Galapagos News

Naveducation: Local kids go on an expedition cruise

(Adapted from a Google Translated version - originally in Spanish.  Written by Johanna Jimenez and originally published on 18 February 2020 by "Caja Negra" 



How do you love what is not known? That was one of the questions that Valeria Tamayo and her good friend Roberto Pépolas asked themselves while living on Isabela Island, in Galapagos. This concern arose when talking to children in the area they discovered that the boys had never left the island where they lived or were born. The youngsters did not know the other islands that are part of the archipelago, located 1000 km from the Ecuadorian coast.

The set of seven major islands, 14 minor islands, 64 islets and 136 rocks is a fundamental part of tourism promoted by the government administration, travel agencies, airlines, hotels and the rest of the structure determined to capture economic gains for the country, but that perhaps it invests little in its real conservation. The cost of moving about the Galapagos Islands is inaccessible for many Ecuadorians, however, even if the site is among the top wildlife destinations of the planet. In 2018, 275,817 people arrived on the islands according to the data of the Directorate of the Galapagos National Park.

Roberto Pépolas (Roby), is an instructor diver who lived and worked in Galapagos for more than 20 years, where he arrived at the end of 1997. From an Ecuadorian mother and Argentine father, Roberto knew the islands from 16 years of age onwards and was fascinated by the weather and the way of living in them. He worked 12 years for the Charles Darwin Foundation doing underwater research, but he was worried about the future of one of humanity's most famous natural heritage.

“I realized the need and the importance of having a community involved with its environment,” Roberto explained. Indeed, caring for that almost magical environment should be one of the main concerns of the island community. It is logical, given that, as Valeria Tamayo adds, "most of the environmental problems and conservation challenges that exist in the archipelago come from the presence and footprint of humans."

Roby and Valeria - the innovators behind the Naveducando program

“Park rangers never give up. As much as there is and as perfect as the park may be, conservation objectives will never be achieved if the community does not add to the effort, and how will they take care of it if they do not love it? ” Adds Valeria.

Conversations between several friends led to a desire to do something about it "We had talked about this so many times, but we said: 'Let's do it!' Then we came up with a little research and the first thing we did was conduct surveys," says Valeria Tamayo. A questionnaire was designed that was applied to children between 9 and 12 years old in 17 schools of the three largest and most inhabited islands of the archipelago: Isabela, Santa Cruz and Floreana. They asked 432 children: Do they know their islands?

The results confirmed the suspicions and were discouraging: 33% of the children had never left their island, many did not go to the beach, did not know what was around their islands, some did not even know how to swim. Only seven out of ten children knew another island besides the one they lived. They saw the Galapagos with a different look from the tourists who visit them and leave so many dollars to explore and enjoy them. The simple but objective questionnaire confirmed that these were children living in a paradise unknown to them.

Roberto drew up a long-term plan: they had to seek help to get the children to know their natural environment, they had to make sure that the experience marked them to the point of really valuing it, of learning to take care of it. The project, in addition to allowing them to know where they lived, should provide conceptual and practical tools on the care and conservation of the islands.

A name emerged in the planning: Naveducando (Naveducating). With statistics in hand, a concrete navigation plan and another learning and environmental interpretation plan for children, they decided to take more steps. Valeria contacted her friend Juan Manuel Salcedo, owner of a family tourism company that has been operating the Samba yacht for 20+ years. Previously, his eagerness to collaborate with causes that involve the community and public and private institutions had allowed him to donate cruises for children, settlers and people with disabilities on tours to get to know the islands. Pépolas, Tamayo and Salcedo got together and got down to work.

Juan Manuel donated the first five-day cruise for 12 children in full. According to Roberto, this was the most difficult thing to achieve for the monetary value since it included "ship, crew, guides, food and gasoline, a fairly high cost (...) The biggest challenge was precisely to find someone who donates the cruise in full."

Kids learning from the naturalist-guide / master, Juan Manuel Salcedo, whose family owns the Samba (anchored in the background)

The pilot trip with the characteristics of the Naveducando project could cost about USD $ 32,000 commercially according to Juan Manuel's calculations.

It is clear that to sow true awareness in the care of the environment, one must first understand what can affect its natural functioning, which elements are harmful and which are friendly to the environment. The main objective was that the small islanders had to know their environment to love and care for it, to become, from their homes, those who lead care for nature.

The team that was formed advanced another important objective: define who would go on the first trip. And of course they decided to do it with children from low-income families, "who are usually left aside by society," says Valeria.

After a process that involved the schools where the surveys were conducted, it was decided that the first group will be made up of 12 seventh grade (12 years old) children from Isabela Island. Permits and authorizations were then processed at the Ministry of Education so that children could go on this extraordinary excursion. Finally, meetings were held with their parents and the logistics of the entire trip were coordinated.

The content of on-board classes covered topics of natural history and human history. The children learned about ecology, how to use a kayak, swam, scuba diving and saw animals in their habitat. When they visited the beaches, they enjoyed them, for example, they found small pieces of plastic in the sand; Thanks to their guides, they understood that the best way to prevent this material from getting there and even eating it by animals is to reduce the consumption of these elements at home. “It is very exciting and very educational. Now I know that in the islands that it seems that there is no life, there is a lot of life and the fauna is very beautiful ”, shares Selena, one of the girls who made the trip. All this while sailing around several islands such as Rabida, Santa Cruz, Bartolomé and Isabela as well as performing crew work such as handling the yacht or pretending to be a sailor.

Bartolome Island - pretty much "off limits" to the vast majority of Galapagos residents due to the high cost of a visit.  

 According to the 2018 annual report of the Directorate of the Galapagos National Park, the percentage of visitors that year increased by 14%, which ensures that tourism is a source of jobs in Galapagos, but it should be managed responsibly and in this task the efforts of the public sector and private enterprise must be focused.

“The idea is to generate a close relationship with the sea, sensitize the people who are going to have the islands under their care,” says Roby. His dream is that all the children of the Galapagos schools make this trip at the end of the primary school as the boys of the continent do.

For Juan Manuel, "if we do not allow people to know, appreciate, value and protect, we will not have Galapagos to show the world." The goal is for children to return with something to share with their family, to identify and become aware of the threats to their environment.

