top of page
  • Writer's pictureJuliet Weller

Travel for Good in the Galapagos

Updated: May 5

The face of a Galapagos tortoise looking directly at the camera

Trekking in the Galapagos Islands is a practice in mindfulness. You need to stay hyper-alert to each pace, lest your foot land on a bird egg or a black lava rock that turns out to be a marine iguana basking in the sun. It’s a delicate balance with being giddy as a school child watching the sea lion pups dart around in the gentle surf or a male frigate. bird puff out his crimson gular pouch and wrap his wing around his mate while another male dives in and out, vying for her attention.

As sustainable tourism takes root in our global consciousness, it’s only fitting that these remote islands that transformed how we see the world following Charles Darwin’s famous visit in 1835 are now leading this modern evolution. Galápagos National Park and Ecuador’s Ministry of Tourism have set strict rules for visitors, making the archipelago one of the world’s most highly protected wildlife areas and a model for low-impact tourism. Stringent limits are placed on the number of cruise-ship travelers (around 75,000 per year), the size of each tour group (16 or fewer visitors per guide), and the number of people exploring any one place at a time.

Authorities also highly regulate what comes into the park, spraying the interior of every plane for pests and diligently scanning luggage for plastic bags and invasive species.A number of local and international organizations further protect the UNESCO World Heritage site by conducting scientific research, supporting conservation efforts, and even reintroducing species to islands where they were previously erased.

In early 2019, for example, the Galápagos National Park authority gathered more than 1,400 land iguanas from North Seymour Island and released them on nearby Santiago Island, where they had been wiped out by feral pigs. An earlier Galapagos Conservancy project had eradicated the last feral pigs from Santiago in 2000.

Such rigorous management efforts have a huge impact on the future of this ecologically diverse hot spot, located some 600 miles from Ecuador’s coast. Yet it’s equally incumbent upon travelers to do their part, especially because the number of visitors over the past 20 years, has quadrupled, making sustainable tourism crucial to the archipelago’s survival.

The experience director for one of my Virtuoso on-site connections based in Quito, not only points to his company’s diligent conservation efforts, but also the fact that proceeds from the park entrance fee ($100 for most foreign tourists over the age of 12) go directly toward preservation. This makes the traveler part of a greater good; just by the mere act of visiting the Galápagos, you are doing something for the planet. I think that is powerful.

Expedition ships, the sort that my clients take to the Galapagos, are not your typical cruise vessels. They are fitted with the latest sustainable technology, including a waste-water treatment plants, strict recycling protocols, engines that use less fuel. There’s an equal emphasis on social responsibility: ships with all-Ecuadorian crews that operate a cultural program that provides cruises for mainland school children who otherwise wouldn’t be able to experience the islands.

Tour groups here are not only limited in size; they also must be accompanied by a park-licensed naturalist guide – a position that now can only be filled by Ecuadorians born (or married to someone) in the Galápagos. The islands have seen a dramatic jump in human population over the last decades: from around 3,500 in the 1970s to 30,000 or so today.

Two blue-footed boobies stading on sand

Restrictions are in place to keep the ecosystem healthy and ensure as little alteration as possible, as you follow in lockstep behind your guide up the steep Prince Philip’s Steps to a rocky plateau atop Genovesa Island that is home to vast colonies of red-footed and Nazca boobies, petrels, and frigate birds. They, like all the island’s wildlife, are totally unafraid – the result, many scientists believe, of losing the “fear or flight” instinct after escaping mainland predators eons ago.

Yet you will be urged to keep a proper distance – six feet or more – so as not to disturb them, or worse, pass along some bacteria or scent that might, say, cause a mother fur seal to reject her pup.

All the books and BBC Earth documentaries can’t adequately prepare you for the impact of witnessing “Darwin’s Eden” up close: the sheer multitude of sleepy sea lions lined up on the shore or the shockingly bright colors of a Sally Lightfoot crab, or the slow, lumbering movements of giant Galápagos tortoises in the wild.

Although UNESCO removed the Galápagos Islands from its “red-list” of endangered sites in 2010, the archipelago’s ecosystem remains quite fragile, and it’s a frightening possibility that this complex bio-community could vanish in our lifetime. Visit as soon as possible.

Travel to the Galapagos Islands and see what Darwin saw, but through a twenty-first-century ecotourism lens.

Two. black and white shore birds standing among rocks

'til next week

Text box reading "Start Planning that is linked to the company's appointment calendar


Did you miss any of my articles? They are all here.

Text box with company ethos and invitation to connect.


7 views0 comments

Recent Posts

See All


bottom of page