Galapagos News

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

Cargo ship nearly capsizes

Again and again, and again and again... in the past 4 years, 3, no 4, or is it 5?  cargo ships have aground just offshore of Puerto Baquerizo Moreno on San Cristobal Island.   Yesterday the Baltic Betina nearly joined the list.  The Ecuadorian navy reported that the ship's crane broke down, resulting in its arm swinging far out while carrying a heavy load.  The ship was listing badly as a result and was at risk of capsizing.   The navy responded quickly and was able to repair the problem, bringing the ship back to an even keel. 

Cargo ships heading for Galapagos appear to be cursed.   A review of previous CNH Tours news items will show at least 3 other ships (Jan 2015, July 2014, May 2014) having run aground in the aptly named "Shipwreck Bay", while two others  (Nov 2014, Feb 2017) were lost just on their way out of Guayaquil, the main continental port city from which Galapagos is supplied with just about 100% of everything the islands need, from toilet paper to diesel fuel.   

At one point at the end of 2014 / early 2015, Galapagos residents suffered significant shortages of basic items (see those mentioned above) to the point were the government had to fly in supplies by military aircraft.   The Galapagos bound cargo ship "devil's triangle"  seems to be as active as ever.


 Baltic Betina's cargo arm was stuck in the extended positing carrying a heavy load.


Rumblings under Sierra Negra Volcano

The Ecuadorian Geophysical Institute reported a few earthquakes around Sierra Negra volcano, located in southern Isabela Island, near the small town of Villamil last Saturday, 6 January.  Registering 2.0 and 3.1 on the Richter scale, these were not major earthquakes, but are an indication that something is up (or at least bubbling up) at Sierra Negra.   There were 2 other similar quakes in the area late last year.  

Sierra Negra is an active volcano, sporting one of the largest calderas in the world.  It has erupted on a few occasions in living memory.  Sitting atop a "hot-spot" over the Earth's mantle, Galapagos is considered as one of the most volcanically active places on Earth, similar to Hawaii.  A very large proportion of the land area in Galapagos consists of bare lava fields  - particularly in the younger western island - including Isabela island.  This is indication of the number and frequency of eruptions that take place there.  Typically, there will be an eruption every 6-7 years in the islands.   

Eruptions in Galapagos are not explosive.  They generally occur as pressure from underlying magma causes the superficial crust to crack open along a fissure.  Jets of lava spurt out for several days to weeks, causing lava flows that make their way downhill, spreading widely as they reach flatter terrain (or the sea) before cooling and solidifying.  Needless to say, everything it its path is lost - wildlife, plants and human settlements. 

The government of Ecuador is sending experts to Villamil today to monitor the volcano.   The town is vulnerable and in the low probability worst case scenario, could easily be obliterated by a lava flow. 


Epicentres of recent earthquakes


Original 1960 UN report on establishing a research station in Galapagos

Though the mission to Galapagos took place in 1957, Dr. Bowman's 65 page report was not published until 1960.  His mission: 


  1. Determine the practicality of establishing a scientific research station in the Galapagos islands,
  2. Locate a possible site for the research station,
  3. Explore with Ecuadorian authorities the possibility of setting aside one or more islands as an international wildlife reserve
  4. Check on the distribution and relative abundance of certain"vanishing" species; and
  5. Obtain adequate photographic documentation of the islands and the wildlife for publicity purposes.

The "snapshot in time" report provides a fascinating look at all the thinking and the work that led up to the decision to create the Charles Darwin Research Station and who was involved (the USA was leading a good part of that effort).   

It's great reading for any amateur historian preparing a trip to the islands.  The original report, written with a typewriter, is not well preserved digitally.  CNH Tours has taken the initiative to have it completely transcribed, rendering it much more pleasant to read.   Click here to access the report.  


Latest "Galapagos Report" just out - in English

Every few years, when enough money can be found, various conservation organizations and Ecuadorian government entities come together to publish the "Galapagos Report" - a collection of introspective reports on a wide variety of issues related to conservation, economy and living conditions / social issues in the islands.

These reports are produced in Spanish, and English language versions are not always available.  We're happy to announce the publication of an English language version of the 2015-2016 report earlier this week - thanks is most part to the work of Dr. Liinda Cayot (the woman who hired me to work in the Galapagos many years ago).  

