it could help in keeping this alien invasive under control.
Tuesday March 15, 2022
I have my “Google News” service flag articles relating to Galapagos. Every day I get a news feed that helps me monitor what is being said about the islands in various media.
Today, I came across a travel article in Forbes, featuring the luxury ship we use for our Ocean Safari trip – the Integrity. It was a decent, succinct piece. The ship’s main marketing company, INCA, was featured prominently. CNH Tours has had a very good working relationship with INCA for 15+ years. The people running that company really know Galapagos well and have a multi-decade history there. Until recently, our relationship was limited to helping small groups / couples book spaces on the ship. But last year, after an exhaustive search, we decided to charter the Integrity for our new “OCEAN SAFARI” trips, starting in 2023.
Integrity: Understated elegance
We chose this luxury ship for a few reasons:
- Excellent itineraries: We have analyzed many ship itineraries over the years and have come to appreciate what elements contribute to a superior one. Factors such as avoiding needless back-tracking, which has you spending more time underway than necessary; spending minimal time in urban areas and more time out among the islands; an 8 day journey that is not made up of two smaller segments during which the ship picks up / drops off guests on shorter trips; avoiding visitor sites that have very little natural history value; avoiding long day-time traverses in which the activity is "whale watching" - a euphemism for "we'll be spending all afternoon underway and nothing is planned".
Left: Circuitous "Inner Loop" itinerary of the mega yacht Celebrity Flora. Right: Efficient "Born of Fire" itinerary of the Integrity. The Integrity takes guests to more visitors sites in the same amount of time, spending less time in human settlements.
- Elegance and comfort without the bling: Over the past 15-20 years, most of the Galapagos expedition cruise ship fleet has moved towards the high end market. In their effort to impress would-be guests, several ships have gone "over the top". Design seems to have the Miami/Russia jet-set scene in mind, with stainless steel, coloured glass, avant-garde furniture. The focus tends to be more on bells and whistles rather than on nautical / natural design themes. Some market their ships as "mega" yachts - exactly what we think should be avoided if you are keen on an intimate experience in the islands. After having inspected the Integrity, we came back with the image of "understated elegance" - which we felt was in line with the overall experience.
- Locally owned and operated: The ship is owned and operated by a local Galapagos family - the Sievers. The patriarch has been in Galapagos since the late 1950's and in his twenties was one of the first Darwin Station directors. His two son have taken up most of the responsibility now.
- Top quality guides: The Integrity's naturalist guides are professionals. Some have been in the business for decades. They are regularly called upon to serve as naturalist guides for VIPs that visit the islands on private tours.
For twenty years we’ve been organizing our “ACTIVE GALAPAGOS” trip on the very cozy 14 passenger Samba. We started with four departures per year, and now we’re chartering the ship for over 22 weeks a year. We’ve found that a lot of people are keen on being active, on getting out early, and engaging as much as possible with the Galapagos environment. Our guests are reassured that they will be on a ship with like-minded fellow passengers and with a crew and naturalist guides that will enable a more active experience. But we found that a number of people, while very keen on our Active Galapagos trips, decided to give them a pass in favour of a more comfortable ship. It’s for that reason that we started offering the Ocean Safari on the Integrity.
For more information, see our Ocean Safari page here.
Saturday March 12, 2022
We've been helping families organize a Galapagos trip of a lifetime since 1999.
Of the 65 or so expedition cruise ships in Galapagos, fewer than a dozen offer dedicated family departures. These usually take place in the northern hemisphere school holiday periods. Most of these ships are higher end and offer a wonderful experience.
If you’re keen on a family departure, but are not into the high end market, a Galapagos specialist travel company (like CNH Tours…) can usually look around and find departures on which other families have already booked. It’s not unusual to see more kids in Galapagos during the school holiday periods on many ships.
Either way, a family cruise in the Galapagos islands will build lifelong memories for all. Below we list a few good reasons to consider this once-in-a-lifetime trip.
- First of all - for yourself, the parent: The up front and personal, “in your face” nature of Galapagos can’t help but bring out the child in everyone and reawaken your latent sense of wonder. It will be easier to drop that façade of adulthood, and let the child in you emerge again if you’re in the company of children.
Parents letting loose
Make like an iguana
Doing the Upward Sealion
2. For your children: Be they youngsters, pre-teens or teens, Galapagos is an over-the-top eye-poppingly amazing place to explore. Every day will bring new remarkably close encounters with all kinds of wildlife, both above and below the sea. Giant tortoises, blue and red-footed boobies (the name always elicits a few giggles), sea lions (they cavort like under-water puppies), penguins and much more. The volcanic landscapes are as near as being “out of this world” as any other place on Earth. Whales and dolphins are just about guaranteed.
