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.

Prince Charles to Help Build Housing in Galapagos

September 14, 2011 § 1 Comment

By Rebecca English – Daily Mail

Prince Charles is to help build a controversial 1,000-strong housing development on the Galapagos Islands. He has been called in by conservationists alarmed that plans to create a ‘mini-city’ could seriously harm one of the world’s most precious eco-systems, which inspired Darwin’s theory of evolution.

As a result his Prince’s Foundation for the Built Environment will next month set up an office on one of the remote islands 600 miles off Ecuador in the Pacific. It will work with the people of a town on Santa Cruz island, Puerto Ayora, to create a ‘harmonious’ residential development that is ‘sympathetic’ to the local environment.

Discovered in the 16th century, the Galapagos Islands found worldwide fame after Charles Darwin studied them during his voyage on The Beagle in the 1830s and used them to form his theory of evolution by natural selection.

Consisting of 13 main islands – five of which are inhabited by a total of 23,000 people – and several smaller ones, they are renowned for their extraordinarily diverse flora and fauna, including sea turtles, flamingos and land iguanas. The most famous of the islands’ inhabitants are, of course, the giant tortoises, including local ‘celebrity’ Lonesome George, now about 100 years old and the last of his Pinta island species

Leading conservationists have called for a curb on tourism on the Galapagos Islands – declared the first UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1978 – to prevent construction and pollution destroying their beauty for ever. The Prince of Wales visited the Galapagos Islands in March 2009 during his tour of South America and said: ‘There is a huge challenge – how do you manage tourism and the local economy and more people who want to come and live here and work here? ‘Yet [there is] the absolutely crucial importance of preserving the biodiversity because it is so unique. This is the great dilemma, isn’t it, that confronts all of us all round the world, not just here?

Although development on the island is restricted to just 3 per cent of the total land, the local government has decided to construct more than 1,000 homes at El Mirador, effectively doubling the population of Puerto Ayora, already the archipelago’s largest town.

The Prince’s Foundation held a series of community workshops this summer and will now formally advise local officials on how to create more housing and tourism accommodation while retaining the islands’ delicate eco-system. The foundation’s design for the houses includes solar panels; large porches to cool air and dispense with the need for air-conditioning; cisterns to collect rain for re-use; and green sewage systems.

Hank Dittmar, the foundation’s chief executive, said: ‘Given the decision of the Galapagos government to approve development, the Prince’s Foundation is looking forward to showing that people and nature can co-exist in a harmonious balance. ‘If we’re to avoid damage to the incredibly important environment and ecosystems of the Galapagos, we need to plan growth so as it makes the place more sustainable into the future – not less.’

Toni Dalton, of the Galapagos Conservation Trust, warned that development was a ‘real threat’ but said she was ‘delighted’ the Prince’s Foundation was helping.

Galapagos Park Officials seek to Stop Hotel Construction

August 17, 2011 § Leave a comment

Photo of construction in August 2011

In May, Galapagos residents headed to social media to stop the construction of a hotel being built in the Punta Estrada area. The owners claimed who was building the large complex claimed it was a home to be used by he and his friends. Yet the architectual design was of independant rooms of equal size and a central pool – a design and size that is clearly more hotel than vacation home. The social action raised awareness of the building and the violation of the permits and the building permits were resinded by court order. However this did not seem to stop the owner from his desire to complete the hotel.

Photo of construction in May 2011Last week, officials from the Galapagos National Park Service found that the construction resumed, even violating the security seals placed on the door access to the property. This event is a repeat offender, Galapagos National Park authorities along with members of the National Police rushed to the scene to verify these illegal acts (violation of seals and resumption of work) so we proceeded to the removal of workers, the complaint was made corresponding to the prosecutor of the Galapagos, and turned to close the site with security seals.

Punta Estrada is located on the island of Santa Cruz.  It is considered part of Puerto Ayora and is accessible only by boat.  The land surrounding Punta Estrada is part of the Galapagos National Park.  The property is overlooks a series of lagoons that provides habitat for sea birds.

UPDATE: AUGUST 25

 The Galapagos National Park Service, Edwin Naula, accompanied by legal advisers of the institution and a group of law enforcement officials, approached the construction site to make sure you abide by the provision the judge, who suspended the work. In this action, it was observed that there were people who continued with the construction, so we proceeded to the apprehension of them. The detainees were taken to the Police to be under orders of the competent authority.

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.

