CNH Tours - Cultural and Natural Heritage Tours Galapagos
Wednesday May 18, 2016
Finally, after three years, the new Quito airport is becoming better served by nearby hotels. The new Tababela airport is a wonderful improvement on the old airport in almost all respects, except for a significant increase in the distance from downtown Quito. While a taxi from the old airport to town could take little more than 15 minutes on a decent day, it takes 45 minutes from the new airport. And if there's traffic - let's not talk about it. Thankfully, most flights to Galapagos, and to and from North America and Europe arrive and depart outside the rush hour.
Still, for those passing through Quito and just wanting to spend one night (e.g. flying from Galapagos to catch a flight the next day), until recently, the selection of hotels nearby was very poor - more like backpacker specials. It was only a matter of time before the big guns established themselves. In a an interview with Gabriela Sommerfeld, of the Quito tourism office, given to Travel Pulse, an on-line travel news website, she states:
"The new airport has been an anchor for the development of the “Tababela” area, where it is located, managing to attract hotel investments around the project, such as the Wyndham "Great Condor" Hotel that just opened last month, the Holiday Inn Quito Airport Hotel with 130 rooms, Hilton San Patricio Hotel with 130 rooms, the Eurobuilding Hotel with 130 rooms and the Royal Green Apartments and Hotel."
For those wanting something a bit more small scale with plenty of local flavour, there are some interesting options also - such as the Rincon de Puembo, or the Hacienda Jimenita.
To spend more time in the city, a hotel by the airport may not be the best option - but for those just flying "in and out", this is a wonderful new development.
Hotel Wyndham Quito Airport (note from author: Somehow, I don't think the beautiful view of undisturbed pasture and hills will last for very long)
Rincon de Puembo
Wednesday May 11, 2016
This review of the Samba by a seasoned wildlife adventure traveller, posted on TripAdvisor last September, slipped by us originally, but we spotted it recently. We thought it was well written and realistic. So much so that we copy/paste it here below. It can be seen in the context of the full TripAdvisor discussion by clicking here.
The "Tourist Superior" class rating of the Samba is accurate. A well-maintained ship, excellent crew, very knowledgeable guide, well-prepared food, extremely clean and good quality accomodations, but not a super-spacious boat. You spend almost no time in the cabins, so a clean and comfortable bed is really what you need, and Samba provides that amenity. Our guide, Nic, was spectacular. He was very knowledgeable and spoke excellent English. We were very happy with Nic, even though he is not the everyday Samba guide (the regular guide is part-owner, and has a good reputation too, but had the week off when we traveled). The trip has a heavy dose of both snorkeling and easy hikes, and some kayaking. If you do not like snorkling, you should pick a different boat, as half of the excursions are snorkeling excursions. The marine wildlife is just as amazing as the land creatures, so we thoroughly enjoyed both activities.
I am 6'4", so I can speak to the bunk-size question asked by one of the forum participants. The boat has 6 double-cabins, and one larger suite with a queen bed. I stayed in a cabin alone (my boys shared a cabin). All cabins (except the suite) are bunk beds. The lower bunk bed of the cabins is quite comfortable for a taller person, if you sleep slightly diagonal (the lower bunk is much wider thant the upper bunk). The suite is on the top floor of the boat , and sounds great, at first, since the bed is very large, and you have a relatively private balcony. However, since the suite is at the top of the boat, the movement from the waves is substantially higher. If you are prone to sea-sickness, you will have a problem, so avoid the suite if you don't like ship movement (almost everyone had seasickness at some point during the trip, since the waters are rough, especially on the overnight journeys). The six standard cabins on the boat are "at the water-line", with port-hole window, so movement is much less than the suite.
The Samba is a single hull boat , so expect the vehicle to sway. The northwestern itinerary has some long overnight legs, which sounds good because you can sleep during these times. However, do not expect a restful sleep during the long journeys because the seas are fairly rough. The rough seas dynamic is a part of cruising in the Galapagos, so all boats face the same challenge. We did speak to many people about the single-hull versus catamaran debate: catamarans may sway less due to the double-hull, but the banging of the waves on that double-hull of the catamarans are just as big a challenge for sleeping as the movement on the single-hull. Pick your poison, I guess.
