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Galapagos Vacations with Come to Galapagos and land based to

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Galapagos Vacations with Come to Galapagos and land based to

Galapagos Vacations with Come to Galapagos and land based tours versus cruise tours

My family had had a long debate about whether to take a cruise or land based tour for our Galapagos vacation. None of us really had the slightest idea of what we were talking about, excepting maybe Shea, my fourteen year old daughter, who didn’t really either. She forms conclusions and strong beliefs based solely on information she finds on the internet. “Finds” is not actually the right word, digs up, garners in the late night when she’s suppose to be sleeping is more accurate. She would “track down leads”, her words about Galapagos Vacation web sites, “nice website, but who owns the company, what is their history, track record, what kind of reviews have they received and from whom?” She asked several companies for referrals that she could contact directly.

As a group we enthusiastically embraced the idea of doing both kinds of tours, one week on a cruise tour and one week with a locally owned and operated land based Tour Company. Shea had found several companies offering land based tours, but only one that was owned and operated by a resident of the Galapagos. This company also had credentials in the US, aside from an address and bank account they also had a state of California issued “California Seller of Travel” license which they had had for more than five years without complaints.

The cruise ships as best as Shea’s dangerously (I’m her overly protective father) sophisticated Google skills and detective/militant mind set could determine seemed to be owned by foreigners or investors, which she found offensive. I didn’t so much as we were just trying to plan a nice Galapagos family vacation. Here’s a challenge for anyone, compete with my daughter, find a commercial interest somewhere and dig/google whatever she does to come up with who actually owns it, not just who operates it. She informed my wife, myself and her younger brother that most of the companies involved in cruise tours in the Galapagos made, in her words “ridiculous claims” to being eco-friendly. This happened over dessert when we had agreed to talk about our upcoming adventure. “How can a cruise ship operating in the Galapagos using fossil fuel that has to be imported to those islands, cruise ships that free anchor (apparently tearing up reefs) at least two times a day and pump the peoples pooh directly into the ocean, possibly be eco-friendly?” There was a moment of silence, neither my wife nor I had thought at all in terms of an “eco-friendly” component in our choice of how or with whom to travel. I finally answered, “Well, I don’t know, honey, but really thank you for your diligence.” I’ve learned the hard way that sometimes it is just best to humor her.

Shea proceeded to show us a number of web sites selling the same tours on the same boats, the odd thing being that some of these web sites were only web sites/dot coms, others were companies actually involved in tourism in the Galapagos, but they were based in Canada, Australia, England and the US, almost everywhere it seemed except the Galapagos. “What do you think of that?” I patiently tried to explain to Shea that if it were not for these companies and web sites no one would be going to the Galapagos. Her response was “And that’s not such a bad idea, except that I would like to get there before it is exploited beyond recognition.” Teenage kids… If you have one you understand. I am soon to have two.

We had a wonderful time on our cruise tour, really over the top. The only negatives were that we spent far more time with our fellow travelers than we did with nature or our guides. It was like being trapped on a very tiny floating island with a bunch of people you couldn’t get away from and for my tastes we were spending (as in paid for) too many hours with people I could have done the same with in a bagel shop in the US for free. Shea to my great consternation had time to develop a small romance with the fifteen year old, son of parents I didn’t really care for who besides which seemed to encourage this romance. I certainly wasn’t.

We were able to see some really incredible animals and sites, albeit that we had to take turns, group B, our group would be at a site for an hour, having to leave when group A showed up and then we went off to where group A had been. The guides were great, attentive, knowledgeable, but you could really see we weren’t any different to them as a group B than hundreds of other group B’s that they manage year in and year out, kind of a “canned” manner of talking about the wildlife, etc. It also rankled me that we were in group B rather than A or rather that our group was called group B. I know that sounds silly, but such is my mind sometimes when stressed. It was as if we were somehow less important.

We eventually grew accustomed to the schedule, our fellow travelers, our small births and bathrooms, the rocking of the ship, the daily wonders being delivered to us along with our meals on a schedule so much so that I remember thinking toward the end of the cruise perhaps we had made a mistake booking a land based tour. Another week of what we were doing wouldn’t be so bad as long as the kid and his parents left as they were scheduled to do; on the other hand I had only a vague idea of what was to come next.

I had exchanged several e-mails with the owner of Come to Galapagos. He had informed me that we were rare, but not unique with our idea to sample both a cruise and land based tour and that universally, everyone who had been able to manage that combination with them had come away with the same reaction. “The people on the cruise tours don’t have any idea what they missed or why.”