Darwin Animal Doctors

July 1, 2011 § 1 Comment

One of the more unique foundations workign on the conservation and preservation of the islands is Darwin Animal Doctors.  This is a great program that provides veterinary care for the animals of the Galapagos Islands.  Their mission is to provide professional and  comprehensive veterinary clinics for the animals of the Galapagos Islands, and to preserve the archipelago’s extraordinary biodiversity by humanely limiting the populations of domestic animals.

The Darwin Animals Doctors have two full time clinics one on San Cristobal and one on Santa Cruz where they provide free veteniary services to the domestic animals of the Galapagos.  Their work helps to prevent the spread of disease as well as to spade and neuter animals which helps to prevent unwanted animals and a population of feral cats and dogs.

Darwin Animal Doctors is a non profit organization that can use help either by donations to help with the purchase of equipment or to hire more staff at their clinics.  They also accept used equipment from Vetenary Clinics that are upgrading equipment and donations of time from vets, veterinary technicians or vet students. 

You can find out more about Darwin Animal Doctors on facebook or their website

Galapagos Heads to Social Media to Stop Construction

May 13, 2011 § 1 Comment

Where the special law of Galapagos excludes anyone other than a permanent resident of Galapagos from owning property in Galapagos it does allow companies which are created in association with a permanent resident to own land and build homes.  This loop hole in the law continues to be manipulated by non-residents creating a strain on the natural resources of the islands.

/by Cecilia Alvear for Huffington Post

Write the word “Galápagos” in any search engine and up will come thousands of links to Darwin, evolution, pristine islands, unique species, tortoises, iguanas, sea lions, blue-footed boobies, premier place to visit before kicking the bucket, etc. Seldom does one see a mention of the people who live on the islands — Homo sapiens, the one introduced species that continues to have the most powerful impact on the archipelago.

Faced with the dichotomy of trying to protect this unique environment and tend to the needs of its human population, in 1998 the government of Ecuador approved the Galápagos Special Law, a series of sweeping protective measures that would, among other things, establish zoning regulations to

…ensure the conservation of the natural areas, on land and sea, as well as the development of surrounding human settlements, and take legal action to promote a harmonious relationship with the people established in the province of Galápagos.

Enforcing the law has proved anything but harmonious. Several groups, including fishermen, tour operators and some local politicians, expressed strong opposition to the environmental restrictions imposed by the legislation. On the other side, the National Park, the Darwin Foundation and other environmental organizations supported the law. Most local residents remained somewhat silent. So imagine my surprise when I found a Facebook group “Quiero que en Galápagos se respete la ley” (I want respect for the law in Galápagos) and an invitation to an event May 12th in Puerto Ayora, Santa Cruz Island: “Marcha Pacifica — Juntos por un Galapagos mas Justo” (Peaceful March — Let’s unite for fairness in Galapagos). As a native Galapagueña and a frequent visitor to my birthplace, I try to keep abreast of developments there. This movement that utilized social media and crowdsourcing as organizing tools intrigued me. So, I set out to discover its origins.
2011-05-11-1.jpg
After a few emails, Facebook messages and phone calls, I located several Santa Cruz residents connected to the protests (they want to remain anonymous because they say they fear reprisals). They state that a year ago a large construction project began in Puerto Ayora in an environmentally sensitive area adjacent to the National Park; close to the beach, a lagoon and the area’s last large mangrove forest.

Permits to build private homes in the urban area of the inhabited islands are issued by the local municipality. However, permits for hotel construction need an environmental impact report and permission from the Galápagos Governing Council and the national Ministries of Environment and Tourism.

The size of the construction aroused suspicions. It is a complex of two 3-story buildings plus a 2-story structure with a total of 26 rooms and a large swimming pool,” said one source, adding there were rumors that the project is really a hotel.

That prompted the residents to alert the authorities. Some time later, the Director of the Galápagos National Park, Biologist Edwin Naula stated on his Facebook page and on the Galápagos National Park website “We have stopped construction on a site that had a permit as a private home but is evidently a hotel.” But that was not the end of the story. Far from it. The owners of the property, Mauricio Ponce-Cartwright and his company PONCA S.A., came back swinging:

“It is a residence, not a hotel, and we have obtained the proper permits from the Puerto Ayora municipality” Mr.Ponce said. As for the size of the construction, he added, “We are a very large family,” saying that relatives and friends would occupy the buildings.

