Galapagos News

Great Bear Rainforest

CNH Tours owners Heather Blenkiron and Marc Patry are embarking today on an 8-day small-ship cruise to explore the Great Bear Rainforest.  Located on Canada's west coast, between the northern tip of Vancouver Island and the southern tip of Alaska, this rugged coastline is home to the largest temperate rainforest in the world.

We'll be embarking on a very comfortable 24 passenger catamaran and we'll be exploring remote coves, inlets and fjords.   We expect to have close encounters with grizzly bears and black bears (the salmon are running - and the bears are congregating around the rivers).  We hope to spot the elusive "spirit bear", a rare white form of the black bear, found only in these parts.  We hope to spot plenty of whales, sea otters, orcas and more.   

We will be offering our first Great Bear Rainforest trip at the end of August 2023 and we're familiarizing ourselves with the experience.   We're here also to explore extension options in this remote part of the world, where First Nation communities have lived for thousands of years.  

The trip details should be published on our website in the coming weeks.   If you'd like to have advance notice, please do not hesitate to send us an email.   

Emergency Evacuation Insurance for All

Starting in 2022, all guests travelling with CNH Tours will be automatically covered by a US$200,000 medical evacuation insurance.   The insurance will be included in the price of your trip.  For more information on the policy, click here.

While very rarely required, medical evacuation coverage can come in handy when a guest requires medical attention not accessible where he/she may be at a given time.   The emergency may be due to an accident or to sudden medical problem.  

As our trips take our guests to remote destinations, medical evacuation could include ambulance / helicopter / flight costs, taking a guest from a remote island to the nearest hospital equipped to deal with the emergency - and then home if warranted. 


You won't find snow in Galapagos - but starting in 2023, CNH Tours is offering trips to Antarctica.



When is a Species not a Species?

Superficially, it's an easy question. Lions, horses, hammerhead sharks, giant tortoises, pine trees are different species.
But what REALLY divides one species from another?

In Galapagos, the giant tortoises living on different islands have at times been considered one species, and at other times, 13 (or so) different species.  

In that change of status lies the crux of the matter. Who decides? On what basis? Read the article that appeared in The Economist last week to learn more - and be prepared to ask tough questions of your naturalist guide in Galapagos.  

To read the article, click here.  

Vaccine AND PCR test required for Galapagos Entry 1st Sept

UPDATE: October 27, 2021


As of October 23rd, 2021, only a PCR test (with a negative result obtained within 72 hours of entering Galapagos) OR a full vaccination is required to enter Galapagos. Please note: Protocols for entry to Galapagos may change at any time.


Due to the detection of three Delta variant cases in Galapagos recently, national authorities are imposing stricter health measures for entry into Galapagos, starting 1st September. 


- Proof of full vaccination, with the last shot taken no less than 14 days prior to arrival in Galapagos

- Proof of negative PCR test, taken no longer than 72 hours prior to arrival in Galapagos


- Proof of negative PCR test, taken no longer than 72 hours prior to arrival in Galapagos

Children under 2 years of age are exempt from any measures.


For many, it will be difficult to arrange for a negative PCR test at home, prior to international travel, and to time it so that it meets the maximum 72 hour limit on arrival in Galapagos.  Should that apply to you, it will be necessary to plan for some time on the continent, with a PCR test being administered as soon as possible on your arrival.   

The system for getting tested on the continent is well-oiled.  They need to be done through certified labs.  Tests can be booked in advance, and results take about 24 hours.   Lab technicians can often come to your hotel room for the testing.  

Contact for more guidance on this matter. 





Ecuador considers debt swap for expanded Galapagos marine reserve

(this is an edited version of the Google Translated article that appeared in the "La Republica" newspaper on 20 August)

Editor's preamble:  "Debt for nature" swaps are not uncommon.  International holders of a national government's debt may agree to more lenient terms in exchange for social / environmental investments in that country.  Under the terms of such agreements, some or all of the cash-flow thus liberated can be committed to achieving social/environmental objectives. 


Ecuador is analyzing an environmental debt swap to create a new reserve around the Galapagos archipelago that will expand the limits to fishing through a negotiation between all the parties involved, the Minister of the Environment, Water and Ecological Transition, Gustavo Manrique.

"Without a doubt, we are considering evaluating a debt swap for the creation of a new reserve," said the head of the environmental portfolio, recognizing that, "indeed, there is a proposal for a very important amount."

The current Galapagos Marine Reserve is the center of an initiative that puts at odds the Ecuadorian fishing sector and conservationists, who have proposed a sovereign debt swap of one billion dollars in exchange for expanding the current protected area around the archipelago by 312,000 square kilometers .

The proposal, which was presented to the previous government of Lenín Moreno and is currently being negotiated by that of Guillermo Lasso, had the initial intention of expanding the protected area from the current 133,000 to 445,000 square kilometers.

"When the current Government assumed the Administration a few months ago, there were two positions: one was 450,000 square kilometers of marine reserve of the conservationists, and that of fisheries and industrialists was zero," said Manrique, an agronomist and former president of the Latin America Green Awards at the Foundation of the same name.

But as the new administration approaches its 90 days in office, Manrique explains that the new president has managed to bring positions closer together.

«We are in a situation where the conservationists are proposing a hundred thousand kilometers and the fishing industry that doesn’t oppose an agreement to protect the Galapagos marine corridor – which extends from Galapagos to Coiba Island (Panama) Cocos Island (Costa Rica) and Malpelo Island (Colombia) », Manrique specified.

The Eastern Tropical Pacific (CMAR) Marine Corridor which forms a migratory route for species that are not targeted by fishing, such as sharks, sea lions, turtles and whales. [ed. Note:  I was involved in the early stages of establishing this corridor when I worked at UNESCO’s World Heritage Centre],

Debt-for-nature swap

Ecuador closed 2020 with a public debt of 63,163 million dollars, which then represented 65.3% of GDP, according to data from the Ministry of Finance.

