Galapagos News

Drinking from the Giant Tortoise Pericardium?

Back in October 2017, Anthony Pearson, a cardiologist from St. Louis took the plunge and booked a trip for himself and his family on an August 2018 Active Galapagos trip on the Samba.  It turns out that Anthony is an avid blogger, maintaining a rich blog site called "The Skeptical Cardiologist" (my father, a general practitioner, would certainly enjoy this blog).  

In preparation for his trip, he started a blog on the upcoming adventure.  To date, he's posted two articles - one entitled:  "We are soon Bound for the Galapagos Islands in search of Darwin, the Giant Tortoise and Dangerous Ideas".   

His second post, just out this week, is entitled: "Drinking from the Giant Tortoise Pericardium".

Clearly, Anthony has a gift for headlines!   To follow his blog, click here.

Get your iguanas straight! Choose an expert Galapagos travel agent.

My wife Heather Blenkiron has been answering questions as the TripAdvisor "Destination Expert" for Galapagos for many years (she's answered nearly 3,500 questions so far).   

People often turn to the TripAdvisor Galapagos forum for advice, or for recommendations on this or that travel agency.   Heather's answer is invariably "no matter what agency you choose, just be sure they are Galapagos specialists, that they know what they are talking about".   

We are working out of our Victoria, British Columbia "office" these days (visiting family) and we were amused by the large bus shelter posters around town advertising a Galapagos trip, sponsored by a travel company that sells trips all over the world.   They send a lot of people to Galapagos every year.  But the picture on their poster is of an iguana not found in Galapagos.  Clearly, this company, one we like to call "the IKEA of travel agencies", cannot be considered a Galapagos expert.  

Below, the bus shelter advertisement showing a mundane, run-of-the-mill, dime-a-dozen green iguana, found from Mexico to Brazil (but NOT in Galapagos)


And now, below, the magnificent Galapagos Marine Iguana, found ONLY in Galapagos 


Welcome aboard Kelsey Bradley!

CNH Tours has been very busy - we're getting more and more "word of mouth" inquiries as the number of very happy former guests tell their friends and family about the wonderful service and the unforgettable experiences they've had.   So much so that we've been obliged to take on our first full-time senior partner - Kelsey Bradley.

It wasn't easy to find the ideal person to join our team.  We pride ourselves in providing "unmatched personalized service" - and part of that is ensuring that all the people working at CNH Tours have a profound and intimate knowledge of Galapagos.  Unlike just about all other international agencies selling trips to the islands, all of CNH Tours front line staff have lived in the islands for several years and continue to maintain very close ties to the people there.  

Kelsey joined us on 18 June after spending 8 years working in Galapagos, first as a volunteer at the San Cristobal hospital and then later for 5 years at the Charles Darwin Research Station (where she had the pleasure of helping the likes of Martha Stewart organize a visit).  She spent her time there closely connected to both the CDRS and the local communities, having lived on both Santa Cruz and San Cristobal Islands. Through her most recent role at the CDRS she worked with various members of the tourism industry in the islands to further bridge the gap between tourism and conservation in Galapagos.  This helped her develop a good knowledge of the various hotel and ship representatives we work with.   This aspect of her work quickly became a passion and now working with CNH Tours she looks forward to continuing these efforts for the conservation of the magical place. Her love for the islands and for Ecuador as a whole is very clear within two seconds of meeting her and she’s keen to share this love with future travellers. 

Kelsey also happens to be from Ottawa, CNH Tours' home base.  She will be joining Heather taking your calls and emails to help you organize a trip of a lifetime. 


Kelsey is an amateur photographer - here she is on the Islander off the coast of Floreana Island (top photo) and in one of her favourite spots - Sullivan Bay on Santiago Island (bottom photo).  We'll be using some of her pictures on our website and new stories. (Photos here taken by young Ecuadorian photographer Liza Diaz Lalova).


Fernandina island's volcano erupts today

While Sierra Negra volcano on Isabela island had been attracting our attention these past days with its multiple earthquakes (see earlier news item "Is she going to blow?", its sister volcano on neighbouring Fernandina island is the one that erupted today. 

I just heard from Walter Bustos (former park director in Galapagos) that an eruption on the outer northern slopes of Fernandina island's "La Cumbre" volcano happened this morning.   Fernandina island is the youngest in the Galapagos archipelago, located on its most westerly edge.  It is considered one of the most pristine "large" islands in the world.   Much of it is covered in lava fields, but there are many areas covered with vegetation.  It is home to flightless cormorants, penguins, the largest colonies of marine iguanas and the Galapagos hawk.

