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Tuesday, January 19, 2010

What All Visitors Should Know When Considering a Trip to the Galapagos



Land-based vacation or a cruise? A Q&A from Santiago Dunn, President of Ecoventura, Leader in Sustainable & Responsible Travel in the Galapagos


The Galapagos, known for its wealth of highly visible living creatures, is also one of the most fragile and endangered ecosystems in the world. Following are questions many potential visitors ask, with answers from a leader in creating sustainable tourism programs for the region, Santiago Dunn, owner of Ecoventura, a private company that maintains a fleet of small, superior-class, expedition touring yachts.

Should I stay in a lodge or hotel and take day tours or select a multiple-night cruise?

Dunn: It’s less expensive to stay at a hotel and take coastal or inland day trips or hop between two or more island lodges; but your touring options will be limited to the central islands: Santa Fe, Daphne, Bachas, Floreana, Bartolome, San Cristobal and some nearby islands from Santa Cruz. It is difficult for a land tour to visit Isabela and impossible to visit Fernandina or Genovesa. Ironically, people will book a “land based” tour believing they will minimize sea sickness. Lodge-based guests, however, are more vulnerable to sea sickness as they are traveling between islands via a light fiberglass speed boat. On a week-long cruise you visit more islands. Plus, you usually have one morning activity and one afternoon activity – each day, usually at different locations, cruising at night so you wake up at a new island each sunrise.

Does the size of the ship matter?

Dunn: Boats in the Galapagos range in carrying capacity from 16-20 on the small range to a mid-large range of 48-100 passengers. There are over 80 registered tour boats transporting visitors throughout the islands. Large vessels that must anchor in deeper waters require more time getting passengers to and from shore excursions and back to their vessels. Guests on smaller ships have more time to be active on shore. Overall passenger capacity factors into the guide to guest ratio on land excursions. With a 16 passenger vessel you will usually have one guide for 16 passengers. On larger boats you will have several groups of 16 passengers per guide. A 20-passenger yacht has an advantage in offering a 1:10 guide to guest ratio. If prone to motion sickness, some people think a larger vessel is more secure; but the difference is marginal between a 90-foot boat and a 200-foot boat.

Do itineraries vary by vessel?

Dunn: Of course. But another consideration is that the companies licensed with the newest vessels such as the two-hull catamarans may also have the less desirable itineraries. Companies with vessels that have been around for 20+ years are grandfathered in with the most comprehensive itineraries available. This leads to an overall better quality experience.

How many days should a visitor spend in Galapagos?

Dunn: Perhaps the question should be rephrased to ask: How does a traveler get best value for the vacation dollar? Many companies offer traditional seven-night cruises with the option of three- or four-night cruise. The downside is that passengers on the full week itinerary must return to port in the middle of the cruise to pick-up and drop-off the shorter-stay passengers. This ultimately breaks up the continuity and spirit of camaraderie between the passengers on board. Of course if you are on a tight budget or limited in time a shorter trip can be a viable option.

Does a higher price tag on a cruise mean a better experience?

Dunn: Like the old song, isn’t it truly “a gift to be simple?” how important is luxury in a fragile ecosystem? You’ll probably spend most of the week in t-shirts, bathing suit and sandals. How sustainable are the Jacuzzis and monogrammed bathrobes? Galapagos is the type of place where nature and simplicity rule and less is often more. The high-end, ultra-soft, 16-passenger yachts and a handful of the larger luxury vessels charge $5,000 or more per person for a one week cruise. The budget-minded, larger capacity ships, half that. For 2010, Ecoventura’s rates are $3,225 to $3,925 per person with discounts for children age 7-17 on designated family departures, early bird booking discounts and other promotions.

Are there ecological considerations to staying on land or taking a cruise?

Dunn: A cruise actually leaves a smaller ecological footprint because you are not contributing to the construction of hotels, bars, roads and restaurants on these fragile islands. The United Nations and the government of Ecuador have both recognized that growing land-based tourism is a threat to the islands and their delicate eco-systems. In the fall of 2008 Ecoventura launched the first hybrid-energy vessel in the Galapagos, the M/Y Eric. The installation of 40 solar panels and two wind turbines now provide enough power to replace approximately 18 percent of the energy previously produced by two diesel generators. We look for more of this “greening” to take place within the cruise industry.

About Ecoventura: Ecoventura is a family-owned company based in Guayaquil, Ecuador, with sales offices in Quito and Miami. In operation since 1990, the Galápagos cruise company transports 4,000+ passengers annually aboard a fleet of three expedition vessels; identical, superior first-class 20-passenger motor yachts with 10 double cabins. The company also operates the Sky Dancer, a 16-passenger dedicated dive live-aboard offering 7-night weekly itineraries visiting the northern islands of Wolf and Darwin. All of its vessels have been purposefully retrofitted to meet or exceed the highest possible environmental standards.

In 2009 Ecoventura was the recipient of Travel + Leisure’s Global Vision Award for Green Cruising and Conde Nast Traveler’s 15th Annual World Savers Award in the category of Cruise Lines.

To reserve a cabin or private charter, or to receive a copy of Ecoventura’s 2010 catalog please call 1.800.644.7972, or e-mail info@galapagosnetwork.com. To access current rates, schedules and itineraries you can log onto www.ecoventura.com
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