The environmental project promotes a “debt for nature” swap and is based on the purchase of 2030 debt bonds from Ecuador with an approximate 40% discount on amortization, which would guarantee the supervision of the expanded maritime area, according to the proposal put forward by a coalition of NGOs, including the local Más Galapagos.


This includes resources for the Ecuadorian Navy to patrol and control an eventual expanded protected area.

Manrique appreciated that more than being a swap, it would be a “swap” or financial exchange agreement on the international debt acquired by Ecuador, and that conversations are being developed in that line so that, for example, “the amortization term is doubled and thus releases more cash flow to the state ».

On the other hand, the bondholders of this type of green investments have assured the Government that a proportion equivalent to around 30% of the debt will be exempt from interest within the framework of a financial solution that starts with the creation of a trust in exchange for the protection of the reserve.

The Environment minister stated that the creation of the new marine reserve has an impact on conservation, but also on the social and economic side and implies a millionaire investment for the Ecuadorian State: «It is a new child and you have to have the resources to carry it forward ».

But at the same time he expressed his optimism regarding conversations "in which we already agree that we have to expand" and in which it is analyzed "how much, how and what fishing gear" will be banned.

Seasickness in Galapagos: Stay off Day Trip Boats and Stick to Cruise Ships

Quite a number of our prospective guests express some concern over how being seasick might not let them enjoy an expedition cruise in Galapagos.   They will relate stories of having felt queasy, or worse, having been ill while on a boat at one point in their lives.   

In response, we usually show them the statistics we gather from our returning guests.  One question we ask is:  “Please rate the extent to which motion sickness prevented you from enjoying your trip”, with a 1 = not in the least and a 5 = I wanted to get off the ship as soon as possible.

91.4% of our guests rated seasickness as not having affected their enjoyment of the trip at all, or having been a minor inconvenience, with another 6 % indicating that it had been an issue, but not terribly so.  No one rated seasickness as having been so bad that they just wanted to get off the ship.   Only 2.6% indicated that it had been a significant issue.    

Over concerns of getting seasick, quite a few people ask us if taking a land-based trip might be better option for them.   What many people don’t understand is that day trips in Galapagos involve quite a bit of moving about on smaller speedboats.  Galapagos is, after an, an archipelago and getting to various visitor sites does require moving around in boats. 

Yesterday, on the TripAdvisor Galapagos forum, someone (user name:  mrc282, from Washington D.C.) who had just spent a few weeks in Galapagos shared his impressions on various aspects of his trip.  He included a note on seasickness, and how it had affected him both on a small ship expedition cruise and on speedboats taking him to day trip destinations.  It's important to note that seas tend to be choppier from about July to November, and tend to be at their calmest from January to May (though you can get calm seas / choppy seas any time of year - there are never any storms in Galapagos).

Here are his words: 

 Re: Logistics: Galapagos Cruise vs Land Tours

Aug 16, 2021, 1:02 AM

  1. Seasickness

I can proclaim myself an expert in this, considering the number of years I spent throwing up on boats before discovering the magic potion called scopolamine patch. I would classify my seasickness as rather severe. While I don't get carsick or airsick, I am someone who is very sensitive to motions and can't tolerate watching a 3D movie or playing most FPS games for more than 10 minutes before feeling nauseous.

So this is what I experienced in August 2021

- The passage to far flung islands like Genovesa, Floreana and Espanola are rough. At times, the waves are high enough to hit the second upper deck of the boat. I took both sco patch and meclizine pills to survive through them. I am absolutely sure that without sco patch I would be bedridden.

- The passage through Western Isabela and Fernandina are calm in comparison. I believe it is because most of the time we are sailing close to the shore and also it is not really an "open sea" for the most part. And also, I suspect, by then I am slightly accustomed to being on the boat, and actually was off my meds though I remain vigilant at all times at the slightest hint of sickness.

- The 360 day trip around San Cristobal island on a fishing boat was rough. A few people threw up within the first 45 minutes of trip despite taking motion sickness pill beforehand. One completely passed out for the rest of the day, while another lost it and puked on the passenger across from him (fortunately it was a family member) and continued vomiting from time to time throughout the day. And that's when I knew I am absolutely not taking the inter-island ferry to Santa Cruz. I really dislike being on a boat where it continuously chop on the waves - it is like being on a never ending rollercoaster. And I certainly have no desire in smelling vomits for hours... As someone who has vomited before and been vomited on in a boat, I would kindly suggest people to please be considerate and prepare a barf bag regardless of whether you think you will get sick or not when you get on one of these boats. Nobody appreciated being vomited on by a stranger, more so in sensitive covid times.

Why Ecuador vaccinates its population faster than the rest of the world

We have shamelessly copy-pasted the text below, which appeared on the World Bank's blogs website on 10 August (see the original here).

Vaccination day in Cuenca, Ecuador


Just take a quick look at your phone and you will agree that good news is hard to come by in the context of the current health crisis in Latin America and the Caribbean.

That’s why we are particularly excited to see some encouraging developments -in this case coming from Ecuador.  

Only a year ago the collapse of the country’s healthcare system was making headlines around the world. Today, with its successful vaccination campaign, it is setting an example for countries in the region and globally.

Ecuador current administers the highest daily number of doses per 100 people in the world.  To put it simply: in the time it has taken you to read this far, hundreds of people in Ecuador will have been be vaccinated against COVID-19.

With this surge in vaccinations, the government expects to inoculate 9 million people - half the country's population – in a mere 100 days by early September. So far everything suggests that the campaign is on course to achieve this goal comfortably: at the time of writing this blog, the vaccination rate is 200,000 people a day.

It is clear that the improved availability of vaccines -thanks to successful government attempts to procure them- and their efficient distribution are mainly responsible for this favorable scenario.  But there are also less visible, although equally important, reasons why the campaign can be considered to be a Latin American success story despite the adverse regional context.

Let’s highlight two of those reasons.

First, there is the immense effort put into planning and logistics, including meticulous coordination between the central and regional governments, the private sector, universities and international organizations. It’s worth highlighting the key role played by private companies, which provided valuable logistical support and resources.