The yacht departed from Puerto Ayora on November 23, 2018. Ok, Juan Manuel and a complete team accompanied the little ones. Roby could not travel with them because of a health problem, but he left everything ready so that the long-awaited trip could take place. In addition, the video experience was documented. That same first day, the boys made their first diving practice with instructors and learned to sail with sail. They embarked in the afternoon and traveled at night.

On Saturday 24 they traveled to the Santa Fe and Plazas Islands. The biggest surprise was that early in the day they were received by a family of killer whales and a hawk, the largest predators of water and land. This opportunity was used by the guides who explained characteristics of these mammals, which to everyone's surprise traveled as a family. Welcome to the cruise could not be more appropriate.

On Monday 26 he continued the trip to Puerto Egas and Rábida. This last island has a type of red sand due to the high iron content of lava. As part of the activities of the children, games were prepared that took place on the beaches of each island, so Valeria reminds us that when arriving at Rabida one of the challenges was to make the stones jump over the water, “an old hobby with the that Juan Manuel organized a competition so that the boys take back simple, but fun games in the water since that simplicity is being lost a little in the game with things that you find in nature like flat stones.”

A learning moment with a land iguna

The visit to North Seymour already announced the farewell of the cruise. Then they took the opportunity to evaluate the knowledge imparted and talk about what they wanted to do for the planet. This part is essential because all the awareness and motivation that accompanied the children were welcomed as they remembered much of what they learned, but above all they enjoyed and loved the experience of living the sun, water and animals near them.

Part of the curriculum that was designed wanted to present the way of life of the people who work at sea, so the boys helped with the tasks inside the Samba. Acting as a sailor or a machinist, for example, allowed them to learn that the ship's electricity works by burning diesel. In the islands it works the same way, electricity is generated only with diesel and every time a light is left on, this fuel is burning so that the air quality is ruined and our planet is affected. “We try to make all the links inside the ship that have to do with life on the islands,” says Valeria.

For all, the islands were new. Inside the water they saw a variety of fish such as flute fish, parrotfish, surgeon fish, among others. They also saw turtles, echinoderms like the sea dollar and the starfish. They found eggs of various types of birds, saw frigates and boobies fly, enjoyed nature and their smiles and faces of amazement accompanied the entire trip. They observed, shared, played and connected with nature and with daily life on the islands. With an easy comparison the guides and tutors helped to understand the little ones that as well as in the boat the resources are limited (light, water, food) the same happens in the planet. Hence the importance of taking care of resources and being more assertive when using them.

The Sacalesia Foundation and Ecology Project International donated resources for the first day's breakfast and lunch, t-shirts with the Naveducando logo and the remuneration to the diving and sailing instructors. The teaching material could also be used thanks to this collaboration.

At 10 years old, in the middle of the sea and next to the Samba, Doménika Yépez felt real confidence to give her first strokes and swam. His mother, Gioconda Véliz, confesses that at first he was a little hesitant that his daughter travel alone on the cruise, but then agreed because she knew she could not pay what they offered: navigate the islands for five days with everything paid and live a unique life experience. Then, he only packed in his daughter's backpack a sun-blocker, a bathing suit and several changes of clothes. The cell phone was prohibited since the purpose was to establish a connection with nature. He acknowledges that his daughter “came back with a mental change and met several animals. Now he talks about conservation in the house and learned to swim. ” Doménika is amazed that she met animals she had never seen as manta rays, frigates, killer whales and even a starfish with black dots "that looks like a chocolate chip cookie," he laughs. Paradoxically, one of the things that cost him the most to learn, but that he values ​​a lot, is to spend the day without his cell phone. When he arrived home he told his mother that he saw some boobies dancing to attract females, that had never seen him and that image remained in his memory to accompany her as part of the memories that the sea breeze and waves they will leave her and now share with her mother. Doménika and some of her travel companions learned to swim, this will surely mark her life forever.

Twelve students from Isabela Island in Galapagos already know something more about the wonder environment that surrounds them. Roby, Juan Manuel, Vale and all the team that was formed expect this first group to begin a tradition in the islands and that all the seventh-grade Basic Education boys make this trip at the end of the elementary school and before entering high school. “We need the support of all tour operators, the dream is not just a dream; It is workable, we need a lot of [people like] Juan Manuel, ”says Roby and Vale adds“ And a lot of Sambas ”. "The commitment of organizations that want to contribute with the value of the trip" is required. At the moment we are talking with an NGO that is interested in supporting this initiative and they are waiting for good news.

The Galapagos Islands, with one of the largest marine reserves on the planet, is surrounded by a dynamic fauna with more than 3,500 species of which 23% is endemic. It is undoubtedly a privileged place in the world and where the dream of these good Ecuadorians could come true.

Gadiel, Kerli, Itha, Naidaly, Daisy, Joshua, Emily, Selena, Erika, Soña, Érick and Doménika were part of a dream and also fulfilled theirs. The challenge today is that the experience be replicated and all children living in Galapagos can live the experience of knowing their home, their islands, and then love them and work with conviction and fortitude in their true conservation.

Tourism in Galapagos: Down

The Galapagos National Park Service and the Ecuadorian Ministry of the Environment released the 2019 report on tourism in the islands a few days ago.  The numbers show a (modest) drop from the previous year.   Overall, they record the arrival of 271,238 visitors in 2019, down from 275,817 in 2018 (a 1.7% drop).   The drop is largely attributable to reduced number of Ecuadorians coming in from the mainland.  33% of visitors to Galapagos are Ecuadorian.  Numbers show a 5% reduction in their number. Foreign visitors increased by 0.3%.  

 This is a welcome respite to otherwise very rapid growth in visitation.   Over the past 10 years, total numbers have grown on average by 6.3%, with 173,000 visitors in 2010 and 271,000 in 2019.   Given that ship-based tourism is strictly capped (numbers more or less steady at 73,000 / year), growth (or reductions) is almost exclusively related to land-based tourism.

Rapid land-based tourism growth poses a challenge for the transport sector.

If the ship-based numbers are removed from the calculation, growth in the past 10 years has averaged at 8.2% / year (see graph below).   At this rate, one can project that the 1,000,000 visitor mark will be reached in only 19 years.   

Unbridled tourism growth in Galapagos has raised concerns from the UNESCO World Heritage Committee.  It first raised concerns in 2006, and despite repeated requests for a clear way forward regarding tourism growth management in this World Heritage site (the first ever to be put on the list), very little evidence of any action on the part of the government is visible.   

