Galápagos National Park
Located about six hundred miles off the coast of Ecuador, the rocky volcanic archipelago known as the Galapagos Islands are protected by rigorous rules and regulations because of their uniquely diverse and fragile ecosystem. They were established as the first National Park in Ecuador in the late nineteen fifties and a superintendent and patrolling rangers were added in the early seventies. Also later in that decade, the Galápagos Islands were designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Before the pandemic, almost a quarter of a million visitors toured the park each year with more than half of those guests staying on land and joining groups for boating day trips. Others traveled on live-aboard vessels that sell cabin space. However, the best way by far to experience the wonders and vast array of destinations within the Galápagos National Park is to charter a luxury yacht with a group of friends and/or family for an adventure of a lifetime.
Because of the remote location and extremely protected environment, visiting the Galápagos National Park requires time and planning to maximize your experience. Close proximity to the equator makes any time of year a great time to visit, with calmer seas and warmer air December through May, and a cooler drier climate June through November. Whenever you elect to go, most travelers will begin their visits by flying into either Quito or Guayaquil on mainland Ecuador because there are no direct international flights into the Galápagos Islands. Once in Ecuador, you will board one of several daily flights to either Baltra Island or San Cristobal Island depending on your itinerary.*
The Galápagos National Park encompasses over 3000 square miles of land amongst one hundred and twenty-seven islands and islets with an additional 53,000 square miles of ocean protected within the Galápagos Marine Reserve. Inside the protection of the park, there are one hundred and eighty destinations open to visitors with the opportunity to observe more than two thousand endemic animal species.
Because a trip to the islands is all about the unique environment, there are several important rules and regulations that foreign visitors to the Galápagos Islands should be aware of before arrival. First of all, be prepared to pay the park entrance fee of $100 that is payable in cash as soon as you arrive at either airport on the islands. Also, make sure you leave your drones at home because they are not permitted in the National Park. Additionally, guests may only stay in the islands for a maximum of sixty days in a calendar year and must always remain at least seven feet away from the animals.
Aboard your chartered luxury yacht, you have access to many fine amenities while traveling to the amazing attractions. However, itineraries are created and overseen by the Galápagos National Park authorities to minimize human impact on the delicate environment both on land and at sea so you will choose from a Northern or Southern itinerary. Furthermore, shore excursions are spectacular but must be planned for groups of sixteen or less with a trained naturalist guide leading the trip. And while you will be served amazing food aboard the yacht, you are not permitted to bring any food or to smoke during your trips to the shore.
Your land guide will be specially trained and certified in guidance techniques, biology, evolution, genetics, and environmental interpretation through a special academy that works in conjunction with the Galápagos National Park. Priority for certification is given to local residents and the earned license is good for only four years, after which time the guide must go through the training program again. Your guide will ensure you are aware of and comply with the stringent regulations including proximity to the animals, ensuring that no one touches or feeds any animals, preventing any flash photography, and staying on marked trails at all times. Additionally, guides have specialized knowledge to answer any questions and to guide you to and inform you of rare and interesting sights you encounter. If there is a particular species you hope to spot, just speak with your certified guide and they will work to make sure you achieve your goal.
Your charter vacation allows you to visit many amazing places and to get as close as possible to incredible endemic creatures both on land and sea while enjoying all the luxuries aboard a glamorous yacht. You will have wonderful memories and stories to bring back home and should you elect to shop for souvenirs, be sure to stay away from products that are illegal to purchase in the Galápagos Islands, including items made from banned substances such as black coral, shells, lava rock, animal parts, or any native plants or wood.
* For more information on selecting flights, see the article, “Where to Begin Your Awesome Galápagos Adventure”.
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