These efforts resulted in a well-structured campaign with segmented "vaccination days" for state and private sector workers, students, and the general public. Special days were also set aside for vaccinating harder to reach groups, such as the indigenous, the rural and the migrant populations. Innovation also played an important role: the Electoral Register -  recently updated for the general elections – was leveraged to identify and contact people eligible for vaccination, while polling stations were used as vaccination centers

Second, there is the exceptional teamwork forged between Ecuador’s government (which showed firm leadership throughout the campaign) and the development organizations, resulting in unprecedentedly close collaboration between the World Bank, IDB, CAF, PAHO, WHO, UNICEF and other UN agencies,  which enabled them to share their vast joint vaccination expertise with Ecuadorian officials. 

It’s worth noting that the efficiency and speed of the vaccination campaign has given Ecuadorians renewed confidence, which in turn is playing an important role in the country’s economic recovery.

Also noteworthy is the fact that that none of the above would have happened so smoothly without the seamless transition between the incoming and outgoing governments, in the middle of the pandemic in May 2021, which reduced the uncertainty and delays that often arise from political changeovers.

Finally, we would not have such a good response from the population had there not been a strong focus on public communications, which is part of the solution in any crisis of this type and magnitude. 

We still have a difficult road ahead: in light of the new COVID-19 variants, Ecuador still has to urgently vaccinate several million more people.

However, we can say with certainty that with these first firm steps the country is beginning to turn the page on the pandemic, in an effort that deserves to be replicated in other parts of the region.

The World Bank Group is working very closely with the region it its response to the COVID-19 crisis - one of the most severe in the region's history.  In fiscal year 2021, that commitment translated into a record of US$29 billiion, aimed at containing the social, economic and health fallout from the pandemic, as well as helping to respond to challenges such as hurricanes and migratory flows.

Olympic Gold to Ecuador for men's cycling

Eighteen year old Richard Carapaz took the gold today in the Olympic men's road race.  With that accomplishment, Carapaz brings the first ever Olympic gold medal to Ecuador. 

The young man had recently finished the Tour de France, coming in third there, while having come in first in the 2019 Gira d'Italia.  

At CNH Tours, we've seen the jubilant and boisterous celebrations that follow national victories in sports.  We fully anticipate that Galapagos cyclists, and many other Galapagueños will be out in full force in the streets today, shouting "CA-RA-PAZ!" and "E-CUA-DOR!".  

In Galapagos, there has been a growing "cyclism" movement.   As most people live within 2-3km from just about all they need, most destinations are within a 4-5 minute bike ride.  Recently, public funds were made available to put in several kilometres of dedicated bicycle paths both in town and on the road to the highlands.  The very clement climate, the relatively flat land on which the town is built, and the desire to reduce noise and pollution from vehicles provide for a good rationale for that kind of investment. 



United Nations to Ecuador: “Stop Runaway Tourism in Galapagos”

While it may be counterintuitive during these COVID-19 times, the intergovernmental World Heritage (WH) Committee, operating under the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), admonished the government of Ecuador today.  It expressed its “utmost concern” to Ecuador for not having followed through on an earlier commitment to promote a “zero-growth” tourism policy for Galapagos, to address runaway tourism numbers there.

To be clear, the decision is based on trends before the pandemic struck and assumes that, post-pandemic, they are likely going to resume.  

The State of Conservation Report[1] produced by the WH Committee’s technical advisors (IUCN), explains:

“The continued growth of tourism to the property is a significant concern, with an approximate 25% increase reported in tourism between 2016 and 2018 and a substantial increase in commercial flights in 2017-2018. The [government of Ecuador], in its previous report, committed to adopt measures that promote a zero growth model for tourism, as recommended by the 2017 [state of conservation monitoring] mission. In view of this, it is also recommended that the [World Heritage] Committee request the [government of Ecuador] to develop and implement a clear action plan with urgent measures to limit the number of tourists and flights to the property to achieve the zero growth model in line with its commitment.”

In response to this report, the WH Committee responded to the government of Ecuador as follows:   

“[the World Heritage Committee notes with serious concern] the continued growth of tourism and commercial flights to [Galapagos], despite the commitment made by the [government of Ecuador] to promote a zero growth model for tourism, reiterates its requests to the [government of Ecuador] to develop and implement a clear tourism strategy that ensures that suitable measures are sustained in the long term as permanent regulations, with a clear action plan with urgent measures to achieve the zero growth model, including maintaining the moratorium on construction of new tourism projects and the limits on the number of flights, and to submit this strategy and action plan to the World Heritage Centre for review.”

The WH Committee went on to request the government of Ecuador to report back by 1 December 2022 on measures it will have take to address this issue.

As a former employee of UNESCO’s World Heritage Centre, as a former employee of the Charles Darwin Research Station, and as the owner of a Galapagos tourism business, I have been well-placed to observe the very rapid growth in Galapagos tourism over the years, particularly since 2000 and  I have regularly shared my concerns over this growth with my former colleagues at UNESCO and with the WH Convention’s technical advisor, IUCN.   


In raising concerns over runaway tourism growth, it is critical to make a distinction between ship-based and land-based visitors.    Tourism in Galapagos started in the 1960’s and was exclusively ship-based.   Over the next 25 years, ship-based tourism grew very quickly at it became obvious to all concerned that if no limits were imposed, not only the quality of the visitor experience, but the long term conservation of the archipelago’s biodiversity would be put at risk.   For this reason, the government of Ecuador placed a firm cap on the size of the expedition cruise ship fleet.  As a result, in what is considered a success story for sustainable tourism, the fleet’s capacity has not increased for nearly 25 years and ship-based tourism in Galapagos has plateaued at about 70,000 – 75,000 people / year.  Ships based tourist have access to many visitor sites not accessible to land-based tourists.  Ship schedules are finely coordinated to ensure that sites remain very lightly visited overall.  As a result, the overall Galapagos visitor experience continues to be among the best on the planet.  