Los Kioskos - cheap fast-food in Galapagos for land-based visitors.

The increase in the movement of people and goods from the continent to the islands makes it more likely that species not native to Galapagos (alien species) will be introduced to the islands, causing potential havoc with the native wildlife.  Alien species are already present in Galapagos and a lot of work is carried out to try to reduce their impact / eliminate them.  Well-known alien species include goats, rats, mice and frogs.  Perhaps even more concerning is the introduction of insects and diseases affecting wildlife.

For those on a ship-based visit, the growth in tourism numbers is thankfully barely noticeable.  The Galapagos National Park  Service has done an exemplary job in ensuring that the experience for ship-based visitors remains exceptional.    Most visitor sites are dispersed throughout the archipelago and not accessible to land-based visitors.  Ship itineraries are carefully crafted to ensure little overlap between different ships at the same visitor site.  

Remote visitor sites are accessible only by expedition cruise ship. 


More interesting numbers:


Lost tortoise cousins found on remote volcano

On January 31st, my former colleague, Wilson Cabrera, returned from a successful 9 day field trip to the northwestern flanks of Wolf Volcano, located at the top end of Isabela Island.   Here are some of his excellent pictures. 

Standing on an A'a' lava flow, just about straddling the equatorial line - looking southwest towards Ecuador volcano. 


Location of pictures taken.  

Wilson was part of a 45 member trip to the island, searching for giant tortoises that might be related to relatives from other Galapagos islands that have gone extinct.    The team found 30 tortoises of mixed origin.   The ultimate objective of the trip is to contribute to restoration efforts.   The plan is to re-populate islands that lost their tortoise populations due to human hunting and predation with giant tortoises as closely related to the species originally inhabiting that island roam free again. 

Hiking over A'a' lava - also known as "boot eating lava".  Sharp like broken glass.  NW slopes of Wolf Volcano.


A cousin of Floreana or Pinta island tortoises perhaps.   This fellow (and his friends in the photo below) is possibly having his (or her) first encounter ever with humans.

Back in the 1700’s and 1800’s, tortoises were routinely collected by whalers, pirates and other seafarers as a handy food source (e.g. 1700’s, 1800’s).  They could be easily stored on ships and survived for months without food or water.   The story goes that some ships, for one reason or another, would have collected tortoises for Floreana and Pinta Islands, only to have left them on the northern part of Isabela Island.  This could have been due to ship wrecks on Isabela’s shores, or for unknown reasons, the tortoises were dropped off or tossed overboard near the island and managed to make their way ashore (giant tortoises can easily spend weeks floating in the sea). 

Playful or Lazy? Dolphins Ride the Bow Wave

One of the most delightful spectacles while on an expedition cruise in Galapagos is watching dolphins ride your ship’s bow wave.   The dolphins will actually seek it out.  If there’s a group of dolphins in the vicinity of you ship, you’ll often see them change course and make a beeline for the boat.   Clearly, the boat is not a source of stress for them.   

Bow-riding dolphins hardly have to exert themselves to move forward.  As the ship advances, it creates a pressure wave at its bow – a bit like having a strong tail wind while you’re on a bicycle.   While in that wave, dolphins have little more to do than just navigate to ensure they’re going in the right direction.   There is little need to flap their tails for propulsion.    Dolphins fitted with heart rate monitors helped scientists conclude that while bow-riding, the dolphin heart rates can be up to 70% slower than when they’re swimming in open waters.  

You’ll likely have half a dozen of more of them surfing the wave as close as 1 meter (3 feet) from the ship’s bow, usually very near the surface.   While they’re doing this, you can spot them turning sideways and, apparently, looking up at you as well.   You can also hear their whistles and chirps – it seems that while bow riding, they’re still communicating.  What might they be saying?

The fine details of their bodies can be observed, including tell-tale scratches along their dorsal area, typically resulting from playing nibbling between individuals.   It’s also a good opportunity to watch their behaviour and how they interact.  Dolphins are very social animals and are constantly touching / nudging each other. 

I’ve not been on a cruise where I’ve not had the chance to see some bow-riding dolphins.  It’s always a pleasure.   You can sense that these animals are having fun, that they’re playing with the wave and with each other, and you do feel that they’re also looking at you, perhaps wondering about those funny looking creatures on the boat, and maybe feeling a bit sad that we’re not able to jump in and enjoy the fun with them. 


The new 100 passenger Silversea ship emerges from its construction yard in the Netherlands last week.  Though this ship is likely to be one of the most luxuriious in Galapagos, its naval architects somehow didn't factor in a way to faciliate the observation of bow-riding dolphins.   The bow projects well forward of the waterline, the deck is a good 8 meters above and the railing is angled in such a way as to make it very difficult to look over the edge and down to the bow. 


The 16 passenger tourist superior class Angelito is perfectly adapted to watching bow-riding dolphins.  The deck is only 1-2 meters above the water line, the railing is near-vertical and the bow is nearly directly below the the railing.   

If you’re keen on watching bow-riding dolphins, it’s important to note that not all ships are designed to allow for easy observation.  Typically, smaller ships (e.g. 20 or fewer passengers) can have you go to the very front of the deck, and look over the railing to the spot where the bow is plowing through the waves – often just  3-4 meters below (9-12 feet).   Larger ships usually don’t allow for that kind of observation – on those ships, watching bow-riding dolphins may not be an option.  If you're keen on choosing a ship that allows for easy observation of bow-riding dolphins, let us know. 

To see a short a video I made of my son (10 years old at the time) watching a bunch of dolphins having a great time on our ship’s bow wave, nearly arm’s length away, click here

Our very own Heather featured as a trailblazer

Heather Blenkiron, the woman at the other end of the CNH Tours email / telephone since 2003 (until she was joined by Kelsey Bradley in 2018) was invited to be featured in AS Pioneer's "Women Trailblazers of 2019" on-line magazine.   The magazine was looking for women who had followed a passion and turned it into a business.   

For many years Heather has been singularly focused on making sure all of our guests receive her undivided attention to the fullest of her abilities.   It has paid off - as our business grew and grew in the absence of any advertising budget at all.   Since we organized our first trip in 2000, we've helped nearly 4,500 people plan and enjoy their Galapagos trip of a lifetime.  

Bravo Heather!  

To see the full article, click here.  