Plume of the eruption, 6 June 2018 (photo Galapagos National Park Service)


The last time an eruption occurred was on 4 September 2017.  With that kind of frequency, it's easier to understand how these islands are built over tens of thousands of years.   

Infrared photo shows location of the eruption on the northern edge of Fernandina Islana (imagery from Galapagos National Park Service)


Ironically, we had been keeping an eye on Sierra Negra volcano these past days (Isabela Island).  Let's see if it can outdo La Cumbre.... 

Fernandina's Punta Espinoza is a visitor site on most ship itineraries.    Lucky are those who might get a chance to see this eruption in progress.  There is no danger whatsoever to visitors as the eruption is quite distant from visitor sites.  

Is she going to blow?

On the 9th of January this year, we reported on a spat of small but frequent earthquakes in and around Sierra Negra volcano.   We have an ear to the ground for this kind of thing - we'd noticed what appeared to be an unusual number of reports of such earthquakes and thought it was newsworthy, figuring that "something was up".  

Last week, the Ecuadorian Geophysical Institute reported that seismic activity was reaching levels that could indicate an imminent eruption.   It indicated that seismic activity in and around Sierra Negra has been gradually increasing over the past two years, reaching very high levels since mid May, averaging 42 earthquakes per day with a peak of 104 quakes occurring on 25 May. The largest quake so far quake was a significant magnitude 4.8 on 8 June, large enough to be felt by by people in the vicinity.

Daily number of volcanic events at Sierra Negra (Instituto Geofisico del Ecuador)

As noted in our January 9 article, the volcanoes in Galapagos are all "shield" type volcanoes.   They don't erupt explosively (e.g. like the recent volcano in Guatemala) but rather "burst at the seams", resulting in cracks on the slopes of the volcano (either within the caldera, or on the outside slopes), with lava spewing out.  The lava can spew for days or weeks or even longer, producing rivers of lava that can flow over long distances, covering wide expanses of land.    This is exactly what has been happening in Hawaii these past few weeks.   

Sierra Negra is located above the town of Villamil on Isabela island - a popular destination for land based visitors.    The highlands above the town are settled by small time farmers growing coffee, pineapples and such, or keeping some cattle.   Both Villamil and the highlands are exposed to the risk of lava flows that could head their way.  Typically, should this danger materialize, there will be plenty of advance warning, unless fissures open up much closer to inhabited areas.   

Satellite pictures of the area around Villamil attest to geologically recent volcanic activity, with much of the surface area around the town consisting of vast barren lava fields (mostly on the north and eastern edges of town).  Parts of the Villamil airstrip are carved right out of these lava fields. 

The town of Villamil is vulnerable to lava flows - black areas show geologically recent lava flow events (thanks to Google Earth)

According to the Geophysical Institute, "the recent increase of seismic activity suggests an increase of pressure inside the volcano, which could be related to an advance of a magmatic intrusion towards relatively shallow depths".  Based on the precise locations of the quakes, the most likely outcome would be a moderate-sized eruption in the Volcán Chico sector, on the southeast side of the volcano.  That is precisely where tourism activity is concentrated.    


Location of Sierra Negra quakes (Instituto Geofisico del Ecuador)

Burgled turtles* coming home

Translated from an El Colono (Galapagos newspaper) FaceBook post yesterday.

* Technically they are tortoises (land based version of turtles, which are water reptiles; e.g. sea turtles) but we took a bit of poetic license to generate a more eye-catching title for this news item...)


A group of 26 Galapagos tortoises is repatriated from Peru to Ecuador (Galapagos) after being retained by the National Forestry and Wildlife Service of the neighboring country on April 17, 2017, product of the alleged international trafficking of species.

These tortoises are part of the group of 29 chelonians retained by the Peruvian authorities, two of whom died during the alleged traffic and later one more due to natural causes.

The Directorate of the Galapagos National Park of the Ministry of Environment, approached the Peruvian authorities to carry out the genetic analyzes and confirm that they are giant tortoises of the Galapagos Islands, which, being protected species under the Convention on International Trade of Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), it was necessary to comply with international procedures for its return to the Ecuadorian archipelago.

This week, three park rangers from the Directorate of the Galapagos National Park traveled to Peru, where they removed the tortoises that were in the Cecilia Margarita Zoo in Piura, to begin the transfer to Lima, then to Quito and Galápagos.

The compliance with the legal procedures was possible thanks to the coordinated work between the Directorate of the Galapagos National Park of the Ministry of the Environment, Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Human Mobility, Embassy of Ecuador in Peru, Agency for Regulation and Control of Fito and Zoosanitary, Regulation and Control of Biosecurity and Quarantine for Galapagos, Galapagos Conservancy, and National Secretary of Customs; with the support of the Government of Peru, through the National Superintendence of Customs and Tax Administration, National Forestry Service and Wildlife, and National Service of Agrifood Health and Quality.