Meanwhile, starting in the year 2000, land-based tourism numbers started to explode going from fewer than 5,000 / year to over 200,000 / year in less than 20 years – with no end in sight.  Projecting growth number using pre-pandemic trends had the number of land-based visitors surpass 1,000,000 by 2040.

Based on the these numbers, it is clear that those who visit Galapagos by ship are not part of the tourism growth problem.  

CNH Tours agrees with the UNESCO World Heritage Committee on this matter.  The rationale for having imposed strict limits to the expedition cruise ship fleet is sound and should be applied to land-based tourism as well.  


[1] Available at page 305 here:

"We were swimming in the middle of a fish ball"

Here's another in our (very occasional) series on candid notes we receive from guests recently having disembarked from their Galapagos cruise.   Cheryl McNerney, her husband and their 2 adult sons were on the 14 passenger Samba last week.   She wrote us this note:


Mark and I just wanted to thank you again for all of your help setting up our Galapagos and Amazon Vacation.  I cc’d Jimmy [editor: Jimmy was the naturalist guide on the Samba] on this, because he was a large part of why our family had such an amazing time.

From the moment we landed in Guayaquil, everything went perfectly.  The folks in Guayaquil were so accommodating and we had so much fun exploring the area along the river.  We had several amazing dinners at local restaurants and were happy to feel so safe there.

Quito was also a great place to see.  We climbed the towers of the Basilica and walked many many miles exploring the city and several nearby little towns.  I would not worry at at all about tourists going there.  There was a large police presence and they were so friendly and helpful to us with directions.  The food there was also extraordinary and it was the cleanest big city we have visited.  We especially had fun exploring some of the small handicraft markets.

The Galapagos portion exceeded our expectations in every way.  The Samba family was wonderful and we felt like part of the team from the minute we walked on board.  Our guide Jimmy was the best guide we have ever had.  His energy, enthusiasm and knowledge about the Galapagos made him an exceptional guide.  We were up before dawn every day and were able to photograph the amazing wildlife in the best light of the day.  The snorkeling can only be described as the most fantastic we have ever seen.  We felt like we were swimming in the middle of a fish ball with turtles, rays, sharks and sea lions on the perimeter.  Everyday we would see something unique and Jimmy’s adventurous spirit kept us following him to find more and more beautiful creatures.    Our kids have also snorkeled in many places and both remarked that it was the most amazing snorkeling and free diving they had ever done.  Did I mention we saw Hammerhead sharks four times!  

Jeffrey is going to be sending you the videos Jimmy took of our trip, as well as some footage from the trip before us.  He will be putting them on a Google drive.  Once I have some time if you like I can send you a few of my still pictures.  Mark and I took around twenty one thousand pictures, so it will take me a bit to get through them.

Thank you also for switching us to the Napo Wildlife Center.  What a great location with an amazing group of people.  We had a fantastic time there and absolutely loved the room, food, scenery and of course the people.  We were fortunate to see numerous birds, monkeys, caimans, bugs, etc....  such an interesting place to visit and we are so thankful that you recommended it.

With many many thanks for all of your hard work and love for the Galapagos!  Thank you for making our trip so special.  If there is anything we can do for you and CNH tours, please do not hesitate to ask.

Best wishes to you and your staff,

Cheryl and Mark McNerney

Washington, USA

Introducing the Ocean Safari on the 16 Passenger "Integrity"



After a careful review of several 12-20 passenger luxury ships in Galapagos, taking into consideration their itineraries, their ownerships, on-board "feel", value-for-money, we've chosen to team up with the 16 passenger INTEGRITY for our Ocean Safari trips.   

Designed for adventurous, inquisitive and reasonably fit travellers who want to experience the absolute most out of their limited time in Galapagos, guests on our Ocean Safari trip will be happy to spend their down time on board our very comfortable ship, to debrief, decompress and relax after their day's many adventures, both above and below the sea. 

We will be operating 4 departures (10 days / 9 nights) in 2023:  

February 2-11   /   April 13-22 /  June 29 - July 8  /  July 13-22  

Price is US$8,995 / person, double occupancy and includes:  

  • 2 nights at a boutique Quito hotel pre-cruise (breakfast)
  • Quito World Heritage City private tour (lunch)
  • Domestic flight to Galapagos (return)
  • 7 nights aboard the Integrity (meals, snorkeling gear, wine/beer and more)
  • 2 top quality naturalist guides 
  • Carbon emissions offset

Above:  The Integrity - a very comfortable 16 passenger ship. Owned and operated by a long time Galapagos family. 



The Integrity scores very high on all criteria mentioned above - specifically:

ITINERARY:  The Integrity follows a very logically planned 7 night / 8 day uninterrupted course, ensuring you experience a maximum number of visitor sites for a minimum amount of navigation and disturbance.  There is no back-tracking, allowing the ship to follow a more relaxed agenda, to linger at visitor sites, and to veer off course to sail alongside a mega-pod of dolphins, or simply to cut the engines at sea and observe a group of orcas feeding nearby.  

Above:  The "Born of Fire" itinerary. Well-designed, no needless backtracking. 


OWNERSHIP:  The Integrity is wholly owned and fully managed and operated by the 2nd and 3rd generations of a Galapagos family, having immigrated from Germany nearly 75 years ago.  Being on site, they lead the day to day operation and maintenance of the ship, ensuring that work is carried out to perfection.  Their's is a labour of love - no corners are cut.  It's for good reason they decided to give the ship the name INTEGRITY.

ON-BOARD FEEL:  Looking at the new luxury ship additions to the Galapagos fleet, one could be excused for thinking that these were designed to cruise around in Miami waters. Stainless steel, designer furniture, pastel colours, plenty of fiberglass - all combine to inadvertently transport guests to a place far removed from Galapagos.  The Integrity's design focuses on tranquility and simplicity, resulting in an understated elegance that exudes peace and a zen atmosphere - all the better for nurturing the mind-trip that should be part of any Galapagos experience.  

Above: The lounge with the dining area in the background.  Large windows, generous use of hand-crafted tropical cedar fixtures, resulting in a warm, bright and calm atmosphere.

