This coming 2012 is officially bringing some of the most significant changes to Galapagos tourism that the islands have encountered in decades.
Earlier this year, the Galapagos National Park Service (GNPS) issued a notice to all Galapagos boat operators that they must start operating 15-day itineraries. Original announcements stated all boats would adhere to the new 15-day itineraries as early as Feb. 1, 2011 — later reports pushed the official effective date to Jan. 1, 2012 to allow more lead time for boats to make changes.
With the changes already on the horizon, however, many Galapagos yachts are voluntarily moving forward with the changes and operating the new 15-day itinerary in 2011, as originally proposed. Boats that are moving forward on this 15-day itinerary are hoping to secure preferential and the most sought-after itineraries for their clients. Travelers have the option of booking the full 15-day circuit … or, depending on the boat, any length from 4 to 15 day itineraries. The new itineraries should not visit any site more than once.
Why the Change?
The protection of the islands is the foremost concern for all parties involved. This new itinerary project is designed specifically around preservation of the islands. The islands continue to wow travelers, and along with their fame, their number of visitors has increased dramatically over the past few decades. This lengthened itinerary will spread travelers out — decreasing visitation to the 15 most heavily visited sites and allow the opportunity for travelers to visit some of those lesser-explored regions of the islands.
The purpose of this measure will not only cut visitation at heavily used sites, but is designed to give equal access to all boats at sites, increase the use of underused sites, enhance the visitor experience, reduce accidents, and reduce the total number of visitors per site by cutting out shorter itineraries.
To break it down to numbers – implementation of this measure will reduce visitors to some sites by 50%. The goal is to enhance Galapagos travel for both the islands and its visitors. In other words, change is good.
Now, more than ever, a good Galapagos trip planner is important. More itineraries obviously mean more options. Not only do travelers now need to decipher the myriad of ship options available (some excellent, some not-so-excellent), a good travel agent will help clients understand where the itineraries are going to take them, and which stops they should not miss. Gone are the simple choices of either the long or short-cruise options; each yacht making stops at essentially the same destinations. Now there are options that include Eastern, Western, Northwestern, Southern, Circumnavigation of the Islands … This is when travelers need to pick up the phone and talk to an expert.
Each time I return to the Galapagos I am overwhelmed by its transformations, and ability to seemingly remain frozen in time. The now busy city of Puerto Ayora, scarcely resembles and sleepy port town it once did only just a decade ago. Yet at the same time, hundreds of marine iguanas continue to pile on the shores, baking in the sun just as they did decades ago.
The islands attract travelers from all over the world looking to experience their legendary ecosystem – efforts introduced by responsible parties to protect and preserve such should be welcomed and supported by members of the tourism industry, including travelers. We're excited to see what successes the new itineraries will mean for island conservation.