Guest blog: How to travel responsibly in the Galapagos Islands

By Tom Shearman of Andean Trails

The Galapagos Islands are one of the world’s most famous and unique environmental paradises, making them a popular travel destination and at the top of many people’s bucket lists.

Tourism numbers have exploded from 10,000 annually in the 1980s to over 200,000 every year. With increased numbers of visitors to the Islands comes various issues, including pollution, strains on infrastructure and increased potential for human-wildlife conflict. However, by travelling responsibly, you can enjoy the Islands while reducing the impact that you have on their fragile ecosystems.

Wildlife

The first time a sea lion waddles by or a giant tortoise lumbers towards you it is very hard to know how to react responsibly because it’s such a magical moment. However, the most important rule at all times in Galapagos is you must stay at least two metres away from the wildlife, in water or on land. That means you move if the wildlife gets closer! With this in mind, also make sure you don’t:

  • Touch or feed the wildlife.
  • Use flash photography.
  • Walk around with a tablet in front of you. There is a good chance you will be distracted and not see approaching wildlife.

A photographer keeping at least a 2m distance between himself and a Sally lightfoot crab © Stephanie Foote

General advice

Some of these are obvious, but always worth repeating:

  • Pack away that selfie-stick – they can alarm wildlife and you may end up too close.
  • Take back everything you brought with you – don’t litter!
  • If you are taking snacks, this is the one time processed food is better. Any stray seeds can cause chaos in foreign ecosystems.
  • No smoking or fires within Galapagos National Park.
  • Don’t fish. If someone offers you the chance, report them.
  • Take a reusable water bottle, rather than using a new bottle each time.
  • Take batteries back home with you – they cannot be recycled properly in Ecuador.
  • Don’t buy or remove any shell, coral, lava, rock – they are all part of the National Park and should remain there.

By following these simple steps you can help ensure Galapagos remains a beautiful and pristine Archipelago © Ian Dunn

Choosing cruises

Cruises consume large amounts of (imported) fuel and food, yet take you to some of the most pristine and uninhabited Galapagos areas, and reduce the impacts of tourism on the mainland.

Look for:

  • Smart Voyager status – the Rainforest Alliance awards this to boats that meet various standards including desalination on board, adequate workers’ conditions and responsible use of resources.
  • Solar panels.
  • Local food sources.
  • Treated water provided on board (rather than bottled).
  • On board treatment and recycling of waste.
  • Try not to use the air conditioning, which really burns up fuel.

Land-based trips

Hotel-based trips are very important for the population of Galapagos, as money goes directly to local communities. However, as always, care is needed when selecting accommodation. For example, do they recycle or sell locally produced goods? To reduce your impact, turn all lights and electronic appliances off when not in use, keep showers to a minimum, and try not to use the air conditioning. Finally, look for the Smart Voyager status for land-based accommodation too.

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