Above:  A standard cabin on board.  Spacious, with large windows.  Warm and inviting.  

VALUE-FOR-MONEY:   Many luxury ships are managed and/or owned by third parties and/or are under sales contracts with high end marketing partners. The usual global cruise brands operate the highest priced luxury ships in Galapagos.  These factors contribute to inflating the price of a trip on these ships, without any perceived benefit while on board.   The Integrity's owners have chosen to run a modest business operation, keeping overhead costs down, making it one of the smartest "value-for-money" luxury ships in Galapagos.  





CNH Tours launches a new signature trip to complement its very successful "Active Galapagos" on the 14 passenger Samba. The "Ocean Safari", on the luxury 16 passenger Integrity, will begin operating in 2023. We are accepting expressions of interest now.

From 1 July: Proof of Vaccination OK for Galapagos Entry

Following on our news item dated 3 June, tonight, the Emergency Operations Committee requested the Ministries of Public Health, of Foreign Affairs and of Migration to standardize entry requirements for both Galapagos and mainland Ecuador. 

As of 1 July, proof of full vaccination completed at leas 14 days prior to arrival will be acceptable for entry into Galapagos. 

While a negative PCR test will also be acceptable, the timeframe has been shortened from 96 to 72 hours.  This will make it nearly impossible to time a PCR test back home and make it into Galapagos within that time frame. 

The requirement for a "salvoconducto" (safe passage) will also be dropped on 1 July.   

Under the Microscope: International Community to Evaluate Galapagos Conservation

All World Heritage (WH) sites are subjected to international scrutiny, ensuring that the commitment to conserve the values for which they were allowed onto the World Heritage List is upheld.

The UNESCO WH Convention came into force in 1976 – it’s the only UN Convention to our knowledge under which countries give up a little bit of their sovereignty in exchange for having their most outstanding natural and cultural heritage sites formally recognized.   

To get a site recognized under the Convention, a country must formally submit a very detailed proposal in which they must present the case for inscription.   Only sites that meet strict technical criteria and demonstrate the “outstanding universal values” recognized by the Convention can be considered for the list.   Proposals and their justifying documentation often run at over 1,000 pages.   The process for developing and formally submitting such a proposal can take several years.  

Every year, UNESCO’s WH Committee (comprised of 21 elected representatives from among the nearly 200 countries that have ratified the Convention) will review these proposals, and guided by advice from technical experts, will decide on which new sites may be allowed onto the list.   The yearly event, usually in July, generates a tremendous amount of press coverage around the world.   A country having its site recognized by UNESCO is like winning a gold medal in the Olympics.   Local, regional and national politicians rejoice when a site is inscribed under their watch.

Above: World Heritage Committee meeting in St Petersburg


But things don’t stop there.  Once having had their site admitted into the exclusive WH club, governments commit to maintaining minimum conservation standards.  To that end, the WH Convention secretariat in Paris (where I worked for 11 years) carries out on-going monitoring of a site’s state of conservation.  Through a variety of direct and indirect means, it gathers information / intelligence and assesses if a particular site risks falling afoul of WH Convention requirements. 

At its annual meeting, the WH Committee will also take several days to review “State of Conservation Reports” for up to 200 WH sites that, for one reason or another, elicit concerns in regards to their conservation status. 


This July, the state of conservation of Galapagos will be subjected to the WH Committee’s review.  I used to lead that effort at the WH Convention’s secretariat (the WH Centre) and would produce, with support from technical advisors, the “Galapagos State of Conservation Report”.  The report described the latest information on conservation threats to the site, along with a summary of the Ecuadorian government’s own report on its efforts at dealing with them.   It concludes with a “draft decision” for the WH Committee to adopt, or amend.   Once completed, the State of Conservation report would be sent to the 21 members of the WH Committee for their review several weeks before the annual meeting.  At the meeting, I would present the content of the report, along with our technical advisors, and we would field questions from the Committee. 

WH Committee decisions usually call for the government to take specific actions on specific issues.  In the worst case scenario, should the WH Committee determine that a country is not assuming its responsibilities in the conservation of a site, it could decide to remove that site from the list (this has happened only twice in the history of the Convention).

The 2021 WH Committee meeting will be held on-line, from the 16th to the 31st of July.  The Galapagos State of Conservation report has recently been made public and can be consulted here (I have extracted the relevant 6 pages from the 492 page document). 

For those keen on understanding the mechanics of international conservation efforts through the WH Convention, it’s a good opportunity to be appraised of those issues that raise concerns.   In brief, as summarized in the report, these are: 

  • Fishing/collecting aquatic resources (illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing / collection of aquatic resources)
  • Legal framework (inadequate implementation of the Special Law on Galápagos)
  • Governance
  • Identity, social cohesion, changes in local population and community (high immigration rate)
  • Illegal activities
  • Impacts of tourism / visitor / recreation
  • Invasive Alien Species / biosecurity (inadequate and ineffective quarantine measures)
  • Major visitor accommodation and associated infrastructure

Again, for the full 6 page report, click here


From our perspective, having followed Galapagos conservation matters closely for nearly 25 years, the main underlying threat will always be the risk of introduction, establishment and spread of alien invasive species harmful to Galapagos biodiversity.  This threat exists only because there is a constant movement of people and goods between the mainland and the islands.  The greater this movement, the greater the threat, as species end up being introduced accidentally through food shipments, in people's luggage or by other means. 

While Ecuador has implemented excellent phytosanitary protocols designed to keep alien species out, more can always be done, and the system will never be perfect.  It is almost always overhwelmed by the volume of work it has to carry out. 

Tourism is the mainstay of the Galapagos economy, and growth in tourism is almost exclusively responsible for the increasing movement of good and people between the mainland and the continent.   While ship-based tourism numbers have been strictly capped for over 20 years and don't contribute to increased movement of goods and people with the mainland, land-based tourism remains open-ended.  It has been groing at double digit rates for 15 years (notwithstanding COVID years).  There is no limit to how many land-based visitors can come to Galapagos beyond what current infrastructure can accommodate.  Until this issue is addressed, it will be hard to manage the arrival of alien invasive species.  

