Galapagos Biodiverse Paradise

December 13, 2011 § Leave a comment

A good article on Island Based Travel….enjoy!

By Gabriela Supelano / Ecuador

This archipelago, Ecuador has no comparison. It is unique for its number of animals, diversity of landscapes and isolation.  The perfect place to understand the evolution by Charles Darwin.

Galapagos Marine Iguana

The landscape of the Galapagos Islands may well have come from a science fiction movie. It is barren, dry, low vegetation and little green.  It is also full of volcanoes and lava dry. Next to the alien land is a deep blue sea. It’s a no man’s land, or rather, a land not owned by its human inhabitants it’s owned by nature.

The islands have much to offer.  Therefore, it is best to plan to visit ahead of time, although in a few days can also make a nice trip. There are 13 large volcanic islands, 6 smaller islands and 107 rocks and islets. So much to explore and learn.

Each island is very different from the other, so much so that large Galapagos tortoises are several species that evolved by isolation and climatic conditions of each site.

The airport is located in the small island of Baltra.  On arriving there, tourists should take a ferry to transport them to one of the most important islands, Santa Cruz. In the upper parts are two huge craters called Los Gemelos. These are formed when several underground lava tubes collapsed.

Moreover, in Santa Cruz is a giant tortoise reserve and Charles Darwin. This site is intended for research and conservation of the giant tortoises and that’s where Lonesome George, animal emblematic of the islands.

George is the last specimen of its kind.  For this reason, researchers at the Charles Darwin Station are trying to reproduce with females genetically very similar species.

In Santa Cruz is also Puerto Ayora, the largest town in Galapagos. It is a perfect place to stay. From Puerto Ayora you can take boats and cruisers for all the islands and diverse infrastructure and hotels.

From Santa Cruz you can go to San Cristobal, a small island but definitely missed. In Santa Cruz there are nature walks in the vegetation of the area and beaches. In addition, sea lions are everywhere, from the pier to the beach.  Its small size also means it has less flow of tourists. It also has cabins and small hotels for those who do not want to move there.

The other big island is Isabela. This is much younger than San Cristobal, which has beautiful beaches, lots of wildlife and several volcanoes that can be crossed on foot or horseback.

Isabela also has a huge area for snorkeling, where there are reefs, fish and you can see another turtle or a sea lion.  It is the perfect place to appreciate the huge marine iguanas characteristics of small islands and penguins that inhabit them.

The Galapagos Islands are a point where biodiversity operates, so much so that looks like a zoo without cages or bars. Animals are masters of the rocks and beaches, and you have to ask permission to walk on their land. It’s a unique place, which also stands at the center of the world along the equator.

Santa Fe Island

August 11, 2011 § 1 Comment

Santa Fe Beach

Approximately half way between the islands of Santa Cruz and San Cristobal lies the small island of Santa Fe.  Shaped like a bean with a beautiful lagoon in the middle the island has a tilted appearance as it was created by geological uplift rather than from a central volcano.

For years Santa Fe has been a favorite on cruise itineraries.  The lagoon provides an excellent place to snorkel with sea lions, colorful fish, small sharks and may be even a giant tuna that is frequently sited here all in a protected environment away from ocean surges. Currently many companies in Puerto Ayora are offering a day tour to Santa Fe while not allowing you to go ashore does allow you to come and snorkel in the bay.

Santa Fe Hawk

As one of the oldest islands in the Galapagos Santa Fe is home to a mature and diverse combination of flora and fauna. The good anchorage in the bay and relatively flat nature of the island made it a frequent stop for early visitors coming ashore in search of food and water.  As a result Santa Fe was one of the first islands to have its tortoise population become extinct approximately 200 years ago.

Today if you are on a Galapagos Cruise or permitted day tour you will also be able to visit the island of Santa Fe.  Once ashore you will find a powdery beach that is home to a colony of sea lions.  From the beach you a loop trail takes you up along the coast to the opuntia cactus cactus forest.  The opuntias in Santa Fe are the largest and healthiest in Galapagos.  The cactus have grown to be the size of full trees with trunks measuring over a foot in diameter.

Endemic Santa Fe Iguana

Continuing along the trail you’ll reach the top of the hill where you a panoramic vista of the bay begins before heading back down to the beach.  As you make your way along the trail a careful eye you can spot Galapagos Hawks, the endemic, larger and brownish colored Santa Fe Land Iguana, Galapagos Snakes, Galapagos Doves, Lava Lizards, both land and marine birds as well as possibly one of the only two remaining species of endemic Galapagos Rats.

