Galapagos News

New Quito Airport to Start up on 20 February

According to the latest information available from Quiport, the company charged with operating the new Quito airport, operations are finally set to start on 20 February.    They were supposed to start last year, but for various reasons, the opening has been delayed.   CNH Tours feels confident that this time, the start date will be honoured.

The new airport is quite a bit further away from downtown Quito - you will need to plan for a transfer time of between 1 and 1.5 hours, depending on traffic, according to Quiport.  Though an express road is planned between the airport, which is down in a valley, to Quito, which is up higher, it is not yet completed.

Quiport also notes that all flights to and from Quito in the evening of the 19th of February will be cancelled and indicate that airlines have already planned around that closure.  If by chance you a scheduled to be flying into Quito in the late afternoon or evening of the 19th, please double check with your agent.

Alcoholic drinks ban during upcoming elections

On Sunday 17th February Ecuadorians will head to the polls for presidential and legislative elections. A "dry law" goes into effect from midday on Friday 15th February until midday on Monday 18th. This measure prohibits businesses in Ecuador from selling alcohol during this period.

This ban does not apply to people on board ships, but does apply to everyone else. 


Helicopter emergency services and new hospital in Galapagos

A new hospital is being built in Galapagos, in the town of Puerto Baquerizo Moreno, San Cristobal Island.  This is the capital town (not quite city!) of Galapagos, though smaller by far than the main tourist town of Puerto Ayora, on Santa Cruz island.

The US$8.1M investment will lead to a new and modern facility, part of the government's plan to improve health services in the islands.  Last year, it spent US$5million on equipment and personnel. 

Of particular importance to tourists on ships in remote locations, there is now a Navy operated Bell-430 helicopter that is available for emergency evacuations, in operation since last August.  It has already carried out ​​48 missions (38 interisland emergency evacuations, 5 rescues at sea and the transport of 5 medical teams to attend to emergencies in situ).

2014 Active Galapagos now taking bookings

CNH Tours is pleased to announce that dates for its highly acclaimed "ACTIVE GALAPAGOS" trips have just been posted on our website.   We have been custom designing the ACTIVE itinierary for 10 years, growing from 2 cruises a year to a record 14 planned for 2014.

This trip consistently attracts a like-minded group of inquisitive carpe diem guests from the US, Canada, the UK, Europe and beyond who want to make the most of what will usually be a once in a lifetime opportunity to experience Galapagos in an "up close and personal" way.   Our ACTIVE guides receive rave reviews and are often cited in the bulletin boards. They are hand picked and among the very best in the islands. The Samba crew and on-board experience receives consistent positive comments.  Altogether, these elements combine to make this an intimate and ideal way to see the islands. 

"I want to thank you for organizing such a wonderful trip to Galapagos for me.  Juan and the rest of the crew of the Samba were amazing.  Thank you for helping me realize a dream adventure."  Holly, on a 2012 Active Tour


Recent group photo: Crossing the Equator, we all dress up accordingly.  Spot Juan Salcedo, as Neptune, and Samba guests as various Galapagos animals. neptune


Best Galapagos Picture of 2012

CNH Tours has unilaterally (we are not very democratic it seems!) decided that the picture below is the best Galapagos picture of the year, courtesy of the Galapagos National Park Service.

In it, we see the moment in which inspectors at the Baltra airport have discovered live iguanas stashed away in the suitcase of Dirk Bender, a German national about to embark on his flight to the continent, and beyond.   Mr. Bender, in the background, looks like a child caught with his hand in the cookie jar.   This happened last July 8th, and Mr. Bender has been in detention at a Puerto Ayora prison ever since, awaiting trial.   There is a 6 month statute of limitations in Ecuador, and if he's not tried before the 8th of January, he goes free.   The Park Service announced yesterday that a trial is scheduled for tomorrow, January 4th.

Mr. Bender was caught doing exactly the same thing in Fiji, on December 3rd, 2011.  In that case, he was trying to smuggle a Crested Fiji Iguana.  He was liable for a fine of up to $20,000 - but CNH Tours has not been able to determine what his sentence was exactly.

