CNH Tours - Cultural and Natural Heritage Tours Galapagos
Sunday December 9, 2012
The town of Puerto Ayora (the main tourist service centre in Galapagos) recently inaugurated a nice "Laguna Las Ninfas" mangrove interpretive boardwalk/trail, with nice panels explaining the ecosystem, both in Spanish and English. It's just a short walk (e.g. 10 minutes) from downtown - well worth a visit.
Saturday November 17, 2012
Ecuador no longer has an international airport departure tax. Until recently, this tax (up to $41) was applied to all out-going travellers. So, it will be one less hassle to worry about as you make your way through the usual airport gauntlet of line-ups, check-in counters, passport control and security! This doesn't mean you're necessarily saving money though... typically, it means that Ecuador was able to reach an agreement with the airlines and their ticketing services so that the tax could be included in the price of your air ticket. Sorry!
If it's any comfort, the new airport in Quito (presumably payed in part with airport taxes?) should be opening soon and should offer more comfort and modern services. The bad news is that the new airport is significantly furhter out of town. The logistics of all of this in terms of getting people to and from the airport are still being ironed out by the entire tourism (and other) industries - but CNH Tours is sure things will quickly settle in.
Saturday November 17, 2012
We are taking the liberty to copy/paste a good article from the Huff Post on-line, below. More evidence on the fact that it's a lot better to keep the critters from arriving in the first place, than to try to clean up after they've arrived. So, when you're going through the bio-security check at the Quito or Guayaquil airport on your way to Galapagos - please take a moment to appreciate the very hard work involved in setting up and ensuring the effective operation of this very complex multi-institutional effort. It was developed during the years CNH Tours was working at the Charles Darwin Research Station and the Galapagos National Park Service (1998-2002). Our firiend. close colleague at the time, and master entomologist, Charlotte Causton, played a key role in the process (along with many others). She left Galapagos several years ago, but recently returned to head the Station's Research Department.
From Huff Post On-line
Nov 15 2012
The unique bird and reptile species that make the Galapagos Islands a treasure for scientists and tourists must be preserved, Ecuadorean authorities say - and that means the rats must die, hundreds of millions of them.
A helicopter is to begin dropping nearly 22 tons of specially designed poison bait on an island Thursday, launching the second phase of a campaign to clear out by 2020 non-native rodents from the archipelago that helped inspire Charles Darwin's theory of evolution.
The invasive Norway and black rats, introduced by whalers and buccaneers beginning in the 17th century, feed on the eggs and hatchlings of the islands' native species, which include giant tortoises, lava lizards, snakes, hawks and iguanas. Rats also have depleted plants on which native species feed.
The rats have critically endangered bird species on the 19-island cluster 600 miles (1,000 kilometers) from Ecuador's coast.
"It's one of the worst problems the Galapagos have. (Rats) reproduce every three months and eat everything," said Juan Carlos Gonzalez, a specialist with the Nature Conservancy involved in the Phase II eradication operation on Pinzon island and the islet of Plaza Sur.
Phase I of the anti-rat campaign began in January 2011 on Rabida island and about a dozen islets, which like Pinzon and Plaza Sur are also uninhabited by humans.
The goal is to kill off all nonnative rodents, beginning with the Galapagos' smaller islands, without endangering other wildlife. The islands where humans reside, Isabela and Santa Cruz, will come last.
Previous efforts to eradicate invasive species have removed goats, cats, burros and pigs from various islands.
Pinzon is about seven square miles (1,812 hectares) in area, while Plaza Sur encompasses just 24 acres (9.6 hectares).
"This is a very expensive but totally necessary war," said Gonzalez.
The rat infestation has now reached one per square foot (about 10 per square meter) on Pinzon, where an estimated 180 million rodents reside.
The director of conservation for the Galapagos National Park Service, Danny Rueda, called the raticide the largest ever in South America.
The poisoned bait, developed by Bell Laboratories in the United States, is contained in light blue cubes that attract rats but are repulsive to other inhabitants of the islands. The one-centimeter-square cubes disintegrate in a week or so.
Park official Cristian Sevilla said the poison will be dropped on Pinzon and Plaza Sur through the end of November.