Rivers of lava flowing down Fernandina

The most volcanically active island in Galapagos is at it again.   Several wide rivers of lava began flowing down its upper slopes yesterday - as shown in the Galapagos National Park Service photo below.   Fernandina most recently and dramatically erupted in June 2018, with lava flows making it all the way to the sea, resulting in fantastic displays of steam and lightning.  

Located on the western edge of the archipelago, this 642 km2 (248 sq mi),1,476 m (4,843 ft) tall island is among the most pristine such islands in the world.   Humans visit only one designated site (accessible by expedition cruise only), while scientists occasionally venture in other parts. 

Most recently, Galapagos park staff and scientists carried out expeditions to the upper slopes in search of the lost Fernandina Giant Tortoise.  Last seen many decades ago, occasional signs of a surviving population are spotted.   The expidition in fact concluded that there were still Fernandina Giant Tortoises living on the island.   Chances are that this latest eruption would not wipe them out, as the affected area would likely represent a relatively small fraction of the entire island's surface. 

Those fortunate enough to be scheduled for a cruise in the next few days, and having an itinerary taking them to this part of the archipelago, should be in for a nice show.   But hurry - such eruptions in Galapagos typically don't last for more than a few days, or at best, a week or two.      




Abducted by aliens, prodded by scientists, local hero goes home after 50 years!

(suggested sound track to accompany this article, click here)


He was kidnapped by aliens 50 years ago, imprisoned and subjected to scientific experiments.  He ended up rescuing his compatriots from total obliteration and, as the story ends, he makes it back home, safe and sound.   

No, this isn't the latest Hollywood timetraveling blockbuster sci-fi thriller - but the story of Diego, a giant tortoise from Española island.  

All was well for the Española tortoises... until humans arrived on the scene.  About 200 years ago, whalers and explorers started stopping in at Española to replenish food stocks - and giant tortoises was what they were after.  Tender of flesh, surviving for months in ships' holds, Española island tortoises were easy (the island is relatively flat) and sought-after prey.   When the first census was carried out by scientists, they counted only a handful of them remaining, including 2 males, of which Diego. 

Hapless Diego was transported back to the Charles Darwin Research Station on Santa Cruz Island, along with another male and 12 females.  Together, they helped restore Española's giant tortoise population to over 2,000 individuals today.  

For the two years that we lived at the Charles Darwin Research Station, Diego was our neighbour, happily doing his duty in the giant tortoise pens just a 2 minute walk from our front door.   

The Galapagos National Park Service declared that the Española giant tortoise was now out of harm's way, and that the tortoise restoration work carried out by it and by the Darwin Station would come to an end.   His duty done, Diego will be returned to his native island in March.   

Chocolate Dolphins, Tortoises, Fish and Penguins Oh My!

Yesterday we received a big package in the mail.  While we receive a lot of mail at CNH Tours (most of our guests pay simply by popping a cheque in the mail), we rarely receive a package.  Was someone paying in cash, using small bills only? 

Keen to find out, we opened it right away and found a box of Galapagos themed chocolates!  They were sent by the owners of the Theory, the Origin and the Letty.  

We've worked closely with these ships (and their predecessors) for nearly 20 years now.  We helped a group of friends charter the luxury 20 passenger Origin last year, and sent several other happy guests on its other ships.  It's so nice to be working with ships in which we have absolute confidence.  We know that whoever books on one of those ships will have a trip of a lifetime.  

Kelsey and Heather (L-R) about to partake in some Galapagos choco-wildlife

Thank you to our colleagues in Florida and Quito (Santiago, Doris, Maria Fernanda, Paulina, Iliana). 

Alive and Kicking - penguin defies life expectency

 (The following story was translated and adapted from an article that appeared in El Universo, an Ecuadorian newspaper, on 2nd January 2020).

The oldest Galapagos penguin found to date is a nearly 18 year-old female.  She was recently recaptured by scientists from the Charles Darwin Foundation (CDF) and the Galapagos National Park Directorate (DPNG) on Isabela Island.  She was first captured in 2004 when she was approximately two years old, an age at which the plumage is very characteristic for these birds.

"In 2016 it was recaptured, and with that event,  all previously generated knowledge on Galapagos penguins was set aside because it was thought that this endemic species lived an average of about 11 years. These new findings about its life expectancy allows scientists to suggest new conservation strategies" the CDF says in a statement.

The Galapagos penguin (Spheniscus mendiculus) is the only species of penguin that lives in tropical areas, above the equator. The presence of this species in the Galapagos is made possible by the complex system of cold sea currents, which are very productive.  For this reason, it is known that penguins depend on upwelling areas that facilitate cold currents because typically, cooler waters are higher in oxygen and sustain more life on which the penguins depend for food. 

This is why penguins are very sensitive to changes in water temperature.   Strong El Niño events can be devastating to Galapagos penguin populations.   The last such events were in 1982-83 and again in 1997-98.   Warmer waters sustain less life, and penguins can starve to death.

During these two El Niño events, scientists estimated that penguin populations fell by about 60%.. At present, although the population numbers of the penguins in Galapagos have increased, numbers have not yet reached the levels surveyed in 1970.  

This species faces other important threats that affect its long-term conservation, such as invasive species (rats and cats) that feed on their chicks, pathogens, parasites and heavy metal contamination that affect their health, and negative human interaction caused by some drifting fishing nets in which they get caught.

The continuation of the long-term research of these birds by the CDF contributes to a better understanding of their current state and provides information that help develop smart conservation actions. 

During the penguin population monitoring campaigns between 2001 to 2018, a total of 1,822 individuals were tagged, of which 1,011 were recaptured. Of these, the oldest individuals who are 14, 13 and 12 years old, respectively, were first captured when they were chicks in 2004 and 2005.

Penguins are attentive parents, spending a long time helping their young grow into independent individuals.  This leads to low reproduction rates.  Thankfully, their long lifespans helps balance things out, ensuring the overall survival of the species.




Their population in the wild, which are quite fluctuating and small, is estimated to be less than 2,000 individuals, making them one of the rarest and most vulnerable bird species on the planet.  


Small barge capsizes, spilling diesel

A small barge used to ferry containers between cargo ships and a local dock capsized yesterday as the crane used to load a container-sized generator tipped onto in.  It happened on the very northern end of the aptly called “Wreck Bay” in which the town of Puerto Baquerizo Moreno lies (San Cristobal Island).   