Sea turtles abound
3. Naturalist guides with a youth-oriented slant: On dedicated family cruises, or even on cruises where several children are on-board, the naturalist guides will adapt their talks and activities with the younger group in mind (and sometimes that’s just fine with the parents too) while the ship’s crew will usually also join in (inviting kids to pilot the ship, checking out the galley etc…). Be prepared to build sandcastles, to engage in a bit of friendly horseplay or simply to loaf about on a variety of pristine beaches. There will be opportunities to snorkel, kayak or maybe a guitar will make an appearance in the evenings. Jumping off the top deck into the sea is also good fun... The next generation will have all kinds of stimulation on offer. Parents can join in if they like of course.
Whale anatomy lesson
Happy hour Galapagos style
4. Built-in child minding: Your children will befriend other children on board, freeing up some of your time to enjoy adult moments.
More new friend
5. Commiserating with other parents: You can share your experiences and thoughts with adults going through the same stage of life and avoid being surrounded by those smug retirees who will tell you stories of the marvelous carefree lives they are living, traveling the world (patience, just a few more years before you join them….).
Adult wind-down time
6. Not worried about your kids bothering others: You won’t be sharing a ship with people are traveling without kids, expecting a full adult atmosphere on board, resenting having to put up with your active, giggling and adventurous children.
No adults in the jacuzzi please
- A unique learning experience: Are you reluctant to have them miss a few days of school? Don’t worry about it. A week on a Galapagos expedition cruise ship will expose children / teens to a whole new world. It will entice them to ask questions, to wonder about natural phenomena and to develop a greater first-hand understanding of the world around them. Your kids will be directly and indirectly exposed to a wide variety of topics such as volcanic geomorphology, astronomy, GPS technology / crossing the equator, marine biology, climate science, oceanography, marine engineering, biological evolution... You can pack in plenty of learning in a short amount of time.
- Rich and diverse extension options: While you are in Ecuador, you can consider a variety of easy to arrange extensions on the mainland that will expose your children to local culture (participatory arts / crafts; cuisine), history and architecture (Quito is a World Heritage city). If you want more exposure to the natural world, the mysterious cloud forest is easily accessible, and the Amazon basin is just a 30-minute flight out from Quito, while nearby snow-capped volcanoes can be explored. Many people include a visit to Machu Picchu and the Sacred Valley in neighbouring Peru on their itinerary.
- “Easy peasy – lemon squeezy”: Compared to a land-based family trip in Galapagos, on a ship, you will not have to worry about a thing between the moment you embark and the moment you disembark. No wondering about where to get your next meal, packing / unpacking and checking in / out of hotels, waiting around for others in your day tripping group to arrive at the dock. You won’t be spending a good part of each day simply commuting back and forth to a visitor site. For parents, the logistics of rounding up the kids and herding them to and fro can really take the fun out of a trip. On a ship, that entire aspect of “family travel” will disappear.
- Child friendly pricing: Depending on the ship you choose, the time of year, and your children’s ages (usually for those under 12 – but other formulas exist), there may be discounts of up to 50% on the ship, the park entrance fee and the flight from the continent.
- Family memories to last a lifetime: An expedition cruise in Galapagos, where everything is taken care of, will allow the family to focus on enjoying what the islands have to offer, building strong and vivid memories that will strengthen family bonds.
Is there a minimum age requirement for children?
We generally recommend that your child should be at least seven years old before considering an expedition cruise. Your child should have a good sense of self-control and judgement. You’ll be taking some nature walks, stopping frequently to observe wildlife. He/she will need to stay on the trail, and you'll be expected to ensure he/she does. You’ll also be on a ship, and your child should be old enough to be careful moving about while the ship is underway. Finally, your child should be comfortable in the water, and better yet, at ease using a mask and snorkel. Underwater Galapagos is half the fun. There’s always time to learn and practice before your trip.
Thursday March 10, 2022
Ho hum. Another volcanic eruption in Galapagos. Reporting on each eruption could become mundane – a bit like reporting on the arrival of winter. One could argue that it’s not newsworthy.
But it is.
A volcanic eruption, even if a relatively frequent event, will always be a moving, soul shifting spectacle.