Santa Fe Opuntia Forest

The Galapagos National Park has just finished a 10 day monitoring of Santa Fe.  With of 20 park rangers involved the island was divided into quadrants and the officials recorded all bird and reptile species present were recorded, as well as cactus and woody vegetation. The survey was used to count iguanas, hawks, and some species of finch (those with smaller populations).

LAN Flies to San Cristobal

July 26, 2011 § Leave a comment

LAN Airlines launches  Airbus A320 service twice weekly service to the island of San Cristobal (SCY).  Currently San Cristobal is serviced by alternating service throughout the week with Aerogal and TAME.  The intoduction of LAN to the island will help elivate travel demand on flights to the island.  LAN  operates several regional airlines throughout South America including LAN Ecuador which has been operating flights to the island of Baltra since last year and LAN Peru which operates flights throughout Peru.   LAN is a member of the OneWorld Alliance.

Galapagos Passengers Adrift Rescued by Coast Guard

July 11, 2011 § Leave a comment

Photo from the Minsitry of Defense

The boat P/ Albany registration number TN-01-00271 went a drift on Tuesday after running out of fuel with 20 adults and 4 children from various counties aboard.  The boat had exceeded its passenger capacity and the captain underestimated the amount of fuel needed with the extra weight as a result the boat ran out of fuel and was adrift while making its way between Isabela and Santa Cruz.

The navy reported the emergency and the Coast Guard vessel Cormorant departed Puerto Ayora on the island of Santa Cruz and rescued the stranded passengers and brought fuel to the ship.  Both boats arrived in Puerto Ayora at 8pm on Tuesday night.  The passengers identified only as American, German, French and Ecuadorian citizens were all said to be in good health according to naval authorities.

The navy has stated there will be an investigation and the shipowner and captain will be held responsible for carrying excess passengers as well as needing to repay all costs of the rescue.

The Galapagos National Park (GNP) is the agency responsible for carrying out checks on tourist boats in the archipelago.  However many of the smaller boats such as the Albany are not allowed to operate within the National Park other than to transport passengers between towns.  The safety and security of these boats are not up to the same standards as the yachts providing Galapagos Cruises.

Report on impact of Tsunami on Galapagos Wildlife

July 7, 2011 § Leave a comment

From UNESCO

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Eighteen hours after the March 11 tsunami wreaked devastation in Japan, it hit the Galápagos Islands.  Luckily, by then the energy of the waves had dissipated somewhat, and the people there had received advanced warning and took to higher ground. The waves hit later in the afternoon, local time, and caused significant damage only to some buildings located near the water’s edge. The Charles Darwin Research Station’s (CDRS) marine biology lab and its equipment were largely destroyed. The lab is critical in carrying out the marine monitoring work that feeds into the Galápagos National Park’s management work.

Soon after the disaster, the CDRS applied to the Rapid Response Facility to help it re-establish its marine monitoring capability, and also to carry out a rapid assessment of the impacts of the tsunami on Galápagos wildlife, which contribute a great deal to this site’s Outstanding Universal Value as recognized under the World Heritage Convention.

Their preliminary report has just been received.  It indicates that impacts varied significantly between areas.  It notes that the height and penetration of the wave at the coast was very specific to different localities within and between islands, with varying impacts upon the flora and fauna.  Several beach areas were extensively reconfigured, while others showed large scale sediment shifts offshore, probably limited by upper littoral vegetation roots (including those of mangroves) stabilizing the sediment.

Important flightless cormorant nesting sites on Fernandina island, the most undisturbed large island in Galápagos, showed evidence of the destruction of existing nests, but the scientists also noted that adults had largely survived and had recommenced nesting and egg laying. Occasional mortalities were evident (sea turtles and marine iguanas) at the upper limits of the wave. Other sites, such a small but critically important mangrove area (home to the very rare nesting mangrove finches) were apparently not negatively affected.  Marine turtle and iguana nesting was affected depending upon wave height, beach profile and nesting behavior.

The CDRS reports that it was currently following up lines of investigation to examine the dynamic of the wave as it propagated throughout the archipelago with their associates in the Ecuadorian Navy compiling information for Park and Disaster mitigation planning agencies.

Ecuador makes plans to avoid measels outbreak

July 6, 2011 § Leave a comment

Measles is a disease we learned in school no longer exsited or at least was no longer a modern day threat due to childhood immunizations.  However in recent years many parents have opted against the vaccination due in part to a theory that ties the vaccine to the onset of autism.  The result of this decision has led to recent outbreaks of both the measles and German measels (rubella) in Europe and the U.S.