According to the requirements of the authorities, the tortoises remained under a protocol of quarantine and veterinary examinations, to rule out diseases, prior to their return to the country.

Wooden boxes specially designed for the transportation of the toirtoises, with estimated ages between three and five years, are used in the three-day journey that lasts until the final arrival in the Galapagos.

Quarantine in Baltra

The park ranger Christian Sevilla, responsible for the conservation of insular ecosystems of the DPNG, explained that upon arrival in Galapagos, the tortoises will spend at least 180 days in a specially built pen at the Ecuadorian Air Force Base on Baltra Island.

The pen that will house the tortoises during the quarantine period is built on 16 square meters, has an outer cage that prevents any vertebrate: iguanas, lizards, etc., approaching the tortoises and another interior with all temperature and shade conditions that they need for their well-being, in addition it is covered with mesh, to avoid the entrance of invertebrates. This pen has a biosecurity area where the materials and equipment used by the park rangers who will take care of the chelonians will be kept.

The quarantine will allow the reptiles to eliminate seeds, while they will be analyzed to rule out possible risks of infection before reinsertion into their habitat and protect the turtle populations of the archipelago.

Photo credit:  El Colono newspaper



At 9.5% growth per Year, Galapagos land based tourism is out of control

I was quoted in the New York Times' June 1st paper (along with perhaps 500 other people in that day's paper... so my ego is kept in check).   The article was entitled:  "Is Land Tourism Threatening the Galápagos?".  It was not a cutting edge article, and frankly, I don't think I said what the journalist quoted me as saying, but at the end of the day, the article was factual.  Click here to read it. 

The article came about after I encouraged the International Galapagos Tour Operator's Association (IGTOA - I sit on the board) to make a statement on the unregulated nature of land based tourism in Galapagos.  That statement can be consulted on IGTOA's website (click here).   

I was motivated to do so as a former staffer at UNESCO's World Heritage (WH) Centre.  The WH Centre is the United Nations body charged with overseeing the state of conservation of WH sites - which includes the Galapagos islands.  In its last decision, back in 2016, the intergovernmental WH Committee expressed concern over rapid growth of tourism and the absence of any plan to manage it.  More visitors coming and going draw more migrants from the continent and together, there is markedly more movement of people and goods between the continent and the islands, and between islands themselves.  All this to-ing an fro-ing raises the risk of more introductions of invasive non-native species - these are the main threat to the long term survival of Galapagos biodiversity (Darwin Finch numbers are currently in decline thanks to an non-native fly that lays eggs in the birds' nests). 

My conscience could not let me sit on the board of an association of Galapagos tourism companies that claims to be "dedicated to the complete and lasting protection of the Galapagoson the one hand, and see that the same organization had not addressed threats linked to uncontrolled tourism growth identified by the United Nations on the other.    

We started by producing an IGTOA position statement on Galapagos (noted above).  We followed that with a letter to the Minister of the Environment about this issue in 2017.  The Ministry asked the the Galapagos National Park to respond.  During the IGTOA meeting in Galapagos last November, we met with the park staff to discuss.  Though we agreed to work more closely together on conservation related matters, the Park indicated that Galapagos tourism policy was a Ministry of Tourism matter.  Our letter to the Minister of Tourism duly went out in February (and as noted in the NYT article, we have yet to receive a response).   We were then approached by the New York Times who wanted to publish an article on the matter.

All along, I have been working to convince my former colleagues at UNESCO's WH Centre to recognize the on-going absence of  significant measures taken by the Government of Ecuador to control the growth in land based tourism.  Government numbers show a growth in land based tourism averaging at 9.5% / year over the last 5 years.  While the Government of Ecuador wisely saw fit to put a cap on the capacity of ship based tourism nearly 20 years ago, it has yet to impose any equivalent cap on land based tourism.  As a result, land based visitors, who numbered fewer than 5,000 in the 1990's, will likely surpass the 200,000 threshold within 2-3 years. 

UNESCO's WH Committee is meeting again later this month / early July to review the state of conservation of WH sites, and Galapagos is on the agenda.   I was hoping to present a solid case to justify strong wording from the WH Committee to the Government of Ecuador in regards to the need for a firm limit on the total number of tourists coming to the islands.   