A total of 34 hawks from Pinzon were trapped in order to protect them from eating rodents that consume the poison, Sevilla said. They are to be released in early January.
On Plaza Sur, 40 iguanas were also captured temporarily for their own protection.
Asked whether a large number of decomposing rats would create an environmental problem, Rueda said the poison was specially engineered with a strong anti-coagulant that will make the rats dry up and disintegrate in less than eight days without a stench.
It will help that the average temperature of the islands is 75 degrees Fahrenheit (24 degrees Celsius), he added.
The current $1.8 million phase of the project is financed by the national park and nonprofit conservation groups including Island Conservation.
The Galapagos were declared protected as a UNESCO Natural Heritage site in 1978. In 2007, UNESCO declared them at risk due to harm from invasive species, tourism and immigration.
Tuesday November 13, 2012
This is not usually something CNH Tours takes much interest in. Still, we couldn't help but notice that "Surfing Magazine" has selected the Galapagos Islands as the backdrop for its 2013 calendar "Miss Reef" calendar - you can imagine what that's all about! We won't grace our website with their pictures - sorry! They announced this today - it's part of a "five-year series of Miss Reef Calendars shot entirely in Latin America, an effort to bring the brand back to its Latin roots" they say.
Still, we think it's worth noting those efforts to educate the surfer community on the natural values of those areas they surf in - no matter how they do it. One concern for the conservation of Galapagos is the growth of land based tourism - it has been growing so fast in the past 10-15 years that the government authorities has had troubles managing it, resulting in hotels being built without permission, or even onto park lands - a growing underground tourism sector, operating outside the law, undermining the establishment of standards and depriving local communities of tax contributions to building schools and maintaining municipal services.
It's important for the surfer community to understand these issues, and play an active part in ensuring that the tourism services they rely on in Galapagos (hotels, restaurants etc.) are part of the formal economy, and having a positive impact on the communities in which they are embedded.
Thursday November 1, 2012
The Galapagos National Park Service announced yesterday that it will close South Plaza Island to tourism from November 17 to December 17th this year, to carry out a rat eradication campaign there.
Besides the small rice rat (not present on South Plaza), other rats are not native to Galapagos. The black and norway rats were introduced as early as the 17th century, when various ships began stopping in Galapagos in the search for fresh water or food. Highly invasive, these rats represent a major threat to many native Galapagos species, including ground nesting birds (rats will kill and eat chicks), baby giant tortoises below the age of 2 or 3 years (they will also be eaten) and various other species. Because the also climb trees, rats are also predators of tree nesting eggs and chicks.
Eradicating rats from an island (e.g. making sure you leave not even one rat alive) is a very tough job. The Charles Darwin Research Station has developed various techniques designed to ensure that only alien rats are targetted, and that do not harm other wildlife. The Park Service with the support from the Station have successfully eradicated rats from other small islands - and now it's South Plaza's turn.
If South Plaza was on your itinerary during this time, you will instead be taking a panga ride around the island, and do some snorkeling there.
Tuesday October 2, 2012
After 60 years of (literally) religious care, Pepe, most likely the plumpest Galapagos tortoise alive, is being moved from the backyard of the local church in San Cristobal island (Puerto Baquerizo Moreno) to a more natural environment in the Galapagos National Park Service's tortoise pen.
CNH Tours first met Pepe in 1998 and has visited him a few times since. He was kept in a large enough enclosure with a big tree and a pond. But given his condition, we didn't think he was too interested in stretching his legs too much! As a local "off the beaten path" attraction, Pepe was often visited by families, children and the occasional tourist who somehow found out about him. For a very modest fee, the local pastor and his staff would let you into Pepe's enclosure, giving you a few bananas to feed him.
Having grown accustomed to being fed bananas by visitors, Pepe always greeted people by extending his neck as far as possible, and by opening in mouth as widely as possible, giving the casual observer the best opportunity ever to inspect the anatomy of the soft tissues inside a live Galapagos tortoise's mouth. However, he also started "running" towards visitors that way - as much as a tortoise can run that is. So, inside his pen, holding a banana, you had to be on your guard. You couldn't simply just move ahead of him to get out of his reach, and then get distracted, because before you knew it - Pepe would be upon you! It gives credence to the "Tortoise and the Hare" fable indeed!