Beyond the fact that an expedition cruise is by far the superior way to experience the best of what Galapagos has to offer, it's also the best way to keep a lid on the threat of introduction of alien invasive species as a visitor.  

Charter your own ship this summer - great deals on offer

Some very well-managed small ships have charter availabilities this summer (July - August).  These 14-16 passenger ships usually charter in the $56,000 - $70,000 range.  They are available for up to 50% off the usual price.  It's even a great deal for a group of 6-8 people.  

All adults in Galapagos will have been fully vaccinated by mid-June.   Ship's crew are fully vaccinated and strict health and safety protocols have been in place for months.  With proof of vaccination, you won't be needing to take a PCR test to travel to Galapagos starting later in June. 


It's an ideal time to travel with your intimate group - family / extended family, or friends. Contact us to explore options. 


Vaccinated? Red Carpet Entry into Galapagos

You should very soon be able to enter Galapagos simply by showing proof of vaccination.

For the time being, you can only get into Galapagos by showing evidence of a negative PCR test taken no more than 96 hours (4 days) prior to your arrival, while proof of full vaccination was acceptable only for entry into mainland Ecuador.   Last night, the Minister of Tourism, Niels Olsen, announced that this difference would be eliminated, and that proof of vaccination will be accepted for Galapagos entry “in June”.

Timing your international travel to Ecuador with a PCR test can be a bit tight.  For some, it meant taking two PCR tests, one at home before leaving, and another on the mainland in Ecuador before heading off to Galapagos.  That added to the cost of a vacation both in terms of extra days needing to be spent away, and in the added costs of PCR tests. 

For a lot of people, this requirement represented a barrier to Galapagos travel.   Now that it will be removed, it will be a lot easier for (fully vaccinated) people to plan and take their trip.  The Minister of Tourism seemed hopeful that the new measure will result in increased arrivals.  

The minister (newly appointed by the incoming administration in Ecuador) made his announcement at the end of Emergency Operation’s Committee (COE) – a body set up under the presidency.  The formal resolution from the COE consisted of a request to the Ministry of Public Health to update and standardize the entry requirements into Ecuador.

So, it appears that technically, we await the final word from the Ministry of Public Health before the measure is formally in place.

For those not vaccinated, you will be required to show proof of a negative PCR test taken no more than 72 hours prior to your arrival into Ecuador.   There is no word on how many hours of a delay will now be allowed for Galapagos.   It currently stands at 96, but if measures are to be standardized, perhaps that will change.    

Below: Niels Olsen, the recently appointed Minister of Tourism

Conditions for Traveling to Galapagos in the coming months

This week was an exciting one for CNH Tours.   We sent our first guests since March 2020 to Galapagos.   As travellers become vaccinated and gain confidence, tourism to Galapagos is slowly rebounding.  At CNH Tours, we sent our first guest to Galapagos this week (all from the USA, except for one guest from Spain).   They boarded the Samba this past Tuesday and today, they are snorkeling at Marchena Island.  Of the 65 ships in Galapagos, only the Samba visits this small, remote island.   The undersea wildlife our guests are snorkeling with sees only a maximum of 14 humans, once every two weeks - that's as unspoiled as it gets.    

While many people remain understandably wary of international travel, or live in countries making it difficult (imposition of quarantine measures on their return), over the past 2-3 months, we have seen a significant increase in bookings for trips to Galapagos.   People are getting vaccinated and feel increasingly confident.   Their confidence is further boosted by the knowledge that most of the Galapagos adult population is fully vaccinated, or will be by the end of June.   Also, the fact that health protocols are being religiously implemented on ships and on land adds an extra layer of reassurance.  

At CNH Tours, though we are very keen to help you plan and embark on your trip of a lifetime, we want to be absolutely sure that you are doing it with your eyes wide open to current conditions.   At the end of the day, only you can decide if it’s a good time to go.   If you are keen, and know the conditions, they we’ll be glad to help. 

For this reason, we provide below an update on the travel requirements to, and conditions in Galapagos for prospective travellers.

“DO NOT TRAVEL” Advisory

It’s important to note that on April 20,2021, the US State Department listed Ecuador (along with most other nations, including Canada) as a Level 4: Do Not Travel destination, while the Canada government retains an Avoid All Non-Essential Travel advisory for Ecuador. These advisories are meant to guide prospective travellers in their decision-making.   You will find that many travel insurance companies will take their cue from these advisories in deciding if the will offer coverage.   You will need to check on this issue before deciding to travel.


While unexpected disruptions to travel can happen at anytime and for all kinds of reasons, during a pandemic, the risk is bigger.   Disruptions may come in many forms, such as:

  • Changes to in-country movement at short notice / imposition of curfews;
  • The imposition of quarantine measures with a little or no notice, in Ecuador or in your home country;
  • Limitations to the availability of medical attention;
  • Cancellation / rescheduling of national / international flights;
  • The closing of international borders with little or no notice (stranding travelers abroad).

Only you can assess your risk tolerance and make a final deciion on wether to travel or not. For those who would be more comfortable travelling outside of pandemic conditions, now is a great time to reserve your Galapagos cruise for 2022, or even 2023. We do anticipate quite a rush in the coming months and it may be that 2022 will be fully booked sooner than expected. 


Ship owners understand that there are added risks traveling in this pandemic times.  In response, most ships in Galapagos are offering more lenient cancellation policies.  These come in a variety of forms, but they are all designed to reduce your financial risk when booking and making a deposit.  Please contact us for more information. 

If you are determined to travel under the conditions noted above, we present below the latest entry requirements for Ecuador and Galapagos (please note, Galapagos has stricter requirements).


While the usual passport, and (for a few countries) VISA requirements remain in place, a few additional requirements have been imposed in response to COVID-19:

1)           Possess both Medical and Emergency Evacuation insurance.  Technically, this requirement was in place a few years prior to the pandemic and of course, we stronly recommend that you be adequately insured prior to travel.   We do note thatt, to our knowledge, no-one has ever been asked to show proof of insurance on arrival into the country.  