It's very nice to see the law being fully applied in Galapagos, particularly when it comes to environmental crimes.  Infractions of environmental laws are not often taken seriously by courts in many countries.   The work of the judiciary in Galapagos is becoming increasingly sensitive to environmental issues - a good thing for this very fragile natural area. 

Dirk Bender

Sir David Attenborough’s latest 3D Documentary

British nature documentary superstar Sir David Attenborough presents the 2nd of his 3 part series on Galapagos tonight in the UK (Sky TV), but this time in 3D.   "It is usually a mistake to go back, but I have now returned three times to the Galápagos Islands since my first visit in 1978 and each time the excitement has been undiminished. On my latest trip, indeed, it has been heightened, for I have had the opportunity not only to film the islands in a new medium but - as we disclosed earlier this week - to film an entirely new species" he stated.  He refers to the pink iguana, first documented a few years ago. 

Galapagos documentaries remain very popular, and CNH Tours certainly appreciates the free publicity for this (truly) unique place.  I recall once, after 3 years in the pressure cooker that is Galapagos conservation life in the islands, I took a Christmas holiday in Canada with my family, and we went to the extended family retreat, a small lakeside cottage in the snow.  We started a fire, and distractedly turned on the television, only to be confronted by a, you know it, Galapagos documentary!  

Tourist dies after tripping

The Galapagos National Park reports that a 74 year old woman died after tripping and falling on the boardwalk at the Cerro Colorado Semi-natural Tortoise Breeding Centre on San Cristobal island yesterday.  Jane White from the USA was on a cruise on the La Pinta ship.  While visiting the tortoise centre, she decided to join a group of three other visitors who were headed off to the restrooms.    She appears to have tripped and knocked her head against the boardwalk as she fell.  She was pronounced dead at the hospital in Puerto Baquerizo Moreno, 24 kilometres away.   

No place is risk free, and Galapagos is perhaps a bit riskier than your typical cruise experience.  Not only does a cruise include several short hikes on what can be uneven trails, but you may also find yourself quite far away from professional medical attention.  Anyone considering a Galapagos visit should take that into consideration and be willing to accept these risks.   Of course, the trails are not "death defying" -  thousands of visitors walk over them every year, many well into their 70's and often into their 80's (CNH Tours has no doubts that sprightly folks in their 90's also frequent them).   But accidents may happen.    We are sad to hear of this accident.  

Galaven Yacht Damaged and Out of Service

The Galapagos Port Captain reported yesterday that the 20 passenger, tourist superior Galaven yacht had hit some rocks at the Cerro Dragon (NW sector of Santa Cruz Island) and was taking on water.  Passengers were on land while this happened.   The crew was able to control the leak and took the ship to the Canal de Itabaca (which separates Baltra, the airport island, and Santa Cruz island).  The passengers were later taken back to Puerto Ayora.  

Based on this information, it would appear that the Galaven may be out of service of a while.  If you planned to cruise on the Galaven in the next few weeks, CNH Tours recommends you get in touch with your agent as soon as possible.


Mangrove Interpretive Boardwalk Inaugurated in P.Ayora

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. 


Las Ninfas

No More Airport Departure Taxes!

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.

Massive Rat Eradication Effort Under Way

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.



"Miss Reef" 2013 Calendar set in Galapagos.....

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.  

South Plaza Island Closed for Rat Eradication

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.

Plump Pepe Put into Park Pen

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!



Galapagos Tomato: Answer to Gardeners' Woes!

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.    


Coastal Cleanup Day Tomorrow

The Galapagos National Park, with support from the Navy and the Galapagos Foundation join efforts tomorrow on the International Coastal Clean-up Day, September 15th.   

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.  

Coastal Clean up

Baltra Island - ecosystem restoration success story!

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.


Baltra Boobies

New Quito Airport Postponed to Feb 2013

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.


German tourist arrested for trafficking land iguanas

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. 

Iguana smuggler  

Confusion over new Quito airport start-up date

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!