The latest Galapagos reporthas a number of interesting articles that are worth reading.  The complete table of contents is reproduced below.  To access the report, click here  













Fodor's: Don't go to Galapagos in 2018

The travel guide book company, Fodor’s, recently published an attention grabbing headline:  “Fodor’s Top 10 places to not go in 2018”.   Number one on their list was Galapagos.   The article justifies their recommendation as follows:

 “The Galápagos Islands are unlike anyplace else in the world. They’re home to species of flora and fauna that can’t be found anywhere else on Earth. But the centuries of extreme isolation that resulted in the archipelago’s many unique species have left them very vulnerable to outside factors. The Ecuadorian government has instated incredibly strict laws in order to preserve the fragile marine and terrestrial ecosystems from human and, more specifically, tourist interference. It’s not even enough for the government to instate said laws and regulations if visitors are consistently flouting[…..] Even if you follow the rules to a tee, seeds or tiny insects still find a way to reaching the islands and wreaking havoc on endemic populations. 

So be very careful when considering the Galápagos as a destination because once the things that make it such a magical place are gone—the fearless animals, the unique species, the otherworldly environments—we’ll never get them back.”

As the article deals with 9 other places, on can forgive Fodor’s for not getting into much detail.    Their warming is valid, but it has been valid even since people first set foot in the islands (1535 – just for a few hours…).   This recommendation would have been valid last year, and will be valid in 2019.   There is no reason why 2018 is particularly significant.

CNH Tours is very aware of the challenges related to the introduction and dispersal of non-native species in the islands.  I was hired by the Charles Darwin Research Station and the Galapagos National Park Service in 1998 to help address the invasive goat and pig problem.   But more insidious species, such as blackberry and a type of fly are wreaking havoc as well, and these are harder to deal with.  

Because people live in Galapagos now, and because tourism is not likely to be banned, the challenge of preventing the arrival and dispersal of non-native species will be a permanent one.   The authorities have established “phytosanitary” protocols designed to reduce the chances of this happening.  They have sniffer dogs at the airports, planes spray insecticides in the cabin on the way over, people are educated on what is permitted / not permitted in terms of bringing products to the islands.  The Park and the Darwin Station work in tandem at developing news ways to eradicate or control harmful non-native species that are already in the islands.

But no matter how hard they try, the system is not fool-proof.   An additional way to reduce the risk is to reduce the number of people traveling to the islands and between the islands.    That is a tough nut to crack, politically.   Government numbers show that visitation to Galapagos has been increasing rapidly. 

In the year 2000 almost all of the 69,000 tourists to Galapagos embarked on a cruise.   In 2015, of the 225,000 tourists that came to Galapagos (a 326% increase in 15 years), 152,000 were land based tourists, while only 73,000 were ship based.   Government figures show a peak of ship based visitors at 83,000 in 2008 and project a decline to 71,000 in 2021, while land based visitation is projected to reach 209,000 that year.

These numbers illustrate clearly where the problem lies.    Whereas ship based tourism is clearly flat, and capped by the restrictions on the total number of berths allowed in the islands, land based tourism is out of control and overwhelming the authorities’ capacity to manage.   The incremental growth of the threat to Galapagos ecosystems is related directly to the rapid growth in land based tourism.   Even the United Nations through a 2016 decision of the World Heritage Committee, expressed its concern…

“…that comprehensive and effective management responses, in particular as regards the fundamental and related challenges of biosecurity and tourism, continue to require further strengthening of current efforts and urges [Ecuador to] develop and implement a clear tourism strategy for Galápagos, with a focus on establishing mechanisms to discourage rapid and uncontrolled growth in visitation”. 

Galapagos had been placed on the World Heritage in Danger list in 2007, and was removed from that list in 2010 after the government of Ecuador provided enough assurances to the World Heritage Committee that it was addressing areas of concern.  But since then, it is becoming clear that appropriate measures have not been implemented.  

