A fragile eco-system hangs in the balance every time a plane lands or boat anchors in the Galapagos Islands. Like any hard to reach destination worth its salt, the archipelago struggles to keep up with the demands of its guests. Commodities like freshwater are in short supply, and supplies arrive daily from the mainland to augment the growing divide between what's readily available and what's needed.
This gap presents a challenge for those who travel to the Galapagos and begs the question: What is a responsible way of visiting the islands?
On one side of the coin is the allure of making the most of your high-end vacation, on the other lies the duty to protect the islands for posterity. Far too often a luxury trip in the islands means that the costs of travel are paid in the wrong place, taxing the environment instead of experiencing it.
At their heart, the Galapagos Islands are a national park and one of the first additions to UNESCO's World Heritage sites. When making travel plans, the need to be aware of where we are going and manage our expectations accordingly; protecting and respecting the diverse environment is everyone's job.
Vetting a tour operator or place to stay doesn't stop at finding the right fit for your travel style. It goes a step further and includes finding those people who make the choice to work in harmony with the natural boundaries that make the islands special.
Consider for a moment that the animals on land have adapted to the lack of freshwater. Giant tortoises can go for months without a reliable source of water, sea lions depend on the fish they eat for their daily intake and Darwin's finches wait until the wet season to mate.
In this setting, being mindful of where a property gets its water, and how it uses it is just as important as its amenities. Most of the islands depend on treated water from brackish reserves to supply tap water. When these resources are strained, rain water is collected and put to good use. Although a viable solution, the islands' rainfall pales in comparison to similar tropical settings, making conservation a priority.
Power is another imported commodity. Traditionally, diesel generators power the islands' hotels and restaurants. While strides have been made using solar and wind resources, the majority of the grid is still tied to fuel that is shipped in on cargo ships. Unfortunately, these ships have the risk of running aground, spilling thousands of gallons of fuel and causing damage that lasts for years.
In these circumstances, wasting water is an affront and expecting lavish amenities like air conditioning is out of place and inappropriate to the setting. Large pools, whirlpool baths and even big screen TVs use up resources without merit, substituting creature comforts for the real jewels of the Galapagos, the creatures and the environment.
Keeping in step with these issues while traveling in the islands should come naturally; the diversity of the land and sea is everywhere you look. Its protection inevitably takes precedence over the traditional trappings of luxury, leading way to a genuine adventure seldom found elsewhere.
The trick to bridging the gap presented by the Galapagos Islands is to adjust your vision to allow for the opportunities that lie within their borders. Travel is an active engagement and when considered as such, takes into account the differences of the surroundings and uses them as a launching point. Once you set aside notions of ordinary opulence and consider the unique nature of travel in the Galapagos, new horizons open up that have inspired travellers for centuries.
Forgoing air conditioning in lieu of experiencing an outdoor sunset from a rare vantage point is a worthwhile trade off. Snorkelling with sea lions trumps Twitter and taking the time to reconnect with nature instead of checking Facebook brings a much needed balance back into the picture.
Sir David Attenborough suggests that tourism is a necessary evil in the Galapagos Islands. Without it, the livelihood and protection of the people and creatures would wither. His point is valid, traveling in the archipelago doesn't need to compromise the environment or put its creatures at risk. When done with consideration for what's appropriate given the surroundings, a new light shines on the extraordinary, natural riches of Galapagos. One that reconnects those who take the journey with an often, overlooked perspective on the world we live in.
For more information about traveling in the Galapagos responsibly, send us an email. Our camp prides itself on respecting the natural resources of the islands by collecting rain water, growing the food we serve and utilizing solar power where possible. Combined with first-class service and amenities that highlight the stunning setting that we've chosen to call home, we strive to show you the archipelago while placing a priority on the environment.