Their draft decision on the matter was published recently.  As in its last decision (2016), the proposal is to recognize that more needs to be done to manage tourism while recognizing the government's very small steps taken to date (these have had zero impact on tourism growth). The Government of Ecuador, in its report to the WH Committee, indicated that it was committed "to adopt measures that promote a zero growth model".  That's not the same as "placing a firm cap on the total annual number of visitors granted a Galapagos National Park entrance permit".  It leaves a lot of wiggle room, particularly in terms of when the "zero growth" is to be achieved. 

To conclude, though I am disappointed in UNESCO's timid recommendations to the Government of Ecuador, at least the issue remains on the front burner.   The Government of Ecuador will have to report once again to UNESCO in 2019 and if no progress is made then, we can hope that bolder requests will be made.    If Ecuador does not implement measures deemed necessary for the conservation of the islands, UNESCO's WH Committee can put the site on the Danger List, or further still, remove Galapagos from the World Heritage List altogether.   

In the meantime, anyone thinking of going to Galapagos using the cruise ship model can rest assured that they will not be contributed to tourism growth in the islands.  Ship based tourism, thanks to effective Government policies, has been more or less flat at 70,000 people per year for the past 15 years or so.   Enjoy your trip!




Fuggedaboudit - leave your yogurt behind

The Galapagos regional government (a.k.a. the governing council) approved a motion to ban the importation of yogurt from the continent last week.   Most such bans on the importation of foodstuffs to the islands are designed to reduce the risk of introducing alien species, which can upset native communities there. 

But in this case, the local dairy producers that are the target of concern.    By banning the importation of continental yogurt, the council hopes to give the local producers some breathing room to produce their own native yogurt for island consumption.  

Notwithstanding the bottom-line benefits to local dairy farmers, there are some environmental benefits to such a policy.   A significant portion of inhabited islands in Galapagos (mainly Santa Cruz, Española and to a much lesser extent Isabela and Floreana) are privately owned.  Much of the rural lands are used for agricultural production.   Typically, these are on the windward sides of the islands, with better soils and more reliable rain.   When farmed effectively, they produce goods for local consumption, reducing the need to import fresh foods from the continent, which, despite efforts at controlling it, can be a vector for the arrival of alien species.  But when poorly managed (e.g. poor farms, no investment), these lands become centers for the establishment and propagation of alien weeds that end up overtaking adjacent park lands as well.  Common examples are the blackberry and cinchona (related to the plant that produces quinine - an anti-malarial agent).  

But there is a risk in aggressively promoting local agriculture. A strong rural / farmer's voice leads to the creation of a robust  political constituency based on a growing demand for farmland.   In the dry season, it is not uncommon for dairy and cattle farmers to let their animals wander into adjacent park lands.   When confronted by park authorities, they can push back politically.   Local politicians make it hard for the park to maintain the integrity of the park borders in such times.    Having cattle wander around in park lands, dropping seed laden manure as they wander is an excellent way to spread invasive species in the park.   Moreover, as the population of Galapagos grows, there may be more pressure to release park lands to agricultural production

At the end of the day, while a vibrant and professionally operated agricultural economy may be good for the integrity of Galapagos ecosystems, unless it is managed in such a way as to respect the environmental constraints of the islands, it may end up doing more harm than good.   The governing council will need to keep a close eye on how things progress.  

The governing council of Galapagos, 11 May 2018 - banning yogurt importations.  



No, Galapagos is not for sunbathing

We came across a post on TripAdvisor today that perfectly encapsulates the reason for which we developed our "Active Galapagos" trip on the Samba. A couple writes their review of the Petrel, a higher end 16 passenger catamaran. This is a nice ship that we've helped people book in the past. The review was very positive, except for the following comment:

"The ship tends to move between islands at night so the days are full. Some of our passengers seemed to resent this aspect of the cruise and were more interested in sunbathing and drinking. This created a tension as the crew were trying to deliver something else. It also didn't help that they were rude and pompous to all! Yes the cruise is a luxury cruise but its a luxury adventure cruise so be prepared to do stuff!"

To see this TripAdvisor thread, click here.  

By explicitly branding our charters on the Samba as "Active", people who are more interested in drinking and sunbathing steer clear of us.   As a result, on our Active trips, you'll be with a group of people who are keen on getting the most out of their Galapagos experience - and the naturalist guides will sense that they are free to do as much as possible with the group.    


Postponed (again): Travel medical insurance requirement

We just heard from one of the ship owners that the president of Ecuador has approved the postponement of the requirement to show proof of travel medical insurance upon arriving in Ecuador.  

This requirement was first approved last year and had been set to be applied as of early this year (see our 29 November 2017 news item).   That start date was postponed to 1 May 2018.  We've been telling all of our guests for several months now to ensure they had proof of medical insurance if they were arriving from that date onward.