The government of Ecuador has launched a campaign to avoid the spread of the disease to their country.  They are requesting all travelers who are not already vaccinated to receive a vacination at least 15 days prior to their arrival.  Additionally tourist agents, hotel staff, airport and migration authorities in Ecuador are all being vaccinated as a preventative measure.  Travelers to Ecuador who have not received their shots can take advantage of health centers at the Quito and Guayaquil Airport where visitors can receive the immunizations free of charge.

New Airport in Quito to Open in 2012

June 30, 2011 § Leave a comment

The new 683 million dollar airport servicing Quito, Ecuador is now 78% complete.  Officials predict that the airport will be finished by April 2012 and in full operation by October 2012.

The new airport will replace the existing Mariscal Sucre Airport in the center of the city. It will be located in Tababela, roughly 15 miles outside Ecuador’s capital heading north towards Otavalo.

The existing Mariscal Sucre Airport is located within the Quito city limits and has a limited runway as well as noise restrictions.  The new airport will open up the ability for Quito to receive larger planes as well as increase exports from the country.

The majority of travelers visiting the Galapagos Islands fly into Quito and visit the city’s historic old city prior to visiting the Galapagos. 

The Guayaquil Airport on the coast of Ecuador was voted the #2 Airport  by Skytracks Researchbehind the Lima Airport.   The new airport in Quito, will provide passengers with similar services as both the Guayaquil and Lima airports ushering in a new level of service for air travel to Quito.

The Dangers of Diving in Galapagos

June 9, 2011 § 2 Comments

The waters surrounding the Galapagos Islands are one of the top dive destinations in the world. These seas is chalk full of unique marine life and opportunities to dive with big animals like giant mantas, hammerheads and whale sharks. Infamous for swift currents and cold waters the Galapagos was once considered a destination only for advanced divers.

Scuba diving is an extreme sport with inherent dangers, however like anyone who participates in an extreme sports you have to now how to minimize these risks, one of these ways is by surrounding yourself with competent people. In the Galapagos divers have been putting themselves in harms way in order to save a few dollars. Too many with knowledge of the situation it is referred to as The High Price of Low Cost.

There are a number of Dive Centers located on the main street in Puerto Ayora. As you walk through town you will see many shops with their signs in front offering low cost dives sites like North Seymour and Gordon Rocks. In the evening divers can be seen hanging out in the front of the shop talking about the Thrill of the day all of this designed for one reason: to get your money.

While there are licensed dive boats offering day dive trips in the Galapagos. Many of these centers are travel agencies operated by an island resident, they then hire a local fishing boat along with its captain to discount dive trips. Sounds like a good idea when you first think about it however there is one big problem: safety.

There are simple rules for operating a dive boat, they may even seem obvious…like making sure all the divers are clear of the boat before turning on the engines…to avoid endangering the lives of the divers. However, the captains of these unlicensed fishing boats are untrained in the nuances of diving.

You might think, so what the dive master can help with those issues. The problem is they cant, in an effort to increase the bottom line these same dive centers are putting as many divers as possible on the same boat, mixing inexperienced and experienced divers. In many cases everyone is diving with just one dive guide. The result is no one is paying attention to safety and there are far too many dive accidents.

Most recently, on May 31, 2011, the boat Jetli I departed Puerto Ayora with a captain, dive guide and 5 unsuspecting divers. The boat did not have permits to offer diving to its passengers nor did it go to the port captain to apply for permits to leave port. The only activity in which the Jetli I has permits is to take its owner fishing, and then only when it had permits to depart from the port captain.

Last Tuesday, when the Jetli I traveled to North Seymour where the divers expected to enjoy a day of diving in the waters between North Seymour and Mosquera.  They had been promised the opportunity to dive with schools of fish, white tipped reef sharks, golden rays, garden eels, fur seals and maybe even some hammerheads. Though there are conflicting reports of what actually occurred – the Jetli I sank.  The passengers and crew were rescued by the yacht Esmeraldes II, where the passengers received first aid. The National Park, Port Captain and Navy are all currently investigating the situation.

Dive accidents like this with these unlicensed agencies is not a new story – it has become far too common place.  Divers have been seriously injured and there have been a number of accidents over the past few years. What all the accidents have in common is a serious lack of safety precautions and training on the part of the people offering the dive experience.