At CNH Tours, we focus on the cruise ship experience in Galapagos - one we believe provides a far superior way to experience what these are islands are famous for.    We feel that cruise ship tourism impacts, though not non-existent, are limited and remain stable and more manageable due to a cap on numbers, whereas impacts arising from land based tourism are growing rapidly due to the absence of a cap on numbers for this type of tourist.  For this reason, we are convinced that choosing a cruise over a land based experience results in a smaller footprint on the islands and that people embarking on a cruise need not feel that they are contributing to a growing problem.   

Fodor’s raises an important issue in its attention seeking headlines, but they deserve more background information to be fully understood.


Impress you naturalist guide with the latest knowledge on boobies.

Boobies are among some of the quirky birds you'll meet at a few of the visitor sites in Galapagos.  They might be nesting right on the trail and as you approach, they'll look up at you with an irritated look on their faces, as if to say "Who are you?  What do you want?  Can't you see I'm busy?  Why don't you just move along and leave me in peace!".   

A couple of weeks ago, while at the Darwin Foundation annual general meeting in Quito, I ran into Tui de Roy, a renowned wildlife photographer (she grew up in Galapagos).  She expressed grave concern over declining booby numbers.   This is a pity for the visitor, as they are fun to run into on the trails, and their marvelous display of mass dive-bombing of schools of fish is a memorable sight to see.    

Today, I came upon an article written by Jenny Howard of Wake Forest University in North Carolina that seemed to confirm Tui's observations.  Jenny is part of a team led by David Anderson - a long time Galapagos researcher I met on a few occasions in the past during my time at the Charles Darwin Research Station.  Jenny summarizes the conclusions of a scientific paper written by members of the  the Nazca Booby research team.  The Nazca is one of the three kinds of boobies that nest in the Galapagos.   The study covers 30 years of research and concludes that in 1997 (the year of the last "great" El Niño, when sea water temperatures shot up for nearly 2 years), Nazca boobies' diets shifted from predominantly sardines (which prefer cooler water), to a great variety of fish, with a focus on flying fish.   The research observed that the boobies were less successful in catching enough fish, and as a result, breeding success dropped by 50%.  

So it would seem that Tui de Roy, our photographer, was right.  

However, during my meetings in Ecuador, I came upon Godfrey Merlen, an old friend, and even older Galapagos mariner.   Since the 1970's Godfrey has spent a huge amount of time on the seas around Galapagos, helping marine scientists monitor whales, the National Park service establish remote monitoring bases, and carrying out all sorts of marine conservation related support activities.  When I confronted Godfrey with Tui's observations, he responded "Nonsense!  Booby populations have been exploding these past 2 years - we're under La Niña conditions".   La Niña conditions bring with them cooler waters, preferred by the sardines.

So the cycle of life goes on.  Are the booby population fluctuations just part of a normal longer term cycle?  Or will climate change result in greater and more intense El Niños, leading to greater long term pressures on booby populations?  No one knows for sure.

For the full article, click here.  

Nazca boody nesting on a trail


New strict entry requirements? Yes... No...Maybe...

In El Comercio today (an Ecuadorian national newspaper), Lorena Tapia, the president of the Galapagos Governing Council answers question on the confusion that reigns over the application of new entry requirements to Galapagos.    Based on the content, it appears that the requirements for proof of hotel accommodations or cruise ship reservation, along with proof of medical coverage are still being discussed with no clear date for their application.   I would hazard a guess that these might be a long time coming - as the logistics for making these operational / effective will require a significant investment in monitoring tools, and it appears that the Galapagos tourism sector is keen on ensuring that the measures will not be overly disruptive.    

The following are excerpts from that interview, translated into English with the help of Google along with some additional editing for clarity. 

Q: A regulation, in force since the beginning of this year, establishes five requirements to enter the islands.   It is currently under discussion in the Council of the Government of the archipelago. The measures were suspended, but they will be applied next year. What are these requirements?

A:  That the tourist must have a transit control card, a round trip ticket, health insurance (for foreigners), have a reservation for a cruise or for lodging or have the invitation of a permanent or temporary resident of Galapagos.

Q:  Why weren’t these measures been applied when they became official?

A:  When I took over my position earlier this year there were complaints from some sectors, such as tourism.  They told us that there had been no prior information on the measures and that the Galapagos Government Council would better develop some type of on-line tool so as not to have a collapse in the entrance of tourists.

