Land tourism in the Galapagos Islands isn’t in itself a bad thing but brings to light the complex issues facing the islands when trying to balance tourism and conservation. Keep reading to find out what is at stake and how you can responsibly visit the islands on Galapagos land tours.
The debate about land tourism in the Galapagos Islands was sparked by a New York Times article in June of 2018. The article has many valid points and those interviewed are witnessing firsthand the increase in land travelers as opposed to those who traditionally experience the islands by cruise.
In 2018, there was a 20% increase in land tourists in the islands than in the previous year. In the past decade, hotels on the inhabited islands of Santa Cruz, San Cristobal, Floreana, and Isabela rose from 65 to more than 300.
This growth is unchecked in comparison to travel by boat in the islands. There are only 70 or so ships allowed in the Galapagos waters, and the number of visitors each year remains constant. The Galapagos National Park enforces strict rules-each ship can only stop at a visitor site once in a two week period.
Land growth presents a similar problem to when the sea restrictions were enacted; there is only so much space on each island, and the more hotels and visitors, the less room for the animals that bring people here in the first place. This isn’t like urban sprawl in cities in other parts of the world- this is a challenge that severely taxes water, electricity, waste management, and brings roads and a need for more materials from the mainland that cause environmental issues.
With this growth and the inevitable regulations that will be put in place to curtail its continuation, comes a need for responsible practices that are considerate to the environment.
Some hotels use solar power, others treat their own waste, and a handful uses recycled rainwater for pools, showers, and other non-potable needs.
Hotel operators who are aware of the threats caused by the increase in growth invest in conservation programs and work alongside the Galapagos National Park and the Charles Darwin Foundation to find solutions that encourage tourism and conservation.
Happy Gringo Travel offers five land-based tours in the Galapagos Islands. Each has a sliding scale of prices ranging from backpacker to luxury. You can also create a tailor-made trip using the itineraries as a base to jump off from.
Considering that energy is a major issue in the islands as it typically is produced using generators powered by diesel fuel, one option for a custom-made tour is to choose where you stay on each island based on the hotel’s ecological footprint. Hotel Silberstein, the Ikala Galapagos Hotel, and Finch Bay Hotel are some of the places we work with on Santa Cruz Island that range in prices and use solar power.
On San Cristobal Island, Happy Gringo can arrange stays at Galapagos Eco-Friendly Hotel that is committed to ecotourism and uses solar energy, and Casa Opuntia an upscale hotel that includes standards to protect the environment into their business model.
On Isabela Island, the San Vicente and Isabela Beach House use solar power and strive to preserve the environment with careful management practices.
Using conservation as one of your interests, a whole new side of the adventure of exploring the islands comes to the table. By making a tailor-made land tour of the Galapagos, you can splurge on one island while seeing firsthand the conservation efforts in place, and spend the next leg of the journey in a quaint B&B seeing how they work alongside the environment.
Other ways that you can make a positive footprint when you take a land tour to the Galapagos Islands involve common sense. Our tours include free time to explore on your own. Be mindful of the National Park’s rules when approaching animals. Keep your distance, don’t feed the wildlife, and bear in mind that it is their home. The Galapagos have also banned single-use plastics; take a water bottle and fill it at your hotel or ask guides where to find safe drinking water.
Another side of the coin to consider is that traveling to the islands contributes to the efforts of the Galapagos National Park. When you arrive at the airport, you pay a $100 national park fee. This money goes towards the ongoing conservation projects taking place around the archipelago.