Well, it seems the new start date is now 22 July 2018.   There appears to be a degree of pressure on the part of the Ecuadorian tourism industry to trash this requirement altogether.   I certainly anticipate that it would result in long wait times at the airport on arrival, as immigration officials try to make sense of all types of papers (most likely not written in Spanish) presented to them as proof of insurance.   

More to follow, no doubt.  

Annual photo competition deadline approaches

From the Galapagos Conservation Trust website (the UK non-profit supporting Galapagos conservation):


Welcome to the Galapagos Conservation Trust’s 2018 Galapagos Photography Competition. 

If you have been lucky enough to visit the Enchanted Isles and have managed to capture some of the Archipelago’s stunning natural beauty through the lens, why not enter our competition and see what the judges say! If you’re looking for inspiration, check out 2017’s winners here

Competition Categories

As always, this year’s competition aims to celebrate the art of photography, whilst showcasing the extraordinary natural history of Galapagos. Images should be unique, interesting, engaging and well-composed, and should be entered under one of the following competition categories:

  • Animal Portrait: illustrate the natural essence, character, and personality of an animal in its Galapagos habitat. 
  • Animal Behaviour: demonstrate a particular aspect of an animal’s natural behaviour. This could be an unusual behaviour rarely seen or a common behaviour depicted in an interesting and inspired way.
  • Landscape: highlight the natural beauty of the Galapagos landscape. With its volcanic highlands, sloping forests, rocky shores, cliffs, beaches, lagoons and lava flows, there are ample opportunities.
  • Botanical: capture the beauty and unique characteristics of botanical subjects in Galapagos. From cacti and mangrove trees to algae and lichen, judges will look for careful composition and pin-sharp focus.
  • Man in the Archipelago: showcase an aspect of human presence, influence, or activity in Galapagos. This could include scientists conducting cutting-edge research in the field, locals going about their everyday life, tourists enjoying themselves, or a depiction of one of man’s more sinister impacts in the Archipelago.  

View last year’s other winning images

Entry Details and Rules

All entries into the 2018 Galapagos Photography Competition must be received by midnight on Friday 8 June 2018.

Whilst entry into this photography competition is free, we encourage entrants to make a donation to the Galapagos Conservation Trust (£5 per entry is recommended). Your donations will support one of our many projects in the Galapagos Islands.

To enter the competition:

Entrants may submit a maximum of five images. Each image must only be submitted into a single category. Entrants may enter all five images into a single category, or select different categories for different images, but the total number of images submitted must not exceed five. We would encourage entrants to submit images covering a range of subjects, rather than five images of a single species. Images submitted in previous years will be disqualified.

Only digital images greater than 2MB and 1600 pixels on the shortest edge will be accepted. We do not accept printed photographs, slides, or CDs submitted.

PLEASE NOTE: For the chance to be included in the GCT Calendar, images must have a landscape orientation. Portrait-orientated images will still be accepted for the competition but cannot be included in the calendar.

Judging Process and Prizes

A selection of the best images will be short-listed by GCT staff and passed onto a panel of experts for further judging. Our judges will consider the originality, composition, clarity, technical excellence, overall impact, and artistic merit of each of the short-listed images. They will subsequently select an overall winning and runner-up image, as well as a winner and a runner-up for each of the five categories.

The overall winner of the competition will receive: two tickets to 2018’s Galapagos Day, a year’s free membership to GCT, a signed copy of Henry Nicholls’ book The Galapagos: A Natural History, and the winning image will appear in the 2019 GCT calendar. The winner of each category in the competition will receive a copy of GCT’s 2019 calendar and the winning images, as well as the runner-up images for each category, will appear on GCT’s website.

Winners will be announced at the earliest date possible after the competition close date. Please bear in mind that our judges are active professional photographers and may be in the field and thus incommunicado for extended periods of time. We therefore ask for your patience on this announcement. The winning and runner-up images for each category will appear on the website, and the photographers notified by email.

Previous Competitions

To view images from previous photography competitions, please visit the Competition Galleries page.

Our regular injection of motivation

We get a regular flow of very positive reviews from returning guests - each one injects additional motivation into our day.  From time to time, we like to share these - and here's one from Kathryn who was happy to have us post it on our news section.   She was on our Active Galapagos charter not very long ago.   We're glad you had such a good time Kathryn, and thanks for the note.  We love receiving them.  Here's her email, copy pasted as we received it earlier today:


Sent: April 2, 2018 11:35 AM
To: Heather Blenkiron <>
Subject: THANK YOU!