Over the years, with this kind of diet (remember, in the wild, they eat grass or cactus leaves…), Pepe developed a double, even a triple chin! As much as the late George may have been lonesome, Pepe can be considered happy - Happy Pepe! We'll see how he likes his new "natural" home at the Park offices, and what kind of diet he'll have to get used to!
CNH Tours recommends you take the time to visit Happy Pepe if you are in Puerto Baquerizo Moreno. Just keep a step ahead of him!
Friday September 21, 2012
Here is another great example of why it's so important to conserve biodiversity.
Researchers in the Netherlands, working at developing pest resistant strains of tomatoes, find that the Galapagos tomato is the most resistant of all. The whitefly is a major problem for outdoor tomato farming throughout the world. Scientists of Wageningen University, together with a number of partners have discovered genes for resistance to the whitefly in a wild relative of the common tomato - the Galapagos tomato. The scientists hope that resistant varieties can be brought to market within two years, making chemical pest control unnecessary.
This is small wild tomato native to the Galapagos Islands and resistant to drought . The tomatoes are smaller than cherry tomatos and ripen to a yellow-orange color. They are edible, with a good, typical acid tomato flavor.
When first in Galapagos, CNH Tours was surprised to spot wild tomatoes there - how did it come to be here? Tomatoes were endemic to Central America and were brought all over the world in the 16th and 17th centuries. It's most likely that a bird carried seeds, either in its gut, or stuck to feathers, all the way to the islands, a long long time ago.
Friday September 14, 2012
The Galapagos National Park, with
support from the Navy and the Galapagos Foundation join efforts
tomorrow on the International Coastal Clean-up Day, September
As in the previous years, this activity will be held in the 4 inhabited islands: San Cristobal, Santa Cruz, Isabela and Floreana. It is expected to attract more than 500 volunteers, including guards, officials of institutions, local townspeople, fishermen and even a few tourists!
Activities will begin on Saturday from 08h00. Meeting points will be in the Puerto Ayora port captain's offices, the municipal plaza in San Cristobal, the Cuna del Sol docks in Villamil and at the main docks at Floreana. Activities are programmed to continue until 13h00 and the results will be announced afterwards.
Worldwide, every third Saturday of September is celebrated asInternational Coastal Cleanup Day. It aims to educate communities about the importance of proper waste management. Too much waste ends up in the sea, causing enormous damage to these ecosystems.
CNH Tours, being based in Paris, cannot participate, but we certainly encourage anyone in the islands tomorrow to join in the fun (and who knows what interesting things might be found), meet up with the locals and help clean up the islands.
Tuesday September 4, 2012
The Galapagos National Park Service
(GNPS) reported yesterday that during routine ecosystem monitoring
field trip to Baltra Island (the small island on which the main
airport is located), its rangers discovered a new colony of blue
footed boobies in full nesting and brood rearing mode.
No such colony had ever been reported before. The
monitoring study revealed that the colony, comprised of 315 adults,
24 juveniles, 23 chicks and 8 nests occupied an area of about 9.4
hectares (apx. 24 acres).
Baltra Island has a long history of ecosystem degradation thanks to human activities. It was used as a US military base during World War II, with airstrip, harbour and thousands of soldiers based there, protecting the approaches to the Panama Canal. It was eventually taken over by the Ecuadorian military and has been used as the main commercial airport to Galapagos for over 40 years. During this time, humans brought over the usual suspects - particularly cats, goats and accidentally rats. Goats also roamed the island. The land iguana, reported there earlier in the 20th century, were completely eradicated. Wild cats would eat up any young ones. Goats ravaged the vegetation.
In the 1990's, Baltra was chosen as one of the islands in which the GNPS, with the support of the Charles Darwin Research Station, would carry out ecosystem restoration efforts. They eradicated the goats, and thanks to some excellent scientific work, they also eradicated the cats - a much harder thing to do. This was done in large part thanks to the work of Brand Phillips, a good friend of CNH Tours when we lived in Galapagos (1998-2002).