Authorities reported that a  total of 600 gallons / 2,500 litres of diesel fuel (i.e. 2.5 cubic metres – or about the volume of 1 large sized kitchen refrigerator) were spilled.    The government of Ecuador immediately activated its emergency response team to try to mop up as much of the mess as possible.

The town of Puerto Baquerizo Moreno is host to a large sea lion colony – one of the main attractions of the town’s waterfront.   Though the volume of diesel spilled is not particularly big, and the colony is located a fair distance from the spill, it could have serious effects on the sealions if they happened to swim into the spill area.    Mopping up the floating diesel slick as soon as possible is the best approach to dealing with the mess.   Typically, towel sized sponges are throwing into the slick and removed.   It’s not very high tech – and likely does not clean everything up, but thankfully, the warm waters and tropical sun help with the evaporation of most of what would not have been scooped up within 24-48 hours.   Despite the small size of the spill and its relatively short term duration, localized impacts on the immediate shoreline ecosystems (e.g. crabs and such) will be felt.   

This spill should not have any effect whatsoever on visitor experiences in Galapagos, though it’s a reminder of how easily these things can happen.   Puerto Baquerizo Moreno has witnessed a few larger shipwrecks in recent years, as cargo vessels have been prone to run aground on the shoals just outside of town.   See our 2015 news item on one such incident here.

For a video of this dramatic event, click here.   

Delivering a letter to the park director

I’m in Galapagos these days.   I’m “gathering intelligence” – ensuring that we maintain close ties to the community here – both the tourism one, and that of our old friends and colleagues.   One of the tasks I had on my list was to deliver a letter from the director of the International Galapagos Tour Operators’ Association – IGTOA -  (Matt Kareus) to the Galapagos National Park director (Jorge Carrion).

I’m on the IGTOA board of directors.   IGTOA represents many tour operators that together, send thousands of people to Galapagos every year.   IGTOA’s mission is to:  “preserve the Galápagos Islands as a unique and priceless world heritage that will provide enjoyment, education, adventure and inspiration to present and future generations of travelers.”

We learned recently (see our news item posted on the 23rd of August this year) that the Park and the Governing Council of Galapagos were considering an increase in the national park entrance fee.  It has effectively been at $100 for 30 years now.   Raising the park fee seems like a no-brainer for local Galapagos interests.  In fact, some local stakeholders are opposed to it. 

Out of control growth of mostly low-end land-based tourism in Galapagos (18% growth between 2017 and 2018) has lead to the proliferation of informal tourism service providers catering to budget visitors (one blogger boasted that he was able to spend 7 days here for $251, all inclusive).   In a race to the bottom, quality of service is suffering.   What we end up with is a proliferation of informal, opportunistic businesses that are destined to limp along indefinitely, if not struggle and fail.  They have no surplus with which to invest in ensuring quality service, infrastructure and staff.    These same service providers feel that raising the park fee will discourage these low end visitors from coming to the islands and are not happy with the proposal. 

But not all service providers in Galapagos are against the park fee increase.  I have had the opportunity to meet dedicated hotel, restaurant and ship owners who are invested in their businesses and who lament the very rapid growth of land-based tourism here.  They are caught up in the race to the bottom, making it difficult for them to compete with the black market, or with those that are more willing to cut safety, security and quality corners.   Locals also lament the growing crowds that squeeze them out of their beaches, swimming holes and parks.    

IGTOA believes that raising the park fee to a level commensurate with the unique, iconic status of this World Heritage site will contribute to strengthening the ability of the Galapagos National Park Service to do its work.  CNH Tours adds that raising the fee will also encourage prospective visitors to pause and to reflect on the undertlying motivations that are driving them to visit the islands.  We are confident that those who have been dreaming about visiting Galapagos for a long time will not be discouraged.  At the end of the day, only a small number of people on this planet have the right combination of means and passion to consider exploring these islands and it's important that we understand the privilege to be in such a position.   Visiting the Galapagos islands should also be commensurate with the promotion of a healthy, locally owned businesses that provide services that generate enough revenue to support owners, their families and the community, with enough surplus to reinvest in improving overall quality. 

IGTOA surveyed its member companies to confirm that we were all on board.  The companies overwhelmingly supported an increase.   Though this may seem contrary to our commercial interests, at the end of the day, we recognize that these funds will support conservation and management efforts of the national park. 

Asked what we thought might be a reasonable amount, the weighted average of the IGTOA member responses came to $280.  

Based on this survey of member companies, IGTOA’s executive director (our only employee, and half-time at that – we like to run a lean operation…) penned a letter of support for the park director, sharing the sentiment of Galapagos tour operators with him.  As I had already been planning to travel to Galapagos to attend the Charles Darwin Foundation’s annual general meeting (I’m on the governing body there), I was tasked to deliver the IGTOA letter directly to the park director. 

This afternoon, it was my pleasure to hand the letter over to Jorge Carrion.  I told Jorge he had one of the most distinct jobs on the planet – director of the iconic Galapagos national park, the first ever site to be inscribed onto the World Heritage list.  


Yet more international money for renewables in Galapagos

Published today in the El Telegrafo newspaper in Ecuador

The Government of Ecuador has allocated, thanks to the support of international cooperation, more than 55 million dollars in the construction of renewable energy projects in the Galapagos Islands, with the aim of promoting wind and solar.

This was reported on Monday, October 28, by the Ministry of Energy and Non-Renewable Natural Resources.   The investment seeks to encourage the production of renewable energy for electricity generation in Galapagos, particularly in the islands of Santa Cruz, Baltra, San Cristobal, Isabela and Floreana (those islands with a permanent human population) with the replacement update use of fossil fuels, benefiting more than 25,000 thousand inhabitants.

The initiative is promoted by the Ministry of Energy and Non-Renewable Natural Resources, through the electricity company ELECGALAPAGOS, with the aim of eradicating the use of petroleum-derived fuels and the emission of CO2 into the environment. According to the document, it is expected that by 2025 the islands of San Cristóbal, Santa Cruz, Isabela and Floreana will be able to count on 9.1 MW, 15 MW, 1.8 MW and 0.17 MW, respectively, of renewable energy such as wind and solar.