The boat carries 14 passengers, plus the crew. We found this size to be very convenient, as we could get to the land and sea excursions very quickly (the Samba has two zodiac-style inflatable boats). Apparently, getting on and off of boats with more passengers can be a time-consuming event. We never had a problem with the Samba. Everyone eats in a common dining area, which is also quite comfortable. The boat is large enough to have some good private areas too, for those times you want to be alone.
We really enjoyed the Samba, and would travel with them again.
Friday April 22, 2016
The owner of the Samba approached us yesterday and asked us to join him in organizing an fundraising cruise for the victims of last Saturday's massive earthquake on the NW coast of Ecuador (Galapagos was not affected). We immediately decided to accept his offer - the cruise is already posted on our website under the "Active Galapagos / dates and details" page. All proceeds, both ours, and those of the ship owner, will be donated to earthquake relief work.
The trip (August 28 - Sept 7) will consist of 2 nights in Quito (pre-cruise), a Quito City day tour (the nicest capital city in all of South America), flight to Galapagos, 7 nights on the highly acclaimed Samba (SE itinerary - see the waved albatross nestlings stretching their wings...), and the services of one of the most highly rated guides in Galapagos, Juan Manuel Salcedo.
Contact us for more information.
Thursday April 21, 2016
We were contacted by the Ecuadorian embassy yesterday, informing us that a special earthquake relief account had been opened, and asking us to spread the news. The damage has been severe and extensive in the northwest part of the country (Quito, Guayaquil and the Galapagos have been spared). While Ecuador has benefited very much from the high oil prices in the past years, the current low price has put the squeeze on government budgets under normal circumstances. The urgent need for cash following the earthquake has made things doubly difficult.
Today, we contributed $1,000 to the fund, and we challenge other Galapagos tour operators to do the same. We contacted the International Galapagos Tour Operators' Association, and suggested they contact their members.
We also encourage our guests to do the same. Ecuador is a small country, but one that has been trying hard to improve the standard of living for its people. It deserves our support.
Below, please find the details on the Embassy bank account set up to receive donations for earthquake relief (USA / Canada accounts).
Sunday April 17, 2016
Yesterday's magnitude 7.8 earthquake struck the northwest part of the country, along the coast. Heavy damage was reported in towns of that area, with large buildings up to six stories high having crumbled. The latest death toll is skirting 300.
The effect of the earthquake was felt as far away as Guayaquil, Ecuador's largest city and main commercial port. Some houses were damaged, and some road infrastructure also. Quito also felt the quake, but with little effect there.
For visitors to Ecuador, unless you are traveling to that part of the county (cities of Esmeraldas, Manabi and Guayas), your travel plans should proceed without any interruption.
Thursday April 14, 2016
No, sadly, we didn't have that privilege (though I did once have a private meeting in the presidential palace with a former president... but that's another story). Yesterday, PBS aired a 15 minute interview with Rafael Correa, in English. It's very rare to hear Mr. Correa respond to a journalist in English - and I thought it would be interesting to those of you who may have a wider interest over things Ecuadorean.
Mr. Correa did his Ph.D. in the USA - though his English remains heavily accented. I have seen him perform in Spanish and tongue tied he is not! It must be frustrating for someone so loquacious in his native tongue to have to interview in a 2nd language.
It's worth the 15 minutes to watch this PBS interview - if only to get a better idea on what's going on at the national government level in Ecuador. Mr. Correa is very much a populist. Every Saturday morning, he hosts a 2-3 hour television show in a different city or town (the "sabatinas"), further cementing his connections to the people. He has huge support in the country, but also a large opposition. You can't please everybody all of the time it seems.
Click here to see the video.
Saturday April 9, 2016
... not likely - we don't want to be accused of rumour mongering.... but.... Harrison Ford was spotted in Galapagos yesterday, shopping for a nice Panama hat (ironically, Panama hats have always been made in.... Ecuador). We certainly would like to boast of the fact that he booked through CNH Tours - but sadly, that was not the case. Our most famous guest perhaps was the admiral of the British fleet in the Falklands war, Sir John Forster "Sandy" Woodward GBE KCB.
While in the islands, we did bump into a couple of well known film personalities - Alan Alda (a bit aloof) and John Malkovich with his wife (very earnest), and spotted Susan Sarandon as well.