My family and I now do. It is one thing to participate in a mass tourism experience that really lives up to its hype, as we did. It is another to experience the same location with the people that live there. There was no hype, their web page was simple, straight forward and full of down to earth information. There was more direct information on that site than any other my daughter had showed me and in her words, “No fluff, just the real stuff.”

The “no fluff, just the real stuff” that we received in the Galapagos with Come To Galapagos was far beyond anything I might have imagined possible that someone (in this case my daughter) could find on the internet. It is one thing to hear a guide give his canned speech; it is another to meet his wife and family and to watch my family spend casual time with him without sixteen other tourists/strangers around. It is another to have our itinerary completely thrown out the window for the opportunity to swim with dolphins in the open ocean, as the opportunity arouse, another to breakfast each morning with the families that ran the hotel/B&B’s where we stayed, to watch my kids playing with theirs. Our “schedule” was organized around the tides, weather and our energy level. We spent our time, on OUR schedule with people who live there. My daughter had with all of her internet savvy chosen three places she wanted to see. We saw them all, but only when the tide was right, when the light was right for the photos she had envisioned taking and when the animals would most likely be willing to interact. We witnessed a giant tortoise stampede, baby dolphins with their parents and had a sea lion pup literally hug my daughter while snorkeling. Nothing close to the above happened on the “cruise tour” portion of our vacation.

Shea, in an exhausted, drowsy moment on the flight back from the Galapagos, tucked her head into my chest and said, “Dad, I had no idea where I was pushing us to go, but thank you for listening.” Then she slept and I said to no one who could hear, “I’m proud of you.”

I needed to write a note, express my gratitude publicly for the people that really, personally showed us the Galapagos. The owner of Come To Galapagos, Rick, met us at the airport, checked in on us morning and night. We had the pleasure of meeting his son, dinning with him one night and with his wife, Bere another. She referred to us as she does all their clients as “the hearts that come here” and the people working with them as, “The Family Come To Galapagos” (guides, restaurant owners, hotel owners, chauffeurs, boat captains, farmers and fishermen). These people really care for the well being and education of their visitors and the birth right of their children, the Galapagos Islands.

Mike S.

Stanford, CA

July, 2011

Homewood, Illinois
Level Contributor
177 posts
93 reviews
1. Re: Galapagos Vacations with Come to Galapagos and land based to

I really enjoyed reading about your trip! Thanks for the time and effort you put into it! What was your favorite island?

San Rafael...
Level Contributor
15 posts
22 reviews
2. Re: Galapagos Vacations with Come to Galapagos and land based to

This was an extremely helpful review and I appreciate the time and effort you put into it. Do you mind sharing your daughter's three main things she wanted to do int he Galapogos. I am right in the middle of the land based vs. cruise debate and just don't know what to do.

Ottawa, Canada
Destination Expert
for Galapagos Islands
Level Contributor
3,603 posts
19 reviews
3. Re: Galapagos Vacations with Come to Galapagos and land based to

Dear Dad,

I've been reading (and posting) on this forum for years, and this is the most well written post I've ever seen. Very nice!

Your daughter should be congratulated on her assiduous research. "Eco-friendly" indeed. The only true eco-friendly travel involves a bicycle at the most, let alone jet travel. But that being said, there are plenty who make the case for "spreading the dollars" to parts of the world that appreciate them. So, we manage to convince ourselves that the benefits may possibly outweigh the costs.

You had a wonderful land based experience - good for you. I focus on cruises (I am one of those foreign "agents" working out of a desk in my apartment hallway). Many boats (usually the smaller, less high end ships) are "locally" owned - by Galapagos families. The Tip Tops (run by the grandson of the original Wittmers,who settled in Galapagos just before the 2nd WW, arriving from Germany), the Aida Maria, Angelito, the Galaxy, Queen Beatriz (run by the parents of one of members of the national assembly for Galapagos) to name a few.

But things are not that simple. Galapagos families are not forced to live in Galapagos. Kids grow up, take over part of the business, move to Quito. where schools are better, and eventually run it from there. The ship I regularly charter (14 passengers - no group A or B!) is now owned by the wife of the late owner, and her son, who often acts is the ship's very well rated naturalist guide, who's own wife and 2 young children live in Puerto Ayora. So, what was in real fact a almost entirely Galapagos owned and operated set of cruise ships in the 1970s, 1980s had evolved into a growing share non-resident owned ships, some with strong non-Ecuadorian links (the biggest ones).

