Eco Travel: Galapagos Islands

Apr 7th, 2018 | By | Category: Featured Articles

Growing each year in popularity, the Galapagos Islands off of Ecuador’s coast are a highly sought-after vacation destination. The islands are also one of the world’s most fragile ecosystems. To help visitors enjoy the Galapagos while minimizing the impacts of their visit, Todd Smith, founder and president of AdventureSmith Explorations, provided the following travel recommendations.


1. Go by small ship

Small ships (12 to 100 guests) are at the heart of a Galapagos Islands vacation. Witnessing birds and wildlife in their unchallenged island environments is best accessed by small ship. Why? Covering more than 3,000 square miles with 13 major islands, the Galapagos archipelago is larger than you think, and many visitor sites are only accessible by water. Sleeping aboard a ship each night allows a broader range of exploration as you don’t have to travel back to a land-based accommodation each evening after day trips by boat.

The International Galápagos Tour Operators Association (IGTOA) reports that 100 percent of the growth in Galapagos tourism in the last decade came from land-based tourism at a time when ship-based tourism declined.

“Ship-based travel in the Galapagos is highly regulated to maximize guest experience and minimize impact on the islands,” said Smith, who also serves on the IGTOA board. Land tourism is currently less regulated, and it is a goal of IGTOA, UNESCO, and other conservation groups to approach on-islands growth as carefully as ship-based tourism has been.


2. Stay as long as you can

By allowing yourself more time in the archipelago you will encounter the most wildlife possible and see a wider range of islands. Allotting more time to understanding the subtle ecological differences among the islands enhances the experience and helps conservation efforts with fewer airline flights in and out of the islands. Air traffic and increased cargo shipments are two of the concerns identified by UNESCO in its 2016 State of Conservation Report on the Galapagos Islands as these are primary vectors for the arrival of new invasive species.

Longer stays also help support the local community with more opportunities for meaningful interaction. Smith recommends a stay of at least seven nights.


3. Make conservation a priority

In advance of a Galapagos trip, travelers should learn about conservation organizations and community needs and consider donating time or money to help organizations with conservation efforts or to off-setting the carbon impacts of their travel. To facilitate donations, some tour operators offer links to local organization such as the Galapagos Traveler Conservation Fund as part of their tour booking services.


4. Enjoy the planning process

Traveling to a place as fragile as the Galapagos should ideally be done once, so make the selection process fun for this once-in-a-lifetime trip. “Shop for the best experience and seek advice from an expert who has traveled to the Galapagos Islands,” Smith advised. Booking early provides more date flexibility and ship choices, plus special offers and early-bird discounts. Two deals travelers can take advantage of right now are 10% off on Origin Galapagos Cruises August-December departures and 2018 rates for 2019 departures aboard National Geographic Islander Galapagos Cruises or National Geographic Endeavour Galapagos Cruises.


5. Snorkel

“If you don’t get in the water, you are missing half of the wildlife in Galapagos,” Smith said. “There is no shortage of colorful fish, but encounters with charismatic megafauna (playful sea lions, sharks, rays, turtles), prehistoric-looking marine iguanas, and the only penguin that lives north of the equator are what really sets Galapagos snorkeling apart.” Snorkeling options range from deep-water to beginner-friendly shoreline snorkels. For those who really don’t want to snorkel, you may opt for a ship with a glass-bottom boat. “Interacting with the Galapagos wildlife and seeing them in such close proximity fosters a conservation mind as you bond with the fearless animals,” Smith added.


6. Remember you’re in South America

Don’t rush the journey or miss out on exploring Ecuador or other nearby regions, such as the Sacred Valley and Machu Picchu, Peru. Smith cautions against trying to combine Galapagos and Peru in just one week, however. These are two of the world’s most spectacular destinations, and travelers should take the time to enjoy both locations.



About AdventureSmith Explorations

AdventureSmith Explorations is based in Truckee, California, near the northern shore of Lake Tahoe. It was founded in 2003 and is a recognized leader in small ship cruising. In 2012 owner Todd Smith joined the ranks of Conde Nast Traveler‘s prestigious world’s Top Travel Specialists list as the leading expert on small ship expeditions.

Photographs: Iguana by Holly E. Reid. Other photographs courtesy of Widness and Wiggins PR.


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