Today, it's great to see land iguanas roam the island once again, and also, thanks to the disappearance of goats and cats, it's also great to see a newly established blue footed booby colony. The next alien species needing attention on Baltra is the rat. The GNPS has been successful in eradicating this wily creature from other smaller islands in the past. Given that Baltra is the main port of entry for goods and supplies from the continent, the risk of new rats arriving is ever present. It will be a challenge, but we wish them all the best.
Sunday August 26, 2012
As reported on the 10th of August, the suspected postponement of the new Quito airport (Tababela Airport) opening date has been confirmed by municipal authorities. It is now set to open on 20 February 2013, as opposed to the October 2012 date as previously planned.
See our 10 August news item for further details.
Friday August 10, 2012
CNH Tours has learned that the Galapagos National Park Service (GNPS) has charged a German tourist for attempting to smuggle four land iguanas out of the islands. Currently in custody, Mr. Dirk Bender will attend a bail hearing on 13 August- during which it will be determined how much bail he has to post to get his conditional liberty from prison. He was arrested at Baltra airport in Galapagos on July 8 after four iguanas were discovered in his suitcase (see picture).
Pursuant to Ecuador's criminal code, bail may be refused.The GNPS also discovered, during its research on Mr. Bender, that he was charged in Fiji for attempting to smuggle endangered Fiji iguanas, in December 2011.
If bail is set and if Mr. Bender can provide the bail money, he would be free to leave Galapagos, but would have to stay in Ecuador until the formal hearing on the charges. The GNPS will argue that Mr. Bender should not be granted bail, emphasizing that this was a crime against the World's Heritage (as the Galapagos are a UNESCO World Heritage site), and that that he is a high risk for leaving the country illegally.
CNH Tours is very pleased to see the effective work of the GNPS at controlling the movement of goods out of the islands. It is only be detecting and punishing these actions appropriately that others will be discouraged from doing the same. Galapagos should not be a collection area for international wildlife traffickers.
Friday August 10, 2012
Under construction for several years, the last ""official" word on the new Quito airport operations start-up date pointed to October 2012. The current airport is located very close to the city centre - up on the Quito plateau - and since its construction several decades ago, the city has grown all around it, resulting in a bad situation, with aircraft flying barely over the tops of buildings as the come for a landing (one small plane actually flew right into a building 3 years ago, during fog).
The new airport will be located down in the valley and will have a longer runway and overall better security and operation conditions. However, this comes at a price. Instead of being just a few minutes from downtown, it is much further. With the current road access, the trip could take up to 1.5 hours during traffic hours. The government of Ecuador has been working on improving the road access but apparently, that work is behind schedule.
CNH Tours, through its network of Quito based associates is learning that in reality, the first commercial flights there may not happen until into 2013. For one, the road infrastructure to the new airport is far from complete, and it seems all the final little jobs at the airport itself are not yet completed. Our contacts in the commercial airline industry raised an eye-brow at the announcement of an October start date last March, saying that the general consensus amongst commercial airlines was that it would not be until early 2013 at best before things got going. They still feel the same way. In addition, on August 8th, the representatives of the production sectors, exporters and airlines sent letters to the Mayor of the Metropolitan District of Quito, also requesting a postponed startup of operations at the airport.
We'll see what happens!
Tuesday June 26, 2012
The Galapagos National Park Service discovered yesterday morning, June 24th, that Lonesome George had died in his pen , located in the Turtle Breeding Center Land Giants in Puerto Ayora, Santa Cruz Island.
Fausto Llerena, a long time park ranger who had been in charge of the tortoise pen for many years made the sad discovery at 08h00. Though his exact age is unknown, scientists agree he was over 100 years old. His body was moved to cold storage for preservation. Today, the park service announced that George would be "stuffed" - and would likely be placed in a location where he'll be able to remind visitors of his particularly sad story, and inspire future conservation champions.
Lonesome George was found on Pinta island in 1972, when it was believed that the species of turtles on this island had already disappeared. Since then the turtle has been part of a dogged captive breeding effort in the hopes of maintaining the species, or at least part of its genetic makeup. Initially females of the species of Wolf volcano on Isabela Island were place with George - but the resulting eggs proved to be infertile. Other efforts also failed.