Everyone looks to stretch their money as far as possible these days – however at what cost? What you may not think about beforehand is what do you do if you have a problem? The reality of the situation if you dive with an unlicensed agency there is no documentation to prove you were diving with that company or even left port on the boat. If you have a problem or want to report an incident there is no way to prove anything ever happened and nothing can be done.

The best way to protect yourself when engaging in any sport with inherent dangers is to make sure you are knowledgeable about the sport. If you are diving in Galapagos only dive with licensed boats and with licensed dive guides. Do not dive with any company that allows more than 8 divers. Ask to see the Boat’s National Park Dive Permits before you buy the trip and the port captain clearance before embarking in the morning.

We call upon the National Park, Navy and Port Captain to more strictly enforce dive regulations in order to protect tourists from dangerous dive operators and by doing so encourage the growth of the Galapagos dive industry and a safe and responsible manner.

Guayaquil Airport Rated #2 in South America

April 5, 2011 § 1 Comment

Jose Joaquin de Olmedo International Airport in Guayaquil

Jose Joaquin de Olmedo International Airport in Guayaquil

Skytracks Research operators of the air travel guide which is the world’s largest Airline and Airport review site have announced their top airports in South America.  The winner of the 2011 Best Airport in South America was the Jorge Chavez International Airport in Lima, second place went to the Jose Joaquin de Olmedo International Airport in Guayaquil and third place to Sao Paulo Guarulhos International Airport.

The Jose Chavez International Airport won for the third year in a row – the Lima Airport is the gateway to Peru for those travelers visiting Cusco and Machu Picchu.  The Guayaquil Airport by comparison was built in 2006 and is one of two international gateways to Ecuador.  People visiting the Galapagos Islands can decide to arrive at either to the historic city of Quito or the modern airport in Guayaquil.  The Guayaquil Airport is conveniently located in Guayaquil just minutes from the city’s best hotels.

The award was based on 39 key factors and there were over 11 million people who’s voted.  The survey information included accessibility, public transportation options, taxi prices, terminal comfort, cleanliness, immigration and security times, friendliness, and information.

We congratulate all three airports on a job well done!

Top Places to Visit in Galapagos – Isabela

March 7, 2011 § Leave a comment

Galapagos Penguins

Our #1 selection for top places to visit in the Galapagos Islands is Isabela.  The largest of the Galapagos Islands, Isabela is also the most spectacular.  Located to the far west of the archipelago, Isabela is home to 6 volcanoes, 5 of which are still active.

Isabela is home to some of the best wildlife in Galapagos – 95% of the Galapagos Penguin population lives on Isabela or neighboring Fernandina. Isabela has an abundance of wildlife. The Bolivar Canal is the best place in the Galapagos to see whales and dolphins.  Isabela is the best place in the Galapagos to see migratory birds.  If it’s unique wildlife you seek Isabela is home to numerous rare endemic animals like the flightless cormorant, marine iguanas, and the extremely rare mangrove finch.

Isabela is the only island that is home to more than one subspecies of Galapagos Tortoise. For years scientist believed that each volcano on Isabela had its own separate subspecies of tortoise.  However recent DNA research has concluded that there two distinct different species of tortoises the populations of the southern volcanoes are vicina and those of the remote Wolf volcno are becki.

Of the many natural wonders found in Galapagos – you can find the majority on Isabela.  It is here on Isabela you can climb the Sierra Negra Volcano home to the 2nd largest caldera in the world.  There is excellent diving at Punta Moreno, Roca Redonda and Punta Vicente Roca where you can dive with giant mantas.

There are the spectacular mangrove lagoons teeming with wildlife like Elizabeth Bay where you can see Galapagos Hawks, sea turtles, rays,  penguins, iguanas and so much more.  There are geological treasures like those at Urbina Bay where the uplifting cause the coastline to be driven 3/4 of a mile further out to sea, exposing giant coral heads and stranding marine organisms on what was now on shore. There is the fresh water lake and at the favorite anchorage for pirates at Tagus Cove.

Isabela is also home to Puerto Villamil our #8 pick for best places to visit in Galapagos, with it’s stunning beach and interesting day tours. It’s the most Staying on Isabela in Puerto Villamil is the most captivating town in Galapagos

Isabela is an incredible Island with much to offer – when deciding between Galapagos Cruises if you select one with several days in Isabela you will discover the many treasures the island has in store and find out for yourself why Isabela is our top place to visit in the Galapagos.

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