Thursday March 24, 2016
The government of Ecuador has recently launched its "Observatorio Turistico" for Galapagos. The program intends to provide all kinds of official data on tourism in Galapagos, from arrival numbers, hotels, ships and other related information. It also includes reports on the industry in the islands. A review of the live-aboard cruise ships contained in the database provides us with the first reliable complete (we assume...) list of ships in the islands, by ship size and category. We've started many comments in our TripAdvisor replies with "Of the approximately 65 ships that ply Galapagos waters...." - well, now we have some harder numbers to help us. Here they are:
74 live-aboard cruise ships, of which:
- 5 are for scuba diving trips only (all 16 passengers)
- 7 (fewer than 16 passengers)
- 44 (16 passengers)
- 7 (17 - 22 passengers)
- 5 (23-48 passengers)
- 6 (49 - 100 passengers)
So, excluding the scuba ships, we can now say that 69 ships are licensed for live-aboard tourism cruises in the islands. Of these:
- 64% of which are 16 passenger ships
- 17% carry fewer than 16 passengers
- 19% carry more than 16 passengers.
Assuming they were all sailing at the same time, and at full capacity, visitors to the Galapagos islands would be distributed on ships as follows:
- fewer than 16 passengers: 78 (4%)
- 16 passengers ships: 784 (45%)
- 17 - 22 passengers ships: 138 (8%)
- 23-48 passengers ships: 204 (12%)
- 49 - 100 passengers ships: 556 (31%)
Wednesday March 23, 2016
The last time the World Heritage (WH) Committee discussed Galapagos (July 2014), it asked the government of Ecuador (GoE) to send it a detailed report on this WH Site's state of conservation by December 2015. That report was sent at the end of February, and just now published on the UNESCO WH Centre website.
In 2007, the WH Committee (made up of representatives from 21 countries, and in charge of listing new WH sites, putting them on the "Danger List" or removing WH sites from the list if they have lost their conservation values) decided to place Galapagos on their "Danger List" in response to a variety of threats, mostly linked to increased concerns about the introduction and dispersal of alien species linked with a rapid rise in uncontrolled development in the islands. The GoE took this issue seriously, and based on its reaction, the WH Committee was satisfied that appropriate measures had been taken, and removed the site from the Danger List in 2010.
The latest report (63 pages with some tables and pictures) is a wonderful read for those who care to understand more about the challenges of conservation in Galapagos. The document can be found on UNESCO's website by clicking here.
It is divided into 4 sections:
1) Biosecurity: Concerning the management of alien species, the current state of affairs.
2) Tourism: How it is monitored, controlled.
3) Governance: How various institutions are involved in managing Galapagos
4) Solid Waste: (linked to point 1 above).
As a former staff person at UNESCO's WH Centre in Paris, I have seen many such reports. They contain plenty of interesting information under one cover, and hard to find anywhere else. Of course, governments all have a tendency to paint a rosy picture when reporting on how they're doing at managing their WH sites!
The WH Committee will be reviewing this report, along with other information gathered in the meantime, during its annual meeting in July. Based on its findings, the WH Committee will likely request that the GoE undertake specific actions to ensure those values for which Galapagos is globally recognized are conserved.
Friday March 18, 2016
The University of Washington reported (March 17) on the results of Galapagos lake sediment analysis. In summary:
"Results show that from the beginning of the record 2,000 years ago, until the year 1400, most rainfall changes on the island were indeed related to El Niño.
The record also shows long-term shifts. Heavier rainfall at the study sites from the year 0 to 400, and again during Europe’s Medieval Warm Period, just before the Little Ice Age from about the year 800 to 1300, was probably caused by a centuries-long strengthening of El Niño.
“This record shows that there have been quite large changes in El Niño precipitation in this area in the past, and that we might expect large changes in the future,” Nelson said.
But during the Little Ice Age, a period from roughly 1400 to 1850 when temperatures in Europe were cooler and many of Earth’s glaciers expanded, the biggest changes came from the Intertropical Convergence Zone shifting to the south.
Recent research has shown that the position of the Intertropical Convergence Zone, and the associated rainfall and drought, is tied to the temperature balance between the Northern and Southern hemispheres.
“It’s consistent with what we understand about the changes in the ITCZ that it might have been positioned further south when the Northern Hemisphere was cooler,” Nelson said."
Click here for the full article.