2)           Complete a Traveller Health Declaration form: Prior to your arrival into Ecuador, you will be asked to confirm your health status, including arrival and personal details and all countries you have visited in the past 21 days. You will also be asked to note your planned whereabouts in Ecuador for the first 21 days of your stay. Finally, you will be asked to declare if you have any symptoms of COVID-19. You will need to carry this form with you at all times while in Ecuador.

3)           Provide proof of one of the following COVID-19 to enter Ecuador:

  • A COVID-19 antigen test - obtained within 72 hours of travel – OR -
  • A COVID-19 PCR test (with a negative test result) - obtained within 72 hours of travel – OR-
  • Proof of having been fully vaccinated against COVID-19 vaccine (NOTE: Proof of vaccionation is NOT accepted for entry into Galapagos)

        NOTE:  You are only considered fully vaccinated:

  • 2 weeks after your second shot in a 2-dose series, like the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines, or
  • 2 weeks after a single-shot vaccine, like Johnson & Johnson’s Janssen COVID-19 Vaccine

(The rollout of COVID-19 vaccine to the continental population of Ecuador may take some time. For this reason, we are not actively encouraging our guests to travel on the continent for the time being.)



These are the same as the requirements for entering Ecuador, with the significant exceptions below: 

  1. Proof of COVID vaccination is NOT ACCEPTED for entry into Galapagos, nor is an antigen test. You MUST show printed evidence of a negative COVID-19 PCR test obtained within 96 hours of entry to Galapagos: You may bring you test result from home, or you may procure your test from an Ecuadorian government authorized lab on the continent. If you choose the latter, you will need to reserve your test a minimum of 24 hours before you plan to take it. Turnaround time for your result is currently 24 hours. MUST BE PRINTED and brought with you to the airport on the morning of your flight to Galapagos.
  1. Safe Passage document (Salvoconducto): Issued by your ship, tour operator or hotel, notes where you will be staying for the initial portion of your time in Galapagos. MUST BE PRINTED and brought with you to the airport on the morning of your flight to Galapagos.

For official and updated recommendations and requirements emitted by the USA Center for Disease Control, including requirements for returning to the USA, see:

9 million Ecuadoreans to be vaccinated in next 100 days

The following is a Google translation of a press release published today by the office of the vice-president of Ecuador:


Quito, Pichincha.- The 9/100 Vaccination Plan against Covid-19, prepared by the Government, starts this Monday, May 31, with the purpose of inoculating 9 million Ecuadorians in the first hundred days, through three fundamental strategies: fixed points of vaccination, mass vaccinations and inoculation brigades.

To refine details of the stages that are part of the plan, this Thursday, the President of the Republic, Guillermo Lasso, met with Vice President Alfredo Borrero; the Minister of Health, Ximena Garzón; the Government Advisor Ad Honórem for public vaccination policies for COVID-19, Carlos Cueva, among other authorities of the Government.

It is expected that this Saturday, May 29, 700 thousand doses of the Sinovac vaccine will arrive; 500 thousand are pending of the previous agreements and 200 thousand donated by the triumph of President Lasso in the last presidential elections. "The remaining, 500 thousand doses, will arrive in June," added the president.

Likewise, the Minister of Health assured that "citizens are pre-scheduled, without the need for prior registration", through the new digital platform, developed with the support of the National Electoral Council, Ecuadorians will have the facility to know the day and the time of your vaccination.

The Vice President of the Republic, on behalf of the President, will lead the implementation of the Vaccination Plan 9/100 together with the Ministry of Public Health.

Book Review: The Beak of the Finch

Today, May 22, is celebrated as International Biodiversity Day. While Galapagos itself isn't a particularly biodiverse area (nevertheless, very high in endemism), Ecuador has one of the highest concentrations of biodiversity in the world. Shockingly, its small geographical area contains over 23,000 species -- this accounts for approximately 6% of known species worldwide. According to the, Ecuador has more species of orchids and hummingbirds than Brazil. 

As a way to mark the special day and the importance of scientists and field researchers in keeping our Planet as biodiverse as possible, we have reviewed The Beak of the Finch, by Jonathan Weiner. 

Simply put, The Beak of the Finch is a fantastic scientific summary that poetically transports the reader through space and time. It chronicles the work of both Charles Darwin and The Grants (capital "T" placed intentionally!), particularly focusing in on their concepts and observations of natural selection.

Rosemary and Peter Grant have been studying the finches of Galapagos, in particular those on Daphne Major, for now almost 50 years. (At the time of the book’s first edition, it was roughly 20 years). Anyone that has flown into or out of Galapagos from the airport on Baltra Island has seen both Daphne Major and Minor. They are located just west of the airport and can even be seen from the ferry that takes you across the Itabaca Channel. While you cannot visit Daphne Major, its sheer cliff edge and what appears to be inhospitable environment are apparent from a distance. 

A view of both Daphne Major and Daphne Minor, from the air.


The Grants, along with their “Finch Investigation Unit” (ie their field team, made up of various scientist that took shifts in the field to gather data), spent decades capturing ground finches on Daphne Major, banding them, taking measurements and blood samples, and then observing their mating (amongst several other features). Specifically, they were focused on the Large Ground Finch (Geospiza magnirostris) and the Medium Ground finch (Geospiza fortis). The reader learns of the effects of the various El Niño events on the magnirostis and fortis populations of Daphne Major and (without wanting to ruin anything with spoilers) the Grants make a monumental and ground-breaking discovery.

Throughout the book, Weiner jumps effortlessly from Darwin’s world to that of the Grants. He is able to juxtapose the two experiences both in Galapagos and back at their respective homes perfectly, highlighting both their methods of research in various, yet specific, ways. For example, he describes how meticulous Darwin was about keeping and filing his notes. Each notebook was stored in tall bookcases surrounding his fireplace, filed in such a way that Darwin would be able to reference his previous notes with relative ease. Weiner then brings the reader back to Princeton, where the Grants have boxes upon boxes of stored floppy disks, lined on a tall shelf around the room like crown molding. For those of us old enough to have experienced the clanking of a computer as it reads a floppy disk, Weiner’s writing on observing Rosemary Grant do exactly that will make you nostalgic. Whether you know what a floppy disk is or not, reading about what extraordinary amount and quality of data that was stored on all of those floppy disks by the Grants and their team will leave your jaw on the floor.