However he would not rule out the possibility of converting the property in the future into a hotel stating that: “If I should ever decide to do so I will get all the proper permits and environmental studies”. In the meantime, he has started legal proceedings against the National Park claiming that it has no jurisdiction over the urban areas of Galápagos. Construction on the site continues as the matter awaits resolution. 2011-05-11-2.jpgAs evidenced by their Facebook activity the residents have not remained idle. In fact, this case is serving as a rallying point. They have used “crowdsourcing” to get people to show up at the construction site when a judge conducted an inspection. They also attended a rally to press their case during President Correa’s recent visit to the island. And they created a Facebook event to call residents to participate in the May 12th Peaceful March, because as one organizer puts it:

“We are going beyond this case. We want the authorities to respect and enforce the laws. We want them to help us live a good life in a sustainable way that does not harm this wonderful place. We will no longer stand by and see the law and our rights ignored” /

Angermeyer Point to Reopen Late April 2011

April 6, 2011 § Leave a comment

Angermeyer Point Restaurant

Angermeyer Point Restaurant on the coast of Santa Cruz suffered substantial damage after the tsunami. The restaurant announced yesterday they are taking this opportunity to go beyond just repairing the restaurant to will make some improvements to the customer experience and refurnish the restaurant.

Angermeyer Point remains one of the most popular restaurants in the Galapagos Islands both for their delicous food and spectacular oceanfront view.  We are looking forward to the reopening in late April 2011.

Baby Sea Turtle Season in Galapagos

April 1, 2011 § 2 Comments

Baby Sea Turtle

As we enter the month of April green sea turtles begin to hatch in the Galapagos Islands.  The Galapagos Green Turtle is a subspecies of the green sea turtle.  Prime nesting season is from January to March and eggs hatch after a two-month incubation.  Unlike the famous Giant Tortoise of the Galapagos who live on land, the Galapagos Green Turtle lives their life at sea.

For those visiting the Galapagos on a Galapagos Cruise Gardner Bay on Española is one of the most common places that visitors encounter young turtles.  If you are staying on Santa Cruz Island you can encounter hatchlings at Tortuga Bay and Bachas Beach.

Royal Palm Announces New Manager

March 24, 2011 § Leave a comment

The Royal Palm Resort located in the highlands of Santa Cruz Island has announced Mr. Andrew Balfour has been appointed as the new Manager.  Mr. Balfour is a permanent resident of Galapagos Islands with Ecuadorian and British Passports.  He has studied Hotel Management and Tourism and has both an MBA and an Off Shore Yacht Master Licence.  He has spent the last few years operating Mega Yachts around the World and previous work experience includes Sheraton in North Carolina.

Mr. Balfour will begin his new position on April 1st.  We wish him the best of luck and hope that he can issue in a new era at the Royal Palm.

Top Places to visit in the Galapagos – Tortoise Preserve

March 2, 2011 § Leave a comment

Galapagos Tortoises

What visit to the Galapagos Islands would be complete without a visit to see the Giant Galapagos Tortoises?  Our #6 choice for top places to visit in the Galapagos is actually two places with a similar experience the Tortoise Preserves located in the highlands of Santa Cruz and San Cristobal.

Galapagos Tortoises are the symbol of the Galapagos and seeing these gentle giants in the wild is truly a magical part of any trip.  On the island of Santa Cruz you can take a trip approximately 20 minutes outside of port to the small village of Santa Rosa.  The reserves were established to protect the tortoises from the local cattle ranches.  During the winter months tortoises are present throughout the area and there are several  reserves you can visit.  During these months the female tortoises return from the coast and enjoy several months consuming the lush vegetation of the highlands – this is also the time of year when the tortoises mate.  During the summer months it is male tortoises you will find in the highlands and the best place to find them is at El Chato Reserve.

On the highlands of San Cristobal the national park has constructed a tortoise preserve at Cerro Colorado.  The facility is slightly over 4600 square feet with almost 3000 feet of trail wandering through the native plants like cat’s claw, manzanillo, Galapagos cotton, and acacia.  The trails combine gravel and board walk trails through the terrain allowing you to view tortoises of various sizes as well as endemic birds including the Galapagos flycatcher, small ground finch, small tree find and Chatham Mockingbirds.

Whether you see the tortoises in the highlands of Santa Cruz or San Cristobal viewing Galapagos Tortoises in the natural habitat is a wonderful experience not to be missed and for that reason it is our #6 top places to visit in the Galapagos.

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To learn more about where to see tortoises in Galapagos see our Blog on best places to see Galapagos Tortoises

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