The lake at Tagus cove, on the western shores of Isabela Island - with a larger cruise ship anchored at the cove. On the horizon, the gentle rising slope of Fernandina Island appears, across the Bolivar Channel. These waters are cooler, and nutrient rich, attracting sea birds, marine mammals and .... tourists!
Wednesday March 16, 2016
The April 2016 edition of the well respected journal "Scientific American" has a well-written, succinct article which corroborates exactly the way CNH Tours feels about tourism in Galapagos. The article discusses the rise of "land based" tourism, which remains very much uncontrolled, despite some government efforts at establishing a regulatory framework. The article links the growth in land based tourism to the growth in overall risks to the archipelago's biodiversity - through the connection between increased numbers of people in the islands with the increase probability of the arrival and dispersal of harfmul alien species.
In contrast, ship based tourism, which does not require the construction of hotels, restaurants and other land based services and infrastructure, has remained pretty much capped for nearly 20 years in the islands. Though it is impossible to have zero impact, one can argue that the impact from ship based tourism has not changed in 20 years, whereas incremental impacts from tourism since then have largely come from the massive growth in the land based version.
We are pleased to note, once again, that most of the people cited in article are past colleagues and old friends of ours. Eliecer Cruz, the governor of Galapagos, was my "co-boss" when I was working at the Darwin Station (he was the park director). His brother Felipe was my colleague in the Isabela Island goat eradication project. Mathias Espinosa is the owner of scuba-iguana and a great local musician. Swen Lorenz, with whom I pursue other projects these days, was the Darwin Station director for a while. I've had the chance to meet Arturo Izurieta, former park director and now Darwin Station Director, on a couple of occasions.
In conclusion, next to not going at all, a ship base visit to the islands is the best way to ensure minimal environmental impact to the archipelago's biodiversity.
The article can be seen by clicking here.
Friday March 4, 2016
My Dutch climatologist friend, Geert Jan van Oldenborgh (GJ), has forwarded to me the latest European Centre for Medium-Range Weather Forecasts (ECMWF) map, showing February 2016 global average temperatures (see figure 1 below). The map shows deviations from 1980-2010 average temperatures, with darkest red showing much warmer than average, and dark blue much colder.
Figure 1: Galapagos is located in a white zone - indicating very close to average temperatures. The warmer temperatures (but not extreme) are found west of the archipelago.
The Eastern Tropical Pacific shows just a bit warmer than average temperatures - leading me to conclude that the El Niño event is dissipating. A review of the US National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA -a very good government agency) corroborates this situation. Based on the evolution of the phenomenon over the past several months, it seems that this El Niño affected ocean waters to the north and west of Galapagos, and largely by-passed the islands. It also seems that the worst of it is behind us, as the predictions are for El Niño to dissipate in the next several weeks.
Our local sources indicate the same - that the waters warmed up just a little more than in a usual year, and that the rains were not any worse (in fact, some are noting a distinct absence of rain recently). Figure 2 below shows the average temperatures for February 1998, the last time a severe El Niño hit the Galapagos. I was there in April, and can attest to the "steam room" conditions of the islands at that time. Our principal guide and partner, Juan Manuel Salcedo, sent us a note from the islands a few days ago:
The strong El Niño forcast for this year has failed to arrive. It is early yet to know if El Niño will strike and how strong is impossible to know. Unfortunately a lot of the news are sensationalist about it and have influenced travellers' choices. So far the only affected species in Galápagos have been marine iguanas, and they are coming back well after the water has cooled down again.
Figure 2: El Niño February 1998 average temperatures - very much warmer around the Galapagos archipelago!
Based on all of this, and based on nearly 20 years of personal observation, I'm predicting that this El Niño event is over, and that it did not affect Galapagos significantly, as was feared just a few months ago.
Tuesday March 1, 2016
We are pleased to report that the Travel Industry Council of Ontario (TICO), a provincial government travel business regulator, accredited CNH Tours yesterday. Our guests are now covered under the industry financed compensation fund, which covers reimbursements under certain circumstances, to a maximum of $5,000 (Canadian). More specifically, in TICO's words:
When you purchase your travel services from a TICO registered travel agency you are protected by an industry financed Travel Compensation Fund. Subject to the Regulation, the Compensation Fund reimburses consumers when they do not receive the travel services purchased due to the bankruptcy or insolvency of either an Ontario travel retailer, Ontario travel wholesaler or due to the failure of an airline or cruise line.