In 2018, the total energy generated in the archipelago was 56,897.64 MWh / year, of which 16 percent corresponded to renewable sources. In 2018, the Government of Ecuador inaugurated the Isabela Hybrid project, which today consumes 34 percent less fuel than the old thermal power plant, saving 1,400 tons of CO2 per year. Also, through cooperation with the Government of Korea, a 1.0 MWp photovoltaic project was carried out in San Cristóbal, which will have a 2.2 MWh storage system.

NOTE FROM CNH TOURS:   We've written about other such grants in the past:

The Galapagos islands receive a disproportionate share of international cooperation funds for the development of renewable energy.  The iconic archipelago appears to be a draw for marketing purposes and/or as a pretext for a visit by those involved in the projects.   While the islanders are lucky to be the recipients of such support, those that invest funds in providing renewable energy projects could be encouraged to provide additional funds for energy conservation work as well.  While living in Galapagos, we were always impressed by buildings not designed to be cooled by air conditioning (e.g. the complete absence of any insulation in the buildings, about as air tight as a screened-in porch) while being fitted with multiple air conditioners operating almost constantly in the hot season.  

Investing $10 million in helping retrofit these buildings would like reduce the consumption of electricity by an amount close to what will be generated from these $55 milllion solar and wind powered plants.   

Quito residents come together to clean up the city

We asked our mainland extension specialist, Mercedes Murgueytio who lives in Quito, to report back to us on the day she help clean the city after the recent disturbances.   This is what she had to say:

On Sunday October 20th, I decided to join a group of Quiteños who were keen on helping clean up the city’s historic centre following the demonstrations that took place there earlier this month.   We participated in what is commonly called a minga, which is a type of grass roots community project for the common good and usually compensated with a meal. 

What happened in recent weeks in the country caused a sad situation of destruction in the most important places of our beloved Quito, a UNESCO World Heritage city.  The demonstrators may have had some valid complaints, but some of them took it out on the city, tearing up pavements, spray painting walls, destroying property and leaving a big mess behind when they all left.   They had not considered that this beautiful old city really belongs to all Ecuadorians – that they were destroying their own heritage and part of their own history.

For the residents of Quito, it was very sad to see the poor condition in which the demonstrators left it! For this reason, I decided to participate in the “Minga by Quito’s Dedicated Residents”,  organized by a group of locals in Quito who wanted to contribute something to clean up and restore our beautiful historic center, an area that was greatly affected by the protests.

It was a very special and exciting day. It started very early in the morning, and, despite being a rainy Sunday, it was a day full of enthusiasm, solidarity and a general desire to tidy up our house. The streets were filled with people dressed in white who were walking towards our cherished historic centre.  All were wearing face masks to keep out the dust, and we carried sandpaper to erase graffiti, a jar of paint and paint brushes, brooms and shovels.   We headed towards the narrow colonial streets and began the work of cleaning up the city.  There were people who swept, others painted the walls, others collected rubble ... all help was valid and little by little our beloved city regained its beautiful image.

But not everything was just cleaning and work! The small shop keepers and restaurant owners in this part of the city were so glad to see us, offering either the traditional sweets or our famous paila ice cream, which was a real treat after a hard day's work.

Tired, but with a feeling of satisfaction for the work accomplished we returned home. There is still much to do, but little by little our city is regaining its beauty and splendor.

Government and Indigenous Groups Announce End of Nationwide Strike

Following a 3 hour meeting between the government and leaders of various indigenous groups last night, the head of the United Nations office in Ecuador read out the following statement:

"As a result of the dialogue, a new decree is established that leaves Decree 883 without effect [ed. this decree had imposed belt tightening measures that had led to the strikes and marches]. To this end, a commission will be installed to prepare a new decree, made up of the indigenous movement organizations, participants in this dialogue and the national government, through mediation by the United Nations and the Ecuadorian Episcopal Conference and with the oversight of other government agencies. This agreement ends the mobilizations and de facto measures throughout Ecuador. And we jointly commit ourselves to restoring peace in the country."

CNH Tours expects that this result should lead to the demobilization of the large number of protesters who have been blocking roads throughought the mainland and that things should return to normal very quickly.  There is still work to be done as the negotiating parties have agreed to form a joint commission to come up with an alternative to decree 883, which had, among other things, eliminated fuel subsidies. 

Given that Ecuador faces a crushing debt, and that the International Monetary Fund's conditions for its loan of $4.1B were the imposition of of budgetary constraint measures, it remains to be seen how the government will be able to meet the demands of its people and those of the IMF at the same time.   

But for now, there is breathing room and an opportunity to come up with solutions in a participatory manner.   


This is excellent news of course.  We do not anticipate any further problems at this point.  Guests traveling in the coming days and weeks should assume that it will be business as usual.  If, for any reason, we feel that there may be some remaining concerns to be addressed, CNH Tours will get in touch with you on an individual basis.   

We have quite a few guests traveling in the coming weeks and we wish to thank them all for their patience and understanding while the events in Ecuador played themselves out.  We always welcome your emails and calls, but we were surprised by how few of you reached out. 

We had one couple who, despite all the disturbing news, understood that the risk to themselves was minimal and bravely flew to Ecuador yesterday.  While they were in mid-flight to Miamii, we learned that Quito airport had been closed due to the imposition of a curfew in Quito.  On arrival in Miami, upon learning that their connecting flight to Quito had been cancelled, our guests had to decide on the spot if they would either cancel their trip altogether, or take an alternative flight to the coastal city of Guyaquil.   They valiantly opted to carry on, and we were able to make alternative arrangements for a hotel and for their domestic flight to Galapagos at the last minute.  Bravo! 




Disturbances in Ecuador – Positive Step to Defuse Tensions? Update 13 October

By now, you may have heard about the social unrest happening in Ecuador.   Following the announcement of austerity measures on October 2nd, (see our previous articles for more details), many Ecuadorians expressed their disapproval by participating in demonstrations throughout the country.   Several indigenous communities organized marches from the highlands and the Amazon into Quito, blocking various roads leading into the city.   CONAIE, the largest indigenous organization in Ecuador (the majority of Ecuador’s 16 million inhabitants are indigenous) is the main interlocutor in negotiations with the government.

It’s important to note that on the sidelines, there appear to be other groups intent on intensifying chaos.  There has been some looting and vandalism.  Some government offices have been temporarily invaded and in some cases destroyed.   It appears that these groups are operating independently, or in some cases, encouraged or led by supporters of the previous president, Rafael Correa (who currently lives in Belgium) indicating that there are undercurrents of political power plays at work as well.

