Ecuador & The Galapagos Sustainable Travel Guide
I’ve always been fascinated with wildlife. In high school, I failed at sciences like Physics and Chemistry, but excelled in Biology. When the Origin of Species by Charles Darwin was referenced and our classes would talk about the Galapagos Islands, it fuelled my desire to go there for myself. In the winter of 2016, I finally got my chance!
The Galapagos Islands are a part of Ecuador. Ecuador is one of South America’s smaller countries, but it’s comparable to the size of the UK. Its population as of 2018 is just over 16 million people. On average, the country welcomes 1.5 million tourists each year.
The capital city of Ecuador is Quito. In 2013, the city opened a brand new airport, Mariscal Sucre (airport code UIO). Flying in and out of Quito is quite easy, and the airport is only about a half-hour drive to downtown. I found Quito absolutely beautiful upon my visit. The city offers a great mixture of Spanish colonial architecture, as well as modern architecture. Despite the hills, of which there are a lot of, the city is quite walkable. The locals are pleasant and easy-going. And I was lucky enough to come across a craft brewery near my hotel. And let me tell you, the beer was excellent! This is coming from someone who lives in Vancouver, Canada’s craft beer capital.
In order to get to some of the best parts of Quito, a bus or cab may be in order. I recommend going up the Teleferico gondola - a skyrail that takes you to an elevation of 4,050 meters above sea level and is adjacent to Pichincha Volcano, offering breathtaking views of the city and the surrounding area. Other activities that I recommend near Quito include a hike up Cotopaxi Volcano, visiting the equator line, and a visit to Otavalo Market.
A trip to Banos should also be on your bucket list if you’re visiting Ecuador. Banos is an adrenaline junkie’s dream, with swings, ziplines and other fantastic outdoor activities to participate in.
Ecuador is also an amazing destination for community homestays in remote areas, including the Amazon Rainforest. Community tourism is possibly the pinnacle of sustainable tourism as you are staying with local villagers where your travel dollars will have the greatest impact. You will also receive the most authentic experience possible living amongst the locals, where you’ll learn about their way of life, traditions and cultures. A quick search online for community homestays in Ecuador or local living in Ecuador will bring up a number of great options to choose from.
Moving away from mainland Ecuador undoubtedly means a trip to the world famous Galapagos Islands - where Charles Darwin cultivated his theory on evolution. The Galapagos is often considered one of the world’s last pristine environments where wildlife and nature thrives. And although this is true for the most part, it may come to a surprise as to how populated the islands can be. The most populated island would be Santa Cruz, the main hub as many flights into Galapagos start here. In the town of Puerto Ayora, you’ll find many touristy shops, vendors and restaurants serving up both local cuisine and international favourites. Other populated islands include Isabella, San Cristobal, and to a lesser degree, Floreana island.
Visiting the Galapagos is a great way to learn about nature, wildlife and conservation as so much of the islands revolve around its natural environment. A visit to the Charles Darwin Research Centre in Puerto Ayora to see Giant Tortoises is recommended. However, the Galapagos is by far Ecuador’s most popular tourist destination. As such, environmental degradation has begun to occur. Despite how pristine the environment is, you’ll still find floating plastic water bottles and trash left behind from tourists and locals alike. This can be dangerous, especially plastics in the ocean, as the local waters are inhabited by creatures like sea lions, sea turtles, marine iguanas, sharks and manta rays. Many of these species can mistake plastic for food and ingest them, causing them to get sick or even die. Plastic rings from six-pack containers can get around the necks of young sea turtles or even sea lions, causing them to choke or suffocate. It’s absolutely imperative that if you visit the Galapagos, that you take extreme care for the natural environment.
The animals are used to inhabiting the Galapagos with humans as well. In some of the populated towns, you will see Sea Lions resting on park benches. It goes without saying that despite how comfortable they are with humans, that you should avoid any contact with them. They are still wild animals and can be unpredictable. Touching a wild sea lion can land you a hefty fine, as well as nasty bite mark. Same goes with snorkelling with sea turtles, sharks, manta rays and other marine species. Direct contact with these animals are prohibited as it can disrupt their natural behaviours.
It’s recommended that if you travel to the Galapagos, that you do so with a certified naturalist guide. I had one and let me tell you, he was absolutely fantastic! He knew everything there was to know about the destination, the wildlife and the landscape. He took me and some friends up to Volcan Chico located on Isabella Island, an otherworldly volcanic peak that looks like Mars. Travelling with a guide is a great way to get a better understanding of the destination, find hidden gems away from the touristy areas, be safely led from island to island, and will bring a ton of fun to your trip. You’re also employing a local as all guides must be born in the Galapagos in order to work as a guide.
If you want to explore as many of the islands as possible, a sailing tour is your best bet. Make sure whoever you go with has stringent environmental policies to protect the environment and the wildlife. Hotels can be found on the populated islands like Santa Cruz, San Cristobal, and Isabella, and speed boats can be taken to get you from island to island.
Ecotourism is a big part of Ecuador’s economy. I suggest we keep it that way. By traveling with an eco-conscious mind when it comes to the environment, wildlife and even the locals, you can ensure Ecuador continues to have a thriving tourism industry for generations to come.