After working from France and Kenya since 2003, our return to our native province of Ontario triggered the obligation to be registered under TICO. We look forward to working with TICO in the years ahead.
Sunday February 21, 2016
Samba owner and principal guide, Juan Manuel Salcedo, has finally done it. Back in 2010 or so, the National Park imposed new itinerary regulations for cruise ships. Whereas they had been previously following 7 night / 8 day loops, returning to the same visitor sites ever week, they now had to adopt a 14 night / 15 day loop, returning to the same visitor site only once every 14 days.
Many ships balked at this new requirement. Their supply schedules and marketing plans were all based on the 7 night/8 day loop. They hoped that with enough resistance, the park would relent. But it didn't. The park wanted to reduce the visitor load at the visitor sites - as the ships tended to go to those sites that offered a combination of appeal and navigational practicality.
Juan Manuel Salcedo, instead of balking, saw an opportunity. He quickly drew up a 15 day itinerary he considered ideal. Because he was one of the first to have done so, the park readily approved his plan, with minor modifications - the most important of which was switching his request for a snorkeling visit at Devil's Crown, with "the Loberia", at Floreana, a beach visit with swimming and some relatively unexciting snorkeling.
Tina, a former CNH Tours guest (she's been to Galapagos twice now), and very frequent supplier of practical information on TripAdsivor, frequently commenting on the relative merits of various itineraries, recently posted:
"The NW itinerary on the Samba is, as I have often said here, my absolute favorite one to date... I agree that not going to Devil's Crown is probably the only disappointment on the Samba's NW itinerary."
But after a few years of efforts on the part of Juan Manuel Salcedo, he was finally granted what he had originally requested, and starting in 2016, the "Loberia" visitor site is now replaced with a snorkel at Devil's Crown.
Devil's Crown is a submerged volcanic cone, with only partial remains of rim emerging from the sea. A combination of vertical submerged walls, varying sea depths, areas of protected waters, and areas subjected to marine currents have made for a diverse marine environment here, where many fish can be spotted, rays and sharks are not uncommon, and sea birds dive for prey. We're glad that we can now earn Tina's full endorsement for the NW itinerary!
Devil's Crown - thanks to Google Earth. Located off the northern shore of Floreana Island.
Devil's Crown - a close up.
Thursday February 4, 2016
We all have to find ways of making a living, of paying the bills. So, I suppose that securing an income is the most basic of motivations when going to the office in the morning. But we have the great fortune of finding a very big part of our motivation through emails we receive from guests having just returned from a trip to the islands. Here are 2 emails I received from guests having just completed our "Dolphin" Active Galapagos trip:
Just got back from the Galapagos and wanted to let you know what an awesome trip it was. Right from the beginning, everything went like clockwork, from Israel meeting us in Quito on the 22nd of Jan to Juan Manuel dropping us off at the airport on the 4th. The only glitch was Diego met us in Quito to drive us back to the Mansion on the 4th when we had mentioned to you that we wouldn't be going back due to our flight time departure at midnight. But he was not upset so hopefully, neither was the Mansion.
Anyway, it was a fabulous trip. Awesome boat, awesome crew, awesome guide, awesome nature, awesome other guests. Can't say enough wonderful things. Luis was fantastic...so was Juan Manual...so was Rafael for the
Otavalo trip. Wow...thank you so much. Will be singing the praises of the Samba, believe me, to all my friends. We are even thinking of returning in a couple of years to do the other route. We'll see. Can't wait to look at all the pictures we took.
Wednesday January 27, 2016
The zika virus is making the news these days. We're hearing that for 4 out of 5 people, the virus produces no symptoms, and for the remaining unlucky 1 out of 5, the symptoms may include fever, rash, joint pain, or conjunctivitis (red eyes). Symptoms typically begin 2 to 7 days after being bitten by an infected mosquito and may last for a week or so, just like a cold.
We've also heard that there may be a link between the virus in pregnant women and microcephaly - the underdevelopment of the foetus' brain. Apparently, this link is not yet proven, only suspected.
The US Center for Disease Control (CDC) has an excellent post on this matter - it does advise caution for pregnant women (e.g. avoid traveling to infected areas if you can) and women who might become pregnant while traveling to an infected area, or very soon afterwards.