We’ve been following Galapagos news for nearly 25 years now, and in that time, we must have reported on 6-8 eruptions. Heather, the CNH Tours front woman, had the good fortune to join a very small group of scientists to fly over an eruption that took place only a few weeks after our first arrival in Galapagos, back in 1998. “I saw boulders the size of school buses floating on rivers of lava”. Her eyes still open wide today when she shares that story.
The latest eruption is an unusual one. It started on 7 January 2022 and is still going strong today, two months later. Most don’t last beyond one or two weeks.
Galapagos eruptions are not typically violent. Pressure gradually builds below the surface. The force presses against the outer layers of the earth’s crust until cracks appear. The lava seeps out through these cracks. No big thunderous explosions. At first the lava might come out in squirts and jets reaching up to 50 or 100 meters into the air, but as the pressure dissipates, one is left with a steady flow of lava out from the cracks, following the path of least resistance downhill, sometimes reaching the sea, where clouds of steam burst forth.
The current eruption happened on the south / southeastern flank of Wolf Volcano, which is located at the northern tip of Isabela island. Above, we have a picture taken just moments after the eruption started. The photographer (none other than former Galapagos Park director Jorge Carrión – an old contact of ours) was there as part of a scientific expedition. His story:
"𝘐𝘵 𝘸𝘢𝘴 𝘮𝘪𝘥𝘯𝘪𝘨𝘩𝘵 𝘸𝘩𝘦𝘯 𝘢 𝘤𝘢𝘭𝘭 𝘧𝘳𝘰𝘮 𝘋𝘰𝘯 𝘕𝘰𝘷𝘢𝘳𝘪𝘯𝘰 𝘊𝘢𝘴𝘵𝘪𝘭𝘭𝘰 𝘸𝘰𝘬𝘦 𝘶𝘱 𝘦𝘷𝘦𝘳𝘺𝘰𝘯𝘦 𝘪𝘯 𝘵𝘩𝘦 𝘤𝘢𝘮𝘱: "𝘵𝘩𝘦 𝘷𝘰𝘭𝘤𝘢𝘯𝘰 𝘪𝘴 𝘦𝘳𝘶𝘱𝘵𝘪𝘯𝘨!" 𝘞𝘪𝘵𝘩 𝘴𝘶𝘳𝘱𝘳𝘪𝘴𝘦 𝘢𝘯𝘥 𝘴𝘰𝘮𝘦 𝘥𝘪𝘴𝘣𝘦𝘭𝘪𝘦𝘧 𝘸𝘦 𝘭𝘦𝘧𝘵 𝘰𝘶𝘳 𝘵𝘦𝘯𝘵𝘴 𝘢𝘯𝘥 𝘢𝘵 𝘭𝘦𝘢𝘴𝘵 𝘐 𝘵𝘩𝘰𝘶𝘨𝘩𝘵 𝘪𝘵 𝘸𝘢𝘴 𝘋𝘰𝘯 𝘕𝘰𝘷𝘢'𝘴 funny way to get us all up 𝘦𝘢𝘳𝘭𝘺 𝘵𝘰 𝘸𝘢𝘭𝘬 𝘵𝘰 𝘵𝘩𝘦 𝘤𝘰𝘢𝘴𝘵, 𝘣𝘶𝘵 𝘪𝘵 𝘸𝘢𝘴 𝘯𝘰𝘵 𝘭𝘪𝘬𝘦 𝘵𝘩𝘢𝘵, 𝘪𝘵 𝘸𝘢𝘴 𝘵𝘳𝘶𝘦 𝘢𝘯𝘥 𝘺𝘦𝘴, 𝘵𝘩𝘦 𝘷𝘰𝘭𝘤𝘢𝘯𝘰 𝘸𝘢𝘴 𝘦𝘳𝘶𝘱𝘵𝘪𝘯𝘨 𝘸𝘩𝘪𝘭𝘦 𝘸𝘦 𝘸𝘦𝘳𝘦 𝘵𝘩𝘦𝘳𝘦."
In the picture, Jorge is looking over the deep volcanic caldera, beyond the opposite rim to the south. Interesting fact: The equatorial line runs right through the caldera - so Jorge is in the northern hemisphere, looking at the eruption which is in the southern hemisphere.
This stunning picture below was taken on 8 March by our friend and naturalist guide, Sofia Darquea (also former president of the Galapagos Naturalist Guides’ Association). Two months after the earth's crust split open, Wolf volcano continues to spew lava, just a few hundred meters south of the equatorial line. In the night sky, the hunter Orion watches, poised to shoot an arrow right into the lava stream.
