[Excerpts from Adventure Guide to Ecuador & the Galapagos Islands, by Peter D. Krahenbuhl] Set far off the coast of northwestern South America in the Pacific Ocean, the Galápagos Islands are ofte...
Five Tips on How to Book a Responsible Galapagos Vacation
1. Book an organized tour.
Many visitors to the Galapagos are opting out of traditional organized tours in favor of self-planned vacations. According to the Charles Darwin Foundation (CDF), the growing popularity of this “new de facto mode of self-organized tourism” may not be sustainable. Growth in this segment of the tourism market is one of the main reasons why tourism to the Galapagos has doubled in the past decade. This growth has helped fuel the arrival of new invasive species and has created incentives for human migration to the islands, which has led to a dramatic increase in poorly planned and often illegal development, resource overconsumption, and other problems. According to the CDF, today approximately 40% of the hotels in the Galapagos are unlicensed. Many of these hotels exist because of this new breed of tourist, who often books day tours with unlicensed guides and operators. Unfortunately, these businesses aren’t required to meet the same environmental and safety standards as their legal counterparts.
We suggest that to avoid contributing to these problems, you book a tour with a reputable tour operator and travel in the company of a licensed Galapagos National Park guide. By doing so, you’ll also ensure that you and your travel companions will have a safer, more enriching experience.
2. Choose a responsible tour operator that supports Galapagos conservation.
For decades, nature-based tourism has been the driving force behind conservation and scientific research in the Galapagos Islands. Iconic naturalist and broadcaster David Attenborough has even said that without tourism, the Galapagos would no longer exist. Fortunately, many travel providers recognize that they have an obligation to ensure that tourism remains a positive force in the islands.
Before you book your trip, we recommend asking your travel provider tough questions about the commitment they’ve made to supporting Galapagos conservation. Do they financially support conservation efforts in the Galapagos? Have they put in place responsible travel policies and guidelines? Do they follow them?
3. Visit for the right reasons – nature & wildlife.
For decades, practically everyone who visited the Galapagos did so because they wanted to experience the unique wildlife and exhilarating natural beauty of the islands. Today, more and more travelers are coming to the Galapagos to relax on the beach, fish, shop, and enjoy the nightlife — activities for which the Galapagos offers little comparative advantage to other destinations around the world. Growing demand for these types of activities has led to increased development and additional pressure on the fragile ecosystems of the Galapagos. Fortunately, there are many destinations around the world that offer spectacular beaches, excellent restaurants and nightlife, and a plethora of exciting activities like fishing and parasailing. And few, if any, of these destinations are as environmentally sensitive as the Galapagos.
So we encourage you to book your traditional beach vacation and sport fishing trips elsewhere and visit the Galapagos if you want to enjoy the many things it offers that you can’t find anywhere else: unique wildlife, fascinating natural history, and incomparable beauty.
4. Stay longer if you can.
Many travelers are booking much shorter trips than were common in the past. This is one of the reasons why tourism to the Galapagos has doubled in the last decade. As a result, more flights are required to shuttle tourists back and forth from the mainland. Unfortunately, with each new plane that lands, there is an increased risk that new invasive species will arrive and take hold in the islands. The CDF says that stays of at least 10 to 14 days are optimal in terms of minimizing the negative consequences of tourism and maximizing the positive ones.
By planning a longer visit, you can help ensure that the benefits of tourism remain strong and help reduce its negative impacts. We realize that not every visitor can spend this much time, but if you can, consider it. You won’t regret it!
5. Educate yourself and give back.
The opportunity to visit the Galapagos is a truly special privilege. This privilege comes with the responsibility to understand what is happening in the Galapagos and the impacts of tourism, and doing your part to make sure tourism remains a positive force there. By learning and abiding by the rules of the Galapagos National Park and following the guidelines above, you can help minimize the impacts of your stay.
We also suggest making a contribution to the lasting protection of the Galapagos. There are many conservation organizations working in the Galapagos today that deserve your support, including:
Charles Darwin Foundation
World Wildlife Fund
International Galapagos Tour Operators Association
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