Good morning, Heather! 

I'm sorry to be late in sending our heartfelt thanks to you for an amazing and unforgettable Galapagos experience.  We've been back 10 days now, and it has taken us that long to go through our pictures and to recuperate :)

Thank you very much for the welcome card and beautiful roses when we arrived in Quito.  That was so thoughtful and a great way to start our vacation in such a friendly and beautiful country. 

Seeing the Galapagos aboard the Samba was even more wonderful than we could have imagined!  The boat was great, the naturalist guide Morris was friendly and informative, the crew outstanding in making sure we were safe and comfortable, and our fellow passengers were terrific!  The group was so much fun and everyone in the group commented about how lucky we were to be among these fellow travelers ... we wondered if you had done a personality test without our knowing it  :) 

Morris - the naturalist guide

Thank you again for organizing such a wonderful trip; and for answering our numerous questions during the planning process.  We will definitely be recommending your tour company. 

On a side note, we had great fun participating in the Post Office tradition.  We left our cards and picked up one addressed to a couple in Fort Collins.  We hand delivered the post card last week and had a wonderful visit with the recipient.   

I'm attaching some photos of the Samba crew which I'm hoping you can forward to them?  The last night we passengers did a presentation of written thanks to each crew member for the outstanding service they provided.  I think we might have embarrassed them; but hopefully it was a good embarrassment and they realize how we truly appreciated them. 

Samba's hard working crew

Thanks for the celebrations!  Heather & Tommy were presented with a flaming chocolate cake and 2 days later Howard was presented with a flaming tres leche cake.  A wonderful (and delicious) surprise.

Warm regards,

Kathryn Schwartz 

Park gets new director

The Ecuadorian minister of the Environment appointed a new park director yesterday.  Jorge Carrion is a Galapagos native and has been with the Galapagos National Park Service since 2012.  He took office immediately.  According to the government's press release:

Carrión "takes on the challenge of strengthening the management of the Ministry of the Environment in the islands through coordinated work with the local institutions and giving continuity to the processes that are being carried out in the archipelago."

Carrión holds a PhD in Conservation Biology from the University of Seville - Spain, and holds a Bachelor's Degree in Biological Sciences from the Central University of Ecuador - Sede Galápagos, where he was also a professor.

He has published several scientific articles, all related to the marine and terrestrial ecosystems of the Galapagos; besides having extensive experience in environmental management issues.

The Directorate of the Galapagos National Park manages the two protected areas of the archipelago, national park and marine reserve, which at the moment have more than 330 park rangers working in seven departments.

CNH Tours has been on familiar terms with most park directors since we moved to Galapagos in 1998, for our 4 years there, and as my role with UNESCO's World Heritage Center.   Though I've been in a couple of meetings with Jorge in the past, we've not had the chance to interact much.  CNH Tours has already sent Jorge a congratulatory letter (see here, in Spanish), offering our full support in any capacity and hope to establish a good working relationship as soon as possible. 

Jorge Carrion is the charming young man on the left.  Photo taken last year - credit: Charles Darwin Foundation.   

Why not Machu Picchu?

We just returned from a “surgical” visit to Peru.   No, this wasn’t medical tourism… we were on a very focused and short familiarization trip.   It’s the kind of thing travel people do from time to time to improve their knowledge of a destination that they recommend to their guests.  

Classic panoramic shot of Machu Picchu - also impressive is the spectacular location.

Machu Picchu is the “cherry on the cake” of a very fascinating visit to the Inca civilization’s heartland.   The Incas were a bit like the Romans in that they started as a small society but rapidly integrated a vast territory into their governance system.  The Incas were originally settled around the Cuzco area as an identifiable group in the 12th century, but within a very short time (early 1400’s to the Spanish conquest, starting in 1536) they managed to dominate a vast territory stretching from Colombia to Chile, and imposed on it their signature culture, architecture, language, road networks and more – all this without the help of the written word, nor of beasts of burden (horses, oxen) – they only had llamas.  They did it all on foot and by hand.  It was an eye opener for me – very fascinating.

 Getting to Machu Picchu requires a bit of effort - plane, vehicle, train, bus...

Though we like to say (and take pride in doing so) that “Galapagos is our only destination”, many people do ask us about the feasibility of adding a trip to Machu Picchu alongside a visit to the Galapagos.   For over 10 years, we’ve been assuring them that it is entirely feasible – and we’ve directed them to a Peru based travel agency with whom we’ve been coordinating things.   But we’d never been there – and we decided that it was time for a visit.   The knowledge we hoped to gain would help us improve quality of our advice to those of you thinking of adding on this fascinating bit to a Galapagos trip.   Here’s what we learned:

  • If possible - go to Peru before your Galapagos trip.