Giant tortoises used to be found on islands in many parts of the world - but as humans began developing the capacity to sail and colonize islands, these tortoise populations died out. Easy targest and apparently palatable eating, they had no chance to survive as earlier humans sought them out. In Galapagos, whaling ships would regularly stop by and "stock up" on tortoises as fresh meat, easily conserved live in their ships' holds for months. A few people on Isabela island are still known to eat a tortoise now and again, strictly in contravention to park rules. Apart from Galapagos, giant tortoises survive only on the remote, unpopulated Aldabra atoll in the Seychellles islands, in the Indian ocean.
The plight of the Pinta Island tortoise species represented by
Lonesome George has been a catalyst for the extraordinary effort
made by the Ecuadorian government to restore not only turtle
populations throughout the archipelago, but also to improve the
conservation status other endangered species. One artistic
rendition of Lonesome George or another has been used as the logo
for all kinds of organizations and projects.
Edwin Naula, director of PNG, said that "in July this year, the GNP has planned an international workshop to develop the management strategy of turtle populations in the next ten years in order to achieve restoration. The workshop will be held in honor of Lonesome George ".
His legacy will be a greater emphasis on research and management to restore Pinta island and all other populations of giant Galapagos tortoises.
CNH Tours had a special connection to Lonesome George - for 2 years, we lived just a 1 minute walk from his pen. Our first child was born in Ecuador, and he also had the chance to see George and his mates on several occasions. Heather Blenkiron was also charged with developing the Giant Tortoise interpretation material while she worked for the park and the Charles Darwin Research Station from 1998-2002. We are sad to have to say goodbye to George, but are pleased to see how he has served as an icon for Galapagos conservation.
Thursday June 14, 2012
A ton of trash was collected in the harbor of Puerto Ayora Bay
this week, through a joint effort by rangers of the Galapagos
National Park Service (GNPS), members of the Artisanal Fisheries
Cooperative COOPROPAG, volunteers and residents Puerto Ayora.
The initiative was related to the activities planned for the celebration of World Oceans Day (June 8), and was attended by more than 30 people, taking advantage of the favorable tide conditions.
The president of the Artisanal Fisheries Cooperative, Julian Quimí, provided a vessel for this activity, as it is aware that everyone needs to participate in the care of the sea.
Seeing the work of rangers and volunteers in these areas, residents decided that they were closely concerned with the issue and also participated in this coastal cleanup.
Abandoned appliances such as stoves, refrigerators, freezers were found, along with several packages, including apples and bags, containing fuel oil.
Wednesday May 9, 2012
Last week, a giant tortoise that happened to be on the sand road
leading to Puerto Villamil from the "Wall of Tears" visitor site
was struck by a motor vehicle and sustained serious injuries.
In response to this accident, and to a similar incident on the same road, the Galapagos National Park Service has decided to close this road to motor vehicles so that the 350 tortoises so painstakingly reared in captivity and released in that area, their original habitat, are spared this additional threat to their long term survival. 350 turtles have been repatriated to this area since 2005. They are of the species Geochelone gunteri and Geochelone Vicina.
The Park decided to restore these tortoise to the wild so that the visit to the Wall of Tears, besides having an important historical connotation, would be supplemented by the observation of turtles in their natural habitat. The Wall of Tears will now only be accessible on foot or bicycle.
CNH Tours has visited the Wall of Tears on several occasions, and supports the Park's decision. The walk to this site from town is about 6 km return (e.g. about 4 miles), along a sandy road, following wild beaches and through mangrove forests. It's very flat and offers a nice "zen" moment for those taking the time to just enjoy the scenery. CNH Tours suspects it could be hard to cycle there, given the very loose and deep sand on much of the road.
Tuesday May 8, 2012
By Captain Alex Cornelisson, Director of Sea Shepherd Galapagos
Last week, the National Judicial Authority of Ecuador invited the conservation sector of Galapagos to attend a meeting to analyze the need to create a specialized judicial system in Galapagos for environmental matters. As one of its members and the initiator of the judicial reform in Galapagos, Sea Shepherd's legal advisor attended the meeting held in Quito, the capital of Ecuador.
The main subject of this meeting was to discuss the creation of an environmental judiciary in Galapagos. For Sea Shepherd, it was an important opportunity to explain the need to have a specialized judge ruling over environmental cases being prosecuted in the Galapagos Islands.