Thursday March 3, 2022
This past Sunday, an Avianca flight from Quito to Galapagos, via Guayaquil, arrived a few hours late at its final destination thanks to one passenger who decided to make an anti-mask stand on the Quito-Guayaquil leg of the journey.
From reports, the Avianca crew didn't do anything about it at first, but eventually, the other passengers made such a fuss that the entire plane had to be offloaded to settle the issue.
Moral of the story: Don't make your anti-mask stand on a plane fully loaded with tourists who have been dreaming about Galapagos for years.
Tuesday March 1, 2022
Every once in a while we publish a note we receive from very happy guests. Evelyn travelled with her daughter Jenny on our Samba "Active Galapagos" Flamingo departure (13-24 February) and recently returned home to Brockville, Ontario. Here's her 100% unabridged email to Heather, her CNH Tours "travel advisor":
Sent: February 28, 2022 3:45 PM
To: Heather Blenkiron <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Subject: Thank you so much
I’m very tired & this thank you won’t do you justice but I know you’re interested in how all your efforts went.
We absolutely loved our amazing trip. Nothing can beat this one. Nothing. We’ve trekked gorillas, gone on safari, volunteered with elephants, walked the Inca trail to Machu Picchu, & roamed Guatemala. Our Samba trip in the Galapagos surpassed them all. It was the most amazing, superbly planned, interesting, exciting, beyond all expectations trip! And we thank you, Heather, for all your work to make it happen for us.
Your meticulous planning was immensely appreciated. Oh boy did we ever feel out of our element! We had tried to learn enough Spanish to get by but we’re lost most of the time. Then a lovely person would appear, grab our arm, set us on the right track, and stay with us as long as they could, until they knew we were OK. Amazing! You, Heather, are a miracle worker. We are so grateful to you & we thank you from the bottom of our hearts.
The Samba was unbelievable. We loved every minute. Oh the good times we had! The staff was amazing, so kind & gracious & talented. The food was outstanding. OMG we loved it all. Our guide, Harry was funny, clever, dedicated, & we adored him. It was such fun to have a varied group of people, all interested in the same thing & uninterested in any drama or concerned about any age differences. It makes me cry just thinking about how much I loved them all.
All our guides were wonderful! Everyone was so kind & interested & knowledgeable.
Our hotels were soooo lovely & comfy & plush & yummy! Mama Cuchara especially. OMG that’s a wonderful spot, & Ikala was gorgeous too. Loved the little pool. Loved the restaurants & service & gracious people at both hotels. We were disappointed with San Hose de Puembo but that’s OK.
I could keep on gushing, Heather, but you get the idea. We are VERY grateful to you & your fabulous team.
Please let me know how I can best share our gratitude & let me know if you’d like a more detailed or specific review of anything. I’ll do it next week when I’m a bit recovered.
Sent from my iPad
Evelyn and Jenny at Tagus Cove, Isabela Island.
Tuesday March 1, 2022
(versión en español debajo de la foto)
It’s hard to find a spot on the planet that is further away from Ukraine than Galapagos (about 7,542 miles / 12,137 km). But the two share some very fundamental qualities. The people in both countries enjoy the benefits of living in a democracy – where any person is free to actively engage in the decision-making process that helps shape their lives.
Citizens of both countries enjoy freedoms to express themselves peacefully. They are free to gather and organize themselves so that their voices can be heard more effectively. They are free to consult both the domestic and foreign press of all kinds and to share their opinions without fear of censorship. The press itself is free to write about what it wants and to carry out investigative journalism.
These freedoms that many of us take for granted were hard won over many hundreds of years. Countless people were imprisoned and died in the effort to gain them.
What we see in Ukraine these days is an effort on the part of a small number of leaders in another country try to take Ukraine back to the times when these freedoms were tightly constrained… to a time where a small group of unaccountable leaders gave themselves the authority to dictate what the vast majority of citizens could say and do.
CNH Tours stands with the people of Ukraine. We also stand with the average citizen of Russia who, we suspect, does not support their government in its brutal actions on an innocent neighbour. We are glad to see the groundswell of support Ukraine is getting from all sectors – from individual voices to those of other democratic nations and to those of large corporations. We are glad that we, as a small company, need not fear any retribution in following-suit.