It’s a bit more work.  Visiting Machu Picchu and the surrounding Sacred Valley sites calls for a domestic flight from Lima to Cuzco, and for some additional moving around a little, changing hotels, and driving around rural roads.   The air is thin and you can feel it, particularly when walking uphill, even on the slightest inclines.   Boarding your Galapagos cruise after Peru will enhance the “holiday” feel – you’re at sea level, the air is rich, it’s warm, and there’s no changing hotels or getting in and out of vehicles. 

Women dressed to sell - at Ollantaytambo in the Sacred Valley

  • An absolute minimum of 2 full days based in Cuzco

If you’re terribly short of time yet wanting absolutely to see Machu Picchu while willing to forgo any other component of a fuller Sacred Valley visit, you can do it in as little as 4 days.  Day 1 = arriving in Peru and getting to Cuzco – a 1.5 hour flight from Lima, while day 4 has you flying out of Cuzco to Lima for the next leg of your journey (e.g. flight to Ecuador). 


The Inkaterra Hotel in Aguas Calientes - located in the jungle, just outside of town.  

  • Ideally, plan on 4-5 full days in the region as a minimum (not counting travel days to and from Cuzco).

There are many fascinating secondary sites beyond Machu Picchu – allowing you to better understand the scope of the Inca empire, their technology and culture.   The Sacred Valley links Cuzco at the top end and Machu Picchu at the bottom end.  This was the Inca heartland and original breadbasket.  With its very rich soil and relatively generous flat valley bottom lands, the Sacred Valley was likely the richest part of the empire.    Several fascinating archaeological sites are located here, along with the pleasure of experiencing the mix of modern and traditional Andean / Quechua culture by visiting local markets, the town of Ollantaytambo, and enjoying the delights of a flourishing culinary culture. 


Ultra-precise Inca stonework - eye poppingly impressive.  All done by hand.  Amazing!

When to visit? 

We were there during the warmer rainy season.  It rained very hard – but only at night.  Apparently, we were lucky.   There are fewer people that time of year (November - March).  Our Machu Picchu guide told us that during the cool, dry season (April-October), the site can be quite busy.   So, there’s the trade-off.  Risk of rain, but fewer people, vs better weather, but more folks.  

Cusco - capital of the Inca empire, now a bustling colonial city in the Andes

Greatest surprise

Machu Picchu is served by the town of Aguas Calientes, just 6km (3.5 miles) away.   Aguas Calientes is accessible only by train.  There are no roads leading to this town of perhaps 2,000 (possibly doubled by the number of visitors).  It is tucked in the folds of a steep mountain, on the shore of the Urubamba river – the same that runs through the Sacred Valley.   We stayed only one night here, at the lovely Inkaterra hotel – but would have preferred at least 2 nights, which would have given us the time to relax a little. 

The train to Aguas Calientes - a very well managed and relaxing 1.5 hour ride into the jungle. 

Let us know if you might be interested in adding this extension to your Galapagos trip - we would be happy to help you consider options.   

The Palacio Nazarenas hotel in Cuzco - not too shabby!  

Haugan Cruises in Ottawa

Heather and I lead a lonely life - working from our home office.  We sometimes don't get out of the house for days, and we very rarely meet our guests, the vast majority of which are not from Ottawa.  Today we felt very fortunate to have had the visit of Roberto Caceres, Market Supervisor, and of Jose Lopez, Account Manager for Haugan Cruises.  Haugan runs three high end ships in Galapagos (Petrel, Ocean Spray and the soon to be in service Camila).  The first two are 16 passenger luxury catamarans, while the is a similar sized and class trimaran, the only one in Galapagos.  Roberto and Jose also told us about their jungle lodge - La Selva Lodge, their hotel in Galapagos (Red Mangrove) and of the variety of services their company can provide. 

I had met Roberto on my last visit to Galapagos in November, and Heather's contact at Haugan had been Jose for several months - it was very nice to have two Quito colleagues in our home office for a couple of of hours.  It allowed us to catch up on things Galapagos and Ecuador, share news and update each other on the latest developments related to Galapagos tourism.  

After a cup of tea and a nice chat, Jose and Roberto left us and headed off to Toronto to continue their outreach work.  

From left to right, Jose, Marc, Heather and Roberto in Heather's office


Ships NOT passing in the night... sadly

There was an out and out "bump" in the night at Academy Bay very early last Friday morning, when the Coral I (which carries 36 passengers) bumped into the Reina del Mar, a small and aging fishing boat.  The fishing boat promptly sank (nobody was hurt), while according to its owners, the Coral I was not damaged and continues to operate normally.   The Reina del Mar has since been refloated and moved for possible repairs.  