In response to ongoing disturbances yesterday, the president imposed a curfew in Quito and suburbs (no other parts of the country) and called on the military to maintain order in affected areas.  He called on residents to stay at home.  In his mid-afternoon televised address, the president said:

"Citizens, everything is completely clear to us and to our indigenous brothers.  It’s the drug traffickers, the Latin criminal kings, the correistas who are responsible for the acts of vandalism.  Thankfully, indigenous groups are already detecting them and separating them from their ranks. It is important that this call for dialogue has been welcomed by them and I thank them and congratulate them.  

We are going to restore order throughout Ecuador. We start with the curfew in Quito. I have arranged for the Joint Command of the Armed Forces immediately to take the necessary measures and operations. We will restore order throughout Ecuador. I have arranged for the Armed Forces to apply the curfew in the city of Quito. Citizens, from this we will go out together and may God bless us.”

CONAIE president Jaime Vargas called on the indigenous groups to ignore those who were attempting to divide them, making specific reference to factions that were aligned with the former president, Rafael Correa.  In a statement yesterday, CONAIE agreed to accept the government’s invitation to a dialogue, made on Friday.  The meeting will take place today at 3PM local time.  One of the conditions for this dialogue is the cancellation of the decision on the removal of fuel subsidies, but it is not clear at this time if the government has indicated any willingness to move on this issue.  

CONAIE is keen on ensuring full transparency of the proceedings, requesting that they take place under the supervision of the United Nations, Amnesty International, the Ecuadorian Episcopal Conference.

CONAIE appears to be a mature stakeholder in the ongoing standoff in Ecuador. While it loosely represents a very large part of the Ecuadorian population, and while it has not hesitated to use peaceful pressure tactics in getting its way, it seems to have popular support and the capacity to take a leadership role in helping resolve the situation.   In so doing, it could help sideline and expose the smaller factions that appear to be more intent on exploiting the disruptions caused by the largely peaceful marches for private or political gain.    This acceptance to enter into dialogue with the president should be seen as an important development in helping resolve the current conflict.  

CONAIE’s condition on re-instating the subsidies is a big ask.   These currently cost the government over $1B / year.   Some movement on this point, even if it must be temporary, or partial will likely be required in order for the current government to get things back to normal.   



In Galapagos, things remain calm.   Nor airports nor tourists are the target of protesters.   As we suggested in an earlier post, for our guests who are preparing for their upcoming trip to Ecuador, we recommend the following:

If your travel date is further than 12 days into the future, we suggest that you monitor the situation and plan on things coming back to normal in time for your trip. There is no need to cancel anything.   See:

If your travel date is within the next 12 days, CNH Tours will contact you directly to start a discussion on options, and to plan for the possibility of a need to modify your itinerary or to cancel your trip if this is considered necessary.

Unrest in Ecuador: Message to our guests travelling soon to Ecuador


You will likely have heard by now that there is some social unrest in Ecuador.   Facing significant budget shortfalls, the nation was compelled to take a loan from the International Monetary Fund a few months ago ($4 billion).  One of the conditions for the loan was the adoption of spending reduction measures.  

On 3 October, president Moreno announced that fuel subsidies would be eliminated.   This sparked widespread protests, as reported earlier on this platform.   Roads have been blocked in many places throughout the country, and indigenous groups have marched into Quito, at times accompanied by violent acts and vandalism.   Tear gas is being used in an attempt to control the situation.   The government has moved its executive to the coastal city of Guayaquil, also the country’s economic capital (Galapagos remains calm with no reports of any significant disturbances).

This kind of situation is not new to Ecuador.   In 2000, following the dollarization of the economy, similar protests took place.   Again in 2005, a president was forcefully ousted from office under threat of violence.   In the past, this kind of unrest lasted several days, and up to two weeks.   Typically, after a show of force has been made (such as we are seeing these days), the government will enter into talks with various representatives and an agreement would be reached.    Still, given the political powerplays that often accompany such demonstrations, it’s not impossible to consider that this government might be toppled. 

Either way, it has been our experience that such unrest lasts for several days to two weeks, after which time things very quickly revert back to normal.   In the meantime, it is still completely possible to fly to Quito (or Guayaquil) and catch a continuing flight to Galapagos.   The Quito airport is located 20 miles / 32 km out of town and has not been the target of disturbances.   The Guayaquil airport is similarly quiet.  

This is not to say that things may not briefly flare up, or that the airports may be the target of demonstrations.  It can happen that airlines will cancel flights to / from Ecuador.  Under such circumstances, you will either be prevented from flying there, or may be left stranded in country for a short while.   Last week, some US airlines did cancel flights for 1 day.  


For our guests who are preparing for their upcoming trip to Ecuador, we recommend the following:

  • If your travel date is further than 12 days into the future, we suggest that you monitor the situation and plan on things coming back to normal in time for your trip. There is no need to cancel anything.   See:
  • If your travel date is within the next 12 days, CNH Tours will contact you directly to start a discussion on options, and to plan for the possibility of a need to modify your itinerary or to cancel your trip if this is considered necessary.

Streets blocked by protesters on the mainland

Following the announcement of economic measures by the president 2 days ago, there were widespread disturbances in the streets throughout the country yesterday (only in Galapagos does it appear that it was "business as usual").    Among other measures, President Moreno announced the end to subsidies on the price of gasoline, resulting in 20-30% increase in the prices at the pump.  In response, taxis and private buses went on strike, and many people took to the streets - resulting in difficulties moving about the city.   There were clashes, with teargas being fired on one side, in response to stones being thrown on the other.    

The head of the taxi group who had been encouraging the manifestations was taken in by police, according to our local sources.  Today, the streets are very quiet.  "It feels like a Sunday" our colleague in Quito, Mercedes Murgueytio indicated.    

We hope that this issue will be resolved soon and to the satisfaction of all parties.  A rise in fuel prices does affect the poorer segment of Ecuadorian society - but the government is trying to deal with significant national budgetary challenges.   To us, it sounds like the old "rock and a hard place" scenario. 

CNH Tours is in touch with guests who are travelling in the next few days, ensuring that, if necessary, alternative plans could be put into place.    