The site reports that the virus only lives in our bodies for a week or two, then it is eliminated by our natural defenses, somewhat like how we deal with the common cold and flu viruses - we get them, we get sick, we get better, end of story. This means that for women who are not pregnant, but may eventually decide to have a baby in the future, there is no risk. The CDC website includes this Q & A:
If a woman who is not pregnant is bitten by a mosquito and infected with Zika virus, will her future pregnancies be at risk?
We do not know the risk to the baby if a woman is infected with Zika virus while she is pregnant. However, Zika virus infection does not pose a risk of birth defects for future pregnancies. Zika virus usually remains in the blood of an infected person for only a few days to a week. The virus will not cause infections in a baby that is conceived after the virus is cleared from the blood.
Ecuador is on the CDC advisory list, and Galapagos is in Ecuador, though I doubt if there is any conclusive evidence that the virus has made it to the islands. There are quarantine measures in place designed to prevent alien species (such as the mosquito responsible for transmitting the virus) from reaching the islands - though I don't know at this point if this mosquito is already there or not.
In conclusion, unless you are pregnant, or likely to get pregnant while in Ecuador and/or Galapagos, or within a couple of weeks after your return, the CDC says there should be nothing to be worried about.
Saturday January 23, 2016
We are proud to announce that at its recent Annual General Meeting, Marc Patry, co-owner (with his wife Heather Blenkiron) of CNH Tours was voted in as a governing member of the Charles Darwin Foundation (the CDF) General Assembly.
Marc's previous work at the Charles Darwin Station (operated by the CDF), helping develop and launch the largest ever alien species eradication project in history (the Isabela Project - eradicating goats from Isabela Island) has given him a good understanding of the CDF and how it works. Of additional value were his 12 years working as the Latin American point person for natural World Heritage (WH) sites at UNESCO's headquarters in Paris. He was in charge of monitoring the state of conservation of WH sites and maintaining constructive dialogues with site managers and government agencies responsible for their conservation. The Galapagos Islands were part of his responsibilities, and thanks to that job, he kept a close tab on management issues, strengthening his network of on-the-ground contacts in Galapagos, while developing a new network amongst senior government officials.
As a governing member of the CDF General Assembly, Marc has proposed to act as a communications conduit beween the CDF and the WH Centre back in Paris, where he maintains good contacts, particularly with his replacement there at the Latin America desk, and with the newly appointed director of the Centre, who was a long time colleague of Marc's. The WH Convention can play a very constructive role in helping / encouraging national governments to deal with conservation challenges.
Thursday January 14, 2016
We just received this from one of our ship owner colleagues and thought we'd just copy paste it here. This will affect people who land in Baltra and do not immediately embark on their ship, but rather head off to Puerto Ayora. It will also affect those getting to Baltra airport from Puerto Ayora, but not those being dropped off at Baltra directly from their cruise ship.
Monday January 11, 2016
Yesterday, Andando Tours, the owners of two higher end ships in the Galapagos, sent the message below to the many agents through which it sells its cruises.
Published rate policy
Dear colleagues and friends,
During the past few months we have had several issues with various agencies offering our yachts to passengers at rates below our published retail rates.
In order to avoid variations in the rates, as of today Andando Tours will not honor bookings on our yachts offered to potential passengers at prices lower than our established retail rates.
This is a measure that we are obligated to take to prevent unfair competition among our strategic partners.
Thank you for your understanding and we wish you great success with your sales!
Andando Tours / Angermeyer Cruises
Galapagos & Andes
10 January 2016
CNH Tours has always advertised cruise prices at the rate posted by the ship owners. We have lost some business to unscrupulous competitors, but we have always maintained excellent relations with the ship owners - the people with whom the cruise buck stops at the end of the day. As a result, we get their full attention and support when needing any type of additional assistance to resolve possible problems or have special requests considered.
We compete on the basis of our intimate knowledge of the islands (having lived there for 4 years), our great relationships built over the years with the cruise ship community, and on our unmatched personalized service provided to you before, during, and after trip. We do not compete by engaging in a race to the bottom with questionable travel agencies. This policy has led to our constantly growing reputation on travelers forums and we believe that this is the reason behind the regular growth of our small business over the past 16 years.