The Reina del Mar, an old boat used to catch fish - sleeping with them last Friday.  

Raining and pouring...

When people ask us about the Galapagos climate, we give the usual answer: "the cool and dry season starts around June/July and lasts until December while the hot and rainy season lasts from about January and goes on until April / May.  During the rainy season, you'll see a lot more sun and blue sky, because the rain comes down only in occasional powerful tropical downpours - you should count yourself lucky if you witness one".  

Well, the folks in Puerto Ayora, the main Galapagos town, were lucky last weekend.   According to our good friend and resident scientist / project manager / mother, Noémi d'Ozouville "  43 mm (about 2 inches) of rain fell last Sunday (see her picture).   Noémi explains that the rainy season had taken a while to kick in this year, with conditions being rather dry and cool until very recently - reflecting La Niña type conditions.  Sunday's rainfall event seems to have put a stop to that!

Picture: Puerto Ayora about to get drenched - 26 February 2018.  Credit: Noémi d'Ozouville

Shark bites man

A 45 year old British man was bitten in the foot by a shark earlier this week.  Bones were broken and ligaments cut.  The incident took place at the Santa Fe island visitor site, accessible to both cruise ship and land based visitors.   

According to newspaper articles, the man was swimming near sea lions along a rocky shore and felt a tug on his foot.  He turned to see the shark, and punched it repeatedly before it released its hold and swam away.  The man was helped to shore where he was picked up by a panga (small motorboat).  The bleeding was staunched with the help of a young doctor who happened to be on the same trip.   He was taken to the town of San Cristobal, a 3 hour boat ride away, where hospital staff there re-attached the severed ligaments.  He flew back to the UK yesterday where he was to undergo further treatment.

Shark attacks are almost unheard of in Galapagos.  According to the website, there have been 7 unprovoked shark attacks in Galapagos since 1954.  Given that there are approximately 200,000 visitors per year now in Galapagos, the odds of being bitten by a shark are negligible.  

The previous non-provoked, non-fatal attacks consisted of the following:

1954:  Fisherman standing on a submerged platform, bitten on the foot

1959:  Tuna fisherman swept overboard into a school of fish, bitten in the leg and foot

2007:  Surfer, bitten in the thigh, San Cristobal island

2008:  Tourist, bitten in the leg, Santa Cruz Island

2009:  Surfer, bitten in leg, Isabela Island

2014:  Surfer, Tortuga Bay, Santa Cruz Island, bitten in the calf

2015:  Snorkeler, Punta Vicente Roca visitor site, bitten in the calf.

There will be no swimming nor snorkeling at Santa Fe for the time being as the Galapagos National Park Service assesses the situation.  

Based on the extreme rarity of shark bites in Galapagos, CNH Tours is confident that this is an isolated incident and that swimmers and snorkelers should not be afraid to continue doing what thousands upon thousands of others have done before them - swimming and snorkeling in the wonderful Galapagos waters.   

Ecuadorians say no to indefinite presidential terms

In yesterday's national referendum on disallowing indefinite presidential terms, Ecuadorians voted strongly in support yesterday.  Preliminary result showing 64% agreed to limit presidents to just 2 terms in office.  This will thwart past president Rafael Correa and his plans to return to the presidency in 2021 after having acted as president for 2 terms, the last which ended in 2017.   

I would suspect that Galapagos residents likely voted in an even greater proportion against unlimited term limits - as there has always been a testy relationship between Correa, his party, and Galapagos residents.   For more information, see the short BBC article by clicking here.  

Update on Ecuadorian national politics

There is a referendum in Ecuador today - Ecuadorians are being asked their opinions on seven particular issues - one of them asks if they are OK with a proposed change in the constitution that would set term limits for presidents.    If they vote yes, the former president, charismatic (and leaning towards strongman) Correa would be barred from future attempts at claiming the presidency - he has already held the post for 2 terms.  

It's an interesting story.  It is his former vice-president and assumed lap dog, Lenin Moreno, who as the current president,  that is pushing for the measure.  Correa was trying to pull a Putin / Medvedev trick, by stepping down from the presidency for one term, having Moreno act as a place holder for a term.    But no sooner was Moreno occupying Carondelet (the presidential palace) that he began affirming himself as his own man.    

If Ecuadoreans vote "YES" to term limits, that should spell the end of Correa.  But then again, stranger things have happened.   For a better analysis (and better writing!), you may wish to consult this week's The Economist article on the subject by clicking here