Q:  What did the Council do?

A:  We took those concerns into account and temporarily suspended the requirements, giving us a bit of time to establish a roadmap and new timelines. Several meetings took place.

Q: What kind of changes have been considered?

A: They are more operational type. The requirement for a transit control card will be applied (note from editor: This is in force – you cannot enter Galapagos without a transit control card). The insurance requirement was already contemplated by the regulations, but the Council decided that there must be alternatives to applying it.  An emergency medical coverage system for Galapagos is being contemplated for the medium and long term. 

Q: And about the proof of a hotel reservation, what kind of changes are proposed?

A: They (note for editor: Not clear who “they” refers to) asked us to think about some penalty when tourists leave a place after having booked it. We are looking at establishments that have a reservation system to ensure that the document that grants entry into Galapagos can be verified.

Q: What was the main concern of the tourism sector?

A:  They were concerned over the issue of an effective technological tool from the government side -  this plan must come with improvement from the government side as well.

Q:  Would Galapagos benefit from the national “Tourism Package” initiative, which it seeks to promote travel in the country?

A:  The Ministry of Tourism is clear about the type of visits that the Galapagos needs. That is to say, an ecotourism where the pressure of the travelers does not generate an environmental impact that endangers the archipelago. The measure is welcome as long as the vision of the islands is not affected.

This content has been originally published in Spanish by Diario EL COMERCIO.  The original article can be consulted here.

New species in Galapagos - comes with a twist

Thanks to a keen sense of observation and attention to even the slightest changes in morphology, I was able to discover the appearance of a new species of.... beer in Galapagos during my recent visit there.  Indeed, the bottle was shorter, squatter - likely an adaptation to the pressures exerted by the need to survive rough handling by the dominant mammal in the islands...   The handy "twist-off" cap means you don't have to worry about carrying extra supplies on your outings...

The new craft beer "Endemica" is brewed and bottled in San Cristobal island and is now available in human settlements in archipelago - we are working on making it available on the Samba - the ship we regularly charter.  The richer ale is a very welcome addition to the extremely limited selecting of insipid beers previously available (Pilsner and Club).    Here my old friend Michael Jackson, (author of "Galapagos:  A Natural History" - the original Galapagos guide book), is proudly displaying the new find.   We are co-authoring the scientific description of this new brew.... 




NOT FAKE NEWS: Michael Jackson spotted on a remote beach in Galapagos!

I was in Galapagos 10 days ago, checking in on friends, former Darwin Station and Galapagos National Park Service colleagues, and seeing some of our service providers.   One nice thing to do while staying the the busy and noisy little town of Puerto Ayora for a break is to walk out to Tortuga Bay beach.  It's about a 45 minute walk from town.  This is a very long white sand beach with moderate waves rolling in.  It's beautiful.  At the far end of the beach is a quiet bay ringed by sandy beach with mangrove trees.  Here, you can spot turtles, rays and even white tipped reef sharks if you get in for a snorkel, along with marine iguanas and all kinds of shore birds.

I got up at 5:30AM and headed out there a week ago last Saturday.  I reached the beach and took a moment to gather my thoughts / "smell the roses" etc... and lo and behold, who should show up behind me?  Michael Jackson!   

I first met Michael Jackson in 1985 - he was doing his teaching practicum at the school in which I was teaching science.   I remember chatting with him - he told me about his work as a naturalist guide in, of all places, GALAPAGOS!  How exotic I thought.   A place I'd likely never see in my lifetime.  Michael left guiding to do his masters' degree - and he smartly turned his masters' thesis into a natural history guide book of the islands.  His book "Galapagos - A Natural History" was the first comprehensive such book to be published and has sold thousands of copies since. 

He is currently back in Galapagos to do some research for a new edition of the book.   It was great to meet him there at the beach and to spend an hour or two together, talking about natural history, changes in Galapagos, and his plans for the new edition of his book.   You can buy one on-line here.


Left: The one and only Michael Jackson.  Right: CNH Tours co-founder Marc Patry

In the backbround: Marine iguanas doing what they do best.

Tortuga Bay, Santa Cruz Island