President announces belt tightening economic measures

On national televesion, the president of Ecuador, Lenin Moreno, announced a series of measures aimed at improving the government's finances.   Over the past 10-15 years, the country took on a lot of debt, in large part guaranteed by future oil sales, in exchange for rapid improvement on national infrastructure, and social spending (teachers' salaries were improved for example).  As a result, it's currently finding itself in a bit of an ecoonic bind, forcing it to announce measures that will likely not be too popular.

Here is a Google Translate (with edits) of an article that appeared in yesterday's "El Comercio" daily newspaper, for those who are interested in reading more about it. 


On a national network, President Lenín Moreno informed the population of the economic measures that will be in force on Tuesday, October 1, 2019. He began by mentioning that he will not raise the value added tax (VAT), which remains at the current rate of 12%.

Lenino Moreno, president of Ecuador

"Those of us who are going to ask for an additional effort are those who have the most," Moreno said and then said that those companies that receive income for more than 10 million dollars a year will pay a special contribution for three years. In this way, more than USD 300 million is expected, money that, he said, will be used exclusively for safety, education and health. Fuel subsidies are eliminated.

Through an Executive Decree, Moreno eliminated subsidies on diesel and extra gasoline. The Government spends around USD 1.3 billion in subsidies to these products. With the argument of “protecting those who could be affected by the measure”, he informed that 300,000 families will be added to the different social support programs managed by the State gives an will should will receive an additional USD 15 per month.

For the productive sector, the government offered to eliminate or reduce tariffs for machinery, equipment and raw materials and allow for automatic tax refunds for exporters. In addition, paying income tax in advance will be eliminated.

Also, import taxes on technological devices, such as cell phones, computers, tablets, etc. will be abolished.  Regarding labor measures, without delving into details Moreno indicated that a allowances will be provided for those who start a business, while measures will be but in place to in support of maternity and paternity leave, telecommuters and people on short term contracts. He clarified that the new hiring modalities will apply to new employees, while those who currently have an employment relationship will maintain their existing benefits.  

The measures are also aimed at the public sector. In order to reduce the wage bill, Moreno indicated that the short term contracts will be renewed with a 20% less pay. In addition, vacation time will be reduced from 30 to 15 days. “The decisions I have made should have put in place decades ago. Many of my opponents, critics, and future candidates are not going to say it in public – but in private, they agree, ”concluded the President.


We've already seen negative reactions on Galapagos social media - particularly in regards to the elimination of fuel subsidies.  It's important to note that subsidies for tourist ships had been eliminated 10 years ago.   It's not clear if this will affect the bottom line of companies operaing just one or two small expedition cruise ships very much - we calculate that their annual sales are likely well below the $10 million cut-off for higher taxes.  Companies operating ships carrying 50 or more passengers are more likely to surpass that threshold - though it's not clear if this would apply only to $10 million in sales or in net profit before taxes.  In the latter case, they will likely not be affected either.


Tortoise thief placed in preventive detention

(Google translated, with some edits, from a Spanish language version published in El Comercio, on 29 September 2019)

A judge of the Judicial Unit of Santa Cruz, in Galapagos, ruled for the preventive detention against the accused (whose name is witheld from publication) for his alleged participation in the theft of 123 baby giant tortoises.

The crime took place in September 2018. The offspring were extracted from a breeding center in the Galapagos Islands, which is also a protected area of ​​the country. For the alleged crime against protected flora and fauna, stipulated in article 247 of the Comprehensive Organic Criminal Code (COIP), the judge ruled on the morning of this Saturday, September 28, 2019, preventive detention against the person involved and initiated fiscal instruction for 90 days .


Ecuador has changed a lot in the past 15 years in regards to the prosecution of environmental crimes.  News stories on our CNH Tours news site over the past many years illustrate how, on several occasions, both nationals and foreigners have been charged and have served (or continue to serve) jail sentences for illegal fishing, or smuggling of wildlife.   

One of our old friends Hugo Echeverria, has been championing stronger wildlife and environmental laws and has almost singlehandedly helped propel Ecuadorion jurisprudence to this new level.   We're very pleased to see these changes.    


CNH Tours got the scoop 1 month before the New York Times

On 23 August, we published a story on how the authorities in charge of the Galapagos National Park fee would likely be increasing it by the end of the year (the new fee would be applied 12 months after the decision was taken).   See our article "Park fee increase for January 2021?"

Today (26 September), the New York Times published an article "Sharp Inrease in Visitor Park Fees Proposed for the Galapagos".  We're titillated by having beaten this world-renowned newspaper on the story! 

I was involved in providing information for the journalist, Adam Popescu.

CNH Tours fully supports an increase.   The rate of $100 has been the same for nearly 30 years.  Back then, you were charge a variety of fees by a variety of local authorities, all adding up to $100.   This chaotic approach was consolidated into a single fee in 1998, paid on arrival.   

A higher fee should have three positive outcomes. It should: 

  • Encourage casual travellers to think twice before embarking on a trip to this globally unique, iconic wildlife destination.   People should be clear on why they want to go there, and understand the outstanding nature of the destination and they should be motivated by a strong conviction.  A higher fee will encourage people to pause for a moment and consider how important it is for them to visit.

  • Discourage the lowest of the low end travellers who are driven to visit places at the lowest possible cost, leaving very few dollars in the local economy, while contributing to negative impacts (I saw one blogger boast about having spent 7 days in Galapagos for a total of $271.  $5 for rice and beans, $18 for a bed...).

  • Provide additional resources to the Galapagos National Park Service so that it may better do its job.  

As a member of the International Galapagos Tour Operators' Association, I have pressed IGTOA's president to write a letter of support to the Galapagos Governing Council on a fee increase.   We will be sending them one shortly.   The letter will include a note indicating that the additional funds genenerated by an increased fee needs to translate into additional resources available to the Galapagos National Park Service.    There is always a risk that such funds end up in general government coffers.

We feel that those of us who can even consider a trip to the Galapagos are already part of a very priviliged few on this planet.  We owe it to the others who can't make it to treat this destination will the respect it deserves, and to ensure that our visit doesn't contribute to the erosion of its values.   It's a special place, and we should all feel very lucky and humbled to have the chance to visit it.  We do hope that an increase in park fees, after a 30 year freeze, will be well-received.  

If you're travelling in 2020, the fee will remain at $100.  But it will most likely go up by 2021.  We hope you understand that it's for a good cause.