Many intermediaries exist. Just like hotels rely on all kinds of on-line intermediaries to "jostle for position" to get the attention of the client, so do Galapagos ship owners. Some run top of the line front offices and do a good job of reaching out directly to clients. These are usually the bigger ships. The family owned ships likely rely on intermediaries for 90% of their sales. Without them, they could not come to the top of the very confusing pile of cruise options out there.

I have made a strong case in the past (on this forum) on the cumulative impacts of non-controlled land based tourism (e.g. rampant hotel construction, new bars, restaurants etc..) drawing in more people to the islands, more risk of introduced species etc. etc... vs. the highly controlled (and increasingly so) ship based tourism, which has not seen any significant increase in capacity for over 10 years. I lived in Galapagos for 4 years and saw this first hand. To its great credit, the current government of Ecuador has come down hard on trying to establish clear regulations, and on applying the rule of law relating to land based tourism, creating an environment where investors, local small business owners can be more confident about the rules of the game, which in turn leads to more orderly land based tourism. Galapagos is not quite there yet, but the recent case of the Galapagos National Park Service, with the support of the Minister of the Environment, Marcela Aguiñaga (a former colleague of mine when I worked for the Charles Darwin Research Station - she was at the park), took the developer of a 26 room hotel to court and successfully sued him for having proceeded to build it without permits, and in spite of legal stop orders. That's what land based tourism was leading to in the past decade, and I hope that this kind of blatant disrespect of the rules will be something of the past. The Ministry of Tourism has recently launched an "OK Galapagos" campaign (…wordpress.com/2011/09/28/ok-galapagos/) specifically to identify those land based service providers who are operating within the law, as opposed to the large number of "pirates" who set up shop without any permit, and safety certificates etc... and tap into the land based market. Calidad Galapagos (Galapagos Quality) is another recent effort promoted by the local Chamber of Tourism designed to set quality standards and help land based businesses meet them.

So, things have been a bit of the "wild west" in terms of land based tourism over the past 10-15 year, as the number of land based visitors explodes, but it seems that "civilization" is arriving, slowly but surely. When it will have finally come to stay, you can be better assured that land based tourism will be as "eco-friendly" as possible.

Warmest regards,

Heather Blenkiron

PS: A lot more sewage, in a lot more concentrated an toxic form, emanates from the coastal groundwater making its way to the sea near Galapagos towns, than ever come from ships, which disperse over tens of thousands of square miles of open ocean (as to sharks, sea turtles and whales). Near shore water quality at town sites would be considered unfit for swimming by the standards of other places. There is no sewage treatment at all on land, and it is simply just flushed into holes dug into the very porous volcanic rock.

Edmonton, Canada
Level Contributor
413 posts
6 reviews
4. Re: Galapagos Vacations with Come to Galapagos and land based to

Thank you for the thought provoking information Mike & Heather,

We will be on Santa Cruz for a week before our cruise. Can you give us some ideas for responsible land based touring? Also, which places are appropriate for snorkelling, considering the sewage topic?

Edited: 12:42 pm, March 24, 2012
Ottawa, Canada
Destination Expert
for Galapagos Islands
Level Contributor
3,603 posts
19 reviews
5. Re: Galapagos Vacations with Come to Galapagos and land based to

Dear GM,

snorkeling immediate off town shorelines is not the best, though you can luck out and spot a ray, or a shark, and little fish. The waters there are a bit polluted, as I noted (e.g. I recall my eyes getting irritated). Out of Puerto Ayora, the best snorkeling I recall was at Camaaño island, just 2-3 km offshore (sea lions, colourful fish) and easily accessible via a number of 2-3 hour tours sold from the dock area.

Warmest regards,

Heather Blenkiron

Level Contributor
456 posts
247 reviews
6. Re: Galapagos Vacations with Come to Galapagos and land based to

Nicely done!

Philadelphia, PA
Level Contributor
956 posts
1,081 reviews
7. Re: Galapagos Vacations with Come to Galapagos and land based to

It would be helpful if the original poster could provide the ship name and the names/towns of the the places where he stayed on land. Esoteric discussions are interesting, but hard facts are more useful! Thanks.

8. Re: Galapagos Vacations with Come to Galapagos and land based to

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