There really is no other place on Earth that compares to the Galapagos Islands
Rugged, unspoilt, pristine volcanic islands; incredibly unique biodiversity with over 300 endemic species; a feeling of remote serenity out in the vast Pacific Ocean—Galapagos truly is paradise—and it's no small feat keeping it that way.
In a world that is battling climate change, habitat destruction, biodiversity loss and other disasters, visiting Galapagos feels like stepping into an almost sacred place, where animals live in peace and continue to flourish while controlled groups of tourists admire from a distance with their clicking cameras.
The ecosystem faces many challenges and there is always room for improvement, but there’s no denying that nature and wildlife are prioritized here on a level that is unmatched by other tourist destinations. The conservation efforts of Galapagos are indeed worth acknowledging, celebrating and supporting however we can.
I recently had the privilege of visiting the Galapagos Islands through a partnership with my travel business Adventurelust and local cruise company Enchanted Expeditions, and right from the flight over from mainland Ecuador, it became clear that I was entering a very precious and protected ecosystem. I was both impressed and encouraged to see the many ways that conservation is enforced throughout the Islands.
Ninety-seven percent of Galapagos is a certified national park, denoting extra restrictions and costs required to enter the Archipelago. It's not the most affordable travel destination in Latin America, as our tourist dollars are funnelled towards sustaining the land, seas, wildlife and people. A USD $100 park fee must be paid prior to boarding the plane en route to the world's first green airport on Baltra Island, which runs entirely on wind and solar energy. Once on the Islands, visitors must be accompanied by a certified naturalist guide, whether by cruising the archipelago on a small-group charter like I did, by exploring the islands on day-trips ($100 per day), or visiting local sites on inhabited islands, such as Las Grietas on Santa Cruz ($10 per visit). The guides are there to provide education, but also to ensure that tourists are being respectful of the surroundings.
Restrictions are made clear right from the flight over to Galapagos, as in-flight videos and brochures announce guidelines that are enforced throughout a stay in Galapagos. These guidelines include:
- Camping in the National Park needs prior authorization
- All visits to protected areas must be accompanied by a licensed Galapagos guide
- Please keep a minimum distance of 2 metres between you/your camera and the wildlife
- Smoking, alcohol and campfires are forbidden in the National Park
- Use only authorized experiential fishing boats for fishing trips
- All types of graffiti are forbidden
- Please do not feed or touch the flora and fauna
- Please stay within the marked trails at visitor sites
- Please be very careful not to bring foreign organic materials into the National Park
- Please use only authorized tour operators
- Please do not remove any natural materials from the Galapagos ecosystem
- Professional photography and filming as well as the use of drones, need prior authorization from the National Park
- All types of motorized water sports, submarines and aerial tourism are forbidden
- All types of waste should be returned to population areas and classified for recycling
There are many organizations working to sustain the biodiversity, beauty and well-being of the Galapagos Islands. Non-profits such as the Charles Darwin Foundation and Galapagos Conservation Trust are leading scientific research projects to ensure the conservation of the environment and biodiversity of Galapagos. Co-Galapagos is an initiative working towards providing opportunities for community involvement in conservation and sustainable development. Enchanted Expeditions implements sustainability through all its cruise line operations, from running with a green certification from the National Park to using eco-friendly cleaning products, strict separation of garbage and recycling, educating the crew on sustainable practices, and buying and supporting local as much as possible.
"Galapagos is such a special place and the government, businesses, tourists and residents share a responsibility to keep it that way," says Judy Carvalhal, owner of Enchanted Expeditions. "At Enchanted, we are thrilled to safely and sustainably welcome people from around the world to our paradise and help educate and raise awareness of this ecosystem while working to maintain the natural harmony of these islands as best as we can."
In recent news, to further conservation efforts in Galapagos, the Ecuadorian government has announced that the Galapagos Marine Reserve will be expanding by 14.8 million acres, increasing the size of the protected area around the Archipelago by 45 percent and creating a protected corridor between Ecuadorian and Costa Rican waters. The development will protect these waters from unregulated industrial fishing, aiming to preserve the marine ecosystems and the wildlife that rely on them.
As travel slowly opens up amid a lingering pandemic, Galapagos is a worthy option for those craving a sustainable travel adventure. As tourists, we are bringing much-needed dollars into an economy that relies on them heavily, which helps sustain the delicate ecosystem in this very special place.
Of course, when it comes to sustaining the planet, there is always more work to do, but Galapagos is doing a lot of things right in keeping its paradise pristine and should be seen as a model of conservation for other places around the world.