While describing the moment Weiner watches Rosemary as she loads the data inputted by the Finch team from field work conducted between 1976 to 1991: "There is a long pause while the computer clicks and clacks, but the screen stay blank. 'This is a big file', Rosemary says as she waits: '5,575 kilobytes, I think it is.' A file that size could hold about a million words, or the complete manuscript of Darwin's 'Big Book', Natural Selection, plus several editions of the Origin and the Descent of Man." 

Weiner’s descriptive writing transported me from cold and snowy Ottawa, to the shore of Daphne Major where ocean waves crash into the lava edge and make for a difficult disembarking from a small dinghy. Weiner’s writing style is captivatingly descriptive and precise. You feel for the researchers that were “on watch” during the drought of the 70s – it made me thirsty just to read those passages. Through his writing you can sense their yearning for rain and the finch breeding that rain would allow for – the frustration is palpable when rain doesn't arrive. At the same time, it was sheer joy to read through his description of heavy rain in Galapagos. Again, he is spot on in representing through language how it feels to experience such a downpour in the Islands.

It was a sheer delight to read Jonathan Weiner’s view and account of the Grants’ life’s work, tied into the history of Charles Darwin’s long and tumultuous struggle with his findings and theories. It truly transported me back to the Enchanted Isles. On a personal level, it brought me back to one of my absolute favourite experiences: While part of the Charles Darwin Foundation (CDF), I spent a few weeks volunteering on one of the CDF’s Landbirds Projects. This volunteer work entailed climbing up and then camping on the crater edge of Alcedo Volcano on Isabela Island and experiencing quite a few things that the “Finch Investigation Unit” went through as well. With those memories still fresh in my mind, I can claim with certainty, that Weiner’s descriptors of what field work is like in Galapagos is spot-on.

It’s a highly recommended read for anyone interested in the scientific background of why Darwin’s Finches are as famous as they are, while also for anyone keen to read about evolution observed in “real time”. It will transport you to Galapagos and while you’re there, tickle your brain with fascinating facts and details. (If you need further convincing of how remarkable it is, the work garnered Weiner the Pulitzer Prize.)

 Happy reading!


Arches to Pillars: Geological Evolution in Progress

The iconic Darwin's Arch,  a geological formation located at Darwin Island in the extreme north of the archipelago... is no more!  The central portion of the arch gave way earlier today, leaving behind a new geological wonder, Darwin's Pillars!  It had to happen one day.   The site is accessible only to scuba divers on a full 7 night / 8 day live-aboard trip.  




Launch of the 'Galapagos Hub'

The “Galapagos Hub” was launched this week and we believe it shows a true sign of (much needed) connectivity in Galapagos – both connecting on an interpersonal level as well as technologically. The launch was done via Facebook live, with majority of the presentation done by the President of the Governing Council of Galapagos, Norman Wray.


The Hub is described as a (virtual) space where information and knowledge can be exchanged between various national and international organizations, along with the communities of Galapagos, both from a wide spectrum of fields and areas of expertise. Its creators stress the importance of using this tool to ensure that, through science and technology, Galapagos will have an optimal balance between humans and the natural elements of the Islands. They will be using the 2030 Galapagos Plan as a guide and Wray mentions several times during his presentation that the work around this Hub will be free of ‘the usual corruption’ – very impressive to hear this type of blunt language used.  


“Seguimos potenciando lo que se ha hecho y queremos dar pasos fijos para el futuro.” (roughly translated to, ‘We continue to promote all which we have done and we want to create definite steps for the future.’)  – Norman Wray, Governor of Galapagos


While this type of international academic exchange has been done in Galapagos for decades (mainly through the Charles Darwin Foundation and its many collaborating institutions), the 'game changer' for the Galapagos Hub will be that it will operate in a whole new era of fast and reliable internet in the Islands.


During the presentation it was clear that the youth and young adults of Galapagos are primary beneficiaries of this Hub and used strategically throughout its creation; several young Galapagueño university students took part through pre-recorded videos.  Wray comments several times about how the young will use science to solve the world’s problems.


This new tool brings together two Ecuadorian universities – both of which have their own type of satellite campus in Galapagos. Other collaborators in the Hub include: two UK academic institutions – King’s College Cambridge and the University of Edinburgh; two Ecuadorian government organizations; and two non-profit, non-governmental organizations – one of which is our old stomping ground, the Charles Darwin Research Station.


Norman Wray presenting the four pillars of the Galapagos Hub, during the live event. (Translation: Innovation and Investigation; Networking and Awareness-Raising; Education and Strengthening Sciences; Politics)


This effort has been several years in the making, but the catalyst (as well as defining element required for its function) will be a fibre optic cable that is scheduled to be operational in Galapagos in January 2022. This cable has been discussed for many (many) years now and it will bring a truly revolutionary connectivity to the Islands. (While we may later discuss the potential issues of laying and running an underwater fibre optic cable through the protected Galapagos Marine Reserve, I believe that conservation work in the Islands has been greatly inhibited by the slow and limited internet.)


Almost as if pre-arranged, the connection from the feed of Mr Wray cut out around the 16 minute mark, as he was presenting live. Again highlighting the significant need for substantial improvements in internet connectivity in Galapagos. Once re-connected, Wray laughs and comments on how this just further shows how crucial this fibre optic cable is for Galapagos.


The launch was done live on the Governing Council of Galapagos’ Facebook page (@cggalapagos), but a recording is available should you be interested (translations weren’t available during the live event).


We look forward to seeing more advancements with this new initiative and certainly we will be keeping a VERY close eye on any updates regarding the fibre optic cable.