Since 2010, Sea Shepherd Galapagos has been advocating for the creation of the first-in-the-world judiciary specializing in nature rights. In time, this initiative has received the support of many other conservation activists. This idea is strongly supported by the Constitution of Ecuador (the first-in-the-world recognizing rights to nature) and also by a new law that calls for the actual establishment of such specialized judiciaries ¨at any time and in compliance with the constitutional mandate."
After years of work in the Galapagos Islands, Sea Shepherd has witnessed just how challenging law enforcement can be in areas such as the Galapagos Marine Reserve. We believe that a specialized judiciary will be a huge improvement when it comes to addressing such challenges. We believe that the local judicial system not only could be, but also should be, an entity that can really make the difference in effectively enforcing marine environmental law.
For this reason Sea Shepherd congratulates the National Judicial Authority for having made such an important step towards addressing environmental issues, not only in Galapagos, but also in other regions of the country.
Tuesday April 24, 2012
The Galapagos National Park Service reports that this very old 16 passenger backpacker special sank early this morning, in the middle of the night, while sailing from San Cristobal and Santa Fe. Three crew members were on board and are out of danger - there were no tourists on board.
If you had bookings for this ship, I recommend you contact your agent ASAP to ensure alternative plans are made.
Friday April 6, 2012
Due to unfavorable weather conditions that occurred in the
archipelago early on Wednesday, 4th of April, the Beagle
yacht, a ship highly recommended by CNH Tours, suffered minor
damage as its masts fell over. Nobody was hurt and the
passengers were quickly removed from the ship and taken to Puerto
The accident happened at 05h30 on Wednesday 4 April, 3 miles (5 km) offshore from Floreana Island.
Though CNH Tours has no direct information yet, it is likely
that the ship will be out of service for a short while.
If you had booked a cruise on the Beagle over the next 2 or 3
weeks, please contact your agent as soon as possible for more
As is the case for many ships in the Galapagos, the Beagle's masts were not part of the original ship design, but were added to give it a "prettier silhouette". They are purely decorative - and not used for sailing. Very few ships in Galapagos ever raise any sails. Winds are typically light in Galapagos (Charles Darwin spent nearly half of his 5 weeks in Galapagos on board the original Beagle, trying to sail between islands), and itineraries cannot accommodate the slower and unreliable wind powered ships.
Wednesday March 28, 2012
Adrian Vazquez, an 18 year old Panamanian teenager, survived 28 days on a boat adrift in the Pacific Ocean was rescued a few days ago just off the Galapagos islands, appoximately 800 miles, or 1,250 km away.
Vazquez drifted on the Panamanian current, which flows from Central America southwards, looping towards the Galapagos islands. It's likely that his path was even longer than the 800 miles. This same current is also responsible for bringing over marine species to the islands - many fish and marine invertebrates are common to both Galapagos and the west coast of Central America.
Dozens of people welcomed Adrian Vasquez, 18, in Panama City's airport on Tuesday.
The teenager and two friends left on a fishing trip on February 24 and were heading back to Rio Hato when the boat's motor failed.
Vasquez indicated that his friends died within three weeks. He was rescued on Friday by fishermen who found his boat off the Galapagos Islands.
Tuesday March 20, 2012
No, but it might seem like that if you were able to look out over Academy Bay today. A half dozen traditional Polynesian boats sailed into the bay over the weekend, as part of a "round the Pacific" journey designed to highlight the pan-Pacific travels of earlier Polynesians. In their words: "we are doing this to strengthen our ties with the sea, renew our commitment to healthy ecosystems for future generations, and to honour our ancestors who have sailed before us."
This brings back memories of 1953, when Thor Hyerdhal, the famous Norewegian explorer (known for his Kon-Tiki Polynesian reed ship that he sailed in the Pacific in 1947) visited Galapagos looking for evidence of Polynesian settlements. The locals on Floreana island decided to play a trick on him. They had carved a face in a volcanic rock before hand, and proceeded to show it to him as evidence that the Polynesians had been to the island. It seems he was bright enough to realize that it was a fake, and doesn't refer to it in the report of his expedition.
The sculpture has become part of local lore - if you're itinerary takes you to Floreana, ask your guide to take you to the Easter Island head scultpure!