One of the things that concerned me a little before the trip was whether I would get seasick. We had opted for a cruise that included far-flung Genovesa, as it was reckoned by many to be one of the best islands (and so it proved to be), but we knew that to get there we would have a long overnight crossing, and the same to return. With the waters more open between the central islands around Santa Cruz, and the less-visited northerly ones, choppy seas are the norm. In the event, we were fine, although others in our group, more prone to seasickness, did suffer a little. Certainly there was a noticeable swell on both these nights, and one of our number, although not ill, did say that she had worried in the night that she would be thrown out of her top bunk. I have to say that I rather enjoyed lying in my bunk and feeling the motion of the boat, but I can sympathise with those who did not, although luckily no one was so badly affected that it spoilt their trip (the exception was one of our travelling companions whose traveller’s tummy was further aggravated by the effects of being at sea).
We did take a few precautions, wearing seasickness wrist bands on the nights of the long crossings and taking a single seasickness pill before retiring to bed. But I have a feeling that we would have been OK without these, and certainly when we had a slightly choppy afternoon at sea, sailing from Rabida to Santa Cruz, and another longish night sail to Española, I forwent the precautions and had no problems as a result. But if you know you’re prone to seasickness, do come prepared – both to take whatever pills or other treatments you find most effective, and to possibly have to put up with the occasional queasy period. Believe me – the Galápagos are worth it!
Next tip: (assuming you’re feeling fine!) ”Meals on board”
In 1979, the Galápagos National Park was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site. This meant that the Park’s management and staff were responsible for performing permanent conservation efforts and guarding the islands according to UNESCO’s standards and regulations. But in 2007 the islands were added to the list of UNESCO World Heritage in Danger because of what was assessed as being uncontrolled increases in tourism, in population, and in invasive species. All of these are directly or indirectly related to tourism. Since then, strict measures have been put in place by the Galápagos National Park to control tourism, immigration and the development of existing communities on the islands (just 3% of the land is inhabited, only on four of the islands).
In 2009 the Galápagos Islands were removed from the UNESCO World Heritage in Danger list because of these efforts to address the reasons for it being added to the list in the first place. The protection of these fragile islands now seems to be recognised as the urgent matter that it is, although there is still some way to go. Steps taken include the eradication of introduced species on some islands (such as goats, wild dogs and rats) and regular monitoring of and controls on levels of tourism.
All tourists who visit the islands on a cruise, or who take daily tours out to the islands, must be accompanied by Galápagos National Park certified guide on every visit – you cannot step onto any uninhabited island without such a guide, and only in very few places can you move around without the guide (Gardner Bay on Espanola was the one exception we visited, where we were free to roam anywhere on the beach itself, but not to go any further). Every visitor pays an entry fee of $100 (apart from Ecuadorean nationals, who pay $10) and this is divided between the various agencies who work to keep the Galápagos intact for future generations to enjoy.
The government restricts the number of groups that can land on an island at any one time, they restrict the number of people per group (maximum 16 per guide) and no boat can revisit the same island within a fortnight. All boat itineraries have to be submitted to the National Park authority for approval, as do any proposed changes. And once on the islands, there are very clearly marked trails and the guides make sure you stick to them - most of the space is still reserved for the animals. There are also strict rules about not approaching too closely to the animals, but they don't seem to feel they have to stick to those rules as carefully as we do ;-)
There are a number of rules that all must obey:
1. No plant, animal, or remains of such (including shells, bones, and pieces of wood), or other natural objects should be removed or disturbed
2. Be careful not to transport any live material to the islands, or from island to island
3. Do not take any food to the uninhabited islands, for the same reason
4. Do not touch or handle the animals
5. Do not feed the animals. It can be dangerous to you, and in the long run would destroy the animals' social structure and breeding habits
6. Do not startle or chase any animal from its resting or nesting spot
7. Stay within the areas designated as visiting sites
8. Do not leave any litter on the islands, or throw any off your boat
9. Do not deface the rocks
10. Do not buy souvenirs or objects made of plants or animals from the islands
11. Do not visit the islands unless accompanied by a licensed National Park Guide
12. Restrict your visits to officially approved areas
13. Show your conservationist attitude
Please, take this seriously and follow the rules – or if you don’t think you can, please don’t come to the Galápagos Islands!
Next tip: ”What to bring”
It is expensive to buy stamps for postcards on Galapagos Islands (same price as in the rest of Ecuador though). For Europe the stamp for one postcard is $2.25 (July 2011), so make sure to bring a lot of cash to the post office if you have many postcards to mail.
And it can take a very long time before the postcards reach their destination. The postcards I mailed in Puerto Ayora didn’t arrive to their destination until almost two months after they were mailed. From Quito it only took about a week. Anyway I would prefer to receive a postcard from Galapagos which is also mailed there, even if it takes a long time.
Well, the thieves of the island will stalk you and pester you for morsels of food or some water ... but the little thieves here were actually Mockingbirds and very much welcome to pester me :-)
Still, no animal should be fed or given to drink, it is not allowed because the animals need to keep their total indipendence. So the mockingbirds in the picture just had to content themelves looking at the water :-)
The water can be quite rough on some of the passages your boat will sail. Make sure you are prepared by bringing along seasickness remedies. If you don't like pills, consider getting some ginger concentrate, or candied ginger. It is known to be a natural seasickness preventative. If you like to cook, you might try making your own. See the link to one recipe below.