Es difícil encontrar un lugar en el planeta que esté más lejos de Ucrania que Galápagos (alrededor de 7,542 millas / 12,137 km). Pero los dos comparten algunas cualidades muy fundamentales. Las personas de ambos países disfrutan de los beneficios de vivir en una democracia, donde cualquier persona es libre de participar activamente en el proceso de toma de decisiones que ayuda a dar forma a sus vidas.
Los ciudadanos de ambos países disfrutan de la libertad de expresarse pacíficamente. Son libres de reunirse y organizarse para que sus voces se escuchen con mayor eficacia. Son libres de consultar la prensa nacional y extranjera de todo tipo y de compartir sus opiniones sin temor a la censura. La propia prensa es libre de escribir sobre lo que quiera y de hacer periodismo de investigación.
Estas libertades que muchos de nosotros damos por sentadas se ganaron con esfuerzo durante muchos cientos de años. Innumerables personas fueron encarceladas y murieron en el esfuerzo por ganarlas.
Lo que vemos en Ucrania en estos días es un esfuerzo por parte de un pequeño número de líderes en otro país para tratar de llevar a Ucrania de vuelta a los tiempos en que estas libertades estaban fuertemente restringidas... a un tiempo en el que un pequeño grupo de líderes que no rendían cuentas se dieron autoridad para dictar lo que la gran mayoría de los ciudadanos podía decir y hacer.
CNH Tours apoya al pueblo de Ucrania. También apoyamos al ciudadano medio de Rusia que, sospechamos, no apoya a su gobierno en sus acciones brutales contra un vecino inocente. Nos complace ver la oleada de apoyo que Ucrania está recibiendo de todos los sectores, desde las voces individuales hasta las de otros paises democráticos, hasta de las grandes corporaciones. Nos complace que nosotros, como pequeña empresa, no tengamos que temer represalias si hacemos lo mismo.
Wednesday February 9, 2022
As of 11 February, the only COVID-related documentation you will need to enter Ecuador and Galapagos will be proof of full vaccination, with the last dose having been taken at least 14 days prior to embarking on your flight to the country.
As vaccines are not yet available / easy to secure for children under five years of age, it’s not clear what the protocol for that age group is. The communiqué released by the Ministry of Tourism (see below) makes no reference to that.
The rules have changed on several occasions over the past few months – but this new development eliminates he risk of being caught with a positive test just before a flight to Ecuador or Galapagos, ruining carefully prepared travel plans.
Friday January 28, 2022
Even Bill Clinton was there. Earlier this month, the presidents of Ecuador, Colombia, along with senior representatives from Panama and Costa Rica and Colombia met up in Galapagos to witness the signing of the decree that expanded the Galapagos Marine Reserve by almost 50%, as promised by Ecuadorian president Guillermo Lasso at the Climate Change conference in Denmark last October.
The expansion is designed as a contribution to a protected marine corridor, linking Galapagos to other marine protected areas in the region – namely Cocos Island (Costa Rica); Malpelo Island (Colombia) and Coiba Island (Panama).
I was involved in the early stages of this effort, while working at UNESCO’s World Heritage Centre in Paris. At that time, I was managing projects financed by donors in support of this effort, ensuring funds were distributed according to plan and helping organize meetings between major stakeholders.
Tremendous effort went into understanding the validity of such a marine corridor. Would it make a difference to marine conservation? Did marine species actually move along this path? Unless that could be determined, there was no justification for that configuration of the marine reserve expansion.
Thanks to many years of work, marine scientists were able to demonstrate that the corridor was in fact used by a variety of species, including hammerhead sharks and whale sharks, as they moved about in the region. The decree creating the reserve gives the fishing community six months to complete and fishing plans they had in the region, after which time no fishing whatsoever will be allowed in much of the new reserve, while fishing will be permitted in a small part, the indiscriminate practice of long-line fishing will be banned. Long-line fishing involves very long lines with hundreds of baited hooks. These invariably catch a variety of unintended species such as sea lions, albatrosses, sharks and more.
Saturday January 1, 2022
Putting lists out there is recommended by advisors in the search engine optimization business and is considered a type of “click bait” - designed more to drive eyeballs to one's website, often more than to actually inform. How many such lists have we come across in magazines, social media etc? Who has not seen the likes of:
- 5 best pizza restaurants of Naples
- 6 best TV shows of 2021
- 8 biggest shopping malls in the USA
- 10 best beaches of the world
- 6 funniest cat videos…
The Galapagos regularly makes it on such “must visit” travel destination lists. The latest click bait material appears in a Forbes Magazine article, entitled “The 10 Coolest Places To Go In The Next 10 Years, According To Experts”. Galapagos appears alongside other “cool” places like “Cambodia and Thailand” and “Mexico”. It must be a testament to the truly outstanding nature of tiny Galapagos to be on par with entire countries.