Make sure to let the captain and the guide know if you have tendencies towards seasickness. You might want to change cabins so that you don't sleep on an upper deck (which rocks more from side to side than cabins on low decks) or in a cabin in the bow (which rocks up and down more than cabins towards the stern).
Sea lions are everywhere, and as mentioned in a "must see" tip for La Loberia, bull sea lions patrol a particular stretch of beach and shoo off any rivals they encounter.
For some reason, a bull often seems to think that human visitors have come to challenge him to a duel of honor to see who gets to be king of the beach (and of its female occupants).
If you are attacked by a bull, you will lose the fight. For sure. Just get out of the way, back off, and he will assume he has won the fight through simple intimidation. And in a way, he has.
By the way, you won't want to try to look "down there" to figure out which is the male. There are easier ways! Males are *much* bigger than females, and they have a prominent brow, or hump, on their foreheads.
The photo shows a bull, a female, and a pup.
Though I generally was happy with my snorkeling equipment I did get burnt twice. Once I got one with a purge valve and it leaked and another time it has been used by a heavy smoker and evidently not cleaned very thoroughly. YUCK! Anyway, check your equipment well before leaving the shop. They don't carry spare stuff on the boats and unlikely anyone will trade with you either.
Outside the populated areas visitors are only allowed to visit certain sites, and then always accompanied by a certified naturalist guide. When visiting these visitor sites you can only walk on the trails or on the beach. But even there you should be careful where you put your feet. On the beach at Post Office Bay, on Floreana, someone had put stones in a circle to indicate the place of a turtle nest (you can see there is a small cavity), so don’t walk over it! Usually the turtle nests are a bit higher up, where you are not allowed to walk, but sometimes the nests can be found on the beaches where many tourists walk.
Photo two is from Las Tintoreras and as you can see the marine iguanas have the same colour as their background, the lava stones. Most of the marine iguanas here were beside the trail, but a few were on the trail and easy to step on if you didn’t watch your step.
The sign in photo 3 is standing at Muro de Las Lagrimas on Isla Isabela. Until here I had been able to cycle on my own from Villamil, but further on it was restricted area, and as you can see it is restricted because it is a hunting area of introduced animals.
Before going to the Galapagos Islands I had read many warnings about people getting seasick on the cruise boats, especially on the small ones. I don’t get motion sickness, but had never slept on a smaller boat before, and as M/S Cachalote, which I was going with, is a 26m long motor sailor I thought it was good to bring motion sickness pills just in case.
I didn’t take any pills the first night. We were just moving from Puerto Ayora to Islas Plazas, but the waves were coming in from the side and things were really moving around in the cabin, and I could hear things falling to the floor upstairs as well. I felt only a little bit nauseous.
The next morning I heard that all other passengers had taken seasickness pills and as we the next night were moving from Isla Santa Fe to San Cristobal and that was a longer journey and more open sea I thought I should take a pill as well. Then I continued to take one every night, even if the boat didn’t rock as much again as the first night.
When I after the cruise talked to someone on Isla Isabela that had been on many cruises she told me that it is common to feel just a little nauseous the first one or two nights, but not after that. With that in mind I regret taking the seasickness pills because I don’t think I actually needed them.
Every island landing and visitor site in the park (which holds 95% of the land in the islands) has defined pathways where visitors are expected to walk.
Visitors may *not* go beyond the established limits of the path/viewing area as these are laid out so as to avoid nesting grounds and other fragile aspects of the ecosystem.
Every visitor to the Galapagos must be accompanied by a licenced guide, and these men and women take their responsibilities as guardians of the visitor sites very seriously. They have the authority to send visitors who do not heed the warnings to 'get back on the path' back to the boat.
It got awfully windy most days, whenever we were out on the cliff edges (which was fairly often) or on some of the more barren rocks. Be sure to bring a light windbreaker along, if that bothers you (and remember when you look at this pic, I'm acclimated to Alaska!).
When you shop for souvenirs in the Galapagos, beware of vendors who offer items made from coral, shells, sea lion teeth, tortoise or turtle shell. Stick to the t-shirts, pottery, wood carvings, canvas tote bags, and so on.
The park authorities ask that any vendor offering items made of prohibited materials be reported.
Make sure you get your travel agent to sign a contract outlining your itinerary and the total cost of your tour. Make sure they include which islands you will visit, how many days you will be on the tour and how many meals are included. Our contract became quite a valuable asset after our boat engine stopped working half way through our tour. We were able to get a refund of the outstanding days. It was not easy but we used the contract as evidence.
Please remember how important it is that everyone adhere to the rules, to preserve these islands for future visitors. They are unique in this world!
Stay on the paths, don't attempt to touch or feed any of the animals, and never take souvenirs from the natural habitats.
The seas can be quite rough and the islands are quite some distance apart.....10 to 17 hours most nights. If you are prone to sea sickness , it might be best to pick a 4 night cruise. The shorter cruises stick to the closer islands and you will see almost as much..
Puerto Villamil, Isabela Galapagos Islands, , Ecuador
Good for: Solo
Puerto Ayora, Galapagos Islands, Puerto Ayora, Ecuador
Good for: Business
Isla Isabela, , Puerto Villamil, Galapagos
Good for: Business