While we wholeheartedly agree that Galapagos should be at the top of the global travel destinations (for wildlife enthusiasts), shared with only a small handful of other places, we do feel that these lists belittle its iconic status (with all due respect to Cashel, in Ireland's Tipperary county, pictured below...).
To make it onto Forbes’ list, the author “tapped a few of the people [she checks] in with every year" – three travel industry representatives. It seems the only criteria to have made it onto the list was to be “cool”. This is not what we would call a very rigorous methodology. It’s also one that is open to all kinds of abuse…. Did these experts have any vested interested in promoting tourism to these destinations? We can only guess. In the article, each gets to push a particular product (a hotel, a cruise ship…), along with having the website of their travel company appear. In the on-line world, getting your website mentioned in the Forbes magazine is worth quite a lot of money.
According to the expert who recommended Galapagos as a “cool” place for 2022:
“After a year of being closed (see note #1) the Galapagos is finally open, and the marine and land wildlife is more prolific than ever! (see note #2)
Forbes magazine travel industry expert
Note #1: Graph illustrating monthly visitor numbers to Galapagos in 2020. FACT: The Park was closed for only 4 months.
Note #2: My colleagues at the Charles Darwin Research Station say there is no evidence that wildlife numbers have been affected by the absence / reduced number of tourists during the pandemic - though behavioural modifications have been noted.
A List you can Take to the Bank
For eleven years, I worked for the World Heritage (WH) Convention’s secretariat, located at the UNESCO headquarters in Paris. The WH Convention secretariat’s job is to manage the most prestigious list on the planet: The WH List.
To make it there, a country proposes a site for consideration by the international community. The site has to meet very strictly defined heritage and conservation criteria. It has to demonstrate that it stands out at the global level in its respective category. It must go through a very rigorous evaluation, carried out by not-for-profit organizations staffed by heritage professionals.
The WH Convention was the product of over many years of work by the international community. More widespread enthusiasm for the idea came about after Egypt revealed plans to build a huge dam on the Nile River – which would flood the Abu Simbel archaeological site. Egypt claimed that it did not have the expertise nor the financial resources to do anything about it – but the global community, through the United Nations (UNESCO - the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization in this case) mobilized the necessary effort and succeeded in moving the massive monuments to higher ground (1967).
Re-location of Abu Simbel monuments in 1967
Elated by the success of this effort, the global community extended that level of cooperation into the development of a convention designed to help countries identify and protect their most valued cultural and natural heritage sites. The convention would also identify those that were of such outstanding global value that they would be formally recognized as “WORLD HERITAGE” and warrant international cooperation for their long-term conservation. The World Heritage List was conceived.
After many meetings, the text of the WH Convention was adopted in 1972. But it would not come into force unless at least 20 countries ratified at their national government levels. That happened in 1975. In 1978, at the WH Committee’s meeting in Washington D.C., the first site to be recognized under the WH Convention was the Galapagos Islands (the second was the historic city of Cuenca, also in Ecuador). The World Heritage List was born.
So, when you see yet another list of “best places to visit” – take the time to ask yourself “based on which criteria?” and “who was in charge of evaluation the sites against those criteria and was the process fully transparent?”. You’ll find that in the vast majority of cases, there are no clear answers to those questions – and as a result, these lists are almost always tainted by the suspicion of having been influenced by ulterior motives, or at the very least, resting on very weak technical foundations.
For more on the World Heritage list, see the World Heritage Centre’s very informative and detailed website here.
Wednesday December 29, 2021
Ecuador has carried out a brilliant COVID-19 vaccination effort this past year. According to Ourworldindata.org, which gathers information from public sources, Ecuador currently ranks among the top countries in total population vaccinated. It's ahead of countries such as the United Kingdom, France, Germany and the USA.
Being vaccinated reduces the chances of contracting, transmitting and becoming seriously ill from the virus. This implies that visitors to Ecuador will be less exposed to COVID-19 risks than in almost any other country on the planet. Of course, the usual protocols (social distancing, masks and hand-washing) will contribute a lot to reducing the risk.
Ecuador currently requires visitors to be fully vaccinated prior to arrival, along with having proof of a negative PCR test taken no more than 72 hours prior to embarking on your flight to the country.